Thanksgiving, Always.

“Let all things now living,

A song of thanksgiving,

to God the Creator triumphantly raise…”

 

With autumn and October well underway, we can now direct our attention to the wonderful atmosphere of the holiday season. While we still have quite a while to go before we’re officially at that time of the year, let all of these decorative gourds, foliage, treats, and crisp air remind us of the overarching theme of these cooler months: stewardship.

black and white photo of woman with crossed armsAs brothers and sisters in Christ, service towards one another should have a high priority on our lives’ to-do lists. Don’t let this be the only time that you engage in charitable action— Christ didn’t limit his generosity and good works to a handful of weeks out of the year. Instead, let it be the start of a change in how you interact with your fellow humans!

Thanksgiving is coming up first, and the weeks leading up to the big feast should be a time of self-reflection, devotion, and meditation on what “thanksgiving” really means. It’s a compound word, and on the surface, it seems to define itself— thanksgiving simply means “giving thanks”. But I encourage everyone to break it down into it’s two component parts, and actively pursue both actions independently, so that you may eventually do them together.

This fall, focus on the “thanks” by being vocal about it! It is definitely a useful exercise to write down what you are thankful for in a private journal, but you should make a concerted attempt to contact everyone in your life and let them know exactly what it is about them for which you are thankful. Is it their companionship? Maybe you treasure their advice, or the work they do for you. People love to hear words of encouragement, especially if they are honest and personalized.

At the same time, you should practice “mindful thankfulness”. Learn to appreciate that which is taken for granted on the day to day— your most basic freedoms and liberties, your life itself, and most importantly, the love of God which guides and comforts you.

Separate yet integral to thanks is “giving”. We should not only be quick to give thanks, but to share that which we are thankful for with others. If you are in good health, give the advantages of the your hearty body with one who needs it most. For example, why not rake the leaves of a neighbor or volunteer to repair a broken fence. If you find your soul overflowing with cheer and jubilation, brighten someone’s day by spending a few hours with them. Soup kitchens and food pantries are usual busy this time of year, and probably wouldn’t turn away a volunteer.

By giving your brotherly love to those who need it most, you are also sending the love of God their way, too. Again, this should be something we strive to do in all seasons, but let this be the time when you really examine yourself and attempt to lead a life of Stewardship like our Lord and Savior.

Words of Encouragement: Faith

As a follower of Christ, we can seek comfort in the presence of God and the knowledge that He loves us, no matter what. However, we are still just human— imperfect souls that need the power of Jesus for eternal salvation. Therefore, the life of a Christian can be filled with doubt,  fear, and uncertainty about what lies ahead. But what keeps on the right path, and focused on the life of this world and the next, is faith.

Sometimes, faith isn’t the answer we want, but it is always the answer we need. When we don’t know why our loved ones hurt us, why work has stressed us out so much, or why we are suffering from physical or emotional distress, we want to know exactly why God is sending these trials our way. But the fact of the matter is that we, in our finite human experience, cannot possibly comprehend all of God’s divine mechanisms. However, it is up to us to trust in Him and accept His plan for us on faith.Oil painting of a bearded God holding a spehere

It has often been said “that which does not kill us makes us stronger”. As long as the creator bestows the magnificent blessing of life upon you, be sure to use your faith to learn from your seemingly unfortunate experiences. Maybe He is setting you up for a better relationship, or bigger responsibilities. All experience, good and band, contributes to our individual wisdom. Perhaps He wants you to use your trial and subsequent emergence as an example of hope and faith to others also going through a tough time.

It’s times like that which compel us to revisit the Book of Job. In it, Satan makes a bargain with God— be inflicting death and pain and misfortune on the life of God’s faithful servant, he will turn his back on God, and curse Him in his misery. But it doesn’t turn out that way! Although Job is upset by the loss of his material possessions, and even asks God — in frustrated confusion, no less— “why?”, he does not lose his faith. He seeks God for comfort in during these upsetting times, knowing that He will pull through.

And pull through he does. In the end, God rewards Job’s faithfulness with good health, family, and longevity.

We never know why God does what He does. But what we do know, is that He wants us to maintain our faith in Him.

Words of Encouragement: Forgiveness

As a Christian, we need to be willing to let go of the past and forgive those who have wronged us. But forgiveness is easier said than done. As social creatures, our interactions and relationships with others are integral to future relationships and agreements. When we find forgiveness to be tough—or even seemingly impossible— we can always turn to our bulwark of strength, the Holy Bible, for encouragement. Here’s what it has to say about forgiveness:

It’s a directive of Jesus Himself

Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them. (Luke 17:4)
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)

With Christ as our master, we should try each and every day to live by his orders. Even though we might not fully understand “why”, be assured that everything he says has a reason. If we are to live in a Christ-like manner, this means working not only to turn away from our own sins, but also unconditionally forgiving the sins of those who wrong us. As Jesus tells Peter in the above quote, there is no upper limit to the number of “forgiveness passes” you can issue to a fellow human. That “77” isn’t a final number, but rather an illustration that Jesus used to show the boundlessness of forgiveness. Similarly, in Luke, he makes the point that we should be welcoming our transgressors back.stone statue of an embrace

It is a requisite for our own forgiveness

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. (Matthew: 6:14)

If we want to be forgiven, it is clear that we must forgive others. This also fits into the paradigm of living by the Supreme Commandment: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” When we inevitably sin and do wrong to our fellow man, wouldn’t you too want to be forgiven? Don’t hold others to a double standard, then expect your forgiveness when you slip up.

