Scott Bryant

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The Gaurdian of Gratefulness

Our God intended for Thanksgiving to be more than just a yearly holiday feast, followed by football or a long nap.

There is indeed a purpose in coming together with family and friends to give thanks to God on this national holiday for the miraculous provision He gave our pilgrim forefathers. Yet sadly, our country has forgotten, or worse yet, rebelled against the very motivation that caused the pilgrims to search out a new country in the first place.

They were looking for a safe place that would enable their children and grandchildren to find the religious freedom they so passionately valued. The freedom to give thanks to God each day of the year. They were grateful to God and God alone. And it was this gratefulness that stood guard over their souls as they weathered that first winter and the many hardships that would soon follow.

As the years have turned since that first Thanksgiving Day in America, our country has followed a very familiar path that mankind has taken since the beginning of time. The path of ungratefulness to God. A path that Romans 1 says will lead a nation down into the very degradation that we are experiencing in the 21st century. Notice what we are told about the role of thanksgiving in guarding our hearts in verses 18-25:

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.”

Every time that mankind is tempted to worship the creation instead of the Creator, it means that Satan has succeeded. Our national holidays are a prime example of how he strategically does this.

Black Friday now dwarfs Thanksgiving Thursday. We have been receiving continual advertisements for weeks now of how much we can save if we will purchase our favorite products on this important day. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t stand in line for that great savings on Friday morning, but I do want us to notice the bigger problem.

 We are constantly being told that we need more, so we can be thankful. While our God wants us to see that we can give thanks to Him, and need no more. If more or less comes our way this next year, our hearts can be steadfast and safe. Because they are being guarded by gratefulness. Gratefulness for who God is, not just the good that He can give.

When a nation’s heart isn’t guarded by gratefulness to God, you get some strange responses to Thanksgiving. Here’s one called “An Atheist’s Grace”. This was one man’s response to his family asking him to say “grace” at Thanksgiving even though he wasn’t a believer in God. Notice how his prayer represents the value system of our country today. Here’s what he said:

“For the good food now laid before us, delighting our senses, and the wine that gladdens our hearts;  For the hard work and loving hands of those who helped prepare this feast;  For all those whose labor made it possible, the farmers, pickers, truckers, merchants;  For the service of all who toil on this day so that we may rest, our soldiers, sailors, police, firefighters, engineers, doctors, caregivers;  For the love of all our family and friends, those here gathered and those we hold in our hearts;  For all these things we are grateful.  For all these things we give thanks.  Amen.”

A nice prayer right? But you’ll notice the prayer is directed to worshipping all the good, not our God.  A very popular path in our world today, even more many professing Christians.

One website called “Recovering From Religion” offered this invitation to people at Thanksgiving time on their website:

“Navigating the journey is difficult, especially if you’re traveling alone. At Recovering from Religion, you’ll find many resources to help you along the way….. “As an atheist/non-believer, do you celebrate Thanksgiving? If so, how?  What role does gratitude and gratefulness play in your life?”

Here are just a few responses that came in:

Brandon wrote– “I celebrate all the main Christian holidays such as Easter, thanksgiving, and Christmas. I just don’t celebrate them in a religious way. On Easter, I basically just celebrate by buying chocolate and other sweets. I celebrate thanksgiving by just eating ham and turkey and other good foods while spending time with my family that I love and am thankful for that. On Christmas, I celebrate by buying presents for other people and putting smiles on their faces. As well as buying presents for myself and putting a smile on my face. Lol. If Christians can take pagan holidays and celebrate them in a Christian way, I don’t see why we can’t take them and celebrate them in a secular way. My reason to celebrate?  It’s just nice to have celebrations. Just celebrate to celebrate and because it’s nice and fun.”

Cassidy wrote, “I think it’s important to be grateful and express gratitude to others. Doing so helps me feel connected to others and to my community. I don’t need a higher power to love my family and be grateful that they’re in my lives and that we’re in pretty good shape. I love Thanksgiving–it’s a great time to make and eat good food, hang out with my family, and reminisce about the previous year’s good events–and look forward to the events to come in the next year.”

Ted wrote, “Food, family and football. We are thankful to be together. It’s always been that way even before I de-converted. No religion required. Now my sister’s family holds a prayer and we just respect her and move on.”

As you read over these ridiculous and yet popular responses to thanksgiving, my prayer is that God will use them to alert you to the importance of letting gratefulness to God be the guardian of your soul. Otherwise our souls may slide down this slippery slope that Romans 1 tells us will end in disaster. And sadly, because our mind has become dulled by sin, we think we are being thankful to God, but really we are being thankful that we are God.

Gratefulness to God guards me from thinking I am god. We might say that we would never do that, but sadly the statistics tells us that as a nation we are doing exactly that. And our children and grandchildren are doing it even more.

So, as you prepare to give thanks this year over turkey and pumpkin pie, take time to guard your heart with gratefulness. And one very practical way is to notice the difference between being thankful for who God is instead of just the good things he has given to you.

The Guardian of our Gratefulness is God Himself! So as you finish your Thanksgiving meal and go around the table for people’s thoughts, take a moment to fill in these blanks:

“I am thankful to God because He is _____________. (His Character)

I’m also thankful that He demonstrated His _________________ this year through providing  ___________________.” (His Gifts)

When we take time to worship WHO God is first, then we are able to be grateful for WHAT He chose to give us. It may have been the provision of abundance or the gift of suffering. Either way, we will be able to give thanks. Because we are enabling God to be The Guardian of our Gratefulness. Only He can protect us from the spirit of this age that says we will always need more in order to be thankful.

