Thanks. Giving.

Not just another Thursday...

On October 3, 1863, while our nation was mired in a bloody civil war, President Lincoln issued a proclamation establishing the last Thursday in November as a national day of thanks.

Pause for a moment, and ruminate on that: our president called for a national day of thanks in the midst of pain and suffering like our nation has never known in any war against foreign aggression.

Do the math: World War I claimed 116,516 lives; in WWII we lost 405,399. The Civil War: 625,000 dead (excluding wounded or missing). Total number of dead for 2 World Wars 521,915. That means 103,085 (19.75%) more people died in a war between brothers than in the combined wars where we were fighting foreign enemies (source: US Army Military History Institute).

Wouldn’t it make more sense for Lincoln to wait awhile to call for national thanksgiving? Like, until the war was over, and peace had regained a foothold, and families had begun to heal? There would be a lot to be thankful for then. Now, I could see a proclamation calling for prayer.

Oh, come to think of it…

It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do, by this my proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th. day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain, on that day, from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.

All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace. – Proclamation issued March 3, 1863.

Another Thursday, 7 months prior to the Thanksgiving proclamation. Different message. Same humble spirit.

Let’s make this Thanksgiving different. In the grip of our most un-civil war, and for “the restoration of our divided and suffering country,” rather than the thin gravy of “things for which to be thankful” as a last-minute, think-on-your-feet offering at our annual family feast, I invite you to join together in a thoughtful day of prayer and giving thanks.

Lincoln’s model is a healthy one: confession for our national sins first (don’t get stuck in the undergrowth here; it will take you too long to hack your way through the thorny sins of our nation).

Then, offer a prayer of sincere thanks – for the Lord’s mercy in sparing (delaying?) us the judgement we are due, and for His grace in providing the many, many blessings of His providence – including, but not limited to the Butterball and the candied yams.

Of course, that may translate into more praying and less eating. Hmm. Could be just what the Great Physician ordered.

Happy day of prayerful Thanksgiving!

An Unexpected Feast

The Filling of Forgiveness

Gray clouds and rain filled the sky on Sunday morning, as my buddies and I were enjoying a low-carb breakfast in a local Crackerbarrel. Outside, a desperate person was gorging himself on the contents of Mike’s locked truck. Specifically, the thief “punched the lock” (an unfortunately casual bit of detective parlance thanks to my Plano Police cousin, Luke) on the GMC and absconded with the one piece that was easy to reach – my computer bag, containing my MacBook Pro (2015) all the peripherals, extra hard drive, etc. And some pix Evan had drawn for me. Total time for the crime: about 10 seconds.

As it turns out, GMCs – this according to the very helpful DeSoto Police Department, and Luke – are fairly easy to break into, AND Crackerbarrels are notorious for just this kind of violation. Side note: park where you can keep an eye on your car! This isn’t to blame Crackerbarrel. It isn’t their fault – they are just an easy target since they attract travelers with cars loaded to the max.

If you’ve ever had someone break into your house or car, you know how it leaves you feeling vulnerable? I’ve had both, and I have to say, having my car broken into is a step removed from the trauma of a home violation. A bit more remote.

Still, I had to deal with the emotions (not to mention the hassle of trying to replace my computer quickly) that came rushing up, competing with one another for attention. Confusion presented herself first, like an early-morning version of Phyllis Diller before she had her first cup of coffee: “Huh, what just happened…so, where’s my stuff?!” Next, I noticed Anger out of the corner of my eye, but honestly, it was more of a passing shadow – kind of a “Meh, whatev…” Frustration hung a hammock on my heart and settled in for awhile: “You say you want to replace your computer, Bud? Gonna cost ya! Gonna be a few IT hoops to hop through. Heh, heh…”

But then came the unexpected emotion, and one that I didn’t even recognize at first: Sadness just stood there, looking tired and homeless and desperate (think of the Inside Out character without the cuteness). Who would/could willfully hurt another person by breaking and taking what isn’t theirs?

Then, I took a deep breath and recalled that there had been times when I was guilty of breaking and taking – not something physical, not a “thing,” but the more valuable commodity of trust, or love. I have been forgiven so much in my life. I needed to forgive the thief as I had been forgiven – completely, without reservation, without the under-the-breath add-on prayer, “and I hope they catch that sorry…”

And you know what? My “ought to forgive” turned into “get to forgive” really fast! I was actually joyful! And I thanked the Lord – not for the theft, but for the Spirit-enabled capacity to pass on, in a small way, a bit of the forgiveness I had received from His kind hand. To someone who hadn’t even asked. To someone who, like me, didn’t deserve it.

Maybe there’s someone in your life who has stolen something truly valuable from you. I invite you to experience the joy of forgiveness. It will satisfy a hunger you didn’t know you had – and it’s more satisfying than biscuits and gravy at Crackerbarrel!

Thanksgiving in July

Leaves on the Tuckasegee

I’m sitting out on a screened-in porch near Cherokee, North Carolina, enjoying a mid-morning cup o’ Joe. Every couple of years we take a family vacation – Rosalyn, Evan, Gabe, Nick, Lauren and I.

