We spent our Thanksgiving service thinking about the idea of thanksgiving from the book of Zephaniah. I got the idea because Zephaniah 3:17 has been such an encouragement and cause for thanks in my own life, I wanted to spend more time tracing where it came from. We made the point that since thanksgiving requires an acknowledgement of a benefit received or promised, the degree to which you see yourself benefiting from God’s work on your behalf will determine your level of thankfulness
The book is addressed to the southern kingdom of Judah during Josiah’s reign. The first two chapters are pronouncements of judgment on first Judah then on the nations surrounding her. One of the things that struck me was that God’s judgment began with Judah, and the prophet spent as much time pronouncing judgment on Judah as he did all the other nations covered combined. The other thing that seemed really important was that according to 1:12, God’s judgment was not just directed at those who violently opposed Him but those who were simply ambivalent toward Him. All those who did not respond to God’s goodness with thanksgiving were equally doomed.
The reason for thankfulness is that God has made a way of escape from His judgment. Last week as we were discussing the persecuted church around the world we mentioned that God only promises escape to those who seek Him (Heb 2:3), and the escape from persecution might just be death, so we continued by asking what kind of escape had God provided for those who trusted Him?
The answer is twofold. First of all, God provides an escape that includes far more than just a lack of judgment – it includes great blessing. God does not just restore sinners to a “fresh start” where they can start digging their hole again, He actually grants them His favor by giving them the status of Jesus. He takes away both His judgments AND Judah’s enemies, and when He’s done he hangs out with His people (v15). We looked at several verses in chapter 3 that show us that it’s actually God who is doing the work to restore these lost sinners (esp. 3:9-13). He is the one who gives His people a pure heart with pure speech, and unites us and removes our shame. And it’s not because we’re so great that we deserve it – the passage describes those over whom God rejoices as lame, outcast and shamed (3:19).
So when God rejoices over lost sinners turning to Him with loud singing (3:17), He is actually rejoicing over Himself and His work on our behalf. When you consider how necessary it is for God to work in this way, it’s not hard to acknowledge the benefit those who put their faith in the one true God have received. That’s the key to growing a thankful heart.
Mercifully, the election season has only a few days left. This cycle, perhaps more than any other, has brought out the worst in people who seem to value political power more than things like integrity, compassion, faithfulness, or unity. We have the two most hated political candidates in history, and this is precisely what America has asked for. It’s a scary time in some ways.
One of the things that I have been most discouraged by is the way that professing Christians have rallied around Donald Trump. I get why secular humanists like Hillary Clinton, but I don’t know what Christians, especially evangelical Christians, see in Donald Trump. His signature goal is to build a wall to keep out all those rotten illegal immigrants. I agree that we are a nation of laws and laws do matter, but somehow Christians have forgotten that we too illegal immigrants in the way that we talk about this topic.
First of all, we forget that we are “aliens and strangers” in our current land (1 Peter 2:11). Whether that is America or France or China, all Christians are supposed to live in such a way that we understand that we have no claim to this land. Our citizenship is primarily in heaven (Phil 3:20) and we ought to live like our loyalty lies there first. This world hates us more than Donald Trump hates illegal immigrants or Syrian refugees, primarily because it first hated Jesus (John 15:18-21). The world system does not want us here and does not give its permission for us to be here. Today we consider the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church and the fact that we have this day is proof enough that Christians outside of America are very much treated as the illegal immigrants we are. American Christians would do well to wake up and let our spiritual status inform some part of their political fury against those who are here illegally so their families can survive.
More than that, I am an illegal immigrant eternally. Only through the grace and mercy of another am I able to consider Heaven my eternal home (2 Cor 5:1). I wasn’t born there and don’t deserve citizenship there in any way. My eternal zip code should be Hell. Christians born in America often seem to think that they did something special to get here when in fact they did nothing more than the “anchor babies” many of them hate so much. I am not saying we shouldn’t take our American heritage seriously – we should. I am saying that the vast majority of people participating in Donald Trump rallies miss the fact that they expect the grace and mercy of another to be activated for their eternal residence, but they are unwilling to consider the place of extending grace and mercy toward those who would make a temporary residence in America. This kind disconnect is the evidence those who hate the church use to discredit the whole faith and that criticism is fair.
This is not a call for amnesty or open borders or anything like that. I would most likely oppose anything like that politically. It is a call for Christians to talk about these issues as though they understand something of the life of a illegal alien. It is a call to resist the urge to fight harder to stop people from entering the country illegally than to introduce the very same people to the One who holds the keys to a much better, and eternal, residence.