“…they did not honor God, or give thanks…”
How often we hear the refrain this time of year in the western world, “We are so blessed. We have so much to be thankful for.” We are, of course, rich by the world’s standards where the average income is less than $2 per day. Thanksgiving Day is a time to gather with family and remember the year and our prosperity, or is it? We must be a thankful people, the Bible calls us to be a thankful people, but I am not sure we understand Biblical thanksgiving.
Jesus told parables about men who had both physical and fiscal blessings as we do here in the west. He was rich. He had plenty, in fact more than he needed to live on. (Luke 16:19-31) He had fine clothes, ate sumptuous faire, and had safety behind his “gate” where poor men like Lazarus could not pass. Does this describe us? The poor man Lazarus in contrast had neither physical nor fiscal means. Jesus also speaks of a rich “fool” in Luke 12, who had so much he needed to put away the excess wealth into bigger 401Ks, er…I mean bigger barns so that he could “eat, drink and be merry”. (Luke 12:19) We know that his soul was required of him that very night.
Our night is coming when every knee will bow and we will give an account of every word, deed, thought, and penny. If that thought has not sunk in for you, then there is ‘no fear of God before their (your) eyes’, the biblical definition of the wicked (Romans 3:18). Spurgeon once commented that every man knows he will die, just not so soon we need to be concerned about it. We convince ourselves there is time tomorrow to get right with God, to love our neighbor, to be generous. However, we are held accountable for today and we will not escape for it is “appointed unto man once to die, and then the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27). If your heart today is not full of love for God and righteousness, and love for your neighbor today, what makes you think it will be when you wake up tomorrow . . . if you wake up tomorrow? “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick. Who can understand it?” (Jerimiah 17:9)
I was recently in a discussion with a nominal only Christian friend trying to convince him he needed the church to grow as a Christian. His response was, “They will just pass the plate and want my money”. I was shocked, because I have recently counseled him before on his love of wealth and of his material things. He believes he is a Christian because he believes in Jesus, but he has no need nor time for the church or the things of God. It offended him for me to point out to him his love of his wealth, and he complained that I thought he was materialistic, but it is evident to all his friends. I must speak if I love him; and I do, so I tell him I don’t believe the Lord is his Lord. Why call Him Lord if you do not do what He says? (Luke 6:46)
We all have this heart sickness of wealth and self to some degree. All of us are addicted to this world. It is our fallen nature, self-love, the curse of wealth and the power it brings. We give thanks for our wealth, when it is a curse! It is what is precious to us, like ‘the ring of power’ in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It is what Tolkien named ‘Dragon sickness’, hoarding gold as if it were the source of our happiness and joy. We have to hold onto it, all of it, grow it, earn more of it, store it away and protect it…it’s mine, ‘my precious’.
Then the fire that comes out of our mouths when it is threatened is dragonesque, revealing our hearts. When we get upset and angry it is usually because we lost something or someone stole some of our precious wealth. “Lazarus, stay outside my gate!”, we scream in our hearts and fire from our mouths. The nerve of that guy! We gave a few crumbs to charity already! He knows where the food bank is! I pay my taxes! No wonder God warns us the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. (1 Timothy 6:10)
When I consider what we measure as blessings and are thankful for, most of it falls under what the rich men in Jesus’ parables sought after and why Jesus holds them guilty! Will he give us a pass? Will He? Show me scripture! I bet both of these rich men were thankful for the things they had behind their gates and in their barns! I bet they put some coins in the treasury at the church! Just like most Americans are thankful, that we are not like that Lazarus guy sitting out there begging. I worked and studied hard for what I have!
A German proverb says, “True charity sees the need, not the cause.” What is your rationale to yourself as to why you can’t be generous with your wealth and your time? Do you love your neighbor at all? Do you have dragon sickness? We are all born with it, born fallen and self-centered. The only cure is death to self, live by faith in and for Christ, and the ability to do this is a gift of God, a new heart that loves Him and my neighbor. (Ephesians 2:1-10) Pray for this gift, it is Jesus, the pearl of great price in us. Saving faith is from a changed heart, a new heart, that loves God, hates our old sinful self, and loves our neighbor.
