I’m sure that some of you will agree that this year has been flying by. In many respects it is almost as if each day that passes-a whole month has gone by. It seems as if it was just yesterday that I stood up here and was granted my license to preach-yet more than a year has passed. This past year has been full of so many events for us. So much has happened, so much has challenged my family. It has been hard to come before God with Thanksgiving in our hearts. Looking back we see in April Lisa’s father passing away. Many of you were there in some part through that ordeal. What some of you may not know is that during his last week of life we were all supposed to be on a big family vacation in Disney –the three of us, Lisa’s parents and sister. So how could we thank God for this? Because God showed us that even in the Valley he is good. We got to see a miracle. As some of you may recall I preached about crystals miracle several months ago. And how through God’s hand she was delivered from a serious car accident where she lost her memory. While Lisa’s father lay on his deathbed crystal had the sense that it was imperative that she see my father-in-law. We brought her in to see him, and being there next to him she had her first childhood memory returned to her. Thanks be to God.
The next hurdle we had to face involved my preaching in Peru church. I had received word that the congregation had issues with my preaching style, but more importantly with my preaching content. We sat down together and talk over their concerns. It was with a saddened heart that we learned that this church, as they called themselves, wanted nothing to do with the Bible. They wanted to be a social club. They wanted feel-good sermons. They wanted to censor the word of God. They wanted nothing that the Holy Spirit could use to convict them. They want nothing that would point to Jesus Christ as the person of all their hopes. They wanted children stories. They did not want to be weaned off of their steady diet of milk. They wanted nothing to do with the meat and potatoes of God’s holy Word. It was in some respects a disheartening experience. But I think what saddened me the most is what Jesus said to his disciples in Luke 10:10. He said “but whatever city you enter, and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, the very dust of your city which clings to us we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you. But I say to you that it will be more tolerable in that day for Sodom than for that city… he who hears you hears me, he who rejects you rejects me, a and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me”. We still found a way to be thankful though. This meeting gave me a chance to really use God’s word according to God’s plan-as a defensive weapon. What I am really thankful for though is that God answered our prayers in closing this door of ministry in Peru. I had asked God that if it was his will for me to be a pastor there, in Peru church that he would line everything up for me; but if Peru church was to be a sort of training ground for me and not something permanent, he would have to show me very bluntly that it was not his will. And this he did. He closed that door of ministry as an answer to our prayers. Thanks be to God.
Back in July we were faced with a dilemma. Our minivan was due for inspection that month. But it had issues. It had several things going wrong with it that would make it impossible for it to pass inspection. What’s worse is that we still had another year to pay off the car loan. To the sum of $4500. When we brought it into the garage to be fixed they stopped estimating after the price tag got over $1500. The van was seven years old with well over 100,000 miles on it. It was that point where the repairs were more costly than the value of the vehicle. So we went back to the dealership and looked for new car. We realized that we would have to downsize that wasn’t the issue. It was our finances. We went in there and told the dealership that we did not want a payment larger than what we had with the minivan. Mind you we still had $4500 from our old loan to roll over into the new one. We found the vehicle that we have now but the financing looked like it was going to be for six years, 19% interest, and a higher payment. But the dealership had to get the numbers finalized over the weekend, but they needed some cash. We were able to borrow $1500 from a relative so everything seemed like it was going to be okay. We prayed over the weekend that everything will come out in the end. We would have a higher payment but at least we’d have a vehicle. But when Monday rolled around we went in and they told us they checked out a different bank. They got us a five-year loan, a 13% rate, an extended warranty, and gap insurance for $15 less than the amount we had told the dealership in the beginning. It is written in James 5:16 “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” God takes care of his own, and we are his. Thanks be to God.
Now the real challenge that we face over this past year begins in August “our house”. This has been one of if not the most emotionally draining, discouraging experiences that we have gone through probably in our entire lives. Our downstairs rooms are our only bathroom, and all the bedrooms. For years there has been moisture under the sub floor down there. We were fighting a losing battle with moisture, mold, mildew, and some creepy Crawley things. We got off to a great start. We gutted the majority of our downstairs within a week. There was myself, Lisa, her mother, Lisa’s sister, Crystal, and her friend. Oh, I almost forgot, Nancy was there too. We fully expected this to be a straightforward project. We knew that things had to be done. We had access to enough resources to get them done. We figured that by the end of September, beginning of October everything would be done. But that was not the case. We had everything gutted and washed down. We had started to put down the floor in September. We had several contractors come in to price certain jobs that needed to be done that were beyond my ability, such as electric, heat, and removing an old sliding door where I had seen the water coming in from underneath its rotting sill. Nobody got back to us with estimates. We did manage to line up one guy who promised us that he be able to do the Windows and reframe and wall where the slider was. He never showed up. Mind you this whole project had to have things done in a certain order otherwise, it would just cause a bigger mess. And winter weather was fast approaching. He stated that he’d be back the following week and again didn’t show. We are now looking at the end of September and still only a little bit of the flooring has been put down. We have no bathroom which means we have no toilet and no shower.
