It’s nice to smile when the year has been so odd and the holiday so different. To keep things on the lighter side, I pardoned the vegetables this year. Only the turkey and potatoes were executed for the greater good. The broccoli, cauliflower, beets, corn, spinach, and green beans can keep their lives for another year. It’s better that way for everyone. Here are some other fun highlights from the day:
Fun Highlight #1: My grandcat Mrs. Mosby was here. Her mission in life seems to be to convert me from being a dog person to a cat person. Given the demon-possessed Pomeranian I used to own, that shouldn’t be too difficult.
Fun Highlight #2: We chuckled at the Thanksgiving list my son made when he was in third grade. It’s prominently displayed on the family room piano. He listed all his toys and relatives. All the relatives, that is, except his sister. She didn’t make the cut. Come to think of it, first on his list is the demon-possessed Pomeranian referenced above.
Fun Highlight #3: I had a random conversation with my son-in-law about Halloween candy. He wanted to know why I dislike candy corn so much. I said, “Because there’s not enough chocolate in it.” I rest my case.
Fun Highlight #4: My son-in-law rocked Mrs. Mosby to sleep, after which she apparently had a charismatic dream (see below). I’m thinking she’s a Pentecostal.
O.k., time for some real humor. 🙂 Enjoy!
Table cleared. Kitchen cleaned. Thanks given. O.k., NOW we can decorate and play Christmas music in this house!
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” – Cicero
“Ingratitude produces pride while gratitude produces humility.” – Orrin Woodward
“Gratitude bestows reverence…changing forever how we experience life and the world.” – John Donne
“God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say thank you?” – William Arthur Ward
“It is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy.” – Anonymous
Prior to the Israelites’ entry into the Promised Land, Moses issued a call to his countrymen for the ongoing praise and remembrance of God for his miraculous deliverance from Egypt and his gracious provisions in everyday life. His call is really a summons to daily thanksgiving—a fitting reminder on this day of feasting in the United States:
“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
He led you through the vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.”
The Apostle Paul echoes a similar sentiment in 1 Corinthians 4:7: “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”
Israel’s many psalms of thanksgiving in the Psalter fulfill Moses’ call to the Israelites to express their grateful praise to God. Moreover, such is the abundant blessings of God to his people in all ages that Paul can instruct believers to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess 5:18). As Nancy Leigh DeMoss has said:
“I have learned that in every circumstance that comes my way, I can choose to respond in one of two ways: I can whine or I can worship! And I can’t worship without giving thanks. It just isn’t possible. When we choose the pathway of worship and giving thanks, especially in the midst of difficult circumstances, there is a fragrance, a radiance, that issues forth out of our lives to bless the Lord and others.”
DeMoss is right. The latest lockdown has altered our plans for today, but we still have much to be thankful for. The table will be full and so will our hearts. We’ll eat and be satisfied, sharing the delights of the season, albeit with a smaller group than originally planned. And in the process, we’ll remember the Lord our God for who he is and what he has done.
HAPPY THANKSGIVING to all the readers of This New Life. Thanks for stopping by. Feel free to drop me a line if you have a need, would like to share a prayer request, or just want to chat.
What are some of your highest and best thoughts about God? How incredible is he in your mind? How awesome do you conceive him to be? Now multiply those thoughts by a billion, and what kind of picture emerges? Raise them to the millionth power, and what do you find? No matter how lofty our thoughts about God may be, they will always fall short of his infinite greatness.
And to that I say, “Thank God!” His ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts (cf. Isaiah 55:9). Clearly, our finite minds run out of steam while the infinite mind keeps going and going. We’re a tiny drop of water in the vastness of God’s unending ocean. I used to be frustrated by that, but I’ve come to see it’s a genuine comfort to worship a God whose greatness cannot be exaggerated. As Corrie Ten Boom once said, “A religion that is small enough for our understanding would not be big enough for our needs.” The challenge is trying to express God’s greatness in human language with all our inherent limitations. How can we even come close to doing it justice?
In the soaring conclusion to his lofty prayer in Ephesians 3, the Apostle Paul strings together a series of “loaded” Greek words to say what cannot fully be said. First he uses the word hyper, which means “above” or “beyond.” Then he uses the word panta, which means, “all,” “every,” or “any.” Then he uses the word hyper again, this time connecting it (without precedent) to the word ekperissou, which means “excessively” or “all the more.” How would you translate this stack of superlatives?
“far more abundantly”?
“exceedingly abundantly above”?
“beyond all measure more”?
