Archive for Thanksgiving

Jun
12

Are You Forgetting Something?

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On Sunday’s I’ve been working through the Gospel of Matthew. Its been good for me and hopefully it has been beneficial to my listeners. I’m always intrigued by how I continue to learn from passages that I thought I was fairly familiar. Recently, I came across a “story within a story” in Matthew 16 that struck a nerve. With me anyway.

In Matthew 16:1-4 Jesus was embroiled in yet another controversy with the religious leaders. For the first time the Pharisees and Sadducees have teamed up and demanded a sign to authenticate Jesus’ claims. After he departed with his disciples, Jesus began to provide a warning to the twelve about the teaching of these religious leaders using the metaphor of leaven (or yeast). The warning flows fairly naturally to the reader, but to my surprise, the disciples missed it. They had forgotten to take bread for the journey and immediately assumed they were being reprimanded for their forgetfulness. Its at that point that Jesus pauses to express his concern for their spiritual amnesia.

“Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, ‘You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it that you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread?'” (Matthew 16:8-10, NIV)

It appears that the disciples had indeed forgotten to pack bread, but even more, they had forgotten where the bread had come from in the first place. Jesus had fed two multitudes in the period of about four months by multiplying loaves and fish, yet the disciples were concerned about the source of their next meal. With Jesus, no bread is no problem!

Before I judge the disciples too quickly, I must confess that I find myself guilty of the same forgetfulness. Too often I forget what God has done in the past. I forget that he’s always been faithful. I forget that he is able to bring anything he pleases into existence from nothing. God is faithful to me, and if I pause to give thanks and praise and count my blessings I am quickly reminded that whatever it is I face today, he is able and willing.

The size of my God may very well be in the direct proportion of my memory.

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Dec
06

To Those Unnoticed

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The Sunday prior to Thanksgiving I selected an obscure yet helpful text for my sermon. The Book of Romans is often referred to as “the gospel according to Paul,” and it is true that his epic work has been among the most influential sections of the New Testament. All the way through the end of chapter 15.

Chapter 16, however, is unfortunately overlooked. It is the New Testament equivalent to the “fly over states” of the upper midwest. In the first 16 verses Paul names 27 anonymous people who are mostly Gentiles and slaves. Ten of the 27 people are women. Only Aquila and Priscilla are mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament. Paul mentions them individually and concisely, with each statement reading like an epitaph on a tombstone.

I could have gone into the detail about the meaning of each name and offered some speculation regarding how these names fit into the puzzle of Paul’s missionary journeys, but I didn’t. I chose to simply point out the obvious and remind our congregation to remember that whatever we have or have achieved in life has come with the help of others, many of whom go unnoticed to the world. Perhaps a teacher, a coach, a mentor, a friend, or a relative have spoken into your life at a critical point which helped to shape you into who you are today.

Each of us stands on the strong shoulders of someone else. Don’t forget to thank God for them. And if they’re still alive, be sure to thank them for the meaningful contributions they have made to you. But don’t stop there. Consider the possibility that you could pass it on to the next generation.

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Dec
04

A Psalm of Thanksgiving

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Shout with joy to the LORD, all the earth!
Worship the LORD with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the LORD is God!
He made us, and we are his.
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the LORD is good.
His unfailing love continues forever,
and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

(Psalm 100:1-5, NLT)

Have you ever had someone do something for you or bless you in some unexpected way? Have you ever asked yourself the question, “How can I show my gratitude?” Psalm 100 offers some suggestions on how you can express your gratitude to God. We can shout joyfully, serve gladly or sing joyfully.

It takes two things to shout: conviction and commitment. When my son started playing football in Arkansas I stood at the games with the dads. Primarily because the moms wouldn’t sit with us. We were loud and proud, cheering for our children like we were at the Rose Bowl. When we moved to Iowa I had to tone it down because fan Iowa fan enthusiasm rivaled the golf clapping gallery at the 18th green at The Master’s. When you shout, you get the attention of others because your words are loud enough to be overheard. When we joyfully shout our praise and thanksgiving to God, we become witnesses to the goodness of God, bearing testimony to his character. Our witness not only expresses our feelings about God, it indirectly becomes an invitation to those around us to join the chorus.

Our glad worship is the application of our praise and gratitude. The word worship literally means “service” (liturgy). We can move our mouths and our hands, expressing praise through our talents, time and treasures.

Older translations render sing joyfully as “make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” That is not an invitation to the tone deaf to join the choir. It is yet another way that we can share our praise and gratitude to God.

The common denominator of these verses is joy and gladness. But what if you don’t feel joyful and glad? Sometimes the pain and problems of life leaves us feeling anything but joyful and glad. Are we, to borrow a cliche from years ago, to “praise the Lord anyway?” Does sincerity matter? Don’t let your circumstances cause you to be confused about the character of God. We live in an evil and fallen world, surrounded by brokenness.

So what can we say with confidence about our God? What can we acknowledge? First, the Lord is creator, He has made us. We do not come from ourselves. Second, the Lord is redeemer, for we are his people. We do not belong to ourselves. Finally, the Lord is our Shepherd–our care giver, for we are the sheep of his pasture. Ultimately we do not provide for ourselves.

Verse four issues a second invitation. Praise and thanksgiving are something used interchangeably, but they are not synonyms. Thanksgiving acknowledges what God has done while praise acknowledges who God is. Suppose you gave me a gift. Upon receiving the gift I might say something like, “Thank you for the gift. You are a thoughtful and generous person.” Thanksgiving acknowledges the gift, while praise acknowledges the thoughtfulness and generosity of the giver. See the difference?

