Some Thanksgiving Thoughts

 

I really hope you’re not reading this on Thanksgiving Day.  I hope you are far too busy with friends and family and food to be looking at blogs.  But just in case you are, let me give you a few Thanksgiving thoughts.

The first comes from a book about Thanksgiving by Melanie Kirkpatrick.

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In that book, she describes how some pastors disliked the scheduling of football games on Thanksgiving Day.  These pastors believed the games took away from the church services being held that day.  A rabbi chimed into this debate, saying this:

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Yeah, I’m a football fan, too, and I will be watching portions of all three games being played, so I definitely see things the way the rabbi does (and I agree with his portrayal of God and what a good God enjoys).

But I will be giving thanks on the day as well.  That is nothing new for me; I thank God every day for dozens of blessings.  But I do give special thanks on this day.  There are many Scriptures which fuel this thanks, of course, but there are several songs that do so as well.  I wanted to share a few of those with you:

 

There are a dozen or so others, all of them special to me at this time of year.  I hope you enjoy a few of those if you have the time.  I also hope you eat well, as I said earlier, and that you are well-loved and love well.  I hope you look up to heaven at some time between the gridiron and the table.  And I really do hope you have a happy Thanksgiving!

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Thankful For Intercessors

I pray the Ransomed Heart daily prayer about four times a week.  I pray it four times a week instead of daily because there are other prayer forms I like to use.  But there are some elements of the daily pray I do pray every day, elements I bring into those other prayer forms.  One of them is this one:

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I guess there are a lot of elements there, but the one I want you to notice is two or three lines from the bottom.  It is the “I ask you to send forth your Spirit to raise up prayer and intercession for me.”  I have expanded this in my version of the daily prayer.  I have it like this:

I ask You to send forth Your Spirit to raise up intercessors for me.  I ask that people will love and pray for me, and will further let me know of their love and prayers for me.

This element of this prayer became very important to me during a very difficult time I endured a few months ago.  I prayed this often during this difficult time and was answered.  People did contact me by phone, text, email, Facebook, etc. to let me know they were praying for me.  Many even said they loved me.

I thought about this as I prayed this part of the daily prayer today, one of my all-time favorite days, the day before Thanksgiving.  As I prayed this part of the prayer, I thought about that difficult time and all the people who prayed for and loved me.  And I became thankful for them.  I became greatly thankful for them and expressed that thankfulness is a great way to God.

I thought I ought to also express it here, though, so that’s what I’m doing now.  Here is a list of the people who contacted me during this time and the weeks after to tell me they were praying for and loving me:

Annie, Brandon, Sarah, Mary Ann, Randy, Keith, Robert, other Robert, Steve, the other other Robert, Art, Dale & Jo, Melrose, Melia, Carrie, Mom and Dad and Eli

I think that’s all, but it is probably not; my memory seems to be failing me as I write this, but I’m pretty sure I got them all as I prayed earlier.  To any of you reading this, please know that you were an answer to pray (as I told some of you).  Please know that God used you to help me in the darkest moment of my life and I greatly, greatly appreciate it.  Please know that I am praying for and loving you as well.

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I am so very thankful for these intercessors.  And I am ready and willing to be such an intercessor myself.

Fore-giving

I was reading Anger Anonymous last week.  It is basically Alcoholics Anonymous for people addicted to anger.

Paperback Anger Anonymous : The Big Book on Anger Addiction Book

The book said many things that really blessed me.  One of the strangest, though, was the one at the bottom of this page:

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As you see in the last few lines, the author defines forgiveness as “to fore-give or give ahead of time”.  I resisted that definition at first.  Being the doctrinaire that I was trained to be, I said to myself, “That’s not what forgiveness is!  Forgiveness is pardoning someone from the consequences of their sins on the basis of Jesus’ blood propitiation.”

And that is indeed what forgiveness is from a technical stance.  The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that forgiveness can be this fore-giveness as well.  The propitiation-based pardon is what can be given ahead of time.  In fact, the more I thought about this, the more I saw it as related to what John Eldredge calls “your story told rightly”.  This, Eldredge says in his book All Things New, is what will happen at the return of Jesus.  He says that at the present our story is often told wrongly or understood wrongly; people don’t perceive us as we really are; they perceive us as something less than we really are.  At the future return of Jesus, though, the “renewal of all things”, our story will be told rightly.   We will have public indisputable vindication/validation as God tells the universe that we are His servants who have done well.

(This isn’t John Eldredge but he seems to be saying the same thing.)

