We have lots of home videos of Christmases past when the boys were little. As they grew and the presents became more practical and less “toy”, one thing didn’t change from year to year. Every Christmas and birthday, the boys had to show each present to the camera and say who that present was from. “This “EtchaSketch” is from Aunt Susan,” little Stephen would say. Mitch might say, “Thanks, Uncle Richard, for this nice sweater,” as he held up his gift. When the boys were real young, the process would get pretty funny. Little Mitch might say something like, “This baboon (balloon) is from Uncle Ginny.” Well, the process was the same at every Christmas and birthday: open the present, hold it up and say “thank you” to the giver.
I really regret having had the boys go through that gruelling process. My intentions were to instill in them a sense of gratitude. I didn’t want them to take gifts for granted, focusing more on the gift than the generosity of the giver.
Maybe my obsession came from my own years of lack of gratitude, when I took things for granted and even had the nerve to complain when I didn’t have the things I wanted when I wanted them.
Not sure here, but I think that maybe ingratitude more than anything irks God. He pours out sunshine and rain on good people and bad alike. We wouldn’t last one nano-second without his generous provisions, yet we complain so much. It’s too hot. It’s too cold. Too much rain. Not enough rain. Nothing good on TV. I’m bored. Is this all there is? I haven’t eaten in two hours! All I do is work, work, work! She is so uppity! He’s so strange. Why can’t you be like other husbands? Our house is too small. My car is five years old. Why can’t I have an iPod like everyone else? My hair won’t do right. I wish I had hair. And on and on and on…
I really don’t know the secret to being grateful. Except perhaps to put yourself around people who have far less than you, or those whose health has failed them. Maybe it would help to live on half our salary for a year. I really think it would help if we get our focus off those who have more than we do and simply enjoy what we have. (A young couple we know committed to not purchasing anything new for a year.)
I am really trying to grow in this area of thankfulness. When you try, it’s amazing what you find to be thankful for. Things that I took for granted in the past hold new value to me now. I love sunsets and sunrises. And time with Lynn doing nothing. And hamburgers. And my neighbors. And every ache-free morning. And work. And old hymns. And sons who are not in a war. Our two wonderful daughters-in-law. And freedom. And chess pie. And old friends. And memories…
Do you have any ideas on developing an attitude of gratitude? Some of you do this very well and I’d like for you to share your secret. What are you most thankful for?
(Reprint of an earlier blog)
Dr. Leonard Allen stated the following during lectures at ACU in 2003 in his three-part presentation, Living in Light of Last(ing) Things. You can find expanded thoughts in his book, co-authored with Danny Swick, Participating in God’s Life, New Leaf Books.
The Basic New Testament claim is: The triumph of God has been revealed. The triumph of God has been uncovered. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, all the hostile principalities and powers of this present age have been disarmed and, in fact, defeated. God’s Kingdom has broken into history and—for the believer, those with faith—it has brought an end to all other kingdoms. In this new Kingdom, the believer sees—knows by faith—the end of history, how history is going to turn out. This triumph is not visible to the human eye, it’s not audible to the human ear, in fact, much of the evidence we see and we hear around us point to the contrary. Just read the daily paper. It is known not through any scientific search, nor statistical projection. It is known only through faith. The worldly powers keep on raging and threatening to overwhelm us to win, but the believer sees by faith that they (worldly powers) are already doomed, finished. They are already writhing in their death struggle. Therefore, the believer already knows something by faith that unbelievers do not know. They know that Jesus Christ now reigns as Lord of all. And further more, they know that one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Lordship. Furthermore, believers not only know by faith how history will turn out (more than just knowing the end), they also presently participate in that end through the presence of God’s Spirit…as Paul states in 1 Cor. 10:11, “We are those upon whom the end of the ages has come.” So, this means then, for the faithful, that knowing this truth (this revealed truth) and experiencing this apocalyptic presence or power by the Spirit, the believer can follow Jesus in all things, even in those things that may seem to worldly logic and to mere worldly eyes utterly impractical and utterly unworkable to those who do not know what Christians know and see, by faith, what Christians see. And it is this basic New Testament outlook that can properly be called apocalyptic… The Kingdom of God in the person of Jesus Christ has broken into history. The end has come, and we are participants by the Spirit in that.
He went on to say that this vision (Paul’s vision) eventually faded as the church became more institutionalized and powerful.
This is what Dr. Allen’s thoughts say to me:
- The Kingdom is far bigger than “church.” In fact, God’s greatest work on earth might be outside the realm of religion.
