a prayer of thanksgiving for the distant, but very close friend

 

Father God, thank you for my friend who is especially dear to me, but who is far removed from me in terms of place. And that you know their name and care for them even far, far more than do I, I am very thankful.

Though we rarely speak, when we do so, we pick up the conversation as though we have been together every day all along. I know this is a great and precious gift from you, Father. Thank you.

It has been many years since we have been able to simply be in each other’s presence, but Father, I sense that we are ever present with each other in ways that far transcend geography. This is your work, Father, not mine, and I thank you.

Though we were made of very different material, long ago you wove our lives together. In that apparent weakness, somehow you made great strength. Thank you for gifting us so.

Decades distant you bonded us to each other, closer than brothers. And decades later the bond remains, undiminished, yes, even stronger than ever. Such kinship is rare and so, I know you have given us a special grace.

You have spared their life all this time, given them all of the time they have enjoyed, and so I pray, Father, for them, and I confess for myself, give them still yet much more time here on this earth. Thank you for every drop of time, every ounce of time we know that we are not alone, Father, and remind so with such friendship as this.

You still powerfully speak to me through the memory of their ways that were good, even though I remain ignorant of many of their good ways are today. That you continue to use them to carve indelible marks into my mind through the instrument of yesteryears, well Father, I am deeply indebted to you.

And so, in the name of your Son, Jesus, I would ask. May you give them every good thing that you would give them in your love, Father; lavish your goodness on them. May they always seek you and grow to know you better each day; may their gratitude for you swell with the years. May we never leave each other, Father, and may we ever be grateful, together, Father, for what you have done, and are doing, and will do. Give us this grace and mercy, Father, to spend forever together in your presence.

Amen. And amen.

links: this went thru my mind

Agreement, disagreement, listening & understanding: Steps You Can Take to Listen More Deeply [required reading]

“What if, instead of having to agree or disagree, like or dislike, you could learn to understand and be understood? What if you learned to just listen?”

Blessings, gratitude, prayer & thanksgiving: Thank You for Blessings Unknown to Me

“For all Your blessing, Heavenly Father, known to me, and for all unknown, accept my thanks.”

Christianity, Christian nation, courage, faith, ISIS, misunderstanding, persecution & witness: ISIS and “the Nation of the Cross” [essential reading]

“I’m a part of this “Nation of the Cross” and it doesn’t have a nation, it is an international, world-wide community of people who believe that this is actually not the worst thing you can do to us. Terrorism and acts that are designed as symbolic fear-driven aggressive acts of bullying only strengthen our resolve to lay down our lives. You may denounce some of our culture, and there are plenty of us that wish that the Christians in America didn’t participate as readily in consuming some of the same culture you denounce, but you have woefully misunderstood who you are talking to.

“If you want to talk to America than call it by it’s proper name, if you want to talk to the Church than this is our response for over 2000 years.

“You can’t kill people who have already died. That’s who you are talking about and who you are talking to when you address “the people of the Cross.”

Government, history, Lipscomb, Restoration Heritage, & voting: Voting More Evil than Dancing, says David Lipscomb

“One gets a sense of how important this is to Lipscomb. The kingdom of God stands in opposition to all human institutions, and the most powerful, violent and coercive of institutions is civil government.”

Morality, reason, secularism & spirituality: Building Better Secularists

“Past secular creeds were built on the 18th-century enlightenment view of man as an autonomous, rational creature who could reason his way to virtue. The past half-century of cognitive science has shown that that creature doesn’t exist. We are not really rational animals; emotions play a central role in decision-making, the vast majority of thought is unconscious, and our minds are riddled with biases. We are not really autonomous; our actions are powerfully shaped by others in ways we are not even aware of.”

links: this went thru my mind

Church, gratitude & thankfulness: * Gratitude & Justice;  * Cultivating Gratitude in Our Communities

* “Gratitude is perhaps the most important way we practice recognizing the “enough” all around us. If “lack” is the root of injustice, then gratitude is at root of justice. How can we hoard what isn’t ours? … And if everything we have is a gift from God, how can we not share those gifts, even with our enemies (see Matthew 5:43-45, 48)? Gratitude can help us move from dissatisfaction, fear, and narcissism to satisfaction, trust, and a deeper appreciation of the interconnectedness of all things. It frees us up to live in the present and to accept each moment and every circumstance as a gift.”

* ” … we tend to focus more on what we don’t have, what we can’t do, and where we fall short. We often define and appraise our faith communities the same way.  What is absent can obscure what is present. This happens when we focus more on needs than assets … Rather than emphasizing what’s not there, the church should focus on what is. The work of the church is, in part, to help people discern their gifts, provide opportunities for people to publicly praise God for them, and support them as they exercise those gifts—’re-gifting’ them for God’s glory.”

Christian faith, civil religion, culture, nationalism, narcissism & Thanksgiving: Appreciation Day [essential reading]

“Appreciative folks value their stuff, but never acknowledge its true source.”

Dogs & learning: How Dogs Understand What We Say

“Tell all the emotional things to the dog in his left ear … For commands that you want a dog to get clearly and precisely, tell them in right ear.”

History, humility, memory, Native Americans & remembrance: Never Forget

“A people with our history should practice humility and exercise sensitivity far beyond what comes natural for most of us.”

toward a stranger Thanksgiving

NOTE: The following is a guest post by a dear friend of mine, Bill Ehlig. Bill happens to be one of my shepherds at MoSt Church and I can assure you, he, more than anyone else I know, “practices what he preaches” in this post. Enjoy, and be challenged!

