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November 2016

How to Handle America’s Newest Holiday

Black Friday

Holidays are religious; at least they used to be. “Holy days” gave people opportunities to honor God’s great deeds, reflect on their responsibilities and shortcomings, or praise the Lord for their blessings.

Some holidays, like Passover and Christmas, go back centuries, even millennia. Others, like Thanksgiving, are more recent. President Abraham Lincoln established it as national holiday in 1863. And don’t forget Festivus, which Frank Costanza announced to the world in the 1990s!

As a child, I was accustomed to three or four events which ended the year: Halloween on October 31, Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November, and Christmas on December 25. (I grew up in a Catholic town that had a decent Jewish population, so Hanukkah decorations were widespread, too.)

Have you noticed how, at least for businesses, Halloween has taken over October? Everywhere you see ads filled with pumpkins and monsters. Similarly, Santa and gift-giving pervade every commercial in December. (Although the politically correct go with “Happy Holidays” over “Merry Christmas.”) So Thanksgiving owns November, right?

No! It’s being challenged by Black Friday. Early in the morning the day after Thanksgiving, people line up outside of locked stores waiting for a chance to get once-a-year deals. It’s the day to find the best deals for Christmas.

Some folks pitch tents to secure their spots in line. Stores reciprocate by pushing their hours earlier and earlier. A 10 AM opening becomes 6 which becomes midnight. Other stores decide that the evening of Thanksgiving Day is preferable. The holiday has been cut in half. Best to eat turkey for lunch because you may spend dinnertime at the mall!

Thanksgiving is disappearing as Black Friday begins to merge with Cyber Monday and expands to Black November. The growth of online shopping facilitates this development. Why bother to fight the crowds when you can get most of the same deals on the web? And businesses reciprocate. Why limit sales to one or two days? The longer the specials last, the more customers will buy things.

So Black Friday has become the newest American holiday and, like Halloween and Christmas, covers an entire month.

Holidays express cultural values. Valentine’s Day promotes love, the Fourth of July celebrates freedom, and Memorial Day honors those who fought and died for the country.

Christmas recalls the birth of Jesus our Savior. Santa and commercialism compete with the Lord, but as Linus pointed out, it remains Jesus’ birthday!

What’s the spiritual significance of Black Friday? It’s easy to criticize it as a materialistic version of Halloween, with godly virtues buried under an avalanche of greed and foolishness.

But consider the possibility of positive motivations. How about thriftiness? If we’re going to shop, we want to stretch our dollars as far as possible. Don’t waste money! I suspect a lot of people busy themselves on Black Friday because they want to get the most value for their money.

And don’t overlook love. We want to bless our loved ones with good gifts. Throughout the year, we see items we know they want, but the price tag puts them out of reach. Until Black Friday. (Or is it Black November?) A chance to make a purchase we believe will bless our family or friends.

How does Jesus want His followers to treat this newest unofficial American holiday?

Practice self-awareness.

The Lord wants you to know why you do what you do. Proverbs 14:8 (ESV) tells us that “the wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving.” Recognize your reasons for participating or avoiding Black Friday.

Act with wisdom.

The book of Proverbs (27:23-24) says to “know well the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds; for riches are not forever, nor does a crown endure to all generations.” Keep tabs on what you possess; maintain what you can and replace what you need to.

Guard against greed.

Christ reminds us to “beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). No matter how great the Black Friday bargains you take advantage of, your life is greater than what you buy.

Glorify God.

According to Paul, church leaders are to “instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). After a successful shopping spree, you might feel wealthy, and compared to others, perhaps you are. But remember to thank the Lord for your prosperity. Don’t disregard Him.

Jesus invites you to learn from Him how to handle the potential and the pitfalls of November’s consumerist climate. Don’t shop alone; always go with Christ. Use this season as a time to discover God’s perspective on money, spending, possessions, and generosity. More than the material goods you get, these lessons will bless you for a lifetime.

Don’t Give Thanks!

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(http://www.theprcoach.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/hiding-turkey-felt-thanksgiving-card-in-vector-format_MkHjPNjd_L-300×300.jpg)

Do you teach your kids not to complain? Do you recall your parents instructing you to count your blessings?

That’s what Thanksgiving is all about; it’s in the name!

Maybe your family has everyone at the table take turns describing what he or she is grateful for. It does your heart good to remember all the provisions you’ve received. And it’s biblical.

Psalm 103:2-5 – “Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all His benefits–who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

So what do you thank God for? Forgiveness, healing, deliverance, provision? Quite a list!

But sometimes it’s best not to be thankful. Really! Listen to Jesus tell a story.

Luke 18:10-14 – “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

The Pharisees were the religious leaders of Israel during the time of Christ. They’re the rabbis and pastors of their day.

They knew the Scriptures backwards and forwards and concocted all kinds of rules and guideline to prevent people from breaking God’s Law. At least that’s what they thought.

Nice list this Pharisee had. He was no sinner; in fact, he was better than everyone else. No one could accuse him of cheating, sinning, or committing adultery.

Not only did this leader avoid evil, he put his heart into living right. He fasted and gave away a tenth of his own money. And we know that he prayed; after all, he’s talking to God. What a role model!

This Pharisee has a lot to be thankful for, doesn’t he? And to top it all off, he remembers to thank God for his virtuous life, although I’m not sure why. If he’s doing all the work, what’s left for the Lord to accomplish?

But there’s another character, a tax collector. The Roman government contracted the job of collecting taxes to locals. They had to meet certain financial goals for Rome but these hired guns could keep anything they got over the minimum. So imagine how the people felt about a fellow Jew who took more money than was required, gave much of it to a pagan government, and then pocketed the rest for himself. They hated him!

For a while he didn’t care. Money buys friends, so he had enough people trying to cozy up to him, but they were motivated only by what they could get from him. The tax collector realized no one loved him, and at some point, he stopped lying to himself. He began to believe they were right about him – he was bad and he was in trouble with God.

Now what? He dared to meet the Lord. By going to the Temple, he was trying to fix things. He resolved to give God whatever He wanted.

Remembering the prayers he learned as a child, the man attempted to voice them but only silence emerged. Glancing at the Pharisee, admired and respected by all, this legally-sanctioned swindler knew he fell short of God’s will. Accustomed to satisfying Rome’s financial demands, he had no chance of meeting God’s.

Did he overhear the prayer of the Pharisee? Every good deed, every little act of righteousness must have depressed this sinner. Compared to this religious leader, he was nothing and he knew it.

Then the tax collector thought of all those neighbors who’d asked him for a break on their bill or extra time to make a payment. He’d heard several cries for mercy; how many had he accepted? Now it was his turn to ask!

Right to the point, he prayed few words. Mercy, dear Lord!

Hearing no response, he left the Temple. In his heart, it was enough to ask. His fate was in God’s hands.

Jesus declared him righteous. The Pharisee, the one who did all the right things, missed the boat. Why?

Both men needed God’s grace, but only one recognized it. Christ conferred on the tax collector the gift of righteousness not because he was good but because God was.

So give thanks! Take advantage of the holiday called Thanksgiving to tell the Lord why’re you’re grateful. Just don’t thank Him for your pride!

with Bob Condly

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