When a Turkey Gets Pardoned

14781510951_28ac287358_abraham-lincoln-and-tadEvery year since 1989, the President of the United States grants an official pardon to one lucky turkey. It had been an on-again, off-again ceremony up to that point. Truman did it in 1947. JFK did in 1963, three days before he was assassinated. But with George H.W. Bush, it became the annual tradition that it is now.

Being the history geek that I am, I wanted to dig a little deeper to see how the whole tradition got started. And here’s what I found on whitehousehistory.org:

The tradition of “pardoning” White House turkeys has been traced to President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 clemency to a turkey recorded in an 1865 dispatch by White House reporter Noah Brooks, who noted, “a live turkey had been brought home for the Christmas dinner, but [Lincoln’s son Tad] interceded in behalf of its life. . . . [Tad’s] plea was admitted and the turkey’s life spared.”

Don’t miss these details:

  • It was Lincoln, who had already brought freedom to millions who had been in bondage.
  • It was Christmas, not Thanksgiving.
  • It was Lincoln’s son, Tad, who interceded to his father on behalf of the turkey.

It’s that last detail that stops me in my tracks. As I think about what I am grateful for this Thanksgiving season, I am most grateful for a Heavenly Father who proclaimed freedom for the captives (Isaiah 61:1). That at Christmas, His son came into the world in order to set us free (John 8:36). And that God’s son, Jesus, does not condemn us. Instead, He is at the right hand of God and is at this moment interceding for us (Romans 8:34).

Because here’s the deal. There are a lot of days where I’m pretty much a turkey. Maybe I’m impatient with my family. Maybe I’m selfish toward my wife. Maybe I’m insensitive to the needs of a church member. Maybe I give in again to a secret or shameful sin. On those days, I am reminded of a Son interceding to His Father to seal my pardon. And I am so grateful.

In the Middle of My Complaining…

Can you find joy in the midst of sorrow? Jeremiah did. Literally. In the exact middle.

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This morning my daily Bible reading took me to Lamentations. When it came up on my Bible reading app, I groaned a little. Because, full disclosure, and knowing that no Christian is EVER supposed to admit they don’t like anything that’s in God’s Word…

I don’t like Lamentations.

Lamentations is the most depressing book ever. It follows Jeremiah, which is also the most depressing book ever. Nor for nothing is Jeremiah called the weeping prophet. His assignment was to communicate a VERY unpopular message to a group of people who didn’t want to hear it. His message:  the Babylonians are coming. God’s people are going to be in exile for seventy years. And it is because of your sin and idolatry that this is going to happen.

 

Because his message was so unpopular, and because there were false prophets who were proclaiming that this whole exile thing would blow over in two years (see Jeremiah 28:1-4), Jeremiah’s words were ignored. The king of Judah actually cut apart the words of the scroll Jeremiah wrote, column by column, and threw them into the fire (Jeremiah 36). Jeremiah himself was thrown into a well and accused of treason  (Jeremiah 38).

Not to put to fine a point on it, but Jeremiah’s ministry assignment sucked.

Jeremiah hated it. He actually accused God of deceiving him (Jeremiah 20:7). Later in the same chapter, Jeremiah will say,

Cursed be the day
    on which I was born!
The day when my mother bore me,
    let it not be blessed!
15 Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father,
“A son is born to you,”
    making him very glad.

(Jeremiah 20:14-15)

Much of Jeremiah’s 52 chapters is about how much he hates the assignment God has given him. Yet, he can’t NOT fulfill it. In 20:9, he writes:

If I say, “I will not mention him,
    or speak any more in his name,”
there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
    shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in,
    and I cannot.

Apparently, 52 chapters were not enough for Jeremiah. So he followed it up with Lamentations. Which on the surface seems to be more of the same. Five solid chapters of complaining.

But when you start looking at the structure of Lamentations, there is more than meets the eye. Chapters 1,2,4,5 each have 22 verses. They are written as an acrostic, where each verse begins with the corresponding letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Chapter three is 66 verses, also written as an acrostic (three verses per letter).

Why such a careful, methodical, precise structure? I think it is to make it easier to find the exact center of the book. The central verse of Lamentations is 3:33. It’s worth backing up a little in order to get Jeremiah’s run-up to this magnificent verse:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;[b]
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man that he bear
    the yoke in his youth.

28 Let him sit alone in silence
    when it is laid on him;
29 let him put his mouth in the dust—
    there may yet be hope;
30 let him give his cheek to the one who strikes,
    and let him be filled with insults.

31 For the Lord will not
    cast off forever,
32 but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
    according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
33 for he does not afflict from his heart
    or grieve the children of men.

In the middle of his complaining (literally) Jeremiah remembered the unceasing, unfailing love of the Lord. He remembered that He renews His mercies to us every morning. That even though God can be the cause of our grief, He is also the source of our comfort. Verse 33 says that God does not afflict from His heart– he is not mean-spirited.