We know from scripture, one of these men in Jesus’ parable was blessed in the biblical sense. One of these men was cursed, wretched, pitiable, poor, and blind. In the mindset of most people, and in the concept of the oft repeated phrase, “We are so blessed”, we live day to day as if it were the rich men who are blessed, and the poor man Lazarus who is wretched, pitiable, poor and blind. We are blessed with riches, we save and put away in our 401K barns, we dress in fine clothes and we eat “sumptuous faire” as Jesus said of the rich man in His parables. However, it was the poor man who had no hope but Jesus who was truly blessed.
We don’t consider ourselves cursed, for in short, we think like the church at Laodicea “we are rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that we are wretched, poor, pitiable, blind and naked.” (Revelation 3:17) This was the church! Christians! Or they thought they were…And we say, ‘I believe in Jesus, so I am good to go’.
Colossians 3 makes clear many such teachings on our death to this world and its ways, and Christ living in us. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away…” (Col 3:1-8a) Coveting things and money that buys them is idolatry.
We all are of this world, but have been translated from the kingdom of darkness, this world, to the kingdom of light. We have renewed minds; or, we are to be renewing our minds. The old ways of the world are coveting wealth for it bought so many worldly pleasures and ease behind our gates. Put that away, renew your mind by the washing of the water of the Word. A Christian must die to self, live for Christ.
I fear for us, myself included. We live day to day like these rich men, we think like the rich men, we give a little from our plenty, mere crumbs from our table of sumptuous faire. It is easy for us to see when a Billionaire gives a hundred grand to charity… Woo Hoo! It actually cost him nothing out of his lifestyle, or out of his comforts behind his gates. But, do you give enough that it actually “costs” you something? Are these parables a message to all of us who live in plenty? I think yes. We know Jesus said “…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matt 19:24) And that our being saved is only possible with God, when we die to self, live for Christ.
Spend some time this Thanksgiving searching your heart. Whom do you love and serve? Self? God? You’re your neighbor as yourself? Does the dragon have your heart or does Jesus? Where is your treasure? Are you scratching each work day for more gold to hoard away, to enjoy more sumptuous faire, or do you work as unto the Lord? Answer honestly now, for one day it will be revealed for all to see, when it is too late to toss away the ring of power and open your hand to share the wealth God has entrusted to you. Slay the dragon! Love God, love His people. Love your neighbor as YOURSELF.
It will hurt, but it will be wonderful to be free indeed (John 8:36). Free to serve the Lord, free to invest his talents rather than bury it in the ground or our 401K barns (Matthew 25:24) and one day you will be called a good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21). Don’t be a hoarder, who knows His master is a hard man (Matthew 25:26), and He does expect us to die to this world and live for Him.
If you love Him, it is a joy to live for Him and His people. “This is my earnest plea, More love, oh, Christ to thee. More love to thee… more love to thee.” (Hymn, E. Prentiss) When the love of God is in our heart, the love our neighbor as ourselves flows from that heart. Let this be our thanksgiving prayer.
The youngest son of a Pastor / Missionary, Dick Oldham grew up in Louisiana, Texas, Guyana, and Indiana. Upon graduation from University he accepted a position with General Motors in Engineering, and worked for various automotive companies for over forty years. His expertise led to involvement in several new plant constructions around the world, including Mexico, Korea, and Argentina where he was involved in design, construction, heavy equipment installations, debug and start up, and training of local workers. The opportunity to live for several years in other countries, on other people’s money, was a blessing and an education in humanity, cultures and religions. Dick is retired and living in Ohio with his wife of 43 years. Their family consists of two children and their spouses, and three grandchildren. He operates a small farm with his children and enjoys the outdoors, fishing, camping, and hiking.
Feature Photo by Wallpaper Safari