Monday Morning Music Ministry

Start Your Week with a Spiritual Song in Your Heart

St Patrick, Relevant To Us

7-17-17

Sent from Ireland this week, revived while visiting my daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren.

Unlike some saints of trinkets and wall-hangings, Ireland’s Saint Patrick was real, and is real.

St Patrick knew persecution. There understandably is some obscurity about a man who lived in the late 400s, but two letters he wrote survive; there are records of his deeds; tremendous influences surely attributable to him are still felt; and he did die on March 17. These things, and more, we do know.

He was born in western England and kidnapped by Irish marauders when he was a teenager. As a slave he worked as a shepherd, during which time his faith in God grew, where others might have turned despondent. He escaped to Britain, became learned in the Christian faith, and felt called to return to Ireland. On that soil he converted thousands, he encouraged men and women to serve in the clergy, he worked against slavery, and quashed paganism and heresies. Among his surviving colorful lessons is using the shamrock to explain the mystery of the Trinity, the Triune God, to converts.

He was an on-the-ground evangelist – possibly the church’s first great evangelist/missionary since St Paul, planting churches as far away as Germany – and he preceded much of history: living more than a hundred years prior to Mohammed; 500 years before Christianity split into Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy; and a thousand years before the Reformation.

I am not Irish; I am American. And my background is not at all Irish; it is German. But propelled, I am eager to admit, by a remarkable book, How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill, I have learned about a gifted people. Not unlike other ethnic groups, the Irish endured persecution through generations, but in many ways in special ways. I have learned about a land that was repository of many tribes, not least the Celts, until its craggy Atlantic coast became the last European stand against pagan barbarism. Those tribes became a people, and their land virtually became, for quite a while, the defiant yet secret refuge of literacy and faith, in lonely monasteries and libraries. You know, the “Dark” Ages. Which were not all that dark. Plumbing was neglected, perhaps; but faith thrived.

As Lori Erickson recently wrote in a series on St Patrick for Patheos, “In the eighth century, Celtic Christians created a masterpiece of religious art called the The Book of Kells, whose vividness, color, and artistic mastery reflected Christian traditions laced with Celtic enchantment. The Book of Kells is an illuminated Latin manuscript of the four Gospels. While scholars don’t know for certain, it was likely created on the remote island of Iona off the coast of Scotland, and later brought to the monastery at Kells, Ireland. Made from the finest vellum and painted with inks and pigments from around the world (including lapis lazuli from Afghanistan), the book is almost indescribable in its loveliness, with designs that are convoluted, ornate, sinuous, and dreamlike in their complexity. Some scholars have called it the most beautiful book in the world,” she wrote. I can add that it can be seen as an early graphic novel.

It is on display at the magnificent Trinity College Library in Dublin – whose famous, cavernous, multi-balconied library room is akin to heaven for bibliomaniacs like me – surrounded by back-lit photos and displays of enlargements. It sits in an environment-controlled case, one page at a time turned every few months. To behold that book, so magnificent in its reproductions, in its reality, was one of the great experiences of my life.

The Book of Kells is awesome for what it is, surely one of the greatest artistic achievements of the human hand, head, and heart. A majestic monument to faith, all the more remarkable for being anonymously produced, unlikely by one person; possibly by a virtual army of creative souls. The Book of Kells is significant, too, for what it represents:

The tenacity of faith; the triumph of trust; the assumption of lonely devotion in the face of worldly temptations and the world-system’s persecutions; the joy of creativity; and obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Knowing Him; making Him known. Not incidentally investing artistic beauty along the way… and having obvious, visceral, evident fun in the process.

Back to Saint Patrick. When the ancient masterpiece we behold as The Book of Kells was created, the man Patrick who bravely and no less tenaciously fought for the Gospel on that beautiful soil was already, himself, 500 years in the past. Our faith has been blessed with famous noted saints like Paul and Augustine; and those who touched souls for Christ but never were designated saints subsequently, like Martin Luther and J S Bach; and many, many saints who mightily served Christ in obscurity, like the monks who made The Book of Kells, and uncountable missionaries and martyrs.

