Spring, and a young man's fancy turns to love. November, and our thoughts turn to Thanksgiving. The World Series is over, and the Super Bowl is a couple of months away, so Thanksgiving is all we have to set our minds on, unless you pay attention to Luther's Birthday on November 10th.
Honesty compels me to mention that I really have no interest in writing about the holiday. It is a secular-civic holiday, after all. They talk about God and stuff, but our nation is unable to identify the true God, and in our efforts to be open and neutral, we clearly intend each religion to connect their 'god' to the word "God" when we urge people to pray or to give thanks, and the like. That is wa-a-ay too ecumenical (in the modern sense) for me.
Actually, I wanted to use the excuse of the holiday to raise the topic of the sort of thanksgiving which belongs to the life of the Christian. This sort of thanksgiving is too big and all-encompassing to fit into one day a year - or even one day a week! This is the sort of thanksgiving which occupies the life of the Christian. Just listen to the Scriptures - or read them if your copy of the newsletter is not in audio format: "Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks, for this is God's will for your in Christ Jesus", 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.
We are to give thanks in everything. That doesn't mean just to give thanks for the stuff we really enjoy, but in everything and every moment. If you do a search in the New Testament of the word "thanks", and its other forms, "thanksgiving" and "thanksgivings", you will find that it is the constant exhortation and expectation of the Apostles. Jesus was always giving thanks, and Paul writes about thanks or giving thanks in almost every single letter in the New Testament. After a while, it begins to sound like the chief activity of the Christian church.
And that is probably because it is. Realistically, what else is there? Think about it. God gives us life - physical, daily life. We rebel against Him in sin. Our race chose death over life in Adam and Eve, and each one of us personally makes that choice every time we sin - particularly when we sin deliberately and consciously. Of course, we would never choose to think of it that way, just like we try not to think about how we are growing old, or how heavy we are getting, or how well our cherished ideas and activities comport (or fail to comport) with the things we confess on Sunday mornings in Church. Reality is often at odds with our preferred and personal perspective on things.
We have made ourselves enemies of God, and proven ourselves fit for nothing but death and destruction and eternal condemnation, repeatedly. But God, who is rich in mercy, loved us even as unlovable enemies, so He sent His Son to live for us and die in our place, though innocent of any sin Himself. He redeemed us from the curse of the Law and therefore from sin and death and hell. Then, because we cannot choose to believe - being, by nature, enemies of God and lovers of evil - God chose us, and called us sweetly by the preaching of the Gospel, and made us His children by the working of His Holy Spirit through the Word proclaimed. He saved us, Paul writes in Titus 3, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy. He called us into faith, since faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.
So we exist by His goodness, and we have salvation by His goodness, and we possess all of the wonders and blessings which we possess by His grace and goodness. What did you do to deserve or earn your birth? The question is laughable. Of course, we did nothing. What did you do to earn your salvation? The question is seriously entertained by many, but the answer, according to Scriptures, is just the same - 'Nothing'. How did you impress God so that He would select you, among all the people of the world, to be His chosen child, one of the "elect"? A few people are bold enough to claim they did something, or to point to their lives, conveniently forgetting every evil and wicked thing they have thought, spoken, or done. They are, of course, deliberately out of touch with that part of their own reality. The true answer here is that we have done nothing, and could have done nothing. When perfection is the demanded qualification, how do you un-ring the bell of previous sin, or un-spill the milk of prior guilt? It is the grace and goodness and love of God. Romans 5:8, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
The last link in this chain of reasoning is the question of why you should have the abundance and riches which you enjoy in this life? Is it your hard work? Then what of those who worked just as hard elsewhere - and in other ages - without such abundant results? Is there something about you that merits the reward of hard work more than the poor man who must work just as hard for poverty as you have for abundance? No. It is the blessing and gift of God, see Isaiah 45:7. Sure, we have all worked, and endured the hard stuff of our lives, but God has been unthinkably good to us! We have all that we have - and are all that we are - by God's rich and abundant blessing, without our needing to do anything - much less anything extraordinary or unique - to achieve or deserve it.
So, what else have we to do, really, than to give thanks? What is left? All that you need is given to you. All that you really need done has been done for you. Your own guilt and sin has been punished already, and Christ bore it on the cross in your place. The life and health that you would desire - and should want - is His gift to you. There is nothing left for you to do but live in God's grace and goodness and enjoy it, and give thanks.
