Posts tagged ‘Celebration’

Pointing Fingers

Pointing Face Boy Portrait Finger Hand Man

At the end of his epistles, the apostle Paul often includes a section of personal greetings to people in the congregation to whom he is writing.  At the end of Romans, for instance, Paul includes a lengthy list of greetings:

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys.  Greet Apelles, whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test. Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew. Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the other brothers and sisters with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the Lord’s people who are with them.  (Romans 16:1-15)

I would guess that, as you began to read through the list of names above, your eyes quickly skipped to the end of the paragraph.  After all, a list of names isn’t exactly riveting reading.  But take a moment to go back and note how Paul describes the people on his list.  He describes Phoebe as a faithful supporter of his ministry.  He lauds Priscilla and Aquila as ones who risked their lives for him.  He calls Andronicus and Junia “outstanding.”  He celebrates Persis his as “dear friend.” He fawns over Rufus’ mother as his surrogate mother.  Paul, it turns out, has a lot of good things to point to in lot of good people.

In both the church and in broader culture, we seem to be much more comfortable pointing at people in order to criticize them rather than pointing to people in order to celebrate them.  I am part of a church body that, sadly, can spend so much time pointing at people with whom we have theological disagreements that we can fail to point to people with whom we share a common faith, even if our confession of that faith differs at certain points.  In broader culture, one needs to look no further than our nation’s capital to see a whole political system that trafficks in pointing fingers at other people.  Republicans point at Democrats.  Democrats point at Republicans.  Sometimes, it seems as though the only ones people actually point to in Washington are themselves.

As Christians, we must never be scared to point at something that is wrong.  Wrongness, after all, needs to be corrected so it can give way to righteousness.  But let us never become so proficient in pointing at what is wrong that we forget to point to all that is good.  People in differing ecclesiastical factions still have plenty of good things to point to among each other.  People in opposing political parties still have plenty of good things to point to on the other side of the aisle.

Perhaps it is time for us, like Paul, to make a list of good things and people to point to.  Pointing at people can quickly dissolve into arrogance as we pontificate on how someone else is wrong.  But pointing to people can keep us humble and give someone else a much-needed boost of confidence as we put the spotlight on what they are doing right.  Not only that, but pointing to others is supremely godly, for it mirrors the character of Jesus, who relentlessly pointed not to Himself, but to His Father.

So, who can you point to this week?  Who can you give a glowing review to?  Who can you celebrate on Facebook?  Who can you, even if you disagree with them on some things, rejoice in as a fellow-traveler in Christ?

Now is the time to begin a list of people to point to.  You just might be surprised at how quickly that list becomes really, really long.

July 3, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Everyday Thankfulness

Praying HandsIt was truly a mountaintop moment. I’ll never forget seeing her rush down Concordia’s breezeway in her stunning white dress, bursting through the back doors of the worship center, and coming toward me. The day I married Melody was a day I will always cherish. But, as seems to be the way of life, you must eventually leave the mountaintop moments of life and tread into the valley of reality.

The valley of reality struck less than a week after our wedding. By then, the ceremony was ancient history, the reception had long passed, and we had returned from our brief honeymoon to the apartment we were living in at the time, littered with wedding gifts – lots of wedding gifts. Mixers, crock pots, flatware, bed linens, personal effects, and hundreds of dollars of gift cards to Target. “Okay,” Melody announced, a towering stack of cards in her hand, “It’s time to put this stuff away, but as we do, we need to write a thank you card for each of these gifts!” Each of these gifts? But there were hundreds of them! Nevertheless, gift after gift, I wrote these thank you notes, even though my hand got cramped and my tongue got dry from licking all those envelopes. I must confess that that more notes I wrote, the briefer my expressions of gratitude became. I appreciated the gifts, but the overwhelming task of writing hundreds of cards led to the underwhelming nature of my notes of thankfulness.

Sadly, like my thank you cards, many modern day expressions of gratitude are underwhelming. We do not respond adequately to, or even bother to notice, the many things for which we have to be thankful. This is what makes some words from the famed poet Ralph Waldo Emerson in a sermon he delivered on Thanksgiving Day of 1830 so striking to me: “At first, brethren, consider whether each of us has not had some reason to acknowledge the special favor of God Himself.”[1] Emerson is calling on us to reflect on our lives and find some gift from God for which we might be thankful. This kind of a call from a pastor to his people at Thanksgiving is common. And yet, the reason Emerson offers as to why we should give thanks is striking: “Twelve months are past.”

Did I hear that right? We ought to be thankful to God simply because a year has passed from one Thanksgiving to the next? Sure enough, Emerson’s first reason for thankfulness is the simple gift of time. Perhaps the simple gift of time was especially poignant to Emerson because his beloved wife Ellen lie sick in bed during this period with tuberculosis. She would die from the disease the following February. God’s gift of time with his wife, then, became suddenly precious to Emerson.

The text on which Emerson based his sermon for that Thanksgiving Day was from the Psalms: “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1). The Psalmist, like Emerson, references time. Except the Psalmist does not call us to give thanks for twelve months; rather, the Psalmist calls us to give thanks for “forever.” For long after our lives have passed from this earth, we will have an eternity with a God who loves us. And that should be enough to move any heart to thankfulness.

As we celebrate another Thanksgiving this week, do not let your expressions of gratitude wallow in mediocrity. Instead, make them hearty and overwhelming. For God’s gifts are hearty and overwhelming. And if you need something for which to be thankful, consider this: twelve months have passed. Not only that: eternity awaits. Give thanks to the LORD for this!

___________________________

[1] Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Complete Sermons of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 3 (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1991), 46.

November 24, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment


Follow Zach

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

Join 2,079 other followers


%d bloggers like this: