Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
~I Thessalonians 5:18
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How important is it to be thankful?
In all circumstances? Our text today, simply states it’s so important it’s actually God’s will for His followers.
As a follower of Christ, how are you doing with that?
One of my favorite “Paul” stories is found in Acts 16 – this account puts me in awe every time I read it
16 One day as we were going down to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit that enabled her to tell the future. She earned a lot of money for her masters by telling fortunes. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.”
18 This went on day after day until Paul got so exasperated that he turned and said to the demon within her, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And instantly it left her.
19 Her masters’ hopes of wealth were now shattered, so they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities at the marketplace. 20 “The whole city is in an uproar because of these Jews!” they shouted to the city officials. 21 “They are teaching customs that are illegal for us Romans to practice.”
22 A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. 23 They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. 24 So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks.
25 Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. 26 Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! 27 The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. 28 But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!”
29 The jailer called for lights and ran to the dungeon and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.” 32 And they shared the word of the Lord with him and with all who lived in his household. 33 Even at that hour of the night, the jailer cared for them and washed their wounds. Then he and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. 34 He brought them into his house and set a meal before them, and he and his entire household rejoiced because they all believed in God.
Look back for a moment at verses 23-25. I mean, who does that? Who gets beaten, severely, and still singing hymns – obviously giving thanks to God in spite of their situation?
I mean, seriously – they had freed a girl from the bondage of both the enemy’s and human exploitation, they were blatantly lied about, they were beaten within an inch of their lives, yet they were singing and giving thanks to God.
Perhaps, if we were to living a life of “Thanks,” in everything, maybe we could actually live in victory too.
Max Lucado tells about living as an American in Brazil. One day, as he was walking along the street on his way to the University to teach a class, he felt a tug on his pants leg. Turning around, he saw a little boy about 5 or 6 years old with dark beady eyes and a dirty little face. The little boy looked up at the big American and said, "Bread, Sir." He was a little beggar boy and Lucado said, "There are always little beggar boys in the streets of Brazil. Usually I turn away from them because there are so many and you can't feed them all. But there was something so compelling about this little boy that I couldn't turn away.
So, taking his hand, I said, `Come with me' and I took him into a coffee shop." Max told the owner, "I'll have a cup of coffee and give the boy a piece of pastry...whatever he wants." Since the coffee counter was at the other end of the store, Max walked on and got a cup of coffee, forgetting about the little boy because beggar boys usually get the bread and then run back out into the street and disappear. But this one didn't. After he got his pastry, he went over to the big American and just stood there until Lucado felt his staring eyes. Lucado said, "I turned and looked at him. Standing up, his eyes just about hit my belt buckle. Then slowly his eyes came up until they met mine. The little boy, holding his pastry in one hand, looked up and said, 'Thank you, sir. Thank you very much.'"
Lucado said, "I was so touched by the boy's thanks that I would have bought him the store. I sat there for another 30 minutes, late for my class, just thinking about a little beggar boy who came back and said, `Thank you.'"
This young lad had an attitude of thankfulness and it was expressed. If we have this attitude, it will show. We will be expressive, we will be praising God; we will have joy in our hearts. Having an attitude of thankfulness is ultra-important in the life of a follower of Jesus.
How about you? Are you sitting here today and thinking; “yeah, but my situation is different – if you had to go through what I’ve been through, you’d know where I’m coming from. I just can’t give thanks in everything. I can’t and I won’t!
Pastor Troy Mason, Pastor of the Cherry Point Baptist Church Havelock North Carolina gives us some great perspective!
I am Thankful for.........
....the taxes I pay ....because it means I’m employed.
....the clothes that fit a little too snug ....because it means I have enough to eat.
....my shadow who watches me work ....because it means I am out in the sunshine.
....a lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleaning and ....gutters that need fixing ....because it means I have a home.
....the spot I find at the far end of the parking lot ....because it means I am capable of walking.
....my huge heating bill ....because it means I am warm.
....all the complaining I hear about our government ....because it means we have freedom of speech.
....the lady behind me in church who sings off key ....because it means that I can hear.
....the piles of laundry and ironing ....because it means my loved ones are nearby.
....the alarm that goes off in the early morning hours ....because it means that I’m alive.
....weariness and aching muscles at the end of the day ....because it means I have been productive.
How about this year, at Thanksgiving time?
Would you give thanks to God in all circumstances?
Let me leave you with this from Paul, the one who gave thanks after being beaten:
31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.
35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”[o]) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[p] neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
With this knowledge, firmly tucked in your mind – how you help but not be thankful – in all things!
Stories Jesus Told
Part 2: Great Victories
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11-12 Then he said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’ 12-16 “So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any. 17-20 “That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.
