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.”