Saint Patrick, born a pagan, made a slave, once a fugitive, was transformed by a knowledge of Christ. He taught us how to overcome challenges, listen to the Holy Spirit, formulate a vision, and change the world. Not just his world; but the world ever after.

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For more than a millennium a hymn, set to the haunting Irish tune “Slane,” and using St Patrick’s teaching in the words of the 6th-century Irish poet Saint Dallan, has spoken to the hearts of believers and non-believers: God is our All-In-All: Be Thou My Vision. It is performed here – with obvious and profound extra layers of meaning – by the blind gospel singer Ginny Owens.

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Click: Be Thou My Vision

Let Us Go Forward To the First Century

3-13-17

There are rhythms to all things in life, and in life itself. Cycles. In Ecclesiastes chapter 3, they are called “seasons.”

“To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, And a time to die”… Later, “A time to break down, And a time to build up; A time to weep, And a time to laugh; A time to mourn, And a time to dance”… Condensing the chapter’s long list of dichotomies, Byrd-like, “A time to tear, And a time to sew; A time to keep silence, And a time to speak; A time to love, And a time to hate; A time of war, And a time of peace.”

To everything there is a season, indeed; we all know this by intuition and experience. But most of us do not notice a huge qualification to this wisdom and poetry… later in the same chapter:

“I know that whatever God does, it shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken from it. God does it, that men should fear before Him.”

In other words, one thing does not change. Truth is immutable. Truth does not depend upon cycles, nor rely on “times” or seasons, nor wait upon our opinions. God’s Word is unchanging; God Himself is eternal. Jesus came once, for all.

There have been cycles of reform in the church of Jesus Christ. As inspired by the Holy Spirit, faithful servants of the Word have seen the need for renewed fidelity to scripture, and acted – often at the peril of scorn, rejection, ostracism, persecution, and sometimes death at the hands of fellow… Christians.

2017 marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses – complaints – to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. It is a convenient numerical commemoration, but no less worthy of recognition for it.

Change is not needed in the body of Christ every 500 years. Sometimes it urgently is needed more often, and has been throughout history. Councils and creeds were plentiful in the battles against errancy and heresy. The Truth of God does not need defense in the realm of ideas; but it does need protection “under this inverted bowl we call the sky, whereunder crawling, cooped, we live and die.” Hence, apologetics and evangelism. And reform.

Every 500 years? Every generation? No, every day.

Some of the greatest persecution of believers has come, and is coming, from fellow “Christians.” Yes, we face opposition from Muslims, the secular culture, governments, the world, the flesh, and the devil; but we also have Error and counterfeit Christianity as foes of our own household. In the Last Days, even the saints will be decieved. And we now are at a crisis point in spiritual history.

God has never needed the dilution, or perversion, of His Word in order to “attract the lost.” Just the opposite. Steel sharpens steel, as Proverbs reminds us! Today, the church in America, in the West, is conforming itself to the world instead of being transformed, instead of having others be transformed by the Holy Spirit to the renewing of minds. It is doomed to failure. Not of God, it is hellish.

In the many stresses of daily life in the 21st century, our paths to spiritual comfort ought to be clearer, not more complicated, than they have become… easier to embrace, not inaccessible. The church, itself in its blind flailing of good intentions, is a prime offender.

Relativism – substituting our logic for God’s Truth – is rife. The contemporary gospel would create God in mankind’s own image.

Religious imperialism – missions outreach that imposes our sort of Christianity on the third world – is offensive. And counterproductive: as the spread of the gospel explodes south of the Equator, even outpacing Islam, missionaries from Africa and South America now see Europe and North America as mission fields.

The deadly “works doctrine” – holding that we can earn our way to Heaven, or buy God’s favor – sparked Luther’s outrage but unfortunately did not die with him. Indulgences have new names, and they are not all Romish. Pentecostalism has been perverted by the Prosperity Gospel. “Seed faith” and “faith offerings,” paired with assurances of God’s material payback, are a stain on the church.

