Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thanksgiving Is Not an Option

Preached on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, November 20, 2016

Scripture readings: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24

A father just got back from helping on his son’s Boy Scout back-packing trip. He was still pretty excited when he told his friends the highlights.
Along Lower Crab Creek
North of Matttawa/Desert Aire, WA
November 2016
They had taken a pack-horse with them. “And, boy, am I glad we had that horse!” he said, “After one of the boys got hurt, we used the horse to carry him out.”
“How was the boy hurt?”
“Well, the horse stepped on him.”
The apostle Paul says, “In everything give thanks,” or “give thanks in all circumstances.” And then Paul writes, “Do not quench the Spirit,” or, “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.”
From what I know, I think Paul was pretty unquenchable himself. I think he was as full of fire as he was full of thanks, and that the two went together, and that they played a part in making Paul a person who was really, really alive.
Now, when Paul says, “Give thanks in all circumstances,” it sounds almost like a command. In a way, it is. Thanksgiving really is not an elective. It’s not an option. Thanksgiving is needed. It’s required because it’s needed. It’s required for our happiness right now. It’s required for our everlasting happiness.
In a way, thankfulness is as important as patience. It’s hard to learn patience. You learn patience by having all the things happen to you that make you impatient.
But the people who have learned patience are the people who give us peace. We can relax with them. Patient people make the hard things easier for us. They give us confidence, and they help us to live abundantly.
Then, when you find someone who is actually thankful for you (for you, of all people!): why, that is the gift of life itself! But it’s as hard to learn to be thankful as it is to be patient. You only learn to be thankful by learning the alternatives. And the alternatives to being thankful are dark, and bitter, and bleak.
If the patient and thankful people are the source of life to you, aren’t you glad they learned (the hard way) those lessons that God wants every human being to know? Then (when the Lord says, “You! You be thankful too!”) you can begin to understand why it’s so important. The command to be thankful is just as important as God’s command to love.
Jesus said, “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) The people who are truly alive around us, the people who make our lives full, have these qualities: thankfulness, patience, love, forgiveness, peace. They make life worth living now. They will make heaven truly heavenly. They create just a little bit of heaven on earth right now.
All of these gifts come from God himself, and it is God who makes heaven heavenly. Heaven is heavenly not only because God is full of glory, but because God himself is full of thanks.
There is something essential to God (as we see him in Jesus) that looks at us and longs to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:12) That’s just one example of the thankfulness of God.
God created us so that, in the end, he might rejoice over us. (Zephaniah 3:17) Thanks has its origins with the God who rules heaven and earth. If we want life with God, sooner or later we must give thanks.
The more we read, in the New Testament, about Paul (in his letters, and in the stories of his life in the Book of Acts) we realize that being thankful can’t mean a self-generated feeling of thanks. We have the responsibility to decide in favor of being thankful, but we also have to want it: really want it. The commandment to be thankful is not a command to pretend, or to conform to some sort of rule.
Paul explains that thanksgiving is part of receiving the peace of God that goes beyond our understanding, “Do not be anxious about anything; but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
Peace doesn’t mean that all conflict and struggle go away. Peace is a kind of inner harmony.
It doesn’t mean that everything is harmonious toward you. It doesn’t mean that everything is quiet and easy. It means that you have your footing; you have your foundation in God, who is peace.
So, people and circumstances may seem to be coming at you the wrong way, but you can come at them the right way. You can do what it takes to meet those things, and deal with them, because the peace that passes understanding is in you.
I think it’s called the peace that passes understanding for two reasons: for one thing, we don’t quite understand it. The other reason is that nobody else understands it either.
If anyone has the right to tell us to be thankful, it’s Paul. In his second letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 11:23ff) he wrote about some of the hardships he had gone through since he became a Christian. He wrote: “I have worked hard, been in prison, been flogged, and been exposed to death, again and again. Five times I have received the forty lashes minus one. Three times I have been beaten with clubs. Once they tried to stone me to death. Three times I was shipwrecked, and spent a night and a day in the open sea.” And the list goes on.
Earlier in that same letter (4:8ff) he wrote, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed…” It is in the middle of a life like that that Paul encouraged us to, “give thanks in all circumstances.” Paul gave thanks as an experienced and sensitive human being, not as some kind of thanksgiving robot.
