My Sunday sermons given at Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR, for those who missed church or just want to see what we're up to. You can also listen to these sermons if you prefer. Just go to our church website and click the "Online Church" tab. Here's the link:

Monday, November 23, 2009

"Thanks a lot, Lord!" - Thanksgiving Message (11/22/09)

We all know how important tone of voice is in the communication process. I can say, “I love you, too!” or, “I love you, too!” and the meanings are exact opposites. I can say, “Whatever you want,” or, “Whatever you want,” and convey two very different thoughts.

Likewise, I can say, “Thanks a lot, Lord,” and mean one thing, or, “Thanks a lot, Lord,” and mean something entirely different. Unfortunately, when we talk to the Lord we often sound like the latter. Our thanksgiving words don’t always radiate thankfulness.

This Thursday Americans here and around the world will gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving Day. We’ve all heard the stories of the Pilgrims and that first Thanksgiving when they took time out from their regular activities to thank God for His bounty and for His providence in their lives. However, Thanksgiving Day like so many other holidays has for many lost its religious significance. Rather than thanking God, many thank their lucky stars, or other people, or fate, or something equally unworthy.

For us who are Christians, Thanksgiving Day should be time to reflect on God’s goodness and mercy, which He has chosen to pour out upon us. We are not citizens of this free land because we deserve it. Others do not languish in poverty because they are somehow of lesser value in God’s sight and therefore undeserving of His blessings.

No, it’s all about amazing grace, “undeserved favor.” For this we should be thankful. The Bible has much to teach us about having an attitude of gratitude. One of the clearest passages is found in I Thessalonians 5:16-18.
16. Rejoice always.
17. Pray without ceasing.
18. In everything give thanks: for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
#1 = Notice the three commands – rejoice, pray, and give thanks. They are not requests but orders; therefore, they are do-able because God never commands us to do things that He does not empower us to carry out.

#2 = Notice too the adverbs that describe the action of the verbs. Always, without ceasing, and in everything are interchangeable. Switch them around and you will discover that the three commands are left unchanged. Thus, Paul is saying that in every situation, no matter how bad it appears, there are always elements for which we can be thankful. Examples:
  • Paul and Silas singing in the dark prison Acts 16:25
  • Paul before Agrippa in Acts 26:2
  • Paul with the Jews in Rome in Acts 28:15
#3 = Verse 18 says, “Giving thanks in everything.” That is an outflow of constant rejoicing (vs. 16) and unceasing prayer (vs. 17). There is a progression through these three verses.

#4 = Supporting passages:
  • Ephesians 5:18-20 – “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This tells me that thanksgiving results from being Spirit-filled. Notice too that here Paul says “for all things.” That is harder to swallow than “in all things.”
  • Colossians 3:15-17 – “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Three times in three verses: “be thankful,” “with gratitude,” and “giving thanks.”
  • Psalm 100:4 – “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him; bless His name.”
  • Colossians 2:6-7 – “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.” This is that Gratitude Attitude that is so attractive in Christians and so rare in our modern world. In fact…
  • Romans 1:21 – Makes it clear that thankfulness is one of the main characteristics that differentiates between a believer and an unbeliever. “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”
#5 = Motives for thanksgiving mentioned in the Scriptures:
  • Upon the completion of great projects. --- Nehemiah 12:31, “I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks.” 
  • For the goodness and mercy of God. --- Psalm 106:1, “Praise the LORD. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; His love endures forever.” 
  • For the gift of Christ. --- II Cor. 9:15, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 
  • For Christ’s power and reign. --- Rev. 11:15-17, “The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.’ And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying: ‘We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign.’”
  • For the reception and effective working of God’s Word in the lives of others, bringing them to salvation. --- II Thess. 2:13, “But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” 
  • For deliverance through Christ from the power of sin. --- Romans 7:23-25, “But I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
  • For victory over death and the grave. --- I Cor. 15:56-57, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
  • For wisdom and power. --- Daniel 2:23, “I thank and praise you, O God of my fathers: You have given me wisdom and power; You have made known to me what we asked of You; You have made known to us the dream of the king.”
  • For the triumph of the Gospel. --- II Cor. 2:14, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him.” 
  • For the conversion of others. --- Romans 6:17-18, “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”  
We have so much for which to be thankful. This Thursday, before you plow into that turkey dinner, how about taking just a few minutes around the table to share the blessings for which you are most grateful to God. It will not only help to put things back into perspective for you but will also be a wonderful testimony to any unbelievers who might be present around your table.

And that brings me to one last observation. Look around and see if there might be someone in your network of relationships whom you could invite to share Thanksgiving Day with you. For those who are alone, it can be one of the saddest and loneliest days of the whole year. Share your love and blessings with others. That is what Jesus would do.

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About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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