GIVING THANKS FOR THE BAD THINGS

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THANKFULNESS 2019

This will not be a normal, full-length sermon. I want to spend this week in Thankfulness. Although Thanksgiving is not one of the feasts given in the Law of Moses, it is certainly a Biblical idea. Look at a small sample of verses about thankfulness from the New Testament:

Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  (1Thess 5:16-18, HCSB)

And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts. Be thankful. Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.  (Col 3:15-17, HCSB)

Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.  (Col 4:2, HCSB)

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable — if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise — dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:4-8 HSCB)

6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7 NIV)

Literally hundreds of times, the Bible exhorts Christians to be thankful. As we look at the small sample of such verses above, it is clear that Christians are supposed to be people who live with an attitude of continual thankfulness toward God. Taking it one step further, to having a feast-day for thanksgiving is only natural. It should never be consider necessary, however: Jesus has done all that is necessary. But a festival of thanksgiving can certainly be useful in orienting our hearts toward God in the right way.

This year, I want us to spend some time in real thanksgiving. I’ll offer some thoughts to help keep us focused and oriented. Many people have discovered that thankfulness can absolutely transform your life. So, for example, say you have a job that you really hate. But, if you start each day by thanking God for the things you don’t hate, you find that it balances out the negatives in your life, or at least, it does to some degree. I often start my thanksgiving with something small, like hot water as I take a morning shower, and towels, and coffee. The more I thank the Lord, the more I think of other things I can thank him for. Many, many people have found this sort of thing to be very helpful in maintaining a peaceful heart and positive attitude.

I want to challenge us this year to take it one step further. I speak from personal experience when I say that I have learned to thank God even for things that I really, really don’t like. To do so, is an act of trust. When I thank God for something that I wish he would change, I am acknowledging that He is in control, and I am not. I am reorienting myself around the truth that he knows better than I do. I am agreeing with his Word, that:

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

This can be tremendously freeing. It can create a vast reservoir of peace and joy in your life. I know this to be true, because I have experienced it. In my struggle with chronic pain, I began to find real peace and joy when I started to thank God not, in spite of the pain, but for the pain. At the same time I began to thank him for all of the other stupid stuff that was going on my life that I wished was different.

When I started doing this, it was  pure act of will. I said, “I think I need to do this Lord. So, I don’t feel thankful, but even so, I am thanking you for this pain.” I went on and thanked him for financial hardship, and several other things. One of the first times I did this, Kari and I did it together. I won’t say we ended by feeling truly thankful, but we did start to feel a little bit more peace.

As it became more of a habit, I can now say that I am truly thankful for the pain (not just in spite of it). The pain is still there. I still have to figure out how to cope with it. But the fact that I am suffering is not a source of angst or frustration with me. God is working through it to create the best possible outcome for me, and I am so thankful for that.

So, this season, won’t you join me? Join me not only in focusing on the good things, but also in thanking God for the things we wish he would change.

I recognize that I didn’t arrive at this point on my own. It was a gift of God, who, by the Holy Spirit, empowered me to begin thanking him in this way. If you are willing, he will give you the same gift. Let’s ask him to do that right now, so that we can begin to experience the height of joy and depth of peace that thankfulness can bring.

GIVING THANKS EVEN WHEN IT’S HARD

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Giving thanks is a way to really take hold of, and receive, what God has done and who he is. It is a key component in faith, grace and peace.

 

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THANKSGIVING

Thanksgiving has become an American holiday and tradition, but it does originate from deep, Christian spiritual roots. One of the things that I find interesting is that many of significant Thanksgiving celebrations early in the history of America took place in the middle of very difficult times.

The “original thanksgiving” took place in the New England settlement of Pilgrims during the sixteen-hundreds. It is true that at the time they celebrated, they had a good harvest. But they had just gone through an incredibly difficult year in which large numbers of the Pilgrims had perished from disease and malnutrition. From a simple cataloging of bad events versus good, they had much more to be upset about than to be thankful for. Yet they held a three day feast, thanking God for his blessings.

The first national day of thanksgiving was proclaimed by the brand-new American government in 1777. It is true, at the time many people were elated by the American victory over the British at Saratoga. But also at the time of the proclamation, the British still occupied the capital city of the new country (which was Philadelphia at that point) and also held New York City and several significant southern cities. The war was far from over, and times were still quite desperate, and yet they called for a national day of prayer, thankfulness, and repentance toward God.

Considering this history, perhaps it is appropriate that Thanksgiving became an official national holiday during the middle of the Civil War. Once again, the war was far from over, and many desperate times and terrible battles were both behind and ahead. Yet President Lincoln wrote of the many blessings that persisted in spite of war, and said:

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

It isn’t my intention to give a history lesson. But I want to point out explicitly that the early Americans seemed eager and able to thank God, even in the middle of significant hardship. In fact, the American Thanksgiving tradition arose more from hardship and war than from peace and prosperity. Even more, I want to point out that this idea of thanking God at all times, even in difficult circumstances, is a biblical practice.

