A Grateful Heart

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Consider some thoughts from II Cor. 9:11-15.  Paul focuses on the contribution that he has been collecting for the poor saints and others in Judea.  He mentions four key concepts:  grace, gratitude, generosity and glorification of God.  As he develops each of these concepts, he defines a grateful heart.
A Grateful Heart is God-Centered
A grateful heart recognizes God as the ultimate source of every good and every perfect gift (James 1:17).  A grateful heart readily admits dependence upon God.  Ingratitude insists upon self-sufficiency rather than God-sufficiency.  God enriches us with a bounty of blessings.  His infinite goodness is freely manifested in the wonderful riches that He gives to us.  This includes both physical and spiritual blessings.  The chief gift that God gives is His Son (II Cor. 9:15).  Ingratitude breeds independence from God rather than dependence on God. Simply put, the ungrateful do not see their need of God.  However, they could not live even a single day without God.  Ingratitude shows a heart that has forgotten God.  This was the very thing that Moses warned Israel about in Deut. 8:6-20.
A Grateful Heart Is a Humble Heart
Those who despise God’s goodness manifest impenitence (Rom. 2:4-6).  Unbelief produces impenitence.  Impenitence is due to man’s pride.  Unbelief, impenitence and pride produce ingratitude.  Gratitude shows humility.  Humility leads to a recognition of the need for God and the redemption that He supplies through Jesus Christ.  Godly sorrow precedes repentance (II Cor. 7:10).  Repentance precedes reconciliation to God.  Through reconciliation to God we can stand in His divine favor (grace).
A Grateful Heart is a Devoted Heart
Thanksgiving to God is manifested in praise and prayer.  Praise and prayer are integral elements of our worship of God.  In praise and prayer, God is glorified.  Worship is an act of gratitude to God.  The ungrateful do not draw nigh to God.  They fail to see any connection between who they are and what they have acquired and God.
A Grateful Heart is a Generous Heart
Paul writes concerning “this ministration” i.e. the work of gathering a contribution to help the poor saints and others in Judea.  The church became a channel of blessing to others.  The generosity of the churches resulted in many thank to God and God was glorified.  Ingratitude robs God of the glory due His name.  Ingratitude leads to selfishness and others suffer because of the failure to show a generous spirit.
A Grateful Heart is a Compassionate Heart
A grateful heart is a warm heart.  A grateful heart is full of compassion.  A compassionate heart can be moved by the needs of others.  Ingratitude produces cold heartedness.   Remember Scrouge?  Scrouge was miserly, stingy, cold hearted and lonely.  His greed isolated him from others and produced a darkness in his soul.
The Greatest Gift
The greatest gift deserves the greatest thanks.  God gave His Son.  Jesus gave His life for us.  This spiritual windfall leaves us speechless.  “But thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.”  Through God’s grace we are enriched unto all bountifulness.  God’s grace produces a grateful heart.  This is the heart of a Christian!

 

The Power of a Story

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American writers Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker recently conducted an experiment that they called “Significant Objects.”  They bought worthless knickknacks at flea markets or antique stores, contacted a fiction writer to write a story about each object, and then resold the items on Ebay.  For example, an ugly plastic Russian doll, bought at a flea market for $3 was given to writer Doug Dorst.  Dorst wrote a story about a Russian woodcutter named Vralkomir who saved his village from freezing one winter by dancing on a pile of wood until it burst into flames.  The doll with the story sold on Ebay for $193.  In total, Glenn and Walker sold $128.74 worth of useless junk for $3,612.51.  The stories gave the objects a 2,706 percent increase in value (Popologetics, Ted Turnau, p. 11).
The power of a story is reinforced by the hymn, “Tell Me The Old, Old Story.”  This hymn was written by A. Katherine Hankey, of London, in 1866.  It has been translated into many different languages and has been set to different tunes.  Dr. W. Howard Doane (1832-1915) has this to say regarding the music by which it has become popular and the occasion on which he composed it: “In 1867 I was attending the International Convention of the Young Men’s Christian Association, in Montreal.  Among those present was Major-General Russell, then in command of the English force during the Fenian excitement.  He arose in the meeting and recited the words of this song from a sheet of foolscap paper–tears streaming down his bronzed cheeks as he read.  I wrote the music for the song one hot afternoon while on the stage-coach between the Glen Falls House and the Crawford House in the White Mountains.  That evening we sung it in the parlors of the hotel.”

The words to this hymn are:
Tell me the old, old story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
Tell me the story simply, as to a little child,
For I am weak and weary, and helpless and defiled.

Tell me the story slowly, that I may take it in,
That wonderful redemption, God’s remedy for sin.
Tell me the story often, for I forget so soon;
The early dew of morning has passed away at noon.

Tell me the story softly, with earnest tones and grave;
Remember I’m the sinner whom Jesus came to save.
Tell me the story always, if you would really be,
In any time of trouble, a comforter to me.

