Giving Thanks Even If
“Why are you riding a city bus to school? That’s not right! Teachers shouldn’t be riding the bus!”
My seventh grade student, a very mature young man who had failed this grade at least twice, was indignant that his teacher was using public transportation.
“I appreciate your concern, Charles, but I’m just fine riding the bus. My husband needs the car during the day, and this works out for us.”
Two days later, Charles sat on my desk and leaned in confidentially:
“I’ve got a great lead on a sweet red convertible that you’d look really good driving.”
“That’s nice, but we can’t afford another car.”
“It’s all yours. No cost!”
Now I was sure that Charles’ “great lead” meant it was a stolen vehicle.
“That’s okay, Charles. Even if the car is free, we can’t afford the insurance or the gas for another vehicle.”
Charles was crestfallen that his “gift” was refused. But then he brightened up:
“Then how about a color TV?”
There comes a time when we have to accept the reality that certain things, certain situations, certain outcomes will not change. Sometimes we hear, “Even if I wanted to, I can’t.” Other times it’s, “I really want to, but I can’t.” Either way, there is no other choice.
There also comes a time when we have to accept the reality that certain people’s opinions and beliefs won’t change. I know I am frustrated with people who refuse to listen. Their mind is made up. Even if they are presented with the facts, they refuse to believe.
Jesus had that same issue with the Pharisees. His parables often were thinly veiled accusations of their unbelief. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, the voice of Abraham was really Jesus speaking to them: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
Even if often accompanies a promise or an affirmation of loyalty: “Don’t worry, I won’t let you down!”
I can almost see Jesus shaking His head when He heard Peter and the other disciples claiming their steadfastness: “Even if all fall away… even if I have to die with you…” (Matthew 26:33, 35). The Lord Jesus knows our human frailty often interferes with our assertions of “even if.”
The ultimate loyalty profession was from Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They boldly stood up to the king, confident they had made the right choice to stand firm in their faith in the One True God, whether or not they were delivered from the fiery furnace: “But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18).
Oh that I would always have this degree of loyalty and confidence, this faith in my Lord Jesus!
In these trying times we find ourselves in, when the lack of assurance and the stark realities of life are heightened, “even if” calls us to put things into perspective.
I watch and listen to those interviewed during and following disasters such as fire, earthquake, hurricane, or a tornado. Some haven’t seen if their home or business has even survived. But they are still thankful. They have their lives, their family. And for some, they have their faith to sustain them.
These are the “even if” times described by the prophet Habakkuk. At the end of his prophecy he speaks of total devastation. No harvest, no blossoms to grow into fruit, failed crops and barren fields. Yet he says, “Even if the flocks die in the fields and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord… the God of my salvation” (3:17-18 LB).
Martin Luther wrote in his hymn “A Mighty Fortress” of his confidence that what is true or real will not change. Even if they take away my property, my livelihood, all my material wealth. Even if they take away my wife and family and all my relatives. Even if they kill me. It doesn’t change the fact that God’s truth is still truth. He is still God Almighty. He is still my Savior. (I like the repeated still for emphasis.)
This is the hedge against despair. No matter what kind of loss we face, the Lord Jesus is still there!
As leaders we have “even if” times. Times when we have to make choices and decisions that affect the lives of others.
I have lost jobs where I felt I wasn’t valued. It left a bitter feeling in my heart. The assurance that the situation couldn’t be changed wasn’t sincere. I knew deep down it was simply a choice that had been made and there would be no change in the decision.
I always compare those experiences with losing my first teaching job. The city had voted down additional funding to the public schools. The last fifty teachers hired would be the ones to lose their jobs. I was one of those fifty. I knew my principal truly had no choice but to end my teaching position. He assured me it wasn’t because I wasn’t a good teacher. He made sure my dignity was intact. Even if there was nothing else he could do, he made sure he gave a boost to my self-esteem when I was feeling down.
There is another side of even if, the side that is a call to action.
Jesus tells me that even if someone should sin against me seven times in one day, and they say they are sorry and ask for my forgiveness, I must give it (Luke 17:4). I have to accept their remorse; I have to forgive.
But however sorry, however someone promises to make up for what they’ve done, some things cannot be allowed to continue. There is a reckoning.
Even if there is forgiveness, some things can’t be resolved favorably. An employee who violates another’s privacy, who abuses someone’s trust, must be dealt with firmly. As leaders we must protect our organization or company or church or family. We need to be firm in our decision of a penalty. We must hold the person accountable.
This is the “even if” we face before God. When we deserve the penalty, our desire is to make things right with God.
The author of the old hymn “Rock of Ages” speaks so clearly of this yearning: Even if I work tirelessly to make up for what I’ve done, even if I cry endlessly and promise over and over, nothing changes. I can’t do it. I can’t make up for my sin.
Thank goodness the verse doesn’t end there. There is hope beyond these fruitless efforts: “Thou must save, and Thou alone.” Thank goodness my Lord Jesus steps in to restore our relationship, to take care of that reckoning, that judgment, that punishment. And only His saving grace can do it.
There’s one more even if that completes the picture. It’s the assurance that comes from my Lord Jesus: “Even if you sin again and again, I will forgive you. You still are my child. I still love you.”
And that is the one thing we can always be thankful for!
Leaving my guilt at the cross,
(First published at Lead Like Jesus November 2020)