I don’t think this idea of our story being told rightly is simply “correct”.  I think it is extremely important.  I think it is important that our story be told rightly in this way, that we get this public indisputable vindication/validation.  I think, in fact, that this is the reason I have such difficulty forgiving people (and, behind that, the reason I get so angry): I feel I can’t allow people to think less of me than I am, that I must make them see me as the good person I am and must punish them if they refuse to see me as the good person I am.

And I think this notion of fore-giveness relates to that.  I think fore-giving as the author describes here is related to the idea of our story being told rightly.  I think to fore-give is to react to people as you would if your story already had been told rightly.  It is treating them as you would if the public indisputable vindication/validation had already taken place.

Maybe fore-giveness is not technically accurate.  Maybe it is.  I don’t know such things (and I don’t worry about them too much anymore).  But I think there is a truth here.  My story will be told rightly one day; I will get the public indisputable vindication/validation I have desired for so long.  That being the case, I can (and should) treat people as if I had already gotten it.  I can operate on that Kingdom idea of “already but not yet” and thus “fore-give”.

What I Saw – November 10, 2018

On Saturday, November 18th, I saw two things which worked in conjunction to bring me a great word from the Lord.

The first occurred at a men’s devotional I held early that morning.  We watched a video during this devotional.  In the video, John Eldredge talks about God not only being our father but always intended to be our father.  He says God is not a “consolation prize” for those of us who didn’t have fathers but the father every man has whether he had a decent human father or not.

I was such a guy.  I had a great stepdad who did a ton for me, but I didn’t know my biological father (still don’t), so I always had that “ache” Eldredge talks about and always felt “God as my father” was such a consolation prize.  Hearing what Eldredge says here about God always intending to be my father was a great encouragement to me.

I took that idea into my nighttime prayer.  I always start that prayer with what Tim Keller calls “approaching” in his book Prayer; I tell God I’m coming and hope to be with/hear from Him.  On this night, I said this during that approaching time: “I’m ready and willing to be fathered by you.”  I then opened the Moravian Text (which I always use for my nighttime prayers) and found this:

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Everything here spoke to me.  God lifting up the downcast (which I am) and God loving the righteous (which I also am; I’m not perfectly righteous like Him, of course, but I am “relatively righteous” as I have chosen to pursue Him; thus this verse applies to imperfect me) spoke to me; I certainly need both those things.  God bringing His people out of Egypt and Paul & Silas out of prison spoke to me even more.  I saw that He is indeed a “liberating God” as the prayer calls Him.

This is important to me because I have always feared imprisonment.  Indeed, I have always felt imprisoned one way or another.  I have always felt what John Parr says in his song “St. Elmo’s Fire”:

That’s me and that’s always been me: a prisoner trying to break free (and if you make fun of me for the cheesy 80s music/movie reference, you’re imprisoning me even more!).

But what God told me through His living and active Word and the Spirit He put inside me is that I won’t always be a prisoner.  I might be a prisoner to some degree now (and I am), but I won’t be a prisoner forever.  Not only so, but He also told me I wouldn’t have to “break free”; He would break me free Himself; I wouldn’t have to do it, wasn’t responsible for it.

It was a great word for me, one that greatly encouraged me.  And that’s what I saw on November 10, 2018.

The Beauty of the Lord

My daily prayers take me through various sources.  Ransomed Heart’s Daily Prayer is one of them.  The Celtic Daily Office is another.  I do the Celtic Daily Office’s morning prayer about once a week, and I do it’s midday prayer more often (it is the only midday prayer I know).  One thing I just noticed about these two prayers from this one office is that they both mention “the beauty of the Lord”.  The morning prayer references Psalm 24:7 (“One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.”) and the midday prayer references Psalm 90:17 (“And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.”).

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And there were a couple of things about this that struck me recently.  One is that the Lord is beautiful.  Honestly, that’s not the first term I would use to describe the Lord.  I would use “existing”; He just is.  Or might; He’s all-powerful.  I might go to intelligent/wise or even good.  Those are the ways I typically think of the Lord and the order in which I typically think of them.  He’s the Lord, the Creator, the Designer, the Author, the Great Mathematician, the Engineer, the First Cause, etc.  But these verses are saying something more than that.  They are saying He is beautiful: lovely, desirable.   And they are not the only ones.  The church which uses our building in the evenings often sings this song which likewise calls God beautiful.

