From the Pulpit: The 2017 Thankful List

Have you ever sat down to write out a list of all that you are thankful for? A list of all the people, places, things, and experiences that make your life better? If you have ever tried to make such a list and taken the task seriously, then you know what an exercise it can be. Sure, it’s a test of memory; but more than that, it’s really an indication of how aware we are of the blessings we have received from God.

Christians say that every gift we have, whether relationships or things, comes from God’s own hand. That idea runs counter to our culture’s assumption that we deserve whatever we earn and can hold on to. Thankful people, however, are not focused on ourselves and what we can call our own; but, thankful to God for everyone and everything.

Several Psalms are about giving thanks to God. Leaf through a hymnal and note how many of the hymns are about being thankful people. Even our prayers before meals or bedtime are words of thanks for food prepared and received or rest that awaits the weary.

As a spiritual discipline, try writing out your list. Put down the names of people, places, and experiences for which you want to give thanks to God. Then spend a few minutes in silence with that list. You may be surprised by how full it is and how much the Thankful List will mean to you. Then put it away in a safe place where you can go back to it whenever you need.

And if you followed this simple reflective exercise last November, compare your 2016 list with your new one. Notice any changes? You may find, as others have done, that this simple spiritual practice will do much to revive your sense of genuine thankfulness.

Grace and peace,

Rev. Dr. Gary S. Eller
President, Omaha Presbyterian Seminary Foundation
Omaha, Nebraska

From the Pulpit: Is There a Plan?

A truism that you often hear is “working without a plan is planning to fail.” Most start-up businesses put together at least a basic “business plan.” Lenders and investors require them. They can be simple or complex; but, you have to have one.

Who would want to board an airplane, if they knew that there was no flight plan? Who would start a construction project without an architectural plan? What kind of coach would send a team into the next Big Game without a game plan? You get the idea. Planning matters.

So, is there a Master Plan for all of us? Some grand design that includes everyone and everything? A plan done not by human hands or massive computers, but a Creator’s Plan? Not necessarily an every step, every move kind of plan; but, a purposive direction that gives shape, form, and meaning to life?

Many people think so. They will tell you, “God has a plan for my life.” And they believe it. The same folks might add, “God has a plan for everyone and all creation.” They base their beliefs on what they find in the Bible and what they have heard in church and from important people in their lives. Theologians might say that they have a sense of the providence of God – that there is a design, pattern, direction to things established by a Higher Power than any of us.

Sometimes, particularly during a time of crisis, confidence in a divine Master Plan for humanity gets shaken. The cause might be a natural disaster or an alarming rise in international tensions. Our society is currently going through considerable pressure from both sources and several others. Even those who ordinarily trust that human history unfolds within a grand design are left wondering, What’s next?

What do you think about that one? If you believe that there is a Creator’s Plan, then how would that affect the plans and decisions that you make, big and small? How would it change the plans you are making today? Perhaps it is true, “We plan, God laughs.”

Rev. Dr. Gary S. Eller
President, Omaha Presbyterian Seminary Foundation
Omaha, Nebraska

From the Pulpit: God and Vacations

God and vacations do not mix. That is what a lot of people assume. Vacation means taking time out from all the routines of life and finding a more relaxed rhythm for a while. And, by and large, that includes taking time out from God, the church, and all of that.

It’s a very understandable attitude, isn’t it? If you are taking a long-awaited trip to a favorite vacation destination, you aren’t likely to ask the hotel clerk, “Where is the nearest good church we can attend on Sunday?” The poor clerk might be stunned speechless. They probably don’t get that request much.

The question is, should they? Is there any room among the all the stuff that goes with you on vacation for God? Or, is every seat taken and all the time already committed?

Let’s be clear ‑‑ even a simple, brief vacation can be an important opportunity to relax, get refreshed, and prepare for the onrush of the next thing back home. Even if it’s a one-day stay at home vacation, it can make a real difference to you. So why complicate matters with having to include God? Why not just wait until you return home to reconnect with your Creator?

Maybe your vacation is one of the best times to see your life in a broader perspective than usual. After all, you should, hopefully, have a little time on your hands. A few moments of solitude or a quiet prayer can be a way of reconnecting with both who we are and Whose we are.

You might give that a thought when you take time-out somewhere this summer. God will be there with you, for God never takes a vacation.

Grace and peace,

Rev. Dr. Gary S. Eller
President, Omaha Presbyterian Seminary Foundation
Omaha, Nebraska