October 9, 2005: Thanksgiving Comes Early!

Let us pray: Dear Savior, although we often neglect honoring You and thanking You with daily prayer and praises, we’re grateful that You never neglect honoring us with the gifts of forgiveness, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and goodness.  And so, today we take time to thank You for such blessings.  And we also ask that You enable us to live in the delightful daily glow of such goodness.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, WHO GIVES EVERY GOOD AND PERFECT GIFT TO HIS BELOVED CHILDREN!

TEXT:  Philippians 4: 4-13

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

I smiled a lot at our synod circuit visitor meetings which I recently attended.  I smiled because that convocation of pastors engages in what I like to call “quiet evangelism.”  O, don’t get me wrong—our meetings are far from quiet.  Anytime you put a dozen pastors in the same room it will get loud and boisterous.  After all,  we like to talk.  It’s what we do.  No, I smile because when we’re in the restaurant eating our meals we pray, out loud, together and suddenly the room quiets down.  I smile when we’re in our meeting room down the hall and we sing a hymn together during devotions, too.  For I know that the whole hotel lobby is filled with praises to God—probably the only time during the whole year.  And I often wonder what the other people walking past must think?  Surely it gives them pause.

America is experiencing a bankruptcy of thanksgiving.  You seldom hear the words: “Thank you” uttered.  And if and when people do bother to thank God at all, it is usually on the nationally imposed holiday called: Thanksgiving Day.  Well, as Christians we don’t need to wait!  For we live in the glow of His blessings every single day!  Yes, for us:

THANKSGIVING COMES EARLY!

I

Thanksgiving and rejoicing are cut from the same cloth.  They both spring from a heart which is in tune with our loving Creator.  Thanksgiving and rejoicing are attitudinal.  Both are wrought by God Almighty Who invites, encourages, brings and even prepares us to attend His banquet of daily blessings culminating in heaven.  And here in our lesson, St. Paul joins this upbeat attitude with prayer, daily prayer.

“Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Let’s face it, our prayer life is lacking in every instance.  O, I know that all of you pray, most of you pray daily.  You thank God for His various gifts while also expressing your anxieties to Him.  But that’s where we all fall down, isn’t it?  We give Him our troubles, but often take them right back.  We always seem to think that we have to solve all our problems alone.  Or, our control side takes over and we don’t really want God’s solution unless it conforms to the solution we already have in mind.  And as a result, frustration and anxiety step in and rob us of true peace of mind.

Never forget that God’s ways are not your ways.  They’re bigger and better!  And how do we know that?  First, because He’s God, not us.  And secondly, because we are the daily recipients of His kindness, His love, His grace given to us in Christ.  In Christ we know that God loves us.  In Christ we know that He’ll always provide for our needs.  In Christ we know that all things work for our eternal good.  In Christ we know He cannot and will not give us anything bad.  In Christ, we know that blessings, even unseen ones, will always come our way.  We know all that because Christ took eternal “badness” away from our lives when He died for our sins on the cross.  And that is why Paul is so upbeat in our lesson.  That is why for him and for us Thanksgiving Comes Early!—Today, tomorrow, and forever!  Yes, possessing such an attitudinal shift in our psyche comes from knowing and trusting in Christ.  And it brings real peace of mind.  As Paul says: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

II

Now St. Paul knew his flesh was frail.  He knew sin-caused anxieties always creep up on us and wreak havoc in our lives.  Terrorism on the subways, gyrations of the stock market, job insecurities, or just plain old hard-hearted people will chip away at our joy over life.  So, to lift you up above his morass of mental anguish, to fill you with thanksgiving, he adds some wonderful advice.  “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you.”

Parents tell their children not to hang out with bad kids because they can corrupt them.  As the Bible says: “Bad company corrupts good character.”  The same is true of bad thoughts.  Did you ever notice that the explanation to every commandment deals with our negative thoughts associated with them?  Lust, envy, greed and jealousy are attitudinal.  They corrupt us internally, in the heart, which Christ paid for with His own life.  In the heart, which is the temple of the Holy Ghost.

Just like people, churches have hearts, too.  Some are mean.  Some are filled with jealousy.  Some never trust because the individuals involved imagine unseen motives in others because their own hearts are filled with hidden agendas.  But, other churches have learned to put aside such negativity by God’s grace.  They are unashamed to wear their hearts on their sleeve.  They take seriously Paul’s advice about putting the best construction on what others say and do and make lemonade when life gives lemons.  I saw that just the other night when the Action Group had their Fall meeting.  Everyone was supportive of each other.  Everyone tried to build up the whole body of Christ.  The Ladies that night exhibited true thanksgiving.  For them it came early.  In fact, it comes early every week at Pinewood as is evidenced by God’s love handed out in the church service and by you handing that love to each other in the fellowship hall afterwards.  Yes, when we’re humble before God as individuals that humility will show itself in compassion and caring for each other.  And then thanksgiving will break forth in jubilant song every Sunday, yes, every day!

Paul concludes by recounting his own struggles in life and how God was with him every step of the way.  And then he adds this little sentence: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Inscribe that line on your forehead.  Engrave it in your heart.  For nothing, nothing can negate His love for you and your ability to rejoice in Him.  His strength is made perfect in our weakness.  And because we’re all weak by nature, through His gift of faith, now we’re all strong!  For the Christian thanksgiving isn’t a once-a-year event to be hoped for, no, for us thanksgiving comes early!  And so does the inner glow that it brings.  Amen