TRA 1st December, 2002
Part of the Thankful Ten Per Cent
I have always pitied atheists. For when something unexpected and beautiful happens to them, they have no-one to thank!
1. WE APPRECIATE THOSE WHO THANK US.
Ingratitude always cheeses us off. When we do something for someone and they just take it for granted without a word of appreciation we feel cheated. Working with many people in need day after day is very draining. The homeless, the depressed, the disadvantaged, the discouraged, the dying are often obsessed with their own need of the moment and never think of showing any appreciation towards those who are helping. Over a period of time, effort expended without gratitude can be very tiring. I admire our staff who have stuck at it with me. It is not easy caring for the ungrateful year after year.
But on the other hand, when our efforts are appreciated we are inspired to press on. Janelle Ford, one of our solicitors in our Wesley Legal Service, had a long and very difficult battle with cancer over this past year. But such is her commitment, she returned to work throughout her chemotherapy. But some of her clients were so obsessed with their own guilt and criminal acts, they had no time to think of Janelle or what she was going through in helping them. Then came Kay. Kay was a 43 year old mother of two young children. She was happily married and came from a loving and supportive Christian family. Due to the stress of her fathers' long battle with cancer and finally his death, she turned to the poker machines for escape.
She started to steal money from her family and finally stole over $45,000 from her employer, a local bank. Unfortunately, the investigation by the police took over 3 years to complete. The strain on Kay and the family was enormous. Again she took solace in the poker machines. Kay stole money from a local sporting club. She pleaded guilty and was ordered to perform Community Service. She was charged with the theft from the bank and was told by her then solicitor that she would be going to jail.
She had heard of Wesley through my Sunday Night Live radio program and contacted us. Janelle appeared for Kay and pleaded her case before the local Magistrate. He accepted Janelle's argument and placed Kay on a good behaviour bond so that she could continue her gambling counselling. Until we intervened the issue of her gambling was never addressed and never looked at by the court. The magistrate was sympathetic to her plight and critical of the proliferation of harmful gambling practices. There were many tears of joy that day. Kay recently sent Janelle a card. She wrote: "I did something last Monday that I never thought I would do. I spoke at a gambling forum about my experience and how I was saved from prison. It was scary but I felt good afterwards." Kay has recently had to undergo a biopsy on a cancerous lump in her breast. Now she appreciates all that Janelle went through while helping her. She told Janelle that whatever the result might be, she feels strong. "If you can get through it so can I." Appreciation can make all the difference to those doing tough, dangerous work where only ten percent appreciate it.
2. THE BIBLE TEACHES GRATITUDE.
Gratitude or thanksgiving was almost exclusively reserved in the Bible for thanksgiving to God. Paul commences most of his letters with a word of thanksgiving to God for the people to whom he is writing. Rom. 1:8, 2 Cor. 1:11, Eph. 1:15 f., Col. 1:3 f. 1 Thess. 1:3 In his prayers no petition was made without thanksgiving. Phil. 4:6; Col. 2:7; 4:2; 1 Tim. 2:1 It was the custom of the Jews to say grace before meals, to praise God for each dish. The meal ended with a benediction over the cup of wine. When Jesus broke the bread and fish to feed the multitudes, He first of all gave thanks for the provision of the food, little though it was before so many. Paul presupposes that grace before meals was said in Christian households. Rom 14:6, 1 Cor 10:30. He also stressed Rom 14:6 the table prayers addressed to God built a sense of community among the believers.
Prayers of thanksgiving were central in the worship of the early Christians. 1 Cor 14:16-17; Col 3:15-17 The goal of Paul's missionary work is to make this prayer of thanksgiving universal. 2 Cor 4:15 Gratitude to God should be a feature of all prayer. Phil 4:6; 1 Thess 5:17-18; Col 3:15-17; 4:2 Our worship should include not only a prayer of intercession for the whole world but also a prayer of thanksgiving to God. 1 Tim 2:1 It was in the celebration of the Lord's Supper that our gratitude was to be most clearly seen. By the second century, the name "Eucharist" which means, "We give thanks" was the name of the Lord's Supper. Christians gave thanks for the saving work of Jesus Christ. Christians were to be a continually grateful people. Giving thanks was to be a sign that we were a redeemed people and an example of our Christian character.
3. WESLEY MISSION EXPRESSES GRATITUDE.
At the end of every year our members, staff and donors meet together to give thanks to God for all His blessings. I receive scores of Annual Reports from companies, not-for-profit organizations, and church welfare groups. Wesley Mission is almost alone in giving thanks to God each year in its Annual Report. This year, I wrote: "We praise God for an incredible year of achievement 2000/2001. By almost every method of comparison this past year has been our greatest ever. We give thanks to God. We also thank God for wonderful members and friends of Wesley Mission, for the generous financial commitment from tens of thousands of donors, churches, corporations, businesses and government departments."
