I’m thankful today.
The weather is crazy. I’ve lost track of how many days it’s been since it’s been above freezing. In Texas. I was born in Winnipeg, MB (that’s Canada, for the unaware). The last year I lived there (1973-74), the first snowfall was the last week in October and the last snowfall was the first week in May. We expected snow and cold there. But in Granbury, Texas? This should not be the view from my front porch for the better part of a week. But it
In more than 30 years of pastoral ministry, I think we have cancelled worship services because of weather twice on a Sunday morning and once on Christmas Eve. Now, in the span of five weeks, we have cancelled worship services two more times because of weather. On January 10, we cancelled after it became clear that snow was coming sooner than we anticipated. No one was at church that morning, and it was too late to attempt to do anything by live stream. Three days ago, we anticipated the system that would arrive the next day and acted quickly enough to record something on Saturday that we could live stream the worship service on Sunday. But I love Sunday. Corporate worship isn’t just an obligation and duty for us as believers — it is a source of joy and life as we gather and remind each other of God’s greatness and glory. And I’ve missed being with our particular church body as well.
Then yesterday we thought we lost our 11-year-old cat; he wandered off in the evening and chose to ignore all our calling and searching for him for more than two hours. We gave up and I thought he’d be lost to either coyotes or the cold. I didn’t sleep well last night, thinking about the cat and his probable demise to other critters or the cold.
But the first light of the morning revealed he wasn’t lost, but like the prodigal, he returned home looking for shelter and a meal. He was un-flustered and it appeared that he received more sleep than the rest of us did last night. While I was grateful for his return, searching for him for two hours in single-digit temperatures and experiencing a short night of anxious “rest” was not on my agenda for yesterday.
But I’m thankful. I am prone to be tempted towards impatience. I can give up and quit tasks too quickly and too easily because of my impatience. I have the spiritual gift of discernment, also known too often as a critical spirit. All those propensities add up to the potential for trouble in a week like this. But I’m thankful. Here is why I am thankful.
I am thankful for our church family. Yesterday and today I’ve been interacting with members in the church body and how they are handling the cold and the related troubles. Some have not had more than an hour or two of power in 36+ hours and the temperature in their homes is in the low to mid-40s. Yet not a single complaint from any of them. In fact, there has been contentment, laughter, and offers to help throughout the church body. I should expect no less, but the love this church body shares with one another is a continual testimony to the grace of Christ that is making them all His disciples.
I am thankful for kind providence. In particular, I am thankful for the kind providence that God worked to give Raye Jeanne to me and me to Raye Jeanne in marriage. Yesterday I saw her cuddling our daughter when Jack the Cat was lost. I could hear her speaking in a quiet and gentle tone. And then I realized she was praying. She was applying the needed grace of God to the heart of a sad daughter and reminding all of us of the grace of our God who is aware of and cares for “insignificant animals.”
She doesn’t complain when it snows (even though neither of us can tolerate cold well physically). When plants need to be moved and covered, and firewood needs to be hauled, and meals need to be planned and prepared in creative ways, she is not only quick to act, but already has a clear plan. She embodies many of the principles of Proverbs 31 and serves her family well. She is a kind manifestation of God’s particular providence to bring us together (which is another story for another day).
That last paragraph is not only written to affirm Raye Jeanne, but it is also to say that God has graced me far beyond anything I could have desired, never mind expected. She is an amazing manifestation of God’s providential care for me in all my weaknesses.
I am thankful for common graces. Like most people, I need regular reminders of how easy and graced my life is. And when I lose electricity for an hour, every other hour for a couple of days (and when it goes out at untimely moments), and when I have limited water for cooking and cleaning, and no mail delivery, and Amazon packages are delayed, and electrical circuits malfunction so the heaters in the greenhouse can’t keep up the temperature, and I can’t (safely) get out on the road, and I don’t have the daily interaction with friends and co-laborers for Christ, and when I don’t know if my water lines might freeze or burst overnight (so far they haven’t), I am reminded just how many gracious gifts He has given me and all my neighbors and all of us who live in this fine country. Sure, I don’t know what the final impact of COVID will be, and I am concerned about too many cultural influences that are revealing the soiled moral fabric of our country, and I find myself discouraged and disgusted by politicians on both sides of the aisle, and I grieve over another influential Christian who has lived a lie against his faith for decades. Yes we live with all those uncertainties and burdens. But into those hard things, God sprinkles our lives with dozens of common graces every day — a cardinal pushing snow out of the way to eat seed that was left out for him, robins “grazing” in my yard on their way back north, a car that starts every morning and gets me to my destination, hot running water (in my house!), the beauty of a moon rise and a sunrise, a child’s laugh in the grocery store, a thousand variations of texture, color, and flavor that stimulate our taste buds (we don’t eat the same manna every day for three meals for 40 years!), the sense of smell that can heed the warning of a skunk’s spray, and delight in the smoky char of a fire in the fireplace, or savor the sweet scent of my wife’s perfume. Common grace is God giving the same kinds of gifts to all men everywhere. We experience them every day, and we are prone to overlooking them every day. And losing — or potentially losing them — for a few days, makes me thankful for so many ways He has been kind to me and all mankind.
I am thankful for special graces. I speak here of the particular grace of salvation. There are worse things than being cold, hungry, and without friends. There are worse things than losing a cat and having to break that news to a wife and daughter who are particularly attached to the cat. There are worse things than living in the morally degrading world in which we live. In fact, no matter how bad life on earth gets, it is infinitely better than the “best” day in Hell. For there are no good days in Hell and nothing good that ever happens in Hell. Conversely, no one in Heaven would give up even one fraction of a second there to return to earth to experience the best moment that can be had on this earth. The “worst” day in Heaven (and I say that knowing that there is nothing bad or “worst” in Heaven) is infinitely better than the best day on earth. And apart from God’s grace to save me from my flesh and my sin, I could only anticipate Hell and never anticipate Heaven. Apart from God’s grace, I would be the worst of hypocrites who would petition Christ and say, “Lord…Lord” — did I not serve you in so many ways and do you not now owe me salvation? (Mt. 7:21-23). Anything I am and everything I have spiritually is because of God’s remarkable grace to set His affection on me, choose me, quicken me to life, and save me. Without Him I only get and only deserve infinite Hell. With Him I only get and only deserve (because of Him and Christ) infinite Heaven. That’s been an overwhelming reminder this past week.
I think often of the story of Matthew Henry who was robbed on one occasion and wrote this in his journal:
Let me be thankful.
First, because I was never robbed before.
Second, because although they took my wallet, they did not take my life.
Third, because although they took it all, it was not much.
Fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.
I’ve thought about that statement often — and even more in the past week. Let me paraphrase that sentiment: “Let me be thankful, because while I have suffered some loss this week, I have been reminded that I have still been given much, I have not lost all, and cannot lose the greatest gift that God has given.”