Gratitude Versus the American Dream

How the Gospel Confronts Entitlement

This time of year most Christians in particular and non-Christians in general stop and give thanks. We pause if only for a moment to remember the gifts that we have been given. The act of remembering and the discipline of Gratitude are central to the Christian faith and to the development of any disciple of Christ. The challenge of gratitude is that it requires humility. You can not properly give God Glory or give honor to others if you believe that you achieved what you have on your own.

The irony of the Puritanical work ethic that came from an understanding of Salvation by grace alone that led to good works has changed over the years to a work hard to achieve the American dream. In America you are told if you work hard enough you can have anything you want, you can be anything you want and do anything you want. This is true as long as we maintain a clear understanding that our lives our not our own. Freedoms that are not based in ultimate truth become cruel taskmasters. Our country has evolved from a land founded by flawed but gracious leaders who gave birth to generations who worked hard to get what they wanted who then gave birth to future generations who believe that this country owes us things that only God can give. We have moved from the land of the free and the home of the brave to the land of the safe and the home of the entitled.

We rightly lament the loss of meaning of Thanksgiving with more and more mega sales creeping into to the time mean for family, humility and reflection. We as a nation as a culture must fight the idea that we are owed a good life, which we deserve certain things and learn to be grateful for the good gifts that we are given. Entitlement is the very antithesis of the Gospel. It is what Paul calls in Galatians “another gospel.” Entitlement sees everything in life not from the lens of what God had done for us in Christ but from what we believe we deserve because of our social standing, race or economic status. Paul tells Timothy this very thing contentment is not settling and a lack of faith but is evidence of who has your heart, where your affections lie and whom you ultimately trust.

1 Timothy 6:6-9

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and[a] we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.

Are riches bad no but they are deceitful because if we do not learn the value of contentment, humility and gratitude we will never have enough. Our right desire for good things turns into an over desire for things that are not ultimate things. Gratitude is central to the life of a believer because if you do not see salvation as a gift you will go about in a thousand ways trying to earn the security that your heart desperately needs and longs for. You fight to earn what can only be given. Teaching our kids the spiritual discipline is small things connects everything to the most important thing, the Cross of Christ.

When we say thank you we are in a small way recognizing the soverignty of God in all things. Prolific writer and blogger Ann VosKamp explains how she passess gratitude to her children. cultivating a life of gratitude is a long process. “It’s not instant. You can feel like you’ve arrived, but there will always be a situation that can make you un-arrive very quickly. But even that is good news because it’s the Lord’s way of saying, ‘You know what? You need me.’ And you’re back to being laid low before the cross again.” Voskamp emphasizes that writing down her gifts is not about gratitude. “It’s acknowledging the sovereignty of God in all situations and recognizing that God can redeem any situation. He’s using everything to refine me more and bring me into Christ. And we are made to give God glory. That’s what this list is for me. It’s seeing God’s work in any situation. It leads me back into his presence and the fullness of his joy.”

Strong, J. (2014). Ann Voskamp: Seeing God at Work.

True gratitude leads us to worship. To see all things in light of the work of Christ and position as adopted sons and daughters who receive all that we have including the ability to work hard soli deo gloria – for the glory of God alone.

This week at your dinner table don’t just dig in we fight for gratitude.

Ask your kids these questions.

  1. What is the greatest gift you have been given?
  2. Write down 3 things you are thankful for.
  3. Take turns praying have each person thank God for the five following things that R.T. Kendall outlined in Understanding Theology.  Think of things about God and his Word:
    (1)      Thank him for being as he is.
    (2)      Thank him for Jesus and his blood.
    (3)      Thank him for the Holy Spirit.
    (4)      Thank him for the Bible.
    (5)      Thank him for saving you.

Gratitude will always lead you away from what you have done and if followed logically to the end conclusion and by Divine revelation you will be lead to worship. I pray that you and your family enjoy each other the gifts you have been given and the God who graciously gave them to you.

Soli Deo Gloria

What an IRS Audit and Christmas Traditions have in common.

wise men

There are few things in life that dial the whole family in like an IRS audit. I have never been through one personally but I was through one as a child. I still remember the auditors name appropriately enough was Mrs. Castro. My parents were being audited but the whole family felt the impact. My parents were on edge we had to be extra quiet. We had to stay out of the kitchen but peer through the windows of the kitchen as Mrs. Castro disassembled seven years of our families lives. For a few days in the summer of 1990 our family’s life stood still. This IRS audit affected all of us.

Christmas time more than any other time of year does something magical. It does what family ministry leaders dream of all year long. It does the very thing that IRS audit did for my home growing up. It gets every member of the house on the same page. It consumes every member of the house. Three year old kids know it’s Christmas fathers who are work-a-holics are talking to their kids about santa and his elves, cutting down trees and putting up lights.

Here is where I think the church needs to be more proactive at Christmas. I think families are looking for things to create memories with their kids. I think parents this time of year more than any other time of year are looking to pass on traditions they grew up with as well as instill new traditions for their kids. As a way of helping parents who might be reading this or ministry leaders, I thought I would share some things our family does to help reinforce the powerful message of the incarnation of Christ.

Advent calendar – we allow our kids to open a door a day – They love this and it helps build that anticipation towards Christmas. I find it helps them focus on the coming of Christ.

Traveling wise men – This is a new tradition for us. We borrowed the idea from Sally Lloyd-Jones. We let each child take turns moving the wisemen and their camel around our house. They move them to a different location each day until christmas. With each child who moves them I talk for a few minutes about what Christmas is all about. I try to help them connect their anticipation to bring the wisemen to the manger on Christmas with the anticipation so many had for the Messiah. A month feels very long for the kids but they love moving the wisemen all over the house.

Cutting a tree – We still cut down a tree this tradition is just really fun. We listen to christmas music and often get hot chocolate.

Decorating cookies – I did this as a child it was much more fun as a child than it is as an adult. I am not sure we will do this again this year it was a bit stressful but the kids seemed to really like it.

Reading the Christmas story from the Jesus Storybook Bible – We read the Christmas stories from the Jesus Storybook Bible the few days leading up to christmas as a way to remind ourselves that Christmas is not about gift getting but in the gift that was given to us from God in Christ.

Practicing Thankfulness – On Christmas eve (yes that’s right Christmas eve) before we open our gifts we do a couple of things I love.
1. I read the story of Christs birth from luke out of the ESV
2. We each take turns saying one thing we are grateful to Jesus for.
3. Lastly we start with one family member and everyone says 1 thing they love about that person we do this till every family member has been praised then we pray thank Jesus and open presents.

Christmas can be leveraged for so many reasons and so many things. I always want to do what I can to leverage Christmas to reinforce to our kids the two things that are most valuable to our family, Jesus and each other. I would love to hear what traditions you have for Christmas. There are very few times you will the attention of whole families at a time, unless you are an IRS auditor, so lets use the this season to reinforce the things that are most valuable to us.

Merry Christmas.