30 Days of Thanksgiving 5: Thankful for sanity in the midst of chaos

I am again grateful for the opportunity to respond to Suzanne Burden’s opportunity to express Thanksgiving each week and for this final segment of 30 days of Thanksgiving I am expressing gratitude for God’s grace and its attendant sanity in the midst of chaos.

There is no break from illness or ailing family and friends and accidents of all kinds happen on June 25th as well as December 25th (and November 27th as well as July 27th). Over 18 months ago I began a journey with my mom who experienced major cardiac surgery and rehab over a four month period.

One of the major results of the surgery was the need for her to be near my family and I. So after being apart for nearly, nearly 4 decades after leaving for college, from 2 to 6 hours away, we moved her 5 minutes from us.

It has been a good move. But it is a sometimes uncertain and chaotic journey.

Falls, unfortunately, have become part of her life from time to time and  have occurred  when we have been close (or fairly close) by but were in the midst of other things which required a quick adjustment of the schedule. But every time one has occurred we have been able to get to her even though two of the trips have required a visit to the local ER.

And so I am very thankful the peace AND sanity which the Lord has given to me during these times and I am grateful that I still have my mom here and are able to see her on a daily basis instead of a 3 to 6 hour drive several times a year. And I am grateful for how she was able to get the medical attention she has needed over the past now 19 months.

 

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30 Days of Thanksgiving 4: Books, Please!

It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.

–C.S. Lewis

Again this week my friend and pastoral colleague Suzanne Burden has shared in her 30 days of Thanksgiving series something she is thankful for and it is something for which I am also very thankful!

 

Books!

 

And to express thanksgiving for books she has asked her readers and a few of us on Twitter, to share some favorite quotes from the books we have read. “Well,”  I said in reply to her on Twitter, “that may take a while!”

So here are quotes from three books which have stuck with me over the years.

“The minute I found myself in the privacy of the car, a wave of intense emotion came over me. It was like a dam had broken, a flood of pent-up pressure released behind it in the form of sobbing and hysterical crying. Somewhere in the midst of all this, the pain in my chest lifted and there I was – generally a model of rigid self-control and modern accomplishment- crying ugly and repeating over and over again, “It is all true, all of it, it is all true.” In that moment I knew I was not having a heart attack. Instead, despite lifelong skepticism and outright animosity toward traditional religion, without asking or seeking, this skeptical atheist turned churchgoing agnostic had somehow been struck Christian.”

Joan Ball, Flirting With Faith

Biographies and memoirs are popular genres for me in my reading. When I got to know Joan Ball a few years ago through social media, she asked me to read a galley copy of this book. I was moved by what I read. Since then, I was able to read a published copy and this particular segment of her coming to faith, especially the line “…It is all true, all of it, it is all true.,” has stayed with me since I first read it.

First, prayer is, by nature, more than conversation. To limit its concept to dialogue is to allow some of the most important expressions of prayer to escape our notice. Second, our “conversation” may, in practice, be less a dialogue than a monologue that borders on talking at God. Some of our prayers resemble, “a spiritual shopping list, launched heavenward on the wings of pious words.” But God is not, as one author wryly notes, our “cosmic bellhop…” Communication is a two-way street… One of the key things we must consider, then, is how we listen to God.”

Marjorie J. Thompson, Soul Feast

I recently read the newly revised version of this wonderful book on the Christian Spiritual Disciplines and I was again struck by the insights Thompson has on the “two-wayness” of prayer. (The quote is from the first edition and she quotes, John Mogabgab and Richard J. Foster, respectively.) Her thoughts on prayer remind me that I am still learning to pray.

“That’s the strangest thing about this life, about being in the ministry. People change the subject when they see you coming. And then sometimes those very same people come into your study and tell you the most remarkable things. There’s a lot under the surface of life, everyone knows that. A lot of malice and dread and guilt, and so much loneliness, where you wouldn’t really expect to find it, either.” 

Marilynne Robinson Gilead

I think those anticipating the ministry; those who are in seminary; those who are in ministry, need to read Gilead and Home. (I am planning to get Lila as soon as possible.) Robinson has well captured the souls of pastors in these two novels. This quote is representative of these two wonderful and awarding winning novels and how she captures the dynamic of ministry in a wonderfully narrative way.

