“Thank God It’s Thanksgiving Everyday – Especially on Thursday’s!”
I have always loved the Thanksgiving Holiday. It’s one of the few times of the year where our very large family can come together from all over the United States and enjoy giving thanks for our many blessings. This year more than likely I’ll be having liquid formula through a feeding tube in my stomach. I already had the G-Tube surgically implanted in my stomach this past week. During chemotherapy and radiation around Thanksgiving time will be a time of great testing for me, when according to my Doctors I will be unable to swallow and chew due to the severity of my treatment for throat and neck cancer. Watching every one I love dearest passing around the turkey with all the trimmings will be something my eyes will enjoy, but not my taste buds. However, I’m good with that. I’m good with whatever comes my way because I can choose whether I’m a “reactor” or a “responder.” Let me explain.
Over the past decade I’ve had eye problems off and on – a cataract surgery and lattice degeneration in both eyes, which required laser surgery to repair numerous tiny little “tears” in the back of my eyes. A few days ago the Eye Doctor discovered I have a Vitreous Detachment and a Vitreous Hemorrhage in my right eye. After seeing a cataract specialist I was referred to another specialist who confirmed these diagnoses. All I know is that it is difficult for me to read, and that I see flashes of light at night, and what looks like a “blob” during the day out of my right eye. The Ophthalmologist thinks it should go away – but for now, I’m hoping and praying the “blob” will clear up.
I have also had an off-and-on battle with “Gout” (Charles Haddon Spurgeon had Gout as well – which makes me feel a little bit better about it – at least I’m in good company). They say Gout is a “rich man’s disease” (well one out of two ain’t bad – and “rich” isn’t the one). The first time I experienced Gout was after coaching one of my daughter’s soccer practices. I remember lying on the bed at night after soccer practice and feeling like someone took my right big toe and pounded it with a hammer as if they were really mad at the nail – and it just so happened my big “toe” represented the nail. It was excruciating. I’ve finally (after years of hopping, limping, and crawling through various “Gout” attacks) resorted to taking medication a few months ago – so far so good. The reality is I get “Gout” not because I’m rich, but because my body is missing an enzyme and therefore I manufacture too much uric acid which builds up “crystals” (more like little torturous demons) in weak areas of the body – joints in the extremities – and inflames them, so that even a bed sheet touching the inflamed joint hurts like you just got stepped on by a really upset “Chuck Norris.”
Today I am on my way to the hospital to get my face fitted for a mask that I will wear for radiation treatment. I will also have a CT-Scan to see if I’m ready to start chemotherapy and radiation for the Stage 3, throat and neck cancer I’ve recently been diagnosed with. God-willing I will begin treatment early next week (the sooner the treatment begins – the better). So what’s with all the grim news? Well, honestly, I truly believe that some tough days are ahead – but they will go a lot better if I have a thankful heart.
I also have learned something about life – We are either coming out of tough times, going through tough times, or about to go through tough times! The good news – is that as Christians we know that God “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide a way of escape that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13b). Warren W. Wiersbe calls the Christian life a “land of hills and valleys.” We journey from low points to high points and everything in between.
Why Lord? What’s with All the Tough Stuff?
James puts it this way, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4). In other words, if you want to lack nothing, be spiritually mature, and satisfied – the only way to do it, is by meeting all kinds of trials with “joy.” Why? Because God designed it that way! If you’ve got a problem with it…He’s got a bigger problem! He took our sin problem head-on and voluntarily. He sent His perfect Son to die in your and my place and exchanged His perfect record of righteousness for your (and my) heinous record of unrighteousness.
I didn’t choose to have a cataract or lattice degeneration in my eyes; Gout, or Squamous Cell Carcinoma Cancer. But, I do know for a fact that God has allowed me to have these ailments, and I can either react to, (negative thinking) or respond to (positive thinking) God’s sovereign will and plans. I know that God works everything out for my good, and more importantly, for His glory. I know that God can heal me if He chooses to do so. I know that He can use medicine and the skill of excellent Physicians, medications, diet, and the prayers of His people to rid me of my cancer if He so desires. I also know, that we live in a fallen world, and one out of one people die. As a pastor I’ve easily performed over 100 funerals, and I’ve also witnessed miraculous healings. However, I do not presume to know what God’s sovereign hidden will happens to be in my cancer. I only know that I must decide whether God is good or evil – and the track record is that I’m very evil, and He is very good – as a matter of fact Perfect and immutably so. Only God is infinitely Wise in His plans. I simply want to trust and obey Him in the midst of this trial.
God is Good and Sovereign:
Lamentations 3:21-26 - But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.”
Psalm 90:12 – Moses prays, “so teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
Proverbs 16:9 – Solomon says, “Man plans His ways, but the LORD determines His steps.”
