CALL TO WORSHIP — Psalm 36:5-9 Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
your judgments are like the great deep; How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light.
Go on up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!”
Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
We have many Christmas movies and specials that mean a lot to us for different reasons. Thanksgiving, not so many. When I was in junior high school, I believe, one of the local T.V. stations (probably channel 43) showed two movies on Thanksgiving day for a number of years in a row: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Snow White and the Three Stooges. I have to admit I liked both of them (although the Stooges’ shorts were much more artistic than their full length movies). How they related specifically with Thanksgiving is anybody’s guess. A number of years later a movie with Thanksgiving as the driving force of its plot appeared.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles was introduced in 1987. It was written, produced, and directed by John Hughes, who specialized in movies that focused on human relationships. The plot revolves around two men who meet by chance due to travel difficulties as Thanksgiving approaches. Neal Page (Steve Martin) is a straight-laced business executive that is trying to get back to his home and family in Chicago in time for Thanksgiving. Del Griffith (John Candy) is a shower curtain ring salesman traveling for business. They are polar opposites in personality. Neal is serious, reserved and restrained in his actions. Del is a joker, open and talkative. After their initial travel plans fall through due to bad weather, Del promises Neal he will get him home in time for Thanksgiving, because he feels at least partially responsible for Neal’s predicament.
Their trip becomes a comedy of errors and hardships, traveling on, yes– planes, trains, and automobiles, and also trucks. Throughout the journey Del remains focused on his goal of trying to get Neal home to Chicago in time for his big family Thanksgiving dinner. Neal also remains focused on his goal of trying to get home in time for his big family Thanksgiving dinner. Along the way Neal changes. He has to move out of his comfort zone. He has to learn to “fly by the seat of his pants,” so to speak. He has to adjust to things outside of his control, which seems foreign to him. He learns that he has to accept Del for who he is– he can’t change him to be the way he would like him to be. He also learns to laugh.
Eventually Del does get Neal back to Chicago on Thanksgiving day. He will make it in time for dinner. As the two men part ways on the platform of the El in Chicago they both appreciate what they have been through. The change in Neal becomes apparent as he rides on the train, reflecting on the past few days. As he remembers events and conversations his mind turns away from himself and toward Del. He returns back to the station where he got on the train and finds Del sitting in the station alone. When he asks why he is there he learns that Del’s wife had passed away 8 years ago and that he is alone and homeless. He takes Del home with him, so that his new friend can share Thanksgiving with his family.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look not to his own interests, but rather to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4, CSB)
It would have been easy for Neal Page to continue home on the train, and forget about Del Griffith. The experiences of the past few days could have been a lost exercise in frustration. Instead they turned out to be a lesson in humility brought about from considering another man’s situation instead of his own. He gained a true friend.
Although Planes, Trains and Automobiles doesn’t quote Scripture and can’t really be considered a Christian movie, it has at its heart the message of Philippians 2:3-4. Del always seemed genuinely concerned for Neal’s welfare. For the majority of the journey Neal was oblivious to Del’s needs. His lesson in turning his mind to someone else rather than himself is a reminder that each of us needs from time to time. Pastor James’ emphasis the past month or two has been on considering others and being in harmony. Philippians 2 at its core emphasizes considering others and working together. From beginning to end, so does Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Even a Thanksgiving comedy movie can serve as a positive example, and lead us to remember Scripture!
I have attached a clip of the ending of the movie. It is about 7 minutes in length. If you have enough time, please watch.
CALL TO WORSHIP — Psalm 100 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
GRACE & ASSURANCE — 1 John 2:1-2
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.
But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
This year Jim Sperry has shared a few messages with the church. Although the Scripture texts has varied the underlying message has been consistent: “God is awesome!” That theme reminds me of one hymn in particular—How Great Thou Art. Since I was young this hymn has been one of the most common hymns that would be considered among a small group of foundational classics that come immediately to mind (to my mind at least), including Amazing Grace, Sweet Hour of Prayer, Just As I Am, and A Mighty Fortress. Many hymns were written by noted hymn writers and musicians, and were originally written for use in worship services. How Great Thou Art took a longer, more winding path.
