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Thanks-giving?

November 20, 2012

I know that it seems to be a little cliché to do a post about thanksgiving but here goes…

I want to begin by discussing what I am calling “the ultimate contextualization”.

There seems to be a major problem that is affecting the broad scope of evangelicalism as well as our own Anabaptist circles. This problem is like a cancer that has affected how we read our bibles, what is preached in our sermons, and how we interact with the rest of society.

What is this problem and what does it look like?

I could go about describing this problem in many various ways but I think I will use this week as an example while it is on everyone’s mind. Thanksgiving Day; the day when everyone “gives thanks” to God for what they have. It is a day in which we remind ourselves about how much we have that we normally ignore or take for granted. But how do we do this? Well, we have a huge feast in celebration of the bounty that God has given us (and of course the sin of gluttony is overlooked). We spend time with our extended families in order to show some appreciation for the family that God has placed us in. Finally, we get to bed early because tomorrow is the biggest shopping day of the entire year…

Don’t you find this odd? We call it Thanksgiving Day and Thanksgiving week but we spend it in gluttony and in feeding our materialistic selves. While we do manage to set an entire day apart in order to give thanks, we also set a day apart (the very next day I might add) in order to purchase “that item” that is on sell because it will help me to be really thankful. Surely the name “Black Friday” is an appropriate one for not much is darker than this American tradition. But it gets worse. This year, they are starting Black Friday on Thanksgiving Day… Why are they doing this? Because it works – of course. Because we are only too happy to accommodate them in order to get a couple dollars off that exorbitant item that we have been wanting…

Can we really claim to be thankful if this is how we act?

Have we mixed the Gospel with American Idealism?

I don’t think that it is enough to recognize that there is a problem; we have to get down to its source. I think that the easiest (and truest) causality is to point at our own sinful nature; which is always full of greed in the things that it wants and pride in the things that it has. While this is most certainly true, it still kind of misses what is going on. The real question is, how has our sinful natures affected us in such a way that we would be so ungrateful and materialistic on a day we call Thanksgiving? I would pose that the answer is that we have mixed American Idealism with the Gospel.

American Idealism carries in it this “rugged individualism” that calls for someone to strive after the “American Dream”. The idea that we should spend our days accumulating wealth (we worked for it after all), buying things that will improve our standard of living, and generally making ourselves happy and comfortable. While we would be quick to deny that we have allowed this “Idealism” to creep into our message or our lives, we would only be deceiving ourselves. The truth of the matter is that we have assimilated far more than we would like to admit or believe. We have allowed the pure Gospel that is given to us by Christ in His word to be diluted with our sinful desires and carnal wishes.

 

How should Thanksgiving reflect a pure Gospel-Centeredness?

What in the world does thankfulness look like?

I’m glad you asked…

I want to answer the question by first asking another question; Thankful to whom and for what? I think that if I spend my time answering this question, we will have a much better understanding of what it means for us to truly be thankful.

Let me begin by answering the question and then I will try to tease it out a little from scripture.

Answer: All of our thanks-giving is to spring out of God for His marvelous Salvation freely given to those who believe. The only way our thanks will reflect the Gospel is if the Gospel is the source for the thanks.

Why give thanks to God? Due to the righteousness that God displays to the nation in His Just judgment (Psalm 7:17) and for the fact that we can be reconciled to God by having His righteousness imputed to us (Romans 3:21-22).

Psalm 7:17 I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High.

Romans 3:21-22 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

We give thanks to God because of His great love towards us…

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever;
Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever.
– Psalm 136:1-3; 26 (btw, make sure you look up this Psalm :))

This next passage is often used to demand that Christians be thankful because the Word commands it…right?

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Is this a strict command telling you that the will of God is that you Give Thanks? The answer is no. Giving thanks in all situations is the will of God – who is your loving Father and desires the best for you. Besides, this thanks is to flow from a specific truth that is found in the context of the passage …

1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.

Our thanksgiving is to flow from the Gospel…

Even in our suffering and loss we are called to look to the Gospel and consider our suffering a “light and momentary affliction”…

2 Corinthians 4:13-18 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Giving thanks is something we do now, tomorrow, and for eternity …

Revelation 11:17-18 “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign. The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”

If you are like me then you realize that you have not been as thankful as you ought to have been. While we live as part of this fallen creation, we will never come close to achieving the kind of thankfulness that God deserves from us. This is the whole reason that we need a Savior; and indeed even our realization of how far we fall short of being thankful drives us to be thankful for our wonderful Savior and Loving God (Romans 3:27-28).

A Shift

Having our thanksgiving flow from the Gospel causes a fundamental shift that I wish to conclude with. When we think of being thankful, we normally say that we are to be thankful for what we have or our position in life. This can cause all kinds of problems because your things can (and will) be taken away from you and your position could become really bad. You might be able to find something to be thankful for, even in the worst situations (like having your life), but even that can be taken away from you.

This “fundamental shift” moves the focus of thankfulness from that which is temporal to that which is eternal. It moves our focus from this life and the things we have accumulated (wealth, possessions, positions, and even family and friends) and moves it to something that is outside of, and apart from us; namely our God and Savior Jesus Christ and the perfect life that He lived in our place. This is the thing for which you are to be thankful for, not just one day out of the year but every day. This is the kind of thankfulness that will lead you to find satisfaction in a person and not in our materialistic society…

Remember the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, Rejoice, and be Thankful

Have a good Thanksgiving

To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.
~Romans 16:27 

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