[Note: This speech
(given at the Xiamen International Fellowship) started with a reading from
the Bible: Colossians 3:12-17, followed by a short video that introduces
aspects of the church.]
Click here for another XICF message.
make a difference, live right and give thanks
Michael Krigline (November 18, 2012)
We have much to be thankful for at
XICF, as you saw in that short video: diverse praise and worship teams who
really help us express our love for God through song, a rainbow of skin
colors and nationalities who share one heart for Christ, friendships and
an extended family while we are away from our home countries, access to
interesting things like conferences and other special events, and of
course our Mexican pastor!
Now, I’m from the USA, and back
home, this is “Thanksgiving” season—with preparations already underway for
many special Christmas outreach programs. In the US, the cornucopia is a
common symbol of this Thanksgiving season, and whether your cornucopia is
full or nearly empty this year, may this message remind all of us just how
much we have to be thankful
But I realize that for many
people, the cornucopia is kind of empty this particular November; if that
is you, perhaps it is a difficult time in which to be thankful. I know
people in this fellowship whose job is not at all what they expected when
they signed up. Others face financial stress, or loneliness as they face
the holidays without a loved one—due to bereavement, distance or other
factors. Some face an insecure job or business situation. And illnesses,
like my father’s deteriorating Parkinson’s Disease or our pastor’s cancer,
can test our faith and cast dark shadows on our future.
But it is in such times that we
need all-the-more to be thankful,
and here the apostle Paul gives us an example to follow. Today’s Bible
text wasn’t written in a place or time of comfort; Paul penned it in
jail, as false doctrine was deceiving new believers he was responsible
for. Nonetheless, his letter to the Colossians rings with prayer and
praise, and yes, thanksgiving.
No less than six times in four short chapters, Paul mentions “thanks”
This “theme” really struck me a
number of years ago. In graduate school, one assignment was to read every
book of the Bible, but we had to read each one in one sitting. Now most of
us rarely read whole Bible books in context, but when you do, certain
words and phrases jump out at you. This helps us see what the author had
in mind at the time he wrote it.
So it was that I came to the
little book of Colossians. The book has several strong themes. Jesus
Christ is central in the book—more so than in just about any book outside
of the Gospels. Paul also emphasizes our place “in Christ” and challenges
us to conform to His image by revolutionizing the way that we think and
But as I sat reading the text in
the middle of a hectic school semester, the word that kept jumping out at
me was “thanks.”
What was Paul so thankful for?
Unfortunately, Paul doesn’t really say!
In three of the references he does
say WHO we are to be thankful to: the Father (1:3, 1:12, 3:17). That’s
Twice, Paul links
thanksgiving to prayer.
For example, in 1:3 he says: “We give thanks to the God and
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you.” And
in 4:2 he says: “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it
with thanksgiving.” So, it is altogether appropriate to end today’s
service with a special time of thanksgiving and prayer.
Then, in 2:7,
thanksgiving is tied to
faith or the faith, but the context of this verse needs a
preface. Remember that Paul was living in a time and place of misplaced
faith—faith in various philosophies and religions. In many ways, it was a
time similar to our own.
Vivian and I spent 2010 in the US,
after being in China for almost a decade. I remember one newspaper article
that reported that the percentage of Americans who claim to have “no
religion” had risen from about 3% when I was born to almost 20% today. I
understand that similar things can be said for the once-strongly-Christian
nations of Europe. Pastor Gabe has mentioned that there are places in
Mexico strongly resistant to the Gospel, so maybe the same is true in
And what can I say about the
situation here? When I studied at Xiamen University in the 1980s, the
Nanputuo temple was a deserted place. I never saw anyone in Xiamen burn
paper money to the dead, and I don’t remember seeing god-shelves on
display in homes or restaurants like they are today. In those days, less
than a decade after the Cultural Revolution, the centuries-long grip of
India’s Buddhism and China’s traditional religions seemed to be finally
broken, but things are very different today.
It seems that now—as in Paul’s
day—many of our cultures have fallen prey to empty human philosophies or
traditions. These “basic principles of the age” (as Paul called them)
include a drift from an awareness of sin and thus the need of a Savior,
and from an enlightened view of Jesus as God incarnate who is especially
worthy of our praise and thanksgiving.
