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Entries in Thanksgiving (5)

Tuesday
Aug212018

Our Prayer Life and Personal Witness

Colossians 4:2-6.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on August 12, 2018.

Our world today has convinced itself that there is no eternity for us to face.  And so, people live lives that are focused on the fleeting thoughts and wants of this life, going here and there.  Today we need to hear Christ calling us to lift our eyes and see that there is a harvest all around us.  It is a harvest of people who have been made hungry for the Gospel because they haven’t found something that can satisfy their soul.

In our passage today, Paul is drawing near to the end of his letter to the Colossians, and encourages believers to be active in two different areas of life.  The first part is centered on our internal life and the second is focused on our external life.  When believers recognize the value that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has for us and the people around us, we give prayer and witnessing the proper vigilance that eternal matters deserve.

In our passage today, Paul turns from the relationship between slaves and their masters, and speaks to the group of believers as a whole.

Continue earnestly in prayer

If I were to summarize the book of Colossians I would say this.  Paul is concerned that believers understand the mystery of the Gospel of Christ enough in order to avoid deceptions and to be transformed into the image of Jesus.  It takes prayer to withstand spiritual deception, and it takes prayer to put off the old man and to put on the new man.  Thus in verse 2 Paul uses a verb that has the idea of continuing with strength.  Prayer is not just a passionless duty.  It is not enough to pray when you first get saved and then quit.  It is not enough to pray only in times of disaster and great need.  Believers must also continue strongly in prayer during all the times in between.

Paul emphasizes being “watchful” in prayer.  What are we watching?  We are being watchful of our lives, both external deceptions and our own internal deceptions.  We are watchful for those temptations that would seek to take us by surprise and by storm.  We are also to be watchful over one another, as spiritual brothers and sisters.  Jesus himself used the world “watch” in his last hours with his disciples.  He asked Peter, James, and John to watch with Him as He prayed.  Later, when He found them sleeping, He warned them to “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.  The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.”  Matthew 26:41 (NKJV).  They were going through a time of severe testing and strong temptation.  It was Jesus who not only made them aware of it, but also told them that they would only overcome those temptations through prayer.  Satan is often successful because we are not paying attention to spiritual matters.  When our flesh is strong then we are prone to take the bait that he is using for us.

Of course it is easy to let ourselves fall into a dire, and even hopeless, attitude.  Yet, Paul tells them to pray with thanksgiving.  If we only treat prayer as a Christmas list that we take to God, then we can get discouraged pretty quick.  God is not in the business of spoiling His children and turning us into entitled brats.  We would be no good to anybody, even ourselves, at that point.  However, when we learn to pray with other kinds of prayer, we become stronger spiritually.  In Scripture we not only see prayers of petition, in which we ask for things for ourselves, but also prayers of Adoration.  This is where we praise God for who He is.  We should also give up prayers of thanksgiving in which we thank God for what He has done and how He has blessed us.  There are also prayers of confession in which we repent before God concerning any areas of sin in our life.

Prayer may have a novelty feel to it at first.  In fact, we can do different things to try and maintain a feeling of novelty (turn down lights, play instrumental music, light candles, etc.).    However, none of these things will ever be able to overcome the reality that our flesh will quickly grow tired of prayer.  When our flesh realizes that God is not going to satisfy our every whim and desire, it either falls asleep or walks away.  So take time to be thankful in your prayers, but not just for the things He has given you.  Also be thankful for who He is and His character, His faithfulness and grace.  We are on the winning side.  So we need not be dire and glum, though the world around us is given over to darkness.  Rather we can pray with joy and thanksgiving in our heart.

Paul also asks that they would pray for him and his companions, especially that they would have an open door to share the Gospel.  Just as they needed doors, so we too need the Lord to open doors for us to share the Gospel.  We should not take it for granted, but labor for it in prayer.  Paul also asks that they would pray that he would have clarity in explaining the Gospel to others.  Many people have a superficial understanding of Jesus, if anything at all.  They need a clear presentation of the Gospel.  So wouldn’t God just open doors for us, why should we pray?  It is true that if you do not pray, God will still be busy working.  And, God will use others.  However, those others cannot take the place that God has given to me and you.  Without prayer, I will miss those opportunities and those opportunities will be missing in the lives of those I was supposed to impact.  Prayer puts us in the harness with the Holy Spirit to do the work that needs done to prepare people’s hearts, plant the seed of truth, water it, and harvest at the appropriate time.  Even though he was in chains, under house arrest, Paul knew that prayer could open up opportunities to share the Gospel.

Walk wisely around unbelievers

In verse 5 Paul reminds them to walk wisely among “the outsiders.”  This phrase is a reference to people who are outside the Church because they are not believers in Jesus.  Have you ever thought about how your actions can affect unbelievers?  We can be unwise and act foolishly around unbelievers and negatively impact how they view Christ.

