Giving Thanks: The Challenge of Your Lifetime

Happy Thanksgiving!

What a season for us to celebrate: Although, we should every day celebrate God’s blessings in Jesus Christ’s ministry of reconciliation of God to Man (as explicated by the Apostle Paul in II Corinthians 5: 14—6:1). And we should every day celebrate God’s favor of family and friendship, as described by God Himself in Genesis 2: 18, 22-25. And we should everyday celebrate God’s provision for us, as described in Matthew 6: 25-34. And we should everyday celebrate God’s protection, even from the eternal death, the second death, in the Lake of Fire and Brimstone (Revelation 21: 8), because our Savior Jesus Christ, in His appearing, abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through His gospel (II Timothy 1: 10), and He preserves us from all evil (Psalm 121: 7) . Well, today, we are celebrating all those things, for the Thanksgiving season and also for the example of celebrating these things every day. However, the challenge of the day is what else do you have to be thankful for, today, and do you give all these thanks?!

If you think about those points of thanksgiving, all of them are celebrations of what is coming to us, the intake or income side of the ledger of accounting of thanksgiving. As, at the direction of the Holy Spirit we alluded to last Sunday, there is another dimension to thanksgiving, another side, and it is thankfulness through giving, and that not just of the tithe, which God has claimed as His own anyway as a cheerful act of obedience and thankfulness on our part. It is a thankfulness of giving of ourselves, to others, including to our enemies. (See Matthew 5: 43-48.) What a thought! It is the thought that we are called and challenged to give to those we know and love, to those we don’t know, and to those we know are our enemies. That’s Thanksgiving!

We note in our church, I think with some accuracy, that we have not grown by being seeker-friendly, in the modern sense, now even typified by what is called the “Hipster Church”, or “Hipster Christianity”, but we note that our growth has been mostly internal, inside each one of us if you will, and external only in a limited sense. And we would make this distinction between internal and external by the march of discipleship, of having grown individually from immaturity to maturity. And that is not a bad thing, it is just incomplete.

It is a challenge for a non-believer to accept the basic principles, the elementary principles, of Christ. We as believers of Christ have all had to overcome that challenge. And that is a big challenge, and not easy to overcome, even though it is God’s desire that every person should come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ (I Timothy 2: 3-4). Why is that a big and difficult challenge? Because to accept that challenge we have to choose to believe, in faith chosen, in the supernatural as overcoming the natural, of choosing to believe that our faith supplies belief beyond the extent of our experience and of our ability to reason (Hebrews 11: 1). But, once we have chosen and accepted the basic, elementary principles of Christ, we are challenged to go beyond the internalization of our chosen beliefs and to externalize those internal beliefs into actions, and we do that by choosing and causing our actions in life to be acts of giving thanks. And that is the challenge of our lifetimes: not just to be good, quiet little Christians (although we are called to be that, too: I Timothy 2: 2; Colossians 3: 12-17), but, II Timothy 4: 5, we see that our giving of thanks by being watchful in all things, to endure afflictions, to fulfill your ministry.

So, you have to know what your ministry is, what is your calling and purpose in life – and it may be different at different times of your life. Not everyone like Paul was/is called to be an apostle. Not everyone like Timothy was/is called to be an evangelist. In Ephesians 4: 11-16, Paul explained to the church in Ephesus, and thereby to us, the Five-Fold Ministry given by Christ: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect (mature, complete) man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ — from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” What is clear, however, from this passage, and often overlooked in its teaching, is that the Five-Fold Ministry is not the end of ministry in the church. Indeed, the whole purpose and effect of the Five-Fold Ministry is, Verse 12, “. . .for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry . . . .” So, again, we ask, what is your personal place and calling of ministry; what is your purpose in life? If you don’t get around to believing, in faith, what that purpose and calling is, you can’t, except by random error, get around to doing that calling, and thereby letting the actions of your life be a large part of your giving of thanks, of your personal Thanksgiving.

In this season of Thanksgiving, we see and know that, through the discipleship of the Holy Spirit, of the Holy Scripture, and of the ones God has placed in our lives, we have achieved substantially in Biblical knowledge of Christ and in the elementary principles of Christ, in which we are all well-schooled in this body. But now that we are here, the Holy Spirit raises a serious personal challenge to each one of us and to this church as a body. That challenge is the question of whether we are ready for a break-out year, a breakout future, or not. By breakout, what do I mean? What does the Holy Spirit mean? It is meant, are we ready, Hebrews 5:13, to know and believe that we are skilled in the word of righteousness, and Hebrews 5: 14, and that we have, by reason of use, had our senses exercised to discern both good and evil? If we are, and I believe we are and I also believe that the Holy Spirit is confirming that we are ready with skill in the word of righteousness with discernment of both good and evil, then we are challenged to leave behind the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, Hebrews 6 1: 2, (1) of repentance from dead works (sin); (2) of faith toward God; (3) of the doctrine of baptisms; (4) of laying on of hands; ((5) of resurrection from the dead; (6) and of eternal judgment. We’ve got all that down, right; check them off, (1) through (6)? Right, checked off? With that foundation laid in those six planks, those six stones, as Scripture is telling us, and as the Holy Spirit is today confirming, we are called out, and challenged to leave behind the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ and to go on to perfection (maturity, which is where we think and believe we are)! We are among those, Hebrews 6: 5, who have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come. We Are Ready! So, what are we to do? And will we do it? This is the great challenge of the rest of our earthly lives!

So how do we accept and meet this challenge and go on in our lives, “. . .beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory. . . .” (II Corinthians 3: 18)? How do we do that?

