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Posts Tagged ‘thanksgiving’

I want to begin by saying that it is good to thank God, and to do so at all times. We learn this in both the Old and New Testaments:

  • Psalm 34:1 – “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.”
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:16 – “Rejoice always”

These verses teach us that we are to give thanks, not just when we feel like it, or when things are good – but when we don’t feel like it and when we are going through trials.

I believe we need to treat giving thanks to God as a spiritual discipline, like prayer and reading the Bible, so that we are intentional and take time on a regular basis to reflect and take note of how God has blessed us.

Thanking God in this way is important for at least these two reasons:

1. God deserves thanks

God deserves it because of who he is. Apart from anything that God does, God is simply great in character and power.  Isaiah 6:3 says, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” God is “holy,” that is, in a higher and different class than us; God is so awesome that it is beyond us to even fathom it.

God deserves thanks because he created all things. Revelation 4:11 says, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” And we exist because God chose that it be so.

God deserves thanks because he saves us. Psalm 13:5 says,” my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.” God has saved us through his Son, our Lord Jesus, the Christ. And he continues to save us and help us.

And God deserves thanks because he cares for usJames 1:17 says, “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” What good things are in your life? You have them because of God’s provision for you, whether it be talents, skills, life, family home, or whatever. If it is good it is from God.

And God can even transform our pain and suffering into something good. Romans 8:28 says, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” He gives us good, and he works to redeem the bad.

2. We need to give thanks

We were made to recognize and honor God as our Creator. When we don’t we become ungrateful or we give thanks to other things for our blessings or we take credit for things ourselves. When we lose our focus on God and thanking God it distorts us spiritually in our minds and hearts. That’s why we need to give thanks – it is for our own well-being.

Not giving thanks to God is, in fact, at the root of all human sin. Paul makes this point in Romans 1:21. He says, “For although (people) knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.”

Then he talks about how in their foolishness, they turned away from the Creator to serve what is created; they served and thanked idols or images of things God made, instead of the God who made them.

As a result, Paul goes on to say, God gave them over to their desires for sexual immorality. And finally Paul ends by noting in 1:29 that people “were filled with all manner of unrighteousness.”

What is at the root of this downward progression of sin? The failure to honor and give thanks to God.

Let me end with a familiar gospel story that challenges us with this –

Do you give thanks?

 It is the story of the healing of the ten lepers from Luke 17:11-19.

“On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’ When he saw them he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ And he said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.’”

The message of this story is simple and clear. The Samaritan is commended because he returned and gave thanks. And we need to return and give thanks to God for who he is, creation, salvation and for his care of our lives. And I want to give you the opportunity to do this, this morning . . ..

William

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Thanksgiving is one of my favorite times of the year. As a kid I remember being thankful for the four f’s – family, food, free from school and football. But not necessarily in that order. I think I have a broader perspective now and a better set of priorities.

In our congregational meeting today one of the things you will be asked to do is list five strengths of our congregation. You will also be asked to list two weaknesses. The difference in number is intentional because we are much better as a church at finding our faults than in seeing our strengths. At least, this is my observation in various conversations I have been in or heard. But we also need to acknowledge and give thanks for those things that God has blessed us with as a congregation. And these will help us to see, I believe, what God wants to do through us. Perhaps as I share today, this will prime the pump for your sharing later in the meeting.

To set the tone, we begin by looking at –

Paul’s congregational thanksgivings

In his letters to various churches he almost always has a thanksgiving section at the beginning where he talks about some good things in the congregation. These are things he gives thanks for as he prays for them. Let’s look at some of these.

Romans 1:8 – “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.” He goes on to talk about his desire that there might be a mutual sharing of faith between them, if he can come and visit with them.

1 Corinthians 1:4 – “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus.” He seems to be thinking in particular about various gifts or abilities that God has given to them.

Ephesians 1:15-16 – “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you.” He is grateful for their faith and  also their love for fellow believers.

Philippians 1:3-5 – “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” They were faithful givers to support him as he did his mission work. This is what partnership means.

Colossians 1:3-4 – “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints . . .” This is very similar to what he said in Ephesians, a focus on faith and love.

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 – “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Here we have the familiar faith, hope and love. There is an emphasis on their work of faith and labor of love, and their continuing hope in Jesus despite being persecuted.

2 Thessalonians 1:3-4 – “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.” Here the emphasis is on the increase in both their faith and love, and also again their steadfastness in trials.

So Paul knew of their weaknesses and he dealt with these in his letters. But he was also constantly giving thanks for these congregations and their good qualities in his times of prayer. And we should also be focused on seeing the good and giving thanks to God for how God has blessed us. So let me share with you today some of –

My congregational thanksgivings

1. Like Paul, I am thankful for our faith in Christ. As I have been a shepherd here I have seen a number of you go through some really difficult times. And I have been encouraged to see your faith expressed and acted on; to see you endure and stay strong in your faith.

I have also heard some of your life stories and testimonies and how you have trusted God’s promises and how God has come through for you. In our personal conversations and in our praise time, I so often hear of how your faith is strong and growing and I thank God for this.