Paul also connects to this the phrase “redeeming the time.”  This was a phrase that was used of a person who purchases an item at the perfect time, whether to get a deal in the marketplace, or to take possession of a desired item.  If we walk foolishly then we will lose time in drawing others to Christ.  That can be done by neglecting to look like Christ enough to be attractive to them or even neglecting to share when they are open.  But even worse, we can be offensive to them and drive them away from Christ.  Now, it is true that Christ is offensive to our flesh because He is spiritual.  However, we cannot walk foolishly, AKA unspiritually, and then say they weren’t ready.  We should always have our eyes open and be praying for opportune moments in the lives of people.  Wisdom understands what is important in life and takes care of eternal matters at the expense of the temporal ones.  However, folly takes care of temporal matters at the expense of the eternal.  We redeem the time when we walk in harmony with what God is trying to do in the lives of people around us.

Paul also instructs believers to always speak with grace.  In that sense grace means to speak in a way that is favorable to those who listen to us.  How easy it is to let our speech rush on leaving grace behind.  Even worse, we may pick up unfavorable companions such as: anger, pride, greed, etc.  Part of wisdom is to temper our speech, so as not to offend unnecessarily.  We must remove the obstacles of our flesh as much as we can.  Yes, none of us are perfect, and people can always find some reason to reject us.  But that is between them and God.  My focus needs to be on me.  Lord, help me to walk wisely before those who do not know you.  This connects to the last chapter’s focus on putting off the old man and putting on the new.

Paul also uses a phrase, “seasoned with salt.”  It is a reference to the fact that food is made tastier when it is salted.  Our speech can be plain food without any spice, or we can speak with creative flavor of a life lived in relationship with God.  In fact, Christ uses salt as a reference to believers.  He says that we are the salt of the earth.  Thus our speech should be such that it causes people to want to hear it, at least until they make a decision to either embrace Christ or not.

The combination of prayer, walking wisely, and speaking with grace, will put us in the proper place that we will learn how to answer each person we come in contact with (vs. 6)k  We must truly have a relationship with Jesus before we will learn how to answer those who ask us why we believe in Him.

May God help us to take time this week to pray.  May we pray for the wisdom to redeem the time in the lives of unbelievers.  The “New Man” takes time to pray and to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the lost around them.  May God help us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, by the help of His Holy Spirit.

Prayer Life Audio

Sunday
Jul092017

Our Great Joy in Jesus

1 Peter 1:3-9.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 09, 2017.

Today we will spend some time in a passage that focuses on the joy that we have as believers in Jesus Christ.  It is easy to let the things of the world around us drag our hearts down into a dreary drudgery.  We see individuals rejecting the gospel and plunging down the “wide way,” and we see the nations of the world rejecting the ways of God and pursuing their own ways.  In the midst of this is the onslaught of both individual and political evils that continue to tear the world apart and create massive suffering.  So I want us not to forget about the world’s plight, and yet not to be infected by a spirit of hopelessness.  The follower of Jesus has nothing to hang their head over.  We are never defeated or losers.  We are the true overcomers as we keep our eyes upon Jesus and the mission that He gave us.

We Give Thanks to God

In verses 3-5, Peter starts out by thanking God for His blessings and yet he is also reminding the believers of the blessings that they have.  And so, we do have much to be thankful for, and it all finds its source in God the Father.  He is the architect of creation, and the giver of life and all its wonderful aspects.  Am I thankful?  And, do I take time to thank God?  We should wake every morning and recount the amazing blessings with which God has surrounded us.  He has been good to us and grateful thanks should be the foundation of our daily life.

In fact Peter uses the phrase, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  It could also be translated as “Praise the God…”  Our praise is the proper acknowledgment that is actually due to God.  All creation should praise Him, but not all of creation does.  Of course giving God His due praise speaks to those who are not doing so.  But to us who do praise Him, it should not be about duty and obligation.  It should be about gratefulness and thanks.  Our thanks and praise rises up to God in the midst of a world that takes God’s goodness for granted, and a spiritual realm that has a rebellion against Him.  The devil and his angels believe that they can do better than God and are ungrateful for His decisions.    We are those who have rebelled against the rebellion, and have put our faith in Jesus.  We are not under the shadow of judgment, but can see and recognize the goodness of God.  Because of this, we are the recipients of the greater treasures that God is in the middle of giving to those who trust Him.

Peter particularly points out the “abundant mercy” of God.  He is not obligated by justice to give us mercy.  However, He is kind, loving, and merciful.  Salvation always begins with the mercy of God and we must never forget that.  His holiness and justice would come against our lives and bring us to account and to punishment.  But in His mercy, God makes a way for us to be saved from punishment.  He holds out the offer of eternal life to those who will trust Him.  So what are some of these mercies?  Peter lists some for us.