20-21 “When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’ 22-24 “But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.
The story of the “prodigal” son!
Prodigal: spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.
I want to suggest this morning, that there is a bit of the prodigal son in all of us. Let’s focus on his story for a moment today.
One day, seemingly out of the clear blue, the youngest son asks for his “rightful” inheritance. So, being a good and kind father, he gives him a bunch of money. He takes what his father gives him, which, according to Jesus’ story is significant and proceeds to spend it foolishly. What the youngest son doesn’t realize, is while what he receives a sizable gift, it’s only a portion of what the father has. His father has a business that will continue to grow through the years and make more and more money – which in turn would increase the size of the inheritance. So what he receives at the time of his asking, is only a portion of what he would get if he would have stuck around to help work the family business. Not only is it just a waste of the smaller portion of what would have been his inheritance, he totally misses out on everything his father would have taught him about relationships – with a wife, with servants, with children and grandchildren – dynamics that were treasured beyond an earthly value.
But none-the-less, he took what he got and promptly wasted it.
The parallel for us, is simply, when we take what God has given us and don’t stick around to benefit from additional resources, let alone the incredible benefits of an intimate relationship with God, we waste our initial treasures.
In the Middle East, if a son were to ask for his inheritance before his father’s death, the son would be wishing his father dead. This culture has not changed much since the time of Jesus. People who have observed this culture have noticed that almost never does this happen – even today.
In Jesus’ story today, he is painting a picture of what our use of God’s gifts looks like when we live our lives – using what God has given us – and don’t stick around for the relationship. In fact, we, like the prodigal son, are, in essence, wishing God dead – telling Him we’d rather spend our time and resources with others, not thinking of Him.
To show God’s patience with us, let’s look at the reality of what happens in this story. If you were to stop the story at the point where the youngest son asks his father for his inheritance – Middle Easterners would say that more than likely the father would explode with anger and refuse the request.
However, this father doesn’t do that – he simply gives his son what he is asking for.
This answer, illustrates the difference between God and earthly, cultural relationships. God, like this earthly father, grants the request. God knows that blessing us without a lasting relationship could quite possibly widen the gap between us and himself. God could then choose – as He sees us going our own way, wasting the “life gifts” He has given us, simply turn His back on us and leave us to our own bitter end.
But that’s not what our Father does! In Jesus’ story, this earthly father (just like our Heavenly Father), suffers in silence – hoping against hope for future reconciliation. As the days stretched on and on – the father, in agonizing heartache, simply waits.
Then… one day, the son comes back to his senses and returns. He has no idea what to expect – in fact, all he wanted was just to survive, willing to be a servant – not even worthy to be called a son.
If this were to happen in Middle Eastern culture – the son would return home in shame. He had wished his father dead – and now, having lost everything – expected shame and rejection from his father.
Kenneth Bailey, author of The Cross & the Prodigal, explains that if a Jewish son lost his inheritance among Gentiles, and then returned home, the community would perform a ceremony, called the kezazah. “They would break a large pot in front of him and yell, ‘You are now cut off from your people!’ The community would totally reject him.
But that didn’t happen! IN fact – the father ran toward his son!
So, why did the father run? He probably ran in order to get to his son before he entered the village. The father runs — and shames himself — in an effort to get to his son before the community gets to him, so that his son does not experience the shame and humiliation of their taunting and rejection. The village would have followed the running father, would have witnessed what took place at the edge of the village between father and son. After this emotional reuniting of the prodigal son with his father, it was clear that their would be no kezazah ceremony; there would be no rejecting this son — despite what he has done. The son had repented and returned to the father. The father had taken the full shame that should have fallen upon his son and clearly shown to the entire community that his son was welcome back home.” --The Cross & the Prodigal (Kenneth Bailey – Intervarsity Press 2005)
God, our Heavenly Father, is like this earthly father! God has taken our shame of sin – and, through Jesus Christ who willingly faced death on the cross now runs toward us with This Gift!
There is no “kezazah” ceremony with God – no breaking of our cracked and dirty pot we know as our life – no yelling emphatically “you are no longer a part of my family” – just God with His arms open wide – willing to give us more of an inheritance we could ever dream of.
The son in Jesus’ story gave up His sonship. Sin has estranged us from our Heavenly Father. Only the father in Jesus’ story could restore full sonship to the prodigal. Only our Heavenly Father can restore full sonship to us.
Will you accept what God has for you and stick around for the relationship? If you’ve strayed far or even just a little bit – will you allow God to absorb your shame through His Son Jesus’ wounds?
God is waiting for us – agonizing for one single step back toward Him – and He’ll come running!
“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him.”