2. I am grateful for the love that we have for one another. God has given us each other to encourage and support one another and to care for one another; to lift each other up and carry each other’s burdens.

And we do this. Time and again when needs are expressed people respond and rally around to help – taking a meal, working on projects to bless a family, visits, checking in on each other, praying for one another, encouraging one another. What a blessing it is to be in a group that share’s Christ’s love with one another.

3. I give thanks for hard workers in our congregation. So many people with servant hearts, who are willing to work behind the scenes.

I have been in churches where there are few workers and it is difficult. Do you understand how truly blessed we are in this way? Let me mention just a few names. Jeryl, our treasurer, takes care of our finances and does an excellent job. Alvin who is almost always here early working in various ways with sound, power point and other things. Gene and Fern who come early and make coffee and bring snacks. All our children’s Sunday school teachers and leaders Melanie and Cindy. Our trustees, Les Martin, Al Shands, Mike Martin who do a ton of work behind the scenes. And our food committee who has been busy of late, and is making a meal for us today – Dorothy Hoover, Linda Martin and Amy Zinn.

These are just a few. I am very grateful.

4. I give thanks to God for good leaders among us. I don’t carry the whole weight of the congregation. We have many very fine leaders who I work with. We have much wisdom and leadership skills on our Elder team, our Deacon team and our church council. And this is a blessing. And we have always had a good rapport.

Along these same lines I am grateful for our youth leaders and also the former pastors who are a part of our congregation.

5. I praise God for our worship team and all our musicians and singers here – whether you are on the worship tead or only do special music or prelude. God has blessed this congregation with musical gifts. I have been a part of churches where this was not so. And although God loves a joyful noise, it is also nice to have beautiful praise to offer up to God.

We have people who are gifted in leading worship and in putting together worship services that lead us into the presence of God. And the worship team puts in a ton of work coming an hour early every Sunday and also have extra practices from time to time.

6. I love it that we are an intergenerational congregation. We have people of all ages here. So we have the wisdom of the older generation and the energy and life of the younger generations. We can get input from each other and help each other out. And this gives us balance. We aren’t just focused on one group, but have a place for anyone to fit in.

7. I am grateful that God has blessed us with resources. Yes, I am talking about finances. God has blessed many of you in your jobs and businesses and you have been generous.

Our building is paid off. We made it through the recession intact. And I am blessed that you support me full-time. Thank you! We also have resources to put toward the work of the kingdom as we think of the future.

8. I thank God for the stability of this congregation. You are steadfast and even keel. You don’t get too excited about things or too nervous when there is a problem. Being a pastor here is not like being on a rollercoaster. You have deep roots and deep relationships.

So I share all this to get us started thinking along these lines for our meeting today. But also, along with all the other things that you give thanks for this thanksgiving, include your thanks for this congregation that God has given to each of us.

William Higgins

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Series: Paul to the Thessalonians

We’re starting a series on Paul to the Thessalonians. Not sure yet if we will go on into 2 Thessalonians or not. For now I want us to look at 1 Thessalonians and break it down to see what it says, and see what we can learn from it to help us in our understanding and walk with God.

As we go through this I encourage you to read and meditate on this letter in your own times of study and prayer. Let’s begin with some background.

The city of Thessalonica

 – still exists today. It’s the second largest city in Greece. In Paul’s day it was also a very important city. It was the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia, a free city which gave it various political privileges and it was prosperous, with a good sea port, on the main east-west trade route and also on a north-south highway. Here’s a map:

As we’ll see most of the Thessalonians came out of idolatry, which was everywhere, as it was in all Gentile cities. They worshipped Aphrodite, Apollo, Kabirus, Zeus, Isis – just to name a few. And they were quite devoted to the worship of Roman emperors as gods.

Paul’s visit to Thessalonica

 – was a part of his second missionary journey chronicled in Acts 17. He traveled from Antioch in Syria, to the Galatian churches, to Troas and then over to Macedonia, to Philippi and then Thessalonica.

After he established a church, a great conflict broke out and persecution, so Paul had to leave quickly. He went on to Berea, Athens and then to Corinth. This caused real anxiety for two reasons. First, these new believers were left facing persecution alone, and second he wasn’t done teaching them all that they needed to know before he had to leave (3: 2,10).

So he sent Timothy back to check on them (3:2), and when he reported back to Paul at Corinth with good news (3:6), Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians as a response.

He wrote it around 50 AD, about 20 years after Jesus’ death. This was Paul’s second letter. And as such it is the second oldest New Testament document, after Galatians.

Let’s go through this a bit at a time.

The greeting – v. 1

“1Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.” This letter is actually from Paul, Silvanus and Timothy. “We” language is prevalent throughout. But at several points “I” language comes out and it is clear that Paul is the one speaking (2:18, 3:5, 5:26).

[Silvanus (known as Silas in Acts) was from the Jerusalem church. He went with Paul after Paul and Barnabas separated. Timothy was a disciple from the Galatian city of Lystra that Paul picked up near the beginning of this mission trip. Timothy, of course, came to work with Paul long term.