He uses the phrase, “He has begotten us again.”  This is very similar to the phrase used by Jesus in John 3:3, “You must be born again.”  We are all born physically and because of the will of two humans.  Yet, we are not spiritually alive.  Thus all humans are in need of being “born again,” but not physically.  This second birth is a spiritual birth and is because of the will of God, not man.  Even though we are alive to the world around us, we are spiritually unable to recognize and interact with the God who created us.  If we were to use the analogy of a still birth, we can think of it like this.  Though a still born physically exists, they cannot interact with the physical world around them.  Similarly, though we do have an inner spirit, it is still born towards the Holy Spirit of God.  It will never be able to sense and interact with God unless a spiritual miracle occurs. The analogy is not perfect, but it does help to see what the Bible is saying.  This is called being born again.  So to compare the two births we have this.  Physical birth is the first birth, caused by humans, in which we are able to interact with the physical world.  Being born again is Spiritual birth, a second birth, caused by God, in which we are able to interact with the Spirit of God.  What a blessing and mercy this is.  2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”  In John 1:12-13 we are told that such a birth makes us the children of God.  “But as many as received Him (Jesus), to them He gave the right to become the children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

So why has God made us spiritually alive?  Peter says it is for the purpose of receiving a “living hope.”  Regardless of what our lot is in life because of our physical birth, our spiritual birth leaves all of that in the dust.  All that we might hope for in this life will one day be taken away from us.  Thus it is a hope, but a dying one.  Our spiritual birth gives us hope of things that cannot be taken away, even in physical death.  If a person is born into royalty or a family of great power, that is nothing compared to being born again in Jesus.  Even, if I have been born into squalor and have little hope in the things of this world, in Christ I have a living hope that is so much greater than anything this world can offer.  Peter further describes this living hope.  It is a living hope because of “the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  It is living because it is based upon the living Jesus.  He is alive and can no longer die.  Similarly because our hope is in Him, even if we die physically our hope cannot die because it is in one who cannot die again.  Even more than this, we believers in Jesus are promised a day of Resurrection in which we will fully join Christ in that state of eternal life through a body that cannot die and a spirit that dwells in the presence of God every second.  Thus even our physical death because an entering into the presence of the Lord of Life.  What a living hope we have in Jesus!

Peter also describes this living hope as “incorruptible,” and “reserved in heaven” for us (vs. 4).  It is called an inheritance because there is a future aspect to what God is giving us.  Yes, I have eternal life already, but I have not received all that eternal life has to offer, yet.  Thus he uses the word “hope.”  We are already experiencing some of His promises now and thus the hope that is future is already “living” within us and blessing us.  Peter uses several words to show that this hope is secure for the ages.  It is incorruptible, and will not decay or go bad.  There is no expiration date on the promises of God.  It is also “undefiled.”  It is a hope that is untainted by the sin and rebellion of this world.  No matter how much the rebels of this world hope in a Utopia, it is a defiled hope.  They will continually slam up against the reality that the hope is tainted by the sin of mankind and the fallen angels.  Lastly, Peter says that it doesn’t “fade away.”  It is a hope that will not lose its luster and beauty.  This world fades and dims, but our hope does not.  It is reserved in heaven for us.  Thus it is safe in God’s hands, and guarded by none other than God Himself.  If God be for us who can be against us?  On this earth our inheritance and blessings are always in danger of others who may want to steal it, but the inheritance of God cannot be touched by any, not even the devil himself.

However, God does more than just guard our inheritance.  In verse 5 it says that we ourselves are guarded by the power of God.  The same God who guards our inheritance is also insuring that we can make it to that inheritance.  The word “kept” in verse 5 is similar to the word “reserved” in verse 4.  They both have the sense of guarding something.  However, the word in verse 5 adds the sense of a military guard.  It has a higher sense of protection to it.  Thus God stations His forces around us, to ensure that we make it to the day of inheritance, which is the completion of our salvation (notice the future sense of salvation in this verse- more on that later).  The only thing that can derail it is our own faith.  Satan cannot win by destroying us physically, financially, or emotionally.  But, he uses those things to try and destroy our trust in God.  Now, God doesn’t just put a carrot in front of us.  He also protects us along our way to make sure that we will be able to dine upon it.  All of this is “through faith,” our faith in Him.  This living hope and inheritance from God cannot be earned or purchased by the power of this world.  It can only be the gift of God to those who trust Him.

Our Thanks Endure Even Our Various Trials

In verses 6-9, Peter acknowledges that Christians go through difficult things, even though they have much to be joyful.  It is easy to be so focused on making people look happy that we can forget that there is a time to cry, and a time to mourn.  We must deal with the difficult things of life, not by shutting them down, but by overcoming them.  They devil is trying to disqualify us through those trials and tests of life.  But God allows them for the purpose of proving that we qualify and ultimately making us stronger.

