As a favorite holiday, Thanksgiving wins hands down! It even trumps Independence Day, which not only is the day we celebrate our independence as a nation, it is my birthday. Still, Thanksgiving wins. It’s hard to get too excited about anything in July in Mississippi, it being a sweltering oppression of humidity, and knowing that the even worse August is just around the corner, lurking.
Thanksgiving is a time for family, and truly, for giving thanks for what we have. We have so much to be thankful for. It is good to stop and recognize it. Thankfulness sure makes for a fuller, richer life.
I could give you a list of all the things I am thankful for. It would be as long as CODE OF FEDERAL REGULATIONS. Besides my health and a full larder, and the Providence from which it springs, I am mostly thankful for my family and the rich, diverse group of friends with which I have been blessed. Not all of my friends think like me. Not all of them look like me. How awful it would be were they all carbon copies of me.
Today, my family will gather in good health, and enjoy a spread of food that will be welcome and joyfully eaten. We will laugh, hug, talk, and perhaps even cry, but we will give thanks to the Lord for everything we have.
All of us have losses. We will endure yet more losses in this life. We must, however, remain thankful for the things we still have, not dwelling on the things we lack. Grieving over a loss is natural. We cannot help but grieve when loss overtakes us. But we must not let the loss consume us. Eventually, we must acknowledge the loss and turn to thankfulness for the the things we still have, being mindful of those who have perhaps lost more and have less.
I am thankful that you indulged me in yesterday’s political rant and are still here reading this. I try my best not to write about politics, but politics is an important part of our lives, and I am unable to always remain silent when I am bursting with things that eventually must come out. This blog is an excellent place for it, for I may be broadcasting my rant to thousands, or I may well be writing it solely for my own edification. Either way, I have not gotten up into someone’s face and belittled or debunked things they think are important. I truly appreciate and am thankful for every friend who thinks differently than me, who tries in good faith to persuade me of the errors in my own thinking. I have had many friends like this along the way and each one of them left an indelible mark. If they did not completely change my thinking, they at least caused me to modify my thinking, or perhaps I should say ‘moderate’ my thinking. Paul Birch comes to mind every time I think of this.
Paul is a liberal/leftist/Democrat. We have little in common politically, but in our younger years, the University of Wisconsin law school graduate, Paul, forced me to abandon some of my Mississippi training, showing me that much (not all) of what I thought I knew cannot be supported. Not only did we enjoy playing music together, we enjoyed long nights of political jousting which accomplished several things: Informing me that people I know and love can hold diametrically opposite political views; they can furnish me with some rather strong arguments supporting their views; they can expose flaws in my own views that render them obsolete or sorely in need of further refining; that there are actually smart, savvy people besides me who cannot be discounted; and in spite of a vast crevasse of difference, we can argue amicably, enjoy each others company, and still be friends. Paul Birch, you will never fully know the impact you have had on my life….for you I am truly thankful.
There are so many others….so many mentors, advocates, supporters . . . even enemies, which showed me the wisdom of being able to objectively contemplate what it is that made us enemies, what parts of my own behavior contributed to that, and how to amend that behavior if necessary, or in the end, just shrug my shoulders and recognize that my enemies have all made me stronger, which is still something to be thankful for.
Paul taught me that you can attack someones views without making that attack personal. There is a huge difference.
I won’t waste my time on an argument these days if there is no chance to persuade, which happens when I suspect that either the person I am having an exchange with, or myself, have stopped listening, thinking instead of only those things we want to say. Listening is crucial. One can listen and strive to comprehend without yielding one’s own position. It costs nothing to listen. I suppose we should all be thankful that we have two ears and only one mouth. Our ears have caused us a lot less trouble than our mouths. Imagine if we had two mouths!
Even with one mouth, we are able to talk out of both sides of it. I despise this. I despise it in others. I even more despise it in myself when I catch myself at it. We are all capable, and occasionally guilty. I am thankful when I can identify someone who continually does it, for I am able to remove them from my presence, no longer having to be concerned with anything they have to say since what they say is worthless. When I have caught myself at it, I repent; I earnestly repent, for I despise above all things being guilty of the things I despise in others. I will not yield to disrespecting myself in that manner.
Having friends who have the courage to speak truth to us, warning of danger, advising us when we are being disingenuous, and loving and respecting us enough to not allow us to continue on that forsaken path is perhaps the most wonderful type of friend: He who would risk the friendship by forcing us to face the truth. Hopefully we will respond in the right manner when thus confronted, looking inward at the flaws that beset us all, and striving to drive out anything that does not line up with the truth.
In the Old Testament book of II Samuel in the 12th chapter is perhaps the greatest lesson of a friend and mentor risking everything to set a loved one back on a straight path. I will tell it in my own words until we get to the meat of the matter.
