The Utterly Crucial Act of Giving Joyful Thanks to the Father

Why do we get so discouraged? For one, the world is discouraging!

But there are also good things, and we don’t see them in the way that we should. I wrote about this in my post last week that you can see here. In this post, I want to speak about the thing for which we should be most thankful. I want to speak to Christians for a moment about giving thanks to the Father for all that He has done for us in Jesus Christ.

I have studied a lot of theology in my life. I’m glad that I have. However, several years back, the Lord reminded me in a powerful way not to forget the simplicity of the message of good news in Jesus Christ. He called me to remember three things.

  1. Whatever we have done and wherever we’ve been, God offers free forgiveness and eternal blessedness and happiness to all as a free gift, if they will only accept Jesus as their Savior.
  2. If someone has accepted Jesus, however else they may differ from me, they are fundamentally at the same place as me and worthy of my special affection.
  3. If someone has not accepted Jesus, then they are only one act of faith away from fundamentally being at the same place as I am. So, I am not that far from anyone I meet.

So, I started preaching the simple message of the good news of Jesus Christ, the simple Gospel, week after week.

Then, one woman came up to me and said, “I appreciate what you are preaching, but how long are we going to go on with this? What difference does it make? I want help living a better life.”

I thought that was a great question. What difference does the simple Gospel make? I began to think about it.

The conclusion that I came to was that it made a huge difference. To the degree we could see all that we have through a relationship with Jesus, to that degree we could live more joyful and peaceful lives that glorified God in the world.

What do I mean?

  • Sometimes we feel shame, but then we remember that God has qualified us to participate in the kingdom of light.
  • We feel guilty, but we can remember that God has forgiven all our sins!
  • We feel alone, but we can give thanks that God is with us!
  • We feel like we don’t belong, but then we remember that we belong to the people of God.
  • We feel like we can’t get ahead, but then we give thanks to the Father that we have an eternal inheritance far surpassing anything we will ever have on earth.

I realized that this has the power to radically change the way we view and live our lives. The good news about what we have in Jesus is life altering!

That’s why it’s utterly crucial to give thanks. Thanksgiving is seeing the good we have and acknowledging God as the source of it. Joyful thanks blesses and transforms us and gives glory to God. And there is nothing for which we should be more thankful than the good news about what Jesus Christ has done for lost people like you and me.

How to Grow — Seeing the God Who Pursues Us

In my previous posts on the subject of how to grow, I explained that the human predicament involves our neediness and anxiety and our wrong and sinful way of dealing with it. The Gospel tells us that the God who meets our needs pursues us and wants to have a relationship with us through Jesus Christ. This relationship meets our needs in the way we were designed to function.

So, the largest part of our growth is seeing the God who meets all our needs.

We need to remember that us having a relationship with our Creator is not necessarily a foregone conclusion. If the Creator of the universe who is all-sufficient in Himself said, “I want you to be my son or daughter,” that would be an astonishing thing. For the Creator to say to those who had sinned and rejected Him and turned away from Him to find their own way, “I want you to be my son or daughter,” is almost inexplicable.

But God has done more than that. He pursued us. He went after us. He sought us out. That’s what Christmas is all about. God pursuing man to the point of becoming a human being so that we might reconnect with Him; God bearing our sin on the cross so that all the impediments to the reconnecting might be removed; and God overcoming sin in the resurrection to heal us and make us new.

Jewish Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel explains that this is what the Bible is all about. He writes, “Most theories of religion start out with defining the religious situation as man’s search for God . . . [but, a]ll of human history as described in the Bible may be summarized in one phrase: God is in search of man (emphasis his, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism, p. 136).

Our central problem is thinking that our needs won’t be met or finding them met somewhere else. Our restoration is seeing that all our needs are met in the God who pursues us.

The key thing, then, is to think about what God has done. There are many ways in which you can do this. You could take a passage of Scripture such as John 3:16 and meditate on it. You could memorize a larger passage such as Ephesians 1:1–14. You may have a different way. The key thing is to remember what God has done and how it benefits us. Let me suggest a few ways we can use to think more about what God has done for us.

Categories of Needs
One of the most helpful ways that I have found, for myself and those whom I have taught, is to explain what God does for us is by considering categories of needs.

  1. Acceptance – we need love more than anything, and we are accepted in the beloved (Jesus, see Eph. 1:7). Our sin would make us unacceptable, but God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).
  2. Security – we are worried about our future, but God will turn everything to our good and take care of us. He will also keep us from falling and lead us to His eternal kingdom.
  3. Power – we have limited strength and often inability to do good. The Lord Jesus has risen from the dead and conquered sin. He empowers us by His grace to live a new life.
  4. Guidance – we often do not know what to do, but Jesus is our teacher who shows us the right way to live and think.

