Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving for what we have—and what we will have

One of my most memorable experiences in ministry happened a few years ago when I was visiting one of our members in a care facility in midtown Omaha.

While there, I learned that the pastor of the church I attended in high school was also a resident there. His name is Rev. Paul Andre, and he had served at that church for over a dozen years, through many ministry ups and downs (which I can relate to, all these years later!)

Paul was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, it was advanced, and yet he seemed to be in good spirits and was glad to see me. We visited briefly, and finally I asked Paul if he had a favorite scripture he would like me to read.

Without hesitation he said, “Isaiah 35”. That seemed like an odd choice; it wasn’t a passage I could immediately call to mind. But I found it in the Bible he had there, and as I read it aloud for both of us, I understood why it meant so much to him in his present circumstances.

Take a few moments to read it; I think you’ll understand as well:

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
     the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, 
     and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
     the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord
     the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,
     and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
     “Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
     He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
     He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
     and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
     and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
     and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
     and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
     the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,
     and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
     but it shall be for God’s people;
     no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
    nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
     but the redeemed shall walk there.

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, 
     and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
     they shall obtain joy and gladness,
     and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

By the time I finished reading, I was holding back tears. Paul knew the reality of his situation; this nursing home would be his last earthly dwelling place.

But Paul knew a greater reality—a future hope: the Good News, the promise of Isaiah 35 and many similar Biblical texts, that The Day is coming when

“the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
     and come to Zion with singing,
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
     they shall obtain joy and gladness,
     and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

If you’re finding it difficult to be thankful during this holiday season because your life today isn’t everything you’d hoped for—well, you’re not alone. Grief, sorrow, loss—these find all of us sooner or later.

But God gives us much grace—and a reason to give thanks even when life becomes hard and heavy. God points ahead to what we will someday have, his gift of eternal life; the healing of our hearts and the healing of the nations.

The person who believes this and rests in this hope by faith is able to give thanks. Thanksgiving for new life in Christ right now, and for what you will receive on that Day when the amazing images of Isaiah 35 become your inheritance and your experience.

I went to Pastor Paul’s funeral a few weeks later. It was held in that church he had served so tirelessly and faithfully all those years. Because of his faith—trusting in a God who is ever faithful—it was a joyful celebration and remembrance of his life serving God’s people.

And I left after the lunch in the church basement, smiling inside because I knew that Isaiah 35 had become Paul’s new reality. He had joined “the redeemed” who “come to Zion” (God’s eternal presence) with singing, finally obtaining the “joy and gladness” of Isaiah’s beautiful song!

May you know God’s goodness this Thanksgiving season, no matter what your circumstances,

Stay Connected

Pastor Mike

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