So what is our motivation for this? Our motivation is rooted in the character and nature of God. Unlike the pagan deities of the day, God is good. His love endures, never diminishing. We can never do anything to cause God to love us less than he does and we can never do anything to cause God to love us more than he does. And he is faithful forever. He never quits on us or writes us off.

Praise and thanksgiving are cultivated in the humility of one’s heart. The proud and arrogant are not thankful. If praise and thanksgiving are absent from your life and lips, its not because you’re ungrateful. It’s because you’re proud. So take some time to raise your voice and lift your hands. No one has the perfect life. But we are blessed with more than we deserve. And every gift comes from the loving hands of our good God.

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“Shout with joy to the LORD, all the earth! Worship the LORD with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy. Acknowledge that the LORD is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation” (Psalm 100:1-5, NLT).

Yesterday I posted some observations regarding Psalm 100. Within this call to corporate worship are five reasons why we should give thanks and offer our praise to God. The Psalmist’s list may not look exactly like your recently composed list of blessings from last week, but he certainly gives us plenty that we can agree with.

1. God has made us
The Psalmist makes no bones about the fact that we are not self made. The first declaration the Bible makes about God is that he is creator. As creator, he knows us intimately. But more than that, his work is ongoing. He’s not finished with his creation. Philippians 1:6 affirms that “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” It’s vogue to say, “I’ve never forgotten where I came from.” It’s better to say, “I’ve never forgotten whom I have come from.”

2. We belong to him
Using the imagery of sheep and shepherd, we need to remember that we belong to God. We belong to him because he has redeemed us. No matter what happens to us in life, we belong to God. He calls us his own.

3. God is good
The gods and idols of David’s contemporaries were brutal and exacting. Those pagan worshippers lived in fear of their gods. Their servitude to those idols was more about superstitious belief than true worship. But God is different…He is good! The first thing the Bible wants us to know about God is that he is creator, but the second thing it reveals is that God is also good. Our fundamental conviction about God is that at the very core of his being he is good.

4. His love endures forever
This is a hard one to get, because our love is generally conditional and performance based. Conditional love is love that says, “I’ll love you if…” Performance based love is love that says, “I love you because you…” God doesn’t love us that way. His love is unconditional. It’s not based on our performance. It is totally impartial. We can’t do anything to cause him to love us anymore than he does and we can’t do anything to cause him to love us any less.

5. His faithfulness never waivers
God stays with us, never abandoning us. He is not only for us, he is with us.

Psalm 100 is one of my favorites. It’s simple and direct, and reminds readers that while it is appropriate to give thanks for the wonderful blessings that come from God, we should also focus on the nature and character of the giver of every good and perfect gift.

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Nov
25

Lessons from Lepers

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As Jesus continued on toward Jerusalem, he reached the border between Galilee and Samaria. As he entered a village there, ten lepers stood at a distance, crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy. One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.”
(Luke 17:11-19, NLT)

This narrative from the life of Jesus is pretty straight forward. Jesus was travelling in a marginal area (after all, where does one expect to find marginalized people?) when he was confronted by ten lepers. Lepers were required by the law to announce their presence. They were outcasts from society, and had no opportunity for contact with their family, friends, or co-workers. Seeing Jesus, they seized the moment and pled for mercy. Jesus instructed them to show themselves to the priests, who had the power to pronounce them clean of their skin disease and free to return to their lives. As they turned to go, they discovered they were healed. Nine of them continued on their path to freedom, but one returned to personally than Jesus for what he had done. Here are my three observations from this simple text.

1. God’s blessings are a result of His sovereign grace.
They asked for mercy but received something better…God’s grace. The simple difference between mercy and grace is this. Mercy is God withholding what I deserve. Grace, on the other hand, is God giving me what I don’t deserve and could never earn. The biggest battle we have in cultivating thankfulness is the battle against earning and deserving. How tempting it is for us to take the credit for our lives and our blessings! We earn them and we deserve them. Both attitudes work against grace and prompt pride instead of thankfulness.

2. The lepers reveal the importance of making more of the giver than the gift.
I’m sure the nine who left rejoiced in their healing. But the thing that distinguished the one was not merely gratitude. The difference I believe is that the one who returned made more of the giver than the gift. I’m sure you’ve seen that in small children. They grab their birthday or Christmas gifts and run off to play, uttering little more than a coerced “thank you” when prompted by adults. Children are prone to make more of the gift than the giver, because the gift is what the natural self wants. Sometimes as God’s children we do the exact same thing. We receive the gift and rejoice in the gift and forget about the giver of the gift. Part of Christian maturity is learning the difference between the gift and the giver and what is of utmost importance.

3. The leper who returned helps us to see that making much of the giver creates avenues to receive even more than we ask.
He not only received what he asked for, healing of leprosy, he received even more. His faith made him well. He hadn’t asked Jesus for the value added portion. He assumed that being healed of leprosy was gift enough. But Jesus gave him something spiritual to go along with his physical healing. He gave him the gift of eternal life. Focusing on the giver may be the difference between healing and wholeness. Nine lepers encountered Jesus and were healed. But one was made whole. Nine received a gift that would impact the rest of their physical lives. One, however, received a gift that would change his life for eternity. That’s the kind of thing that happens when we make more of the giver than the gift.

Categories : Jesus, Thanksgiving
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