The word “church” means “a gathering of people” – specifically of the people of God, modeled on the assembly of the congregation of Israel in the wilderness. Here Paul specifies that he is addressing the gathering in Thessalonica  – “in God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” This in contrast to other gatherings, for instance the political gathering under Rome in Thessalonica.]

He begins by wishing them grace or God’s favor (an adaptation of the Greek “greetings”) and peace or wellbeing from God (from the typical Jewish greeting “shalom”).

The rest of chapter one is focused on –

Thanksgiving to God – vs. 2-10

“2We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers . . .” All of Paul’s letters, except Galatians, have a thanksgiving section. In this case Paul is really thankful because they are hanging in there with their faith. He wasn’t sure what was going on. His thanksgiving even spills over into chapters 2 and 3 as well.

He says that he gives thanks for them “always” and prays for them “constantly.” Now I would submit to you that this is not some super spiritual ability to give thanks and pray always even while you do other things. It is rather a reference to his daily prayers – as was the common Jewish tradition. He is simply saying that each morning and evening he mentions them in prayer to God.

He gives thanks specifically for their Christian lives. “3remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ . . .”

“Faith, love and hope” is a common triad in Paul and it functions here as a summary of their Christian life. And it can for us too:

  • Faith has to do with what we believe and our trust in God for salvation
  • Love has to do with living the Christian life day in and day out
  • Hope has to do with what we look forward to when Jesus returns.

Paul is saying that their faith is producing works, their love labors and their hope steadfastness. They are doing well. And so he gives thanks for this.

He also gives thanks for God’s transforming work in them. “4knowing, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”

He notes God’s love for them and tells them that they are chosen, that is, they are a part of the people of God (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). They have been cut off from family and friends because they have turned away from their old lives, and they are being persecuted.

But they are “brothers and sisters” now; a part of a new group, a new family – the church.

How does he know this? Because God’s Spirit was really at work when he ministered to them, empowering Paul’s preaching and working in their hearts to bring them to full conviction of the truth. “Power” here most likely includes miracles. (Galatians 5:3, 2 Corinthians 12:12f, Romans 15:18-19)

Paul also gives thanks for their faithfulness in suffering. “5You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit 7so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.”

Paul is saying that they had just come from Philippi, having suffered for their faith and they were under threat in Thessalonica. And now the Thessalonians have imitated this example of faithful suffering for their faith.

There is actually a chain of imitation here: Jesus suffered for his faithfulness, Paul followed his example, the Thessalonians have now followed both Paul and Jesus, and now they are an example to others in Greece.

But not only did they suffer, they experienced “the joy of the Holy Spirit” in their suffering. Jesus spoke of this in Matthew 5:11-12, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you . . . Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Even in suffering you can rejoice because of the knowledge that you will be blessed and because of the work of God in you by the Spirit.

Finally, Paul gives thanks for their witness. “8For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.”

The story of what God did among them and their faith has  spread throughout Greece (Macedonia and Achaia). And even beyond – “everywhere.” Everybody is hearing about their story.

“9For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” Paul is hearing from others about what happened in Thessalonica. Perhaps others from Philippi and Berea came along with Timothy to report to him at Corinth.

And again we have a description of their Christian lives:

  • They turned to God from idols
  • They now they serve the living and true God
  • And now they wait for Jesus to return

And Paul is thankful for this.

As Paul gives thanks for all these things, several things stand out for us to reflect on.

How are you doing in your daily prayers?

What do you give thanks for without ceasing? Who do you pray for constantly? Just as Paul was an example for them (and us) in the area of faithfulness in suffering, so he is a model for us of disciplined prayer. How are you doing?

The gospel message

What Paul preached comes out clearly in just a few words in vs. 9-10. “. . . how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” Let me highlight some things from these verses: 1) It has to do with a person named Jesus; 2) he is the Son of God; 3) he died and has been resurrected; 4) he was exalted to heaven; 5) we are to wait for his return; 6) final judgment or “wrath” is coming. This is God’s just judgment on human sin; 7) but Jesus is our deliverer.

The same question that confronted the Thessalonians when they heard this gospel still confronts us. Are we going to receive God’s mercy to us by putting our faith in Jesus – who delivers us from judgment for our sin?

We also get a picture of what –

A true Gospel transformation

– looks like. Think about your own life as we go through this. 1) The Spirit moved in their hearts – v. 5. There is not coming to God without God first coming to us and working in us. 2) They turned from idols to God, which speaks to true repentance – v. 9. 3) They serve God with their lives – v. 9.  4)  Their faith is producing works – v. 3.   5) Their love for others is evident in their behavior – v. 3. 6) They have steadfast hope as they wait for Jesus – vs. 3-10. And 7) they do all this while suffering for their faith with joy – v. 6.

God aims through his gospel to transform every part of us in just these ways. What does your Christian life look like? If this isn’t a picture of your Christian life, I encourage you now to renew your faith in Jesus and to invite the Holy Spirit into your life to transform you.

William Higgins

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