Thankfulness is a funny thing…

Thankfulness is a funny thing.

By its very nature the giving of thanks cuts straight across the self-focus of the human heart. When we are thankful for something, we acknowledge that we are in someone else’s debt…

…that there are good things in our lives for which it just doesn’t seem appropriate to pat ourselves on the back. We pause for a day at Thanksgiving to think about the blessings we enjoy – the way our lives, with all their challenges, trials, and disappointments, are actually much better than we could have accomplished for ourselves in our own strength, and much better than we know we deserve.

And that seems to be the case even for unbelievers. Even the most prideful person will admit, if he’s honest with himself, that, strangely enough, it feels good to be thankful. We enjoy giving thanks. Something just feels…right… about it.

Storm-Bay-Kiama-with-the-KIama-Showground-opposite-surrounded-with-Norfolk-Island-Pine-trees-Image-Credit-Gerringong-Australia-PhotographyAnd that’s because we’re tapping into the reality that life isn’t most ultimately about us and making much of ourselves. We’re catching a glimpse of the reality that absolutely everything that we have – from our job to the air we breathe – is owing to the goodness of Another. You see, we are designed to humble ourselves in the presence of Someone infinitely more worthy than us. And we are designed to give praise and thanksgiving to Him for the comforts of this life. The pleasure we feel in thanksgiving is a parable from the God of the universe that teaches us that our glory is not the goal of our lives, but that His glory is.

And so if you’re reading this and you’re not a believer in Jesus Christ, can I ask you to stop and think about why, at this time of year, it feels right to deflect the glory? Would you pause a moment and think about why in the world that is? You truly feel, and therefore say, the words, “I’m thankful for ______.”

But have you ever asked yourself whom you’re thankful to for those gifts? Indeed, that they are gifts and therefore have come from a Giver?

Thanksgiving on Norfolk Island

Since the 1890’s the community of Norfolk Island have been decorating All Saints Kingston and celebrating Thanksgiving together.

The Pilgrims, following their first harvest in the New World in 1621, hosted the very first Thanksgiving; a celebration feast offering thanks to God for his bountiful provision, protection and care over them in the New World.

George Washington Thanksgiving ProclomationThe first U.S. National Thanksgiving day of celebration started with a proclamation signed October 3, 1789 by the country’s first president, George Washington. Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.” 

In 1863 amid the civil war, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a National Thanksgiving Day “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.  It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. 

Thanksgiving_Proclamation_AbeLincolnAnd I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans. mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

How did the most American of holidays end up on a remote Australian territory in the middle of the South Pacific?

Mark Johanson (with our own Tom Loyd) of the IB Times explains (http://www.ibtimes.com/how-thanksgiving-became-holiday-remote-norfolk-island-893484):

“On Norfolk Island there is one day when all congregations join together, and that is to celebrate Thanksgiving Day,” he explained. “The Pitcairners always celebrated the English Harvest Home festival, but it was not until the mid-1890s that All Saints Church was specially decorated for the service.”

This was Isaac Robinson’s idea, Lloyd said. Robinson was an American trader who settled on Norfolk as agent for Burns Philp & Co Ltd., later becoming Norfolk’s Registrar of Lands and the island’s first (and so far only) United States consul.

“The idea of Norfolk having an American consul does sound slightly absurd today,” Lloyd admits, “but in those days American whalers made frequent calls, and Robinson proposed dressing the church up American-style for Thanksgiving.”

Three of Robinson’s friends helped him decorate All Saints Church in the capital, Kingston, using only palm leaves and lemons, and though he died and was buried at sea the next year, his notion caught on. For Norfolk’s second Thanksgiving service, the parishioners brought down all sorts of produce to decorate the church.

“The tradition became to tie corn stalks to the pew ends and pile flowers on the altar and the font,” Lloyd said. “At first, each family took home its own fruit and vegetables after the service, but today they are sold to raise money for church preservation.”

See you at All Saints!

God’s H.E.A.R.T

Gods-own-heart

Thom Rainer (a US pastor and writer) prays evangelistically using the simple acronym, “GOD’S HEART”. I think it’s excellent. Maybe this pattern will help you as you pray evangelistically too:

G = Pray that believers (beginning with yourself) will appreciate God’s grace. When we really appreciate what God has done for us, we naturally want to tell others about Him.

O = Pray for believers (beginning with yourself) to live in obedience to God. If we’re not walking in obedience to God, our disobedience hinders our prayers (Isa. 59:1-2). Remaining in Christ really does matter when we pray (John 15:7).

D = Pray that believers (beginning with yourself) will decide to tell others. Evangelism doesn’t just happen. Telling the story of Jesus is a choice… an action…a decision. We often know we should do evangelism, but decide not to do it. Pray that won’t happen.

S = Pray that believers (beginning with yourself) will speak the gospel fearlessly and clearly. In fact, that’s the way Paul taught us to pray in Ephesians 6:19-20 and Colossians 4:2-4.

H = Pray for your non-believing friend or loved one to have a receptive heart to the gospel. Apart from Christ, people are dead in their sin (Eph. 2:1), held under the devil’s sway (Acts 26:18). Only God can make our hearts open to the good news.

E = Pray that their spiritual eyes will be opened. Our non-believing friends or loved ones are blinded to the truth of the gospel (2 Cor. 4:3-4), and the “god of this age” does all he can to keep them in darkness.

A = Pray that they will have God’s attitude toward sin. Understanding God’s remedy for sin begins with understanding our sickness. We’re all sinners (Rom. 3:23), and we must see our sin as God sees it – as wrong against a holy God.