Mega-churches; uncountable “versions” of the Bible; Christian 12-Step programs; retreats and seminars; encyclicals; media ministries… do you notice a pattern? They all tend to be about selves, about each other. Abstractly, not horrible in such a hurting world. But. How many of them are about God? About meeting, knowing, loving Jesus? This should be the “first step” in any “12 Step” program that addresses our challenges.

Our problem – a sin, really – in the contemporary church is this: Too many programs, and Not enough Jesus.

The church has become fluent in identifying needs and creating programs to help alleviate stressors. But the Church itself should be discipled in such a way that these programs need not exist!

We are to bear with one another, not reflexively direct each other to a local church’s ministry program. We ought to shoulder each other’s burdens, umbrella each other when we can, in order to protect and love them. We are not only God’s children, but His witnesses as well. What more could we witness to others than the love, care, and protection that a Father offers? 

In the first century, when the Church was new and exciting and vital, before cathedrals and media ministries, believers met in small circles. Families and extended families. Neighbors. People who knew each other, and wanted to. Brothers and sisters who cared, and served. No microphones and rock bands and back-screen projections or gold-encrusted crowns and robes, or bingo games or mega-anythings…

“Yes, but…” missions? Youth trips? Building programs? Let the dead bury the dead. When Jesus looked down from the cross, he looked into our eyes, each of us, mysteriously, separately. He did not say that He came for programs and ministries. He certainly did not die for Denominationalism that parsed His word into irrelevancy.

He came for you, and your soul. You can take it from there… or, actually, the Holy Spirit can: it is the reason the Paraclete was sent to us.

God sent Jesus to save our souls, and the Spirit to be our Umbrella, our inspiration to overcome the vicissitudes of an evil and false generation. “For me and my household…”

We have been blessed to visit sites of the First-century church. In Roman catacombs (whose primary functions were as places of worship, not hiding) and Irish fields. The goal of Christian pioneers was to withdraw to intimate fellowships; not to expand so as to boast of unmanageable numbers and programs.

Do you yearn for the spiritual comfort and true fellowship of the first-century church?

Rick Marschall and Emily Joy McCorkell

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Click: Faith of Our Fathers

Family Christian Stores, Rest in Pieces

3-6-17

A possible Sign of the Times. But this sign says “Going out of business.” Not Sears nor Macy’s nor Outback Steakhouse nor JCPenney nor Kmart nor Office Depot nor Aeropostale. Not American automakers, either; nor air-conditioning plants; not other businesses being yanked back to our shores.

No, this week it was announced that Family Christian Stores, the self-proclaimed “World’s largest retailer of Christian-themed merchandise,” is giving up the ghost. For several years, the chain’s financial woes widely have been discussed, inside and outside the camp.

There were bankruptcies, reorganizations, proposals, takeovers, conversions from for-“profit” status to non-profit; promises to earmark income to charity; inventories that disappeared; unpaid invoices; at least one publisher and one distributor who were forced to go out of business because of Family Christian’s actions; and, of course, approximately 3000 employees in 240 stores across 36 states.

Beyond this recitation of facts, no more will be said, even as employees in the home office in Michigan are not being told much more than their final dates to report. Many good people tried to make Family Christian Stores work, and the causes perhaps will be fully revealed someday.

The chain began 85 years ago when brothers Pat and Bernie Zondervan (yes, those Zondervans) opened stores. Their bookstores were re-christened Family Christian Bookstores when HarperCollins bought the Zondervan publishing arm. This was about the time, in the interest of disclosure, that books I edited were distributed by Zondervan, and books I wrote were sold in FCB shops. So Zondervan begat Family Bookstores begat Family Christian Bookstores begat Family Christian Stores…

When I noticed that the logo changed – removing “Books” from the name – it told me more than did gossip on business pages and in Christianity Today. Two years ago, in a court-sanctioned bankruptcy move, the chain “shed” $127-million of its obligations; and soon thereafter was sold for $55-million. Customers were little affected, but publishers, authors, manufacturers, and distributors were, negatively.