Tell me the same old story when you have cause to fear
That this world’s empty glory is costing me too dear.
Yes, and when that world’s glory is dawning on my soul,
Tell me the old, old story: “Christ Jesus makes thee whole.”

Refrain
Tell me the old, old story, tell me the old, old story,
Tell me the old, old story, of Jesus and His love.

The content of this story consists of heavenly things.  It is about Jesus and His glory and Jesus and His love.  It is the story of man’s redemption and salvation through a selfless savior.  The content of this story makes it priceless and brings hope and healing to struggling souls.
The presentation of this story is part of the “telling.”  Present it simply “as to a little child.”  Present it slowly “that I may take it in.”  Present it softly, “with earnest tones and grave.”  Present it often, “for I forget so soon.”  Present it always, “if you would really be, in any time of trouble, a comforter to me.”
The story of man’s redemption through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is the greatest story ever told.
There is only one thing left and that is the reception of it and commitment to the savior by loving obedience to His holy will (Mark 16:15-16).

Essential Elements of Thanksgiving

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A key concept related to thanksgiving is reciprocity.  Here are some important elements involved in thanksgiving.
The Benefactor.  The One who is the ultimate source of every good gift and every perfect gift is God!  “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17).  “Father of lights” refers to God as the creator of the greater and lesser lights in the heavens.  God is the creator of all things.  He has the power to bless and the will to bless.
The Gifts.  God gives us our daily bread (Matt. 6:11).  He gives His Son to die for the sins of mankind (the unspeakable gift-II Cor. 9:15).  He gives everlasting life (John 3:16; Matt. 19:29).  He gives love, mercy, and grace (Eph. 2:4-9).  He gives us truth (Eph. 1:9). He gives all spiritual blessings in Christ (Eph. 1:3).  He gives us everything needful to sustain us in this life and in the world to come.
The Blessed.  God acts for the highest good of His special creation–man.  He sends the sunshine and the rain on the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45).  In a sense, God blesses each person on the earth.  However, in a special sense and in a special way, God blesses His own children.  The people of God are His speical creation (Eph. 2:10).  God bestows the greatest spiritual blessings upon those who are “in Christ” (Eph. 1:3).
The Thankful.  The “thankful” are a special class of people who recognize God’s goodness toward them and reciprocate with gratitude.  The truly blessed give back something to God.  The nature of the gifts they give are different from God’s gifts to them.  But, they give:  (1) their love; (2) their devotion or worship including praise and adoration; (3) their lives in covenant relationship with Him; (4) their service (the labor of their hands including benevolent acts to others; and (5) their loyalty (faithfulness over time).  The thankful have humble hearts that have been touched by God’s grace.  They reciprocate out of sense of being debtors to God for all He has done for them.  Through gratitude they complete the circle of fellowship with God.  The truly thankful are Christians who reciprocate gratitude for God’s grace!

Grace and Holiness

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Grace and holiness are often misunderstood.  Christianity Today published an article titled, “Do American Christians need the message of grace or a call to holiness?” (Dec. 2012, p. 58).  That’s a good question.  Grace is often portrayed as a pushover.  He’s the toll-free number to call in every situation.  Just call 1-800-GRACE and you get off scot-free.  Holiness, on the other hand, is viewed as outdated and prudish.  Holiness is stuffy and a real party squelcher.  How can we better understand both concepts?
Paul states, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?  God forbid.  How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? (Rom. 6:1-2).  We are not the only ones who struggle with grace and holiness.  Many did in Paul’s day too.  To continue in sin is to persist in a life of sinful conduct.  Some do not believe that you can live in sin, but Paul makes it clear that you can.  Sin is a transgression of God’s law.  It is lawlessness.  If one gives himself over to a persistent life of sinful conduct, he becomes the servant of sin (Rom. 6:16).  Grace saves from sin.  It saves from the eternal penalty of sin (hell) and it saves from the practice of sin.  Grace secures our salvation and at the same time it sanctifies us to God.  To be sanctified is to be set apart for a holy use.  Jesus Christ redeems us by His precious blood.  We are bought with a price and therefore, we must glorify God in our bodies and in our spirits (I Cor. 6:19,20).
In the Gospel call, there is a call to salvation (II Thess. 2:14).  And, there is a call to holiness (I Thess. 4:7).  The same Gospel, the same call; but two objectives: salvation and sanctification.  Many desire salvation without sanctification.  Many want the blessings of salvation without the responsibility of discipleship.  It won’t work.  You cannot save the soul without dealing with the desire to sin.
The glory of grace is not diminished by the honor of holiness!  Grace is important.  Without God’s grace we could not be saved (Eph. 2:8,9).  But, grace without holiness is a sham.  The honor of holiness begins when we repent.  The Gospel call also contains the call to repentance (Acts 17:30-31).  Repentance is a change of heart.  It takes place in our heart and affects real change in God’s direction.  Repentance is a turning away from sin and a turning to God.  God’s does His part (grace), but we must do our part (repentance).  Repentance sets us out on a new course.  It puts us on the pathway of righteousness.  It is an important aspect of holiness before God.  Paul said, “we…are dead to sin.”  Repentance brings about that death to sin.  We who are dead to sin do not live any longer therein (holiness).  We become the servants of righteousness (Rom. 6:16).
Baptism changes our spiritual status.  Rom. 6:3-4.  The “old man of sin” is buried and a “new man in Christ” is raised from the waters of baptism.  This imagery denotes that baptism is an immersion in water.  A real change takes place in the waters of baptism.  Our sins are remitted (forgiven–Acts 2:38) and new life is begotten (-regeneration–John 3:3-5).  Baptism is the new birth.  We are purchased by God and belong to Him (I Cor. 6:19-20).  We become the servants of righteousness.  This new pursuit defines us in holiness.  As God is holy, so we must be holy (I Pet. 1:14-16).
The glory of grace and the honor of holiness are both a part of the Christian life.  You cannot claim salvation apart from sanctification.

