October 16, 2017

Thoughts on Thanksgiving Weekend 11:24:06

prayer_s.jpgAround hundreds of thousands of Thanksgiving dinner tables, millions of Americans will take a moment and share with one another what they are thankful for in the past year. Because Thanksgiving doesn’t require any particular confession of faith, it’s close to a universal experience for Americans, and one that most of us treasure more and more as the years go by.

As Christians, we understand that thankfulness is a deep pillar of character in the Christian life. As Henri Nouwen said…

Gratitude  goes beyond the “mine” and “thine” and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.

Thankfulness is both a “do” and a “be” in the Christian vision of the good life. A sovereign and wise God orders life and we learn to respond in every circumstance with praise and gratitude.

And, if you haven’t noticed, that’s not an easy calling. As Americans, we posit our own quests and maps for happiness in the midst of the Christian story, and we discover that we all have a level of addiction to our definitions of happiness that stand in the way of simple, trusting thankfulness to God. Repentance from moral vices is relatively easy when compared to repentance from addiction to what we believe absolutely MUST BE in order for us to be happy, blessed and normal.

We live by an ethic that frees our desires from the judgment of the Gospel. We assume that the Lord of the universe is signed on to make us happy by filling out our little lists of wants. We are consumers and we are socialized to believe that we judge all things- including God- as consumers.

Christianity is not a faith of consumption, but a call to discipleship and Trinitarian fellowship/community. Can we be thankful when we don’t have what we want, or when we do not recognize God’s way with us as “the good life?” Can we find the true note of thankfulness that Paul expressed when he said

11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4)

In a few hours, it will be my turn to recite my personal litany of thanksgiving. I’ll be honest that the first things that will come to mind will be those events for which it’s been hard for me to be thankful:

-Denise had unexpected surgery in March.
-With no warning, my daughter left college at the end of her junior year.
-After 12 years, I resigned my church. I cried hard, because I didn’t want to quit.
-In July, my mother passed away from a massive stroke in 14 hours.
-In September, my son moved out of the home to attend university, inaugurating the empty nest.
-For the first time since I was 15 and started preaching, I have no regular church pulpit on Sunday, and no calls coming in.
-I’m mentally, emotionally and spiritually struggling with what God wants from me in the second half of life.
-All of these events have seriously affected our family and marriage in various ways, especially financially.

All of these things are close to the surface level of my feelings. Of course, a moment’s reflection brings to mind the many reasons I can be thankful for all that has happened in the past year.

-Denise had incredible care at UK and has a totally clean bill of health. She’ll live to be 125 and probably spend all my insurance cruising the Caribbean with some guy named Todd.
-Noel is happily married to a great young man, has a fabulous job, has found a church and is enrolled at Ohio State to finish her senior year and her English degree. She’s the amazing daughter we always knew she was, and now the state of Ohio is finding out.
-I had a good ministry at Manchester Presbyterian Church. I made many lifelong friends and, while it is hard to explain, knowing that I was able and willing to obey God’s direction in this matter is important in my continuing walk with Christ in the second half of life. Everyone in ministry knows there are times you have fought the good fight and there is no more to do. And there are times you have to, for the good of a church, force them to consider their own situation that you can’t rescue them from anymore.
-Our “house church,” soli deo, has been a positive experience, and while it is not a church, it is a worshiping fellowship that allow our family to enjoy many aspects of worship we’ve always wanted to share on a regular basis.
-My mom had a full life and a merciful, quick passing. Her last nine months living with us were a great blessing to our entire family. She was ready to go and would be thrilled to know this was how things would end.
-My son is having an amazing experience at UK, at Tate’s Creek Presbyterian Church and in Reformed University Fellowship. We couldn’t ask for a better college start.
-God has provided for us in every way. We have what we need and more besides. Denise and I are committed to a plan for making through this season of life even if it calls us to make financial and personal sacrifices that we never anticipated.
-God isn’t done with me yet. I have some of my best ministry in front of me, either here at OBI or wherever God leads.

When I stop and consider what I have to be thankful for, I realize that my cup overflows in every way.

I have a wonderful wife, two incredible children and a great new son-in-law. I have my health (and a wonderful doctor.) I have a job that provides everything from housing to insurance to free food. I have classes to teach, sermons to preach and a community that includes me as a valuable member. I have a thousand reasons a day to be happy in God and for his blessings. I have friends all over the world and opportunities in the Kingdom of God that few people anywhere could ever imitate. I have no debts and a dependable car without payments. I sleep at night and look forward to every day. The generosity of those who support my ministry enriches my life every day. I have made it through a mid-life crisis that could have destroyed me, and I love the God and Father of Jesus more than ever. The Gospel makes me cry with joy, and I want more and more of it.

It is my American nature to focus on where things have not gone according to my plan. I realize that God’s incredible faithfulness should stand over every part of my life where fear and anxiety challenge my definitions of happiness. It’s exactly in those places I need to proclaim to myself the goodness and the generosity of the Lord. True contentment is not related to the events of the day, but grows out of the Gospel and from being in covenant with God himself.

So on this Thanksgiving weekend, join me in a hymn of praise to the One to whom we can always be thankful.

Sing praise to God Who reigns above, the God of all creation,
The God of power, the God of love, the God of our salvation.
With healing balm my soul is filled and every faithless murmur stilled:
To God all praise and glory.

What God�s almighty power hath made His gracious mercy keepeth,
By morning glow or evening shade His watchful eye ne�er sleepeth;
Within the kingdom of His might, Lo! all is just and all is right:
To God all praise and glory.

The Lord is never far away, but through all grief distressing,
An ever present help and stay, our peace and joy and blessing.
As with a mother�s tender hand, God gently leads the chosen band:
To God all praise and glory.

Thus, all my toilsome way along, I sing aloud Thy praises,
That earth may hear the grateful song my voice unwearied raises.
Be joyful in the Lord, my heart, both soul and body bear your part:
To God all praise and glory.

Let all who name Christ�s holy Name give God all praise and glory;
Let all who own His power proclaim aloud the wondrous story!
Cast each false idol from its throne, for Christ is Lord, and Christ alone:
To God all praise and glory.

Comments

  1. Amen, IM!

    At the turn of every change is something God intends as blessing. Job 13:15. If I stop being grateful and worshipful, I become a bitter Christ-follower. Nothing on earth could be worse than that! God gave me a good husband and a home this year, along with a good church family. He has been very, very good lion, though still not tame.

  2. I read a sign once that said “Thanksgiving is good, but Thanksliving is better.” Something that isn’t easy for those of us who are spoiled Americans.