Excuse me for already breaking my Commandment to recite no more facts. We have the sad reality of this major go-to source for everyday Christians… no longer is a reality. In any form of reorganization.

Time and chance, however, happeneth to all. “The business of America is business,” Calvin Coolidge famously said (and, little appreciated by many, not as a valedictory to capitalism but as a spiritual rebuke to shallow materialism) – and there is a macro-narrative about companies that outlive their usefulness. Manufacturers of buggy-whips were mightily depressed when Henry Ford coldly threatened their existence.

Similarly, as many American manufacturing jobs are moving overseas, history might record that it was the “turn” of emerging economies as the United States moved on to other technologies. To the extent this is true, despite the discomfort and dislocation of middle-aged factory workers, a lot of Economic Nationalism might be retrograde.

Lucky for me, digressions are still in vogue, and I shall return from mine. My point is that times are a-changin’ in retail publishing, as elsewhere. Another Michigan-headquartered chain, Borders, was a recent casualty. Barnes & Noble retains a measure of viability because, and to the extent that, it has become a bookish theme-park in each store, with coffee bars, easy-chair oases, gifts, toys, music, puzzles, and kids’ zones. Smart.

Family Christian did the same thing, accelerated in the past few years. Unlike Barnes & Noble or Starbucks’ pastry and CD counters, the move was doomed to fail, however. Family Christian was in a different line of work, and when it forgot that fact, its days were numbered.

Ken Dalto is “retail expert.” These days, despite the Trump Bump, I fear, his line of work – that is, performing autopsies – will be a growth industry. But his post-mortem of Family Christian’s demise is: “I don’t think it has anything to do with religion – I see it as pure business.”

Indeed, that was the problem: the stores had less and less to do with religion; the Christian religion, specifically.

Which was the chicken; which was the egg? Did the customer-base of believers hanker for more jewelry, pictures frames, wall hangings, travel mugs, driftwood with Bible verses, and baseball caps? Or did Family Christian’s strategic planners cast bigger nets to capture larger numbers of fish? The question is not rhetorical, nor is the answer dispositive: both trends must be true. However, it would have been difficult to hew close to the bedrock commitment to offer of solidly Christian material; and to remain a retailer of books and music.

Being “all things to all people” failed St Paul’s injunction when, say, FCS refused to carry Chick tracts but ballyhooed the latest Osteen books or Christian-lite DVDs. No, Family Christian had tried to become some thing for some people according to the dogmas of marketers and focus groups. In so doing it fell between the pier and the boat.

A Christian literary agent, Steve Laube, was quoted, I think about the consequent failure of Send the Light Distributors: “One less [sic] major distributor to feed the Christian store market.” Beyond the cold analysis, which is unavoidable at any temperature, we arrive at a snapshot of Christian publishing, 2017. Literary agents using bad grammar; Christian book stores that scarcely carry books (during this morning’s visit to my local Family Christian store, a large outlet, I counted only four short aisles of books); and many of the “Christian” books are relativist, celebrity-oriented, motivational, sometimes heretical.

“The Shack” and “Silence” are touted, and consumed, as contemporary substitutes for the Gospel itself. So many new translations of the Bible appear these days that I wonder if God sees this, ultimately, as a churchy Tower of Babel redux.

But times does march on, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there?

I love my 14 commentaries, most of them the size and weight of car batteries. I am proud of my 40-volume set of Luther’s works. Yet I will admit that I haven’t cracked them in several years, not the commentaries anyways. After almost everything I write, I literally thank God and Google. And Wikipedia, sure. Change.

As a Christian author I lament the death, and perhaps dearth, of Christian stores.
But the internet allows us all to sell, and to buy. Smartphones and iPads allow us conveniently to follow scripture passages in our pews. Bibles have not yet been outlawed; and they have margins to accommodate home study.