The second thing which struck me here is that the psalmists wanted this beauty.  They wanted this beauty to be among them, to have it present to them so they could enjoy it.  Again, I don’t think that’s what most people want from God.  They want God’s power to accomplish whatever they want accomplished.  They want God’s favor to give them whatever they want ( and yes, some translations have beauty as favor in Psalm 90:17).  They want God’s benefits, or God’s forgiveness, or God’s righteousness, or God’s reward.  Some want God’s apathy; they just want God to leave them alone and keep His distance.  These psalmists, though, wanted His beauty.   They wanted access to His beauty.  They wanted (I’m assuming, reading into their words what I think is meant to be read into their word) to feel His beauty and to be fueled by His beauty.

This is changing how I see God and what I want from God.  I see Him now as beautiful.  I think I always did see Him that way to some degree, but I really see Him that way now.  I see Him not only as beautiful but as the greatest of all beautiful things, as more beautiful than the beauties I have lusted over and longed for in the past, a real, honest, lasting beauty that is beyond lust and use.  And I find myself wanting that beauty, wanting it more than anything I’ve ever wanted before.  Wanting it and, through the practice of prayer, receiving it.

I believe God wants me changed in this way, and through these prayers I am changing that way.  Through these prayers I am seeing and desiring the beauty of the Lord.

Eating What Jesus Ate/Pursuing Desert Rhythms

As I see it, there are three types of input we can receive from God:

  • Information – data we didn’t have before, i.e., Paul wrote Philippians
  • Insight – new understanding into how things work; i.e., Agabus didn’t want Paul to go to Rome, but God did, which shows that God’s people can sometimes be sincerely wrong
  • Kairos (the Greek word for a moment in time that changes everything after it) – an applied truth which greatly changes my life; i.e., I read Matthew 6:33 and realize that I have not been seeking the Kingdom first in my career goals

All of these are valid and necessary, but I tend to prefer kairos.  I think kairos is the greatest input we can receive from God, the highest and most meaningful interaction we can have with God.

I think I received such a kairos today.  I’m not sure; it was kind of on the border between kairos and insight.  But either way, it was meaningful.  I was sitting in the dentist chair as an assistant cleaned my teeth.  The assistant was wonderful and kind, but being in the dentist chair always triggers me (it’s the money, not the pain, that bothers me) and I was a little grumpy.  As the assistant flossed her way through my mouth, I wondered why I was being grumpy toward a woman who was doing nothing unkind to me, and I realized it was because I was tired.  I realized I was not treating this woman as Jesus was (and, beyond that, was not living the life Jesus lived or having the spirit Jesus had) because I was tired.

This was not a new realization.  I have understood that fatigue reduces my Christ-likeness ever since Bible college.  What was new was what I realized after.  It was this:

“You are tired because you don’t have the desert rhythms Jesus did.”

“Desert rhythms” is a term I’m borrowing from Pete Scazzero.  I’ve been learning from him ever since a fellow pastor suggested I read his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (which is not an eight-week discipleship course which we will be running in my congregation after the new year).

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It's Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature, While Remaining Emotionally Immature  -     By: Peter Scazzero

In a recent podcast, Scazzero talked about “desert rhythms”, that is, going into the “desert” or other place of solitude to interact with God.  I think he was talking about the desert rhythms of Elijah in that podcast, using the famous “still, small voice” passage from 1 Kings 19.  But it is true that Jesus had desert rhythms as well.

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It is true that Jesus not only had these desert rhythms but was strengthened by these desert rhythms.  I’m not sure this is directly stated in Scripture but it must be true; this, after all, is what desert rhythms do and what desert rhythms are for, so it must be why Jesus did it and what He got from it.  He had these desert rhythms to strengthen Himself, to rest and refresh and restore Himself, to spiritually feed Himself, to ready Himself to be Himself (the perfect representative of God and perfect practitioner of the Kingdom) in public, to keep Himself from being fatigued.

It stands to reason, then, that we not only need to do these things ourselves but to do them for the same purpose and to the same result.  A guy named “Chief Iron Bear” (Harold Collins) taught me this on an episode of Fox’s Guinness World Records Primetime.  Chief Iron Bear was a strongman participating in a keg toss competition.  During the show, he revealed his daily diet.  As he revealed the diet, he said, “If you want to be like Chief Iron Bear, you have to eat like Chief Iron Bear.”  (I couldn’t find that exact clip, but I know it came from the October 4, 2001 episode of the program, and I’ve put in a clip of Chief Iron Bear pulling a semi truck just for fun.)

