Thanksgiving: Rising above the Clouds

by Dave Miller on November 24, 2013 · 3 comments

Have you ever flown on a dreary, rainy day? You taxi down the runway and everything is gray, dark and damp. You pick up a little speed and the front of the plane points up just a little. It tilts a bit more and you feel the wheels come off the ground. The plane rises into the sky and things get worse. As you enter the clouds, you can’t see a thing as the fog closes all around you.

That is when it happens. You burst out of the clouds and suddenly, the sun is shining brightly all around you. It is no longer dark or dreary, it is beautiful, cheerful. Everything that seemed to be true as you taxied down the runway is no longer true.

Never forget this, my friends. The sun is always shining. Sometimes you can see it and sometimes you can’t. But even when you are smack dab in the middle of the darkness, the sun is still shining bright! The problem is not with the sun, but with where you are. Just because you are in the darkness doesn’t mean that the sun isn’t shining!

Hold onto that thought for a while. We will come back to it at the end of this message. But now I’d like to share with you Miller’s Theorem of Holiday Celebration. I love holidays. Ever heard one of those people who tell you that they just can’t stand to sit down and do nothing. That is not me. When we were in Cedar Rapids, we would go to Florida every year on vacation. My mom and dad had a large home in Kissimmee and we’ go down there for a couple of weeks every summer. My goal each day was to do as little as possible. I’d sleep in, eat a little something, then go pop a movie in the VCR and take a nap. When the movie and the nap were over, I’d go out and get in the pool and float around on a raft for a while. Lap swimming? Uh…no. When I was sufficiently pickled, I’d head back in the house and find another movie for my next nap. That was my idea of a vacation.

I love holidays because I have no responsibilities, no commitments, nothing I should be doing. It’s just hanging out. And I love that! But, having said all that, I am disturbed, at times, by the way Christians celebrate holidays. Sometimes, our celebration is as shallow and meaningless as the world’s.

That brings me to Miller’s Theorem.

Our celebration of any significant holiday ought to be substantively different than the celebration of those who do not know Jesus Christ.”

If Christmas is all about presents and parties and decorations and the jolly old fat guy in the red suit, then there is something wrong with your celebration. If Easter is about hunting for eggs and how much candy you get in your basket, then something is wrong. If your celebration of Arbor Day is, well, never mind. We’ll ignore Halloween and Memorial Day and all the others. But let’s talk for a minute about Thanksgiving.

If your Thanksgiving is about turkey and dressing, and even football, then something is missing from your celebration. But let me take that one step farther. If your Thanksgiving is focused simply on being grateful for the things you have – your family, your home, your nation, and your possessions – then there is still a deep flaw in your holiday. Oh, it is important to be like the leper who took the time to come back and say thank you to Jesus. We can be amazingly ungrateful in spite of all our blessings. But those of us who have been brought into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ our Lord, those of us who have had our sins forgiven, our hearts made new, our destinies settled, and our lives transformed, we ought to have more to give thanks for than just a turkey in the deep fryer and nice cars in the garage.

Today, I’d like to focus on that “something more” – that which distinguishes Christian Thanksgiving from that celebrated by others in this world. Consider this simple verse, from Psalm 118:1.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!

This little phrase is repeated in several places in this Psalm and in others. In Psalm 136, the last part of it becomes a response to every line. Picture a priest reading the first part of each verse, detailing the goodness of God, then the people chiming in loudly, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

Let me get right to the heart of the matter. For the world, and even for many Christians, thanksgiving is about what you have, what God has given you. The focus is on things, on “what.” But, while Christians give thanks for what they have, our focus is always on “who” – who God is and how good he has been to us. Ultimately, we give thanks to the Lord for he is good. It is about him. It’s not about my food, it’s about my God. It’s not about what I have, it’s about who gave it to me. It’s not about the things of this earth but about the One who sits enthroned.

And folks, here is the kicker, the truth about all truths, the most amazing thing you will ever hear. That God, Creator of all things, Ruler and Sustainer of the Universe, perfect in holiness and exalted in glory; he loves you. He loves you. He loves you! It is the love of God for which we give thanks, in good times and in bad, in plenty and in want, in success and in failure, in glory and in shame. In all of that, we give thanks to the Lord for he is good. His steadfast love endures forever.

I want to reflect on that love today, to look at it from several angles and perspectives. The love of God has been cheapened by those who disregard his holiness and abused by many as an excuse for sin. But I will make this statement without any fear of contradiction. If you understand the love of God that I am going to describe today, you will have no trouble giving thanks! We will examine four truths about this astounding love of God.

Examine the Objects of God’s Love

To whom did God show this steadfast and eternal love? Of course, we know from the most widely known and quoted verse of scripture that God loves everyone, the entire world.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

While this verse speaks of the universality of God’s love, it also hints at something that is crucial to our understanding of the love of God. The Bible presents this world as fallen, sinful, under the dominion of Satan and deceived by his lies. This sin is an offense against God, one that brought his judgment on the world. But that was not the end of the story. God did not let his judgment have the final word. He loved this world as much as he hated its sin.

Romans 5:8 brings this all to light.

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

God demonstrates his love by giving his Son to die for sinners, for people who had rebelled against him, rejected him and refused to submit to him.

Here is the point, people. We do not have to earn the love of God. We do not have to make ourselves worthy of it or fix our problems so that we can make ourselves acceptable to God. He loves sinners. He love failures. He takes the first step to redeem us and all we have to do is respond in love.

