The Back Page – Thanksgiving

The Back Page

Thanksgiving

For what did people in the Bible thank and praise God? Here is a sampling from the nearly 500 verses in
which these terms are used. Look them up, and contemplate them in context for a short course in biblical
thankfulness:
Gen 14:20 deliverance from enemies
Gen 24:27 guidance
Ex 15:2 being our strength and salvation
Jdg 5:2 leaders who lead and followers who offer themselves
1 Sam 25:32 sending someone to divert us from evil
1 Sam 25:39 justice
1 Ki 8:15 keeping his promise
1 Ki 8:56 rest
1 Chron 16:34 enduring love
Neh 12 help in completing a big project
Ps 9:1 wonderful deeds
Ps 13:6 being good
Ps 16:7 counsel
Ps 68:19 bearing our burdens
Ps 71:22 faithfulness
Ps 103:1–3 forgiveness and healing our souls
Ps 119:62 righteous laws
Ps 139:14 the wonder of our bodies
Ps 144:1 training to accomplish great tasks
Dan 2:19–23 miraculous answers to prayer
Matt 11:25 God’s hiding and revealing himself
Matt 14:19 food
Lk 17:15–18 healing
Jn 11:41 hearing us
Rom 1:8 the faith of others
1 Cor 15:57 victory over death
2 Cor 2:14 using us in his ministry
2 Cor 9:15 his indescribable gift
Col 1:12 an inheritance in the Kingdom
1 Tim 1:12 being entrusted with ministry
1 Pet 4:16 bearing the name “Christian,” even in suffering

The Back Page – Two Men

The Back Page

Two Men

Nicodemus had all the right credentials, and his doctrinal ducks in a row about who Jesus was.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee, who took the scriptures seriously and literally. He was a ruler, not a layman.
He called Jesus “Rabbi” and “Teacher,” which is of course what Jesus was. Nicodemus acknowledged the
fact of Jesus’ miracles, and recognized that they demonstrated God’s presence with him. His verdict
differs radically from that of his comrades, who attributed Jesus’ mighty deeds to Beelzebub. He was
humble enough to recognize his need to learn more, and serious enough to seek Jesus out for talk. It
seems safe to assume that he lived in Jerusalem, national religious center, home of the temple.
Then there was Zaccheus. Zaccheus inhabited Jericho, a city Joshua had destroyed centuries ago,
and of which it was said, “Cursed is the man who rises up and builds this city Jericho.” No mention is
made of any religious affiliation or commitment on his part. But we do know that Zaccheus was a (hated)
tax collector. Not just a minor agent, but a chief tax collector. He was rich. Had he used his position to
line his own pockets? Those who knew him called him a sinner. Zaccheus made no appointment with the
Lord, but climbed a tree simply to gaze at Jesus, not to inquire and learn from him. He makes no
acknowledgement of Jesus’ miracles or empowerment by God. His use of “Lord” in addressing Jesus
seems less impressive than Nicodemus’ “We know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no
one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, despite all his good theology and sincere spiritual seeking, about the need
to be born again, implying that he was not. By contrast, Zaccheus makes no confession of faith, but
simply stands and tells Jesus what he was about to do—give to the poor and restore any ill-gotten gains.
Hearing this, the Lord speaks of his salvation as a son of Abraham.
What’s going on here? Did Jesus get it wrong? Didn’t he know that we are saved by grace through
faith, not of works lest anyone should boast? Or instead is there something we need to learn—that
Christians sometimes too quickly give credence to a person’s words, and discount how change and
character and deeds constitute essential components of faith?

The Back Page – Same Same, But Different

The Back Page

Same Same, But Different

In Cambodia and Thailand you see shirts sporting that slogan. Life can—maybe should—be enjoyed
from this perspective.
Every time I stroll Ocean City’s beach from 59th St. south to the inlet, the real estate remains the
same, but the ocean always varies. Today’s strong southwest wind suggests before I arrive that the surf
might be down. But not so. Instead, the wind shears the top off each wave as it crests in from the east and
shoots a shower of salty spray seaward, sunshine slashing through. Beautiful. Wish I had brought my
camera.
If we let them, seasons and celebrations also can be for us same same, but different. Each autumn,
tree leaves blaze, then drift down, but never identically so. Do we notice? Thanksgiving and Christmas
arrive as scheduled. We sing the traditional songs, but can we somehow engineer freshness into this
year’s iteration of turkey, “We Gather Together,” Mary, Joseph, and angels? Why let the beauty and
meaning of the familiar grow stale? Sure, every year these things are same same, but if we reflect and
tweak, each iteration can be for us new and different.
“What? Church again? We just went last week!” “Celebrating communion already? Didn’t we just
do that?” Same same. But if we let ourselves enter fully into what we are doing, each time can be
different. What we regularly repeat lends structure to our lives; the variety we incorporate infuses spice.
True also for our Bible study. How many times have you read Ephesians, or Genesis, or the Psalms?
Getting tired of the same old stuff? Try reading in a different way. Pick up a new translation. Read aloud
rather than silently, or with a partner rather than alone. Try morning instead of evening, or vice versa.
Pick up a notebook and write as you read. The content will remain same same— because God’s word
never changes. But if, as it claims, the Bible is living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, then
each reading can be new and different. Fresh, relevant, comforting, life-changing.
Regularity and variety. The pillar and spice of life. Same same, but different.

The Back Page – Trees and Churches

The Back Page

Trees and Churches

God loves trees. He created them on the third day. Rules were established to protect them during
times of war (Deut 20:19–20). The righteous are like fruitful trees planted by streams of water. “The trees
of Yahweh are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. There the birds make their nests; the
stork has its home in the junipers.” The millennial kingdom is a time when “every man shall sit under his
own vine and under his own fig tree.” More than 300 times the Bible speaks of trees. They can be
particularly beautiful in autumn, when leaves color and die in preparation for winter’s rest.
God also loves the church. He purchased her with his own blood. Paul seems amazed that God could
forgive and use a person who had once persecuted her. Husbands are to love their wives just as Christ
loved and gave himself up for the church.
Is there any way we can we bring trees and churches together? With profuse apologies to Joyce
Kilmer, perhaps dusting off this anonymous poem will do the trick:
I think that I shall never see
A church that’s all it ought to be;
A church whose members never stray
Beyond the strait and narrow way;
A church that has no empty pews,
Whose pastor never has the blues,
A church whose deacons always deak,
And none is proud, and all are meek.
Where gossips never peddle lies,
Or make complaints or criticize;
Where all are always sweet and kind
And all to other’s faults are blind.
Such perfect churches there may be,
But none of them are known to me.
But still we’ll work and pray and plan
To make our own the best we can.