That’s the best our translators can do, and you might recognize some of these expressions from your own Bible reading. Perhaps Eugene Peterson captures it well in The Message,where he paraphrases the sentence like this: “God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!”
All told, these words allow Paul—and us—to burst into jubilant praise about God’s majestic abilities, all of which come to fullest expression in the love of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:18, NIV).
Paul also indicates here that God is not limited by our asking but can go way beyond our hopes, dreams, and expectations. He’s like a cascading fountain that not only flows but overflows. As many of us used to sing in Sunday school when we were children, “My cup is full and running over.” That’s because God delights in pouring 24 ounces of iced tea into a 12-ounce glass. The resulting mess is part of his message: “I am the God not only of abundance but of superabundance.”
This mindset runs in the family, too. Whenever Jesus, the Son of God, multiplies food for the masses, there are always multiple basketfuls left over. He, too, is a God of superabundance. And his love overflows to the ends of the earth. To borrow a phrase from the pidjin English used on mission fields around the world, God loves us “plenty too much.” This love sustains us as we walk the (sometimes painful) road of sanctification to which we’ve been called, “grow[ing] in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
I hope that God has done “plenty too much” for you this year, difficult though it may have been amidst a global pandemic and a widespread sense of national angst and polarization. If not, may his blessings cascade beyond your wildest dreams in the coming year. Do not give up! He has not abandoned you. It’s not in his character to do so.
Across the street from where I grew up in East Reading, Pennsylvania, there was a vacant lot where we used to play stickball every chance we could get. We lived in a middle-class section of rowhomes, and about eight of those homes featured backyards that lined up perfectly to serve as the outfield “bleachers.” Our goal, of course, was to hit the ball into one of those yards for a home run. (We always used soft rubber balls, so cracking a window was unlikely. It only happened once.)
Most neighbors would sit out on their porches and cheer us on as the game unfolded. If ever we hit a ball into one of their yards, they would simply get up, retrieve the ball, and throw it back to us, and the game would continue. Unfortunately, there was also a grizzled old dame in the bleachers—enshrouded in a bright babushka, and far too rickety to stand up straight—who would always pick up the ball, cuss at us in Pennsylvania Dutch, and then harumph her way back into the house, taking our ball with her. End of game. (It wasn’t even her window we broke that one time.)
Sadly, many people today picture God more like the crabby old lady with a foul mouth than the kindhearted neighbors who served as our cheering section. He’s in the heavenly stands with his arms folded and his hands fisted, always perturbed and glaring at us, eager to convey his divine contempt whenever we send one into his upper deck. We’re major league sinners in his book, and we always will be. If we strike out too much, he’ll send us down to the minors. Or worse. End of game.
Theologian Kosuke Koyama once said that Christians need to make a basic decision in our approach to theological questions: “[We] need to decide whether the God of Scripture is a generous God or a stingy one.” The context of his statement was soteriology, but we can broaden it to include the entire sweep of Christian theology.
When I first made that shift in my own thinking, it helped me realize how important it is that Genesis 1 and 2 precede Genesis 3. That’s a simple observation, yet it’s vital in the grand scheme of things. Life on planet earth was good—“very good” (Gen 1:31)—before it was ever bad. As such, my theology cannot start in Genesis 3; it has to start where the Bible starts. It has to start “in the beginning” (Gen 1:1).
Specifically, to help us answer Koyama’s challenge, we can notice that God’s openhandedness is seen on the very first page of Scripture: “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food’” (Gen 1:29; emphasis mine). Right out of the gate, God is a giving God. We can safely conclude, then, that generosity is a prevailing attribute of his.
It’s not specified in the text how many edible plants and trees were available for the taking. Were there a hundred? A thousand? Ten thousand? A million? We don’t know, but the scene is marked by lush and lavish provisions from the hand of the benevolent God who gave them. Indeed, Yahweh is portrayed as a God of abundance. He says to the first human, “Eat!” and only one tree was said to be off limits—“the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:17).
Trust the story. It tells us that God gave about ten thousand “yeses” to one solitary “no.” Read that sentence again. Don’t pass over it too quickly. God gave ten thousand “yeses” to one solitary “no.” Consequently, he’s not a stingy, crotcehty God at all; he’s a God who overflows with blessings, provisions, kindness, and grace. And even the one “no” he gave was for our benefit, not our misery. Indeed, it was meant to prevent our misery.
God gave ten thousand “yeses” to one solitary “no.”
In the end, Jesus Christ is God’s full and final “yes” to every good promise he ever made (2 Cor 1:20). As Paul put it, Jesus is God’s “yes” and “amen.” That means he really is for us (Rom 8:31), not against us.
