Today I will be spending time with extended family, celebrating Thanksgiving and all of the many blessings God has given us. I hope you also have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day.
My thanksgiving list this year will include many of the same things that we always celebrate, but I would like to list a few of these.
I am thankful for all of my family. My father passed away 26 years ago. There are many things about my dad and mom that I am thankful for. My mother continues to be a constant source of love and support to all of us. I am especially thankful today for the memories I have of how much my father loved my mother, and that he was never embarrassed to show it!
I am thankful for my wife Vicky. She has lived most of her adult life as the wife of a Baptist preacher which is often a stressful way to live. We are so much more together than either of us could have been alone.
I am thankful for our children, Bethany and Daniel. I have a lot of happiness from the lives we have lived together and from watching them living their adult lives now. I can still see in Bethany the smile that has been the joy of heart since the day she was born. I can still see in Daniel the gentleness of spirit that has so often filled us with wonder.
Too often we miss the great gift God has given us in our families. I hope that your parents and spouse and children have given you joy and pleasure. But these are not the only benefits of family that God intends. Our family relationships provide us the greatest opportunity to grow in grace and holiness before God.
I know, holiness is an old-fashioned word. But holiness simply means to be and do what is right. Family is a gift God has given us to help fashion our character. Human laws provide incentives to get people to do the right thing. But the best kind of right living comes from the inside out.
People give up on family life in the modern world because they misunderstand its meaning and purpose. God created us so that our deepest joy would come from living the right way and giving others the gift of our love. But we lose that joy when we approach family as if it were fast food. A real family cannot be made if you only love when and where you feel like loving in the moment. God’s love is persistent. God’s love remains even when it is ignored.
People cannot have such love without God’s help. But He is more than willing. “For we are His workmanship…” (Ephesians 2:10). We are His family.
This week I had the opportunity to spend a little time with my daughter. She is 26 years old. She has lived away from us for several years now, first in college and then in a city apartment 45 miles away.
I have a lot of fond memories of Bethany when she was younger. I used to take her out to a little playground in our apartment complex when she was only about 2 years old. I would also wheel her in a stroller to a local shopping center. I held her on my lap and read to her and played games and watched TV.
When we moved to Louisville Kentucky to go to seminary, Bethany would enjoy playing with all of the kids in our apartment building. One of my favorite memories of those years is walking with her from our apartment over to the seminary, which was over a mile away. We would walk up the sidewalk, and Bethany would entertain me with her beautiful imagination.
Bethany’s life is deeply entwined with mine. I wouldn’t want that to change in any way. The beautiful young woman she has become will always be her daddy’s little girl. The time I spent with her over the years is a precious memory that reinforces my love for her.
Christians have produced many programs that attempt to create great disciples of Jesus. But when we look at the dynamic faith of the earliest disciples, we might not notice an important reason that their faith was so strong. Jesus lived with them. He did teach them, of course. He spoke powerful and wonderful words. But his most important way of training them to be His disciples was to be with them.
He makes disciples now the same way He did back then. Jesus has a deep desire to spend time with you, forming you to be His. Jesus does not just want to spend eternity with you after you die. He wants to start spending every day with you right now!
So make some divine memories. Have a talk with Jesus. Walk through the park or along the trail and tell him all your stories. It will make His day. And He will make your life.
I had a chance this weekend to see the film, “Twelve Years a Slave.” This film tells the true story of Solomon Northrup, a free black man living in New York in the early 1800s. He was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana, but eventually regained his freedom. Screenwriter John Ridley and Director Steve McQueen capture the brutality and horror of slavery. McQueen sets a stark and realistic tone that reinforces the seriousness of the subject without falling into melodrama.
Such realistic depictions of slavery give us the opportunity once again to examine this terrible part of our history as a nation. Even though such narratives bring up feelings of anger and sadness and frustration, it should not be forgotten. On one hand, although it took too long, eventually America got it right. Slavery is an evil and inhuman practice. On the other hand, we need to pay attention to the fact that the legacy of slavery remains with us.
The film intentionally depicts the religious practice of the time. The slave owners are Christians. Just like in every place and time, some of them took their religion more seriously than others. McQueen and Ridley don’t go out of their way to link the religion with the evil. But they do make sure that we notice it. They even capture the ambivalence of some of the slaves themselves. In one scene, Solomon declares to Eliza, a fellow slave, that their master is a good man. To which she replies, “he’s still a slaver.”
Slavery is only one example of how we Christians can live in blatant and horrible sin and still tell ourselves that we are right with God. We are products of our culture. We have a great capacity for getting it wrong.
I can imagine that in a hundred years, people will look back at our time and question how we could have believed and acted as we do. Sometimes the moral call of God tells us that we must defy the status quo. Even in the 19th century there were Christians and others who spoke out against slavery. But most just went along with it. Like the ordinary Germans who refused to see the evils of Hitler even while they were taking place right in front of them.
Jesus calls us to notice those whom our actions and beliefs are hurting. Jesus calls us to love people and treat each other with respect. Jesus calls us to be peacemakers and to be merciful. Sometimes the dogma religion leads us to treat others as if they are less than truly human. That is why Paul says, “for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). That is why the Spirit also inspired Paul to say, “the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
Where are you sitting this morning? You may think you are sitting at your desk in your office or at your laptop at home. But the New Testament has a surprise revelation for you. If you are a Christian, “God has seated us in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6)
This wonderful but strange sounding promise is part of a marvelous presentation of the content of the gospel in Ephesians 2:1-10. We were “dead in sin,” but “God raised us up” and made us into His “handiwork, created for good works.” This brief summary of what God has done for us as His people includes the phrase I quoted above. We are seated in the heavenly places.
Of course this saying refers to a spiritual reality not a physical one. It means that the moment we accept Christ as our Savior we are given a secure place in the kingdom of God. And that place is not only in the eternal world of heavenly places, it is seated alongside Christ who lives and walks with us daily in everything we do.
You may think you are sitting in your living room or workplace right now, but, praise the Lord, you are seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Wherever you go, whatever you do, you are seated securely in Christ. No matter what the earthly struggles you face, your kingdom seat is not only reserved, you are already in it!