Paul clearly faced similar problems, for in Colossians 2:8 he wrote:
8Beware lest anyone cheat you
through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men,
according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to
Christ. 9For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead
bodily; 10and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all
principality and power. (Col 2:8-10)
This was the context of the verse where
Paul linked thanksgiving with faith. To Christians living in
such a deceived society, Paul wrote:
6As you have therefore received
Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7rooted and built up in
Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught,
abounding in it with thanksgiving.
“As you have received Christ…” How
is that? “By grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph 2:8). So how
should we continue to walk in Him? Again: “Grace, by faith.” Yes, we are
to study and “be established in the faith”, but our knowledge didn’t save
us; God did. And the same faith in His grace that brought us eternal life
must also be the power behind our daily choices and actions, including the
choice to “abound with thanksgiving.”
By the time we get to Colossians 3
(today’s reading), it is clear that to Paul, it was our relationship with
Christ from which life itself flowed. God had chosen us, forgiven us, and
filled us with His comforting Holy Spirit. Regardless of what was going on
in the culture around him or in the trials of his own life, even in that
jail cell Paul found the grace in Christ to rise above things, choosing
to (in Paul’s words) “put on” the characteristics of his Savior.
What characteristics? Listen to
Paul again, starting in Col 3:12…
12Therefore, as the elect of
God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility,
meekness, longsuffering; 13bearing with one another, and
forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as
Christ forgave you, so you also must do.
Wouldn’t our world be a better
place if we acted this way? (mercy, kindness, forgiveness) But the
world’s philosophies, systems, revolutions and religions can never produce
the kind of people Paul talks about—thankful
people who are merciful and meek, bearing with one another and not
complaining against each other. Such behavior is not “natural,” but it can
be cultivated if we let God’s Word dwell in us richly, and “let the peace
of God rule in our hearts”, conforming us to the (not “natural” but)
“supernatural” image of our risen Savior.
(continued from left column)
As Paul continues, he says there
is something even better than these virtues: namely love—the
love that unites us into one body, regardless of cultural background or
church label. Look around you: within a few meters there are people from
other countries, who have a rich church tradition very different from your
own; they may prefer to worship in a different way, or even in a different
language. So what bonds us together as ONE, if not the love of God?
Col 3:14 says:
14But above all these things
put on love, which is the bond of perfection. 15And let the
peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one
body; and be thankful.
So, we see that the apostle Paul
beckons us to give thanks in the
context of all that God is and all that He has done. He
is our heavenly Father (1:3), who answers prayer (4:2), and whose
fullness dwells in Christ (2:9). And He has done so much for us:
He’s established us in the faith (2:6), elected us (3:12), made us holy
and beloved (3:12), called us (3:15), given us peace (3:15), made unity
possible (3:15), and made us complete in Christ (2:10)—Christ who is the
head of all principality and power (2:10) and who has forgiven us (3:12).
Our Father calls us to put on (3:12) the characteristics of our Savior,
especially love (3:14), and to let His peace (3:15) and His Word (3:16)
fill our hearts. Just a glimpse of that list should make us break out in a
song of thanksgiving!
Indeed, the next two verses (Col
3:16-17) lift up the place of God’s Word and of music, which are
rightfully such a big part of our weekly celebration. If you want to make
a difference, start with His Word, sing with grace to the Lord, and do
whatever you do in Jesus’ name. Picking up in verse 3:16:
16Let the word of Christ dwell
in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in
psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to
the Lord. 17And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the
name of the Lord Jesus, giving
thanks to God the Father through
This last reference to “giving
thanks” is the Greek word eucharisteo (yoo-khar-is-teh-oh),
which not only reminds us of the grace available in the
eucharist, or Lord’s Supper, but also lets me close with a remarkably
appropriate story in John 6. For me, it was a surprising place to
find this word.
A vast crowd had followed Jesus up
a hillside; some were looking for miracles, some simply wanted to hear his
matchless teachings. But all of them were hungry, and Jesus’ disciples
didn’t have the resources available to meet the great need.
