Posts tagged ‘Blessing’

Thanksgiving Lessons From Lincoln

Thanksgiving Dinner

Credit: Luminary PhotoProject / Flickr

I have made it a tradition of sorts to read one of Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamations each year during this time.  His proclamations are not only extraordinarily well-crafted pieces of oratory statecraft, they are also genuinely theologically rich.  In his Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863, Mr. Lincoln recounts the blessings God has bestowed on this nation and then declares:

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

President Lincoln beseeches the nation to give thanks on its knees, humbly recognizing that anything it has is not due to some inherent civic merit or to some twisted theology of a manifest destiny (a concept Mr. Lincoln resolutely opposed), but to the unmerited mercy of God.  In other words, the president recognized that rather than judging this nation as its sins deserved in wrath, God instead blessed this nation apart from its sins out of grace.  And for this, Mr. Lincoln was thankful.

What struck me the most about President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation as I read it this year was how the president believed divine mercy should lead to concrete action.  Mr. Lincoln concludes his proclamation thusly:

I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to God for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

In view of God’s mercy, the president invites the American people to three things:  repentance, remembrance, and restoration.  He invites the American people to repent of their sins, both in the North and in the South, understanding that any snooty swagger of self-righteousness can never receive mercy from God because it does not understand the need for the grace of God.  He also invites the American people to a remembrance of those who are suffering – those who have become widows, orphans, and mourners in the strife of the Civil War.  He finally calls the American people to restoration – to be healed from a wound of division that runs so deep that it has led Americans to take up arms against Americans.

As I reflect on the wisdom in President Lincoln’s proclamation, the words of the teacher in Ecclesiastes come to mind: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).  Today, as in Mr. Lincoln’s day, examples of delusional self-righteousness abound – both among the secular and the spiritual – which close us off to appreciating and receiving God’s mercy.  Today, as in Mr. Lincoln’s day, widows, orphans, and mourners still live among us, often unnoticed and sometimes even ill-regarded, suffering silently and in desperate need of our help.  Today, as in Mr. Lincoln’s day, America still suffers from a wound of division, which some, almost masochistically, delight in ripping open farther and cutting into deeper for their own cynical political purposes.  The problems that plagued our nation in 1863 still plague our nation today in 2017.  Our problems persist.  But so too does the mercy of God.

154 years later, we are still extravagantly blessed with bounty.  154 years later, our republic has not dissolved, even as it has frayed.  154 years later, God still is not treating us as our sins deserve.  Our sinful rebellion, it seems, cannot thwart the tenacious grace of God.  And for that, on this Thanksgiving, I am thankful.

Advertisements

November 23, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

Easter MorningThe women on that first Easter went to the tomb to mourn.  They went to mourn the loss of their friend.  They went to mourn the loss of, for one of the women, a family member.  They went to mourn the loss of hope.  Of course, when they arrived the tomb, they got something they had never bargained for.  They were greeted by a glorious being with an unlikely message: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; He has risen, just as He said” (Matthew 28:5-6).

It was on Easter morning that these women, to use the words of the prophet Jeremiah, had their “mourning [turned] into gladness” and received “comfort and joy instead of sorrow” (Jeremiah 31:13).

Mourning may not be pleasant, but it is needed.  In many ways, I would argue that we don’t mourn enough.  At funerals, rather than addressing the reality of death, people will often try to dull the pain of a loss by casting the service in terms of a celebration of the person who has died.  A eulogist will say something like, “This person wouldn’t have wanted us to be sad!”  Mourning, which is nothing other than the natural and inescapable response to something as heinous as death, is dismissed, downplayed, and depressed in favor of a skin-deep smile.

To make matters worse, when we are not mourning something as intense as the loss of a loved one, we can wind up jettisoning mourning altogether. We not only try to moderate our mourning, we can replace our mourning with something different entirely.

There is plenty that should command our mournfulness.  Greed, corruption, malfeasance, and general godlessness should pain us all.  Sadly, rather than mourning these things, we often trade mourning for grumbling.  This seems especially true in the political arena.  We grumble about health care.  We grumble about immigration.  We grumble about political constituencies that are not our political constituencies.  But replacing mourning with grumbling is dangerous.

The ancient Israelites were experts at grumbling.  Exodus 16:2 says, “In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.”  Numbers 14:2 repeats the same refrain: “All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, ‘If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness!’”  The ancient Israelites were experts at grumbling.  But their grumbling carried with it consequences.  The Psalmist recounts the story of Israel during her wandering in the wilderness and says: “They grumbled in their tents and did not obey the LORD. So He swore to them with uplifted hand that He would make them fall in the wilderness” (Psalm 106:25-26).  The apostle Paul admonishes his readers to “not grumble, as some of [the Israelites] did – and were killed by the destroying angel” (1 Corinthians 10:10).  Clearly, God has little time or tolerance for grumbling.  Why?  Because grumbling leads nowhere good.  It leads to rebellion.  The Israelites grumbled about God and then built a golden calf in rebellion against God.  It leads to revenge.  Cain grumbled about his brother Abel’s sacrifice to God right before he killed his brother.  Grumbling leads to sin.  James puts it quite succinctly when he writes, “Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged” (James 5:9).