- Christians live for more than just the end—heaven. We are active participants in what God is doing on earth now. We are to fully participate with God in bringing about his will “on earth as it is in heaven.”
- There is nothing that needs to ruffle a believer. We can follow Jesus into any and every circumstance and be confident of the outcome.
- We need not fear Memphis’ high murder rate, economic catastrophes, or falling church attendance.
- We need not shrink from being found in the “bad parts” of town.
- We can invite anyone into our home and visit anyone in his.
What does this say to you?
If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party. The world says, Mind your own business, and Jesus says, There is no such thing as your own business. The world says, Follow the wisest course and be a success, and Jesus says, Follow me and be crucified. The world says, Drive carefully—the life you save may be your own—and Jesus says, Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. The world says, Law and Order, and Jesus says, Love. The world says, Get, and Jesus says, Give. In terms of the world’s sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under a delusion.
—Fredrick Buechner in The Life of Jesus
January 13, 2010, 6:00AM
By Garrison Keillor
I went to church in San Francisco on Sunday, the big stone church on Nob Hill, whose name is an old slang term for a rich person, where a gaggle of railroad tycoons built their palaces high above the squalid tenements of the poor back in the Gilded Age, and there with considerable pomp we baptized a dozen infants into the fellowship of faith and we renounced the evil powers of this world, which all in all is a good day’s work.
The term “evil powers” is one you hear only in the church, or in Marvel comic books, or Republican speeches, and it isn’t something I renounce every day. I am a romantic democrat, raised on William Saroyan and Pete Seeger and Preston Sturges, and we have faith in the decency of the little guy, and we believe you can depend on the kindness of strangers. But it ain’t necessarily so.
Evil lurks in the heart of man, and anonymity tends to bring it out. Internet flamers would never say the jagged things they do if they had to sign their names. Road rage is anonymous; there is no equivalent pedestrian rage or bicyclist rage. (Have you ever yelled vile profanities at a fellow motorist – a spontaneous outburst – and then found that you’re holding a cell phone in your hand and a female colleague is on the other end? I have and it is excruciating.) War requires very well-brought-up people to do vicious things, which they are able to do efficiently because the recipients of their viciousness are unknown to them. The bombardier never sees the quiet shady street of brick houses that he is about to incinerate.
I want to believe in the kindness of strangers. I believe that if voters actually knew gay couples, they would not vote to ban gay marriage. This particular cruelty is the result of social separation, which breeds contempt. I know something about that, having spent time in grad school. When I was 24 I was an insufferable snob, thanks to lofty isolation from the ordinary tumult of life, and what cured me eventually was entering the field of light frothy entertainment. When you strive to amuse a crowd of strangers, you have to drop your pants, and a man without pants gives up the right to look down on anybody.
We liberals can be as rigidly humorless as anybody else: You learn that, writing a newspaper column. Hard-shell Baptists have nothing on us when it comes to self-righteousness. Mostly we look down on Republicans and the iconic small-town values that they have exploited so successfully, and yet, deep down, we share those values. We admire personal enterprise, we are wary of the power and blindness of big bureaucracies, and we do not admire self-pity. When I hear long tales of woe – Poor Me, my benighted life – my inner Republican thinks, “That was you who poured all that alcohol down your gullet. You. Nobody else. And why didn’t you work a little harder in school? Duh. Your mama tried to tell you and you sneered at her. You did it to yourself, pal. You got on the train to Nowheresville and guess what? You arrived.”
The center of civility in our society is not the small town but the big city, where you learn to thread your way through heavy traffic and subdue your aggressiveness and extend kindness to strangers. Small-town Republicans are leery of big cities and the anonymity they bestow, but there is no better place to learn the delicate ballet of social skill. Isolation is a difficult trick for a pedestrian, even with music pouring into your ears.
And here, this morning, in a city famous for eccentricity, we strangers in a cathedral embrace other people’s children and promise to fight the good fight in their behalf, a ceremony that never fails to bring tears to my eyes. We renounce evil powers. I renounce isolation and separation and the splendid anonymity of the Internet and the doink-doink-doink of the clicker propelling me through six Web sites in five minutes. I vow to put my feet on the ground and walk through town and make small talk with clerks and call my mother on the phone and put money in the busker’s hat. We welcome the infants into our herd and though some of them sob bitter tears at the prospect, they are now in our hearts and in our prayers and we will not easily let them go.
Garrison Keillor is host of “A Prairie Home Companion” on national public radio.
