Thanksgiving is “as American as apple pie” some might say. However, giving thanks is a much older practice than America itself. Giving thanks is the genuine response of disciples of Jesus Christ offered to our gracious Redeemer. Giving thanks is an abounding act of worship for Christians. Consider the words of Paul to the church at Colossi:
“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” (Colossians 2:6)
The verse is paramount because it describes how a follower of Jesus must walk in him each day of life. Since we have received Jesus as our Lord then we should walk in him. Here are three characteristics of this life in Christ. The first two are not surprising and are consistent with my experience as a disciple.
- Rooted and built up in Christ.
- Established in faith as we were taught.
The churches I have attended since birth have majored in these first two characteristics. The seminaries I attended focused on these two elements of walking with Christ. My family discipleship experience growing up supported these two aspects of Christian living. My personal walk with Christ today focuses on these two characteristics of Christian life. The third characteristic is strangely missing from my otherwise daily, intentional walk in Christ. Before you judge me, get your mind around the third characteristic of the daily walk with Christ.
3. Abounding in thanksgiving.
Sure, I am thankful to God. I demonstrate that normally by observing special days like “Thanksgiving” or by giving an offering of “thanksgiving” or by singing a little louder on Sunday when I am feeling thankful. The description of a Christian’s daily walk in Christ, according to Colossians 2:7, is different than the normal response of feeling thankful. It is consistent and intentional thanksgiving that is “abounding.”
The idea behind the word “abounding” is to provide “considerably more than would be expected.” This is a life overflowing with thankfulness beyond the expected level of gratitude. As I evaluate my own walk with Christ I admit my thanksgiving is less than abounding and could be described as meeting the acceptable norm in our culture of thanks. Abounding? Not really. I want this to change, but how? Back to Colossians:
“Put on then as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which bind everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God, And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:12-17)
Perhaps this is where I should stop. I am tempted to apply this passage for you. Instead, it might be better if you take the time to seek God yourself. Pray, “Lord Jesus, I want to abound with thanksgiving. Show me how to be overflowing with gratitude every day.” Then read Colossians 3:12-17. Pray, “Holy Spirit speak to me as I meditate on your word desiring to abound with genuine thankfulness every day.” Do a simple exercise. Take your time. Ask and answer these three questions and let God speak to you about you.
- What does Colossians 3:12-17 say?
- Why do I need to know it?
- How should I change because of it?
I pray you have an amazing day of Thanksgiving on Thursday. More than that, I pray that we become disciples of Jesus who overflow with thanksgiving every day of our walk with him. As a believer every day is thanksgiving day!
What are God’s purposes? This foundational question sets the course for all Christian families. His purpose is the glory of His name in every nation and in every generation through the redemption of sinful people by His Son, Jesus. Simply, God’s methods for accomplishing this purpose on the earth are three-fold. First, that His people love Him with all of their heart, mind, soul, and strength. Second, that His people love others as He does (Dt. 6:4-9, Matthew 22:36-40), and third that His people make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).
How do I make God’s purpose the heartbeat of my family life? Here are three simple ways. First, pray the purposes of God with your family. Imagine praying with your children this way every day. “God, would you help Gabriel to love you with all of his heart, all of his mind, all of his soul, and all of his strength? Would you help him to see people and love them like you love them? Would you give him wisdom to share the gospel today with those people your Spirit leads him to? Make him a mighty man of God who brings glory to your name in his generation and throughout the nations all of his days.” This is not a selfish prayer but instead it is an abiding prayer that will bear much fruit according to John 15. As Gabriel hears this prayer each day his heart will shape spiritually toward the purposes of God.
Secondly, love others with your family. You can do this as a part of every day life and likely in the context of the missions ministry of your church. Get to know your neighbors. Invite them for dinner. Linger outside for driveway conversation. Pray for them when they are sick or suffering. Share the gospel with them as you build a relationship with them. Serve them by checking their mail, mowing their grass, picking up their yard when they are out of town. Love the people that you come in contact with every day. Allow your family to experience your way of loving people and allow them to participate. Pray for others with your family. Participate in local service projects and missions opportunities through your church with your family. The best way to teach your family to love others is to demonstrate and guide them to experience serving others. Currently, one of our neighbors is suffering with cancer. My wife loves this family by watching their children, listening to them, and praying with them. Our daughters have been right in the middle of all of that love and certainly they are learning to bring glory to God by loving others.
Finally, go to the nations with your family. Making disciples of all nations includes the nation in which you live and extends to the people groups of the world. You might lead your family to gain God’s heartbeat for the nations by praying for an unreached people group consistently. Our family is praying for the Alawite Muslims of Lebanon and Syria on a regular basis. As your children grow consider going on a short-term mission trip with them. Go on at least one international mission trip with each child before they graduate from High School. Investing in this way financially and experientially will write the purpose of God for His glory through the nations on the heart of your family.
