Monday, November 19, 2012

A Tougher Kind of Thankful

We are blessed here in America in tremendous ways. If I forget to be thankful here in beautiful Northern Michigan, it’s because I get distracted by and used to good things I shouldn’t take for granted. In other places and in other times, this easy thankfulness is challenged because there are circumstances that make the good in things hard to find.

Recent events remind us that this world is in need of repair. We don't have to watch TV to know this is true. Our own communities, our own homes, our own souls remind us this is true. While God will one day wrap up human history and create a new heaven and new earth,  the course of human history has always been and will continue to be pretty grim.

Paul once wrote to the persecuted church in Thessalonica: “Whatever happens, give thanks, because it is God’s will in Christ Jesus that you do this." (I Thessalonians 5:18)  I don't particularly like that verse. It's hard. The “whatever happens” part of that verse means, literally, “in every condition, or in every matter,” give thanks.  It's worth noting that Paul does not say, “Feel happy.” He says to give thanks because it is God’s will.

When we talk about thanksgiving, or giving thanks, we are not just talking about an emotion or feeling (though it can be that). I wonder if more often than not thanksgiving is a decision, a perspective, a commitment to finding God in our story, a search for God in every memory.

A very short poem caught my eye a while ago.  After his barn burned down, Japanese poet Masahide wrote, "My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon." That's brilliant. I’ve read other similar perspectives that also go along with Paul's:
“I thank Thee first because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse they did not take my life; third, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed and not I who robbed.” - Matthew Henry, on the night he was robbed.  
“Oh, what a happy soul am I although I cannot see, I am resolved that in this world contented I shall be. How many blessings I enjoy that other people don't. To weep and sigh, because I'm blind? I cannot and I won't.” - blind hymn writer Fanny Crosby
On Thanksgiving at least, I want to take Paul seriously. I want to look back over my life and find God in all my memories, good or bad; to find Him in the story of my life, to revisit the places where some kind of barn burned down. I wanted to know if,  after the smoke cleared, the moon (or perhaps the Son) would bring even a little light to that dark corner of the world. I just want to be a tougher kind of thankful this year, a thankful that is determined to find God at work in the chapters of my life that I don't want to re-read.  He's there; I just have to find Him.
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  • I’m thankful that when a rabid rat chased me across my yard and tried to crawl up my pant leg when I was five years old, my dog killed it. 
  • I’m thankful that when that dog got rabies, my dad put her down, because not every child has a dad who is there to protect them.
  • I’m thankful that I love my extended family enough to miss them.
  • I’m thankful that when we moved to Oregon when I was eight, I had at least one good friend who stayed close beside me when many of my peers were mean.
  • I’m thankful that those two difficult years in Oregon also included sea lions, Mt. Hood, and a pizza place called the Organ Grinder in Portland, Oregon, that showed old black and white silent comedies while my family and I made good memories.
  • I am thankful that, because we moved 8 times in 3 states by the time I was 15, I learned how important it is to be kind to strangers in strange lands.
  • I’m thankful that God used the time I was ridiculed for being fat to create in me an empathy for those who are ridiculed and overlooked.
  • I’m thankful we raised chickens, because that was one thing to cross off my bucket list early on.
  • I’m thankful that, when I cut off my toes in a lawn mower, I did not have to learn how to find my balance all over again.
  • I’m thankful that, because of a very hard church conflict, our roots were already pulled up in Ohio when God asked us to put our roots down in Traverse City.
  • I’m thankful that same conflict taught me how difficult and freeing forgiveness is.
  • I’m thankful that the pain of leaving my Mennonite heritage reminded me that many good things were present in the midst of problems.
  • I’m thankful that when Dad died, he was present with the Lord.
  • I’m thankful that grief makes hope that much sweeter.
  • I’m thankful that overwhelming grief is temporary.
  • I’m thankful that lingering, bittersweet memories remain.
  • I’m thankful that, 25 years and two weeks ago, a shy 18-year-old name Sheila and a blustering 20-year-old named Anthony were naive and bold enough to make a covenant.
  • I’m thankful that, when Sheila and I disagree about my schedule, it means she loves me enough to covet my time. 
  • I’m thankful that our times of deepest conflict are also our times of deepest honesty.
  • I’m thankful that hard times in marriage give me the opportunity to fight for some of the things that matter most in this life - my wife and my kids.
  • I’m thankful that those hard times have helped us to understand, grace, mercy, forgiveness, hope, sacrifice, and love more deeply than we imagined we would.
  • I’m thankful that my boys’ completely opposite personalities keep me on my toes.
  • I’m thankful that AJ is the kind of young man who is content to call a closet with a curtain a bedroom.
  • I’m thankful that Braden understands the power of words more than most, and that he managed to combine the best of all our musical genes.
  • I’m thankful that the part of Vincent’s personality that turns my hair gray is the same part that makes me marvel at the limitless wonder of a child.
  • I’m thankful that my knee, foot and shoulder surgeries forced me to find an identity apart from sports and remind me daily that this body is only temporary.
  • I’m thankful that my ADD gives me days of brilliance to offset weeks of confusion.
  • I’m thankful that I live in Grawn, because now I know how to shoot squirrels from my roof.
  • I’m thankful that deer are graceful, because at least they are beautiful to watch while I hit them with my van.
  • I’m thankful that politics reminds me that God’s Kingdom is not of this world.
I’m thankful that as the world burns down, 
I can still see the Son.

Monday, November 12, 2012

In Need of a Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15)


     In Chapter 15 of the first letter to the church in Corinth,  Paul brings his readers back to the heart of their commitment to Christ. If there if one core truth that ought to provide the foundation for their lives, this is it:
 “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken a firm stand.  By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  For what I received I passed on to you as of primary importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.  (15:1-8)
    The city of Corinth offered a lot of ideas about what should guide someone's life. It was a city of temptations, pleasure, and distractions of all kinds, full of popular slogans that were easy to say and dreadful to live:
“Everything is permissible” (6:12; 10:23)
“The Food for the Stomach and the Stomach for Food” (6:13)
“Let us Eat and Drink, for Tomorrow We Die!”  (15:32)
     People in the Corinthian church were not immune to the influence of their city.  Even as followers of Christ, they used the first slogan to justify flaunting their freedom in Christ, the second as an excuse for sexual immorality, and the third to live like there was no tomorrow.  Somewhere, I suspect there is Greek version of YOLO carved in temple stone.