Lauren plans the whole excursion – she finds the place, and works out all the possible fun things we can do together. This year, we had a dear friend, Jillian, offer us her beautiful cabin here on the Tuckasegee River.

Nick is reading in the hammock, Gabe is reading on the long couch, Evan is playing with his trucks, Lauren is in the living room reading her McCullough novel, 1776. Now, Ollie (Ros) is reading a Bernstein Bears book to Evan (he dropped his truck at the promise of a book). Hmm – seems to be a pattern here.

I am one thankful PoP! Give me my family and I could be in Dallas, or Dubai, or here in Tarheel Country. Heaven, it turns out, is portable. Who knew?

Early birds serenade us.

Leaves, newly detached, cascade lazily from the trees in the early morning light to land silently, inauspiciously on the river.

The river – always there, always changing – transports those leafy frigates and barky barges on a lazy green ribbon threading its course through the banked trees, headed west-ish to tie in with the Oconaluftee and then on to join the mighty Mississippi.

But ultimately, place doesn’t matter. Family matters. And, when it comes to thanksgiving, the calendar is also irrelevant. We don’t need to wait until the end of November to express a thankful heart. Many of us have blessings in abundance in the people we love and who love us back every day of the year.

But even if you haven’t been blessed with a loving family, there is still cause for thanksgiving. The same God who made the Tuckasegee and every leaf that cruises along its surface, made you as well.

And – even more amazing – He loves us. All of the many millions and billions of us. He loves each of us as if we were his only child. Despite our raggedy character and our splintered families, and the multitude of wounds we all bear. Still, He loves us and waits patiently for us to fall into his arms – For God so loved the world.,. (John 3:16).

But unlike the leaf that has no will, you need to decide to detach yourself from the branch that holds you, tethers you to the great tree that is world-rooted and holds all the leaves that have ever been and that ever will be.

From the time you budded, you think the world tree is all there is and you are grateful for the life the tree has provided. Then, a heavenly breeze turns you to consider the river and a longing fills your heart. By faith, you sever that bond, you die – and by God’s grace, you are reborn in the great river.

So give thanks daily – for where you have come from. For where you are going. For the One who loves you and waits for you at the end of the river.

Thankful!

For God's Uncommon Grace

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I’ll bet you “say grace” most of the time before a meal, right? Especially at Thanksgiving.

But what do you think about when you “say grace?” What kind of grace do you have in mind?

There’s more than one variety of grace, you know. Now, I don’t pretend to understand the mechanics of what some call “special grace.” In “special grace” (also called “irresistible” grace) the Holy Spirit of God continues to apply pressure to the resisting will of the non-Christian until He overwhelms it. But to me this makes God a bit of a spiritual bully, willing to take a crowbar to my rusted soul to make me turn to His indomitable will. He will not drag anyone kicking and screaming into heaven. He will allow the rich young man to turn away (Matthew 19:16-30).

“Common grace,” on the other hand, is tolerated by many Christians as a kind of pitiable stepchild of special grace. “Common” grace is thus often understood negatively, that is, in terms of what it cannot do. Common grace cannot save an unregenerate person.

But what we should emphasize about common grace is the undeserved provision of an antidote to the infection of sin that quarantines us from God and alienates us from one another. The divine initiative evident in “common” grace fails to amaze because we tend to measure the extraordinary character of this brand of grace by the standard of its effect (salvation) rather than the fact that it is ready to hand, and, incredible as it sounds, available for all humanity.

Also, the unfortunate adjective “common” dilutes our appreciation for His grace. “Common” (contra “special”) suggests that which is vulgar, unrefined, unsophisticated. But every demonstration of His grace, no matter how seemingly low-born, should inspire wonder and humility (Job 7:17; Psalm 8:4).

So, I am thankful for His grace. Period. Because we are all recipients of His uncommon grace.

This Thanksgiving, look for evidence of His grace. It’s everywhere.

Here’s one place I recently found His uncommon grace:

A reunion of old friends in the West Theater in George West, Texas following my performance of “Joseph: Adopted.” Jeff and D’Anna, thanks for your musical talent and for sharing the stage with me. Many of the folks there I hadn’t seen in over 40 years. Some, like John Ed Holland and Frank Sales were my teachers. Some, like Cindy and Tracy Smith, and Sharon Isley were my high school friends, grown dearer over the years. Willie James and I played sports together. Willie is an encourager. Mackie Garcia walked off the graduation stage and stepped into 2016, looking and sounding exactly the same — exuberant, joyful — as when we were both 17.

And Mrs. Pawlik, my drama and English teacher for 6 of my 12 years of school, and the one responsible for inviting me to this gig — an emissary of God’s love, creativity, and faith. She models the godly artist and continues to provide a model for what a teacher should be.

This Thanksgiving, I invite you to look around before you say grace. You won’t have to look far to see it — God’s grace that is.

And wherever you find it, you will discover it to be uncommon indeed.

For that, we can all say grace.

And, “amen.”