Yesterday at church, our congregation celebrated Thanksgiving by having a, "Thanksgiving Celebration of Praise." Everything about the service revolved around the theme of being grateful and giving praise and thanks to God--the music, the sermon, and all the prayers. But the best part was that our church held baptisms at the end of each service, as well. Our church, being a nondenominational, Evangelical Christian church, doesn't have a baptismal in the sanctuary. Instead, we hold two baptism services per year at two different local lakes in Topeka (in summertime, for obvious reasons). So in order to do this, they brought in a large water trough in which to perform the baptisms. I sang with the choir for all three services and enjoyed getting to hear the testimonies of each believer who was baptized. It was an immensely blessed time, and I found myself tearing up profusely as I watched each person get plunged into the water and come out "new." People of all ages got baptized yesterday. It was truly awesome to get the great reminder that everyone has a different story of how they came to know Christ--and it doesn't matter what your age or story is, so long as you come.
For Christians, baptism isn't some magical moment of salvation or some mystical happening. Salvation is something that occurs when God draws you to Himself through the truth of Christ, and you accept Him back for what Christ did for you. This happens first, privately between you and God in your heart and mind--you make a decision to believe in Christ and trust Him. This is where the salvation comes into play, and this is most important. Baptism is simply the first act of obedience in your new walk with Christ--it is an outward testimony to the world that you are saved, and that you aren't ashamed of your faith and new life in Christ. It is a public, symbolic act to show that you are trusting God to wash away all of your sins--past, present and future--and that you trust and believe that He has. It is also a way for believers to always remember their decision for Christ distinctly and to easily recall that they are renewed--that they aren't the person they were prior to coming to Christ. When you are placed under the water, it is a picture of your "old, sinful self" dying and being buried. When you are raised-up out of the water, it is a picture of your "new, redeemed self" rising with new life in Christ. I have never been able to attend a baptism and not cry. There is something truly beautiful, brave, and poetic about it. Since I fully believe that baptism is something Christ commands and values in the lives of all who believe in Him, I know He is well-pleased when a believer chooses to step-out publicly, affirm their faith in Him, and be a witness for Him in this way. I am certain that He is thrilled to see the gratitude in the hearts of all who have entrusted Him with their very lives--those who aren't ashamed, but who are glad to stand before a congregation of people, sharing their stories fearlessly, and taking the plunge in His name to prove it. He not only is pleased and thrilled, but He blesses it.
The one recurring theme in the stories of every person who was baptized yesterday was gratitude. Every one of them said they praised and thanked God for the salvation and renewed life He had given them. You could tell from their stories that they meant it--sincerely and passionately. Basically, they "get it." They "get" what Christ did for them. There is no doubt lingering in any of their minds of their need for Him and in the change He has made in their lives. Many of them shared how they had searched literally everywhere for peace or for some type of answer to fill the void/s in their lives. They shared how they had clearly found that answer in Christ.
I was reminded of the testimony I recently heard about a friend of a friend. She had shared with my friend that after struggling for years in a loveless marriage and with a personal addiction to alcohol, that she truly believed life was utterly meaningless--that joy, peace, and happiness would never be a part of her life. She was in a liquor store with her young son walking down an aisle to the check out line to yet again make a purchase to ease her pain, when for some reason she turned to see her little boy holding up a small wooden cross that he had received from someone else prior. As children do, he was skipping along merrily, in his own little world. She looked upon that cross and for some reason heard the words, "Well, you've tried everything else, why don't you try Christ?" At that very moment, in total unexplainable form, she knew Jesus Himself had spoken to her. In her daily sorrow, she hadn't even noticed that her son had brought that little cross along in their daily routine of errands, and she knew it was no accident that he was carrying it and holding it high with pride and delight, in the liquor store. It was no accident that she had turned to see that cross being lifted up at that moment, above a face of innocence and purity. God had spoken to her and she had heard Him--clearly. She turned her life over to Christ that day and has not been the same since. Does she still ever struggle in her marriage or with drinking? Sure. But it is lessening every day, and God is making new what was old and worn-out. Change doesn't happen over night for every believer. But God is filling her voids and changing her. He is making her new, and she no longer views life as pointless and meaningless. He is her husband now, and she now knows and believes there is hope for the earthly one she has, as well. Praise be to God. I still can't even think of that little boy holding up that cross in that liquor store and not well-up with tears. What an amazing story. God wants to give us all one of those--our very own, personal, "God-moment." I will share mine one day with you. It isn't quite that cool, but it is awesome to me, and I am so grateful to God for revealing Himself to me, too.
When we are truly grateful to someone for something, we "get" what they did for us. We aren't just giving a random "thank you," or showing the proper etiquette of being thankful in word or deed back to them (forced, rote appreciation). We fully understand and value what they did for us. Anyone can be thankful or show thanks, but to have a true, "attitude of gratitude," requires us to fully appreciate and comprehend the blessing and value of the gift received (or the effort given by whomever blessed us with it). Gratitude flows out of a heart of thankfulness, but it is more than just being thankful. It is not just action--it is feeling and heart. It is realizing fully that you didn't deserve the blessing received, and being overjoyed that you received it anyway.
Of all the things for which we can and should be grateful and thankful this Thanksgiving, our salvation through Christ ranks easily at number one. I could list many, many things for which I am grateful this year--one big blessing that easily comes to mind today, is that of my daughter marrying the Godly man for which I prayed for her, exactly one year ago from today, ("Happy 1st Anniversary, K & A!"). Other "biggies" would include my husband, my family, my friends, my health, and my home. But my gratitude to God for His grace and mercy in my life--His free gift of salvation to me--far surpasses all of those great blessings. Without God in my life, and knowing where I'm going when my life here is done, nothing else good would even feel that good. When you live each day thinking this is all there is, life is pretty pointless and meaningless. God is all we really have, and He is all we really need. Everything here is temporary; but God and our life with Him are eternal.
Yesterday, Pastor Jim shared with us a Thanksgiving prayer of gratitude that he wrote, and we all recited it together. It was really touching. I tried to scribble it down word for word, in hopes of sharing it in this blog today (and I hope I am quoting it perfectly--forgive me Pastor Jim, if you happen to read this and I've messed it up). But I think it sums up perfectly where our hearts need to be focused this week, on Thanksgiving Day, and every day, for that matter. I hope it helps you to focus on Him and to have a truly blessed Thanksgiving week. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
Thanksgiving Prayer by Pastor Jim Congdon:
"Dear Lord, thank You, thank You. Thank You for searching for this lost sheep who had gone astray. And for finding me, helpless as I was. And then, though I was undeserving, for saving me from myself, from my folly, from my sin, and from death, and giving me eternal life. Amen."
Here are the key verses from Pastor Jim's Thanksgiving message yesterday:
2 Corinthians 4:15, "All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God."
Luke 10:20, "However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."
2 Corinthians 9:15, "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!"