You have two possible directions to go, basically, two possible responses to this reality. One is thanksgiving - the only thing left to do, realistically. The other direction is to live as though everything really depends on you and your work and your self-determination. Sadly, most people, even most Christians, choose direction number two. It is particularly sad when one remembers that, in the catalog of sin of Romans one, the first sin is thanklessness; For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (Romans 1:21)
The example of the Apostle Paul should serve us. He is always giving thanks. For example, But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, (Romans 6:17). Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. (Romans 7:25) [I] do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; (Ephesians 1:16) and, We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, (Colossians 1:3). There are numerous other passages, but these few should suffice.
Thanksgiving is also a consistent instruction by the Apostle, as I mentioned before. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15) and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. (Ephesians 5:4) And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. (Colossians 3:17)
Our minds are to be set on the awareness of the great goodness of God toward us, and toward all mankind. In the sixties, the cliché "The attitude of gratitude" was popular. It is a cliché, but it does capture the proper mind-set for Christian living. For the Christian, however, thanksgiving is not simply something we speak - or even an attitude. It needs to be part and parcel of how we live. God would have you to consider how love and thanksgiving can shape your desire to give back to God by being a blessing to those God places around you for you to serve in His stead. Viewed in this way, Thanksgiving becomes a stewardship thing.
I want you to go back and read those last two sentences again. I want you to pay attention to the fact that there was no mention of money. The word "steward-ship" has been tossed around in the institutional church so often as a way of digging into your wallets that many people read or hear the word, and they stop . . . listening or reading, or thinking, for that matter. This is not about money, primarily, although you cannot talk about all of your life and ignore that one piece of it. That would be artificial.
Thanksgiving is accomplished by expressing thanks to God out loud - and to yourself - and by living out the reality of your dependence on God and your delight in His goodness to you. For example, Paul, in Romans 14, in the discussion of eating meats or not eating meats, writes, He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. The giving of thanks and the decisions of life are all bound up together in the same cause, the goodness and grace of God.
The other side of this truth is that thanksgiving also includes serving God with a free spirit - you know, gladly and willingly. And we cannot serve God directly. If we are serious about serving God, we must do it through the people He has placed around us, that we may serve them. So, thanksgiving is accomplished, in part at least, by caring about and caring for the people around us. We live out the truth that all is gift and we are well-supplied by our gracious God when we live boldly and 'liberally' with our neighbors. When we live as though our supply is secure, and we can care and give and serve for the welfare and well-being of those around us, we are living thanksgiving. We are also living our confession of God's goodness and abundance to us.
Charity begins at home, or so they say. By charity we mean love, not giving money to worthy causes. It must begin closest to you - with your immediate family, with your congregation which is your family, with fellow believers with whom you are acquainted, and then with the people nearby, where you see their need and see your ability to help. I think of those people as our 'circle of neighbors'.
People may want your money, but they need your care, concern, compassion, and your time. Thanksgiving is lived when you care enough to take the time, to reach out your hand to help, when you listen to others because they need someone to listen, when you pray with and pray for others because they need blessings from God. When you are secure in God's abundance towards you, so secure that you can share all of that abundance with those in your circle of neighbors, then your life confesses His goodness and not only expresses your thanks, but causes others to give God thanks on account of your living out the thanksgiving which is the life of the child of God.
Who among us does this? No one.
We are, after all, sinners by birth and by nature. Consistent and comprehensive thanksgiving such as I have been describing is a goal, not a present reality for any of us. When we live in the new heavens and new earth, I imagine that this is the way we will all live - for others because we are secure in God's love and provision for ourselves. But here and now, we who understand and believe the goodness of God towards us are encouraged and commanded to endeavor to be the people God has called us to be, and live out the truth of all that we confess. Paul writes, but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Thanksgiving. It is the fruit of the lips, according to Hebrews 13. So we should be ready to speak aloud our thanks and praise. And our thanks ought to well up in us in how we live and how we make decisions and what our values are. We should confess both by word and deed our confident trust in our heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Savior. Having all things as His gift, thanksgiving is all that He has left to us to do.
Yours in the Lord,
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