Thankful Poll

Last week I asked a few people to explore their thankfulness by answering a few questions.  Perhaps the same questions might spur a discussion around your table, so here they are, followed by some thoughtful responses to my poll:

What do you wish you had been more thankful for in the past?

What do you wish others were more thankful for now?

What has happened recently that has made you more thankful for some aspect of God’s character?

An expectant couple, told by doctor they lost the baby, describing the last test:  “The ultrasound revealed a perfectly healthy baby!  We were and still are overjoyed!  There were a lot of people praying for us.  We sincerely believe it was God’s love that caused the miracle to take place.”

A person with a large, loving family: “There are special people that are in heaven now that I wish I had one more day with.  I’d spend it telling them how much they mean to me and how thankful I am for them, their love, their influence on my life.”

A great-grandmother:  “My days of climbing ladders, changing lightbulbs, sitting cross legged on the floor, taking long walks, spending hours shopping are over.  I wish I’d thanked God more often for painless days and nights, the abilities to do many things that I took for granted physically.”

A career educator:  “I wish the children I work with had a better appreciation for all they have: every new gadget, the latest clothes, nice vacations.  But since that is all they have ever known, they have little appreciation for it.  There is such a spirit of entitlement.”

A voter:  “I wish others were more thankful for leaders who have real, unapologetic honesty.  I’m talking about people speaking the truth, standing up for what they believe.”

A businessman:  “Due to events in my family, as well as the tragedies by ISIS recently, I know that God is sovereign over the affairs of humans and that he can work all things together for good, as in the life of Joseph (in Genesis).”

Someone raised with a strident view of God: “I am thankful for God’s grace and forgiveness.  I have always felt so unworthy and unloved that it is so amazing to me now that I really GET it.  God loves me no matter what!”

A parent:  “My child’s daily tantrums and disobedience at times is overwhelming but has made me realize how much grace and patience our Heavenly Father has with us continuously.”

As you ponder life’s blessings, you have One to thank.  “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.”  “O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, for his mercy endures forever” (Jas. 1:17, Ps. 118:29).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Terrorist No More

Tarrants Before

Tarrants Before

Mrs. Fowler and I attended a weekend conference last month.  After locating our assigned table, I enjoyed making the acquaintance of a rather soft-spoken pastor.  I was later shocked to learn that there was a time I would not have enjoyed being in the same room, much less sharing a meal with him.

I had met Dr. Tom Tarrants.  He is on staff at the C.S. Lewis Institute in Washington D.C.  I was interested in his speaking and writing activities, and he was interested to learn that I pastor a house church.  He being about ten years my senior, I asked for and received his counsel on a few matters.  But that’s not the end of it.

The next morning, I met a young man who also works in the DC area.  I mentioned my dinner companion, and learned that he knows Dr. Tarrants quite well.  Then, I thought jokingly, he said, “So, you had dinner with a terrorist.”  He wasn’t joking.

In 1967, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI had Tarrants on the Ten Most Wanted list.  As a member of the White Knights of the KKK, he was known to be involved in multiple bombings and crimes of terror.  He was “the most dangerous man in Mississippi.”  The FBI nearly killed him during his capture in the act of placing a bomb.  He earned a prison sentence, but escaped.  After his recapture, and during his years of solitary confinement, he read the Bible, and came to know the real Jesus.  His demeanor was different, the hatred was gone, and he began to make amends even to the agents that captured him.  Many were so moved that they too placed their faith in the One who changes hearts.

Tarrants today

Tarrants today

Later that morning, I stepped into the meeting room set for 500 people, and saw Dr. Tarrants.  I was still wide-eyed at my startling discovery.  I asked him if I could present his story to you, dear reader.  Giving his reluctant approval, he said, “It’s all about God’s grace.”  God can redeem and change even a hate-filled, domestic terrorist.  Tarrants has testified, “I found myself knowing I needed the grace of God and the forgiveness of my sins.  For the first time, what Jesus did on the cross became really precious and personally important to me.”

Tarrants was an angry criminal who needed rescuing.  But a nice, decent person needs a Savior just as much.  “All have sinned,” which surely we already knew (Rom. 3:23).  There are no degrees of being a Christian; either you are, or aren’t.  Faith in Jesus Christ changes your being.  “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away” (2 Cor. 5:17).

Tom Tarrants is a trophy of God’s grace, a new creature indeed.  One evidence that God exists and the gospel of Christ is true is a changed life.  May your life testify to that truth.


Rich Mullins

Rich Mullins

The movie Ragamuffin begins with a raspy voice declaring, “I am utterly convinced that on judgment day, the Lord Jesus will ask one question and only one question:  Did you believe that I loved you?”  The movie is about Rich Mullins, the Christian songwriter and artist who called himself a “ragamuffin.”

