Thanksgiving 2008
Why I'm Thankful for You
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
October 12, 2008


What are you thankful for? I’m sure if we took the time to go around the room this morning, we could come up with a plethora of things we’re thankful for.

Our families
Our friends
Our church
Our God
Our homes
Lessons learned this year
Opportunities we’ve had to serve others
Our health
For this life
For eternal life

We’ve got a lot to thankful for. Even right now with all the financial upheaval, we have a lot to be thankful for. Even if you’ve been personally affected and lost a good percentage of your wealth over the past couple weeks, you’re still among the richest people in the world. You’ve got a lot to be thankful for. We all do.

I’ve got a lot to be thankful for. My wife and I celebrated our 10th anniversary this week. I’m thankful for Shera and for our marriage. Our son turned 8 months old this week. I’m thankful for him this year. I’ve got a lot to be thankful for this year.

But what I thought I’d do this morning is focus in on one of those things and talk to you about one of the things I’m thankful for this morning… you. I’m thankful for you.

There… doesn’t that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside?

Well, what I’m going to do this morning is borrow from the words of Paul in the New Testament to express just four of the many reasons that I’m grateful for you. Okay? And you can use your notes to follow along and fill in the blanks.

I’m Thankful For You Because…

1.    You are my spiritual family

Harvey was telling me last week about something he saw on TV. He saw a guy on TV talking about some of the struggles that pastors face in their work, and one of the biggest struggles pastors face is that they don’t have friends. And I think that’s true for a lot of pastors. There’s some mentality out there that says pastors need to keep their distance from the people in their church. They can’t become too personally involved or else they won’t be able to minister effectively. Plus, if they get closer to this set of people over here, then these people over here are going to feel like outsiders. They’re going to be alienated.

I’m not exactly sure when that whole line of thinking began, but I believe it’s been very prevalent over the past century.

Problem is, I don’t think it’s been a very good line of thinking. It’s probably hampered ministry more than it’s helped, and in many cases pastors have ended up discouraged, depressed, and burnt out. Where’s the benefit in that?

So what I’m thankful for here is that you are my friends. And you’re more than that; you’re my family.

Paul felt that way with the believers in the church in the city of Philippi. This is how he referred to them…

Philippians 1:12 (NLT)
And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters…

“My dear brothers and sisters.” Would it make you feel weird if I started to refer to you that way? I don’t even refer to my biological family that way. But that’s what they are, and that’s what you are: My dear brothers and sisters.

What is a family anyway?

What is a family?

•    A group with a common bond.

We’re bonded together because we share in the same hope, the same faith, the same salvation, the same God. Whatever differences we may have, we share that common bond.

Ephesians 4:5-6 (NLT)
There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.

Your ancestors could have been English, or Dutch, or German, or French, or American, or Scandinavian, or Spanish… maybe you’re a Heinz 57 variety… whatever. You could be well off, you could be struggling to get by. You could be tall, you could be vertically challenged. You could be an intellectual giant, or your head could whistle in a crosswind.

Whatever our differences are, we have the common bond of one lord, one faith, one baptism… one God and Father who is over us all and in us all and living through us all.

•    A place where you feel you belong.

… where you experience love and acceptance. And where you express the same to others.

Romans 12:10 (NLT)
Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.

You know, a lot of people are intimidated by the very thought of going to a church for the first time. They’re afraid they won’t be accepted, they’re afraid they won’t fit in, and they get all stressed out about it. But the truth is, the church should be the most loving and accepting place on earth.

1 Thessalonians 3:12 (NLT)
And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows.

The church should be like a family where people discover love and acceptance. It should be a place where they feel they belong.

•    A people who share the same heritage.

Now, we all come from different backgrounds, we had different upbringings, we grew up in different places… but yet we share the same heritage.

In the New Testament, Paul viewed those who he introduced to Jesus as being his own spiritual children. In the opening words of his first letter to Timothy, he says this…

1 Timothy 1:2 (NLT)
I am writing to Timothy, my true son in the faith.

And I got to thinking about this this week: One of the big hobbies today is genealogy… people trying to compile their family tree to understand where they came from. And I started wondering, what if we started to compile a spiritual family tree?

You know… if you’re a follower of Jesus, who was the most influential person or people in your life who brought you to Him? Who else have they brought to Jesus? And then who brought them to Jesus? And who brought those people to Jesus? What would that family tree look like?

If we could complete a tree like that, I think what you’d discover is that we are all connected as part of a great spiritual family… and we could trace our roots all the way back to the disciples and to Jesus Himself. And we could actually go back farther than that… we could trace our way back to Abraham. We share an incredible heritage of believers through the centuries… a legacy that comes right down to us today.

Galatians 3:29 (NLT)
And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.

And that leads us to the fourth aspect of what a family is…

•    Receivers of the same inheritance.