Up to the minute, the great site FaithHappenings is a one-stop shop for ordering books, reading reviews, following debates, learning about concerts and speakers – more than “old-fashioned” (ouch) retail outlets ever could.

Roughly concurrent to the Family Christian announcement, Tim Keller of Manhattan’s Redeemer Presbyterian shared the news that he would retire from his pulpit… however to shepherd his megachurch into three smaller congregations; each in turn to plant three “daughter” churches of their own. Thus (through the City to City program) has Tim encouraged the establishment of almost 400 churches in 54 cities around the world.

It’s hard to keep a good Gospel down. But my daughter Emily made a prescient point about the trend, perhaps death-spiral, of Family Christian’s product-line decisions. Christian jewelry and decorations and toys were not co-opting Target and WalMart – who will, after all, pick up Jesus products in new corners of their stores, complete with the superficiality.

No, it might all be illustrating the stark fact that contemporary Christianity in America has become jewelry and decoration and toys.

If belly-up Family Christian Stores across the landscape is what we need to demonstrate that sad fact, then may the chain Rest in Pieces.
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Click: Lachrimosa

Stop.

2-29-16

Just for a moment, stop. Savor the good; calculate the not-so-good. We must live our lives, even as the culture tells us to put on costumes and spout lines, letting our selves go past our eyes as if we were spectators, not the players. We, all of us, go around and around and around in our worlds, always meaning to start, or finish, something or other.

Parents know: running kids from here to there and back again. Activities. They’ve got to enjoy themselves, right? But how often do they enjoy talking to their parents… talking with their parents? How many times have you returned from a vacation, feeling that now you REALLY need a rest; whew!?! Even leisure has become an industry.

A while ago I wrote an essay based on Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God,” in which I suggested that great wisdom comes from a deliberate parsing: “Be.” “Be still.” “Be still and know.” “Be still, and know that I am.” “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Profound wisdom in each portion, each inviting deep contemplation – maybe a lifetime’s! Yet the essence that we of the 21st century take away is the admonition to be still. It is hard to hear God above the noise. It also is difficult to hear ourselves above the noise.

And when that happens, we stop even trying to listen to ourselves. In the next step – a downward step on a spiral staircase, I’m afraid – we finally stop talking to ourselves. Not talking to ourselves like mad people do, but conversations with the “inner selves” God has placed in our make-ups. Our creative selves. To stop that, I believe, is a sin.

When God created mankind, He made them in the likeness of God. (Genesis 5:1)

The question of listening to ourselves, to responding to the “creative spark,” is something that long interested me. My father, a polymath and omnivorous reader, encouraged me to draw and paint and write; to love music and art and history. But I came to realize that our earthly fathers and mothers only can cultivate such interests. It is our Heavenly Father who plants the seeds.

For a while, as a baby Christian, I was persuaded by some people that we are rebellious if we claim to create anything – that Only God can create, and that nothing can be created that is not of Him already. Pretty soon I realized that this is only a word game; and, when that game is played, it would rob the Lord of one of His great joys. He is Creator-God, yes; but when creating us in His image, He puts creativity within us!

If we are to be “imitators of Christ” in our standards and actions, so we can be imitators of God, and seek to create in His spirit; to dream and imagine, and dare. Attempting the likeness of God’s very creativity, we can seek perfection, look for beauty, and bless others.

We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

I humbly suggest that in God’s eyes, “good works” are more than sharing Christ and being charitable. It is good work indeed to be all that God intended you to be, to fulfill the creativity wherewith He graced you. To me, it comes close to insulting God to dismiss the talent and imagination you have – and Yes, you have gifts; we all do.

If you doubt, this is when you should stop and be especially quiet, and listen for the Holy Spirit, and to the voice of your creative self. My daughter Emily is tenfold more talented than I, and she draws and paints and writes, beautifully. She has proposed collaborating on a children’s book with her Pop – can anything honor a father more? She has dreamed, lately, of opening a restaurant. When life intrudes, as it will, creativity just sprouts elsewhere, like the pretty shoots and buds and reeds appear every spring, sometimes in the most surprising places. Emily now is designing a website about cooking and baking and serving others through kitchen-fun.

