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Entries in Thanksgiving (3)

Monday
Nov282016

A Thankful Heart

Psalm 100:1-5.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 20, 2016.

After this year’s presidential election we see that there are some who are rejoicing and others who are mourning.  Even Christians are divided on whether the results were good or bad.  I am not going to stand here today and make the case that the election of Donald Trump is a reason for giving thanks.  Rather, I am challenging each of us to understand that for the Christian, our reasons for rejoicing cannot be touched by an election, or the stroke of an executive pen, or the folly of a legislative session, or even the over-reach of a zealous judiciary.  Throughout history the godly have had to learn how to have joy in God’s presence regardless of what the world around them was doing.  So this Thanksgiving let’s have a thankful heart for the right reasons!

Exhorted to give thanks to God

Psalm 100 is addressed as a psalm for thanksgiving (some versions translate it as “praise”).  In fact the word that is translated as thanksgiving is the Modern Hebrew word for saying “thank you,” today.  There is a structural note to make about this psalm.  It is designed to have a 1-2 punch twice.  That is, the psalmist exhorts us to give thanks (verses 1 & 2) and then tells us why (verse 3).  He does this again with verses 4 and 5.  Thus we are going to look at verses 1 and 2 along with verse 4 because they are focused on the exhortation to give thanks to God.

First we are told to “shout joyfully” to the Lord.  This is a good translation, but it is informative to understand that this word is determined by the context.  It can also mean “an urgent cry, or shout for help, or a cry of alarm.”  However the context here is giving thanks to God.  Notice that this is meant to be a passionate response from our heart.  In fact, it is usually the times in our life where we cried out in alarm, and cried for help from God, that we find a reason for the joyful shout of victory.  Thus the psalmist addresses both Israel and “all the earth.”  Yes, the gentiles were separated from God at the time of this psalm.  They were also suffering under the administration of those false gods that they wanted to serve.  Yet, Psalms 96-99 have been underlining the coming reign of Messiah, or the Savior King that God would send.  In fact Psalm 98:3 says, “All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”  Of course the psalmist is looking ahead and declaring what the Spirit is revealing, by faith.  Can we shout the joyful shout before the victory has come?  In Christ, believers have the joy of being able to shout a victorious shout before it happens, because God guarantees our victory.  Sometimes we lack passion in our worship and thanksgiving to God because we have never given thought to all that God has done and all that He has promised to do.  We can then become distracted by the things of this earth and live life without a deep-seated joy in Jesus.

Next we are told to “serve the Lord with gladness.”  From this point on the psalmist gives a command along with a description of how we should do it.  We are to serve with a heart of gladness.  Serving can become a very tedious thing, even overbearing at times.  But generally, it becomes so because we lose sight of what our service is accomplishing or bringing us.  When we go through moments of difficulty, our heart is tested.  Some grow weary and quit.  Others continue to work, but it has become a sad tedium to them.  Don’t settle for merely going through the motions.  God wants you to have gladness of heart.  So take time today, and each day, to ask God to give you faith to believe that He is accomplishing a good thing out of our lives and service for Him.  May God help us to believe that He is working all things to our good.

In verse 2 we are told to come before the Lord with singing.  Literally, it is to come before His face.  The picture is not of some ethereal “presence” of the Lord, but actually stepping into the place of His attention.  When we sing we connect with God from a very deep place.  For the person in the midst of turmoil and sadness, singing can be the rebellion of faith against the darkness.  For the person who has seen the victory of the Lord, it can be the dancing heart’s eloquent discourse. 

We see this same idea in verse 4 when it says, “enter.”  It is actually the same word as “come,” but the context of going through gates into a God’s courts give the sense of “enter.”  We should not only be thankful among one another, but we need to take time to enter into the throne room of God by faith and rejoice before Him with the songs of joy on our lips.  Thus verse 4 mentions thanksgiving and praise.  Thanksgiving has to do with a heart that is grateful.  It is one thing to be happy about something good.  It is quite another to go and give thanks to the giver.  Sometimes we can be overly intent on a particular good thing that we want to the expense of the good thing that we already have.  Often relationship with God, and one another, can be sacrificed in the desire for something else.  Pray for God’s wisdom to know when we need to let things go to follow Him and when we need to learn how to be content and rejoice in what we already have.

