I Was Wrong About Thanksgiving

Written By Karen Pimpo, USA

I used to think Thanksgiving was cute, like little handprint turkey art projects from third graders. Thanksgiving was mildly entertaining, like whatever football game is on TV when you fall asleep after too much turkey.

But Thanksgiving, I thought, was not important or relevant or meaningful. How could it be?

I’ve always been a little jaded about this particular holiday. A national day of gratitude? Yeah, right. What good is giving thanks for what we’ve got if we spend the very next day scrambling and fighting for the best deals on stuff we don’t really need? Everyone knows that Thanksgiving is really just an excuse to get a day off work. Maybe we’d just be better off without it.

But I was wrong—and I’m so relieved. This year, I’ve learned that Thanksgiving is really not about the traditions or the shopping or the food. The spirit of gratitude it represents is essential to this life. And when we take the time to gather in our homes and break bread and remember blessings with one another, amazing things happen.

In October this year, a few close friends and I had our very first “Friendsgiving”. Yes, it was a month early, and yes, most of us had never made our own Thanksgiving meals before. But we are nothing if not adventurous (and perhaps a little foolish). So we each committed to bringing a dish. And this tiny gathering turned into the most wonderful, eccentric, and heartwarming Thanksgiving meal—but not because of the food.

 

 The power of gratitude

After the meal, we sat on the couch and passed around popcorn kernels. The game was that everybody had to list one thing per kernel for which he or she was grateful. The first round of giving thanks was easy and lighthearted, and then things started getting deep. We listed blessings like the support of friends in difficult times, deep conversations around unanswerable questions, and God’s faithfulness in storms.

And that’s when our gathering really became thanksgiving. It was the gratitude, not the amazing apple pie, that completed our celebration. Sharing those blessings was a powerful experience, creating a bond between us and encouraging our hearts and bringing us into God’s presence with thanksgiving.

The “Friendsgiving” gratitude game gave me new eyes to see God’s daily provision of things that I normally take for granted. Looking back on the last year, I can see God’s hand throughout my life in ways I couldn’t see in the moment— an overwhelming bill that is now a testament to God’s provision. A scary tumor that is now a testament to God’s healing power. The loss of a friend that is now a testament to God’s sovereignty.

The circumstances we are in right now may not evoke songs of praise, but we are encouraged to give thanks in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Part of gratitude, I’ve learned, is trusting that God is still present and working in the midst of times that are fearful, painful, or lonely.

The Psalmist reminds us that gratitude and worship are what we were created for. It is fitting for us to be grateful to the One who is always true, trustworthy, just, and loving.

Let the godly sing for joy to the Lord; it is fitting for the pure to praise him.
Praise the Lord with melodies on the lyre; make music for him on the ten-stringed harp.
Sing a new song of praise to him; play skillfully on the harp, and sing with joy.

For the word of the Lord holds true, and we can trust everything he does.
He loves whatever is just and good; the unfailing love of the Lord fills the earth.
(Psalm 33:1-5, NLT)

I was wrong about Thanksgiving, and my new awareness of gratitude is bringing a fresh perspective to this season. Gratitude is powerful. It moves us to action. It causes us to literally give thanks, but also to give back, to give forward, to show someone else the generous hospitality we have received. And Thanksgiving isn’t complete without it.

I want this heart change to result in action—encouraging others, serving wholeheartedly, praising my Creator. I was wrong about Thanksgiving, and maybe you were, too, but we don’t have to be any more.

Can Christians Be Vegan?

Written By Michael D. Giammarino, USA

You may be the type of person who hears the word “vegan” and turns away with a scoff and a roll of the eyes. That’s certainly how I used to respond before I began seriously considering the vegan* way of life.

I, like many others, thought that vegans were crazy hippies or yoga freaks or people that were just “out there” with no grounding in reality. I had certainly never met a Christian Vegan. To my surprise, I discovered that someone close to me was genuinely considering this lifestyle—my very own pastor! Having much respect for my pastor, I knew he wasn’t simply being foolish in overhauling his life and diet. And I wanted to know what those reasons were.

 

Food is Deep

As I spoke with him, I found that everything he was saying aligned accurately with Scripture and common sense. He showed me a simple yet profound truth—that food is deep. It is deep in the sense that it is much more than mere nourishment for our bodies, a necessary substance to keep us alive. For instance, why was food created in the first place? It couldn’t simply be to keep humans alive because there was food in the Garden of Eden before the fall. So would Adam and Eve have died if they had not eaten food? Logically no, since death had not entered into earthly existence.

Also, there are numerous references in the Bible about foods that are otherworldly such as Elijah’s angelic food in 1 Kings 19 and the heavenly manna during the Exodus. What’s more, the Bible even ascribes deep metaphorical meaning to food like when Christ refers to Himself as the “bread of life” or to His disciples as the “salt of the earth.” In short, I think that food deserves much more thought and respect than is often given to it.

