(Photo courtesy of Bob Scott)
Thanksgiving is just a few days away. Thanksgiving is usually about the three F’s for most of us: family, food, and football. In fact, we have some who are already gone for Thanksgiving weekend, while others may be getting ready for family to come in.
Food? I was at King Soopers yesterday, and it was packed. People had one, two, three, some four turkeys or some other kind of bird in their shopping cart—along with all the trimmings.
Football? I know some of you enjoy a game or two of football. On Thanksgiving, the NFL brings us three games: Texans-Lions, Redskins-Cowboys, and Patriots-Jets.
I submit to you that another F needs to be included in this: faith! The holiday is Thanksgiving, and many may express how thankful they are for their family, for the food, for the football, for the time off, etc. But when you have thankfulness and when you are in the faith, each of these things has an object. We can express what we are thankful for, but do we take time to express to whom we are thankful?
Thankfulness marks the Christian life—not simply for the things in the hear and now and not simply for material things. James tells us that “Every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change
(James 1:17). Paul writes to the Corinthian church, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it” (1 Corinthians 4:7)? So what we find ourselves thankful for has a whom behind it. God gave us all we have.
Even with this, some fail to recognize this. Thankful hearts that should mark a Christian can become entitled hearts: “Well, God, I know you gave me this—but that’s your job!” We can become bitter hearts: “Well, God, I know you gave me this—but I really wanted that.” We can become proud in heart like Nebuchadnezzar, who when looking over his kingdom from his monstrous palace in Babylon, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30). Immediately, to show who truly ruled over all men, God immediately took away Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom until He gave glory to the Most High.
What’s the basis of a thankful heart? Look with me at the thesis, if you will permit me to use that term, of the entire book of Romans is found in Romans 1:16-17:
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Paul shares the reason for his lack of shame: the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. The believers are not restricted to one group of people, but revealed to the Jew first, then to the Gentiles.
But we notice that God reveals Himself! We will see that to those who do not believe in Him, God has made himself clear in many obvious ways though there are many who are blind to this. For believers, he revealed something else: his righteousness. The righteousness that God requires for salvation is not something which we earn—it is something that God reveals and puts toward our account. This is God’s way of making us right with Him.
But what happens if even the very basics of what God revealed are smoothed over or even ignored? Taken for granted? A thankful heart is trouble and even destructive to your soul.
God reveals much—we are without excuse (Romans 1:18-20).
Look with me at Romans 1:18-20:
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse (Romans 1:18-20).
What is the wrath of God? God’s wrath is different from human wrath. Human wrath is most unrighteous. Stott notes that this is “an irrational and uncontrollable emotion, containing much vanity, animosity, malice and the desire for revenge.” What God’s wrath is toward is evil, and its hatred therein. He does not condone it, but will judge it.
So it is this wrath that is revealed. To what end? Against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who … suppress the truth. So God’s wrath has a laser focus—those who suppress the truth. And this truth is ‘plain to them, because God has shown it to them.’
What is known about God? His ‘invisible attributes’ such as ‘his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived’ in creation.
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
4 Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world (Psalm 19:1-4).
The Psalmist shows that Creation is the calling card of God’s characteristics. All around we see this. God never intended for His nature or work to be hidden. He has given us plenty of clues.
We here in Colorado have no trouble in seeing the glory of God’s creation. The mountains are so close that many look forward to the weekend so they can spend it there. Isn’t it interesting that folks run to the mountains every chance they get, enjoying that aspect of God’s creation, yet miss him? Nicy Murphy got it right:
“Missions in Colorado is ministering to those who live in the mountain grandeur, but who never ‘lift their eyes to the hills’ to see from whence their help would come; who enjoy God’s placid lakes, tumbling streams, and majestic waterfalls, but who have never drunk of the Water of life; who shepherd the sheep on a thousand grassy hillsides, but who have never met the Good Shepherd; who reap the golden grain from the fertile plains, but who never partake of the Bread of Life.”
