Guest Blogger: Steve Kalb
“… but rather thanksgiving” Ephesians 5:4
How are we supposed to “do Thanksgiving?” Abraham Lincoln in 1863 declared a “National Day of Thanksgiving. Today the idea of turkey and pilgrims come to mind as we think about this Thursday coming soon in November. Messages are preached and newscasters urge us to “be thankful.” How should we “do” this day of national thanks-giving?
Christopher Hitchens wrote a book entitled, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. In a debate Hitchens spoke about those of us who believe in the God of Christianity and said that we are “condemned to live in this posture of gratitude, permanent gratitude, to an unalterable dictatorship in whose installation we had no say.”
Bishop John Shelby Spong, the retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark has also written a book entitled, Jesus for the Non-Religious, and he blasts the miserable condition of gratitude that the cross of Jesus Christ has produced for centuries. Listen carefully to his words… “What does the cross mean? How is it to be understood? Clearly the old pattern of seeing the cross as the place where the price of the fall was paid is totally inappropriate. Aside from encouraging guilt, justifying the need for divine punishment and causing an incipient sadomasochism that has endured with a relentless tenacity through the centuries, the traditional understanding of the cross of Christ has become inoperative on every level. As I have noted previously, a rescuing deity results in gratitude, never in expanded humanity. Constant gratitude, which the story of the cross seems to encourage, creates only weakness, childishness and dependency.”
Henry Fountain wrote an article for The New York Times a few years ago entitled: “Let us Give Thanks. In Writing.” Fountain quotes Robert Emmons, a psychologist at the University of California, Davis, and a leading expert in positive psychology: “There are really tangible, concrete benefits to being grateful,” said Dr. Emmons, the author of Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier.
According to Emmons, when people are thankful health improves, relationships get better, people are more active and enthusiastic. There are benefits for others, too, as happier people are more creative, productive and easier to be around. Even people who are lonely and isolated can become less so by being grateful. “If you can combat those feelings by the simple practice of keeping a gratitude journal, that’s a pretty significant finding,” Emmons says.
Should we be thankful or should we “do thanks-giving” because of something we get out of it? How should thanks-giving in the life of a Jesus-follower happen?
I’d like you to think on Ephesians 5:1-14 for a few minutes during this month as you think about November 26, 2009. If you picture the passage written on the wall, sort of stacked up, it might be helpful to look at the top and the bottom of the stack. On top of the stack is the command to “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children.” On the bottom of the stack are these words from Isaiah: “Wake up, O Sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Taking a quick look at the top and the bottom of this passage you could summarize like this… On the top > Imitate God, you are His children and you have a model of what a life of love looks like, Jesus Christ. On the bottom> If you don’t know Jesus you are dead and headed for disaster, wake up and see the light… Jesus Christ!
The middle of this passage is full of action. A lot of these words from Paul have a negative feel to them, Paul spends a lot of time talking about actions that should have no place in the life of one who has seen the light of Jesus Christ and is following Him as an imitator of God.
The first two verses of the middle section of the passage have something significant to say to us about thanks-giving. “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” Ephesians 5:3-4
Notice the contrast of verse three: on the one hand God’s holy people, and on the other, sexual immorality, impurity and greed. We need to know this. We need to know what fits and what doesn’t fit in the life of a God-imitator, but we bristle when we see these kinds of lists from Paul don’t we?
The contrast of verse four is also significant. Paul is focusing on the mouth, our words, our speech. It is one thing to say that we have thanksgiving in our hearts, or that we keep a gratitude journal, it is another to verbally speak our thanksgiving. The verbal actions that Paul speaks against are staples of the language in which we live. Obscenity, foolish talk, and coarse joking can all be experienced in 15 minutes at your local Starbucks. It’s hard to not join in and many of us, feeling squeezed by the world’s mold, do join in and speak as if we have never seen the light of the world.
Paul says, Not this.. “but rather thanksgiving” Giving thanks is an expression of selflessness, it is the opposite of selfishness. The unselfish person does not give thanks because he/she feels that he/she deserves whatever good thing he/she receives. The unselfish imitator of God focuses his/her attention on others. Whatever good happens to this person is seen as coming from the hand of God and therefore it is undeserved and an act of God’s grace.
You can take your spiritual temperature in November if you listen to your words! A thankful heart isn’t hidden, it is revealed through a thankful voice.
Let’s do thanks-giving!
GUEST BLOGGER PROFILE:
Senior Pastor, Calvary Church (Broomfield, Colorado)