Great Reasons for Christian Gratitude
Sermon by Rick Crandall
Grayson Baptist Church - Nov. 24, 2013
SPECIAL MUSIC: "Give Thanks" by Henry Smith
*The first time I ever heard that song was during a mission trip to Ukraine in the summer of 1997. We were on the deck of a ship in the city of Sevestopal with a group of young Ukrainian Christians. The leaders of that group were three former drug dealers who had been wonderfully saved by Jesus. And they were called by God to start churches in that city.
*These people were so poor. The average income over there was $50 a month when you got paid, and lots of months they didn't. But there they stood singing with all their hearts:
"Give thanks with a grateful heart.
Give thanks unto the Holy One.
Give thanks because He's given Jesus Christ, His Son.
And now let the weak say, 'I am strong.'
Let the poor say, 'I am rich,
Because of what the Lord has done for us.' -- Give thanks." (1)
*That's the true spirit of Thanksgiving, and it's what brings us here together tonight. But when I search my heart, many times I am surprised by my lack of gratitude.
*As Christians, we want to have grateful hearts, and we ought to have grateful hearts. But it's easy to lose our gratitude. One reason why is because living in the most blessed country in the world, we tend to get spoiled.
*Another reason we can be ungrateful is pride. It's easy to take credit for the blessings God has given. Like the bumper sticker Aaron Burgess once saw. It said: "I couldn't have done it without me."
*We can also be influenced by negative people around us. They can make us grumpy and ungrateful. On top of that, it's hard to be grateful when life seems to turn against you: When your doctor says it's cancer, or you lose your job, or your spouse is letting you down, or your child is in trouble. (2)
*The good news is that even in the worst of times, Christians can have a grateful heart. Paul surely did. Even though he wrote this letter while he was chained to a Roman soldier, it overflows with joy and gratitude. Let's look into the Word of God to see some great reasons for our gratitude.
1. First: We can be grateful to God for His forgiveness.
*It's the forgiveness we can find in vs. 2, where Paul said: "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
*Thank God for His forgiveness, because we all surely need it! Anthony de Mello told about a pastor who was teaching a class of little children. And he asked this question: "If all the good people in the world were red, and all the bad people were green, what color would you be?"
*One little girl thought about it hard for a moment. Then her face lit-up and she said: "I'd be streaky!" (3)
*So would you, and so would I. I am looking at some of the best people in Caldwell Parish. But Romans 3:23 tells us that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." And 1 John 1:8 says: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."
*None of us is perfect, so we need God's forgiveness, and it comes from God's grace. There was nothing we did, or ever could do to earn God's forgiveness. It came from God's unmerited favor: the reality that God loves us, not because we deserve it, but because He IS love.
*Christians: Our forgiveness came from God's grace. And it gives us God's peace. Our sin put us at war with the God of the universe, and that's a war we could never win. But through Jesus Christ, the battle is over, and we have peace.
*We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ! -- Through His death on the cross for us, and through His resurrection. Here's more of what Paul says to Christians in Romans 5:
1. Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
2. through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
6. For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
7. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.
8. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
9. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
10. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
*Jesus Christ is the only reason why we can have God's grace and peace. Here's part of what Paul said in Ephesians 1:
2. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,
7. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace
*Thank God for the forgiveness we have in the Lord Jesus Christ!
-We can be grateful to God for His forgiveness.
2. And for our fellowship.
*As Paul said in vs. 3-5:
3. I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,
4. always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy,
5. for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now.
*What kind of people would we have to be for someone to say, "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you"?
*Well, the Philippians were not perfect people. Chapter 4 makes this clear, because there we see two of the leading ladies in that church squabbling with each other. The Philippian Christians weren't perfect people, but they were good and Godly people.
*In vs. 4, they were people who gave Paul joy, so he could say, "in every prayer of mine (I make) request for you all with joy."
*In vs. 5, they were people who gave fellowship, so Paul said he was thankful "for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now." That word "fellowship" or "partnership" in vs. 5 is "koinonia." It's the idea of sharing, doing things together in love and mutual concern.
*In vs. 7, these Philippian Christians really cared about Paul, so he said: "It is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace." The Philippians were in Paul's heart, even as he was in their hearts.
*Notice in vs. 7 that they cared for Paul in the hardest times (i.e. while he was bound up with chains). They also cared for Paul in the most important things: "the defense and confirmation of the gospel."
*Real fellowship multiplies when Christians care for one another like we see in this Scripture. And this kind of care was the foundation for the first Thanksgiving. In late 1620, 102 passengers of the Mayflower began their new life in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The first winter was brutal. By spring, nearly half of them had died from sickness and starvation.
*The situation was desperate, but God sent a young Indian named Squanto to the rescue. More than a decade before the Pilgrims arrived, a group of English traders had also sailed to Plymouth, Massachusetts. Some trusting Indians came out to trade. They were taken prisoner and sold as slaves in Spain.
*Squanto was one of the boys sold into slavery, but his owner treated him well and led him to faith in Jesus. Squanto eventually made his way to England and worked in the stables of a man named John Slaney. Mr. Slaney promised to put Squanto on the first ship bound for America. So, ten years after he was kidnapped, Squanto was finally allowed to go home. But when he arrived in Massachusetts, he met with more heartbreak, because an epidemic had wiped out his entire village.
*If anyone ever had a reason to be bitter and hateful, it was Squanto. But he had given his life to Christ. And when the Mayflower arrived, Squanto went to them and shocked the Pilgrims by greeting them in English.