Judgement is divine

There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you–who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12)

Many times we ask ourselves, “if I am to forgive unconditionally, who will pass judgement? If I am constantly offended, at which point to I retaliate?” This, again, is a question that is central to human nature. But the words of James remind us that there is only one judge, God Himself. No one is perfect, and thusly we don’t have the position to stand on higher ground and condemn our peers. If someone keeps transgressing, forgive them— God will mete out the appropriate retribution.

Spreading Love by Charitable Action

Part of being a Christian involves the practice of charitable giving. However, this gives many children of God slight hesitation, especially when there’s a question of personal resources in short supply. But do not be afraid, for there are many ways you can give back to your community and Christian family. They are largely divided into two classes: money and time.

Money

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. When people hear “give”, many are inclined to associate the verb with “money”. And it makes sense— financial contributions are the most versatile donations. It’s small enough to fit in your praying man with bowed headpocket or purse, and can be used for anything from buying food for the needy to covering overhead costs of a church.The thing with money though, is that it should be given with a fully open and gracious heart. No one likes a grudging giver, and if one is to give while raising a stink, it is better left in private coffers. Giving should feel good. At the same time, if you don’t have the additional money to give, you needn’t worry— there are other wise to contribute to the whole.

Time

If you’re short on money, there’s always the possibility of donating your time. No, I’m not talking about watches and clocks (though those could be given freely to those who need them!). Instead, when we talk about “time” we refer to using some of the waking hours of your day to utilize your abilities to help others. There are several ways you can make temporal donations, which we will discuss below.

  • Volunteering: This is a simple way to help make a difference, and literally requires your own time. Find out when your church or community center is hosting a food drive, and sign up to distribute food to the needy. Opportunities to do these charitable acts are often right in front of you. For example, you can consider watching children during service, and during the holidays you have to try very hard to find an organization or activity that doesn’t need a helping hand!

 

  • Talents: You can also use your God-given talents for good. In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes:

    “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?”

    Put simply, we all have different gifts that we need to develop and share with others. If you have an advanced medical or legal education, why not do some pro bono work? If you are more musically inclined, why not make a joyful noise unto the Lord and lift the spirits of those around you? For many people, public speaking is a daunting task. But if it comes naturally to you, why not read the word of God to those who cannot do it themselves?

 

  • Labor: If you’re able bodied, engaging in manual labor can be an enormous help to those who need it most. If the Church or office is undergoing some non-intensive DIY work, go ahead and chip in! Or if you notice that your neighbor’s gutter or leaky faucet needs to be fixed, step up and do the job for them.

4 of the World’s Most Beautiful Churches

What’s your favorite part of an old church? The domes, spires and columns? Or maybe it’s the arches, buttresses, or grounds? Whatever it may be, it’s hard not to be amazed by the hard work that went into the creation of these holy buildings. At the end of the day, church buildings are a beautiful place where all people can gather under one roof in the name of God, where we can serve Him and the community.

So, without further ado, let’s explore 4 of some of the most beautiful churches!

1) Basilique Cathédrale Notre-Dame d’Amiens

Cathedral of Amien

Located in Amiens, this cathedral is the tallest complete cathedral in all of France. It overlooks the Somme, and currently serves as the seat of the Bishop of Amiens. It’s a favorite subject of study by architects and art historians–and for good reason. There’s so much to see! 126 pillars support a massive interior, the largest in Western Europe. If you visit the church today, you may not think much about its white stone facade. But in the 1990’s it was discovered that the structure was actually painted with many vibrant colors!

2) Duomo di Milano

This Milan cathedral is the 5th-largest church in the entire world. What sets this particular one apart? The time it took to complete it! Ground broke in 1386 andtourists in duomo square it wasn’t formally finished until almost 600 years later, in 1965. The church actually has historical roots that stretch back to 335. However, in 1075, the old structures caught fire. In 1386, construction began on the current structure. Centuries of warfare, changes in aesthetic and architectural direction, and civil unrest set back full construction. Napoleon Bonaparte brought it to the edge of completion, and between the early 19th century and 1965, small details like spires and statues were finished.

3) Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia is a museum now, but before that, it was a church. Most recognizable for its astonishingly hagia sophialarge dome, the Hagia Sophia remained the world’s largest Cathedral for 1,000 years. Unlike the Duomo in Milan, the church was built in five years, from 532-537, under the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. Earthquakes and fires damaged the columns and domes over the years, but the Church was always repaired and stands strong today. Mosaics depicting Jesus, Mary, and the apostles bring a most holy decoration to the sacred space.

4) Cathedral of St. John the Divine

At 232 feet, this church towers towards the heavens from New York City’s Morningside Heights neighborhood. It holds several distinctions, including largest cathedral, fourth largest church, and largest Anglican Church (depending on who you ask). However, it’s defining characteristic is the glacial pace at which it is being built– lending it the nickname “St. John the Unfinished”. Economic hardship and two front of St. John the DivineWorld Wars have set back its completion. More recent years have seen the church use its funds for the higher priority of community service and charitable work. Unfinished or not, it’s still a sight to behold, and services are regularly held there. The church is a combination of several schools of architecture, including Gothic (as seen in the facade) and Byzantine (the dome). The grounds are also home to three peacocks and a hive of honey bees.

For the Tough Times

As a child of God, it is our duty to help our brothers and sisters in Christ and share the Good News with those who haven’t heard it. But in our mission to be more like Jesus, we can become overwhelmed. After all, we are only human. But we should not be afraid. The Bible is full of wonderful verses that we can turn to when the times really get tough. Check them out below!