Giving Thanks – Embracing the Cross

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday, filled with family, food, and football, a uniquely American celebration of our prosperity and all that we have to be thankful for. And let’s face it, with all the problems that we often bemoan, we have a lot to be thankful for, don’t we? We live in a great nation. Regardless of our political foibles, this is still a great place to live. If you are tempted to criticize America harshly, travel. I love Senegal, but I am always glad to set foot back in the USA. I feel privileged to have spent time growing up in Taiwan, but it is not the land of my birth. Israel inspires me but I still love the red, white and blue. We have peace, prosperity, stability, and many amazing blessings to for which to give thanks.

But if all we give thanks for is our homeland and the things that money buys, we have missed the point of biblical thanksgiving. There has to be something more, something greater. God owes us none of these things. Job had all the blessings of life taken away because of a cosmic battle and was put to the test. Would he still love God when all the things God gave him were gone? Even in his pain, he said, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Israel saw its homeland destroyed but the prophets told the people to continue to turn to God for solace and to give thanks.

There are people who seem to tap into something more – they give thanks when life falls apart, when circumstances are bad.

In early 1980 a doctor told my dad he had 3 months to live. Dad had been preaching about giving thanks in everything and the doctor had been at an associational meeting where he had delivered that message. He looked at dad and said, “You have been telling people to thank God for everything in their lives. God is giving you a chance to practice what you preach.” Dad had a long drive home that day and pulled over to the side of the road there in West Palm Beach and gave thanks to the sovereign God of heaven for everything, even this terrible news that he did not want to hear, didn’t understand, and was devastated to consider. He declared his faith in God’s plan for his life and his thanksgiving for a God whom he could trust no matter what.

Had he lost his mind? He was a 51-year-old pastor who had been told he had 3 months to live and he was thanking God? We’ve developed workarounds for the scriptures that command us to give thanks in everything and for everything and we don’t practice this. Dad did. He cast himself fully into the plan of a merciful and loving God and said, “Blessed be the name of the Lord” even when the will of God did not seem to be anything he wanted to hear.

Let me tell you, briefly, the rest of the story. Dad returned a week later to this renowned doctor for a follow-up exam and the doctor came out shaking his head. “Lew, last week you had terminal cancer and this week I can’t find a trace of it.” I guess we won’t know until heaven what really happened – whether God healed dad miraculously or whether the doctor made a mistake that God used to test my dad. But he practiced his sermon and gave thanks when things were not what he wanted. He gave thanks in everything! On his next birthday, he will turn 90. Three months has become nearly 40 years.

Is it possible that there is more to life than we’ve often practiced? Should we give thanks for our homes and our prosperity and our physical blessings? Daily! But true thanksgiving goes far beyond our circumstances. Christians are not reactive – we do not react to our life’s circumstances. We are not even “proactive” – determining our own way based on our decisions and feelings. We are Christ-active. We live based on what Christ has done for us. We love because he first loved us. We rejoice because of the joy of Christ within. We are at peace because of the Prince of Peace who is our Lord.

Let’s admit the truth. Christianity be crazy! We do not live by the world’s logic. The world tells us that you should be happy about good things, sad about our troubles, and angry about injustice. Jesus told us to love our enemies, to rejoice when we are mistreated, to have peace in the midst of the storm, and to live above our circumstances. The world views that as nuts. We have been called to be crazy! (Some of us have a head start, don’t we?)

There is one thing that changes the dynamic of life and makes all of this possible _ the Cross of Jesus Christ. How crazy is the cross? It was brutal torture designed to inflict the maximum amount of pain and shame over the longest period of time. Only the worst of the worst faced the cross. And we celebrate it!

The suffering of Jesus was the most horrible moment in human history as men put their hands on the Son of God, as they beat him, spit on him, ridiculed him, and finally nailed him to the tree. It was the low point of human history and yet Paul says something strange in Galatians 6:14.

But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world.

We boast in the cross – it is our glory. What a shocking statement.  Why would this awful moment be the treasured moment of anyone’s life?

There are many reasons to boast in the cross. I could turn this into a typical 2500 word post, or even go to 3000 or 4000 words, just listing the things that Jesus did for us at the cross. But this Thanksgiving season, we need to remember that God’s love for us was once and for all settled at the cross. Whatever happens in this world, whatever the circumstances of life are, the ultimate reality of my life and yours is the cross of Christ. The cross of Christ shapes me when things are good and it is still my guiding truth when the world is falling apart.

When my dad was told he had only 3 months to live, he could give thanks because he could say, “My sin, o the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, oh my soul.” The reality of the cross doesn’t change when you are healthy or when you are dying. Jesus’ death and resurrection is just as real when business is good and when it bad. The cross is just as powerful when everything is falling apart as it is when everything is going great, when people are treating you well as when everyone is abusing you. When your life is centered on the cross, when you are “Christ-active,” you are not enslaved to your circumstances.

So, yes, this week, you should give thanks for every good thing that you have in life. But you should also give thanks for everything, knowing that Jesus Christ is at work in whatever circumstances are happening in your life to produce his glory and your ultimate spiritual good. You can give thanks because nothing in this world, even death, can touch the love of God that is yours in Jesus Christ.

Can anyone shout glory?

There was a scene in the Passion of the Christ that moved me deeply. On the road to Golgotha, Jesus was near the end of his strength and began to crumble under the weight of the cross. He tripped and fell, in agony. What happened next is not a biblical truth but it is symbolic of everything Christ did. He crawled over to the cross and he embraced it. Jesus embraced the instrument of torture that would end his life. He embraced the cross! That is precisely what Jesus did. He embraced the horror of the cross to redeem sinful humanity. He hugged the cross.

And that is what we should do this Thanksgiving week. Embrace the cross! It is our hope in dark times, in times of suffering and sorrow, in good times and bad, in prosperity and want, in happy days and hard times. We can hug the cross of Christ and never again be enslaved to the circumstances of life.

Embrace the cross and give thanks!