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Give Thanks

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As a general rule, I don’t normally write about holiday topics. They are certainly nice, not only for paid days off work, but more so for the memories, traditions, family time, food, etc. But to dedicate much thought and expend much energy in order to pen something that rises above the level of triteness seems better served on weightier themes.

But (you had to know that was coming), since the scheduled publication date for this article lands directly on Thanksgiving, I guess I’ll break off from my current series and see if something slightly meaningful comes to mind specific to the day. It certainly won’t be about professional football (a Thanksgiving Day tradition for thousands of Detroit Lions fans, regardless of how poorly they are performing – believe it or not, as of this writing, they are in first place in their division at 6-4 coming off a bit of a gift win against the Vikings). While it won’t be about college football, I will take a small liberty to document that my favored Michigan Wolverines are sitting at #3 with only one loss, with our detested rivals scheduled for the Saturday following Thanksgiving Day (I won’t give them any credit by writing their nutty name). And as much as I appreciate a good meal (and my wife does it up splendidly for all of us to enjoy), I won’t make any silly analogies using food.

It is appropriate on this day, almost exactly one month in advance of the day this country has deemed as the official day assigned to the birth of our Lord and Savior, to reflect on the subject of thankfulness. I am blessed to say that for me, it goes without saying that I am thankful for my wife, children, grandchildren, health, local church, gainful employment, and home, along with the countless blessings that the Almighty has bestowed upon me. In comparison to so many that cannot make the same statements, my cup truly overflows. If ever appears one inkling of discontent in me, I should be struck down immediately. My life is rich by every standard of the word. I praise God for His bounty and I strive to be genuinely grateful.

But (there’s that word again), those things are not what are pressing on my heart as I contemplate this subject. I want to explore the issue of thankfulness on a deeper level. And to properly do so, I believe we must examine ourselves by what we are contrasted with what we were.

We need to begin by coming to grips with what it means to be “holy”.

There is no one holy like the Lord, indeed, there is no one besides You, nor is there any rock like our God.     -1 Samuel 2:2

Only God is holy. The concept of holiness deals with being separate, apart from, cut off. Specifically, there is the absence of sin. God cannot sin. It is completely against His nature. By contrast, as humans, we are not holy. We are actually the exact opposite: our nature is sin and only sin. And because of His holiness, God cannot tolerate sin – which translates into utter and total hopelessness for all of mankind – our natural state is to be separated from God. It has been that way for a long, long time – not long after God created the heavens and the earth and continuing until this very moment in time.

Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.   -Genesis 6:5

I am thankful that God is holy.

I shudder to imagine the misery, despair and bleakness that must be felt (but very often not acknowledged) by those who do not believe in a holy God. Those that live with the belief that either there is no God at all or that there is some higher power with little interest in them. If everything known and seen exists without any relation to holiness, there is only the opposite – evil. How hopeless is that? Even the basest non-believer will readily admit the overwhelming presence of evil that permeates the world we inhabit. Look around – it’s easy to see and impossible to miss. But how does one get through even a single day without something totally contradictory to the wickedness on which to place their hope? Praise God for His holiness! His very nature profoundly proclaims that goodness is real!

That same holiness presents an impossible obstacle for humankind. Holiness cannot tolerate sin – and we are nothing but sin. While humankind was created to be in relationship with God, original sin destroyed that perfect union and produced an impassable chasm between us and Him. There is no escaping that fact – it is proven by the very standard documented by God’s law. It exposes our nature for what it is – the utter rejection of Him.

7 What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; 10 and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; 11 for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.   -Romans 7:7-12

I am thankful for God’s Law.

While true believers are no longer condemned by the Law, it does provide clarity as to our fractured relationship. Without the Law, as Scripture clearly states in Romans 7, we would not know that we are lost without Christ. We would have continued on with our daily lives, unconsciously deceiving ourselves and being deceived, sinning without hesitation and defying God’s holiness by our very existence. Praise God for His Law! It confirms His perfect nature and our woeful deficiency in light of it – spotlighting the absolute fact that we are forever lost without mercy.

23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26 So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ 27 And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.”   -Matthew 18:23-27

I am thankful for God’s mercy.

Just like the slave in the story, our sin creates a debt. As with any law, when it is broken, the offender is required to pay a penalty. In some manner, restitution is necessary. A proper relationship cannot be had without complete fulfillment of the liability that results from the violation. The requisite price must be paid in full. And just like that slave, that is simply not possible. His debt was ten thousand talents. In today’s terms, one talent would equal approximately 16 years of wages. It doesn’t take a math genius to calculate that it was impossible for the slave to repay based on the enormity of the debt. So, justice was about to ensue; he was to be sold, along with his family and all possessions, with all proceeds going to the master. And we’re in the same desperate predicament – the debt created by our sin is beyond measure and fully impossible for us to repay. The magnificent result for that slave happens in verse 27: “And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.” This story is a beautiful example of God’s mercy: not getting what we truly deserve. Because of His great mercy, we also can be spared the just result of our debt.

1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.   -Ephesians 2:1-9

I am thankful for God’s grace.

Grace finishes the work that began with mercy. Despite our inability to pay the debt created by our sin, God lavishes true mercy upon us, sparing us from what we truly do deserve. And the wonder of His goodness continues, in that He graciously gives us what we truly don’t deserve.

God’s mercy, manifested in the cancellation of deserved sentence of condemnation, is an incredible gift in and of itself. But just think if He stopped right there. “Your debt has been paid. Now move along.” That’s often times how it works in our worldly relationships: perhaps forgiveness is given and maybe the relationship continues on some cordial level – but reconciliation doesn’t happen – things are never properly restored. This occurs for a variety of reasons, most often rooted in pride. Praise God that He doesn’t stop at mercy (not getting what we deserve) but He continues on with grace (getting what we don’t deserve)!

I am thankful for Jesus!

In the person of the Christ, God’s holiness was displayed for the world to see. Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law. As the promised Messiah, He bore the full penalty of our sin (mercy). As the Savior of the world, He reconciles us to God (grace). Jesus accomplished something that no one else can: satisfactory atonement on our behalf so that we can be restored into fellowship with our Heavenly Father.

In light of the cross, it is impossible to maintain our former points of view. Perceiving others with malcontent. Observing our surroundings with disdain. Expressing dissatisfaction with our lot in life. All these attitudes and more must shrivel when we truly grasp the enormity of what God has done!

I trust that, in the next few days, we will all take a few minutes to reflect on our lives. No matter the level of blessing, be it overabundant riches or overwhelming struggle, I pray that we will view it all through the lens of salvation. And ultimately, realize that it is all a gift from Him and give Him thanks accordingly.

…but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.   1 Corinthians 15:57

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