David was the king of Israel, the great warrior/chieftain who made a great nation of Israel. King David had everything a man could wish for, with one exception. The King looked out over the rooftops from the heights of his palace and observed a beautiful woman bathing. Her name was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, one of David’s generals. Now Bathsheba was not completely innocent in her rooftop bathing, perhaps knowing that she would be seen by the king, and many women might consider trading being the wife of a general for being a queen to be a good trade. Bathsheba was one of those, not content with a husband who loved her and did his duty, preferring elevation to the same lofty heights from which the King gazed down upon her,
While David had plenty of wives of his own, his eyes got the best of him, and he began to covet something that was not rightfully his, the wife of another man.
Of the ten commandments, one might make the mistake of thinking they are listed in order of increasing severity, but I think they are reversed, getting worse as they go. Commandment number 10 is the most deceptive and the absolute worst of all, because covetousness is the root of every other sin. Covetousness is the cause of the original sin. The desire for something that is not rightfully ours, if left unchecked, can and does lead us into all sorts of mischief.
David’s mind began to turn and plot. “Am I not the King and commander-in-chief?” he likely asked himself.
Good commanders-in-chief don’t like exposing their generals on the front lines of battle, since someone must organize and direct the troops. Yet David, knowing that if he could get General Uriah into enough battles and put him on the front lines, knew Uriah would sooner or later get killed, freeing up the widowed Bathsheba for David to take for himself, legally and properly, even if, because of his motives, it would be beyond unethical. Yet, that is exactly what David did.
With all of the things he had, it was the thing he didn’t have that caused this great tragedy. Uriah had his office as a general, a King he loved serving faithfully, and a beautiful wife waiting back at home. Beyond that, he had nothing, wanted nothing, and needed nothing. It is a woeful thing to be betrayed by everything you love.
Eventually, King David’s plan was successful, and the now-widowed Bathsheba became his new Queen, and eventually the mother of the future King Solomon. While David’s conscience may have nagged him sorely at first, eventually, like all of us, he was able to rationalize and justify his heinous actions to himself, persuading himself through the thinnest of veneers that he was doing a wonderful thing for his late, great General Uriah by providing for his widow in such a fantastic manner, making her his favored among his many wives.
However satisfied David may have been with his justifications, the Lord had other plans for him. The Lord had the prophet Nathan. Oh, how I wish there were more Nathans in this world. In one fell swoop, Nathan delivered a powerful rebuke, and in a single sentence, reduced King David to repentance, sackcloth, and ashes. The following passages are full of wonder and splendor for those who can receive it. The bold type is mine.
Then the LORD sent Nathan to David. And he came to him and said, “There were two men in one city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a great many flocks and herds. But the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb Which he bought and nourished; And it grew up together with him and his children.It would eat of his bread and drink of his cup and lie in his bosom, And was like a daughter to him.
Now a traveler came to the rich man, And he was unwilling to take from his own flock or his own herd, To prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him; Rather he took the poor man’s ewe lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”
Then David’s anger burned greatly against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die. He must make restitution for the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing and had no compassion.”
Nathan then said to David, “You are the man!
[Nathan proceeds to give David a rebuke straight from the Lord]
Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”
And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die.
The scriptures tell us that David was a man after the Lord’s heart, that David had found much favor with the Lord. This was not because David was perfect or sinless; David was as flawed as any human being ever was…but David always acknowledged his sin and repented, asking God for mercy and forgiveness. Only those who can recognize their shortcomings can learn to rise above them. David was one of those people. When confronted with his own sin, David never failed to repent.
The real gem here is the Prophet Nathan, who, in obedience to the Lord spoke painful truth to power. How many of us have had Nathans in our lives? I have had many, and I am here today to tell you, with no hesitation, that as painful as their words have been to me, I am thankful for every one of them. They all set me back on a path that led me towards the light, away from the darkness which can ensnare us all. It we are wise, we recognize that the Lord sends Nathans to us from time to time. If we are fortunate, we are able to hear their words, see ourselves as we really are, and change.
If you have had or currently have a Nathan, thank him next time you see him.
To follow is my Thanksgiving song. I wrote it for the General Uriah I served under, who was also my King David, and thankfully, served as my occasional Nathan.
Every one of the people you see that stage has occasionally served me as Nathan served the Lord and King David. I am thankful for every one of them and the joy we share in music and friendship. I hope Nathan, under any name, calls you out when you need it. When he does, may you have ears to hear. Nathan is wonderful, but no one likes to see him coming.
Thank you, Lord, for this day, and the peace, joy, and plenty we will share in the midst of it. Help us to be mindful of each other, to be living examples of your mercy and goodness, and to repent when we fail. Help us to love each other as You have loved us.
©2016 Mississippi Chris Sharp