Praise is similar to thanksgiving.  However, it is more of a recounting of those good things that God has done and the good character that He has displayed.  This outward adoration of God can be in a physical house of worship.  But it must always be from a heart that has spiritually become a place of worship.  In our private moments we can enter into the presence of God at any moment because He is everywhere at all times.  People like Saeed Abedini, who was imprisoned in an Iranian prison for his faith in Jesus, can give testimony to the truth that no prison can keep us from entering into the presence of God and giving Him thanks and praise.

The Reasons Why We Can Be Thankful

Verses 3 and 5 give us the reasons why God is worthy of our thanksgiving.  The first reason is because it is He who has created us.  Of all the pretender gods among the nations, there is only One who is truly God.  The One who brought all that exists into being.  Yes, angels were considered divine in the sense that they dwelt with God and are immortal.  But they are not of the same class as the God who created all things.  Thus, in worshipping fallen angels in various forms, the Gentiles demonstrated the tendency of human beings to look to the creation and worship it rather than the Creator.  This reason could be categorized as a legal reason.  He created us and all that we have.  It is only right that we give Him thanks.  How could we not be thankful to Him or worse give our thanks to something that is created itself?  Within modern thinking, we are attempting to “take control of our own evolution.”  This has given rise to a progressive philosophy that believes we can make ourselves what we want in all areas (socially, physically, and spiritually).  However, just as we did not make ourselves, we will not be able to remake ourselves as well.  Mankind will always impale itself upon the sword of its own sinful nature.  Try as we might, we cannot fix the fallen human condition, only the Creator can.

If He is our Creator then by rights we belong to Him.  Thus the Psalmist says that we are his people.  He also employs a metaphor of a shepherd with his sheep.  We are sheep that belong to the Great Shepherd.  Of course God will not force us to serve Him and praise Him.  He is not raising us up as sheep to be slaughtered and eaten.  The shepherd metaphor is meant to reference a good shepherd who cares for and nurtures the sheep.  He defends them from the wolves that want to eat them.  He leads them to water, food, shelter, and a safe place.  This is our God.

Verse 5 tells us that He is good.  This is not a legal reason.  It is more of a moral argument.  God is good and to reject His claims upon our life in order to go after other things that are not good is foolish.  Not only is God good, but He has a good end in mind for us.  The Bible says that, “He who has begun a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.”  Similarly He is merciful or full of loving kindness.  Each of these is a type of goodness, or a facet of it.  In mercy and compassion God does not give us what we deserve, but instead, offers us kindness and love.  Of course we can receive mercy and not be thankful for it.  This too is folly.

Lastly, His truth or faithfulness endures to all generations.  The things that God has revealed can be depended on by every generation.  Some in the Church have waffled on this point.  The Truth of God is applicable to every culture at all times.  Yes, there are many things that God commanded Israel that are not intended for the other cultures and every generation.  But, with a proper understanding of what God is saying and revealing to the whole earth, we can know what is actually true in our generation.  Though many have cast off God, and any hope in what God can do, we must not do it.  Though many may push to make their own hope by their own hands, we must not do it.  Our hope is in the God who created us.  He is good and merciful to us.  He will be faithful to every generation.  Amen!  Don’t be fooled by the pied pipers of our day.  Give your life over to Jesus and ask Him to cover your sins.  Be a follower of Jesus and join with all the saints in giving up the Joyful Shout!

Thankful Heart audio

Tuesday
Nov172015

Giving Thanks in All Things

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 15, 2015.

Today we are going to turn to the subject of Thanksgiving.  Our generation has far more material and technological help in life and yet we are often less thankful than those that have gone before.  Don’t get me wrong.  Every generation has unthankful people.  However, my point is that the abundance of things or lack thereof is not really the problem that lies behind a lack of thankfulness.  In fact, many times when we express thankfulness, we do so more because it is the socially polite thing today, rather than out of sincere thankfulness.  If we could pull back the curtain that hides the true motivations that lie beneath even the good things that are done in our society, we would be surprised at the number of people who are doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.