I hope this brief excerpt will entice you to read Leonard Sweet’s little book, “Jesus Drives Me Crazy!” And perhaps you will look into any and everything else Sweet has written. Good stuff…
I know you have more books on your nightstand then you’ll ever get to, but if you read ten books in 2010, make sure one of them is Donald Miller’s latest, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. One of the many soul-stirring thoughts is the following.
Growing up in church, we were taught that Jesus was the answer to all our problems. We were taught that there was a circle-shaped hole in our heart and that we had tried to fill it with the square pegs of sex, drugs, and rock and roll; but only the circle peg of Jesus could fill our hole. I became a Christian based, in part, on this promise, but the hole never really went away. To be sure, I like Jesus, and I still follow him, but the idea that Jesus will make everything better is a lie. It’s basically biblical theology translated into the language of infomercials. The truth is, the apostles never really promise Jesus is going to made everything better here on earth. Can you imagine an infomercial with Paul, testifying to the amazing product of Jesus, saying that he once had power and authority, and since he tried Jesus he’s been moved from prison to prison, beaten, and routinely bitten by snakes? I don’t think many people would be buying that product. Peter couldn’t to any better. He was crucified upside down, by some reports. Stephen was stoned outside the city gates. John, supposedly, was boiled in oil. It’s hard to imagine how a religion steeped in so much pain and sacrifice turned into a promise for earthly euphoria. I think Jesus can make things better, but I don’t think he is going to make things perfect. Not here, and not now.
What I love about the true gospel of Jesus, though, is that it offers hope. Paul has hope our souls will be made complete. It will happen in heaven, where there will be a wedding and a feast. I wonder if that’s why so many happy stories end in weddings and feasts. Paul says Jesus is the hope that will not disappoint. I find that comforting. That helps me get through the day, to be honest. It even makes me content somehow. Maybe that’s what Paul meant when he said he’d learned the secret of contentment.
All of this may sound depressing to you, but I don’t mean it to be. I’ve lived some good stories, now, and those stories have improved the quality of my life. But I’ve also let go of the idea things will ever be made perfect, at least while I am walking around on this planet. I’ve let go of the idea that this life has a climax. I’m trying to be more Danish, I guess. And the thing is, it works. When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are. And when you stop expecting material possessions to complete you, you’d be surprised at how much pleasure you get in material possessions. And when you stop expecting God to end all your troubles, you’d be surprised how much you like spending time with God.
I wish each of you the best for you and your family in the coming year. Keep your expectations low, and be happy all year long.
It was either a Christmas miracle or just the way things are done in West Texas.
My apartment complex requires monthly rent payments in cash or money order. So, around the time rent is due, and since I don’t yet have a local bank, I roam from ATM to ATM looking for the lowest automatic teller withdrawal rate. I usually use the ATM near my apartment, but on this Sunday afternoon I was on the other side of town and decided to try First Financial Bank’s after-hours teller.
I inserted my card, punched in my pin and waited. A notice came back that this ATM’s service charge is $2.50 plus another $2.00 my home bank charges for withdrawing from machines not their own. I decided this was too much to pay, so I punched “cancel transaction.” My card popped out and I drove off.
On my way home, I stopped by my regular ATM and withdrew what I needed for a smaller fee. When I got my transaction receipt, I noticed that the balance in my account was about $300 less than I thought I should have in there, but figured I must be wrong because banks don’t make mistakes, right?
Two mornings later, still bothered by the discrepancy, I pulled up my account online and saw that a total of $302.50 had been withdrawn from my account through an ATM at First Financial Bank on Judge Ely (an Abilene street) two nights before. What is going on, I thought. I jumped in my car and headed for FFB to get this straightened out. Bill Gates probably wouldn’t have bothered, but I’m not Bill Gates.
I walked into the bank confident this was going to be handled quickly, and I met Ashlee, one of several bank officers at work that morning. I explained my situation in detail, to which Ashlee replied that I would have to take this up with my local bank in Memphis, who would then request an audit of the ATM. If the audit proved my case, FFB would credit my Memphis bank account. After being assured there was no other way to handle this, I headed for my car, kind of bummed out.
Ashlee, meanwhile, strolled over to the desk of co-worker Patty and explained my dilemma to which Patty replied, “Hmmm, yesterday a lady brought in $300 she said she found in the ATM.”
As I was checking phone messages in the bank parking lot, Ashlee and Patty came running. Patty said, “Come back in; we have your money!” And sure enough, after checking my card against the transaction details, Patty counted out 15 crisp $20 bills.