Silly as I think strongman competitions are (and much as I truly don’t want to be like Chief Iron Bear or any other strongman; what they do is impressive, but they’ve got just too much bulk for me), I think Chief Iron Bear has a point.  Being like him was not an act of the will.  Being like him could not be an act of the will.  It instead had to be a matter of imitating his diet and training.

It is the same way when it comes to the Christ-like, Kingdom-like spirit.  I have wanted to have that spirit, to be that, for so long, but I’ve always tried to get/be it via a force of will, by just trying to get/be that.  I realize now it can’t work that way.  I realize now that if I want to be like Jesus (and I truly do; that has been my goal since I heard Larry Bryant sing “Sometimes I’m Samson” at a Youth for Christ rally in the mid-80s) then I have to eat like Jesus.  I have to imitate Jesus.  I have to do what Jesus did.

That includes having these desert rhythms, these times of silence, times of prayer that are more about being with God than asking God for things.  I will never get rid of the fatigue that keeps me from being like Jesus in any other way.  I can only get rid of that fatigue and thus only be the Christ-like person I want to be by resting myself/preparing myself in the desert rhythm way Jesus did.

Coexisting Contradictions

I took my daughter to the library yesterday.  We go to the library at least once a week, sometimes more.  During these trips, I commonly see cars in the library parking lot which have bumper stickers that make political and/or religious statements.  Yesterday, I saw this one:

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This is just one of many times I have seen someone have both a “coexist” bumper sticker and a bumper sticker attacking the Christian faith on their car.  Twice I have seen people who have the coexist sticker on the right (it’s always on the right) and the “Darwin fish” on the left.  Once I saw someone with the coexist sticker on the right and a “fish and chips” emblem on the left.

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On all these occasions, I said to myself, “I don’t think these people understand the coexist concept.”  Indeed, you can’t call for coexistence on the right side of your car while simultaneously taking a shot at the world’s largest worldview on the left side of your car.  Taking shots at anyone’s worldview is not coexistence.  It is aggression and it had no place in civil society.

(BTW, I’m all for coexistence if by that you mean, “Let’s not kill those who don’t share our faiths and philosophies.”  I’m against coexistence if by that you mean, “Let’s not take our faiths and philosophies seriously.”  Unfortunately, I tend to think most people who put this emblem on their car mean the latter.)

(Another btw: I’ve always wished someone would make the coexist symbol out of sports logos rather than religious icons.  The Cincinnati Reds “C” could be the “c”, etc.  I’ve always wondered what reaction that would get.  Unfortunately, this is the closest I could find to that.)

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This particular bumper sticker duo, though, reveals a different problem.  I don’t know what to call this problem.  I think of it kind of like the observer effect in physics, the fact that just observing reality affects our reality, an effect that many people create without being aware of creating it (I thought I learned a different name for this or a similar scientific principle, but if I did I forgot it).  This problem isn’t exactly the same as that effect, but it shares the similar idea.  It is people voicing or holding to a philosophy without realizing that their philosophy could contradict their voice or holding to it.

Let me explain using the bumper sticker above.  The owner of that car is challenging people (I tend to think he/she is challenging Christian or faithful people, but I admit that’s an assumption) not to believe everything they think (and, yes, I get the joke, but there is a serious assertion there).  The owner doesn’t seem to realize that the idea that we shouldn’t believe everything we think applies not only to Christian or faithful people but to him/her as well.  If “we” should not believe everything “we” think, then that car owner should likewise not believe everything he/she thinks.  This would include the coexist concept; maybe the car owner shouldn’t believe that just because he/she thought that.  This would also include the idea that we shouldn’t believe everything we think; maybe the car owner shouldn’t believe that just because he/she thought it, either.  It is quite possible that this philosophical tenet is, like so many man-made philosophical tenets, contradictory and thus self-defeating.

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In contrast to that, “what I think” (that is, my Christian faith) isn’t what I think at all.  It is what I have been told, what I have received, what has been revealed to me.  I don’t believe there is a God because I think it.  I think there is a God because Jesus appeared and, after doing great wonders and teaching great truths, said there was.  I don’t believe this God is incredibly good because I think it.  I believe this God is incredibly good because Jesus said He was (because Jesus demonstrated His good character, in fact).  I don’t believe I should repent and avoid sin and have faith because those ideas just same to my mind.  I believe that because Jesus taught that.

So I can coexist as the one bumper sticker calls me to; I’m quite happy to, in fact (even as I remain happy to share my worldview and be kind as I reject the contradictory worldviews people attempt to share with me).  But I can’t take the advice of the second bumper sticker.  It isn’t as solid an idea as it seems to be, and it doesn’t apply to my faith at all.