Job chapter one records a series of calamites that befall Job, a righteous man. At the end of it all, this is what he did:

20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,

and naked I will depart.

The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;

may the name of the LORD be praised.”

Psalm 69 was written by someone who felt he was “poor and in pain.” His appropriate response was to thank the Lord:

But as for me — poor and in pain — let Your salvation protect me, God. I will praise God’s name with song and exalt Him with thanksgiving. (Ps 69:29-30, HCSB)

Paul says, “Good, bad, normal, it doesn’t matter. Give thanks all the time.”

Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1Thess 5:16-18, HCSB)

And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts. Be thankful. Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Col 3:15-17, HCSB)

Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving. (Col 4:2, HCSB)

The older I get, the more I am inclined to believe that thankfulness is a key part in receiving the grace and love and joy that are offered to us through Jesus Christ. I have long known that when I confess my sins to the Lord and repent, what really helps me to feel forgiven is the act of thanking him for that forgiveness. When we thank God, we are, in a way, reaching out and receiving what we thank him for. We are agreeing with what the Bible says about his graciousness and love toward us; we affirming something true about the nature of God. We are saying, “Yes, I have received your love and grace,” and as we declare that to be true, it somehow becomes more real to us. I think this is one of the reasons that the New Testament is so clear about the fact that whenever we pray, part of our praying should involve thankfulness to the Lord. Thankfulness breeds faith and grace.

Thankfulness also leads to peace and contentment. Philippians 4:5-7 teaches that thankful prayer is an antidote to worry:

Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:5-7, HCSB)

Yes, it is good and proper to ask God for what we need, and to share our burdens with him. It is also important to thank him as we offer up those prayers. Through turning our burdens over with thankfulness, we experience the peace of God, which is beyond understanding. The fact that it is beyond understanding means that sometimes we will experience peace when our circumstances suggest that we shouldn’t be able to do so. It is thankfulness, at least in part, which leads to this sort of peace in all circumstances.

I have found that thankfulness (and the benefits of peace, grace and faith which come with it) can be encouraged by some self-discipline. Sometimes, it is helpful to just make myself start thanking God. I don’t like mornings, and I’m not usually very happy until after mid-morning. But, stepping into the shower grumpy and irritated, I can begin by thanking the Lord for running hot water, and then soap, and then a towel. I can thank him that I have my own bathroom. That reminds me that I have my own house to live in, and it is plenty for my whole family. I can go on, and thank the Lord for warm, clean socks, and the existence of coffee, and then for my wife and children. You see how it goes: once we get started, there are an endless stream of things to thank the Lord for. I think one thing that is biblically appropriate is to frequently thank Jesus for his sacrifice for us, and for his promise of eternal life to us.

Thank the Lord today and this week, and let him encourage thankfulness in your heart!

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PEACE

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When you know that you are loved, that you are truly and totally forgiven; when you know that your shame is removed and the most important part of you has been made holy, there is not only joy, but also peace. Something inside you becomes settled, able to be at rest, both in good times and in bad. The internal struggle is over.

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Galatians #21 . Chapter #5:22, part B

Let’s see. My last few days have gone like this: I started the week knowing that I was getting less than half of my regular income, with no reason to believe that might change. Meanwhile, we paid $80 for a plumber to tell us there is nothing wrong with our pipes. We lost our little dog, who is like part of our family, and dearly beloved by all, especially our children. And we got a message that our oldest daughter’s college financial aid application, which has already been held up for five months, is still in limbo. We heard about extended family members who are upset with us, and we were crazy busy from Monday through Thursday, and our heating and air-conditioning system is malfunctioning. There is more, but you get the point.

The message this week is about peace. I should have known.

We are examining the fruit of Spirit that Paul lists in Galatians 5:22. Last week we considered joy in depth, and we saw that is was not dependent on circumstances. Actually, that is true about all the fruit of the Spirit. Remember, love, the first fruit of the Spirit? The word for love is the Greek word agape. It means self-sacrificing love. Agape is the result of a decision and a commitment to honor and value another person. It is not dependent on what you feel, or even what the other person does or fails to do. In the same way, all of this fruit flows from the Holy Spirit, through our spirit. None of the fruit of the Spirit depends on what happens, or fails to happen, externally. These are manifestations of the character of Jesus Christ, arising from within us, not outside of us. In some ways, the fruit of the Spirit is most lovely and obvious when it is in stark contrast to our circumstances.

With that in mind, it is clear that peace, as one of the fruits of the Spirit, does not mean that there is no turmoil in your circumstances. In fact, it might be the opposite. It could be that outside, your world is crumbling, but you are sustained from the inside by the peace of the Holy Spirit. The Greek word is pronounced “ei-renay.” It is used some 85 times in the Greek New Testament.