When my pastor explained his transition to veganism, he did more than simply open my eyes to the spiritual, metaphorical, and philosophical depth of food. He showed me several points that directly tied veganism to God’s Word.

First, he pointed out that humans were not originally created to eat meat. A fully plant-based diet was the original fuel that God gave for our bodies to run on. It was not until after the Flood that people began eating meat (see Genesis 9:3). That’s roughly 1,600 years after the Fall! Clearly, humans were able to perform work and live life while being sustained on a meatless diet.

Now, if God originally created the human body to be fueled by a plant-based diet, one would expect plants to contain high levels of nutrients and low levels of toxic elements—and that is exactly what we see. The vegan diet has strong scientific support as a superior diet for health and wellness. Now, I will happily admit that there are studies and scientists and research articles that claim that meat is good for individuals to consume regularly, but that misses my point. The debate seems to be whether or not meat is healthy. To my knowledge, there are no credible claims that state vegetables are unhealthy.

And that is precisely what one would expect when reading the biblical narrative and the original human diet. Vegans simply take the good foods and choose to consume only those. There’s nothing unbiblical about that.

Further, since food is deeper than the physical, I began to realize that food affects my mood, mindset, ability to concentrate, etc. When I am in a mental rut or am feeling down or just don’t seem to care about challenging myself to be productive, I can often link it to a series of poor dietary choices. Conversely, when I eat good, healthy food, I usually find that I feel more upbeat and happier in my approach to life. God made us as holistic beings—mind, body, and spirit. When I’ve attempted to compartmentalize these parts in the past, God has shown me that it can’t be done. They each leak into the other. So when I treat my body right, my mind and spirit also benefit.

 

Bodies are temples of God

Aside from the practical reasons to treat one’s body appropriately, God mandates that His children place great importance on the treatment of their bodies. 1 Corinthians tells us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and that we are to honor it with worthy actions . . . and that means worthy food too.

I remember watching an episode of A&E’s Duck Dynasty. Some of the guys in the episode were making hamburgers and one of them made a burger that didn’t look too appetizing. When it was offered to Uncle Si, his response was remarkable. He said, “This body is my temple. I ain’t puttin’ that crap in this temple.” His bluntness encouraged me to always remember the importance of my body and to treat it with the high standards of a king’s palace. Veganism is just another way that one can treat his or her body in such a way.

 

Animal Welfare is a God-given duty

A last point that really piqued my interest was Christianity’s long history of caring for animals. The Bible tells us that “a righteous man regards the life of his animal . . . ” (Prov. 12:10a). Further, many accounts within Christian history reinforce this idea. There are claims that St. Francis of Assisi greatly loved animals and encouraged people to kindly care for them as well. The Christian politician William Wilberforce was an early pioneer in the animal welfare movement and was always concerned about legislation that dealt with the fair treatment of animals. Many believe that British theologian and apologist C.S. Lewis purposely ascribed significance to animals and speaking beasts in his beloved Narnia books in order to teach children to care for animals. In light of this, veganism further aligns with the principles of the Christian faith.

I must clarify one thing: I see no biblical justification for any claim that meat in and of itself is sinful under the New Covenant.

I do recall, however, that Paul had something to say about things being lawful but not beneficial (see 1 Cor. 10:23). I think meat is one of these things. It’s certainly not sinful but it may not be the best thing for us. And I’ll be honest, I sometimes find myself in phases where I eat enough meat-based products to not seriously consider myself a vegan. But I press on. I strive to live this way, not because of some weird hippie mentality or millennial trend, but because I think it is a better way to live. I think it honors my body, keeps me healthier, and prevents animal mistreatment.

So in the end, I trust my pastor is right. Veganism is biblical. It is certainly more biblical than I had anticipated it would be and I’ve come to see that Christians can undoubtedly be vegans. In fact, I actually think it makes more sense for a Christian to be a vegan than for anyone else to be one. This is my personal conviction, and I have no intention of forcing it on you or anyone else. I only ask that you ask yourself: is what I’m putting in my body good for me?

 

*“Veganism” traditionally refers to a lifestyle free of animal products. This includes animal free clothing, toiletries, and more. Today, many call themselves “vegan” when in reality, they merely adopted the vegan diet. I am referring to both groups here.

Lessons From A Shooting Tragedy

August 19, 2013, began like any other Monday at Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago, USA. As usual, I handled routine administrative tasks and worked on my sermon for the evening service at our soup kitchen ministry. The church employees were in the office working and chatting.

No one knew it would become a day marked by tragedy.

At 5:00 p.m., we welcomed 150 people from the streets for our first service. For our second service at 5:45 p.m., we had approximately 100 people in the pews waiting for the sermon. I got into the pulpit and began preaching.