God desires His people to have a deep-seated thankfulness that is not based upon improper motives, or on our material circumstances.  He wants us to be thankful people simply because we are loved and cared for by Him.

Give Thanks In Everything

In the passage today we will focus upon the last of 3 commands that the Holy Spirit gives to us, “in everything give thanks.”  The emphasis of this is upon the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  It would be nice to leave it at that, but in Ephesians 5:20 we are also told, “giving thanks for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Thus we are not just to be thankful in every circumstance, but we must also learn to be thankful for all the things we go through.  Is that possible?  In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul reminds us that these commands are not made up by him, but rather they are the will of God.  It is not His will in the sense that He is going to force it upon us.  But it is His will in the sense that this is what He is committed to producing within us.  He is building within us the Image of Christ, and Jesus was a thankful person.

So just what is thankfulness?  It is often the general response to the good things that we receive in life.  We are made happy by what another does and we give words back to that effect.  However, in the Bible it is more than this.  The word translated here literally means “to give good,” implying words of thanks.  The emphasis, however, is on what I am giving and not on why I am giving it.  Thus it is easy to fall into the poor habit of only being thankful to people and God when we get good things.  Yet, you can’t be a Christian long without having to deal with the fact that, though He loves us, God allows bad and difficult things to come into our life.  We are still supposed to be thankful people towards God.  Thanksgiving is about more than letting others know we are happy for giving us good.  It is something that resides in our heart despite what may be in our life.

So how can I give thanks in every situation and for everything?  Notice that the injunction to thanksgiving comes on the heels of Rejoicing and Prayer.  There is much in life that can rob us of thankfulness.  But if we make it a spiritual discipline to rejoice always, and to pray without ceasing, then we will be able to secure a heart of thankfulness regardless of what we may receive.  The preacher Spurgeon once said about this, “When joy and prayer are married their first born child is gratitude.”  Thus joy is the heart of praise and worship in our Lord.  It is recognizing His greatness and our relationship to Him.  It is not based upon the circumstances of this life, but our closeness to Him.  Think of it this way.  If you receive something bad in life or from another person, does it change anything about God and His love for you?  Yes, we can doubt God’s love.  But, the cross points out the truth of the matter.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God.  Prayer becomes that arena where we wrestle with the Lord to understand the negatives in our life and ask for His aid.  But it is also where we learn to say, “Nevertheless, Your will be done.”  True thankfulness is a shift of our attitude and outlook on things.  That can only happen as we are transformed through the spiritual discipline of turning to God for everything we face, and rejoicing in His love for us.

We see this modeled by Paul in 2 Corinthian 6:4-10.   “But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”  At first he lists things singularly like: tribulations, needs, and distresses.  The he adds contrasting situations: honor and dishonor, evil report and good report.  But lastly he contrasts the material with the spiritual: poor (materially), but making many rich (spiritually), having nothing yet possessing all things.  You can almost feel the shifting of your own attitude as you read through this.  Our focus is moved from the thing I do not like, to those things that are far better and matter far more.  Paul knew that he was a minister on behalf of the Lord.  Therefore if we suffer we do so in the name of Jesus.  Though we may appear as lacking to the world, in Christ we lack nothing that we need.  Think of it.  If the God of the universe has guaranteed that He will take care of you, then you lack nothing you need and have everything at your disposal that He desires.  We may be tempted to complain and give “bad words” of complaining and grumbling to Him, but we must learn to trust the Lord and His discipline in our lives.