In order to make God’s purposes our own and central to our family life, we must demonstrate the application of His purposes to our children and experience God’s heartbeat for others and the nations together. While teaching is important, demonstration and experience are the key to developing a heartbeat for the purposes of God in our families.
Last week at Bay Area Christian School and in the student ministry of Bay Area First Baptist Church we saw an amazing out pouring of God’s Spirit and an amazing response to the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you know me you know I’m praying that the next generation of American Christians to become the greatest generation of American Christ-followers in U.S. history. That’s my big God, John 15 prayer for the next generation. Here is a glimpse of what God did last week in our little faith community with the next generation.
Our church is studying the book of James this summer on Sunday mornings. In studying the book we have found that it is written to Christians who struggle with double-mindedness and self-deception. Read if for yourself in James 1. This Sunday I preached a message titled “How to Stop Faking Religion” from James 1:26-27. We learned what James considered to be worthless religion and what James considered pure and undefiled religion. You can watch the sermon here.
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. 
Religion in the James 1 context is devotion to God as exhibited by external, observable qualities of the life of faith in Christ. The problem in the first century was this external quality could be faked. The problem in the 21st century is this external, observable quality can be faked. People who fake “religion” in the positive sense as used in James 1:26-27 are self-deceived and idolatrous. When we fake religion we worship ourselves or the perception of others about who we are “religiously” and we tragically miss the freedom of the gospel. The only pure and undefiled religion is the kind that flows from the heart of a person who loves God and loves people. So what do you do if you are a believer and you have been faking your religion or practicing religion that is “worthless”? Since pure religion stems from the heart we must go to God for important heart work when we as Christian’s struggle with self-deception and a “faked” or “worthless” religion. I use Psalm 139:23-24 as a prayer pattern for this important heart work.
Let’s try it. Trust me. You’ll be glad you did. Find a quiet place alone. Grab your Bible, and something to write with (pen, journal, computer, iPad). Read Psalm 139:23-24
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my anxious thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way every lasting.” -Psalm 139:23-24
1. Beg God to search your heart and try you.
Ask God to search every thought and motive of your heart. This might feel a little scary but remember if you are a Christian, you are talking to your Father. You are his son or daughter according to the Bible. He is glad you are coming to him. You can trust him. Lay your heart bare before him. Ask him to sift you and refine you according to his design for your life. Verbalize to God your desire to be pure and holy and right with him, not to earn his love because in Christ you have it. Not to earn your salvation because in Christ you have it. Only because you love him and you want to live a life of faith and love and devotion to him. Only because you don’t want to be a Christian who has falling into self-deception, double-mindedness (loving God and loving sin and self at the same time), and worthless, faked religion or devotion to God. Give him permission to have his way with you.
2. Ask God to identify what grieves him about you. (Ephesians 4:25-5:20)
Even though as Christians we are saved and set free from sin and the eternal penalty of sin, we are still wrestling with our flesh and the temptation to sin. It is clear from the Scripture that believers can become stained with sin in their double-mindedness and self-deception and grieve God. Ask your Father what sin in your life grieves him. Allow him to speak to you. I like to use Ephesians 4:25-5:20 as a passage to pray through at this point. I ask God to reveal, in this list of grievous sin, how I am grieving him. As he reveals these things, write them down. Write all of them whether it is 2 things or 50 things. God will be faithful to reveal your sin. Take a few minutes and contemplate the list. Grieve over what grieves the Father and then… repent and receive his forgiveness and grace. Take time to repent for every grievous sin on your list. Repent specifically. Then embrace the gift of Christ. “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” - 1 John 1:8-9 Wad up that list and throw it away as a symbol of turning away from your sin and toward Christ in love and devotion.
3. Trust God to lead you in a better way of living your faith. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Finally, trust and believe God to lead you in a better way of living your faith. When we struggle with self-deception and worthless religion we also begin to believe that God is less than capable to lead us in a better way of living today. Remember, Jesus came that we might have abundant life according to John 10:10. You trust him for a future in heaven. You can trust him for an abundant life with him today. Proverbs says it this way, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your path’s straight.” -Proverbs 3:5-6
He is the Good Shepherd and he knows the way. He will make your paths straight. Trust him. If you want to overcome self-deception, double-mindedness, and fake religion, go to God for some heart work. He will give you renewal and a singular mindset and a content soul. Only then will the external, observable evidence of your life in Christ be authentic, un-faked, and bubbling over from the inside out.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Jas 1:26–27). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
I am the pastor of an awesome church. It is 125 years old and located in the Southern United States in Houston, Texas. It has been a very patriotic church in the past for great reasons. We are a church in transition in an American culture that is changing. Our theology has been the same for 125 years but our practices are morphing. Why? This is the first in a series of posts addressing common hallway questions. Welcome to the “Why Series.”