Psalm 139:16 “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them”– in paraphrase: “All of our days are numbered before one of them came to be.”
Romans 8:18, 28-29, 32 - “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us…And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers…He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
In summary: God has given me a certain number of days to suffer and grow in wisdom. He has always been faithful to provide for all my needs. If He didn’t spare His own Son – how could He possibly abandon me now? In the days He entrusts to me I can either react or respond to everything that He allows in my life. He promises that everything that comes my way is ultimately for my good and His glory. Ultimately all of my suffering is not worth comparing with the glories to come. God has predestined and purposed for me in His infinite wisdom and love that through suffering my character would conform to the image of Jesus – so that I would look like His brother – an heir with Christ, adopted into the family of God! God will give me an allotted time known only to Him to make much of Jesus and to bring Him glory – nothing else really matters.
Are You a “Reactor” or a “Responder”?
Here is an example of the difference and importance of “reacting” to circumstances, and “responding” to them: If I begin radiation and chemotherapy on Monday and within a few weeks my tumor shrinks from 7 to 5 cm, and the cancer cells are disappearing – then that’s a positive “response” to the treatment – it’s working! My body is responding to the treatment. If the tumor and cancer cells metastasize to another part of my body and the tumor grows to 8-9 cm then that’s called a “reaction” to the treatment – it’s not working. My body would be “reacting” to the treatment. The treatment will either cause my body to “react,” (negatively) or “respond” (positively) to the treatment. Responding is good. Reacting is bad.
The good news of the gospel is that even when you or I “react” negatively in our thinking, Christ has us covered! Even when you or I “respond” it’s only by His grace that we’re able to respond the way we should. I thank God that my salvation is NOT based on the way I react or respond to everything in life. I thank God that it is solely by repentance and faith – God’s gift to me – sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria – that I’m accepted, adopted, and saved by my beloved Triune God.
I truly believe that we can respond to circumstances by responding by having a greater understanding of the incredible mercy and grace of God in saving us. Read carefully just a sampling of God’s amazing Triune grace and mercy in saving us:
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44).
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:1-5).
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10).
“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:1-4).
For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” (Romans 9:15-16).
“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).
I like the way Pastor David Platt puts it, “Salvation has absolutely nothing to do with human merit and absolutely everything to do with divine mercy.” John MacArthur says it like this, ““There are basically only two kinds of religion in the world: those based on human achievement and those based on divine accomplishment. One says you can earn your way to heaven; the other says you must trust in Jesus Christ alone.” Tullian Tchividijian makes the same point this way, ““The Bible doesn’t tell the story of good people who do great things; it tells the story of great sin that is met with a greater Savior.”
Paul David Tripp writes, ““Because we sin specifically, the gospel intends us to grow in grace specifically…We must emphasize again and again the nowism of the gospel…Jesus didn’t just die for your past and future, He died for you’re here and now! To die for you, Jesus had to first live for you. He lived a perfect life in your place so he would be an acceptable sacrifice for your sin.”
When trials come into our lives in the form of a long traffic light that makes us late for work, an unexpected tax increase, or in the form of a pink slip from our boss, small or large trial – we all have them – where we differ and show what we are made of is in the arena of our character. Character is made in the shade of trials – the inner being. Our character is manifest in the light of the fight. It is in the heat of the hottest fire where the gold is most refined. Gold is never made without heat. Our purity came at a huge cost – the life of the perfect One – crucified (the greatest suffering), buried (the greatest abandonment), risen (the greatest triumph), and coming again (our greatest hope)!
Therefore, I am going to do something I’ve never done before starting this Thursday – Today. I’m going to make it a “Day of Thanks” – no matter what comes my way. I am going to choose to “respond” and not “react” – be positive and not negative – praise God and not whine to Him. I’m going to spend my entire day choosing joy over sorrow, and to focus on the Grandeur of the God of the Gospel.
Thursday’s for me – from this Thursday on – by God’s grace will be a day of responding to God in gratitude and thanks all day long. October 18, 2012 is going to be a day dedicated to Thanksgiving. I will not ask for anything of God. I will spend my day delighting in what He has already done and will continue to do for me. I will choose to delight in His nature and attributes. I will respond to Him by rejoicing in His plans that are ultimately always for His glory and for my good. As a Christian I know that even my suffering has a purpose – I know that behind every pain there is a plan by a loving God who suffered and was in more pain than I’ll ever know, in order to spare me from His wrath that I so rightly deserved. Now all I know is that because of the Triune work and plan of God I will never be punished for my wretched sin – Jesus took care of it, and stated “It is finished” two thousand years ago.