So let’s look first at how the trials of life can grieve us for a little while.  Do not make light of the emotional side of trials.  They are difficult and tend to weigh us down with an internal heaviness.  God does not call us to be unfeeling automatons, or robots.  As we grieve and yet remind ourselves of the goodness of God, our faith in God can be deepened.  We can also understand the depths of God’s love towards us.  Trials also help us to see the depths to which our enemy will stoop in order to try and disqualify us.  If we shed tears in this life, then we can shed them knowing that God sees them and will keep a record of them.  He will right every wrong and then bring us to a place where we will cry no more and have pain no more.  And, on that day, He will reward us for those tears and pains of this life that we endured while hanging on to the promise of eternal life, our living hope.  The enemy, however, wants to drown us in our sorrows and difficulties.  He wants us to blame God for our pains, so that we will lose faith in God and walk away from our inheritance.

Peter reminds us in verse 7 that these tests prove our faith.  Have I really trusted in God?  If God stepped in and removed every difficult thing in our life then we would never truly know if our faith is founded on solid ground.  In a sense many people say, “God I trust you, if You keep everything from hurting me.”  This is not trust.  Yet, Job said, “Even if God slay me, yet I will trust Him!”  Some follow Jesus because of what they obtain in this life: people who care for you, and love you, among other comforts of life.  But what about when I lose all of those things?  Like John the Baptist sitting in prison about to lose his head, we can begin to question and waver in our faith in Jesus.  Thus the picture of trials being a refining fire is used by Peter.  The trials are called various because there are innumerable ways to be tried in this life.  Some are seductive, with hidden motives, and we can enjoy their presence to some degree.  Others are brutish, with the obvious motive to overwhelm and destroy us.  Typically we do not enjoy these.  But our faith, Peter says, is more precious than gold.  We are tempted by things that are really not as precious as we think.  The truth about our faith will be made clear at the “revelation of Jesus,” which is His Second Coming.  This will be our glory and honor in the day that He returns: we world will see that we belong to Him.

In verse 8 He commends them for their faith and love for Jesus.  They are keeping their eyes on Jesus even in the face of trials.  Peter had seen Jesus with his own eyes.  But then Jesus was taken into heaven and now Peter no longer can see Jesus.  He must use the eyes of faith, trust.  Even harder it is for those who had never seen Jesus in the flesh.  They are taking the witness of Peter, and the Holy Spirit.  They have come to love this Jesus that they have learned about.  They are not about to be scammed out of the inheritance they have in Jesus.  So also, keeping our eyes upon Jesus, we await that day when He will split the clouds and return to earth.  Even if I die, I do so keeping my trust upon the one who said, “He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live.”  Our love for Jesus is birthed in the love that He had for us.  He died in my place even while I was still a rebel against Him.  He did so to make an inheritance for me with Him.  He paid the price that I might sit with Him at the Father’s table.  He purchased us back from the place of slavery to which we had sold ourselves.  And, He does this to make us His beloved ones.  In the words of Paul, “[love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails. 

So this love that Jesus has for us and that we have for Him fills us with a joy that is inexpressible and full of glory.  In the face of our own death, His death and resurrection assures us that He loves us and will keep His word.  The daily joy that we have as a Christian should never be based upon the earthly joys and comforts that we have.  Yes, we should be thankful for any such things that we experience.  But they must never be the foundation of our joy.  The foundation of our joy is the relationship of love that Jesus has given to us.  As the old song says, “I’ve got something the world can’t give, and the world can’t take it away!”  It is called inexpressible or unspeakable because it goes beyond the ability of words to fully express.  Not that we don’t express our thanks, but that they too fall short.  “O, for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemers praise, the glories of our God and King, the triumphs of His grace.”  So we continue to describe to people that which can never be fully expressed.  Such is the joy of the believer.  It is also described as “full of glory” because it is given by God Himself.  Glory is often described as brilliant light in the spirit realm (within Scripture).    God has given us Himself and the glorious shining of God sits at the center of our heart and life like a blazing sun.  Thus our joy and faith in Him, which is set on fire by the blazing glory of God, cannot be extinguished by the devil. 

In the midst of such glorious joy, Peter says we are receiving the salvation of our souls.  In fact this is part of the joy.  I may endure a difficult trial, but it is part of me receiving something much better.  Verse 5 speaks of our salvation in the future, but verse 9 speaks of it as a present thing.  That is because we are in the process of receiving a salvation that will one day be completed at the second coming of Christ.  Thus we can look back to the day that we began receiving salvation, we can look around at our current salvation, and we can look forward to its completion at the Second Coming of Christ!  Amen!

Our Great Joy audio

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