In the late 1960s, I commuted to Seminary with an interesting group of want-a-be-ministers. Our carpool consisted of two soon-to-be Senior Pastors, one military Chaplain who would become a denominational servant, one President of an international ministry organization, and one future seminary professor. Four mornings a week, we met at six o’clock, pilled in to one car, and fell back to sleep, while one of us drove the eighty-five miles to Fort Worth for our eight o’clock classes. Around two o’clock in the afternoon, the same guys pilled in to the same car for our return trip, complete with a new wealth of theological information in our brains, which promptly became subject for discussion and disagreement. In fact, I am almost certain that the Southern Baptist Convention controversy/resurgence began in this carpool somewhere between Fort Worth and Waco, Texas, in 1966 or 1967. Strangely enough, with all our disagreements, some of which could have become vicious had the journey lasted another ten miles or so, we remained friends through the years. What a shame that disagreements like ours would later cause multiple strained relationships and destroyed friendships throughout our denomination. Thanks to members of that carpool, we taught each other how to disagree without being disagreeable, how to fight without fracturing our fellowship, how to argue without alienating each other. Our theme verse, had we had one, could have been Psalm 133:1 from the King James Bible, since the other few translations available back then would have been considered far too liberal for our use. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! (Psalm 133:1, KJV).
It’s unclear if on that first Thanksgiving, the colonists and Native Americans ate turkey at their feast. More likely, they indulged in other interesting foods like lobster, and seal. What is certain is that a tradition developed that called for the U.S. President to declare Thanksgiving as a holiday anew each year, until Thomas Jefferson refused. He strongly believed in the separation of church and state. Thanksgiving involved prayer, and in his opinion, making it a holiday would violate the 1st Amendment. Fortunately, we no longer need a presidential announcement for Americans to observe Thanksgiving this year. It might well get lost in politics and pandemics. Hopefully, we will remember to pray a prayer of blessing, for even in these difficult times, we need to bless the Lord – for family, for food, for friends, for health, for memories. Thanks, and Thanksgiving go together. William Bradford, the first Governor of the Plymouth Colony, wrote of those first pilgrims, “Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean.” In the midst of yet another “furious” time, a COVID Thanksgiving, let us remember the words of the Psalmist, “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (Psalm 103:1-2).
Several years ago, I granted permission to e-Thoughts, a weekly online devotional ministry, to use any of my Monday Morning Manna that they wanted to use. I was honored again last week as they posted one entitled, “Thankfulness Times Three,” in which I described a Thanksgiving tradition of mine of selecting three persons each year to thank for their contribution and blessing on my life over the past year. Early on, I might have thought I would run out of persons to thank after a few years, but that thought quickly disappeared, as God continually brought new people, and a few long-time friends, into my life with blessings. I closed that manna by quoting 1 Chronicles 16:34, “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever,” and encouraging my readers not only to thank the Lord, but to join me in thanking three people who had blessed their life in the past year. I also quoted Robert Luis Stevenson in that long-ago Manna, “The man who forgets to be thankful has fallen asleep in life.” Come to think of it, that’s a good challenge for this year. How about it? Don’t forget to be thankful. Would you join me in thanking three friends this thanksgiving?
We sang a song yesterday in the worship service that I had completely forgotten. It was a song from my youth, written in 1931 by B.B. McKinney, and based on Psalm 100:2, “Serve the Lord with gladness.” As we sang, I found myself wondering if there was any other way to serve the Lord. Could one serve the Lord with sadness? With anger? With indifference? With fear? I suppose so, but why would one want to do that? The kind of gladness that comes from serving the Lord, is greater than any earthly gladness. Greater than the gladness that comes from watching a child open a present. Greater than the gladness that comes from winning a medal or a championship. Greater than the gladness that comes from performing a perfect recital. It’s greater than fist pump gladness, high five gladness, hug-your-Mama gladness. If we serve the Lord correctly, all other emotions move toward gladness. Henri Nouwen said, “We need to remind each other that the cup of sorrow is also the cup of joy, that precisely what causes us sadness can become the fertile ground for gladness.” Can not the quote be just as meaningful when the word “sadness” is substituted with words like “anger, indifference, fear, etc.? Join me this week serving the Lord with gladness.
I used to wonder why my father went home for lunch every day. The food was good, but not that much better than anywhere else he could have gone for a meal. He went home to take an after-lunch nap. When we moved to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, one of my culture shocks was that many business places were closed in the early afternoon – siesta time. In his book, “Don’t Miss it if You Can” Jess Moody wrote, “People should sleep during the mid- afternoon. Absolutely nothing of any value has happened then.” That comment might need to be fact-checked, but it’s a good point. American lawyer, educator and politician, Barbara Jordan, once said, “Think what a better world it would be if we all, the whole world, had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down on our blankets for a nap.” Great idea. According to “The Message” afternoon naps are even biblical. As the writer of Proverbs shares advice with a good friend, he says, “You’ll take afternoon naps without a worry” Proverbs 3:21-26 (The Message). So, on most days, when my schedule allows, I take a nap. In fact, I’m headed there right now. Think about it. Perhaps you need to go and do likewise.
