One day, when Plumb and his wife were sitting in a restaurant, a man at another table came up and said, “You’re Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!”
“How in the world did you know all that?” asked Plumb. “I packed your parachute,” the man replied. Plumb was startled and grateful at the same time. The man shook his hand and said, “I guess it worked!” Plumb assured him, “It sure did–if your chute hadn’t worked I wouldn’t be here today.”
Plumb couldn’t sleep that night, thinking about that man. “I kept wondering what he might have looked like in a Navy uniform–a Dixie cup hat, a bib in the back, and bell bottom trousers. I wondered how many times I might have passed him on the Kitty Hawk. I wondered how many times I might have seen him and not even said ‘Good morning, how are you?’ or anything because, you see, I was a fighter pilot and he was just a sailor.”
Plumb thought of how many hours the sailor had spent on a long wooden table in the bowels of the ship carefully weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands each time the fate of someone he didn’t know. Now, Plumb asks his audience, “Who’s packing your parachute? Everyone has someone who provides what they need to make it through the day.”
This Thanksgiving weekend, I wonder if there are those around us whose faithful service behind the scenes, even though they may be vital for helping us to survive in this increasingly hostile world. You might want to look around this Sunday at Shelby Crossings at the parachute packers on every side, upon whom we each depend to “make it through the day.” Their prayer and support, their encouragement and accountability, their love and friendship, and their simple acts of service on so many different sides, help sustain each of us through even the greatest falls. And as we approach life’s leaps of faith, it’s great to know that we have people packing our parachute that we can count on. That’s what genuine Christian community is all about.
I’m sure glad our Lord has called us to serve Him together. I don’t know another church in the world I’d rather be a part of than The Church at Shelby Crossings. I am praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.
Counting our blessings, and naming them one by one (with apologies to the old hymn writer) is always a good thing. We would all do well to take whatever opportunities we have to express our gratitude. And, there’s no better time to do that than in a season of the year set aside for that specific purpose.
As I wrote in this space a few years back, though Thanksgiving Day is not a distinctly Christian holiday, thanksgiving as an act is a major biblical teaching. Scripture is full of admonitions to give thanks, and examples of those who did. There is no more specific exhortation than the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
There you have it. It’s not only a good idea, it’s God’s will, and even a Biblical command to be obeyed. But for whatever reason, sometimes we are more like one of the nine lepers whom Jesus healed and walked away without even saying thanks, than we are the one who came back to express his gratitude. “Where are the other nine?” Jesus asked them, and I believe He asks that even today.
In fact, thanks-giving in and of itself is not a natural act for self-centered people like us. It must be learned, and in fact, it’s something we’re always learning. I know as a parent we tried to consistently stress that our children learn to say two things: “please” and “thank you.” Sometimes it was like pulling teeth to get those “magic words” out of their mouths, but it was more than just the words, or good manners, it was the expressions of hearts of gratitude we were trying to develop.
I read something from pastor and author Steve May on that very subject. He wrote of a friend who mentioned that she would never force her son to say “Thank you” unless he really felt like saying it. She said, “If I teach him to say ‘thank you’ when he doesn’t feel thankful, I’m teaching him that it’s okay to be a hypocrite.”
That may sound nice on the outside, but it’s all wrong. Feelings have nothing to do with genuine thanksgiving, or how we express it. Gratitude is not an emotion, it’s an action. The act of saying “thank you” is not so much a feeling, but a choice, and when we are thankful to God (as commanded) it is an act that puts our lives in proper perspective.
That’s why the Psalms so often refer to the “sacrifice of thanksgiving.” It’s an act of obedience, to a gracious God, in recognition of His goodness of our behalf. Like children, I believe that all of us as Christ-followers must learn how to express our gratitude, and the best way we learn it, like most everything else, is by practicing it on a regular basis.
So, while I’m at it, let me take this opportunity to say, like the apostle Paul, that “I thank God every time I remember you,” (Phil. 1:3), and that I am very grateful that God has blessed me by allowing me to serve as your pastor. I pray for each of you, that His grace would abound in your life, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.
But the one thing that kept coming to mind was to pray for our nation. And as I did, it kept coming back to the fact that “our nation” is not “them,” but “us.” And more specifically, it’s me. If I want to see unity in these so-called United States, if I want the Lord to bring spiritual awakening to our land, then I don’t need so much to pray for others as for myself.
Which brings to mind a principle I have mentioned before that I often have to reiterate when counseling, especially when it involves relational issues involving other people. I usually have to mention it when there’s only one of the parties there, often a wife, or a husband involved in marital strife. And, it usually frustrates or infuriates that person to no end. It’s not just a cute cliche, it’s a big reality, for counseling and for just about everything else.
The conversation usually goes something like this: The only person we can work on here is yourself. Let’s not talk about the other person, and their problems and their issues. They’re not here, so it won’t do any good to talk about them. The only person we have any control over here is you, and besides, you are only responsible for your actions anyway. It may feel good for you to unload on the other person, who is not here to defend themselves, but it won’t do any good or make any progress. There clearly are changes that need to be made, or you wouldn’t be here, but the only person you can change here is you. So, let’s see how we can change you.
You may have heard that conversation first-hand once or twice, but either way you can understand how it may be frustrating if you came looking for someone to join you in blaming the other person for the problems they are causing. And in reality, the other person may truly be the one who is at fault, but once again, if they are not there, how is it going to help to talk about it, if we can’t fix them anyway? You have to focus on what, or who, you can change.