You can slice this up different ways, but I suspect that most people’s lists will come down to something like this.

The Trinity
One way to think of salvation is in terms of the particular blessings that are ascribed to us in the Bible as pertaining especially to one of the three persons of the Holy Trinity.

  1. The Father – The Father loved us so much that He sent His Son into the world to save us. He governs all things by His power for our sake. He cares for us so much that not a hair can fall from our Head without His permission.
  2. The Son – The Son willingly came into this world to suffer the terrible death on the cross, the just suffering for the unjust, to bring us back to God. United to Him, our sin is atoned for and our shame is covered. In Him, we have life, wisdom, strength, and communion with God.
  3. The Holy Spirit – The Holy Spirit dwells in each believer and is our companion every single day. He provides for us comfort, hope, guidance, direction, purpose, and love, applying to us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ (Eph. 1:3).

We are baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and have all these benefits. We live out our baptism by appropriating and meditating on the love the Triune God has for us.

The Work of Christ
One of the most ancient statements of faith of the Christian church is the Apostle’s Creed. It describes Jesus who became a human being, suffered, died, rose again, and is ascended into heaven. The Heidelberg Catechism (see Q/A 29–52) and Westminster Larger Catechism (see Q/A 46–56) describe in detail what each aspect of Jesus’ life means for us. Here is a brief summary:

  1. Incarnation – God identifies with us, wants to connect with us, and covers our imperfection with His perfection.
  2. Death – He suffers the penalty of sin in our place so all that separates us from God can be eliminated.
  3. Resurrection – He rises to a new life that becomes ours in connection with Him, a life that recreates us in the way we were intended to be.
  4. Ascension – Christ intercedes for us with the Father and continually secures our access to and connection with the Father.
  5. Return – Christ brings the hope that all things will be restored. What He begins in this life will come to full fruition in the new heavens and new earth.

The whole life of Christ is for our benefit and contains the sum of the blessings of God for us. Meditating on this helps us see that in Christ we have all we need.

The Order of Salvation
The Holy Spirit applies to us the benefits of salvation in our lives that Christ has won for us when He came to earth. The Westminster Shorter Catechism (see Q/A 29 38) gives a succinct discussion of this. Here is another summary:

  1. Calling – the Lord comes to us and call us back to Himself. By His Spirit He enables us to respond to that call and be restored to relationship with Him.
  2. Justification – God declares us righteous and acquitted of our sins because of what Jesus has done for us.
  3. Adoption – we are not only forgiven but given the status of sons and daughters of God, heirs of all things with Christ.
  4. Sanctification – God not only forgives and adopts us but changes us and restores us to what He originally intended us to be.
  5. Perseverance – God keeps us in faith by His grace so that we can continue to grow and remain secure in the blessings He won for us.
  6. Glorification – At our death, our souls are made perfectly cleansed of all sin and brought into His presence. At the resurrection, our bodies are restored to live in perfect harmony with Him, one another, and with creation for all eternity.

This is the way that the Holy Spirit enables us to experience the blessings of a relationship with God.

Biblical Theology
Systematic theology looks at what Scriptures says about particular topics such as forgiveness, the Trinity, Christ, etc. Biblical theology consider God’s revelation as a story. One way to think of what God has done for us is to think in terms of the history of revelation in the Old Testament and to think of how it is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. There are many different ways to do this, but let me suggest one way here.

  1. Abraham – God calls us to be sons and daughters of Abraham through faith and to experience blessing instead of curse in the seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ.
  2. Exodus – God frees us from the dominion and tyranny of sin and the devil and leads us out of the darkness into a glorious inheritance of life and hope.
  3. Moses – God sends Jesus to be a prophet like Moses and to teach us the way of salvation and guide us into a life that is pleasing to Him.
  4. David – God sends a King to rule us and deliver us from all His enemies and ours and to establish a reign of blessing in our lives.
  5. Exile – God calls us out of our exile and slavery to experience a restored life, forgiveness, and blessing with His people.

You could flesh these things out further in order to think more on the details of what God has done. Here you can definitely use your imagination to see what God is doing in the Old Testament and how it is fulfilled in the New.

These are just a few ways for thinking about how God pursues us. The key thing is that we have some ways to think about what God is doing and to see it in our mind’s eye more constantly and more clearly. We will talk about how to do that in the next installment.

Discussion Questions
1. Do you think more of you pursuing God or God pursuing you?
2. What way of describing God’s pursuit of us resonated with you the most and why?
3. What ways have you found helpful in the past for thinking about God’s love and pursuit of you?
4. What specific benefits of fellowship with God do you think would answer your current challenges, neediness, and sin?