Maybe the reason so many go to the mountains is due to their desire to connect with something bigger than themselves, to see breath-taking beauty. Yet, they do not realize that their desire to connect with something is a longing in every human heart. Ecclesiastes 3:8 says that God has placed eternity into the hearts to man. So many are so close, yet they are so far away.
Because of all that God has clearly revealed, He tells us that “we are without excuse.” There is no way that we could not ever say in any way, “God, I had no idea you were there! You kept yourself hidden.” Not so!
Humanity rejects much (Romans 1:21-23).
21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
The downgrade begins here. Clearly, man knew God, but the ramifications of knowing God did not jibe with the desires of their lives. Even with God revealing His invisible attributes, showing His glory in the heavens and in earth—“They did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.” Here is the theme of the day: they failed to honor him or thank him. Remember, they suppressed the truth , exposing their unrighteousness. They wanted to be god over their own lives.
How well does this describe us? Do our lives express to God and the world that we wish it to be our own way? Have we decided to try to build our own lives and chart our own path, then ask God to bless? Are we using all the gifts that God has given, yet failing to thank the giver of those gifts—then wonder why our lives seem to grown emptier and emptier the more we reach our own goals?
There was a man who was a gifted football player in the 1960s and 1970s. He played running back for USC, even winning the Heisman Trophy. He was drafted #1 over all by the Buffalo Bills in 1969 and in 1973 was the first to running for over 2000 yards. He was featured in a number of commercials and movies, showing his good looks and good humor. But in 1978, he made this comment: “I thought by the time I reached all of my goals, I would find peace and happiness. But now, I am lower than ever.” God gave him some incredible gifts, but he used those gifts to bring himself glory. The man’s name is OJ Simpson. All of us kept up with the trial in the mid 1990’s and heard about the robbery in the late 2000’s. Tragic.
But this was in the spotlight of Hollywood and the media. This happens all the time. If we fail to honor God and thank him, we have darkened hearts and futile thinking privately, and thus we “exchange the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”
This phraseology, “exchanging the glory” is used elsewhere in Scripture. Turn with me to Jeremiah 2:9-13:
“Therefore I still contend with you,
declares the Lord,
and with your children’s children I will contend.
10 For cross to the coasts of Cyprus and see,
or send to Kedar and examine with care;
see if there has been such a thing.
11 Has a nation changed its gods,
even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory
for that which does not profit.
12 Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the Lord,
13 for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water.
Even with all that God had done in delivering and taking care of His people, they still rebelled, still chased after false gods, aligned with the other nations, and forgot the One who named them, called them, delivered them, guided them, and settled them in their land. So the people of Israel exchanged the glory of their Creator for things created. This was such a calamity, that the heavens are those who are appalled, shocked, utterly desolate. Why? Because God’s people committed two evils: they forsook the living water, then tried to cut out cisterns for themselves, “broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
John Calvin noted,
“When one leaves a living fountain and seeks a cistern, it is proof of great folly; for cisterns are dry except water comes elsewhere; but a fountain has its own spring; and further, where there is a vein perpetually flowing, and a perennial stream of waters, the water is more salubrious and much better.”
But this is what happens when we move away from what God has revealed to what appeals to man. Christians must beware of this. I came from a seminary whose history from the 1920s to the 1980s wanted a seat at the table of academia. They had to compromise the notion of the supernatural and miraculous, and treat the Bible as any other book. I grew up in a core area of Virginia who believed that Christians should have a seat in the area of politics, thinking this would change the direction of the church. As a result, they risked compromising the one direction of Christ as Savior in order to link with others who may have rejected them—thus putting Christ on the backburner for a cause. I knew of friends who were so involved in churches who wished to reach the culture, they compromised issues in Scripture that seemed to offend so they could reach them.
In each case, Christians on both sides of the aisle risked compromise—relying on the systems of our society to propel the kingdom of God rather than the clear revelation of God through Scripture.
John R.W. Stott, Romans: God’s Good News for the World (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 71.
John Calvin, Jeremiah 1-19: Calvin’s Commentaries, Volume IX (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003), 93.