Another Hero of Creativity, and a poster child for quietly listening, obeying, and sharing God’s spark in her life, is Eva Cassidy. I only learned of her from friends in Ireland, where her acclaim commenced after her death. A singer born in the Washington DC area, she played in local clubs and made only a few recordings, partly because she loved so many genres she was hard to categorize; partly because she was intensely shy. But… she was warmed by that creative spark.

Her performances were astonishing. Just past 30 years of age she died, suddenly, of melanoma cancer. After a few years her tapes made it to England, where, played on the BBC, her songs suddenly topped the charts. Eventually her music sold millions, in the UK, Ireland, throughout Europe, and back in the USA.

I cannot listen to her without getting teary. Not just her voice and interpretations. But her example. She stopped and savored life, with the stereotypical obsession to be a superstar; but she sang to please others, where she was, with what she had. She listened; she loved God; she dared to step out. She sang because she loved to. She mastered her craft and surrendered to her heart – when, today, most of us try our hardest to do the opposite, often failing at both.

“How lucky am I,” she once said, “to just do what I love: play the guitar and sing songs.” How many of us can savor the satisfaction of doing what we really love… and really loving what we do?

There’s the pursuit, and often the attainment, of happiness. That is one way to please God. It is not selfish: it is doing what He has prepared you to do. Go thou and create!

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Eva Cassidy died in 1996. The Georgian/Northern Irish/British singer Katie Melua is about as old now as Eva when she died; they never met. However through the creative use of technology, they have performed duets, sensitive and powerful in their beauty. Eva’s “half” is from a serendipitous video-cam capture of a performance 20 years ago. Stop and watch and listen.

Click: What a Wonderful World

The Hours Drag, the Years Fly

8-26-13

It is a familiar scene this time of year. Children go off to school, some walking up the steps of the yellow school bus, some into the front doors of the school where you drop them off, some into the car, off to college. Familiar scenes; also familiar feelings, at least for parents.

Separation anxiety, of sorts. Landmarks. Turning points. All very emotional. For me, as a father, these scenes were especially emotional, because my children appeared to seldom notice anything special at all about them. Tra la la, they couldn’t wait to board the buses or run for the schoolyard. The most sentiment ever displayed was my son Ted’s annoyance at my insistence to photograph him on the porch, each first day of school year after year (because, um, I KNEW that some day he would cherish the memories) (that day might yet arrive).

It all threatened to get really slobbery when they went off to college. At those points I was ready to grab each of my three kids around their ankles, unwilling to let them go. They reflected no such emotion. I have chalked this all up, by the way, to their active sense of curiosity and adventure, nothing to do with me being the Weirdest Dad On the Street, proven by such episodes.

OK, I exaggerate a little (I tend to exaggerate at least a million times a day). But we need to remember – which means, when I write it, that I often forget – that the “saddest” things in life really are sometimes the sweetest.

When we sign up to be parents, part of the contract is to let go some day. Actually day by day. It is not a mixed blessing, even if we get, in the immortal words of Maynard G. Krebs, misty in those moments. In a recent essay I quoted Theodore Roosevelt, when he said that both life and death are parts of the same Great Adventure. Likewise, no less, are dirty diapers, silly tantrums, going off to school, asking for help with homework, the first date, the second broken heart, going off to college or the military, and watching them get married.

“Time and Chance happeneth to all,” we are reminded – and we do need reminders – in Ecclesiastes. If God sees sparrows falling to the ground, He also sees them when they leave the nest… and fly. If Mama Sparrow is not sad about that (which is my guess), neither should we regard our tears as anything but droplets of joy.

Our first born, Heather, I assumed to be exceptional from her first breath, so when she was three months old or so, I festooned the house with large signs labeling everything, just to help her to read a day or two sooner than otherwise. My son Ted entered a more sensible world. Our youngest, Emily, we knew would be our last child. My subliminal response to this, I now realize, was to keep her a baby forever, to preserve her like amber in childhood (hers, not mine). I tried to hide from her the knowledge of things like bicycles and solid food.

I kid again, a little, but rearing children, after all, is more about your values at the time than their “molded” personalities afterward. It is unavoidable, and not to be regretted but rather celebrated. Savor it all, parents, even the separation of day care, summer camp, or college in some state you cannot locate on a map.

Part of God’s sweet plan of life is that when you have children, and nurture them, and train them, and endure (and share) all the dramas of childhood, the hours drag by slowly.

… but when the kids have left home, for whatever the myriad reasons, the years then go by quickly. Remember that, while you still have the gift of remembering.

One of Emily’s friends is Amy Duke Sanchez, whom we would not know except for having “let go” of Emily when she left for a faraway college right about this time of year. Recently AmyDuke forwarded to me a very wise saying – “Don’t ask God for anything until you’ve thanked Him for everything.” That is not merely a template for constructing your prayers.

It is a reminder to stop and think about the implications of “everything.” We know that all things can work for good, and we need to see that our momentary regrets, especially in this, the Season of Empty Nests, can really be puzzle-pieces in God’s eternal and joyful plan.

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Even after mxplf years (gee, how strange: a typo) since my youngest went off to college, I still get as misty as Maynard G. Krebs when I listen to Suzy Bogguss’s bittersweet classic about a child’s Rite of Passage, “Letting Go.” The lyrics about the empty nest, and turning the page on memories, are wonderfully captured in the video with the song. Please treat yourself.

Click: Letting Go

Thanks

11-19-12

I had planned to write today a version of my annual Thanksgiving message – subsection B, the rant about how “Thank You” and “You’re Welcome” have become abused, misused, and confused terms these days. So, you will have a year to notice how people might still utter “thank yous” but how the responses are, these days, almost always “Thank YOU,” or “You bet,” “Sure thing,” or “No prob.” All of which invite us to think about the value of sincere thanks and heartfelt responses, social habits, and the meaning of it all. If there is a meaning.

There is a meaning, but it is worthwhile to think about social graces that expire, and why.

Instead, today, I was knocked off course by an e-mail I received from a friend; in fact, several recent e-mails. They have touched me, especially as I make the obvious link to the essence of Thanksgiving: giving thanks.

I have been rocked recently by professional and personal events, the personal matters mostly due to (and not to be mentioned in the same breath as) health crises of my wife. She has been in the hospital for almost three weeks, and this is, I think, her seventh hospitalization this year. We have had blessings and travels during the “good” periods lately, but this year has been visited by several mini-strokes, pneumonia, kidney failure, and grim diagnoses about her 17-year-out transplanted heart.

Nancy’s faith is strong, but I think she is getting sick and tired of being sick and tired. Through it all, the support of family and friends has been a comfort. And a hundred little things that are not little: the concern and indulgence of my agent and publisher; prayers from unknown and surprising places; and so forth. People who do not just say, “I’ll keep you in prayer,” but, having the face-to-face opportunity, pray right in the moment. Friends who, when they say they are willing to drop everything and help, mean it; and we know they mean it.

And the e-mail I received this morning, from a friend who did not even know of Nancy’s recent crises:

Dear Rick, I’ve been praying every day for you and for your family. I know I didn’t write to you after your grandbaby died, and I feel bad about that, but I don’t want you to think that means I don’t love you, because I do. It’s easy to pray for you. I would find it hard to forget!

It’s getting to be that time of year when I start to long to reach out and connect with loved ones. Normally I don’t write to people because I just don’t have words! Or I’ve used them all up, probably. That’s the price I pay for teaching online.

But something about the season of Advent changes all that. Words start to flow like milk and honey! … If you have some time, I’d love it if I could call you and have a good talk. If not, don’t worry, I get that! But consider this message a hug and an expression of genuine friendship and great regard. My brother in Christ! It’s just so great that God loves us, and love is just such a cool thing!

