Thanksgiving is over--Christmas is coming. Only 25 days left. 25 shopping days. But do not leave Thanksgiving yet. This is one of America's most loved holidays--turkey, stuffing, apple pie, pumpkin pie, family, football. Day of celebration with long, rich history. In short, celebrate bounty, respond with thanksgiving. Question we raised Wednesday night: respond to whom? To whom does America say thanks. For many, this is not an issue of saying thanks as much as just another holiday that promises time off. Consider again, Thanksgiving. Limit to one specific realm: spiritual. Spiritual gratitude. Did you say thanks spiritually? Are you thankful? To whom? For what?
Tradition of Thanksgiving Day began somewhere in England and was brought to America by Plymouth colonists. In 1863, Lincoln recognized powerful influence a happy celebration could have, appointed it national holiday. Certainly there is healing in celebration and there is healing in being thankful.
Illustration: Peanuts cartoon strip, Lucy asks Charlie Brown to help her with her homework, one of those dreaded word problems. She promises, "I'll be eternally grateful." "Wow, I've never had anyone be eternally grateful before," replied Charlie. "Just subtract four from ten and get how many apples the farmer had left." Lucy says, "That's it? That's it? I have to be eternally grateful for that? I was robbed! I can't be eternally grateful for this, it was too easy!" With his blank stare, Charlie replies, "Well, whatever you think is fair." How about if I just say, "Thanks Bro!" Lucy said. As Charlie leaves to go outside he meets Linus. "Where've you been, Charlie Brown?" "Helping Lucy with her homework." Linus asks, "Did she appreciate it?" Charlie answers, "Yes, but at a greatly reduced price."
"At a greatly reduced price." Are we spiritually thankful? Of course, but are we thankful at a greatly reduced price?
Consider how we show our gratitude to God, our attitude, our thinking. Consider the spiritual side of gratitude. Are we thankful? Do we show it? What does God want? What should be our attitude?
Thanksgiving. Giving. Birthdays, Christmas. Gifts. Goodwill. Think with me, we are in the realm of grace. Nothing new here, nothing earth-shattering. But this is about grace. Gratitude is about grace. What do we have that we have not earned? We are gifted, we are blessed. But it is not of our own doing, that is thanksgiving.
In the spiritual realm, we often undo genuine thanksgiving. Consider three options.
I. We may diminish the value of the gift.
Christ's death on the cross was significant, but not that significant. May we never be guilty of failing to see the eternal significance of Christ's death. It is central to our life. The cross is central to Christianity. It is the cross that gives meaning to baptism. It is the cross that gives meaning to the Supper. It is the cross that gives meaning to the message. It is the cross that gives meaning to worship. The cross is central. The Core Gospel--the crux of the matter. At the center of Christianity is the cross. Without the cross, there is no Christianity. The death, burial, resurrection of Christ, the cross, the essence of the gospel.
We may diminish the value of the gift by excluding it from what we do. No connection between baptism and salvation, just baptism to enter a church. We may preach one way and act another. We may diminish the value of the gift by failing to remember, by failing to say thank you, by ignoring worship. We may diminish the value of the gift by failing to remember in the Supper. This do in remembrance. Some would ignore this. Why did early church assemble for the Supper weekly? This is significant.
The gift is valuable, salvation is not cheap. This must not be cheapened, must not be diminished. Salvation cost heaven everything. The gift has inestimable value. Do not underestimate the value of the gift. This is the beginning of spiritual gratitude. The gift is the gift. May be many gifts, but this is the gift. This is what brings us here week after week. Orientation in a disorienting world. God cares. God acts. God loves. God provides.
Salvation is a gift of God. It is very expensive. It is valuable. We should be thankful. Salvation is by grace.
II. We may diminish the purchase price.
Spiritually, this means we may diminish Christ's death. Diminishing the price, oh, it didn't cost much. Just a few pennies. It doesn't have much value. Thus is a little gift. Forget the heart. Forget the relationship, the caring, the reflection of concern. I did this for you because of love. But it didn't cost much. Salvation cost a lot--the death of Christ.
Or, in a spiritual paradox, we may diminish the purchase price but overemphasizing what must be added to it. I once got a shirt for Christmas. What a pain! Get it from under the tree--Unwrap the box--Open the box--Take the shirt out--Separate paper, pins, plastic--Before can wear it, iron it. All this may take me an hour or more. My time is worth more than that. I contributed more that the giver did.
When we get to thinking like this about salvation, when we somehow think Christ's death was not enough, and that more is needed, we try to help. We get self into the act. Look at all I had to do. We can develop a works salvation simply in the initial acceptance of the gift. But even worse, works salvation can be developed as a part of keeping saved. If God can save us by his power, he can keep us saved by his power. This is grace.
We should be eternally grateful to God for all the wonderful things He has done for us, but instead, we often have reduced "eternally" to, "To whom it may concern, thanks Bro." We do not say thank you often enough. We cannot say thank you too often. We remember the purchase price each Sunday. Some say, too often. Monthly or quarterly is often enough. We don't want this "Thank you" thing to get out of hand.
Salvation is by the gift of Christ's death.
III. We may attempt to repay the gift.
In our first located ministry, when we lived in Arkansas, there was a common saying, "Don't count visits." Sometimes the terminology talked about trading visits. Tit for tat. Get even. Keep the score. Such is not love (1 Cor. 13). You do something nice for me, I reciprocate. Or vice versa. Repayment, owe no one anything. Literally.
The gift is freely given, no repayment necessary. The gift is not withdrawn because you do not make payments. The gift is the gift. It is yours for the receiving. This is grace.
What is missing in our gratitude is relationship. To whom will we be thankful? To whom am I thankful for the shirt? It is not only the value, but the thought. What I cannot, would not, could not do for self, another does. Why? Because of love. Only because of love. What I need, the expression of relationship. Relationship that is reciprocated.
This is the faith part of Eph. 2. Not that we are saved by grace and by faith. Not that we contribute. The gift is more than we can begin to afford. The gift is beyond our grasp. The gift is inaccessible to us. But when the gift comes to us anyway, we recognize relationship. It happened only because of love, relationship, care.
Israel knew this better than we. Nothing they were doing could take away sin. But God lavished love. Spiritual gratitude--the Bible word for it is faith. Relationship, dependence, trust. Are you in a relationship with God, reciprocating. Each loving the other, expressing love, gratitude.
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