Recently I was asked a great question. Why don’t we sing patriotic songs in our worship gatherings especially around the 4th of July? It’s not a lack of patriotism on my part. I fly our flag in my yard each day and I think there’s no place like America on earth. We (my family) will gather with friends and watch the fireworks and celebrate our country’s freedom on the 4th of July. We (my family) choose to be missionaries in the country of our first love: America. There are however, two reasons for this shift in our approach to traditional expressions of patriotism in worship as a church.
First, we reserve Sunday for the worship of God and the exaltation of Christ and His Kingdom which, if you read the scriptures, includes all nations.
Secondly, and maybe the clearest reason, is that America is not the country of our past. It is impossible for me as Pastor to lead us to sing songs like “God bless America” in corporate worship when I realize that we are a culture that is much like Israel in King Hezekiah’s day. “So these nations feared the LORD and also served their carved images. Their children did likewise, and their children’s children – as their fathers did, so they do to this day.” (2 Kings 17:41) As long as America continues to reject God and embrace idolatry we cannot hail a great America in the presence of God in corporate worship. We will thank God for our freedom. We will support the men and women who serve and protect our freedom. We will hope in our God whose gospel can change the American culture. We will pray for our nation and we will seek repentance in corporate worship times. We can’t confuse the America we remember that enjoyed God’s blessing and the America of today that is rejecting God completely. We will raise one banner in corporate worship. The banner of Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. After all His kingdom is the hope for our nation.
Parents who accept the biblical mandate to be the primary faith trainers in the lives of their children often face a common obstacle. How do we impress the glory and complexity of such a great God on the hearts of our children? Can they even understand His glory? The short answer is yes, in a child like way.
General revelation: The skies declare your glory. (Psalm 19:1)
Theologically, God’s glory among the generations is His first priority. Though we will not yet grasp in fullness the depth, breadth, or width of God’s glory this side of heaven, we can all observe that He is glorious. This is also true of our children. Psalm 19:1 tells us, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.” The concept of understanding the glory of God by observing His magnificent creation is called general revelation. Recently my family took a Sunday evening walk from our house to a local coffee shop. Along the way we stopped to take note of an extravagant sunset displayed with shades of orange, pink, purple, and yellow. Eden, our 5 year old, said, “Isn’t God a great artist.” In that single moment she acknowledged God’s general revelation of His glory. She understood His greatness because of the “great art” He made for us to enjoy that evening.
Special revelation: Let the little children come to me. (Matthew 19:14)
Jesus is God’s special revelation of Himself to the world. Jesus, being fully God and fully man, is incomprehensible on the one hand but understandable on the other. We glimpse God’s glory when we discover Jesus as a sinless man bringing complete glory to his Father. We see God’s glory when we learn Jesus is a miraculous healer demonstrating power over the flesh. We are drawn to God’s glory when we find Jesus is able to calm storms demonstrating control of the creation. We are submissive to God’s glory when we realize Jesus is able to cast out demons demonstrating Kingship in the spiritual realm. Finally, we are baffled at God’s glory when we learn of the crucifixion of the God-man wrought with earthquakes, darkness, a torn curtain, and amazing words of forgiveness. We worship our glorious God when we read that Jesus rose again, defeating death, fulfilling prophecy, and exercising complete victory over sin. Even as I write, I am worshipping. Our kids experience God’s glory by knowing Jesus as well. Jesus says in Matthew 19:14, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” If you want your child to comprehend God’s glory, bring them to Jesus.
What can you do? God-moments and Scripture reading.
As a parent, be intentional about pointing out the glory of God with your children. Capture God-moments. They are those little moments along the way where God is clearly at work. Take a moment to point His glory out to your child just like the sunset we saw on our Sunday evening walk. God-moments happen all the time; A sunset, a torrential downpour, a baptism, communion, etc. Keep your eyes open and you will find God at work. As a parent, take the opportunity to reveal His glory to your child. Finally, read the Bible to your children. We love to read about Jesus from the Bible with our kids. Without sounding irreverent, Jesus is a kid-magnet. Jesus will reveal the glory of the Father to our children. Read them the biblical narrative. Let them hear how Jesus fed 5000, healed the blind, and conquered sin. Our children can discern the greatness of God especially when parents take time to demonstrate the glory of God.