Virtually all of the apostles seem to use “peace” as a key part of greeting other believers (the exceptions are James, and whoever wrote Hebrews). Within the first few verses of each of his letters, Paul says something like this:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! (Phlm 1:3, NET)

Jude, John and Peter do much the same:

Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Son of the Father, in truth and love. (2John 1:3, NET)

May grace and peace be lavished on you as you grow in the rich knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord! (2Pet 1:2, NET)

May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you. (Jude 1:2, HCSB)

The only other thing consistently proclaimed in these greetings is grace. What this says, is that, in the minds of the apostles, peace is a key part of the message of good news. It is central to what Jesus has accomplished for us; it is closely connected to the grace of God given to us in Jesus Christ.

This makes sense to me. When you know that you are loved, that you are truly and totally forgiven; when you know that your shame is removed and the most important part of you has been made holy, there is not only joy, but also peace. Something inside you becomes settled, able to be at rest, both in good times and in bad. The internal struggle is over. Sometimes the bible describes this as “peace with God.”

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (Rom 5:1, NET)

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, so that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Eph 2:17-18, NET)

This peace remains, regardless of what else may be happening. Jesus said that he himself gives us this kind of peace:

“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Your heart must not be troubled or fearful. (John 14:27, HCSB)

I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage – I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33, NET)

Jesus doesn’t say that this peace is based upon the absence of trouble on the outside. In fact, he says the opposite. The peace that world gives is temporary. It is based upon things going well for you. Jesus says, his peace isn’t so weak. His peace conquers, even in the middle of trouble and suffering. Paul says elsewhere that this peace we have often doesn’t make sense to the human mind. It isn’t rooted in the here and now. We get it by trusting God with everything, every situation, with the sum total of our lives:

Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7, NET)

The peace Paul talks about here is “beyond understanding.” If things were all good on the outside, peace might be understandable. But this peace surpasses our comprehension, because it is rooted not in in circumstances, but in relationship to God through Jesus Christ.

So, how do you get peace?

We talked about this last time. Holy Spirit-peace does not come from our striving or our effort. It doesn’t come from us trying hard, or saying, “I am at peace! I am at peace!” It comes from being connected to Jesus. The closer we are to Jesus, the more peace will grow in our hearts.

Someone in one of our small groups mentioned something very important this week. Paul describes these things as fruit, and fruit do not grow all in one day. Early in spring, all you can see is a little shoot, or a tiny swelling at the end of a twig. Gradually, over a period of days or weeks, you perceive a bud. A while after that, you see a pretty flower, but still no fruit. Then, at first the fruit is tiny, and it would be bitter to eat. But it slowly grows. The point is, all these things are character qualities that grow in us. That word “grow” should encourage you. This text is not here to show you that you ought to have it all together. These things grow in us in increasing measure, as we stay connected to Jesus. Maybe right now, you only have a little bit of peace, joy or love. That’s OK. Some is better than none.

The fruit will grow if you stay connected to Jesus. Being connected to Jesus means you continue to rest in him, trust him, seek him through the bible and through prayer and fellowship with others. It means that when you understand he is asking you to something, you do it. If you remain in Jesus, this fruit will grow. And it will grow at the pace set by the Holy Spirit.

So, if need be, you can have peace about how little peace you have. You can be patient with your lack of patience. Stay connected to Jesus, and let the fruit grow.

There is another aspect to peace that the New Testament talks about frequently. I think this second meaning of peace arises from the kind of peace we’ve been talking about. But this secondary peace is important to. It is peace among believers. In other words, the result of the Holy Spirit being in both you and me, should be that we find common ground, and learn ways to get along without a lot of strife and wrangling and arguing. Remember the flesh? The flesh wants its own way. But the Spirit wants Jesus’s way. When we walk with Spirit, and submit to what he wants, rather than satisfying the flesh, the natural result will peace among Jesus-followers. I’m not saying everything will always be perfect, because you all just aren’t as right as I am J. Even so, one result of walking by the Spirit should be increasing harmony between people who are remaining connected to Jesus.

Sometimes, maybe we have a choice about whether to embrace God’s nonsensical peace, or to turn away. Paul writes to the Colossians:

Let the peace of Christ be in control in your heart (for you were in fact called as one body to this peace), and be thankful. (Col 3:15, NET)

It sounds like he is saying they have a choice to let the peace of Jesus Christ control their hearts, or not. I think this might mean giving up trying to get fleshly satisfaction, and embracing Jesus and his promises, and whatever situation he has you in at the moment. I think this involves a choice of either trusting God, or retaining the right to be stressed and upset about your situation.

I’ll close with some more words about peace:

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with you all. (2Thess 3:16, NET)