Doesn’t that sound familiar? We
see needs all around us, both in and outside our church community. I have
many friends in ministry in the US, and almost universally they tell me
that church budgets and family budgets are stretched thin. Like the
disciple Philip (in John 6:7), we look at the Master and say:
“Lord, 200 days’ wages wouldn’t be
sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.” (John 6:7)
The needs are just too great. Or are they?
8One of His disciples, Andrew,
Simon Peter’s brother, said to Jesus, 9“There is a lad here who
has five barley loaves and two small fish…” (You probably know the
story.) 11And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had
thanks [there’s that Greek word eucharisteo…] He distributed
[the loaves] to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down;
and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted. 13…and [they
later] filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves
which were left over by those who had eaten. 14Then those [five
thousand] men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, “This is
truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” (John 6:8-14)
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the
people around us—our students, classmates, neighbors, and business
associates—wouldn’t it be great if those people could come into contact
with Jesus, through us in spite of our limited resources, and walk
“This Jesus is truly the Anointed Prophet
who is to come into the world.”
So, before I close with a special
song, how do we become such thankful,
First, during this end-of-the-year
Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons I challenge you to get more involved
with your church: give generously (of both money and time),
and pray regularly for your church leaders (at all levels of ministry,
both here and back home). God has charged them with earth’s highest
calling: to lead God’s people into a closer walk with Jesus, and to equip
us to be ambassadors for Christ in our world.
Secondly, follow St Paul’s advice
on how to make a difference: (A) stop looking to philosophies, governments
or religions to do what only the Holy Spirit can do: change someone’s
character from the inside out; (B) let the Word of Christ dwell in you
richly: that is, make the choice to read your Bible more often, letting
this God-inspired book reveal the very heart of God; and (C) choose to
“put on” God’s power to be kind, humble, longsuffering, forgiving, loving
and thankful, and thus to become
the “fragrance of Jesus Christ” in your home, school or place of
And finally, may we summon up the
faith to take our tiny, insufficient loaves and fishes, and
place them in the Master’s hands. With God’s help, let us
choose to live right and
give thanks, trusting our
Master to multiply anything surrendered to Him, to make a difference and
meet the needs of our hungry and hurting world.
O Father, we thank You for the blessings
You have poured out on Your church, and for Your Holy Spirit who brings
light from Your Word to empower us to live right, reflecting the grace of
Jesus Christ. Open our eyes to all that You are and all You have done,
that we may become thankful people. Lord, multiply the gifts and talents
that flow through our hands, and use us to make a difference in our
world. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
I’d like the worship team to come
back up here to help me teach you the chorus of a song I wrote, inspired
by the themes in Colossians. See how many you can recognize as you listen.
You can read the story of how I
wrote the song--during a class taught by Michael Card--on my website:
After this, we
will have a time of prayer and thanksgiving; but when this song’s chorus
comes around, please join us.
I Want to Thank You (All references are in
Colossians unless noted otherwise)
Father, I thank You, as your Word stirs my heart, (1:3)
To remember before You all the good You impart;
From the wonders of Nature, to the Gift of Your Son, (1:13,14,16)
Lord, I thank You for all You have done!
From the kingdom of darkness, You rescued my soul; (1:13)
Your grace made me holy, Your love made me whole! (3:12, 1:22, 1:13, 2:10)
You chose and empow’red me with comfort to share, (2 Cor 1:4; Eph 1:4, Jn
As a mirror of the image I bear. (3:10; 1 Cor 15:49)
And I thank You for Jesus, who created all things, (1:16)
From the air that I breathe to the song I now sing.
In His cross You have vanquished the powers of sin! (1:19,20; 2 Cor 2:14)
I have hope for I’m hidden in Him! (3:3; 1:27)
I know that my song would sound hollow above
If my life here below doesn’t ring with Your love.
Only grace by faith saved me, by the same help me live, (2:6; Eph 2:8)
In the wisdom and power You give.
I want to thank You, Lord; Worship and thank You, Lord!
For all that You are, and all that You’ve done, I praise and thank You,
We want to thank You, Lord; Worship and thank You, Lord!
For all that You are, and all that You’ve done, we praise and thank You,
© 2012 Michael Krigline. As far as I am concerned, people are allowed to print
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This song was recorded in 2002.
If you would like a free mp3 file of the song, please write to me. (The
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