Learning How to “Be” a Thankful Person Can Be Expensive

Nov 22, 2023 by David Fowler

Learning How to “Be” a Thankful Person Can Be Expensive
Being a thankful person this Thanksgiving was challenging. My challenge was small and inconsequential compared to what many are facing right now. But it doesn’t change the fact that I have had to process what it means to be defined as a thankful person after finding out two weeks ago that a contractor absconded with $24,000 from my wife and me in September for products he never ordered (and over $190,000 from 12 others). Despite the total that he pilfered over a short time, his bankruptcy filing shows he has no money and few assets. Here is what I learned.
Having $24,000 to spend on something won’t evoke any pity from those who are having a hard time paying for groceries or, harder yet, making their house or rent payments, and I’m not asking for any. I didn’t have that kind of money either but for some inheritance money I received when my Dad passed away last October. Surprisingly that seemed to make it worse. It was a once in a lifetime financial “windfall” lost by thievery.
But the answer to what it means to be a thankful person began to come as I kept thinking and praying through the implications of Acts 17:27-28 that I had previously considered only in a rather abstract way. God brought my abstract theology down to earth.
The Facts Recorded in Acts 17 That Lead to Verses 27 and 28.
These verses are part of the factual record regarding what the Apostle Paul said to the Stoics and Epicureans who daily gathered in the “public square” of Athens to banter back and forth about the nature of reality—the nature of the cosmos—and what it meant to be human, what life was for.
The Apostle didn’t pick one of those two sides and argue for it against the other. Rather he blew up their whole idea of the cosmos. Bang! Crumble. Tumble.
He told them we don’t live in a cosmos in which a god or the gods are distant from our existence, leaving us to the fates (Stoicism).
He also told them we don’t live in a cosmos in which a god or the gods are distracted from things, allowing us to seek such pleasure as we can find, bearing in mind, though, that the pleasure we seek needs to outweigh the displeasures that come with it (Epicureanism).
He said that the real God “is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:27-28). Now I’ll explain why God couldn’t let me keep this theology abstract and theoretical.
What in the World Was that Conversation All About?
For those who think the Bible is for half-wits and fairy tale dreamers, Paul was talking about the three questions that have stumped the greatest of minds of history in their search for a unifying answer: What is life and how did it originate? How do we understand change (movement)? And, finally, what is the nature or essence of our existence (being), if any?
Without thinking about it, we either embrace or acquiesce to the idea that we arose from goo (life) and are constantly changing (movement). Therefore, we have no enduring essence or nature (being).
An example of the acquiescent are the Christian policy lawyers and advocates who never argue for a proposed law based on what it means to be human, effectively reducing humanity to mere biology, which is nothing more than what atheist Richard Dawkins does.
Of course, to the thinking person, if all we are is matter (biology), then we have no meaning, at least not in any real or objective sense, because meaning goes beyond matter; meaning is either an objective metaphysic or a made-up metaphysic.
The Problem That Comes from Not Thinking About What Paul Said 
The problem is we can’t live without real (objective) meaning (metaphysical). The absence of that kind of meaning is eating at many in our culture today. Suicide rates, depression, and aimlessness give evidence of that. I think people are figuring out that what they were told about meaning was a lie.
You see the atheists and those who push God outside the edges of the cosmos into a Kantian mystical neverland, which is where the atheists think Christians live (and many do), have told people they can give meaning to themselves.
How positively freeing that idea sounds, along with not being well thought out. Giving meaning to yourself is meaningless and circular. You have meaning because you say you have meaning.
But that will only work for you so long as my meaning or that of everyone not you excludes your meaning. What can you say when that happens? Nothing.
There is a solution offered, but we just don’t like it. I’ve already hinted to you what it is.
Finding an Unshakeable Meaning
When a person comes to understand and believe that it is in the Triune God that they live, move (experience change), and have their being (existence), then that person has something objective, outside himself or herself to base personal meaning on.
That sounds mystical or perhaps much like a fairy tale. But that understanding of our existence is not beyond our apprehension, though its full implications are beyond our comprehension because we are not God.
For example, lots of things we believe are real go beyond the physical and the empirical. If that’s not true, we need to stop using the word “love.” Love is either nothing more than whatever we say it is (subjectively supplied meaning) or its meaning is objective, which means it applies to everyone regardless of what we subjectively think and goes beyond physical phenomenon.
But because we believe love is real and can’t be reduced to mere sexual intercourse (can you love your neighbor without having to have intercourse of some kind?), we can apprehend the possibility that the physical reveals or manifests what is beyond the physical.
When we grasp this, we can apprehend the possibility that each of us could be made in the image of an objective God who is also incorporeal (not physical in being), which is precisely what God says about us in the very first chapter of His book to us about who He is.
Who I am and my meaning must be lodged there if it is to be secure and unshakeable because God’s being, by definition, does not change.
Sadly, as demonstrated above, we disavow finding our meaning in the God of the Bible and choose to come up with our own. That’s what the writer of Ecclesiastes meant when we wrote, “God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes” (Ecclesiastes 7:29).
How to See the Real Value of Stuff
One of the schemes we come up with to give ourselves meaning in a cosmos reduced to stuff is that the stuff gives us meaning. Society drives that into our head because it can’t get out of its own head anything more or better than that.
At least the stuff we own is objective to us and others, unlike a man who finds his identity in disavowing the maleness of his body. But that’s why he generally wants to change his body, because what’s in his head isn’t objectively real even to him.
But the stuff is like the shiny bauble on the soon-to-go-up Christmas trees. It captures the attention of the baby who might fixate on it for a while. But a mature Christian sees in that shiny object the greater shine that it metaphorically represents and to which it points, namely, the glory of being made in and being restored to the image of God.
As such, those kinds of Christians understand they were made not to love the shiny thing itself, but to let the shiny thing be caught up in considering the more glorious prospect of eternal fellowship with the Triune God. The shiny object reminds them that God has invited them to participate in a creaturely way in the eternal fellowship that is the eternal and objective love among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Applying My Analogy to Me
By analogy, when I first learned what happened to that money, I was mad. I felt violated. That shiny thing that had caught my attention was gone!
But I am reminded in the loss of that monetary inheritance that a far greater, immeasurably valuable inheritance of glory awaits me that cannot be taken away (Matthew 6:19-20)[i], namely one that is like that in which the human nature of Jesus is now robed.
And the final inheritance of my eternal soul will be fully realized when it is joined to a new eternal body such as Jesus has. I will dwell with Him on an earth in which only glory dwells and no schemes of men like I experienced can have a place.
While an injustice was done and our criminal system should mete out justice to these thieves, I am thankful that I was given a reminder of the glory that awaits me and an always valuable reminder to keep things in perspective: money in the bank or available to replace 30-year old kitchen and bathroom cabinetry is not anything worth comparing to what it means “to gain Christ” and “attain to the resurrection of the dead.”
The knowledge of such an inheritance in the God in whom I live and move, i.e., experience life’s changes, is slowly creating thankfulness in my being. An expensive but invaluable lesson in that life which is to be eternal (1 Timothy 6:19).
Philippians 3:7-11
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.
Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
[i] Jesus, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, whether neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where you treasure is, there your heart will be also” (emphasis supplied).

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