R = Pray that your non-believing friend or lovedwill repent and believe. The message of Christ is clear: we must turn from our sin and trust Christ for salvation (Mark 1:15). God gets the glory as He frees nonbelievers from the domain of darkness (Col. 1:13).

T =  Pray their lives will be transformed. When God does that, the non-believing world takes note.

Who is praying for you to speak the gospel boldly and clearly? Are you praying for other believers to be evangelistic? Are you praying for non-believers? Are you asking God to save and transform a specific person? Even if you’ve been praying for someone for many years, don’t give up. God still responds to the prayers of His people. That’s His heart!  

A year of Protest on Norfolk Island

It has been a year of protest on Norfolk Island. This has raised for me a challenging and pressing question: as Christians, should we protest and picket the government? 

After all, human government is deeply biblical. Look back to Genesis 1:28, where God commanded Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” Authority, by nature, reflects God’s authority. Romans 13 echoes this foundational biblical theology, “for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Rom. 13:1).
 

Traditionally, although there have been protests organised by Christians (think Martin Luther King), Christians have been mostly negative about protesting. The recommended response to injustice has been to go to God in prayer and leave the matter with Him. In 2 Timothy 2:1-2, Paul urges that ‘petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness’. One of the effective means by which Christians live out their godliness is through prayer for the king to the King of Kings.

Despite this, we still need to remember how our modern governments work. Ancient governments did not claim to represent individuals in the way our modern Western democracies do, so protests made little impact (and publicly protesting against the policies of Rome or Assyria was fairly pointless unless you wanted an immediate, public and brief encounter with the lions in the amphitheatre).

I think there is probably a case for Christian protesting today. More importantly, I think today’s governments actually expect some measure of protest. Increasingly it seems they create and announce policies with little thought and even less consultation and then – fingers crossed – impose them on the public. If they are met with strong objections, then the policies or laws are hastily withdrawn, redrafted and resubmitted. In a culture where only those who shout are heard, any failure to protest may be presumed consent or approval.

Perhaps you’ve heard of “Just War Theory”? It’s one of the ways Christians have responded to armed conflict. I think there are some similar principles, which can probably be proposed for a political protest – a “Just Protest Theory” if you will. After all, both war and protest are powerful forces that can easily tempt us to do wrong things – anger and hatred; grumbling and complaining; gossip and slander; insubordination and rebellion; anxiety and worry – these are just some of the wrong responses that can arise whenever the conversation takes a political turn. It’s even easier to get carried away when you are surrounded by the sound of marching feet, waving banners and the shouts of solidarity.
 
LET ME CAUTIOUSLY SUGGEST FIVE PRINCIPLES FOR PROTEST:

  1. We should protest on behalf of others rather than ourselves. Our duty to love our neighbour may involve us in protesting for them.
  2. All other means of influencing the governing powers should have been exhausted. Protest should always be a last resort.
  3. We must be assured that our protest will do more good than harm.
  4. There must be a clearly defined and widely understood aim for our protest (it’s all too easy for things to degenerate into anger and dislike).
  5. The limits of any protest must be set beforehand. Christians can have nothing to do with words of hatred or – even worse – acts of violence.

Moreover, in all that we do, we should try to bring Jesus into our protest. There is a widespread suspicion that the Christian church is no different from all those other community groups that exist only for their own benefit. Protests are an opportunity to show that actually we do care for others. Perhaps you can already think of ways our protesting can be pro-testimony and pro-Jesus?

Finally, Christians should pray for the salvation of our leaders. Paul writes, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people…Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.” (1 Tim. 2:3–6).

Praying for the salvation of our leaders is good in the sight of God. The salvation of souls is in keeping with God’s gracious nature and His sovereign purposes; it is the reason Christ died on the cross. When we pray for our island, we must not limit our prayers to the latest policy decisions and other temporal issues. We must also pray for the souls of those in government and civil service, that by God’s grace they might be saved through faith in Christ!

Friends

In the 1990’s pub trivia was changed forever when ‘buddy sitcoms’ hit TV. Millions of people would tune in each week to see if Ross and Rachael would ‘finally’ get together, or for their weekly fix of Kramer-isms. In the 2000’s the trend continued with shows like How I Met Your Mother, New Girl, Scrubs and Community.

All these shows enjoy massive ratings. Each one starts with an eclectic bunch of young people with something in common – either their apartment block, New York City or their workplace. What they share draws them into a tight community, when otherwise they would have remained complete strangers.

What interests me is why these shows are so popular.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to notice that the one thing that links them is community. We are drawn to community. We resonate strongly with the bonds of friendship. We laugh at the hilarity of the dysfunction, and cry when their love for each other overcomes any obstacles that threaten the group. We inwardly long to feel that sense of belonging that comes with community.

Of course as Christians this comes as no surprise. God himself is Trinity, a community – 3 persons in 1 God. So love, friendship and community are intrinsic to God’s character. People are drawn to community because humanity was designed by God to reflect his own nature. God created us in his image and so naturally we will also share his desire for intimate fellowship.

In Acts 2:42–47, we are given a glimpse into the life of the very first Christians. They were living life together, caring for and loving each other, meeting each other’s needs, eating together and hanging out every chance they could get. To emphasise this, the writer of Hebrews has this to say: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

The community of God is a place that we can truly call home. Let’s take responsibility for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, continuing to live lives together for our good and God’s glory.

David Fell is the Chaplain of the Church of England on Norfolk Island, an Anglican Church that loves Jesus, loves each other and loves Norfolk Island.