Aim Higher in Thanksgiving

“We only learn to behave ourselves in the presence of God.” ~ C. S. Lewis

Beware of gratitude born of comparison. Aim higher in thanksgiving. Apart from extraordinary spiritual vigilance, I fall into the trap of thanking God for what I have in contrast to what I don’t have or what I am not experiencing at the moment. I am thankful for my health over against sickness, for comfort rather than suffering, for fortunate circumstance instead of life spiraling out of control. Thank You, God, that I’m not ….. Although tip-toeing the borders of being self-serving, subjective thanksgiving is not necessarily wrong or harmful, simply short-sighted. Objective gratitude, on the other hand, sees the present through the lens of eternity, and moves beyond recognizing momentary benefit to heralding enduring value. Penultimate thanksgiving ascribes worth to individuals we value. For example, I am thankful for my wife because she has a pure heart and embodies all the qualities I deem exemplary in a woman. Ultimate thanks giving turns heavenward, and has as its result, worship. True gratitude grants vocabulary to adoration. I am grateful to our all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving Father because He is holy and perfect and just and gracious and righteous, and…. His mercy is endless and He loves me with a love indescribable, ruthless, unrelenting; therefore, I thank Him first for who He is, and then express holy appreciation for all He has done and continues to enact for His renown.

Honest Fear

“What we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else.” ~ Frederick Buechner

Contradiction is always puzzling, and at times downright troubling. One such apparent confutation arises in Holy Scripture. In one New Testament verse we are told: “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). A different Old Testament passage allows: “What time I am afraid, I will trust in God” (Psalm 56:3). One is a declaration that fear flees the presence of Perfect Love. The second honestly owns up to fear, then looks confidently outside itself for comfort. So, which should be true for the Christ-follower? My answer, if you could hear it audibly, would issue forth in something of a harassed whisper: “Both.” Clearly, we are not re-created to slink along in paranoia, riddled by doubts and threats, both foreign and domestic. Our Merciful Father intends to drive fear from us in the wake of ridiculous love. The prerequisite is relentless honesty.

Fear is a ruthless task master. The most damning aspects are those that remain hidden; in other words, the unfaced demons that lurk in the shadows pulling us down toward cowardice and paralysis. I must confess I deal with my own demons, unrequited phobias couched in questions such as: “Will I be remembered as a man of ideas, but void of substance?” “Am I wasting what little time I have left?” “Do I ever measure up?” Shadows haunt the past, mists fog the future. The greatest gift I can offer myself is honest admission. Unidentified and unanswered fear prevents us from being fully present, from embracing grace here and now. Doubt is not my enemy; dishonesty destroys mercy. Fear halts our dancing and insists on a limp. Honest recognition releases miracles; confession effuses divine love. Prepare right now for love unfettered by identifying fear by name and owning your pain, then surrendering it all to Almighty God, who is, by the way, Love.

Love divine, all loves excelling,

Joy of heaven to earth come down,

Fix in us thy humble dwelling,

All thy faithful mercies crown.

Jesu, thou art all compassion,

Pure, unbounded love thou art;

Visit us with thy salvation,

Enter every trembling heart.

Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit

Into every troubled breast,

Let us all in thee inherit,

Let us find that second rest.

Take away the love of sinning,

Alpha and Omega be;

End of faith, as its beginning,

Sets our hearts at liberty.

Come almighty to deliver,

Let us all thy life receive;

Suddenly return and never,

Never more thy temples leave.

Thee we would be always blessing,

Serve thee as thy hosts above,

Pray, and praise thee without ceasing,

Glory in thy perfect love.

Finish then thy new creation,

Pure and spotless let us be;

Let us see thy great salvation,

Perfectly restored in thee;

Changed from glory into glory,

Till in heaven we take our place,

Till we cast our crowns before thee,

Lost in wonder, love and Praise.

(Charles Wesley)

Unexpected Book Signing

Yesterday was a first for me. I am accustomed to guest speaking for churches, and always enjoy the opportunity to meet new folks and speak into their lives, if only for a moment. There was every reason to expect Sunday morning to fall right into line with all those others before, but this time was different. To my utter amazement, my wife and I entered the narthex and found a table containing my book, “Ordinary Glory.” Pastor McBride had taken it upon himself to purchase copies of the book and inform his congregation that I was writer as well as preacher. A short while later—just before morning worship began, a gentleman came to where my wife and I were seated and asked me to autograph a copy for their church library. It was humbling and a bit surreal, to say the least. I am grateful to Dr. McBride and the sweet fellowship of Raymond Baptist Church in Raymond, New Hampshire for their thoughtfulness and gracious reception.

