November 9, 2015

We Gather Together Where We Are

Some people in your church family are thinking about going over the river and through the woods this Thanksgiving. Others will be making airport runs to retrieve loved ones on one of the busiest travel holidays of the year. Meanwhile, your extended family is planning a menu featuring Aunt Mary Jane's green bean casserole and a steady diet of professional football.

The trouble is that you, Mrs. Pastor, can't travel 1,000 miles to be with your biological family this Thanksgiving for several reasons. You are tempted to cry in a corner. (Who among us hasn't done that?)  But, I have a few better ideas of how to cope, celebrate and minister when you can't go home.

Enjoy old activities in new ways. What do you miss most about not being with family on Thanksgiving? Brainstorm a way that you can capture the essence of that. If you have fond memories of cooking with grandma when she was alive, make a sweet potato casserole from her recipe. If you love conversing with your sisters, Skype the family party after the dishes are done. One thing Megan and I missed when we were far apart was watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade together. So, she called Connecticut from Mississippi to discuss the parade while it was on TV. It made me feel more connected to her.

Help out at a local soup kitchen. Many programs seek volunteers to prepare and serve food and clean up afterward, especially for big holiday meals. The soup kitchen might also need people to donate food, work in a food pantry or make deliveries. Involving your children in this type of service can promote gratitude for their own blessings.

Create a feast where you are. Although it may appear that everyone has family nearby, that is not true. Furthermore, not everyone has a place to go. You could invite some of these people to your house for Thanksgiving dinner. To make things easier on you, don't be afraid to ask them to bring a favorite dish to share. Think of international students, the family who just had a baby, the newly widowed woman without children and the man who just recovered from major surgery. For those guests who do not believe the gospel, your thankfulness to the Lord is a powerful witness in our culture of ingratitude.

Support deaconal efforts. Over the years, the deacons in my church have provided for the hungry both within and without our church. For example, they maintain a nonperishable food pantry for our members in need. They have distributed Thanksgiving baskets with turkeys and all the trimmings. They donate to area ministries. Giving in this way helps keep the focus off your own complaints.

Start a church tradition. Think about how you can facilitate thanksgiving at Thanksgiving within the church. When our church had under 100 members, we ate a turkey dinner together on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. We invited friends and family. Afterward, we had a time of singing and personal testimonies of God's goodness in our lives during the previous year.  Now that we have more people, we still have a time of public thanksgiving, but we eat pie instead of a meal. In spite of the venue, it is very moving to hear from those who you know have struggles and still can praise the Lord for who He is.

It is not easy to sacrifice time with extended family when the ministry that God has called you to do is far away from the festivities. But, you can give thanks in all circumstances. In addition, there are great rewards. "...there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life." Luke 18:29, 30

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