We knew we had a water problem. I had seen where the water was coming in. All we would need would be a drain running away from the house where the water was coming in. That was not the case however; the day after we had that first big rain back in October, the contractor running the drainage saw the water in our cellar. He explained to me that the work he was doing was not addressing what the real problem was-that the water was seeping in from underneath the house-the drainage around the house wasn’t correct. In order to fix it he would have to dig about 6 feet down all the way around the house and install a proper drainage system. That way the water would stop collecting under the house and would stop seeping in. This prospect alone cost half of the budget we had for the entire remodel. But the guy can’t come back for a couple of weeks. In which time we got to watch all the rainwater seeping in and seeping out of our basement. This meant that I couldn’t finish the floor until I was sure that the water would stay out. Finally, in the beginning of November the drainage was completely fixed. We were finally able to get a toilet put in and finish putting down the floors. We hired men from this church to install our Windows, which allowed us to discover that part of the sill of the house was rotted. We talked to Jeff Olson, a member of this church. He volunteered to come up and put in the cement wall and framework from where the slider was. In the midst of all this going on, one delay after another was the struggle and the stress that we had with each other. At times it was outright discouraging. We kept getting on each other’s nerves. We had to handle our relationship with Lisa’s mother very delicately, as our home is still her house and she is the one footing the bill. Which in of itself can be an emotionally challenging task. We have now almost reached the end of our budget. We have enough, for probably the walls, the insulation and electrical supplies. We still need the tub and sink, flooring, the electrician, and the plumber to reinstall the heat in our downstairs. Needless to say this has been a very difficult time for us but looking back through my prayer journal, I have found reasons to thank God. In doing the demolition we discovered issues that needed to be fixed. We know what they are now and are fixing them. Watching that water coming in and out of the basement showed us that water was coming from underneath the floor and not just through a rotted sill. We have learned to trust in our Christian brothers and sisters to help, when help is needed. Again I thank God.
In first Thessalonians chapter 1 verse two we read “we give thanks to God always for you all making mention of you in our prayers.” In most of the epistles written by Paul, he begins with the words of thanksgiving and praise. In first Thessalonians 5:18 Paul says that we are to “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” In everything give thanks. That means everything. Not just during the good things, but rather in the good and the bad. It’s easy to thank him when everything is going our way, but it’s so much more difficult to thank him, or even to see him worthy of thanks. I think that there are times when we are in a valley so deep that we feel that God is against us and that we are all alone; but we are believing a lie. For God promises in Deuteronomy 4:30 “when you are in distress, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, when you turn to the Lord your God and obey his voice… he will not forsake you nor destroy you,”. Instead have the attitude of Job where he says “though he slay me, yet will I trust him.”
Paul understood this. Reading through some of his letters you can gain an understanding of a life full of strife and suffering. Most of us, if not all of us will never have to deal with that type of sufferings that Paul had to deal with. Yet despite the humanly impossible odds Paul survives. And through it all, he is singing praises and thanks to Almighty God.
What evidence is there that shows us that Paul gave thanks? It is evidenced in his prayers. He said “we give thanks to God always for you all making mention of you in our prayers.” this isn’t Paul trying to spout off a compliment. No, it is a real expression of Thanksgiving. You see, Paul’s heart is one of genuine love. His love for Christ and his love for the Saints produce a natural desire to pray. It is a natural desire to always be mindful in prayer of the Fellowship of Jesus Christ. This is something that our love for each other should also produce. We too should have this natural desire, this natural awareness. In 2 Corinthians 1:8 we read “for we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that he will still deliver us, you also helping together in prayer for us, that banks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many.” Here Paul is even thanking God for the very gift of life and for the Providence of God to sustain them in what may seem their darkest hour.
It is interesting to note that Paul viewed Thanksgiving as more than a nice thing to do. He viewed it as a duty. If we look at 2 Thessalonians 1:3 we see that Paul has added to his exhortation he says “we are bound to thank God always for you…” we are bound-it is our duty our obligation, even our debt to pay. We are responsible for giving thanks.