There is plenty for us, in our day, to mourn.  But sincere mourning over sin is quite different from self-righteous grumbling against sinners.  One perpetuates sin by doing little more than whining about it.  The other fights sin by asking the Lord to rescue us from it.

In a world filled with grumbling, may we remember how to mourn.  And may we also believe Christ’s promise: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).  Mourning, Jesus says, is blessed.  Grumbling, Scripture warns, is condemned.  Let’s make sure we’re doing what God blesses rather than falling prey to what He condemns.

March 28, 2016 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Some Thoughts on Thankfulness

Thanksgiving-Brownscombe

Jennie Augusta Brownscombe,
The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, 1914

Thanksgiving holds a special place in my heart. In many ways, it is an overwhelming holiday for me because I quickly realize, if I take even just a moment to reflect, that I have so many things for which to be thankful. I am thankful for my wife. I am thankful for my daughter. I am thankful for the son I have on the way. I am thankful for my home. I am thankful for my extended family. I am thankful for what is always my favorite meal of the year on Thanksgiving Day. I am thankful for Christ and Him crucified. I am thankful for blessings too numerous to count.

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. From the first Thanksgiving celebration with the Puritans and Native Americans at Plymouth in 1621 to the likes of presidents such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, who both wrote moving proclamations calling Americans to days of national Thanksgiving, to Franklin Roosevelt, who formalized Thanksgiving Day as the fourth Thursday in November, Americans have always found plenty of reasons to be thankful.

But Thanksgiving, at its heart, is much more than a national holiday. It is a theological necessity. We are commanded by Scripture to “give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Indeed, it must be very difficult to celebrate Thanksgiving apart from faith. For, without faith, who does one give thanks to? Certainly, one can be thankful to others for what they have done. But the gifts of nature and beauty and joy and the cosmos come from no man. And without a theological framework, they come from nowhere. And so there is no one to whom an unbeliever can say “thank you” for these things. As it turns out, thanksgiving, at least for the things greater than humans can give, is an inescapably theological exercise.

One of the things I deeply desire for my family is that we would share together a sense of thankful wonderment. We, as a family, are blessed beyond measure. My wife and I have jobs that are fulfilling, even when they are challenging. We are part of a church that we love. We can provide for our family in ways that many cannot. And our life together is marked by a general peace and contentment. God has given us much. But, as Jesus says, “Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48). We have a responsibility to recognize just how much we have been given, to steward it well, and to, above all, be thankful for it and be thankful to the One who gives it.

I have often mused that the difference between being blessed and being spoiled is thankfulness. A person is blessed when he has been given much and he knows it. So he thanks God for it. A person is spoiled when he has been given much and he fails to see it. So he grumbles for more. To borrow a distinction from G.K. Chesterton: there is a world difference between taking things for granted and receiving things with gratitude.[1] Spoiled people take things for granted. Blessed people receive God’s gifts with gratitude.

This is not to say that there are no reasons to lament. But there is a difference between lamenting and grumbling. Grumbling looks at God’s blessings and says, “That’s not enough.” Lament looks at the sinfulness and brokenness of our world and says, honestly and candidly, “There’s something wrong.” This is why the same Psalter that sings, “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1), also cries, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning” (Psalm 22:1)? Christopher Wright explains it well when he writes, “Lament is not only allowed in the Bible; it is modeled in abundance. God seems to want to give us as many words with which to fill out our complaint forms as to write our thank-you notes.”[2] So to those who are facing a tragedy, a trial, or a temptation this holiday season, know that your lament is just as holy as your thanksgiving. For both lament and thanksgiving turn to God in faith rather than turning in on oneself in greed, as does grumbling. Lament and thanksgiving can comingle.

As I slowly eat my way through what are now my Thanksgiving leftovers, my prayer is that I see more and more of the things for which I have to be thankful. I am thankful for much, but I also miss much. Dear God, may I see what I have missed. To borrow some more wisdom from G.K. Chesterton: “Children are grateful when Santa Claus puts in their stockings gifts of toys or sweets. Could I not be grateful to [have] in my stockings the gift of two miraculous legs?”[3] Legs to go in my socks. There’s something for which I have not yet said “thank you.” I wonder what else I’m missing.

__________________

[1] See G.K. Chesterton, Irish Impressions (New York: John Lane Company, 1920), 24.

[2] Christopher J.H. Wright, The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 51.

[3] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: John Lane Company, 1919), 98.

November 30, 2015 at 5:15 am 2 comments


Follow Zach

Enter your email address to subscribe to Pastor Zach's blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,992 other followers

Questions?

Email Icon Have a theological question? Email Zach at zachm@concordia-satx.com and he will post answers to common questions on his blog.

Archives

Calendar

May 2019
M T W T F S S
« Apr    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

%d bloggers like this: