The Conservative Seminarian

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Category: Thanksgiving

Thankfulness Series: Joshua Larsen

This post is part of a series on thankfulness. The first post explained the series purpose.

When I started this website nearly three years ago, one of my stated purposes was to write an ongoing series expressing gratitude to many of the folks who have impacted my life spiritually in some way. Not in order of importance. Not in order of height or weight. Not even alphabetical. And certainly not exhaustive (which I could never do). After I wrote that introductory post linked above, the first person I wrote about was my Uncle Ron.

Unfortunately after those first couple of posts I let the series drop off. Until now.

If you read that post on Uncle Ron (which I hope you did), you remember the study Bible my parents bought me in March of 2008, and how several personal notes written within have served as a repeated source of encouragement over the years. One of those notes was from my cousin-in-law, Josh Larsen.

What is a cousin-in-law, you ask? It’s someone who marries your cousin, and in this case, cousin Katie. Since Katie was much like a sister to me growing up next door, Josh is kind of like a brother-in-law. An older, cooler, more athletic brother-in-law (thankfully, for a while longer I still have him bested when it comes to smoking brisket).

Now, I didn’t grow up with Josh because he came along once I was already in my later teen years. Even so, I’ve still known him for almost 20 years. And though we haven’t lived near each other for the last 15 years or so, I still occasionally see or hear from him. Which brings me back to the note.

Here’s what Josh had to say:

“‘God . . . in these last days has spoken to us in his Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory, and the exact representation of His nature . . . ‘ Hebrews 1:1-3

Jonathan, I pray you will see the risen Christ as He walks through these pages. I know you already know Him, but continually seeing His beauty and glory is our only hope of walking in the freedom He purchased. So as you read may you be changed (2 Cor. 3:18), and as you are changed may you want Him even more. I join Paul in praying that ‘you may know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:19).’ I’m glad to know you and to be a part of your family. Katie and I will continue praying for you and Steph, and we look forward to seeing you sometime in the future. In Christ, Josh”

The thing that has stood out to me as I’ve mulled this note over the years is that it is saturated with Scripture. This is important for a couple of reasons. First, it is only the Scripture that can accomplish the things that Josh desired for Christ to accomplish in my life. Banal cliches or shallow aphorisms may have sounded neat, but they simply wouldn’t get the job done. So Josh eschewed them for the meat of the Word. He gave me substance. Which is my second observation: Josh set an example by knowing the Word well enough to be able to offer it to me. If I don’t have hard-earned familiarity with God’s Word, I won’t have treasure to offer to others as Josh was able to do for me.

Each time I read Josh’s words, I am thankful for them. They are a part of a special collection of notes that have been important sources of encouragement for nearly a decade. I pray that I will prove to be such an encouragement to many others over the years of life and ministry that God gives me.

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Thankfulness

Thankfulness. What a boring topic to the modern mind. Merely by naming this wordular amalgamation after so ugly a stepchild, I’ve destined it to the wasteland of single digit readership.

And yet, I cannot help myself. It is to this topic of thankfulness that my mind and heart have been drawn back again and again recently. For years I have heard good Christian men and women point to thankfulness as a primary virtue — and to ungratefulness as a particularly heinous vice — and though I’ve given some sort of mealy milquetoast mental assent to the idea, I’ve never understood why it’s such a big deal. That is finally starting to change.

The first real percolations began as I pondered Romans 1 a few times this past year. Why does unthankfulness make the cut in this who’s who chapter of famous evils? It’s not even sprinkled in somewhere down the line. This sin is in the header list of vices that kick starts the three-fold downward spiral — a demise sovereignly orchestrated by the God who thrice “gives them over” to a lower circle of wickedness. Read for yourself:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (ESV)

These verses teach that unthankfulness is a desperately wicked act (or lack of action), for thankfulness is the expected response from every man to the God who created him. They know him. Oh, they know him. And yet, though he has made himself plainly known to them, they deny him. They do not honor him. They do not thank him. This is what pagans do. This is what atheists do. This is not what Christians do! No, nor can it be, for God expects a thankful response at minimum even from the heathen. How much more is expected of the redeemed ones when it comes to thankful hearts! The wicked have been given a great gift in the general revelation of the eternal God, and thankfulness is required. How much more we have been given in the special revelation of Jesus Christ our Lord through the holy Scriptures, and oh, how much more will be required of us!

1 Corinthians 10:13 is the famous text that tells us,  “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” This is not a passage we often think of in terms of thankfulness. But how in the world are we to meaningfully glorify God in such common tasks of life as eating and drinking? I wonder if at least a part of the answer to that question lies in thankfulness. When we are grateful for God’s faithful, daily provision of even the fuel that keeps us alive, he is glorified (and food and drink are far more glorious and “good” than mere fuel, see Gen 1).

A lack of thankfulness makes a damning case against Christian claims. Let us be thankful, and in this way prove ourselves to be sons and daughters of God.

