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Monday, November 19, 2012

A Real Thanksgiving...

Finish this sentence: "It wouldn't be a 'real' Thanksgiving without ___." For the first 25 years of my life, I would have said, "It wouldn't be a 'real' Thanksgiving without spending the day at my parent's home for a wonderful, traditional Thanksgiving dinner." How about you? "It wouldn't be a 'real' Thanksgiving without ___." Dinner at Grandma's house…turkey with all the fixings…that special side dish that mom makes every year for Thanksgiving … playing card games with the cousins after the meal… or something else? Many of us have family traditions attached to our own personal Thanksgiving celebrations, things we assume will take place whenever we gather together to celebrate Thanksgiving Day. The holidays just wouldn't feel the same without those cherished traditions we have become accustomed to.

I am the last person that would tell you to ditch your Thanksgiving family traditions. Traditions and rituals are ways that we can express significance and value when words seem insufficient to make that statement. But what would happen if our Thanksgiving celebration took place without the usual hoopla? No traditions, no turkey and trimmings, no tummies filled with delicious delicacies and desserts. Could we still have a real thanksgiving celebration? Perhaps you find yourself standing in the unemployment line, not knowing where your next paycheck is coming from. Perhaps you are dining on nothing more than tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for Thanksgiving dinner. Even if all that is true, you can still have a more joyous Thanksgiving celebration than the family next door who has more food than they know what to do with.


Paul wrote in Philippians 4:10-20 NIV, "10I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do all this through him who gives me strength. 14Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. 17Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. 20To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen."

Through these words, Paul teaches us that real thanksgiving involves thanks in all circumstances, and giving with all gratitude.

As joyful a day as Thanksgiving is meant to be, reality often gets in the way of that joy. The economy is lousy and mom or dad is unemployed. Maybe our health has taken a turn for the worse. All of these things and so many others can add a burden to the 'every day,' and Thanksgiving is no exception. Reality often dampens our joy.

Paul was in a similar situation. His circumstances were pretty lousy. He wrote this letter to the Philippians while under house arrest in Rome. This world-traveling missionary was kept from preaching the gospel because he got in trouble for preaching the gospel. He did have some a certain degree of freedom even though he was under house arrest. He wasn't in solitary confinement. He could have visitors. And his eventual release seemed reasonably likely. But even with the 'good parts of his confinement,' this was hardly the kind of situation that would fill a person with joy and gratitude. This was certainly not the kind of situation where you would expect someone to write the words we read in verses 10-13: "10I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do all this through him who gives me strength."  
Paul's brief autobiography tells us that he lived through all kinds of circumstances. He knew how poverty and persecution could humble him. He also knew what it was like to have more food on the table than he knew what to do with. Those experiences taught him a secret. In verse 12 of Philippians 4 NIV, Paul wrote "12…I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation." The phrase "I have learned the secret" is translated from a single Greek word, myew (moo-ā-ō). It means "being initiated into the mysteries." Paul’s entire life was an initiation process by which he learned this marvelous secret. What was the secret? No matter what happened, the Lord would stand by him. We know that Paul had gained that special, Christian "insider knowledge" because he said in Philippians 4:13 NIV, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength."

We need to be careful to understand what Paul actually meant with that statement. We can capture his intended meaning a little more clearly by changing 'do' in vs. 13 to 'endure.' "I can endure everything through him who gives me strength." Paul had come to know and believe and proclaim the Good News that Jesus Christ came to save helpless, hell-bound sinners like him. Paul knew that grace and forgiveness through faith in Jesus had filled his heart with spiritual strength and confidence that couldn't be found anywhere else. He knew that because of Jesus, he stood right with God and ready for eternity. And that reality—a reality that only belongs to those who trust Jesus as their Savior from sin—enabled Paul to be thankful in all circumstances.

The other day I was reading an old magazine article about the "Occupy Wall Street" protests that happened around the country last year. We can, and will, disagree about political philosophies, and the church has no business trading the gospel message in for a political message. But I couldn't help reading about these protests and thinking to myself, "How can any American complain about the wealthy when the average American is wealthy by the standards of this world? How can any of us complain when we have so much?— now, we may not have as much as the guy down the street, but when compared to the entire world, we certainly have much.

Then I thought, "Is it just political protesters who need an attitude adjustment?" Think about it. There isn't a soul among us who doesn't gripe and moan and whine and complain about something. We gripe about the heating or electric bill when we should be thankful for heat and electricity. We gripe about unexpected car repairs when we should be grateful that there are two vehicles sitting in our driveway. We gripe about unreasonable people in our homes and offices when our own attitudes may be a good part of the reason why they seem so unreasonable to us. We gripe that we don't have what we want, when God's Word tells us in Romans 8:32 NLT, "32Since he [God] did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?" and "19But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." in Philippians 4:19 KJV.