Is this the God you know—the one who cheers you on as you’re trying to find your swing? Or is he the god who cusses you out whenever you strike out? Is he the god who benches you after making an error in the field? Is he the god who tells you to hit the showers early when you’ve had a bad inning? If so, maybe you’re on the wrong team. In fact, maybe you’re playing for Baal instead of Yahweh. Ask to be traded.
Francis Schaeffer famously said of God, “He is there and he is not silent.” To that we can add, “He is there and he is not stingy.”
It was the unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right forehoof on the ground and neighed, and then cried:
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we love the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!”
He shook his mane and sprang forward into a great gallop—a unicorn’s gallop, which, in our world, would have carried him out of sight in a few moments. But now a most strange thing happened. Everyone else began to run, and they found, to their astonishment, that they could keep up with him: not only the dogs and the humans but even fat little Puzzle and short-legged Poggin the Dwarf. The air flew in their faces as if they were driving fast in a car without a windscreen. The country flew past as if they were seeing it from the windows of an express train. Faster and faster they raced, but no one got hot or tired or out of breath.
It may be a bouncy, outdated, sing-songy little piece, but it contains a lot of wisdom: “Count your many blessings, name them one by one.” Today was a good day for doing exactly that.
>>> Got to have a meaningful time of worship this morning for “Christ the King Sunday.” We sang some of my all-time favorite Thanksgiving and throne songs, which always chokes me up.
>>> Got to see our first attempt at livestreaming the worship service work well this morning. Livestreaming will supplement our existing radio ministry and enable folks to see us as well as hear us.
>>> Got to see my niece from out-of-state this afternoon—the one from whom I may have purchased about $65 of Girl Scout candy to help get their start-up troop launched. (The “Milk Chocolate Mint Trefoils” are phenomenal.)
>>> Got to watch my daughter and her husband co-lead worship at their special Thanksgiving service earlier tonight. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4). They even sang “The Blessing,” which I gushed about in a previous post.
>>> Got two packages in the mail today from Amazon. That’s always a good day, even when they’re not books for me. 🙂 Early online Christmas shopping is a must this year because of the virus. Prime makes it fast, which is also good because of the shipping crunch that’s coming.
>>> Got to spend some time tonight thinking about family, friends, and loved ones—new and old alike—remembering the best in each, and how God has loved and taught me so much through them.
And all those years you guided me So I could find my way.
And with God, being who he is, the best is always yet to come.
Time now to go top off a wonderful day with two episodes of The Crown, a beverage, and a few more pieces of that Girl Scout candy.
In ancient Israel, potential kings took part in a three-stage pattern of accession before they finally and permanently took the throne. These three stages included: (1) an official declaration of recognition, often involving an anointing by a prophet; (2) a demonstration of worthiness, often involving the courageous vanquishing of an enemy; and (3) a public coronation, often involving the reading or singing of an enthronement psalm. Coronations were elaborate affairs, typically consisting of much pageantry and ceremonial flourishes, such as a special procession, meal, crown, armband, sash, scepter, kiss, and second anointing. Additionally, there was a special elevated platform and the public mounting of the throne for the first time. Many of these elements are seen throughout the period of the Old Testament kings.
In their presentation of Jesus Christ as king, the Gospel writers mimic this three-fold pattern. Jesus is anointed at his baptism by the Holy Spirit with his heavenly Father’s public approval. He then prevails over the ultimate enemy, Satan, by triumphing over his temptations in the wilderness. He then is enthroned on his cross, quoting Psalm 22 and mirroring the flourishes of the coronation ceremony, only in surprising and gruesome ways. That’s because Jesus is a different kind of king, and he brings a different kind of kingdom. As Paul wrote, “The kingdom of God…is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Indeed, Jesus is the king of the universe whose realm is the human heart.That’s why the subjects in his kingdom seek to align their lives with his will and ways.
The Sunday before Thanksgiving is typically a precious time of worship for many believers—on at least two counts. First, according to the liturgical calendar, it’s the last Sunday after Pentecost, known in many traditions as Christ the King Sunday. Worshipers take the opportunity to ascribe glory and honor to King Jesus, who is Lord of chronos (or “unfolding”) time as well as kairos (or “epochal”) time. It’s a way of putting an exclamation mark on the longest season of the church year before the calendar starts all over again next week with the season of Advent. King Jesus “was, and is, and is to come.” He is Lord of all time.