Here’s the explanation and the miracle…Not long after I pulled away from the ATM thinking that I had cancelled the transaction, a lady pulled up to make her own transaction and, low and behold, discovered $300 in the money discharge!
Isn’t that the fantasy of every one of us? Have you not ever dreamed of getting more money than you asked for from an ATM? What would you do?
No one would ever know if this lady had simply taken the money and driven off. Instead, the next morning she brought the money to the bank and turned it in. “God just wouldn’t have wanted me to keep that money,” she told Patty.
Neither Patty no Ashlee would give me the lady’s name so I could thank her personally, but I made them promise to pass on my deep appreciation to this saint.
I wonder if that story could have played out the same way in Memphis. Perhaps. I know there are many wonderful people in Memphis who would have done exactly the same thing. Are the percentages higher for a favorable outcome in “small town America” than in larger urban areas? Not sure. Could it be that this lady had all the money she wanted and needed and therefore was just doing it out of duty? I don’t know a thing about her, but here’s what I’d like to assume based on what she told Patty: She loves God and wants to please him. She loves fellow man and wants to do what is right no matter what. She is rich in goodness even if she’s not otherwise rich. And finally, God beamed when this child of his did, by faith, the right thing.
That’s the kind of person I want to be.
Merry Christmas to you! Jesus is the reason for this and every season.
Sunday can be the happiest, most restful day of the week. Or it can be the loneliest, most depressing day of the week. I’ve seen both sides.
Back during my early college years, my Sunday routine consisted of sleeping late, grabbing something to eat and then riding my bike to Overton Park where I would spend the afternoon reading, sleeping and picking my guitar. I still recall how lonely Sunday was, captured by Kris Kristofferson in his “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” The missing ingredients, as I look back, were God and family.
The same can be true of holidays. When you’re connected to family and good friends, the holidays are joyful and enriching. Take out God, family and friends and the holidays are more to be endured than celebrated. Again, I’ve seen both sides.
My holiday wish for you is that this season is filled with family and good friends…and that you remember the Father who brought into being all things good…good food, good friends, good memories, good deeds.
An emotion packed morning. I rose before the sun and drove to ACU to walk the 2-mile path around the campus. Nearly every step brought back a precious memory.
I passed Mabee and Edwards dorms and remembered moving our boys in before their respective freshman years. Tucked behind the dorms is the JMC building where both sons spent who-knows-how-many hours in classes and working on The Optimist. At the sight of Mooney Coliseum I remembered the chapels we attended during our visits, and the beautiful singing of 4,000 college kids. It’s also the building where we heard God-inspired preaching during lectures. It’s where I saw Stanley Shipp for the last time. And it’s where both sons walked the floor for their graduations.
I walked right past EN 23rd Steet, the sight of Steve, Chrissy and Damon’s first home.
Around the bend, I passed University Park where Mitch shared a room with fellow Rocketboy, Brandon. As I passed the Chapel on the Hill and the Bible Building, I was reminded of the powerful lectures, helpful classes and meaningful discussions during seven lectureships over the past nine years.
Out of sight behind the Bible building was the student center with its World Famous Bean where we enjoyed more than a few meals, and where the Rocketboys have wowed hundreds of adoring fans. That’s where we would meet up with old friends we hadn’t seen in years, and pick up where we left off.
Up the trail was the Williams Performing Arts Center where Mitch successfully auditioned for his music scholarship and where we listened to the chorus featuring the best basso on earth, our son!
As I passed Gardner I remembered moving my niece into the dorm before her freshman year.
Several times, I thanked God that our sons found their special ladies on these sacred grounds. I imagined their evening walks hand-in-hand, their hugs when they met between classes, and all the joys that meeting that special person brings. It made me think of my own “special lady” back in Memphis who I so wished could have been with me this morning.
I finished my walk where I started…in front of University church building which brought to mind the many wonderful “9:00 o’clocks” we sat through when we heard angels sing songs we didn’t know but which have become our favorite songs of praise. Some of those very songs provided background music as I walked thanks to my iPod. “Listen to Our Hearts,” “Thank you for the Cross, Lord,” “Shine, Jesus, Shine” were songs we first heard in the University building.
To say I didn’t shed a tear or two would be a lie. Nearly 10 years of our family’s history are tied to this town and specifically, ACU. I just can’t imagine things working out better had our boys chosen another college. Perhaps they would have…I just can’t imagine it.
Precious memories…how they linger!