And what is that inheritance? It’s the blessings of God. It’s the Kingdom of God. It’s His glory. It’s eternal life.

Romans 8:15, 17 (NLT)
… You received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children… And since we are His children, we are His heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory.

And then over in Ephesians chapter 3…

Ephesians 3:6 (NLT)
Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus.

I’m thankful for you because you are my spiritual family, and that’s a pretty significant thing. But there’s more to it than that. I’m not just thankful that you’re my family, I’m thankful that you’re my partners.

2.    You partner with me in spreading the Good News

You understand that we’re all in this together. I may be a pastor, but we’re all ministers. And you get that. And so you serve in various ministries. You give to God, to the church and to each other. And you strive to spread the Good News about Jesus with the hope of bringing more and more people into our spiritual family.

Philippians 1:4-5 (NLT)
Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now.

“You have been my partners.”

But you know, all too often in churches you’ll find believers sitting on the sidelines. They’ll just be watching and maybe cheering on the “professional” ministers as they go about their work. But you understand that that’s not the way Jesus designed His Church to operate.

You can think about it like this. Imagine if the Church were a hockey team. I may be a player-coach, but we are all players. And we’ve all got to work together, contributing our unique skill-sets if we are going to achieve our potential and be the kind of team God intends for us to be.

1 Peter 4:10 (NLT)
God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.

You’ve been given a gift to be used… not to sit on the sidelines and watch. And I am thankful that you realize this and you partner with me in spreading the Good News about Jesus.

3.    You give of yourself for the sake of the Good News

You are a generous people. I’ve experienced that personally, and I’ve witnesses that generosity in action in a variety of ways. I’ve seen you give of your time and your resources to help each other. When we’ve had missionaries visit our church, you’ve supported them generously. You’ve given toward Hope House in the Ukraine, you’ve filled shoeboxes with gifts for children around the world with Operation Christmas Child, you’ve given toward new churches starting here in Atlantic Canada, you’ve given the gift of serving through kindness events in our community…

Time and time again, you’ve given of yourselves. When things are going well, you give generously. And even when things aren’t going well, you still give generously. Oh, the numbers may change. But the generosity is still there.

That’s what it was like for the Christians in Macedonia. Look at what Paul said about them…

2 Corinthians 8:2-3 (NLT)
They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.
For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will.

That’s what Paul said about the Macedonian believers, and then he told the believers in the city of Corinth…

2 Corinthians 8:7, 11-14 (NLT)
I want you to excel also in this gracious act of giving… Give in proportion to what you have. Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have. Of course, I don’t mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves. I only mean that there should be some equality. Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it.

And you know what? I thankful that you understand that. I’m thankful that you give of yourself. Can we do better? Sure. Do some give more freely than others? Yeah. But I think we’re on the right track. I think we’re growing. I think several of you are stretching yourselves in this area of generosity… both when you give to God through the Church, and when you give to others who are in need.

We serve a generous God, and He wants to shape that same kind of generosity in each of us.

4.    You make yourself available for God to work in you

You know what my greatest joy is? Seeing lives transformed by the grace of God. That includes the transforming work of salvation when you first become part of His family, but it also includes the ongoing transformation as you grow spiritually.

Philippians 1:6 (NLT)
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

When I was a kid, I remember I had a T-shirt that said…

T-SHIRT – “Be patient – God isn’t finished with me yet”

Now, that was a cute little saying, but there’s some significant spiritual truth to that. God isn’t finished with me yet. And He isn’t finished with you yet, either. There’s more and more He wants to do in your life. There are greater depths of compassion, greater heights of faithfulness, greater extents of joy and peace and service and transformation that He wants to work in your life.

If you want a theological term for this, we call it “progressive sanctification.” But basically all it means is that God wants to make you more and more Christ-like each and every day. It’s an ongoing work of transformation.

But here’s the key: you’ve got to cooperate with what He’s doing. You’ve got to make yourself available to Him. You’ve got to stop fighting Him and work with Him. And I think you understand that. Like the believers that Paul wrote to, you recognize that God has begun an incredible work in your life, and He’s not finished with you yet. He’s going to continue His work until it is finally finished and you standing in the presence of God.

I’m thankful that you are making yourself available for God to work in and through your life… that you give Him permission to do His will in you. And this is my prayer for you… it’s the same prayer that Paul prayed for the Philippians…

Philippians 1:9-10 (NLT)
I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return.

Okay. So I’ve got a lot of reasons to be thankful for you this Thanksgiving weekend. You’re my spiritual family, we’re partners together in spreading the Good News about Jesus, you give so freely of yourself, and make my job a joy because of how you make yourself available to what God wants to do in and through you.

Let me encourage you to just keep it up. Don’t be satisfied with where you’re at right now; desire more. Let’s get even better, let’s grow even closer, let’s push the boundaries of generosity even more, and continue to allow God to do His work in and through us every day.



Copyright © 2008