What do I remember in the middle of my complaining? Jeremiah found joy. Literally. In the exact middle of his sorrow. Joy is found when we focus not on our circumstances, but in the character of God.

Ten Lepers Left

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Ten Lepers, by James Christensen

I wrote this poem several years ago, but updated it and used it in a sermon I preached this past weekend. A few folks have asked for it, so here it is. It is based on the story of the ten lepers Jesus healed in Luke 17:11-19.

Ten lepers walked the city streets,

and stopped to hear the preacher preach

So close to death, all pride was stripped,

Nothing to lose; so those with lips

Called, “Jesus, help us out a bit?”

“Go, show yourselves unto the.  priests,”

He said, they scattered, west to east

Their skin, with cleansing fire burned

Ten lepers left, but one returned.

 

Once, the question came to mind, “What happened to the other nine?”

And though I claim no revelation—this is nothing more than speculation

I offer you this testament

To where the other lepers went.

 

First, there’s Leper Number One

Who took off in an all out run.

Her feet, now free from open sores

Ran like they’d never run before.

 

Poor old leper number Two

Had no idea what he should do.

So, scarred from years of being shunned

Went home, locked up, and saw no one.

 

Then there’s leper Number Three

For whom sickness became security

For years, defined by leprosy

Till it became identity

Healed, became a bitter man

And wished he could get sick again.

 

That accounts for three who were healed that day

Nine lepers left, one leper stayed.

 

Leper four, his skin free of spots

Left and immediately forgot

He’d ever been a leper.

 

Five and six found love along the way.

Ran off, got married that same day.

 

So that makes six accounted for

One leper stayed, that leaves three more.

 

And of those three, there were the two

That wrote “Life from a Leper’s Point of View.”

They gained great fame in lecture halls,

Signed copies of their books in malls.

And on the Oprah Winfrey Show,

Oprah said, “We want to know,

To what do you attribute health?”

“From within,” they said. “We healed ourselves.”

 

Number Nine believed his leprosy

Was to be replaced with prosperity

Convinced it’s what he deserves, somehow.

He’s out there living his best life now.

 

So, ten lepers went their separate ways

Nine lepers left, one leper stayed.

He stayed to fall at Jesus’ feet,

Stayed to feel His touch so sweet;

To thank Him for the gift he gave,

Ten lepers cured, one leper saved.

James Jackson

 

Glorified!

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I’ve always jokingly wished that I would get a new body. An upgrade. Something more Chris Pratt-like (“Guardians” Chris Pratt. Not “Parks and Rec” Chris Pratt).

But if I truly believe that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, then I choose to believe that in my glorified body I will look and be exactly as God intended for me to look and be, without the negative effects of age, disease, pollution, decay, environment, athlete’s foot, and Klondike bars. And somehow, in a way I can’t even fathom, it will be glorious yet still recognizable as me. And people will look at me and say, “my God.” Not in the casual, flippant, offhandedly blasphemous way we use that phrase today, but in a way that expresses awestruck wonder for the God that could resurrect such beauty from such ashes. People will recognize me, but they will recognize Christ in me with none of the flaws that distort and hide Him. And the only thing that will keep them from falling to their knees on the spot is that Christ will be seen in everyone else as well. And maybe the reason we will not grow tired of worshiping the resurrected Christ, even when we’ve been there ten Thousand years, (bright shining as the sun), is that we will experience him in ten thousand million different ways, expressed through every unique, glorified saint.

Prayer for 2018

giphy-3Teach us to number our days carefully
so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.[e]

Psalm 90:12

 

 

One of my favorite things to do in a new year is to begin a new journal. I love the point when the blank pages before me outnumber the filled pages behind me.

And yet, on balance, I am also facing the reality that there are more filled journals in my past than there are blank journals in my future. 2018 marks my 52nd year on this planet. My 32nd year in ministry. My 26th year as a married man. 21st as a father. 3rd as an Alabamian. And first as a lead pastor.

I believe there are still new adventures to be had. New lessons to be learned. New insights to be gained. And I pray, Lord, that I will come to the end of 2018…

  • More at peace with You yet more broken by You;
  • More in love with my wife yet more aware of how fragile and delicate a God-honoring marriage truly is;
  • More dedicated to my role as a father, yet more aware of my diminishing impact and years to influence their lives;
  • More confident in my leadership at my church, yet more mindful of my utter dependence on You.

Let me journey without arriving, mature without mellowing, stabilize without stagnating, and study without graduating. And let me live 2018 only for the glory of God.