Discover Deeper Levels of Thanksgiving

It is good for us to see that there is a deeper thanksgiving that God wants to build within us.  The surface level of thanksgiving is learning to see what is good in your life over the top of what is bad.  This is important and should not be minimized.  It is Thanksgiving 101.  All of us have to learn to see beyond a difficulty and be thankful for the things we do have in our life that are good.  Have you ever noticed how certain things do not stick in our mind?  Illusionists will take advantage of this to trick our minds into seeing something that didn’t really happen.  It is common for our minds to give greater emphasis to the bad things that are happening.  They can overwhelm us to the point that we no longer see the good in our life.  Why must we only focus on the bad and not rejoice in the good even more?  The truth is that we allow our attitude to spoil because of the bad, and refuse to enjoy any good as long as the bad remains in our life.  It is a type of childish temper tantrum that we throw.  Many a person has ruined and destroyed the good things in their life because of something that they saw as bad.  A marriage can be ruined because of difficulties at work.  A family can be ruined because of the personal difficulties of those involved.  The many blessings of God can be ignored and in fact despised because I am resentful of certain things happening in my life.  This is not good.  Job reminds us of this when he told his wife that it was wrong to accept the good from God and not the bad.

However, on a deeper level, we also must learn to see how the bad is used for good in our life.  We are told in Romans 8:28-29, “And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”  God is working the bad things in our life into a good goal.  Think about Jesus being crucified.  It is a bad thing to be put to death unjustly and horrifically.  Yet, the Father asks the Son to do so because of a greater good it will produce.  Of course the Son embraces the Father’s plan and suffers the difficulty by keeping his eye upon the good it was producing.  We don’t always know how God is going to bring good out of a particular bad thing in our life.  We are tempted to doubt, complain, even walk away in those times.  Remember, this verse is not given to us by a man who is not acquainted with suffering.  Paul had suffered many things that could have made him ungrateful and bitter towards God and men.  There is a mystery in life that we see.  Some who have had the worst of lives are often the most thankful, and others who have had the best of lives can be among the most unthankful.  It is not about what you got, but what you do with it.  A person who has been abused becomes a person who is keenly sensitive to the hurts and wounds of others.  They can relate with other individuals with a gentleness and wisdom that cannot be learned in a school.  It will be precisely because of the sufferings of this age, that we will be perfected and look like Jesus in the age to come.

The deepest level of Thanksgiving is to see the higher, spiritual things that are more important over the top of the lower, material things that are less important.  Thus Paul was poor in material things, but had the riches of the knowledge of God’s offer of salvation.  Paul had next to nothing in this life once he followed Jesus.  But he knew that Jesus would take care of Him.  He had learned to live with little or much.  It didn’t matter.  He had learned to go through good and bad, and all for the glory of Jesus.  The cross teaches us to look through the bad to the good that is on the other side.  Thus Romans 8:18 says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”  The glory of God Himself is being caused to shine out from us.  It is impossible for that to happen without having to deal with both good and bad things in this life.  May God teach us to shift our attitude and mindset out of reverse and into a forward gear.  May we see the things of our life through a heart and mind that are rejoicing in a good and great God, and are wrestling daily with Him in prayer.

Giving Thanks Audio

Tuesday
Nov202012

We Give Thanks To You, O Lord

We will take a break from 1 Peter today and focus upon this week’s topic of Thanksgiving.  It can be easy to lose hope, joy, and peace as things get difficult in our life and our nation.  However, for us in America, it is important to remember that the first century believers were in circumstances more difficult and under governance that was far more oppressive.  In other words God’s Word can take us through whatever is ahead of us.  Paul wrote the letter of Romans to the believers in Rome.  As he closed that letter he encourages them.  Let’s look at the passage in Romans 15:5-13,

May God Grant Us the Mind of Christ

When you boil verse 5 down you see that Paul is praying for them to not just be like-minded but “according to Christ Jesus.”  Thus the mind we need to share is not yours and neither is it mine.  Rather we are to share the mind of Christ.  Back in verse 3 he had reminded them of this mind that Jesus had.  He did not please himself but rather laid his life down that we might live.  Notice that it is God who “grants” or gives this to us.  How we ought to pray and seek God for the gift of having the mind of Christ with one another.  This very same God is the God of patience and comfort.  Both of these are necessary if we are to live out the mind of Christ.  When it says that he is the God of comfort, it doesn’t just mean that he has a lot of it in his kingdom.  Rather, his very nature is patience and comfort.  Let’s look at patience first.  To remain under a situation is to be patient.  We all will draw the line and say that we will not put up with anything beyond it.  However, the mind of Christ is willing to die in order that others might live.  Are my “lines” from God?  No, they are from my flesh.  As the God of patience, this is what he is building in us, helping us to see our need of patience and its value.  We also need comfort.  Literally the word means to come alongside.  So it can refer to help in any sense: instruction, aid, encouragement, help, defense, or correction.  His nature is to come alongside of others to help.  Thus we can trust God to come alongside of us and wait for his perfect timing in our lives.

