One of the big stories this past week was how Black Friday is slowly creeping into Thanksgiving. Retailers like Wal-Mart and Target have now opened their doors on Thursday evening to get a jump on the Christmas shopping season. So Thanksgiving is literally being consumed not by Christmas but by Christmas consumerism. Before we get too critical of the culture around us, the sad truth is that sometimes this happens in the church as well. Many years the first Sunday of Advent, which is the 4 week season leading up to Christmas, begins the Sunday after Thanksgiving so we end up having to decorate and get ready for Christmas before Thanksgiving, but not this year. This year the Advent season begins next Sunday which means we can take time today and throughout this week to linger a little bit on one of the most important and foundational teachings of our faith – giving thanks.
For the past three weeks we looked at 3 simple rules that John Wesley gave to the early Methodists. When people asked Wesley what they needed to do in order to faithfully follow God, he replied, do no harm, do good and stay in love with God. These general rules form the foundation of how we are to live out our faith, but maybe there should be one more. As we heard from 1 Thessalonians 5, giving thanks in all circumstances is part of God’s will for us, so let me bold and add a 4th rule to the 3 Wesley gave us – give thanks. We live out our faith by giving thanks to God and the reason we do this isn’t because God has called us to, and it’s not because it is God’s will for us; the reason we give thanks is because God is the one who has given us everything in the first place. All that we have and all that we are has come from God and ultimately belongs to God and that is the reason to give thanks.
During the long presidential campaign we have just endured, President Obama got into some trouble for one particular comment he made back in July. At a speech in Roanoke VA he said, “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” While there was a lot of controversy around that you didn’t build that comment, maybe there was more truth in that statement than the president or anyone else thought. If we have created a successful business or nurtured a strong family or developed a solid faith – we didn’t do it on our own, we did it with the help and power and resources given to us not by the government but by God.
The opportunities we have come from God.
The creativity we have comes from God.
The hard work ethic which helps us succeed comes from God.
The ability to solve problems comes from God.
The help we need when things get hard comes from God.
The resources we have to build a strong business, family or faith comes from God.
In so many ways this is the story of the first Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims understood that all they had in this world was a gift from God. Their ability to survive the first harsh year in the new lands was because of the grace and power of God so they stopped to give thanks. Like the Pilgrims, we are not who we are today and we do not have what we have today because we have done it on our own and (let me be clear) it is not because the government has given it to us, it is because God, the creator, provider and sustainer of all things has given it to us. Look at Colossians 1:15-17. All things have come from God and all things hold together because of God which means that all that we have in our lives is a gift from God and what God desires most from us is to simply say thank you, give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.
So we are to give thanks at all times, but how do we do this? How do we give thanks to God? To help us think about that this morning, I want us to focus on just one word, and my hope is that maybe this was a word you heard on Thanksgiving. How many of you, when you gathered around the table with your family and friends said, Wow?
Maybe you said wow because the turkey looked picture perfect. Maybe you said wow because the turkey didn’t turn out the way it was supposed to. Maybe you said wow because the pies were delicious or maybe you said, WOW, I ate way too much! I hope at some point on Thanksgiving Day you said wow because that is the word that teaches us how to give thanks. We give thanks through our Words, Offering and Worship – WOW.
Let’s start with our words. Words have power and meaning, so it is important for us to say thank you. My parents are visiting for Thanksgiving and one of the things they taught my sisters and I was that we needed to say thank you – for everything. I remember going out to eat as a family when my sisters and I were fairly young and every time the waitress came to the table do anything, we said thank you. She handed us the menus and we said, thank you. She took our orders and we said thank you. When she brought our food and then later took our plates away we said thank you and every time she filled our water glasses, which was often, we said thank you. After hearing thank you so many times from three children she commented about how nice it was to hear. The words meant something to her – it encouraged her.
Words are powerful and words can be a blessing. I remember at one of the 5th Quarters last year I was working at the sign in table where we were giving out the wrist bands to students and I was encouraged and blessed to hear so many of them say, thank you. It was just a wrist band – but they stopped to say thank you and I appreciated it; it blessed me. Now if I appreciated those simple words for something as insignificant as a wristband – think about how God must feel when we use those two simple words to thank Him for all he has given us. We know those words are important to God because they were important to Jesus.
In one of the classic stories about giving thanks we find in the Bible, Jesus was travelling to Jerusalem and when he entered a certain village he was approached by 10 lepers. Now because of their disease they had to keep their distance, but they came close enough to shout to Jesus and ask him for help. When Jesus saw them and heard their cries for help he had compassion on them so told them to go show themselves to the priest. The reason he does this was because the priest was only one who could pronounce them clean. So they went to the priest and as they were walking something extraordinary happened – they begin to see their skin clear up. As they traveled their dead skin became healthy and alive, they were being healed and you can just imagine their excitement.
Their entire lives were going to be transformed. They were going to be reunited with their family, friends and community; they were going to be able to return to a normal life. Now I picture it this way, when they saw their skin becoming healthy, their walk turned into a run but as they ran, one of them stopped. He realized that what was taking place in his body was not his doing – he didn’t heal himself, what was taking place in his life was a gift from God so he turned and ran back to Jesus. When he got there all he had to offer Jesus were simple words of thanks, but those words meant something to Jesus.