Which brings me back to my prayer for our nation, and where we are these days. I can’t fix everybody else, from either side of the political spectrum. And no matter how misguided I may believe their political or moral stance may be, throwing stones at others is of no use, whether it be on social media or in my privacy of my own prayer life. In fact, it is rather condescending of me to suggest that I have it all right and they have it all wrong, whoever “they” is. Blaming others for our nation’s political and moral woes never does anybody any good. Either way, I can’t now, nor could I ever, fix them. And I’m not responsible for them anyway.
So, as I pray for America, I am praying for myself. For though I am only 1 in about 319 million, I am the only America I have control over. As I ask the Lord for brokenness and repentance in the land, I must look in the mirror and see where I have fallen short in pride and sin and come to the Lord for renewal and restoration. As I pray for a quickening of heart, there’s no better place to begin than right where I’m sitting. As the old hymn used to say, “Lord, send a revival, and let it begin with me.”
I hope you’ll join me in praying for our nation, and begin right where you are. Who knows what the Lord is going to do, beginning in my life and in your life, in our church, in our community. And remember, amidst the chaos and division of our nation this week, Jesus still reigns as King of kings, and He can be trusted.
And one more thing on this Veteran’s Day. Thank you to all of you who have served our country in the armed services in protecting our freedom. Your sacrificial service on our behalf is appreciated more than you could ever know.
May the Lord bless each of you with His grace and peace. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.
Just think, in just a few more days, this whole presidential election circus will be over, and we can all get back to “normal,” whatever that means. Or maybe that’s when the real adventure is going to begin, with accusations of voter fraud and challenges to election results that could stretch on for months. Eventually January will come around, we’ll inaugurate a new president, and we’ll start a whole new circus.
I, for one, am glad that this election cycle that seems to have been going on for more than two years is finally going to be over. This has been the craziest election ever, as we have traveled further and further down the ol’ rabbit home into Alice’s upside-down world. The never-ending news cycle and the constant barrage of highly-charged political posts on social media has brought a new level of negativity and divisiveness to American politics. Of course, those pesky emails and hidden recordings haven’t helped much either.
I found interesting what pollster Frank Luntz discovered in some recent surveys of people on Facebook. He found that 94% of Republicans, 92% of Democrats and 85% of Independents say they’ve never been swayed by a political post on Facebook. But obviously, that doesn’t keep people from posting their opinions, memes, accusations and “end of the world as we know it” proclamations if one or the other candidates are elected. And most of us are just sick of it all.
A few people have asked me, as pastor, what I think of the election and who a Christian should vote for, especially in a world where we must choose “the lesser of two evils.” I realize there are bigger issues at play other than the personalities at the top of the ticket, and that there is no such thing as a perfect candidate, especially in a day when a 24/7 news cycle exposes everyone’s flaws on a daily basis. But I am appalled at the glaring demonstrations of bad character by the two primary candidates, and I have to wonder if this is the best our country has to offer.
What does God’s word say about who we should vote for? Not much, really. The closest parallel to a vote in the Old Testament was when Israel demanded a king, and God finally relented and gave them what they wanted, and they got Saul. And that didn’t work out so well. In the New Testament, there never was even a consideration that anyone would have a voice or a vote in a democratic political process. I can only imagine Jesus campaigning for His followers to vote out Herod, or Peter or Paul, facing Roman persecution under Nero, suggesting that Christians should vote for the outsider candidate for emperor.
Instead, Jesus taught that we should render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and Peter and Paul both wrote of the Christian’s responsibility to submit to governing authorities, because God in His sovereignty uses human governments to maintain order. And neither of those apostles added asterisks when they wrote, just in case you don’t agree with the politics of those in charge. Of course, there is the argument for civil disobedience from Acts 4, when the disciples were told to stop preaching about Jesus, and their answer was, “We must obey God rather than man.” But I don’t know that we’re there quite yet, especially as it pertains to the election.
The truth is, nowhere in Scripture do we find a prescription for the proper Christian vote. Certainly there are some values to which we as believers hold that should be reflected in how we cast our vote, and we certainly are called to be “salt and light” and bring Christian influence on our culture. But as I heard someone say at a Promise Keepers conference a couple of decades ago, when Jesus comes back He won’t be riding an elephant or a donkey. And we would all do well not to hitch our commitment to Christ to any particular political party.
For that matter, I wish the people of our country would stand up to both parties and hold them accountable for the direction they are taking our country with them. I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard about “wasting your vote” if you don’t get in line and vote for one of the two main-party candidates. If everyone who said that they hate having to choose between two evils didn’t, then we could all realize than none of us have to after all.
Ultimately, as many have pointed out, this election has revealed the bigger issues in our nation, and for that I am grateful. The problems are not political, as big of a mess our politics may be. They are clearly spiritual. And the candidates aren’t the problem, they’re just a mirror that reflects the state and soul of our nation. Sometimes I think that, in the same way that God used the Assyrians and the Babylonians as instruments of judgment on His people, so too these candidates are His means of discipline on us as a nation. And perhaps, this may be a good thing, if it brings us to our knees and we turn and seek Him again.
I have been saying for a while that I think this is the most pivotal election of my lifetime, but I am coming to the conclusion that it might not be so. Maybe, just maybe, Tuesday’s election won’t make that big of a difference after all, no matter who wins. Maybe, our fate does not rest so much in politicians or governments as in a Sovereign God who at last check has not yet descended His throne. As John Piper has said, “One day America and all of its presidents will be a footnote in history, but the kingdom of Jesus will never end.”
I will pray for my nation, and I will vote my conscience on Tuesday, as I hope you will also. And then I hope we as God’s people will get back to our Father’s business of living out the gospel to our community and our world, with Christ-like compassion, no matter who is elected. For no matter who our president is, Jesus will still be our King.
May He reign over your life, today and even after the circus is over. I am praying for you, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.