The “like-mindedness” is defined by Christ’s words and his actions.  Unity is good, but not in a bad thing.  The Nazi party was unified, but we reject that it was a good thing.  Psalm 2 tells us that there is a global rebellion against God and his Messiah.  This is not a good thing.  Do not join it.  Rather, repent and turn back to God so that you may be saved.  Be patient and receive his help so that we can be the body of Christ in this world.  We need to be unified around Christ, his truth and his actions, so that we can speak with his voice to this world.  Then God will be glorified by us.  Ask yourself do you accept other believers in the same way that Jesus received us?  Think about what that really means.

Jesus Became a Servant

In verses 8-13 Paul reminds them of that mind of Christ.  He served.  First he served the nation of Israel.  Paul refers to them as the “circumcision” because they took great pride in this act of the flesh and how it separated them from the rest of the world.  They thought God accepted them merely because they had cut some flesh off their body (outward action).  Jesus served them by verifying and protecting the truth: God had always received them only because of the faith in their heart.  Jesus had come to confirm that the promises of God were real and would be completed.  Even today, there is recognition that God is raising up Israel, once again, so that he can draw her heart to him and save them.  Why? Because the life of Jesus confirmed God’s love for us all.  Jesus also was a servant to the Gentiles (the nations other than Israel).  Jesus teaches us the glorious mercy of God.  While we were yet sinners Christ Jesus died for us.  We didn’t deserve it.  Paul points this out in chapters 9-11 of Romans.  Romans 11:15 says that if Israel’s being cast away allowed the world to have peace with God then what will be their acceptance back, but life from the dead?  Why will God show his mercy to Israel in these last days?  He will do so, precisely because it is a metaphor of his Resurrection nature.  He is Life.  Outside of him there is no life.  He is not afraid of death and even incorporates it into his plan because he is life.

He has done all these things that we might abound in Hope.  Our hope is both behind us and ahead of us.  But let us never forget that our greatest hope is still ahead.  That hope is Jesus ruling over the world.

Paul prays that God will fill them with “all joy and peace” in their faith.  If you are not joyful and peaceful then ask yourself what exactly is robbing you of it?  Part of our joy is to fellowship with the Holy Spirit and to fellowship with fellow believers.  God wants us to have joy and peace as much as he wants us to serve the lost.  May we learn to find true joy and true peace in him.  Notice that it can only happen by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps we need to spend some time praying in an upper room until we know for sure that with the Holy Spirit we can have joy and peace in every circumstance.  Whether it is Paul and Silas in a jail cell singing praises to God, or believers singing while they are being burned and fed to the lions, we can boldly stand against the destroyer and refuse to give up our faith.  We can stand against the destroying lion and that destroying mountain and know that the God of the universe holds us up.  If he is for us then who can be against us?  None, for greater is he that is in us then he that is in the world.

Final Thoughts

When things get difficult we tend to lose our sense of hope.  This happens when we have pinned our hopes on things of this world.  We forget that the Scriptures promised us that this world will pass away.  We forget that we were told to not love the things of this world in a way that would compromise our faith.

Also, according to the Keep-It-Simple-Stupid principle (KISS), we should focus on the simple task our Lord has given us.  Keep your faith fully upon Jesus and fully love your Christian brothers and sisters.  Believe and Love as Jesus did.  Not in the way that others tell you or your flesh wants to believe.

Lastly, our greatest hope is ahead of us not behind.  Quit looking at the decay of society around us and giving up.  Start looking up for our redemption is drawing near.  Our leader is not of this world and the kingdom that we inherit is not one that we have built.  Trust God and love your brothers and sisters.

We Give Thanks Audio