“we give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers…” there are two groups of people praying here-the church at Thessalonica, and Paul and his companions. and this is very important because as Christians it is our obligation it is our duty to not only pray to God with Thanksgiving in our hearts about the things that are happening in our lives; but it is also our duty, our obligation to give God thanks for what he does in other peoples lives. Isn’t that what we do when we get together downstairs and pray? The question is, is that what we are doing in our own prayer closets? Now there is an application here which not only strengthens us individually but also strengthens us as a church. It creates a stronger unity in fellowship. Instead of a flock of mismatched sheep going about our own business, we become a tightknit flock of diverse sheep that can huddle together for warmth and protection. We become a flock that will help their fellow sheep; and are led by one Shepherd. We become strong because we are all following the Shepherd, instead of trying to follow our own devices.
Romans 1:21 states that “because, although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened”. Part of this verse suggests that the lack of Thanksgiving to God is part of the reason why there is so much darkness in the world today. It is important to be thankful to the one who supplies all of our needs. Has not God provided for his people throughout the generations? Remember your heroes of the faith from Hebrews 11? Did not God provide for them? Even the not so heroic he has provided for. Look at lot for example. Here was a man who was on a slow spiral down but God provided him and his family the opportunity to escape from Sodom and Gomorrah before God destroyed it. This reminds me of a story that I heard from a friend. He was teaching a children’s Sunday school class. There were about five or six children between the ages of 8 to 10 in his classroom. And he was teaching about the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and how God chose to save Lot and his family from its imminent destruction. The children listened intently, it was as if this were the first story that they had ever been told. They thought it so wonderful that God would deliver lot and his family from impending doom. Now, my friend continued the story and got to the point where lots wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt. Most of the children understood that this story teaches us to stay focused on where God is leading us and not to look back desirous to see what we’re leaving behind. Now I said most children understood the lesson. There was little Johnny seated in the front row that day. This was only his second time being in Sunday school. When my friend asked the class what they thought of the story, little Johnny, in a mixture of amazement and confusion raised his hand with a question. He said something like that happened to his mom too. A couple of weeks ago she had been driving their car down the road, and she too looked back behind her, but she didn’t turn into a pillar of salt. Little Johnny said that after she looked back, she turned into a telephone pole instead. **************************************
Thanksgiving is an integral part of our relationship with our God. So the question remains what should be the extent of our Thanksgiving? Well, do we want a full-time relationship with our God, or how about a part-time relationship, what about half-time, how about on an as needed basis? I think all of us agree that the best relationship is a full-time one. But even full-time is limited. We need to have a 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, 84+ years a lifetime dedicated to giving thanks to our God. That means always. Paul actually tells us about 10 different times throughout his epistles to always pray. That means that we are always ready to go before God in prayer. We have our eyes open to what’s going on around us and our brothers and sisters in Christ. It means that we have an attitude where we are open to a dialogue between us and God. It’s like making sure that the phone is on the hook so that you know when the call comes. Or for you more technically enhanced people, it’s making sure your phone is charged so that when the call comes in you can answer it. There is no dialogue, there is no true relationship if you’re just playing phone tag and leaving messages on voicemail. You need to notice what Paul says “for you all” or to southernize it- for all y’all. This means that it’s not just up to the deacons, or the ladies group to pray and give thanks. It is a charge that is given to everyone in this church, and everyone of his church. Don’t just come to church, be the church.
We all have reasons to praise God and give him the thanks that he deserves. Even on our darkest days, God is still good. Even on our darkest days God saved us. To quote a Campbells’ song “in the times we are weak, he is strong.” We can give God the thanks that no matter what comes our way greater still is he.
Overall, we must remember what is going on in each of our lives. We should be able to pray intelligently. We should know not only what to pray for, but what to give thanks for. And not only in our lives, but in the lives of our brothers and sisters. That is what makes us stronger as Christians. That is what makes us grow spiritually. Are we not to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Are we not called to grow in love and knowledge? Sometimes I see the church full of individual lambs, or a few lambs huddled in a corner and another few in another corner. Sometimes I see the church with just two and it. One flock and one shepherd. When there is one flock the blessings that God pours out on us seems so great compared to any trouble that may come our way. Remember too, that when the wolf comes it is so much easier for him to pick off one lonely lamb, than one flock unified under the Shepherd.
I shared today the big events that have happened in our life over the past year. I wanted to share with you just how crazy life can be. For some you who may not be able to imagine anyone being able to go through all this; for others it may seem as if we’re just going through a walk in the park. But through it all we have found every opportunity to praise God, to give him the thanks he deserves. We cannot lose our faith because our God is bigger than all of this. To God we are living on easy street. we don’t have to thank God for the troubles that we endure. Rather, we need to be able to thank him for giving us the ability to endure, the ability to overcome the obstacles that we face. Remember church, greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” what do you choose? Do you choose to give him thanks that he deserves? Are you willing to thank him for not only the good he does in your life, but the good he does in the lives of your brothers and sisters? I guess in the end it really boils down to a heart issue. Are you genuinely thankful?