In 1885 a Swedish editor named Carl Boberg was walking home along a coastline. He was generally enjoying nature when a sudden thunderstorm arose. He found cover until the worst of the storm passed, and then rushed to get home. After he got home he opened his windows to see a clear beautiful sky. He listened to the birds and heard church bells ringing. He sat down and wrote a poem that he called. “O Store Gud” (which is Swedish for “A Mighty God”). He shared the poem, and it was eventually published in the local newspaper. A songwriter saw it and matched the words with a Swedish folk song. In the early 1900’s it was translated to German. Later a Russian version appeared. It was translated to English in 1925 by E. Gustav Johnson to a version unlike what we have today. In the 1930’s British missionary Stuart K. Hine heard the Russian version while he was in Ukraine. He translated that version into English. In 1949 he introduced his version with a new title, “How Great Thou Art.”
The hymn was published in a missionary magazine called “Grace and Peace.” J. Edwin Orr, an evangelist, was traveling in India and heard an Indian choir singing the hymn. He loved it and brought that English version back home to America. He had it performed at a conference he was holding for college students, where it was heard by Tim Spencer’s children. Tim was a singer formerly in the Sons of the Pioneers, Roy Rogers’ cowboy band. He owned Mana Music and bought the song rights. It was mostly unknown until 1954, when George Beverly Shea heard it.
He and Billy Graham loved it and used it as the theme song of a world crusade he was conducting at the time. From that point its fame spread and it was recorded by many, including Elvis Presley, Loretta Lynn, and Tennessee Ernie Ford. Over the years since it has been performed and recorded an immeasurable number of times. It became a worship standard in English speaking churches.
I was motivated to consider this song because I heard a performance version of it that I had not previously heard. YouTube suggested that I watch a video of it performed by a group called GQ (“Girls Quartet”). I have watched several other performances by them. They are not very commercially famous to my knowledge. It is a group of women who met years ago while they were in college in Baltimore County, Maryland. They began singing together, writing and/or arranging a lot of their own music. They graduated long ago, and I believe at least three of them are now teachers in schools. They continued to perform after college.
I am usually a traditionalist about a lot of things. Sometimes I hear different or modernized versions of hymns and songs that simply turn me off. At other times I am motivated to appreciate one in a new light. This heartfelt version by GQ is in the latter category. It took me out of my comfortable place of hearing the same melody in the same style (great though it is), and caused me to focus on the words again, and feel the emotion behind the song. I hope it does that for you also:
CALL TO WORSHIP — Psalm 92:1-2, 4
It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night, For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy.
GRACE & ASSURANCE — James 1:2-4 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,
for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
And let steadfastness have its full effect,
that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Today’s date, November 10th, is one that catches my attention every year. It is the date in 1975 the Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior during a terrible storm. The event is forever ingrained in the memory of those directly affected by it—surviving family members of the crew, friends of the crewmen, fellow shipping crews on the Great Lakes, and even shipping crews of the future through changed and updated safety regulations for shipping. Many who were not directly affected by the tragedy became familiar with it through a ballad written by Gordon Lightfoot, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” The song is largely based on the facts of the event, but there are some details in the song provided through legend and poetic license.
“The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down Of the big lake they called Gitche Gumee The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead When the skies of November turn gloomy”
Lake Superior has an average depth of almost 500 feet. At its deepest it is 1,332 feet. The Fitzgerald rests about 535 feet from the surface. The average water temperature during the year is 40 degrees. At its deepest parts it is colder. The verse in the song above has a basis in fact. When a physical organic body–plant, fish, or human sinks to the bottom of a warm body of water, bacteria and other tiny creatures cause decomposition. As this happens tissue bloats and expands, which normally causes objects to rise to the top of the water. In water as cold as the depths of Lake Superior there is little to no bacteria to decompose organic objects. They stay at the bottom of the lake and are preserved for a long time. Therefore the lake never gives up its dead.
That characteristic of large and deep bodies of water is only one of the many reasons that deep water, and the oceans especially still hide mysteries from us. Every year scientists discover creatures and plants in the depths of the oceans that have escaped our gaze and study. During more ancient Biblical times even greater mystery surrounded the watery depths.
In the New Testament the Greek word translated as “sea” is “thalassa”. It generally indicates a natural body of water: an ocean, sea, lake, seashore, or body of water in general. It doesn’t always mean “ocean” in the largest bodies of water on Earth sense. The Sea of Galilee is a freshwater lake and is much smaller than any of the Great Lakes. Yet the fishermen and travelers of Biblical times were very wary of it and its weather and waves. Much more fear entailed as people entered the Mediterranean Sea. It is much larger and deeper, and held creatures in its depths that the Sea of Galilee did not. Reports in ancient times of fearful creatures like the kraken were probably not fanciful fiction but borne by encounters with creatures like the giant squid or octopus. A trip out on a boat or ship, especially on a large body of water brought no guarantee of a safe return home. A thalassa meant uncertainty, lack of control, danger, fear, and possibly disappearance and death to the people of the New Testament period.
“Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.” (Revelation 21:1)
I believe that the sea mentioned in this verse represents the fear and uncertainty people feel for unexpected and unseen danger and death. Some apply a literal meaning to this term, saying that it means that the physical New Earth will have no seas or large bodies of water. I don’t believe this harmonizes well with the other obviously figurative language in the following verses of the chapter. Did John literally see the Holy City “prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (v.2)? He is trying to describe what he saw in the most applicable human terms possible to show the beauty and grandeur of the occasion.
The disappearance of the sea coincides with the second sentence of verse 4: “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” The theme continues in verse 5: “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” His “making everything new” doesn’t simply mean our physical home on Earth. It means the entire system in which we exist. We won’t have the separation from God, death, sorrow, sickness, and pain that we face now as consequences of sin. For true believers who have accepted Christ as savior this means being in His presence for eternity as a member of His family. The sea is no more. Hallelujah!
Psalm 148:1-2, 13 Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens; Praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels;
Praise him, all his hosts!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, For his name alone is exalted; His majesty is above the earth and heaven.
GRACE & ASSURANCE — From Psalm 73 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
Yet I am always with you;
You hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
And my portion forever.
The picture above might not be a beautiful one. At first glance, it might not be an encouraging one. It is an image of what I saw on the forest floor a few days ago. The leaves signal the impending winter. I will be the first to admit that I do not enjoy winter. As I get older I become an even greater fan of warm, and even hot weather. The leaves that I saw above and all around me initially made me a bit sad. Considering them further made me appreciate God’s greatness and foresight for the Earth.
Why do leaves turn yellow or brown and fall off the trees? In our part of the world, they sense winter coming. Plants thrive on chlorophyll. When there is a lot of daylight, water, and warm weather, like in summer, trees are chlorophyll factories. They produce it to feed themselves, grow, and propagate. When the days get shorter and the temperatures colder, trees go into defense mode. In winter they lose a large amount of water because it turns to snow or ice, and is immediately unusable for their daily health. They don’t have long enough daylight or warmth to keep their chlorophyll factories running. The lack of chlorophyll, which produces the green color in their leaves, causes the other natural pigments to come out. Those are the reds, yellows, and tans we see in fall. As they lose more moisture they become brown. As the colors are changing, trees also create a layer of cells between the leaves and branches. At the point the trees can’t supply enough food or nutrients to support the leaves, the leaves drop off. Our trees remain in this state until the daylight grows longer and the temperatures rise in spring. More liquid moisture comes and trees begin to put out the buds that will become leaves. The cycle refreshes.
God had a considered purpose in designing the trees to operate according to their cycle of growth and temporary decay. Humans have been able to learn to understand this growth cycle. Unfortunately many either ignore or deny God’s role in designing the Earth and its systems. David wrote a poetic testament to God’s greatness in design and anticipation of our world’s needs in Psalm 104. He considered trees:
“The trees of the Lord are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. There the birds make their nests; the stork has its home in the junipers.”
— Psalm 104:16-17
He planned for the lives and sustenance of the trees, which had distinct purposes. The cedars of Lebanon were used for building both buildings and boats for people. The cedars and juniper trees (and many others) are used by birds for nesting. Trees of all kinds are useful for both humans and animals.
“He made the moon to mark the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down. You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl. The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God. The sun rises, and they steal away; they return and lie down in their dens. Then people go out to their work, to their labor until evening.”
— Psalm 104:19-23
Although David’s understanding of the specific “hows and whys” of how the world operates may be limited compared to what we have learned in the years since, he fully understands the source and cause of the world operating the way it does. He knows that God established the system in which our world operates– by day, night, and season. Each division or designation works to benefit a different part of His creation. Man generally works by day, while many animals hunt and live by night. The change of seasons brings balance to different parts of the world at the same time. The winter dormancy in our area coincides with the summer growth season in Australia. The moon affects our tides and the balance of the oceans on Earth. The path of Earth as it travels around the sun gives us a concrete measure for the year that is the basis for our measurement of time.
We can be thankful that God had us in mind when He created the Earth for us. The winter we endure here means that someone on the other side of the Earth from us is experiencing summer. The new green buds and leaves on the trees in the spring are reminders of His consideration and planning for us. So are the brown leaves on the ground and bare branches on the trees in autumn. God loves us!