“The worst moment for an atheist is when he is really thankful and has no one to thank.” —perhaps G.K. Chesterton, perhaps Dante Rossetti

“You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”—G. K. Chesterton

“When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?”—G. K. Chesterton

Faith of Our Fathers: Worthy of Ridicule or Rejoicing?

I have long wondered how to think of the early influences that the Lord used to shape my life. I’m not just referring to positive influences, but to the overall influences, both good and bad, that impacted me during childhood. Primarily, I’m thinking of the teachings and actions of my parents, close family, close friends, and church family.

It is very easy to look for and find flaws, warts, spots, bruises, bumps, and even a malignant tumor here or there in the lives of everyone who has ever had any impact on me. In one sense, I get this. We’re all sinners and we all make mistakes. Forgive and forget. In another sense, there are legitimately wrong ideas and actions I’ve heard and witnessed that have done real damage to my thinking and living. To deny either, or to confuse the two, results in error. To think that I am alone in this is another error. Everyone who has ever lived has had this same reality to one degree or another.

(Note: I’m going to use the term “fathers” as a general term to describe the key influencers in our lives mentioned above)

The problem with my generation (let’s say roughly the 20-40 year-old crowd), as I see it, is two-fold:

First, we tend to perceive “mistakes” where no mistakes exist. In other words, we elevate non-mistakes to mistake status (thereby holding our fathers to a higher standard than that which we hold ourselves to). We confuse differences of opinion with mistakes. If my parents did it this way and I currently do not like it, it must be a mistake. If I do it the opposite way as my parents, I am clearly right and they are foolish and obstinate for not doing so. I’m talking about differences like child-rearing philosophies, corporate and personal worship music, which Bible translation you prefer to read, movie choices, your kids’ hair, and other sundries that are really far smaller than the massive hot-air-filled edifices we’ve reconstructed with them. With all of these glaring blind spots in our fathers’ lives, it is nigh unto miraculous how well we turned out, eh? We really raised ourselves well in spite of the mine fields all around us!

Let me give just one example of ways this might flesh itself out. And please remember, the term “example” implies a representative sample of a larger whole. This means I do not think it is wholly representative of the point I am trying to illustrate, nor is it the only example I could have chosen.

Take the Christian school vs. public school question (for the purposes of the example, you could combine home school with the Christian school option). It seems quite popular for some in my generation to insist that public school is not just an option, but the only “right” option. It is now foolhardy to home school or send your kids to Christian school and you risk great ridicule for saying otherwise. This seems to be a massive overreaction by a group of us who went to Christian school or were home schooled and look back on it with disdain and ungratefulness. Ironically, one of the things we passive-aggressively (or brazenly) criticize our fathers for, their ill-founded dogma, shows through with unmistakable clarity in our lives at this point. Unmistakable, that is, to everyone but us.

The second problem is that when genuine mistakes are present, we do not know how to respond in grace and truth. The general tendency in young Christians is to respond very poorly to mistakes made by others, especially our fathers.  I want to be very clear at this point: I’m not talking about egregious abuses; verbal, physical, sexual, psychological, or otherwise. I’m talking about long-held bitterness over the times your dad sinned in anger against you by yelling, or even cursing, at you. Or the time your Mom punished you by forcing you to read your Bible for an hour. Or the persistent, nagging shortcomings you witnessed in your parents’ relationship as they struggled to keep it together. Or the genuine favoritism your dad showed your sibling. Or the genuine favoritism your mom showed you (hadn’t thought of it that way, had you?).

I’m here to tell you your fathers sinned against God and against you, and so did mine. And guess what? You have sinned against your kids, and so will I. And you’ve sinned against people who aren’t even your kids, but whose lives you have influence on. And so have I. How ought they to respond to us? The same way we ought to respond to our fathers. In humility. Considering one another more important than ourselves (Philippians 2). Forgiving. Do you realize how much the Bible says about forgiveness? And soberingly, lack of forgiveness? Let me list just a few:

Matthew 6:14-15 (from The Lord’s Model Prayer):

‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’]
For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

Colossians 3:12-17 (A whole passage on putting on the new self…in other words, this is what saved people do. Notice the talk of thanksgiving, a helpful combatant against bitterness, and all the other tremendous fruits listed; note also the emphasis on the Word of Christ and that we should let it dwell richly in us, not barely in us!)

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

And: Eph. 4:31-2; Matt. 18:21-2; 1 Cor. 13:4-6; Acts 7:59-60 and Luke 23:33-44 (where Steven and Jesus forgave their murderers, a bit heavier of a crime than most of us will ever experience), and several more.

In summary, it is not good to imagine faults where they do not exist. Your lack of joy and your unfulfilled existence will prove this if you persist. It is also not good to respond to real sins (“debts” from the Lord’s Model Prayer) with pride and an unforgiving heart. Live in a spirit of humility and forgiveness in the areas where real sins were committed against you. Beg God to give you a heart of gratitude, thankfulness, and genuine rejoicing toward your fathers in areas where they were not. And ask Him to help you to have the biblical knowledge and discernment to know the difference (Philippians 1:9).

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