At 6:00 p.m. we heard, “Bang! Bang! Bang!” The twenty-odd bangs sounded like firecrackers. I turned around and said, “It’s just fireworks folks. Don’t worry. Have a seat.”

One of our deacons corrected me, saying, “No, I know that was not fireworks. It was too loud for fireworks and it was real close.”

I could almost feel the tension in the air, and the noise shook me to the very core. Adrenaline rushed through my veins and my heart was pounding. I rushed to the church steps and burst through the doors.

Chaos. It looked like a battlefield. People running in every direction. Children screaming and howling. Shattered glass. Bullet shells on the ground. People fighting and yelling. It was a drive-by shooting.

I immediately saw that there were two young men on the ground at the steps of our church. One was lying face down on the ground in a pool of blood. The other had multiple bullet holes in him.

A man who had been in our first service rushed up to me and said, “Pastor, I just got shot in the legs.” Another man from our first service had a gunshot in his thigh and one other had been shot in the wrist.

I dialed 911, the emergency number. “My name is Jonathan Hayashi. We had a shooting at 1011 West Wilson Ave . . . No security officer present. One man down on the ground. Description of the man . . . ” As I explained, two police vehicles came from the south and an ambulance came from west of Wilson. Police officers were running across the streets, and yellow tape was put around the cross walk to secure the area. I stood there in silence, not knowing what to do in the midst of the tragedy that took place at our church steps.

A 21-year-old boy was dead with a baseball-sized bullet hole in his head. I saw his brain burst out like Jell-o.

Why, God?

As I contemplated the incident, I realize I could easily have been one of them. I still vividly recall my days in the gang and that fateful day I found out my friend Asagiri had died at the age of 18 because of gang activity. If I had stayed in the gang instead of meeting Christ, that could very well have been me.

Amid the ongoing physical threats and challenges my family and I face, these are two key reflections I’ve had since that shooting tragedy which spur me on to keep sharing Christ:

 

1. God Loves All of Us

God created us in His image and loved us even before the foundation of the earth (Genesis 1, Psalm 139, Ephesians 1). He loved us so much that He sent His Son to die the death you and I deserve—shedding His blood for us and taking on His father’s wrath on that cross in our place. His death conquered the enemy—sin and death itself—so whoever believes in Him shall never perish, but have everlasting life.

That is the gospel. The gospel begins with God’s love, is demonstrated through the cross and the empty tomb, and results in eternal life for those who believe.

Unfortunately, we sometimes unconsciously—or not—decide in our minds who “deserves” to be saved, and like Jonah, run from those who make us feel uncomfortable.

But God doesn’t just love people like us; He loves the entire world (John 3:16). Are we aware of the many people who do not know how much God loves them? A lot of people living right beside us?

 

2. God calls us to Love Others

The message of biblical Christianity is not “God loves me, period,” as if we were the object of our own faith. The message of biblical Christianity is “God loves me so that I might make Him—His way, His salvation, His glory, and His greatness—known among all nations.” God is the object of our faith, and Christianity centers around Him. “We are not the end of the gospel; God is,” says David Platt, President of the International Mission Board and the author of Radical.

God’s love should compel us to act. The scripture says, “Therefore go make disciples of all nations . . . ” (Matt. 28:19-20)

We don’t have to start a huge ministry, new organization, new initiative, incredible book, or new strategy. It starts with remembering what is at stake for those around us, and using whatever skills God has given us to show Him to the world.

We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Let’s take a leaf out of Evangelist Dwight L. Moody’s book. It’s been written that he was one of the few that went into the worst district of Chicago, the Sands, also known as “Little Hell” to save souls.

In fact, it is precisely because of my experience with gang life and seeing young boys and girls running around killing each other, that my wife and I are convicted to serve where we’re at. We’ve since moved to Greater St. Louis where the crime rate is worse than Chicago. But I firmly believe that urban cities such as Chicago and St. Louis are excellent places for gospel outreach to the broken, needy, and perishing sinners.

My mission is to love these people who desperately need Jesus and be prepared to lay down my life just as Jesus did for me on the cross.

So, don’t waste this life. We don’t know how long we’ve got. Let’s spend our lives making His love known among the people. We’re not learning this for ourselves, but the people around us.

5 Reasons Why the Reformation Matters Today

Written By Dorothy Norberg, USA

In a conversation about our favorite historical figures, I asked a coworker if he knew who Martin Luther was. He responded with, “Oh! Is that the guy who nailed stuff to the door?”

“Yes, that’s him!” I said with a laugh.

For many people, Martin Luther exists in this single snapshot: a monk hammering the Ninety-five Theses to a church door. While some historians believe that the tale is likely apocryphal, his true legacy has greatly influenced me.

Martin Luther, a German who lived from 1483-1546, was a key figure of the Protestant Reformation, when Protestants—so-named for their protest against Catholic teachings—split from the Catholic Church. Luther’s involvement in this movement was shaped by his personal testimony of receiving God’s grace and overcoming doubts about his salvation.