Second, on the civil calendar in the United States, it’s the Sunday leading into Thanksgiving Day. Many North American worshipers therefore take the opportunity to thank the Lord for his many blessings and providential care throughout the year. “We Gather Together” is a meaningful hymn that we often sing on this day, but we skipped it this year because so many parishioners aren’t able to gather in person. Instead, they livestream the service to avoid exposure to the virus. Equally poignant to me, however, is Martin Rinkart’s evocative and stately hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God.” This piece, too, puts a lump in my throat, and we’re singing it today.
Rinkart was a German clergyman who served in the town of Eilenburg during the horrors of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). Overrun with refugees during the Great Epidemic of 1637, he conducted between 40 to 50 funerals a day. I can hardly imagine such a calling. Nevertheless, he found a way to be thankful under the most trying of circumstances, penning these memorable words:
Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices, Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices; Whofrom our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us, With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us; And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed; And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!
All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given; The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven; The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore; For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.
I’m especially struck this year by the line, “And guide us when perplexed.” No doubt the presence of all that plague and war death around him took its toll personally and emotionally. How could it not? Rinkart, however, turned his mystification into a prayer request. “Guide us now, Lord, in these perplexing times. And as you keep us in your grace, free us from all ills, in this world and the next.” Such a request is appropriate in any age.
We’re not always sure why life unfolds the way it does. Chronos can be confusing sometimes, but believers know the ultimate kairos is on its way. Christ is coming back for his people, and all will recognize him then as the true King. Every knee will finally bow to him (Phil 2:10). “For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.”
We all have our limits, and I just reached mine. Draconian mask mandates and quarantine requirements have scuttled our Thanksgiving plans. The out-of-towners who were going to come to our place next week cannot come now because of “the rules.” Thank you, governors. It’s hard to believe this is still the United States of America.
I get it. The virus is serious to certain segments of the population. Those in the vulnerable categories need to do what they must in order to keep themselves safe. And no one is advocating reckless behavior on the part of anyone. But has there ever been a pandemic in history where the healthy were required to isolate themselves? Moreover, if the last lockdown worked, why are we having to lock down again? And if the last lockdown didn’t work, why are we, uhm, having to lock down again? They keep playing us, and we keep letting them.
Some state regulators across the country are even telling us we have to mask up in our own homes. No. That’s not going to happen in this household just because the state says so. If you want to wear a mask in my house, you’re free to do so. I might even wear one, too, if you happen to be edgy about my not having one. Basic kindness is willing to do such things.
Additionally, I’ll mask up when I come into your store because it’s your store. Same thing at church if that’s what it takes to prevent others from thinking I’m a hazard to their health. But the state will not tell me that I have to wear a mask in my own home. Nor will I let them peer through my windows to enforce their squidgy little mandates. There’s a Fourth Amendment in this country for a reason.
Besides, this is Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. Don’t tread on us. We rightly snubbed our nose at the edicts of our [adjective deleted] governor when all this lunacy began, and we paid the price for it. In a rank display of petty party petulance a few months ago, he re-opened every county in the state but ours, delaying us by a week, just for retribution. How courageous of him. After marching in a protest without social distancing, he now wants to tell everybody else how to live. “Rules for thee but not for me.”
Likewise, the U.S. Speaker of the House got her hair blown out a couple months back contrary to her own rules. Ditto the mayor of Chicago, a senator from California, and the governor of the same state, who recently yucked it up unmasked at a posh restaurant, contrary to his own mandates. One can be forgiven for believing these requirements are all just political posturing; otherwise, our overlords would happily and consistently comply with their own rules. But they don’t. So, here’s an idea. Now that so many statues have been torn down in this country, there’s plenty of room for new sculptures of these folks to take their place. I have a feeling more than just the pigeons would use them.
A therapist once told me that a discernible pattern in my life has been that I tend to over-submit to authority. He was right. (It’s a malady rooted no doubt in being the middle child growing up, along with a variety of other family of origin issues.) But no mas. Somebody’s got to push back on this ridiculousness.
I’ve never been a revolutionary, but tyranny tends to kindle a spirit of resistance inside those who’ve had enough. Holding a posture of defiance and insurrection is certainly no way to live life over the long haul, but on occasion, it’s warranted. This is one of those occasions, especially as we hear politicians prepping us now for “The Great Reset” to come, another globalist dream that will end in a nightmare.
Now, before any super-spiritual types try to insist that believers are just supposed to shut up and “surrender our rights” all over the place in order to be Christlike, keep in mind that Paul appealed to his Roman citizenship more than once in Acts 22-23. Was he wrong to do so? No, he was just standing on his own history, not to mention the prerogatives that come with being a free moral agent made imago Dei. In our day, being a good citizen in a constitutional republic means participating in it, not mindlessly clicking our heels and saluting whenever bogus state decrees are issued.
