Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Turkey Day

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, which is really a great day. To be honest, I mostly look forward to Thanksgiving because of the food. I'm sure that's true for lots of people. This week I've been thinking though about gratitude. Tonight we will be having church with our high school students and I plan on simply having a time of thankfulness. Before I do that, I thought I better write about some of my own thoughts. It's quite interesting to me that Thanksgiving day has become less and less significant in American culture. Most of the stores simply go from candy everywhere and Halloween costumes and decorations, to Christmas. Many stores have both of those going at the same time. Thanksgiving is less marketable I guess. It's about being thankful for what we have, for family, for freedoms, etc. There's no exchange of gifts, no dressing up or parties - mostly just family gatherings centered around a meal and that's about it. And yet, I still hear the word Thanksgiving a lot on TV this week, but it's mostly preceded by the words "Day After" and followed up by the word "Sale." It's kind of ironic I suppose, that Thanksgiving day is all about being thankful for what is truly important, and for what we already have. And for many, less than twenty four hours later it will be a consumeristic blitz. Thanksgiving day is spent forming plans as to what stores to go to, what ungodly hour they should wake up to be there when it opens, and how much money they will spend. I realize there are deals to be had on what is now known as "Black Friday." I realize that if you are going to buy certain things, that this is a great day to do that. But isn't it kind of hypocritical of us as a society? Aren't we saying in one breath how thankful we are for what he have and what is truly important, and in the very next breath consuming more and more in order to be more happy?

Now, it's pretty easy for me to stand here and point fingers at people who love to shop. I can't think of anything more torturous than being in stores on Black Friday. Seriously, you couldn't pay me enough money to go to someplace like Walmart, or Best Buy on Friday. No freaking way. But, I still struggle with the same thing. I like stuff. I like to buy stuff. I like to have the newest, the biggest, the best - and I find myself every so often feeling the need to just spend money. Where does that come from? This year I've been in the dump in Mexico building a family a house there. I've been in Bohlokong, South Africa and gone inside homes where people were dying of AIDS. And yet, I want a new ipod. I want tools. I want music, movies, and more. Is it wrong to want things? Is it wrong to buy things like this? How do I reconcile living in an affluent culture with what I know and have seen in the world? Should I sell everything and live on the streets? Should I give all my possessions away? To be honest, it's a question I am wrestling with, and will continue to wrestle with.

I do know this - something has changed. I no longer mindlessly consume. I am aware of how rich I am compared to the world. There's a great website called On this site, you can put in how much money you make in a year and it will tell you where you rate in the world's wealth. I make a modest income compared to many in the U.S. In fact, I think I'm below average. And yet, I am in the top 3% of the world in terms of my wealth. Are you kidding me? I am richer than 97% of the world. That's crazy. When Jesus said it is difficult for the rich to inherit the kingdom, I've always thought about "rich" people I know. And yet, Jesus is talking about me! 97% of the world would look at me and say I am rich. Wow. That sure changes the way I think about how I spend my money. Do I still go to Starbucks? Yeah. Do I still buy things? Yeah. But I've began to change other habits. I got a DVR the other day with DirecTV. I don't watch commercials any more - which is awesome! All of those ads telling me what I need to buy are now gone. We also give more. We talk about greed and charity and gratitude a lot with our students. We try and model giving to our daughter. She got a bunch of money (I say a bunch, because for a 4 year old $30 is a ton of money!) for her birthday last month. The first thing out of her mouth was "How am I going to send all of this to Africa?" Wow. She understands money buys things. She gets the fact that money has value. Sure, she doesn't understand everything about money, but one thing is for sure - money doesn't own her. She knows that when she has much, there are some that have none, and she can't comprehend a world where she would keep all of that to herself. I love that. I want to be free from money like she is.

OK, so back to gratitude and Thanksgiving. I am thankful for many things. I have an amazing wife. She is simply amazing. I keep wondering how I ended up with her. I have an unbelievable daughter. She is just awesome. I have another daughter on the way. That is such a blessing for us as we tried for a year and a half to get pregnant again. I have a mom that has been such a godly example to me that I love deeply. I have a dad that I love. The fact that I can say that today is a huge answer to prayer. I have a great church family. I love the staff I get to work with. I love our students. They challenge me and stretch me to new places all the time. I have great friends. I have a dream that God has given me - and for that I am very grateful. What's amazing to me is that as I look back at some of the things I wrote about here - not one of them had a price tag. They were never purchased. They were never on sale. And that's because they are priceless. They can't be marketed, they can't be owned. They are gifts to be sure, but I guarantee you that none of these things will be put on any credit card this Friday.


Very good, I have never looked at myself as being rich in wealth, just God that's cool.

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