This is Pastor Appreciation Month. I will take my Pastor to lunch this week. It is a small, but meaningful gift. We will talk as we eat – about the church, about sports, about theology, about families, about common friends (and a few uncommon friends). Mostly, I will come away from the time together with more specific ways to pray for him. It is the best gift I can offer to him during this pastor appreciation month. After Jesus ascended back to heaven, He gave spiritual gifts to the church. One of those gifts was the gift of pastor. Ephesians 4:11 states, “He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.” My Pastor is a gift from God to my family, my church and my community. The best gift I can offer to him during this appreciation month, is “effective, fervent prayer” (James 5:16). Max Lucado wrote, “Prayer pushes us through life’s slumps, propels us over the humps, and pulls us out of the dumps.” As my Pastor and I have our table talk, I become aware of the specifics of his humps, slumps, and dumps, and I pray for him. How do you pray for your Pastor? This is a good time to intensify and clarify your gift of pastoral prayer support, but hurry – appreciation month is almost over.
I am old enough to remember when politicians campaigned on their record instead of campaigning against the record of their opponent. Repeatedly during this election, I have been forced to watch TV commercials from candidates on both sides, telling me why I should not vote for their opponents. There is a difference is recognizing the record of an opponent, and posturing one’s self against that record vs. spewing half-truths, mistrust, venom, accusations, and pure unjustified hatred. I don’t remember who wrote it, but a few years ago I remember reading an editorial that prophesied that the day would come when we would vote against candidates rather than voting for candidates. That day may have arrived. I think if a candidate came along who campaigned on the basis of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, I would vote for him or her, regardless of their party affiliation. “ You have heard that it was said . . . ‘hate your enemy.’ but I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44). It may be time for Uncle Sam to kneel at the mourner’s bench.
What a year this has been! In January I participated in the semi-annual meeting of America’s National Prayer Committee. No one packed a facemask for the meeting. In February, I conducted my Disciple All Nations. Inc, Board of Directors annual meeting with no concerns about social distancing. In March, I had a steroid procedure on my neck without a second thought about the safety of the Surgicare Center. My spring and summer calendar looked comfortably full. Life was good. Retirement was rewarding. In April, I accepted an Interim Pastorate with great excitement. Then came COVID, and the first seven Sundays I preached in an empty worship center to an online congregation. Meetings got replaced with Zoom calls. The few remaining engagements on my calendar got cancelled when I suffered a pancreatitis attack, followed by a colonoscopy, then the surgical removal of my gallbladder, with more worries about being exposed to the virus than thoughts of the effectiveness of the medical procedures. On the positive side, my Wite-Out covered calendar allowed time for one book to be written, another to be co-authored, and a third to be in the works. I’m just glad I didn’t waste my money on a fancy 2020 Daily Planner. I have re-learned the truth of Psalm 90:12, “Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should” (TLB). So, how’s your year been so far?
I had major surgery last week. I am blessed with a lot of friends, and social media has kept us in contact, but never did I expect the response from long-time friends, as what I received. There were prayers offered and thoughts shared by new friends of only a few months, but friends that I had not heard from in a long time, called and prayed with me over the phone. Others prayed via text message or e-mail. Some just called to check on me and see how I was doing. Strangely enough, it brought song lyrics to mind. Initially, it reminded me of an old camp song, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold.” Then I could hear myself singing along on Roger’s Miller’s song, “Old friends, Lord, when all my work is done bless my life and grant me one, old friend, at least one, old friend.” Finally, it was Bill and Gloria Gather’s chorus that came to mind, “Old friends. You’ve always been there, my old friends. We’ve had more than our share, old friends. We’re all millionaires in old friends.” The idea of being a millionaire led me to Proverbs 14:20, “The rich has many friends.” Keep making new friends, but I hope you have some faithful, long-time friends who still care about you, and communicate with you. More than that – I hope you are one of those to your long-time friends and are becoming that to your new friends.
I haven’t been sleeping well lately. I wake up in the night and am unable to get back to sleep. I’m sure it is partly due to the physical, since I am facing major surgery in the next few days. I am also sure it is partly spiritual, since this was happening, to a lesser extent, long before the need for surgery. Sometimes, when I wake up, I do so with scripture on my mind. Often the scripture comes in the form of a song or hymn. I remember many years ago, confessing this rather unusual habit to my mother, who replied, “My prayers have been answered. God has given you my song.” Then she confessed to likewise awakening with music on her mind. Both of us felt OK with this, since we were in good company – with each other, as well as with the Psalmist, who said, “My eyes are awake through the night watches, that I may meditate on Your word” (Psalm 119:148). Other times I awake with people on my mind. Since this is frequently former students or friends who are serving as missionaries on foreign fields, I assume they are in need of prayer in the middle of their day, even though it is the middle of my night. Even when the image is not of missionaries, I begin to pray for members of my family and then on to friends as they come to mind. Even though I eventually go back to sleep, I guess for a time, I become somewhat of a watchman of the night (Isaiah 21:11). I share this to challenge you – when you awake in the night, consider that it might be in order to pray for someone in need.