Our President took the liberty to refer to a concept from the Bible last night. It is not all that well known, but ignorance of the concept cannot be attributed to the concept being unmentioned. In fact the concept of care for strangers is fairly basic in the Bible from beginning to end. The President said, “Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger – we were strangers once, too.” He was nearly quoting from Exodus 23.9:

“Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

This is a theme in the Law [Genesis – Deuteronomy] and also the Prophets [Isaiah – Malachi, the Jews adding most of Joshua – 2 Kings]. Have a look if you wish: Ex. 22.21 (20); Lev. 19.33, 34; Deut. 10.18,19; 24.17,18; Jer. 7.6; 22.3; Ezek.  22.7,29; Zech. 7.10. If you looked at these, you may have noticed that the concern is not only negative [don’t oppress], but also positive [take care of the stranger]. The 3rd or 4th commandment [depending if you count the Catholic or Protestant] refers to the same concern [Deut. 5.12-14; Ex. 20.8-11]. Also, Israel was supposed to be somewhat careless regarding the harvest and leave some in the field for the strangers and others [Deut. 24.19-22; Ruth 2.1-23]. The Law took all this one step further regarding taxes in Deuteronomy 14.28-29:

“At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.”

Israel paid for assistance whether they got taxes from the stranger or not! This was in their budget. Not too surprisingly Jesus took up the same line as Moses. An example: the commandment he called ‘The Second’ [Matt. 22.34-36; Mark 12.28-34; Luke 10.25-28] “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The story of the Good Samaritan is downstream of this commandment in Luke. Jesus was quoting from Leviticus 19.18. I would add from the same chapter verses 33 and 34.

“And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”

A last note from Jesus; he defined the differences between sheep and goats on how they cared for the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned [Matt. 25.31-46]. He set the bar high, much higher than our discourse has generally been. Earlier, I wrote ‘beginning to end’. Let me add Genesis 15.13 and Hebrews 13.2. That would be about 92% of span of the whole Bible. There is plenty more between these about caring for others, even strangers.

There is something which should be added to all this: The President used the word ‘stranger’ for his speech. That would be from the King James Version. He could have used other words instead. Other translations do not use ‘stranger.’ They use foreigner, alien, immigrant, and more. Generally the point can be made with a little more umph from these other translations.

I wonder how much the President’s citation from scripture was noticed. I wonder how much hearers realized just how rich the concern for strangers is in Scripture.

There will be those who would prefer the President kept out of religion. Fine, I suppose. But I hope these abandon the song of “our Judeo/Christian heritage”. If we can’t get “the heart of a stranger” right, we might want to avoid other subjects where Scripture is not so clearly represented. Thursday we celebrate Thanksgiving. Let us not forget the ‘stranger’ part of that celebration.

Bill Ehlig

LIFE group guide: sing: when we sing, we …

 

NOTE: Following is the discussion guide we’ll use tomorrow (Mar. 9) in our LIFE groups at MoSt Church. This guide will enable your follow-up of my sermon that morning. This sermon is the second in a three-part series entitled Sing!

To find previous group discussion guides, look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous issues.

Reason

Stated in a single sentence, this is the purpose of this sermon series, or this particular sermon, in a series.

To stress the significance of singing in our life together as seekers of God.

Revelation

These Scriptures form some of the foundation of this morning’s sermon.

• May the God of endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude toward each other, similar to Christ Jesus’ attitude. That way you can glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ together with one voice. So welcome each other, in the same way that Christ also welcomed you, for God’s glory. (Romans 15.5-7 CEB)

• … be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5.18b-20 NRSV)

• Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. (Colossians 3.16 NRSV)

• So let’s continually offer up a sacrifice of praise through him, which is the fruit from our lips that confess his name. (Hebrews 13.15 CEB)

• Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. (James 5.13b NLT)

• … before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. … They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. (Revelation 14.1-3,4a NIV)

Relation

Use one of the following icebreaker questions to prime the pump, to help the conversation begin. Choose one to discuss.

1. Name a song that never fails to makes you smile whenever you hear it.

2. You’re stranded on a desert island. You have only one song recorded to listen to. What is it?

Research

These exercises/questions are meant to help us grapple with the Scripture(s) related to this morning’s sermon.

1. Read Rom. 14.1-4,13,19; 15.2. What enables disciples to glorify God “together with one voice”?

2. In the texts above, what is specifically connected with “Christ”? What does he do or have?

3. Read Ps. 40.1-3; 96.1-2,13; 98.1; 144.9-14; 149. What prompts God’s people to sing a “new song”?

Reflection

These questions assist our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us in our encounter with God’s word.

1. If our singing is a “sacrifice of praise,” what does it “cost” to praise God? Cost you? Cost us?

2. Choose. “My favorite church songs have (a) God or (b) others as the primary audience?” Why?

3. “I tend to pay very close attention to the words and meaning of a song whenever _________.”

4. How exactly do we “teach and admonish one another in all wisdom” through singing?

5. What happens when we sing together that can’t/doesn’t happen any other time?

Response

These ideas/suggestions are for your use beyond the group meeting; to aid in living out today’s message in the coming days.

1. Select one song of praise to deliberately put in your heart and sing to God each day this week.

2. Compose a short, simple “new song” expressing thanksgiving for God’s victory in your life.