*Squanto's help was priceless. Pilgrim Governor William Bradford later wrote that Squanto "became a special instrument sent of God for [our] good. He showed [us] how to plant [our] corn, where to take fish and to procure other commodities." He "was also [our] pilot to bring [us] to unknown places for [our] profit, and never left [us] till he died." (4)
*That's the essence of Christian fellowship. And it's why in vs. 8, Paul wanted to be with the Christians at Philippi. There the Apostle said: "God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ."
*Those Christians so lived their lives that Paul could have said: "I don't come to church because I ought to. I come because I want to. The Lord has put that desire in my heart. And I want to be with some of the best people in the world."
*This kind of fellowship is what brings us together for our Community Thanksgiving Service. And I am very thankful for this tradition here in Grayson. We're not perfect. But God is going to help us have better fellowship.
*So we can be grateful to God for our fellowship.
3. But also for our faith.
*Paul's great confidence in God is on display in vs. 3-6. Again, Paul said:
3. I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,
4. always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy,
5. for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now,
6. being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;
*Paul joyfully prayed in faith, believing that God cares for us, believing that God knows what's best for us, believing that God is going to meet our needs. It's all about trusting in the Lord.
*The Pilgrims surely trusted in the Lord. But so did Christopher Columbus when he came to the New World 130 years before. Columbus embarked on the longest voyage ever made out of sight of land, not because of what he had learned from navigational charts, but because of the compelling drive of the Holy Spirit.
*Here are some of Columbus' own words: "I prayed to the most merciful God about my heart's great desire, and He gave me the spirit and the intelligence for the task. . . It was the Lord who put into my mind (I could feel His hand upon me) the fact that it would be possible to sail from here to the Indies.
*All who heard of my project rejected it with laughter, ridiculing me. But there is no question that the inspiration was from the Holy Spirit. Our Lord Jesus desired to perform a very obvious miracle in the voyage to the Indies. . .
*I am a most unworthy sinner," he wrote, "but I have cried out to the Lord for grace and mercy, and they have covered me completely. I have found the sweetest consolation since I made it my whole purpose to enjoy His marvelous presence. The working out of all things has been assigned to each person by our Lord. But it all happens according to His sovereign will. . . Day and night, moment by moment, everyone should express to Him their most devoted gratitude."
*On August 3rd, 1492, after taking communion, after praying for God's blessing, Columbus ordered the sail set in the name of Jesus, and they began the voyage. Weeks later, when they landed on the first island in the Americas, Columbus named it San Salvador. That name means "Holy Savior." There Columbus knelt and prayed for God's blessing. And on every island where they landed, he ordered his men to erect a large wooden cross. (5)
*Thank God for the faith that He gave to Christopher Columbus. And thank God for the faith He has given to us. Church: We can be grateful to God for our faith.
4. And we can be thankful to God for our finish.
*Paul talked about our finish in vs. 6. There the Apostle said he was "confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ."
*God is determined to finish what He has started in our lives. He has started a good work in us. And He will finish it!
*Our God will finish His work in us, because He is not a quitter!
-Adam and Eve found that out after they sinned in the Garden of Eden.
-Moses found it out 40 years after he killed an Egyptian.
-King David found it out after he sinned with another man's wife.
-Jonah found it out after he tried to run from God.
-And Peter found it out after he denied the Lord 3 times.
*Our God is not a quitter! He has started a good work in us, and He will finish it! So even in the worst of times, we can have grateful hearts.
*Melvin Newland gave us some great insight, and he started with a question: "Has it ever occurred to you that no Americans were more underprivileged than that small handful from the Mayflower who started the custom of setting aside a day of Thanksgiving to God? They had no homes and no government agency to help them build homes. They had no means of transportation but their legs. Their only food came from the sea and the forest, and they had to get it for themselves. They had no money, and no place to spend it if they'd had any. They had no amusements except what they made for themselves, and no means of communication with their relatives in England.
*But they did have four of the greatest human assets: Initiative, courage, a willingness to work, and a boundless faith in God.
*Thanksgiving Day is a distinctive holiday. It doesn't commemorate a battle or anyone's birthday or anniversary. It is simply a day set aside to express our nation's thanks to our nation's God."
*Listen to a small part of George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation from 1789: "Whereas, it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor. . .
*And whereas, Both Houses of Congress have by their joint committee requested me 'to recommend to the people of the United States a day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God. . .'
*Now, Therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. . ." (6)
*Life got hard for the Apostle Paul, for the Pilgrims, and for George Washington. But they were all thankful to God. Somehow, some way, life will get hard for us too. But we can still be thankful to God.
*Let's be grateful to our God, as we go to the Lord in prayer.
(1) "Give Thanks" by Henry Smith - copyrighted in 1978 by Integrity's Hosanna! Music - recorded by Don Moen - released in 1986 by Integrity, Hosanna! Music and Sparrow
(2) Adapted from SermonCentral sermon "How to Develop Gratitude" by Aaron Burgess - Luke17:14
(3) Original source unknown
(4) BreakPoint Commentary #91103 - 11031999 "God's Instrument": The Story of Squanto by Charles Colson. (Found in Dynamic Preaching sermon "ENTERTAINING ANGELS" by King Duncan - Hebrews 13:2 - #1 for September, 2001)
(5) This information came from several sources including one old unknown source, plus Examiner.com - "Christopher Columbus: Man with a mandate from God" - October 6, 2012, and World Net Daily - "Columbus the Christ-bearer" - Published: 10092006 at 1:00 AM - http://www.wnd.com/2006/10/38277
(6) Adapted from SermonCentral sermon "Enter with Thanksgiving" by Melvin Newland - Psalms 100:1-5