With all our sinful lack of thankfulness, where do we find the secret that leads to being thankful in all circumstances? Remember what Paul said [in Philippians 4:13], "I can do (or endure) everything through him who gives me strength." We, too, can find continuous spiritual strength through the same Person who continued to strengthen Paul throughout his life—the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus' self-sacrificing work to rescue us from the hellish consequences of our own sinful ingratitude is more than enough to fill our hearts with real thanksgiving! Jesus never griped about His God-given mission. He went forward with unwavering resolve to the cross where He paid for every last one of our sins and failures, including our sins of selfish ingratitude and ungratefulness. And Jesus continually strengthens our soul as He fills us up, not with a Thanksgiving feast, but with His generous grace and forgiveness that knows no limits or bounds.  

Paul was certainly grateful to God for the blessings of salvation that he had through faith in Jesus. But more than that, in his letter we also read of his gratitude for the blessings he had received from those Christians in Philippi that had read the letter. Paul describes their gift to him, as well as his gratitude for their gift in verses 14-16 of Philippians NIV: "14…it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need."  

Paul's readers had a good track record in supporting his ministry. They had already sent Paul support twice before when he was carrying out mission work in Thessalonica. Now they sent him another gift while he was under house arrest.

Some people may get the impression that Paul is fishing for additional gifts from his readers, so Paul clears up any potential confusion toward the end of the passage. He says [Philippians 4:17-18 NIV], "17Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent." 

The reason Paul talked about their gifts to him was not to get more from them, but to give proper recognition to them. Paul was grateful for the gifts they sent through their messenger, Epaphroditus, and he wanted them to receive proper recognition as a way to express his thanks. But he was also grateful because these gifts came from hearts of faith, and that made their gifts pleasing to God.

Any time we read through a New Testament book written by Paul, we can't help but notice that he takes everything back to Jesus. It seems that he can't go more than a few verses without taking matters back to Christ. And that's what he does here to express his thanks to the Philippians for their gift. He takes matters back to the greatest gift that they had in Jesus. "19But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:19 KJV

The Philippians' gifts to Paul were certainly generous and wonderful, but there is no
earthly gift that can match the generous spiritual riches that belong to those who trust in Jesus. The real reason Paul could praise God and thank his readers was because he had been so richly blessed to be a believer in Jesus and a child of God.  

We , too, praise God…and we pray…but what about our mealtime prayers on Thanksgiving Day? To many people, it seems like we should set aside our everyday table prayers on a day like Thanksgiving. Our normal 'mealtime' prayer is traded in for an elaborate prayer thanking God for food, family, friend! Hmmm…it seems like all we can muster up thanks for starts with the letter "F" – food, family, friends…and maybe football. Are those the only gifts for which we have to be grateful? Perhaps we need to be encouraged to think like Paul, who knew that real thanksgiving was only possible because of the spiritual gifts God had given him—the same gifts that God has also given each of us! We have so many more gifts for which to be grateful—not just food, family, and friends.  

Ironically, these gifts also start with the letter "F." We have the God-given faith that Jesus Christ came into this world to live a perfect life in our place and that now counts as our perfection before God. It's that faith in Jesus that gives us the forgiveness of our sins which He secured by shedding His blood for each of us on the cross. And that faith also assures us of our heavenly future made possible when Jesus defeated the grave by His resurrection. And all of these truths assure us that we have freedom from fear in this life and in the life to come … all because God has made us His!

If we want to have a real Thanksgiving celebration this week, we must remember to let our entire Thanksgiving take us back to Jesus. Whether our Thanksgiving meal is a full-fledged feast or a plain turkey sandwich, we have every reason for real thanksgiving when our faith is focused on the One who gave His life for each of us. With that knowledge in our heart, we can have a real, happy, and blessed Thanksgiving!

I have really been dealing with the issue of thankfulness for a while now. I feel like we need to focus on being thankful for the many blessings of God 365 days a year…not just on Thanksgiving. God has given us so much. I really try to be 'deliberate' in my thankfulness … from the smallest of all blessings to the big, giant ones. 
 
I challenge you to be deliberate…be purposeful in thanking our Creator for what He has given us. There is not one person reading this that doesn't have WAY more than just their 'needs.' God has given us so many of the things we want…how awesome is it that He gives us more than what we need! 

This statement might help you to be deliberate and purposeful in your thankfulness. "What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?"

Have a blessed and thankful Thanksgiving!
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2 comments:

Deane said...

Thank you for a wonderful post. There was one statement you made that is really thought provoking and it was "what if you woke up to the things that you thanked God for yesterday"? Do we thank God for the things He gives us because we appreciate them or think He should give us more? I thank Him for the things He gives me because I feel like He doesn't have to give me anything but because He loves me so much He gives me more blessings and more. I can never repay Him for what He gives me.

Blessings to you and love you.

Jenifer said...

I love this post. What if I woke up with only the things I thanked God for? Ouch.