This is part of a 7 part series on how to grow. Read part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here.

God Wants a Relationship with You

I have always loved science fiction. I have always wondered about what life could exist in the vast expanse of the universe.

Within the past decade, scientists have taken a step forward in their quest to answer that question. Amazingly, they have been able to “see” planets orbiting around other stars in our galaxy. In fact, astronomers have discovered over 4,000 of them. This is astonishing in light of the fact that there are two large planets in our own solar system that you cannot see with the naked eye (Uranus and Neptune), and these new plants are thousands of times further away.

Among those 4,000, a few of them seem to be similar to earth in size and are located in the habitable zone of their solar system. Astronomers have focused their radio telescopes on these planets “listening” for patterns of communication that would be an indicator of intelligent life there.

And what are they looking for? They are looking for patterns that would be improbable in nature. For example, if you find two sticks in the woods that are shaped in a V, you will probably not conclude that they were there by intelligent design. However, if you find sticks arranged in the form of the word BIOLOGY or even a series of 40 V’s in a row, then you probably cannot not conclude that they are there by intelligent design. That’s the sort of pattern astronomers are looking for.

But I think they have forgotten one very important question. Is there intelligent life . . . on earth?

A friend of mine recently described his laughter at seeing that question as a title of an article, but it brings up an important point. Is there evidence of intelligent life besides our own on earth?

I think there is all sorts of evidence of it, but one of the most astonishing is the language that exists inside your body: DNA. DNA is almost like a computer language. It contains information that is the basis of the construction of our bodies. The information contained in even one cell is so extensive that it could fill several libraries. It includes code that makes it able to reproduce itself over and over again.

If we found that sort of code in space, we would easily make the induction that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. So why not with the code in our own bodies? I believe that this code demonstrates that there is intelligent life other than humans. That intelligent life created us (for a more detailed case, see Stephen Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell).

So, who is this Creator? There was a man who lived 2,000 years ago who actually claimed to be the Creator of all things. His name is Jesus.

Normally, when someone claims to be God, you should start to worry. Better yet, run!

But Jesus is not the sort of person from whom we would run. He’s such a compelling person that even his enemies admit the power of his teaching. So, how could a person whom people would normally think is a liar or a lunatic be one of the most eloquent teachers of all time? The only conceivable answer is that he is who he said he was. In this person, our Creator has actually come down to live with us. As C.S. Lewis, the atheist turned Christian, said, he is either liar, lunatic, or lord.

If that is true, I think there are certain things that follow:

  1. God is very interested in connecting with us.
  2. Our lack of interest in him and refusal to connect with Him is very serious. This is often called sin. How do we know it is serious? Because Jesus had to die for our sins. He didn’t come just to teach but to do something: to live, die, and rise again.
  3. However serious sin may be, it is dealt with because Jesus was raised from the dead. This is not just a metaphor. It actually happened.

And this is the good news: God wants a relationship with us that is by grace and not by works. It’s a free gift to us that we simply say, “yes” to. God has done everything necessary to clear the way to a restored relationship of love with us.

I did a wedding earlier this summer. One woman was talking with another woman and said, “I’m not going to put up with this s—.” Then, she saw me and said, “OMG, I’m sorry!” presumably because she knew I was a minister.

Well, she didn’t understand the God of grace. God doesn’t run from us or smash us in our sin. He comes near to us in our sin. He is a God of grace, and his ministers should be ministers of grace.

Jesus shows us this. He comes right into the middle of a world that is totally messed up and distorted by evil and the effects of evil, real wrongs that real people have done to real people. He comes right into people’s lives and loves them where they are.

Now, here is where people get really nervous. They start to think, then that means people can do whatever they want. Well, honestly, if people never ask that, you probably aren’t preaching the God of the Bible, the glorious Father of Jesus, and the God who made our DNA.

But there is an answer to that. God comes near to us in our sin, but He doesn’t leave us there. He restores us to what we are supposed to be. That’s part of His grace. Eph. 2:10 says that God’s grace saved us so we are His “handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepare in advance for us to do.”

What that means to me is something like this. We may not be in a relationship with God, but He wants to be in a mutually loving relationship with us. We may think we’re worthless, but God has significant things for us to do. Our relationships may be a mess, but God wants to make us a center of healing. We may be depressed and struggling, but God wants us to be able to enjoy Him and His creation.

That’s the healing power of grace. That’s how the God of grace comes near to us and restores us to what we were meant to be. That’s the relationship God wants to have with you–a relationship by grace and not by works.