Grace

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Perhaps one of the most widely known religious hymns is “Amazing Grace.” Grace is a beautiful word in English.  Charis is the Greek word for grace and it is also a beautiful term.  What is grace?  Let’s probe the meaning of this term.
First, grace (charis) was the most attractive trait of human character to the Greek.  It was kindness or generosity.  Hence, charis naturally came to mean benefit or favour.  When applied to God or Christ, charis means divine favor.
Second, charis means more than God’s favor.  It is a quality of God’s character.  But, it is a quality that is a motive.  Grace is God giving to men, acting upon men, moving in the life of His people to bless.  Grace is God’s active goodness toward man.  Remember, God is omnibenevolent (all good).  Charis is the divine good will acting on behalf of men.  The angels declared it at the birth of Jesus.  “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14).  Grace was at work in sending Jesus into this world to die for our sins.  John 3:16 and II Cor. 9:15 reveal an “unspeakable gift” from God–Jesus Christ.  So, God’s grace is His active goodness which bestows an unspeakable gift.
Third, grace involves a free act of God’s generosity.  Grace is a sovereign act of the divine will (Gal. 1:4).  God has the power to accomplish His purposes!  Grace is an active expression of unmerited aid or succor.  God has no ulterior motives.  He has no caprices or moods.  Grace cannot be coaxed or coerced from God.  Grace is a free act of a divine being.  Grace is unmerited by men.  God commends His love toward us while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8-9).  We did nothing to deserve God’s grace.  We are unworthy of it.  Yet, God freely bestows it upon us.  Grace is uncalculating unique kindness with the purpose of spiritually blessing man when he needs it most.
Fourth, grace is the benefaction of one in power who grants relief or practical benefit to his subordinates (often powerless and hopeless).  God is the only one who has the power to bless man in securing his redemption.  Grace is God’s love in power.  At the cross, Jesus conquers sin.  In His resurrection, Jesus conquered death.  Jesus triumphs over Satan and gives us victory over both sin and death.  The cross is the essence of God’s grace working to deliver mankind from the bondage of sin.   Grace is a spiritual concept that unleashes God’s power to triumph over evil forces.
Fifth, grace is given to meet man’s spiritual need.  The greatest need that any human being has is forgiveness from God for sin.  Man’s sin separates him from God.  Grace reconciles him to God.  Man’s sin produces a debt so large he cannot repay it.  Grace removes the debt and sets him free.  Man’s sin produces bondage to Satan and results in condemnation before God. Grace liberates from the spiritual consequences of sin (Titus 2:11-15) and bestows sonship with God.
Sixth, grace liberates us from the practice of sin.  Grace is not a license to keep on sinning (Rom. 6:1).  Grace calls us out of darkness into His marvelous light (I Pet. 2:9).  Grace transforms us.  God’s grace must be met by our gratitude in order to complete the circle of fellowship with God. Thus transformed, we pursue soberness, righteousness and godliness in this present world.  We are debtors to God.  We owe God something, no we owe Him everything!  Grace causes us to glorify God in our body and in our spirits which are God’s (I Cor. 6:19-20).
Seventh, grace is available to all without respect of persons (Acts 10:34).  Christ’s grace is appropriated through love (John 14:15); faith (Mark 16:16) and obedience (Heb. 5:8,9). Grace is not indiscriminately or haphazardly bestowed by God.  Grace is available to all men, but appropriated by an obedient faith (Gal. 3:26-27).  In the same epistle that Paul speaks of Christ’s grace (Gal. 1), he reveals how to become a child of God by that grace system–faith and baptism into Christ.
Grace flows from the throne of God to man who is totally dependent upon it for his salvation.  Grace must be received with gratitude in the human heart in order to complete the circle of fellowship with God.  Grace provides us with the means of sweet communion with God.  Now, let us sing, “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!”