First of all, we need to be strong and courageous, so we can overcome shame from peer pressure, from political correctness. We need, first of all, to believe and act in Jesus’ warning, set out in Mark 8: 34-38, “When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them (not just to the disciples, but also the believers, those who had accepted in faith the elementary teachings of the principles of Christ), ‘Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed (principle of sowing and reaping) when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.’” If peer pressure, political correctness, or any personal feelings of inadequacy are holding you back – yet you have already chosen in faith to believe in the elementary teachings and principles of Christ — then repent, trust in faith that you can and will overcome this, because the battle and the victory are the Lord’s (I Samuel 17: 47; II Chronicles 20: 15), and you can do all things through Christ who strengthenest you! And get to work; you can do it!

And, related to the first reservation, shame, there is a second reservation: excuse/complacency, which I believe is properly defined only as misplaced priorities. And there is no room for that among the mature in the Kingdom of God. Let’s see what Jesus said about it, in Luke 14: 15-24, in which the context is that Jesus, with others, was invited to a meal in the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees. Here is what happened, “Now when one of those who sat at the table with Him (Jesus) heard these things (parables of the wedding feast), he (that table companion of Jesus) said to Him (Jesus), ‘Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ Then He (Jesus) said to him (in another parable on the same subject, the wedding feast), ‘A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ But they all with one accord began to make excuses (sound vaguely familiar?). The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’ Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’ And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.’”

Jesus is not interested in the things of this world, not our business and job pursuits, nor even our wives, if they interfere with His purpose and His plans. He wants there to be a full house at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, and He is looking for his ambassadors, the Ambassadors for Christ, his Christian soldiers, who will leave behind the businesses and jobs, and family as necessary, to live their lives in His calling. It is not a matter of abandoning your families or of failing by misguided choice, to provide for your families and yourself, so that you and your family are a burden to others. It is simply a matter of getting your priorities right and getting rid of unacceptable excuses, ones that God and Jesus have heard many times.

So, third, you get past these two issues of shame and misplaced priorities and you are now well-founded in the elementary principles of Christ, you are bold in the gospel and the word of righteousness, and you can discern good and evil, all in God’s order, to fill up the house for the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. So, now, what do you do?

If you have received a specific calling or plan, then obey it. If is to go to Thailand, as some decades ago our newly-found brother in Christ did, then go. If it is not that, then do not do nothing (despite the bad grammar)! Instead, just look around you in the city where you are, looking in the alleys and the streets, and out into the fields and hedgerows, looking for those in need, and go to them, and bring Christ to them.

What most people need first is Christ, they need to be saved, and Jesus, right on in the next chapter of Luke, carried on with these theme: Luke 15: 3-10, “So He spoke this parable to them, saying: ‘What man of you, having lost a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing, and when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance (if such exist). Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’ Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’” Yes, John 14, it is the Holy Spirit who convicts in regard to sin, judgment and righteousness and Who guides in the way of all truth, but from these parables, we see that we are the hands, feet, eyes, ears, and hearts of Christ on earth to do the inviting to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. So we have work to do, all shame, misplaced priorities and any other excuses aside. The ministry of reconciliation, II Corinthians 5: 19, has been committed to us, so that we are now ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us! So plead, plead, plead!

But a lot of people are impaired in their vision, and so at first can’t get to the salvation message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, because of and by their circumstances, circumstances of pain, hunger, poverty, fear, imprisonment, physical and mental and emotional disability, and God simply says for us to go and minister to them, the same way we would if we saw Jesus, Himself, in such a fix in His circumstances (see, Matthew 25: 33-46) In our ministering, naturally with bread, and supernaturally by fervent prayer and the faithful laying on of hands, their needs will be met and they will see those actions as signs and wonders, and they will be encouraged to heed the work of he Holy Spirit to guide them to Truth, Jesus, and to understand the distinctions between sin, righteousness and judgment, and to receive the invitation we bring for them to accept Jesus as Savior and Lord!

And, do not forget the instruction in the Book of James, 1: 27, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” That is part of just looking around you and finding and meeting needs, unless you find some different instruction from the Holy Spirit.

So, even if we are not called to a specific ministry elsewhere, we are called to a ministry in our hometown, even if not, individually, as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, then merely (and that is a big word) as ministers, as Royal Ambassadors, of Christ Himself! That local work is probably a test for us, because everything is what? A test, a preparation ground for us in ministry, a walking before we run, as we walk out our faith in maturity. The hardest part of a journey is the first step. For many of us in this body – and in the larger body – it is time to invest ourselves, and to spend some of this spiritual energy that God has graciously stored in us, with resources of elementary principles of Christ, with the word of righteousness and with discernment of good and evil, by greeting and ministering to people, outside of our comfort zones, so that we can rejoice with the angels, the shepherd and the sweeping woman, and the master of the feast, with others to whom we shall have ministered, and who come into the kingdom, growing in and to their own maturities, to bring others in to the kingdom. Then, we can share with them and with the angels and with all Believers, and with Christ this word from I Thessalonians 2: 19-20, “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you (those who received our pleading as if God were pleading through us) in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.” Let us take up the greatest challenge of our lives, and give thanks by our ministries, by going from one to another, from glory to glory, from joy to joy, as we, with the Holy Spirit, fill up the Master’s house at the ultimate Thanksgiving, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb!! Give thanks, the rest of your lives, by meeting the challenge of externalizing your faith, stepping into the world around you, as you find it, and bringing and sharing the light of life, as you plead with those you encounter to know, love, confess, honor and obey Jesus Christ and His and the Father’s commandments, and the instructions of the Holy Spirt. If you are not up to that challenge, how can you expect anyone else to be?

Amen and God bless you+