Well. Is there better medicine that that? And I don’t mean to disparage the precious notes and calls from other friends, from brief “I’m thinking about you,” to long letters, all precious. A friend in Arizona with whom (I regret) I don’t speak to as often as we used to, reminds me that Thursday of every week he prays for me and my family. Another friend is bursting with news she knows I want to hear, but gives me space and a prayer that the space is occupied with blessing. Reaching out in such ways is what friends, especially Christian friends, DO.

In the family of God, NOTHING is more precious than the fact of family: we are brothers and sisters in Christ, children of a loving God who has graced us with salvation and a promise of eternal life, with Him in glory.

And part of that blessed truth is that we have a promise… but we don’t have to wait for the promise to fulfill itself in Heaven. We can know it now, and in the midst of trials, share the love of Christ in a way that the world can hear about but never FEEL, Hallelujah.

This is something we don’t often enough gives thanks for in and of itself; at least I don’t. It is a wonderful gift of God, and truly a gracious thing, because we hardly deserve it. While we were yet sinners, God visited humankind and sent His Son to assume the guilt for our sins. On this Thanksgiving week, I picture it like this: our natural selves rebel and insult God in many ways, uncountable times, and God’s response is almost like “Thank you.” Huh? “I am sending my only-begotten Son as a sacrifice for your transgressions. Believe on Him.”

That is not exactly a “Thank you,” of course, But as His “You’re welcome,” before we even repent, it is a form of advance-“Thank you”… and it merits from us a lifetime of continual “Thank YOUs” and “You’re welcomes,” and praises and gratitudes. And thanks. Of the most profound sort.

What my friend this morning showed is the proof that Christ lives in us. That is to say, such expressions as she made is evidence of the Spirit-filled heart, for we are told that in such things it is not us, but the Christ who lives within us who enables us to do such things.

I am reminded of the mirror-image, an insight Nancy had during our hospital ministry after her transplants. When Satan attacks us, it is not us whom he hates – for, clearly, he has little regard for us – but he hates the Christ within us. The more Jesus in our hearts, the more he attacks.

Abraham Lincoln set aside the third Thursday of November for the nation to gives thanks to God. He summed up sentiments of previous leaders, and anticipated powerful proclamations from some of his successors in the office. Indeed we should give thanks to God for our bounties and harvests, our material blessings. But Lincoln also admonished, and people like my dear friends remind me, that we must remember, and cannot help be thankful for, the Author of those blessings. How He works in our lives; how He lives in fellow believers; how He can, and should, inhabit our works.

Thank God.

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The moving hymn “Now Thank We All Our God,” appropriate this week and every week of our lives, has an interesting story behind it. The best hymns do. It was written by Pastor Martin Rinckart during the Thirty Years’ War. In the Saxon town of Eilenburg, the site of battles and pillage and plagues, he was the only clergyman who survived to minister to the ravaged populace. At one point he performed 50 funerals a day, and the year he wrote this hymn, 1637, he performed more than 4000 funerals. Nevertheless, in the midst of it all, he wrote “Now Thank We All Our God” for his family. Was there any way to summon peace and praise in such circumstances, except by the Holy Spirit? “Nun Danke alle Gott” was used as a theme several times by Bach, and was – and should be – a vital component of church worship ever since. It was translated into English by Catherine Winkworth in 1856.

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About The Author

... Rick Marschall is the author of 74 books and hundreds of magazine articles in many fields, from popular culture (Bostonia magazine called him "perhaps America's foremost authority on popular culture") to history and criticism; country music; television history; biography; and children's books. He is a former political cartoonist, editor of Marvel Comics, and writer for Disney comics. For 10 years he has been active in the Christian field, writing devotionals and magazine articles; he was co-author of "The Secret Revealed" with Dr Jim Garlow. His biography of Johann Sebastian Bach for the “Christian Encounters” series (Thomas Nelson) was released in April, 2011. Read More