Perhaps you are familiar with some of these songs composed by Mullins: “Awesome God,” “Sing Your Praise to the Lord,” “Step By Step,” “Verge of a Miracle.”  You might suppose that the writer of these insightful pieces would be a person unscarred by the hardships of life.  Not so.

Mullins carried some heavy baggage, not unlike the rest of us. His hurts stemmed from feeling unloved and abandoned by people near him.  These wounds affected his ability to accept love, even from God.  Yet he relentlessly pursued a relationship with Jesus, with as many pained steps backward as strained steps forward.

He was driving in Kansas when a friend asked to play him a tape. In a few minutes, Mullins was so moved that he pulled over to weep.  It was Brennan Manning, the raspy voice.  He portrayed Jesus saying, “I know your whole life story.  I know every skeleton in your closet.  I know every moment of sin and shame, dishonesty, degraded love that’s darkened your past.  I know your shallow faith, your feeble prayer life, your inconsistent discipleship.  My word to you is I dare you to trust that I love you just are you are, not as you should be.”  Because none of us are as we should be.

Mullins later met Manning, who explained that ragamuffins “are the unsung assembly of saved sinners who are little in their own sight, aware of their brokenness, and powerless before God. A ragamuffin knows he’s only a beggar at the door of God’s mercy.”  Manning later captured his thoughts on grace in The Ragamuffin Gospel.  Mullins added the foreword to the book.

Mullins’ lyrics for “Hold Me Jesus” are his honest, but hopeful testimony: Well, sometimes my life just don’t make sense at all, when the mountains look so big and my faith just seems so small. So hold me Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf!  You have been King of my glory, won’t You be my Prince of Peace?

Jesus Christ wants you to receive his unconditional love, even if you carry around pain and loneliness that can block your way to Him. He bore great pain to offer you his life-changing love.  Manning wrote, “Jesus is so unbearably forgiving, so infinitely patient, and so unendingly loving that he provides us with the resources we need to live lives of gracious response.”  So is Paul’s prayer that you “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19).

Mullins passed away in a tragic accident in 1997. Manning died in 2013 at the age of 78.  But their message resonates that Jesus even loves ragamuffins.  The movie is on Netflix.

Amazing Grace

In October 2015, the posh Citizen Hotel in Sacramento hosted a banquet like never before. What happened is an everyday example of grace, a gift neither earned nor deserved.  Since grace describes God’s love and rejoicing over mankind, such examples help us visualize the Gospel.

The story begins with Quinn Duane being within a week of her long-anticipated wedding day. Plans for the ceremony and dinner reception were complete.  But in a phone call to her mother, she explained that the groom got cold feet and canceled.  Since the reception was non-refundable, replacing disappointment with generosity, they hatched a plan to invite homeless souls to a meal they wouldn’t forget.

So on a beautiful fall day in California, with the help of several homeless shelters, about 90 homeless men, women, and children, some in dress clothes, filed into the fancy venue and dined on gnocchi, salmon, and tri-tip beef with all the trimmings.  For the moment, they were free from their hard lives in the streets while enjoying a feast they could not have imagined before now.  It cost them nothing other than accepting the invitation.

This story is almost identical to one chronicled by Philip Yancy in What’s So Amazing About Grace? He retells other true stories.  A teenage girl runs away only to become a prostitute in Detroit, and after becoming sick and homeless she returns to the welcoming arms of her family.  A vagrant in New York dumpster-dives for restaurant toss-outs, and finds a lottery ticket that pays $243,000 for each of the next 20 years.  A venture capitalist refuses to accept the repayment offer from an entrepreneur in Los Angeles when the startup fails due to world events.  Yancy follows Jesus’ example of storytelling about grace in an attempt to overcome our natural resistance to it.

We have a difficult time with God’s grace because we want a god that responds only to efforts and achievements, or lack of. It doesn’t seem fair that God loves the world (John 3:16) and its prodigals.  That love does not mean he winks at sin.  No, sending the Son to suffer and die was no trivial matter, but He did it before you loved Him back.  You will have a hard time earning God’s love if it existed in extravagance before you were even born.

One of Jesus’s stories was about a wedding feast for the king’s son. The first group of invitees was unwilling, and abused the messengers.  Then the king said, “Go to the main highways, and as many as you find there invite to the wedding feast” (Mat. 22:9).  Jesus has prepared his own great banquet, and the invitations have been issued.  It is an invitation to receive His gift of love.  And that, friend, is amazing grace.