“How Can I Say Thanks?”
The Call to Worship was being read as we slipped into the pew. It felt good to be home again. September 10 seems so long ago, the last Sunday before the start of a three month sabbatical. It felt good to be home again. Did I say that already? Well, I really mean it!
Thanksgiving Sunday is a special day for our church family and for my family. We intentionally set aside a sizeable portion of our corporate worship for folks to offer testimonies of Thanksgiving. A highlight on our church calendar, the saints reflect aloud on the goodness of God as experienced in the year gone by. C.S. Lewis says that “to speak our thanks out loud is not so much an expression of our gratitude as a completion of it.” In other words, “Speech fulfills celebration.” It was good to hear more than a few people completing their gratitude.
As mentioned, Thanksgiving Sunday is also a special day for the Forsythe family. It was November 22, 1987 when this pastor and the congregation of First Baptist Church in Manchester-by-the-Sea began their life of worship and service together. The Leadership Team graciously asked if I would take a break from my sabbatical to return for this special Sunday. Pastor Eric arranged for me to give the last testimony of the morning. In my preparation, Andre Crouch’s song kept playing on the soundtracks of my mind. Sue says it’s dated – like me. But his lyrics ring true and express my sentiments – exactly!
How can I say thanks for the things
You have done for me?
Things so undeserved yet you gave
To prove your love for me
Things so undeserved . . . “You deserve it.” That’s the response from more than one person in our community when learning that I’d been granted a sabbatical this fall. My reply typically has been something like, “I don’t know that I deserve it, but I’m grateful.” So I echo here something of what I expressed on Sunday morning. Thank you, Leadership Team, for initiating the sabbatical. Thank you, Bob Samsel (Adult Class), Glen and Nikita McElwee (Youth Ministry) and others for facilitating this season for renewal. And thank you, Pastor Eric Dokken, for the big three: preaching, pastoring and praying. I’m also deep in debt for the funding of the Sabbatical. In addition to the giving by members of the extended church family, long-time friends generously offered to supply the remaining amount needed, up to the anticipated $7,000 in expenses. Last, but by no means least, I must express my gratitude to Sue, who supported my traveling to spend time with friends mutually dear to us both. When on the home front she’d come through the door after one of her long days of work sometimes asking, “So what’d you do all day?” Now there’s more than one way a wife can inflect that question – especially when she arrives to find her guy holding down the recliner. But she was asking out of interest and encouragement. So thank you, Sue! All undeserved, but I am grateful.
To prove your love for me . . . Living in the 21st century is like being in a jar of muddy river water. Only when the jar remains still will the sediment settle and the water become clear. This was a time to be still, to allow the sediment of my life to settle and for perspective to clarify. Sometimes you can forget that God loves you. But if you look carefully, the Lord continually proves his love, even in the smallest of things. For example, and these will strike you as insignificant, but not me:
- A “chance” encounter with Alice Mathews on the Peabody Express Bus to Logan (which I rarely ride). Alice pointed me to a couple of resources for a project I was researching for WorldVenture.
- My packing at the last moment Alice Douglin’s autobiography as a gift for ‘Netta (see earlier blog post).
- Renewing friendship with Lance Mitchell (high school, college and seminary classmate) who “just happened” to be working across the street from my seminar site in Chicago (see earlier blog post)
- Sister Andrea’s Sunday evening testimony for Church Membership “coinciding” with my visit to the Carolinas. Way too much back story on this to fill in here.
And then there were all the “Big Talk” opportunities with . . . former seminary students who did their mentored ministry with me and are now pastoral colleagues . . and former seminary classmates who continue to do significant Kingdom work.
Time to be unbusy . . . One of the loveliest saints to ever grace our pews was Janet Height. If you never knew Janet you should make it a point to look her up in glory. More than a few of us will stand ahead of you in the line. I had stopped by for a visit with her one afternoon. Now mind you, I hadn’t been here quite two years yet. She said, “I’m surprised you’ve stayed this long.” What would she say now in a day when 1500 pastors leave the ministry each month permanently and only one out of ten actually retire as a pastor.
One of the primary reasons Christian leaders do not finish their lives and ministry effectively is that some point they stop growing in two areas – in knowledge and in love for Christ. Lance Witt in Replenish speaks volumes to us when he says, “The conversation is the relationship.” And so, as the sediment settled this fall, I am deeply grateful to have enjoyed significant still time for intensive and extensive conversation, not only with others, but more importantly with the Lord, both through his Word and in prayer – a time to be unbusy. The Lord gave to me this word from the prophet Isaiah. Note that it is repeated twice, accenting the promised future of God’s people: “And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” [Isaiah 35:10; 51:11 ESV]. So how can I say thanks? The soundtrack plays on . . .
Just let me live my life and
Let it be pleasing Lord to thee
And if I gain any praise, let it go to Calvary
With his blood he has saved me
With his power he has raised me
To God be the glory for the things he has done
A couple of weeks still remain in my break from pastoral responsibilities but even now my heart is already turning toward home with thankfulness. HAPPY THANKSGIVING!