Some members of this congregation worship each Sunday morning in their local church at Riverstone. Cheryl Charlesworth, Youth Services Manager Wesley Dalmar, told me a child was attending the local school at Riverstone. He was a "terror", misbehaving, unable to concentrate and generally very naughty. Teachers despaired of him and reported him to our Family Centre at Riverstone. Our staff worked with him and came to the conclusion he was aggressive every morning because he was hungry. We help run a Breakfast Club in partnership with volunteers from the Baptist and Brethren Churches of Riverstone. Scores of children attend school without breakfast each day. Six months later feedback has been received that this boy has changed, is quiet, able to concentrate and is working hard at school. Our workers do a good job, but we could not do without the church volunteers of Riverstone. We thank them, as Jesus taught us to thank.
4. JESUS TAUGHT US TO BE THANKFUL.
Once in a foul smelling rubbish tip on the border of Galilee and Samaria, I made a film that told the story of these ten men who called out to Jesus to heal them. Why in the rubbish tip? Because that was where these people ate each day. This was where they found their food. This was their kitchen. The garbage of the poor is very meager at the best of times, so these men had to scavenge to find something to eat. They were alienated from the rest of society because of their dreaded skin disease. They were not allowed any contact with others lest they contaminate and infect them. Today Hansen's Disease, Leprosy, can be treated. I have visited lepers in the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Melbourne. For my visits I had to wear full contamination suit and mask. Lepers were regarded as highly infectious and socially unacceptable. Today, World Aids Day, we know there are many countries where HIV/Aids infected people are rejected.
In this account, note the separation: "ten men who had leprosy met Jesus. They stood at a distance." Every person carries in his body a spiritual contamination that alienates us from God. It keeps us at a distance. The Bible says: Rom 3:23 "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Sin is the spiritual contamination that alienates and distances us from God. Sin leads us away from God. Some well-meaning people and welfare agencies try to help people live with their contamination. At Wesley Mission we accept the fact of sin and speak about ending alienation because we want all to find cleansing. The good news is that Jesus comes to us, and stops and tells us how we can be cleansed and made right with God.
As John put it: 1 John 1: 7-9 "If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, God's Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." Our faith and obedience lead to spiritual cleansing in the same way as those ten lepers heard Jesus say: "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed." Faith and obedience led to cleansing. That is the central message of the Gospel. Jesus Christ comes to you and forgives and sets you free from the stigma and alienation that separated you from God. Having faith in Jesus Christ is the way to inner cleansing. Wesley Mission is committed to doing the deeds of mercy to all humanity, but we are also committed to proclaiming the word of Jesus Christ that cleanses people from sin.
There is an interesting point in the Gospel account. Ten people trusted the direction of Jesus and obeyed. We are cleansed, as the old hymn tells us "when we trust and obey". But one of the ten cleansed came back to thank Jesus. "One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him--and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well." Here is the point. There is a different word used to describe him. All were cleansed, but the act of gratitude made the thankful man well.
Jesus' command required obedience based on faith in the reliability of Jesus. On their way to the priests, the lepers are "cleansed". Jesus, however, uses the more comprehensive word "made whole" v19 on speaking to the one who returned to give thanks. Gratitude has its own healing. Cleansing is possible to all who have faith, but a person who has been cleansed needs to grow in faith, mature in Christian character, develop the fruits of the Holy Spirit within. The new Christian needs to go on growing to become more like Christ. After redemption comes the process of sanctification. Being thankful is one of the attitudes that enables our Christian maturity. Thankfulness can lead on to wholeness. As another hymn puts it: "Be of sin the double cure; Save me from its guilt (that is by cleansing) and power"(that is by wholeness.) Cleansing enables salvation. Gratitude enables sanctification. The greatest handicap the church has is the unsatisfactory lives of some members. They have been cleansed, but they do not grow in Christian character. The act of thanksgiving is one of the signs that a Christian is growing in the character of Jesus.
Maybe you feel alienated and at a distance and you want to cry out to Jesus "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" He does have pity and will cleanse you in response to your faith and obedience. But make sure you are grateful. Make sure you are one of the ten-percent who show gratitude. Come back and thank Him. Express your thanksgiving in thanks-living through daily service of good deeds to other people in need, and by growing in Christ-like character. The ten-percent grateful people find themselves not only cleansed, but also made whole.
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