It is sad, isn’t it? We spend a lot of time trying to pretend we aren’t really sinners when the Bible tells us that those are precisely the kind of people God loves. I can tell you today that God loves you, eternally, faithfully. No, you don’t deserve it. You are not worthy of it. But he loves you anyway because that is the kind of God that he is!

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.

Examine the Extent of God’s Love

What is your home really worth today? We are trying to sell the home that Ben and I bought together and it has been very frustrating. We had it appraised a few months ago and they gave us a number. Your home is worth this many dollars. Great. But there is a problem. We tried to sell it and lo and behold, no one will pay us what the appraiser said it is worth. We reduced the price a couple of thousand and they still wouldn’t pay what it was supposed to be worth. Then, we reduced it a couple of more thousand dollars. Still, no one is interested. There is no intrinsic value on a home. A home is worth whatever someone else will pay for it.

How much does God love you? What is the value of his love? This is one of the great truths you will ever hear, my friend. If it fills you with pride, you aren’t understanding me. Remember, you and I are sinners who could never be worthy of God’s love. He loves you anyway. But if, when you hear this, your heart swells with awe and wonder, perhaps you are grasping the glory of it all.

Value is determined by what someone will pay for something else. Think about what God paid for your eternal soul! He gave the life of his own Beloved Son to pay for your soul. There are two truths you have to remember before you will grasp this. First, you must remember your own sin. This is not about how wonderful and cute and cuddly you are. You aren’t! You are a sinner who deserves the wrath of God and his judgment. Second, you must remember just how the Father loves the Son. Time and again, when the Father spoke during the earthly ministry of Christ, he began with “This is my beloved Son.” The Father and the Son shared an eternal love that goes beyond anything we can imagine. This was no small thing that the Father did. He gave his Son, allowed him to suffer torture and death on the Cross – for you. More than that, he poured out his wrath against your sin on his own Son!

The Cross once and for all answered the question of God’s love. No one for whom Christ died has the right to ever say, “no one loves me.” How could you or I ever even entertain such a thought? “He gave his life. What more could he give? O, how he loves you. O how he loves me. Oh how he loves you and me.”

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.

Examine the Effect of God’s Love

So, what difference does the love of God make in our lives? Of course, his love is extended to the wide world, but it only effects, it only changes those who respond to that love in faith. Each of us must repent of our sins and trust Jesus Christ, giving our lives to him. That is the only fitting response to such wondrous love as this.

1 John 3:1-2 spells out some of the effects of God’s love, some of the most beautiful.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

It is an amazing progression. We go from sinners, enslaved by our own wickedness to sons of God. We are adopted into God’s family. We who were born into the family of Adam, the family of sin, we become part of God’s eternal family. Sin’s parental rights are terminated and we become the children of the Living God.

Some of you here have been adopted. Some have adopted children of their own. It is a beautiful thing, to take someone who is not your natural child and welcome them into your family. That is precisely what God has done for us.

But it goes one step beyond that. He actually begins to make us look like our Savior. We shall be like him. We begin to take on the family traits, as God’s Spirit works within us to make us like Christ.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.

Examine the Security of God’s Love.

Did you ever fall madly in love with someone when you were younger, then a few months later, after the embers of your passion cooled, wonder, “What on earth was I thinking?” You are in love. Then, you are out of love. Maybe indifference follows. Or anger. But the love is gone.

Thank God, his love is constant. His steadfast loves endures forever. When he sets his affection on someone, he never changes. His love begins a good work in us and then he carries it on to completion. God’s love never fails. He promises us that he will never leave us or forsake us. When you believe in Jesus Christ, you will not perish, but you have immediately a life that lasts forever. It is eternal. God’s gifts and calling are irrevocable!

This is not a concept I have found it easy to digest. I’ve always felt like God’s love was conditional, revocable. If I messed up one more time, he’d erase my name from the book of life. But I want you to listen to the glorious ending to the most glorious chapter of the Bible, Romans 8. Listen to verses 35-39 and try to let the message of these verses sink in deeply.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever!

Conclusion

So, as we draw this to a conclusion, let’s go back to our airplane, taking off in the gloomy gray rain. It rises up above the storm, above the gloom, above the darkness and breaks through to where the sun shines brightly. I cannot promise you today that life will always be easy, or that things will always be good, or that you will always be happy. In fact, things are tough in this world and they are likely to get tougher as the days go forward.

Folks, we live on the ground in the gloom and the rain. There is darkness all around. But if you will remember this truth, you can soar above the clouds into the bright sunshine, at least in your own heart and life. I cannot promise you ease, comfort or prosperity in this life, but I can tell you to give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.

This is the kind of Thanksgiving we ought to celebrate, those of us who know Jesus and have received his everlasting, faithful love. We give thanks to the Lord, for he is good and his steadfast love endures forever.

To the poor, lonely person who feels rejected, friendless and isolated in this world, I say, “Give thanks! Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever!”

To the person who has been abused, abandoned, betrayed or mistreated, there is joy in the Lord. “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever!”

To the dear lady in this church whose husband went to be with the Lord just yesterday, I can say these words, free of deceit or trickery, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever!”

To the person whose business if failing, whose bills are piling up, who can’t find work and can’t seem to keep his or her head above water, look up through the clouds and, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever!”

To the sinner, struggling and failing, who turns to Jesus Christ, there is forgiveness, there is hope, there is victory. “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever!”

Whatever your struggle, your pain, your hardship, your gloom, the message is the same. It is true in good times and bad.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever!

1 Strider November 24, 2013 at 12:54 pm

This made me want to listen to Dave preach.

2 Dave Miller November 24, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Why thank you. And yes, this was my morning message. Gotta go do round 2 right now.

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