Thanks Suzanne for the prompt!

Happy Thanksgiving!

30 Days of Thanksgiving 3: Gratitude For Mercy

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16 (NIV)

My last two sermons have been based out of some observations in Psalm 86 that I made several years ago as I read through the Psalms and Proverbs. In my sermon on the 16th (this past Sunday) I pointed out Psalm 86:3

Be merciful to me, O Lord,
    for I am calling on you constantly

I noted in my sermon that mercy was one of the first qualities Jesus noted to the twelve as noted in Matthew 5:7

God blesses those who are merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.

and I pointed out that in the question and answer session which followed Jesus’ telling of the Good Samaritan that mercy was the point He wanted to make with the smug (as I see him) questioner who asked, “Who is my neighbor?”

“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

I am grateful for the mercy of God and that is why the lead off verse in this post from Hebrews 4 is one of my valued scripture verses. When I think of mercy, I think of being passed by two math teachers in back to back school years even though I passed very few tests.

The first time is was out of the sheer goodness… and mercy… of her heart. The second time in a different class and teacher, it was from a “mercy rule” of “all homework submitted keeps you from flunking.”

How often I have I  flippantly disregarded God’s grace and mercy through my intentional disobedience and a spiteful spirit. And yet He has continued to show me grace and mercy even though I have not deserved it.

So I am grateful and thankful for God’s mercy. A mercy that is available to all who choose to accept Jesus’ offer of it.

30 Days of Thanksgiving 2

I woke up a few months ago to a voice that clearly said, “Jim, you need to be more grateful.”

Wow.

Where did that come from?

I have no doubt it was the Lord. This does not happen to me very often but when it has the sense I have within me is that it is God speaking to me.

As I processed what I heard, I also began to process what it meant and this caused me to conclude:

I had been so focused on dealing with my shortcomings and my inner life and turning them over to the Lord that I had failed to notice all the good things that were a part of my life.

I was literally with my nose (and soul!) to the grindstone.

Inner work is a key part of one’s faith development and maturity as a Christ follower, but finding things to be grateful for is vital to the feeding my soul as well.

So today, I am grateful for the work of the Holy Spirit to point things out to me that I need to address!

 

30 Days of Thanksgiving

Pastoral colleague and friend Suzanne Burden issued an invitation on Twitter to several of us to join her for Thirty days of Thanksgiving.

I said “I’m in!” and I began to write a post that was to be published Monday. Well, here it is Thursday. Life took center stage.(I refuse to say interrupted because interruptions, in my opinion, are a part of life.)

My 90 year old mother and I spent an afternoon earlier this week at the emergency room to find the source of pain that was keeping her from being able to fully function. A potential problem was found but further diagnostic tests are needed… if she can handle them. That will be addressed next week.

So her situation, as well as that of my family and congregation, have been the focus of my attention for most of this week. But a post this morning on Facebook about thanksgiving reminded me of my ‘yes’ to Suzanne and so I have come back to this draft and updated it. What follows is what I wrote on Monday:

Suzanne’s prompt in her post is:

For what are you most grateful on this day?

Oh for a pastor to answer this question on a Monday morning! 🙂

Two things come to mind:

I am grateful for the source of all Thanksgiving – the wonderful grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.

In my communion meditation yesterday, I spoke of the value of saying YES to Jesus when it is easy and when it is hard as His YES in the Garden of Gethsemane led to His death and resurrection on our behalf.

I would not be where I am today without God’s great grace and mercy!

I am grateful for my family.

And by family I mean more than my wife of over 31 years and my two sons. Yes I am very grateful for them but there is my 90 year old mom whose faith has helped her through some challenging times in the past 18 months. And there is my extended family – first cousins, second cousins, even third cousins. What a great family I have.

Gratitude seems to be in short supply these days. It is easy to talk about all the wrong things in this world (and there are many) instead of looking for things to be thankful for as one way of dealing with the pain and suffering that is part of life as well.