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October 1, 2005

First there was Katrina.  What we saw was unbelievable devastation and suffering.  Over 1,000 people died.  Many of them alone.  The scars will take generations to heal.  And then there was Rita.  Again we saw the devastation of property and lives.  These disasters were not the first.  They will not be the last.

Thanksgiving is coming.  Celebrations filled with family, food, and football.  Celebrations which too often mask the loneliness and emptiness and despair within.  In the face of disaster - not just the large natural ones - but even those in our own lives, how can we give thanks?

Sometimes its hard to balance what we experience with the optimism we think we should feel.  Someplace in between we seem to settle for empty thanksgiving celebrations and “just getting by.”  Maybe we need a renewed perspective on why we give thanks.

Wintson Churchill once told of the sailor who dived into the waters of Plymouth Harbor to save the life of a little boy.  Three days later, the sailor met the boy and his mother in the street.  He saw the boy nudge his mother and the mother stopped the sailor and asked, “Are you the man who pulled my little boy out of the water?”

Expecting some kind of gratitude, the sailor smiled, saluted, and said, “Yes, madam.”  “Then,” replied the mother with an increasing temper, “Where’s his cap?”

Emerson once said that if the stars came out only once a year, everybody would stay up all night to behold them.  We have seen the stars so often that we don’t bother to look at them anymore.  Have we grown accustomed to our blessings even dictating to God the means and measure of His blessings?

Remember the Hebrew people?  How each morning God would feed them manna?  In the midst of what is an inhospitable desert wasteland God’s people never went hungry.  In Exodus 11, God’s people wept before God, “Who will give us meat?  We remember the fish and cucumbers and melons and leaks and onions and garlic back in Egypt.  But, having to eat this manna, we’ve lost our appetite.” (Exodus 11:4-6)

Daily they experienced God’s presence and provision - His grace, mercy, love, kindness, peace - and they were no longer excited.  “Its just manna.”

Is this true of us?  Staring into the face of great tragedy do we all too quickly wonder where God is?  Do we forget to give thanks for what He has already done for us and to remember that He is still with us - ready to care for us and carry us through our present circumstances?

Scottish minister Alexander Whyte was known for his uplifting prayers in the pulpit.  He always found something for which to be grateful.  One Sunday morning the weather was so bad that a member of the congregation thought to himself, “Certainly the pastor won’t think of anything for which to thank the Lord on a wretched day like this.”  Much to his surprise, however, Whyte began by praying, “We thank Thee, O God, that it is not always like this.”

The Apostle Paul writes, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

How quickly we gravitate to the “in everything” part and wonder at our circumstances.  But the perspective we need for thanksgiving is the “in Christ Jesus” part.  God has willed for us to be in Christ Jesus - today and forever - to know God and to be known by Him.  Thanksgiving isn’t about the manna.  Its about the God who blesses us with manna. 

Thank God that, in the shifting sands of our circumstances, we have life with God.  May we grow ever closer to Him and ever grateful for the opportunity.