Those two simple words were important and powerful and the truth is that Jesus wanted to hear it from all 10, look at Luke 17:17. It’s not that Jesus healed them to get the thanks and praise, but he wanted them to acknowledge the power and love of God working in them. Jesus shows us that our words of thanks-giving are important because they let God know we are grateful for his power and love working in our lives, so can we use simple words to thank God?
These words can be spoken, they can be prayed or they can be written down. We can simply speak words of thanks to God but if talking out loud to God makes us feel uncomfortable then we can use the words God gives us in scripture. For example, we can simply read Psalm 138:1-3. But our words don’t have to be spoken, we can also pray in the silence of our hearts and share with God simple thoughts that express our deep appreciation, or our words can be written down. Many people love to journal and find it helpful to write things down so they can see it, so we could make a list of things God has given us and use that list to help us see the power and love of God working in our lives.
So words are important but sometimes they don’t go far enough in expressing our gratitude so another way we can give thanks is to give God an offering. Making an offering to God is one of the earliest expressions of giving thanks that we find in the Bible. In Genesis 4 it says that in the course of time both Cain and Able brought a portion of what they produced and gave it to God as an offering. Cain was a farmer so he brought an offering from his harvest and Able, as a shepherd, brought the best cuts of meat from the first born of his flock. He gave God the best of his best. Now no one told them they had to give this offering. There was no law saying they had to give a portion of their lives to God, they did it because at some point in time one of them said, Wow, look at all God has given me, this is all God’s doing not my own so I am going to give a portion back to God. And at least Able said, I’m going to make sure that the portion I give to God is some of the best.
So offerings have always been used as an expression of giving thanks and they continue to be used that way today. When we take up an offering in worship we aren’t paying our dues to the church or giving to some specific need, the offering we take up in worship is an expression of our thanks and gratitude. We are saying thank you God for all that you have given us. As a genuine expression of thanksgiving, our offerings need to be a generous and sacrificial portion of all that we have and not just a fraction of what we have left over. And like Able we need to strive to give God the best of our best. This is where the discipline of tithing is helpful. Tithing is the practice of giving 10% of our income to God, which requires us to actually sit down and figure out what this amount would be. Once we figure out the amount of our tithe, we can then determine the best way to give that to God. Do we give it weekly, monthly, or once a year? That doesn’t really matter; what matters is to give faithfully as an expression of thanks for all God has given to us.
Tithing is a good practice because it helps us give to God first, and we are giving God some of our best, but the tithe is just the place to start, there are many other ways we can say thank you to God through our offerings. We can offer God our time and energy by serving the people of God in the church or serving the needs of those in our community. The truth is that God doesn’t just want our money, God wants our full lives dedicated and devoted to him, which means giving him a portion of our time and energy and talents as well. There are so many places where your hands and heart and faith are needed in the life of Faith Church and so many ways your gift can make a difference in the lives of others.
So our words and our offerings are expressions of our gratitude, but so is our worship. The leper who returned to Jesus to say thank you for the healing he received didn’t just say thank you, it says he prostrated himself at the feet if Jesus. He literally laid himself down on the ground in an act of humble worship. Our worship is also an expression of thanks to God. When we gather for worship we are communicating to God and the world around us that our lives are a gift from God and that we appreciate the grace, mercy and love that God gives us. Worship is the time and place where we say thank you for God’s gift of forgiveness and salvation that leads to abundance and eternal life. One of the ways we give thanks in all circumstances is to commit ourselves to a life of worship both personally and as part of the church so I want to invite you to keep making this time part of your spiritual discipline and practice. Make this time an ongoing part of giving thanks.
As we enter into the busy Christmas season it might be tempting to say, I need this hour on Sunday to get ready for the holiday, or to get some rest, but the truth is we need this time in worship to make sure that we are keeping our hearts and minds focused on what this season is and what it isn’t. The coming Advent season is a time for us to focus on God, it is a time for us to thank God for his daily presence in our lives, it is a time for us to remember that God has come to be with us in the person of Jesus. This is the time for us to remember that God has given us the best of his best in the gift of his son Jesus, it is not a time for us to go deeper into debt buying gifts that won’t make it to the New Year. So worship is an opportunity for us to not only thank God, but it also helps us sustain that attitude long after the turkey is gone.
So the word that I hope we heard a lot this thanksgiving is the same word that can teach us how to give thanks all year – WOW. Through this week and this coming Christmas season let’s thank God through our words, our offerings and our worship. Wow, thank you God.
The WOW of Thanks-Giving
Thank God through your words.
• Thank God for what He has given you.
• Read Psalms that express in words our gratitude to God. (See Psalms 19, 92, 95, 100, 107, 138)
• Make a list of all the things for which you thank God.
Thank God through your offerings.
• Does your regular offering to God reflect God’s generosity to you and your family?
• If you are not currently tithing (giving 10% to God), commit to it for the month of December. If God blesses you as you give, commit to tithing in 2013.
• Consider giving a gift of your time during the Advent and Christmas season to the Christmas Dinner or a community service agency like the Faith Centre.
• Consider an Alternative Christmas gift for your family and friends.
Thank God through your worship.
• Commit to being in worship for the Advent Season.
• Consider using an advent devotional for personal worship. (Last year’s devotional, Let Heaven and Nature Sing, is still available.)