Read the Bible Through in 2018

rtb

I serve as lead pastor at Glynwood Baptist Church. This past week, as part of our teaching series “For Unto Us,” we talked about Jesus as our Wonderful Counselor. We talked about how a counselor provides clarity, offers comfort, and issues a challenge to the one being counseled. If you’d like to listen to the sermon, you can click here.

As Christians, we believe God does that through His Word. In the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, God clearly communicates His truth to His people.

And in 2018, we are challenging every member of Glynwood to read the Bible all the way through.

There are a lot of great Bible reading plans out there that can help you accomplish this goal. You can follow this link to download four different reading plans available from LifeWay. Find the plan that’s right for you

rgsOn Sunday nights in 2018, I will be following George Guthrie’s Reading God’s Story: A Chronological Daily Bible in my teaching. The sermon will come from one of the passages you’ve read that week. We have copies of this Bible for sale at the church for $14, as well as a number of other devotional Bibles in different styles and translations. If you would like to order one, please contact the church office.

If you would like to join us in this challenge, just give us your name and email address, and you’ll be signed up. We will send you regular encouragements and study helps to help keep you on track throughout the year.
Let me also encourage you to download YouVersion, which is a free Bible reading app available for both the iPhone and Android devices. You Version has dozens of different plans available. My favorite feature of You Version is the ability to listen to the Bible being read. This literally revolutionized my daily commute when I was living in Nashville and was spending over an hour every day stuck in traffic!

Another cool feature of YouVersion is their “Live Events” section. This allows you to follow along with the message outline every Sunday from your smartphone. Just type in the church’s ZIP code (36066), select Glynwood, and the sermon is right there. Click here to see what it looks like.

Whether you use one of the online tools or not, I pray you will join us for this journey! So many people seek to get a word from the Lord without spending time in the Word of the Lord. It doesn’t work that way! Commit to spending time in His Word daily. You life will never be the same!

When the Scripture Reads You: Conviction from James 2

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Skeptics read Scripture, looking for those things they can’t accept. Followers of Jesus, in contrast, allow the Scripture to read them, looking for those things God can’t accept.

Tim Keller, in The Songs of Jesus

At the church I serve, I am in the middle of preaching through the book of James. Since James is such an intensely practical book (52 commands in just 105 verses), I’ve been challenging our church family to ask themselves two questions with every passage we study together:

What is God saying to me in this passage?

What am I going to do about it?

So this week as I was studying James 2, I had the intensely uncomfortable feeling that the Holy Spirit was stepping on my toes. Actually, stomping on them would be more accurate. With steel toed boots.

James 2 begins with this scenario:

Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,”have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

James 2:2-4 (NIV)

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When I first read it, I thought to myself, “We would never do that in our church! We welcome everyone!” And it is true. I look at our church family and there is a great mix of blue collar and white collar, black and white, military and civilian, wealthy and not so wealthy. Mentally I was patting myself on the back for how much James 2:2-4 didn’t apply to us.

But then the Holy Spirit, in His annoying way, reminded me of what went through my head last Tuesday night. It was Halloween night, and our church held its annual “Light up the Night for Jesus” event. Families from our church decorated their cars and passed out candy.  We gave away two bicycles and a big screen TV. We had an evangelism tent where people heard the gospel. We met hundreds of our neighbors. And as the new pastor at the church, I mingled, trying to say hello to everyone I could.

But I caught myself evaluating people as I said hello. I categorized them into the “Just Here for the Candy” group and the “Legit Prospects” group. And I realized that what often made the difference in my mind was how they were dressed: whether they were wearing a scary costume or a more “family friendly, remember this is a church event” costume; how many tattoos or body piercings they had, and other criteria that I’m ashamed to confess. I said hello to one young couple, new to the area  because of a military assignment, and thought to myself, “Great prospects! I’ve got to remember their names!” But then I would pass an apparently single mom, there with maybe her mom, several kids, and shabbier clothes. And while I was friendly and pastoral, saying all the right things, I confess that I didn’t walk away from that conversation thinking about what great prospects they were. I didn’t remember their names.

And isn’t that exactly what James is describing in his letter? Sam Allberry, in his commentary on James, writes “favouritism is profoundly un-Christian. It says, in effect, that someone who is worth more to the world is worth more to the church…. [It] ends up judging one person’s soul as being of greater value than another’s and it does all this on the basis of superficial, worldly criteria.”

All those who claim to be Christians follow a homeless man (Matt. 8:20). We worship an executed criminal. We serve One who “didn’t have an impressive form or majesty that we should look at him, no appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2, CSV). And we follow the One who chose us, before the foundation of the world, even though we had not a single thing to offer Him except our sin and our brokenness. 

God, forgive me for becoming a “judge with evil thoughts” last Tuesday night. Forgive me for letting the world determine how much spiritual worth someone has, based on what I think their contribution could be to our church. Help me see that favoritism of any kind stands in evil opposition to the gospel.