He wrote (Rom. 12:15), “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” After a friend recovered from a nearly fatal illness Paul wrote, “But God had mercy upon him, and not only upon him, but on me also, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow.” (Philippians 2:27) A thankful heart is a feeling heart, a vulnerable heart, a caring heart, a breakable heart that has its footing and foundation in God.
What do you say, when someone asks, “How are you?” Some people have a stock answer to that, besides saying, “Fine!” They might say: “Can’t complain!” And they are always waiting to add: “It wouldn’t do any good!”
These are people who could give, if they chose, a long, long list of reasons why they could complain. But they have made their choice to be easy on you, and on themselves, by not reciting that list.
More than that, they know there’s more to their life than their list of pains and struggles. No matter how long that list grows, they are thankful for their life, and they do have another list up their sleeve. It’s the list of God’s blessings. They have learned that you can have an abundant life, a full life, and a happy life by keeping the right list up your sleeve.
Thanksgiving is not an option. It’s the foundation of life. We are made for thanks. We are made to receive thanks. According to Jesus, one of the great experiences we are created for is the future day when we come into his presence, and he will laugh and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant, you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much, enter into the joy of your Master!” (Matthew 25:21) We will give thanks to hear the Lord’s own “thank you.”
We are created to give thanks, because giving thanks is part of love. Think how quick thankful children are to show their thanks and love by making presents, and cards, and pictures for those who love them, or for those whose love they long for.
Thanksgiving is only a stifled instinct in us. It is a lost habit waiting to be regained.
I could do so much better at being thankful. I think it would help if I started by learning to give thanks for little things. That is part of the reason for giving thanks when we eat.
I often forget to give thanks before my meals. I didn’t grow up in a home where this was normal. Sometimes I remember to give thanks in the middle of my meal, or after it is over.
I’m not a bad cook, for the things I do cook, but I find that giving thanks makes the meal better. Not that it changes the taste, or the amount of nutrition I get from it. Giving thanks changes a meal from being a thing into being a gift. It gives life to the meal. If my meal wasn’t all that good, then giving thanks gives me a sense of humor. That makes a big difference.
Giving thanks changes everything that way. People are changed, circumstances are changed, pains are changed, struggles are changed, and failures are changed. They don’t look any different. They don’t act any different. They don’t feel any different. But you are changed, because you have gotten your footing in God, and everything else becomes a calling, or a cause, or an opportunity, or a gift, or a challenge. That makes a big difference.
You know if you need reminders to give thanks. Get a reminder, or make something, to remind you to give thanks. Maybe you have someone at home who helps you be thankful. Put a note on your mirror. Have a picture, or a poster, or put a gift from someone out where you can see it and remember to give thanks.
Patiently ask the Lord to show you how, and where, and when to be thankful. God will teach you.
Sometimes, by giving thanks you will find healing. By saying thanks, you will feel that you have dropped a burden into God’s hands, or you will see how you should have given thanks a long time ago. You will see the Lord’s gifts better than you ever saw them before.
Saying “thank you” sharpens your senses. It helps you see the difference between the good and the bad things. This is important because it can be risky to actually thank God for something we feel is bad, because God doesn’t do the bad things. Thanking him for the bad may lead you to blame him for it. But if you thank the Lord, in spite of the bad thing, your eyes may be opened, so that you can say, “Here was the evil that happened. I can see now that God didn’t do that thing, yet he was there with me in the middle of it all. He has helped me, taught me, guided me, and changed me, as a result of it. God has brought me through, and I am glad to see how he has done it.” “Thanks” can be hard work: but “thanks” has this reward.
Now, when Paul says that “thanks” is God’s will for you he means not only that it’s necessary for you, but it’s the thing that God is working for in your life. “Thanks” is the shape of your soul in God’s blueprint for your life. “Thanks” is your destiny.
God became human, in Jesus, to live a perfect life for you that you could never live on your own power. You have a good life in Christ.
God came in Jesus to die a perfect death for you that you could not die, yourself. You have a perfect ending and a perfect new beginning. In Jesus, God died for you; for your forgiveness, for your healing, for your peace, for your everlasting joy.

When we know the Lord, when we know God in Christ; our life is built upon this gift of love, our life is built on thanks for this love. And when you know his love, you also know that God is thankful for you. You are the child that God has won for himself. Real life is thanks, from beginning to end, from everlasting to everlasting.

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