This Thanksgiving, instead of letting the “Atheist’s Prayer” tempt us into only being thankful for the good stuff in our life, let our God enable you to find the true Spirit of Thanksgiving. That Spirit has a name of course. He is the Holy Spirit that stands ready to Guard us with God’s Gratefulness. Let’s be sure to let Him.  

Are You Veiling Your Vengeance?

My family loves sitting down and watching a good movie. And I must admit that a good movie needs to have a lot of action to hold my attention. Often these adrenaline-packed media experiences often come full of the very perverse language and living that our Lord tells us a believer shouldn’t even have a hint of. Fortunately, technology has also given us services like “ClearPlay and “VidAngel” that allow us to filter out the bad and still get to enjoy some of the good. 

But one challenge that I have as a man and father of many children is noticing that there is still one thing that can’t be filtered out. One thing that happens to be in most every action film produced. It’s something that our Lord told us numerous times throughout Scripture to be very careful to avoid. Have any ideas on what I might be referring to?

When the hero of our favorite movie is wrongfully treated by his enemy, what do we hope and expect him to do next?  You guessed it. We get excited because we know he’s about to “take revenge”.

He’s going to storm the gates of the enemy and do whatever necessary to destroy the enemy and win the day. To make things right again. To be sure justice is served.

Now, there’s definitely a time when good needs to stand against evil, even if it involves physical conflict. Our country has a long history of brave men and women who stood up against evil when freedom was being threatened. But sadly the line has been greatly blurred between what is an appropriate time to engage in battle, and when are we simply engaging in one of the most natural forms of human expression. Taking revenge.

In our family we see it every day. Our children don’t have to think to take revenge, it just naturally happens. When a brother or sister gets in their way, takes their seat, eats their candy, pushes them, or even looks at them funny, it happens. That sinful desire to take revenge blurts out. And as they grow older, if they don’t learn how to control that desire, vengeance will become the victor of their life. And they will lose everyone and everything that stands in the way of this vicious vice.

Revenge might make a great movie. But it will destroy your heart and home if you think it works the same way in real life.

Romans 12:19 commands us,

“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.”

What’s refreshing about children when they are young, is that they don’t know how to hide their vengeance. They cry, scream, pinch, hit, kick, and so on. And a loving parent is able to help them learn that their choice to “take revenge” always brings a consequence. After they experience loving discipline, they can be freed from this vice to live again in unity with their God and their brother or sister.  

As they grow up, they will join us in learning how to veil their vengeance. To hide it from plain view. And while it might take the form of many vices in our life, there seems to be one that our Lord knew would be the most attractive. He spoke about it several times in His brief earthly ministry. And when His disciples asked him to teach them how they should pray, He gave them more than just “The Lord’s Prayer”. He told them that their prayer life would be greatly endangered if they didn’t confront this vice for vengeance head on. At the end of a prayer that even most unchurched people are familiar with, we read in Matthew 6:13, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’

Familiar words that really sound good, especially when the entire church recites them together on Sunday morning. But in the next two verses he reveals one of the primary ways that the evil one will lead us into temptation.

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

While the news headlines might be full each day of folks who took revenge to the final step of murder, most of us will spend our lives in trying to restrain our revenge to the privacy of our minds and hearts. As we fail to pass on to others the very thing we desperately needed ourselves. Forgiveness.

Jesus is not saying in these verses that our failure to forgive impacts our eternal destination. Scripture clearly assures us that the blood of Jesus paid the price for our sin, including unforgiveness.

What Jesus is teaching us here is that unforgiveness impacts our fellowship with the Father. He wants us to know that our natural passion to exact vengeance through unforgiveness must be taken seriously. Or it will hinder our ability to enjoy the very thing our heart desires. Unity of fellowship with our Heavenly Father. Unity that will be broken when sin enters in. Not because of God’s choice, but because of ours. When we choose to hold a grudge, we are choosing to enjoy that fleshly feeling and we instantly close off the life-giving forgiveness that our Father wants us to receive from Him.

One of the reasons that we often find it so hard to forgive our enemy who has sinned against us, is the feeling that if we don’t keep holding them hostage through our grudge, then they just might get away with it. And this just doesn’t seem fair. They must pay. So often one of the ways that we might be coaxed into extending them a form of forgiveness is to be sure they know when you do. We might send them an email, text, or even tell them, “I forgive you for hurting me when you…..” Sounds good right, but it’s not good. All we have done is succeeded in telling them how bad they were, and how good we were in “forgiving” them.  

On the contrary, forgiveness is perfectly modeled by our Lord on the cross when He looked at humanity who was rebelliously and self-righteously crucifying him, and said to His Father, not to his enemies in Luke 23:34:

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

In one statement we are given a powerful arsenal for how we should guard our heart and home from the vengeance of unforgiveness.

We see that true forgiveness means:

  • We are willing to pray for their forgiveness from God instead of being sure they know how much they need our forgiveness.
  • We are willing to pay the price of letting them “get away with it” because we know that God’s vengeance alone is virtuous, and not ours.
  • We are willing to offer them fellowship again without them ever needing to know how badly they didn’t deserve it
  • We actually care more about our enemy’s soul then we do about our feelings.

So today when you bow your head to pray, ask the Lord to take you deeper. Ask Him to reveal where you have let unforgiveness hinder your prayers. Then let His Grace and His Example lead you to a place that offers your enemy total forgiveness. For when we do, we will discover the life-giving blood of Jesus is able to once again circulate through our heart and home. Fellowship is once again restored. With our Lord, then miraculously with even our greatest enemy. All because we chose forgiveness over vengeance.