Dawn

Dawn is a brief invitation to hope. In moments gradually bathed in translucence, past regrets recede replaced by possibilities. The aged prophet must have had something similar in mind when he penned, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” Lamentations 3:22-23 | ESV. I wrestle far too frequently with evening remorse; I need the sun to rise. I cling to the promise of inspired writ that what matters about me most can be rebooted each morning irregardless of what argument my memory and body makes to the contrary. Our God is the God of new beginnings. I prefer sunrise to sunset; I choose hope.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 | ESV

A Well Too Deep to Fathom

O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer

Greatest treasure of my longing soul

My God, like You there is no other

True delight is found in You alone

Your grace, a well too deep to fathom

Your love exceeds the heavens’ reach

Your truth, a fount of perfect wisdom

My highest good and my unending need.

(“O Lord, My Rock and My Redeemer”)

I understand to some extent, I think, how the Sons of Korah felt when they sang in unison: “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalms 84:10 | ESV). From as far back as I can recall, I have loved being in church. Not merely in the general sense of being part of a church, but in the very specific sense of being a part of corporate worship. One of the responsibilities I enjoy most of my vocation is worshipping regularly with new friends and acquaintances around the world. A most recent opportunity found me in Mustang, Oklahoma, where I settled-in to observe and enjoy. My wife and I stood along with the other strangers-to-me nearby as we followed a rousing choral anthem with congregational singing. As I plunged gingerly into what was to me an unfamiliar chorus, I was gripped by one line—“Your grace, a well too deep to fathom.” The lyrics touched something so deep within that I cannot even now explain it, but my heart bowed and knees buckled even though I continued to stand erect among the sea of singing faces. Thinking of grace rivets me to the cross, and my heart swells with one simple truth—forgiven forever. Spiritual warfare most frequently finds me battling against the inner ugliness that struggles to wriggle free and protrude. Grace reminds me the battle is already won by the only true Braveheart; mine is to surrender to divine priority and ascend to living on the high plains of Providence. I will never exhaust the well, but I drink deeply from the fount of absolute forgiveness.

Human Letters

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” ~Frederick Buechner

I detest when aging rears it’s distorted head and stares back at me. The mirror was never an encouragement, but is now an insistent and inescapable nuisance. Each glance in the looking glass conjures a nagging reminder that the end is not so far away. Unfamiliar aches pop up and disappear again like the weasel in a video arcade game that I can never quite nail with the mallet, and as I slip into my sunset years, it is dawning on me why seniors so quickly become emotional when words or moments trigger memories that cause either satisfaction or regret to erupt uncontrollably. Have I wasted the life God granted? Is there time to reclaim what remains and glorify Him while it is still day?

When such thoughts threaten to crowd out contentment, I push pause and reflect on names and faces. It is not the physical appearance I strive to recall, but the individual I have known and in whom I’ve made some small investment. If the statement is true that we are the sum of all the people we have known, I take solace in factoring into the equation. My great joy is my former students and parishioners, those that tolerated my teaching and ministry, and found a way to benefit in spite of my feeble efforts. Perhaps this is what Christ means when he chides to lose ourselves for the sake of the Gospel. It is not so much that our own flame disappears, but that we are rekindled as a spark in other fires. May the Father cause each of us to burn brightly in the lives of others to the glory of God.

“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you. You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:1-3a | ESV)

Fickle Memory

“These men were conscious of the Fall, if they were conscious of nothing else; and the same is true of all heathen humanity. Those who have fallen may remember the fall, even when they forget the height. Some such tantalising blank or break in memory is at the back of all pagan sentiment.” ~G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

Beware of what you choose as an emotional anchor. Many revert to memories, but memory is fickle. You may buck the trend, but I tend to adorn memories with unrealistic feelings more akin to fantasy than fact. In fact, I amaze myself at times that my recollection of ancient history resembles more what I desire for my future than what I regretfully did in the past. We distort history when it hurts, but dishonest remembering never produces an enhanced life. A better tact upon which to sail is own up to the good, the bad, and even the ugly of what we have done, and relinquish that memory to the cross. Only a thorn crowned brow and nail scarred hands can do anything to redeem a mottled past. Take heart, that same slain and resurrected Redeemer never stops there. He heals our broken history and transfigures it into hope.