God used Luther to help restore a Biblical understanding of salvation. Because I struggled with my own guilt and self-condemnation, Luther’s story resonated with me, as it showed that God can use struggles in people’s lives to draw them to Him and equip them to change the world.

This year, on October 31, we honor the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Ninety-five Theses. Here are five foundational reasons why his testimony, beliefs, and stand against the theology and practices of his day still matter today.

 

1. It reminds us to know the gospel for ourselves.

In the 1500s, the Catholic Church taught that salvation came through faith, works, and grace, and that those who repented of their sins before death would be punished for their sins in Purgatory before they could go to Heaven.

One very controversial practice was the sale of indulgences, which were credits that would supposedly reduce time in Purgatory for both the living and the already dead. This allowed corruption to flourish. One friar even advertised with the jingle, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs” (Estep, 1986).

Luther spent years fearing that he was not holy enough to merit God’s favor, and only escaped this struggle when he understood that salvation was about Christ’s righteousness, not his own. His experience with spiritual despair taught him that good behavior and church rituals could not remove the weight of his guilt (Perry, 2013).

As a professor and preacher, Luther encouraged people to focus on Christ and study the Scriptures. Things came to a head on 31 October, 1517: in his Ninety-five Theses, Luther protested the practice of selling indulgences and argued that the church did not have the authority to save souls. His writings were circulated widely.

Luther teaches us that the true gospel frees souls from spiritual bondage, and also frees people from dependence upon the gatekeepers of tradition. We should not depend upon pastors, speakers, or writers to make Christian teaching available to us. It is important to read the Bible for ourselves, know its truth, and be prepared to defend it against false teaching.

 

2. It reminds us that we are saved by grace alone.

As a monk, Luther spent countless hours in the confessional, trying to remember and recount all his sins. He also tried to attain holiness through pilgrimages, long hours of fasting, and prayer. He later said of this time, “I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailer and hangman of my poor soul.”

I will never forget what it was like to learn about Luther’s struggle to feel forgiven. As a church kid, I related to his fear that no matter how outwardly compliant he tried to be or how well he followed the rules, he could never remove the stain of guilt from his soul. Like Luther, I desired to follow Christ, but I feared condemnation and lacked assurance of salvation.

What transformed Luther’s life—and mine—is the knowledge that we are saved through grace alone. In Luther’s study of the Scriptures, he was struck by the language of righteousness in books such as Romans and Galatians, and came to understand that we are saved not because we do righteous acts in union with God, but through faith in the perfect righteousness of Christ.=

 

3. It reminds us that following Christ always has a price.

Luther was summoned by church authorities and told to recant under threat of excommunication. His response was, “I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.”

Luther chose this knowing that the authority of Scripture was of greater value than his reputation or comfort. Luther once said, “I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”

Even in my ordinary life, following Christ requires sacrifice. I cherish this reminder that when I lay down my preferences at the altar and pick up my cross to follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24), my ultimate security lies in Him.

 

4. It reminds us that the gospel is for everyone.

Because the Germans did not have accessible Bible translation in their language, they depended upon the Catholic Church for religious education and training. The church taught that only priests could rightly read and interpret Scripture, but Luther argued that every person can receive faith and understanding from God.  He spent many of his later years crafting a Bible translation of the New Testament in the German vernacular, making the transformative, authoritative text of Scripture available to ordinary people.

In churches today, we should not give special favor to the well-educated, wealthy, and beautiful, as if these markers of worldly success indicate spiritual strength. The Holy Spirit resides in every believer, and through Him, we have access to God. Spiritual gifts are poured out upon all those who put their faith in Christ.

 

5. It reminds us to depend on Scripture.

Throughout different generations, challenges to Scriptural authority vary, but the correct response remains the same. Christians must depend upon God’s revelation in Scripture as truer than any church leader’s vision or political system’s creed. They must also reject the temptation to prize other means of spiritual discovery as more important than the Bible.

Luther said, “From the beginning of my Reformation I have asked God to send me neither dreams, nor visions, nor angels, but to give me the right understanding of His Word, the Holy Scriptures; for as long as I have God’s Word, I know that I am walking in His way and that I shall not fall into any error or delusion.”

In today’s culture, it is easy for believers to feel like the unbelieving world can never be persuaded by the Bible, and that we must find fresh, glamorous ways to attract people to Jesus. But these approaches discard the tool that best convicts of sin, reveals God’s glory, and teaches the gospel. As the Reformation and the rest of Christian history shows, the Bible is our irreplaceable source of truth, with the power to change both individual hearts and the world.

 

References
“Renaissance and Reformation.” William R. Estep, 1986
“Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics, and Society.” Marvin Perry et al., 2013