While a good Pharisee like myself is thankful all year long, Thanksgiving is typically the time we set aside as a culture to return thanks to God. Fulfilling my responsibility as a good thankful Christian, I would like to tell everyone what I am thankful for and ways in which you can be thankful too. Let us look to the gospel of Luke to find Jesus’ instruction on how to be truly thankful. He instructs us to pray like this, “I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all I possess.” This passage highlights two primary things that we should thank God for.
First of all we should be thankful that we are not like others. I am thankful that I am not like those well-meaning Christians who are caught up in error and apostasy. They may be saved and have good intentions, but for the most part they fall short of God’s expectations. They fail to preach a doctrine of strict separation from the things of the world and they employe modern ministry methods like contemporary worship music, or the syncretistic, “anything goes” church growth methods espoused by Rick Warren on www.pastors.com. I am so thankful to God for the fact that I have never been tempted by such worldly concerns as modern innovations, big crowds and other errors of the church growth movement. Many pastors are driven by envy and ego to pursue the largest congregation they can assemble. I am grateful that my ego is easily contained within my tiny congregation of faithful Pharisees and my vast internet ministry.
I am also thankful that I am not like the ungodly sinners out there. As Jesus instructs us in this model prayer of thanksgiving, I am thankful that I am not like other people who are guilty of extortion. It is easy to be thankful for not being like Jeffery Skilling or Kenneth Lay, but other extortioners are less obvious. I am thankful not to be like modern media ministers who extort funds through appeals to social causes. Instead of using force, they use guilt and manipulative techniques to get innocent Christians to take funds that rightfully belong to the local church and give them to such alleged causes as feeding the hungry or caring for orphans. You can rest assured that my congregation knows where I stand on this issue - if I ever find out any one of my church members has given any money to any cause outside of our church’s mission efforts, they will be kicked off the rolls faster than you can say “Feed The Hungry.”
The second thing that Jesus expects us to thank God for is the abundance of good deeds that we do. Because God has saved me, he has made me a better person than those around me. He has given me the power to live a better life than everyone else. This is not to say that there is anything worthwhile within myself, but rather I am chosen purely as an act of God’s grace. Any goodness or righteousness that I have is strictly a response to the operation of God in my life and is nothing I work up myself. This is what makes me better than most people - God’s gracious unmerited favor that has elevated me to the heights of spirituality and devotion.
Some would say, “Pastor Gamaliel, the passage says that the man was thankful for fasting and tithing and I have never seen you do either. How can you say then that you are thankful for being a spiritual Christian?” While it is true that I rarely practice fasting, we need to keep in mind that we can easily get too legalistic about the word of God. To require the discipline of fasting would be an example of adding to God’s laws and making one person’s convictions and personal preferences set a spiritual standard that is not found in the Bible. I would never do such a thing. I think fasting should be a matter of personal conviction between the Christian and God. While I would encourage others to practice fasting, I am neither going to mandate when they should fast, nor discuss whether or not I do it. I fear that if I do, others would take my example as an example and seek to copy me, thus making my convictions their own and I would never want that to happen. Mature Christians should have their own convictions rather than acting like robots waiting to be programmed by their pastors.
As for the tithe, there is a reason I do not practice tithing. A tithe just means “a tenth” or a tiny portion given back to God. I would never give such a paltry sum to God. My spirituality compels me to give all of my income to him. Since every penny of my earnings comes 100% from God and every single dime I spend is in the service of God, instead of giving 10% as nominal Christians do, I give 100% of my income to God’s service. Because I work 24 hours a day for God, then I am always giving to Him, every time I spend anything. The advantage I have as a pastor is that I do not have to go through the church treasurer to put my money into service for God. Because I have dedicated my life to Full Tim Christian Service, anything I spend is spent to support the work of my ministry, so everything I buy is on God’s behalf. In order for you to provide for the cause of Christ, you need to drop your checks and cash into the offering plates each week. In order for me to provide for the cause of Christ, I go to the grocery store.
And that brings up another thing I am thankful for - my high calling in service to God that sets me apart from those around me. Not only am I not like other men, I am also not like other Christians. For that I offer up my deepest thanks to the Father.
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