The new normal for me may consist of a lot of pain – but that’s ok because Jesus has been through the greatest pain on my behalf – out of love for the Father and love for me as His adopted heir in the family of God. His goal for me whether He gives me many more years or just a few more days is spelled out clearly by the Apostle Paul in Romans 5:1-8,
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Today is a Day of Thanksgiving because I’ve been:
(1) Justified by faith (not my works – but the perfect works of Jesus on my behalf);
(2) I have peace with Jesus – He’s not mad at me even though He died for “my” sins;
(3) I stand in grace – undeserved, free, and infinite – accessed solely by faith in Jesus Person and Work on my behalf in his life, death, burial, and resurrection;
(4) I can rejoice in the hope of the glory of God – I will see Him in His perfect glory forever – no blinders and no barriers because I am his child forever;
(5) I can rejoice in my sufferings – because they have purpose – they aren’t by “chance” or “luck” – they are carefully designed by an infinitely wise and loving God to conform me to the image of Jesus;
(6) My character will be produced by endurance, strength, and hope by choosing to respond and not react in the midst of the hardships – because the more I become like Jesus – the more prepared I will be to bring gratitude and glory to Him;
(7) I have God’s love in my heart because He poured it there via the Holy Spirit – no more guilt or shame, because I’m covered by the blood of Christ, and the Spirit has taken up residence in my life forever – never to leave me nor forsake me;
(8) No matter how weak I am – Jesus the risen one who conquered death – who died for my sin – who rose from the dead and will return and reign as King – the righteous for the unrighteous – how can I doubt His love or plans for me;
(9) He can never love me more than he already has demonstrated – for while I was a sinner He died for me. I can never do anything to make Him love me more. So whether I “react” or “respond” because of my repenting of my sins past, present, and future – He’s got me covered by His blood shed for me.
Thursdays from this day forth will be “Days of Thanksgiving.” Not the all-you-can eat Turkey and gravy fests The focus on my prayers will be to be express my gratitude and “respond” to God’s amazing graces in my life. And if He never did another thing for me – only He would be worthy of all of my praise for Who He is, what He has done, and what He has promised to do for His glory and His Eternal Kingdom.
Today I Start with this Simple Prayer of Thanks – “Response”:
“Father thank you for orchestrating my election in eternity past. If you never did anything else than to pick me on your team – adopt me into your family and not make me pay forever for my sin – that would be enough for me to thank you each millisecond for the next billion years. Jesus, thank you for coming after me courageously and unflinchingly receiving the Father’s wrath for my sin – if it were only my sin it would have been brutal enough. But you also took on the sins of the world. You are the Man – there is no one who can be named in the same breath with the name of Jesus. At your name every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that You are Lord. I do so now willingly, with gratitude, humbly, and filled with joy – that you would exchange your righteousness for my righteousness which to you are only as “filthy rags.” Holy Spirit, I am grateful that you regenerated me. You took a dead man with no ability whatsoever to trust in Jesus, and made me alive spiritually. You gave me the gift of faith in the One you pointed me to – the Holy Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world – and who took away all my sins – past, present, and future. Thank you Triune God for your plan to save me; your perfect execution to save me in totally fulfilling the righteous requirements of the law; and the reconciliatory requirements in order to forgive me on the basis of the name that above all other names, and You will reign as King forever and ever! – Amen!
I hope that you will join me in committing to making one day a week – it doesn’t have to be a Thursday; the date isn’t as important as your becoming focused on the Gospel – seeking to conform to being more like Jesus. I encourage you to join me in becoming a “responder” to the Gospel and not a “reactor” that doubts the goodness of our loving God. Please join me in giving God the Father, Son, and Spirit the gratitude and glory due Him for the great things He has done – let’s strive to be “responders” to His grace, and not “reactors” because of our foolish idolatries. Soli Deo Gloria!
About Dr. David P. Craig
I am first and foremost a great sinner, saved by an even Greater Savior – Jesus Christ. I have been a pastor for over 23 years and working as a Pastoral Life Coach for the past year. There is nothing I enjoy more than teaching from God’s Word and pointing others to the focal point of the Scriptures and the Universe – it’s all about Jesus. I have no greater passion than to make disciples who make disciples of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Whether I make disciples by teaching large groups, coaching one-on-one, or in discipleship – the formate doesn’t matter to me. I love seeing and experiencing the Spirit of God come upon and transform lives through the power of the Gospel. I love to help people get more balance in their lives by identifying and delivering them from their idolatries and discovering that Jesus is always better than anything else. I have been blessed with a wonderful wife, five outstanding children, two amazing grand sons, and my only claim to fame is that I know where to find lasting satisfaction and joy – and it’s to be found only in knowing Jesus personally and intimately.