There are, in fact, numerous accounts of civil disobedience in Scripture—a practice that resurfaces whenever the state exceeds its authority. Until then, believers comply, and happily so. We’re not the kind of people who go looking for fights. We want to be good citizens in the countries where we find ourselves across the world. But when the line is crossed, believers push back, willing to face whatever consequences a feckless state might try to throw at us.
In Exodus 1, for example, the Egyptian Pharaoh commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill all the male Jewish babies who were recently born. An extreme patriot would have carried out the government’s order, yet the story tells us the midwives disobeyed Pharaoh and “feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live” (Exod 1:17). The account goes on to say the midwives lied to Pharaoh about why they were letting the children live; yet even though they lied and disobeyed their government, “God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty. Because the midwives feared God, he established households for them” (Exod 1:2021). Quite significantly, we know the names of these two midwives (Shiphrah and Puah), but we’re never told the name of the Pharaoh who issued the evil edict.
In Joshua 2, Rahab disobeyed a direct command from the king of Jericho to produce the Israelite spies who had entered the city to gain intelligence for battle. Instead, she let them down by a rope so they could escape. Even though Rahab had received a clear order from the top government official, she resisted the command and was spared from the city’s destruction when Joshua and the Israeli army destroyed it.
The book of 1 Samuel records a command given by King Saul during a military campaign that no one could eat until Saul had won his battle with the Philistines. However, Saul’s son Jonathan, who had not heard the order, ate honey to refresh himself from the hard battle the army had waged. When Saul found out about it, he ordered his son to die. However, the people resisted Saul and his command, and they saved Jonathan from being put to death (1 Sam 14:45).
Another example of civil disobedience, which poses no threat to the general practice of biblical submission, is found in 1 Kings 18. That chapter briefly introduces a man named Obadiah who “feared the Lord greatly.” When Queen Jezebel was killing God’s prophets, Obadiah took a hundred of them and hid them from her so they could live. Such an act was in clear defiance of the ruling authority’s wishes.
In 2 Kings, we read of an apparently approved revolt against a reigning government official. Athaliah, the mother of Ahaziah, began to destroy the royal offspring of the house of Judah. However, Joash the son of Ahaziah was taken by the king’s daughter and hidden from Athaliah so that the bloodline would be preserved. Six years later, Jehoiada gathered men around him, declared Joash to be king, and put Athaliah to death.
The book of Daniel records a number of examples of civil disobedience. The first is found in chapter 3 where Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down to the golden idol in disobedience to King Nebuchadnezzar’s command. The second is in chapter 6 where Daniel defies King Darius’ decree to not pray to anyone other than the king. In both cases, God rescued his people from the death penalty that was imposed, indicating his approval of their actions. Likewise, Esther showed great courage in exile by confronting the king directly, declaring, “If I perish, I perish.”
In the New Testament, the book of Acts records the civil disobedience of Peter and John toward the authorities that were in power at the time. After Peter healed a man born lame, Peter and John were arrested and put in jail for preaching about Jesus. The religious authorities were determined to shut them up, but Peter said, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). Later, the rulers confronted the apostles again and reminded them of their command to not teach about Jesus, but Peter responded, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
In the book of Revelation, we read of “the beast,” who commands everyone to worship an image of himself. But the apostle John, who wrote the Apocalypse, states that all who become believes during that period will disobey the beast and his government, refusing to worship the image (Rev 13:15), just as Daniel’s companions violated Nebuchadnezzar’s decree to worship his idol.
I need to study the biblical theme of civil disobedience more in depth, but this is a start. As noted above, we’re told that “The Great Reset” is coming. That may be so, but it will not come with my acquiescence. I’ve been overly compliant for too long. Will anyone come see me in jail if that’s where I land? Or write me a letter? If my next assignment in this life is to have a prison ministry, so be it. I don’t think I’ll look too good in an orange jumpsuit, but Paul’s life shows us how much good can be done for the gospel in prison.
Several years ago, the mayor of Houston floated the idea of pastors being required to submit the text of their sermons to the government for review—to see if any preachers were speaking against their latest deranged pet policies. Talk about government overreach. I remember thinking at the time, “No. That’s not going to happen here. Ever. I will never reduce myself to preaching only state-approved sermons.”
The fact that politicians would even think about doing such a thing unmasks them as part of the beast. They shouldn’t be surprised, then, when some people develop a 2A affection because their 4A was violated.