I would like to invite you to do a little experiment. Put your hand about 6-8 inches from your face. Focus on your hand. While continuing to focus your gaze on your hand, are you able to see clearly how many dots are on this page on the overhead? Now if you change your focus onto this overhead, what is on here becomes clear and your hand is not as clear.
When we live in this world, our focus often is on what is around us. This is natural and not surprising, because it is what we see. The problem is that when we live with a focus on this world, we tend to lose focus on the eternal things, the things of God.
Last week, we talked about looking at God. I said that one of the ways in which we build faith is to gaze upon the Father. We read Psalm 123:1,2 “I lift up my eyes to you…our eyes look to the LORD our God…”
Today is thanksgiving and one of the best ways to look to God is to look to Him in thanksgiving. I know of no better way to adjust our focus away from the things of the earth and to look to God than by thanksgiving.
I. The Focus Of Our Lives
When Adam and Eve were in the garden of Eden before they sinned, it seems that they had an undisrupted fellowship with the Father. After they sinned, there are several statements which are very suggestive to me. It says that “God walked in the garden in the cool of the day.” Then, it says that Adam and Eve hid from God. The implication is that before they sinned God often walked in the garden and Adam and Eve had an open fellowship with Him. Of course, when they sinned, that fellowship was broken and the open relationship they’d had was no more. Sin broke the relationship. In Christ, however, that relationship has been restored and all who belong to Christ have God’s Spirit living in them. God has restored our relationship with Him. Why is it then that we still have a hard time seeing God in our lives?
In one scene of the popular movie Robin Hood, The Prince of Thieves, Kevin Costner as Robin comes to a young man taking aim at an archery target. Robin asks, "Can you shoot amid distractions?"
Just before the boy releases the string, Robin pokes his ear with the feathers of an arrow. The boy's shot flies high by several feet.
After the laughter of those watching dies down, Maid Marian, standing behind the boy, asks Robin, "Can you?"
Robin Hood raises his bow and takes aim. Just as he releases the arrow, Maid Marian leans beside him and flirtatiously blows into his face. The arrow misses the target, glances off the tree behind it, and scarcely misses a bystander.
Just like the boy and Robin, we lose focus on God because we have become distracted. We see the things of this world so vividly before us and we find it difficult to concentrate on God in our lives. As a consequence, we begin to love the things we see instead of God. And we forget that God supplies us with all things.
The Bible warns us repeatedly about this danger of losing focus on God by focusing on the things of the world.
In Matthew 19:16-26, we have the story of the rich young ruler. This young man came to Jesus wanting to know how to inherit eternal life. He was aware of the eternal dimension and longed for it. When Jesus pointed out that in his case, he needed to sell everything and give it to the poor, He revealed that this young man was distracted by his wealth. He was not able to let go of what he had in order to gain life. He “held things as more important than the will of God.” When the disciples realized that being so distracted by material things was common to all of us, they wondered how it was possible for anyone to gain a proper perspective and Jesus assured them that it was only possible by the power of God.
Now as we think about this, it might be tempting for us to condemn wealth in and of itself, but the story of the rich young ruler does not condemn wealth nor advocate universal poverty. Jesus said these things because the young ruler was focused on his wealth and distracted from the things of God. You do not, have to be wealthy in order to be focused on the things of this world. I Timothy 6:6-10 is very clear that it is the love of money, not money that is the root of all sorts of evil. Again it is a matter of focus. The question is, “Are we focused on the things of this world, or are we focused on God?”
I think the whole thing is very clear in Matthew 6:21 where it says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” What is the focus of our life? If we are honest, all of us will likely have to confess that we are focused on what we can see.
In The Table of Inwardness, Calvin Miller writes, “Many years ago, someone gave me an antique wooden dynamite box made in the nineteenth century. For years I prized that box. It was meticulously constructed with mitred corners, and bore an ominous warning printed in bold red and black letters: “Danger Dynamite!” At one time the box had, indeed, been dangerous; its contents had to be handled gently. But the last time I saw it, the box was filled with common paraphernalia that could be found in any workroom. There’s some force in the universe that doesn’t like empty boxes! So when the emptiness is not filled by careful design, it becomes a catchall. The box is a parable of Christians in our time. Designed to bear the power of God, we are haphazardly filled with the trivia of our world.”
II. Restoring A Proper Focus
How can we restore a proper focus? I think that the best way to do that is to develop and cultivate a habit of thankfulness.
Psalm 34:8 invites us, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” This morning is a great opportunity to spend some time reorienting our focus. But, of course, I want to encourage us to discipline ourselves to make thanksgiving a regular part of each day so that we maintain this God directed orientation.
A. Giving Thanks To God Our Creator
This morning, I invite us to direct our gaze, in thankfulness, on God who is our creator.
I love the beauty of what we see in the world. This week I put up my bird feeder and the first visitors to the feeder were a magpie and a blue jay. Have you ever had a good look at the colours on these birds? The black and white of the magpie is highlighted with a beautiful greenish bluish fluorescent like colour on his back and tail feathers. In the sunlight, the blue of the blue jay is so brilliant. When offset by the black and white it is wonderful. Since then juncos and chickadees have also discovered the feeder.
The colours of the trees have also been beautiful this week. We have one tree in our yard which when it turned was a bright orange, red and yellow. We could see it through the evergreens in the corner of our lot and enjoyed it very much.
When I have my devotions in the morning, I sit beside a window and opposite the window, there is a mirror which faces east. As I sit there, I am able to see the changing sky as the sun comes up and then with brightness and beauty breaks the horizon and shines across the land.
I appreciate the beauty of the display which the decorating committee has put up which reminds us of what God has created.
We enjoy the beauty of all that is around us, but we need to be careful for in enjoying the beauty of it, we have not yet oriented our thoughts to the creator of it. Eugene Peterson says, “There are no nature psalms in Scripture…they are always about God.” “The Biblical poets did not go in for nature appreciation; in fact, they were in vehement opposition to it.” As we see the beauty, we need to think not simply about the beauty of what we see, but deliberately think about the one who made it.
The Psalms help us do that. Psalm 114, is an interesting Psalm that combines God’s action in history and on creation. It expresses God’s power over creation in the parting of Red sea, the parting of the Jordan and God’s presence on Mount Sinai when Israel received the law. Listen to the words of this Psalm. Read Psalm 114:1-6. But the Psalm is not about the experience of creation. Listen to the last verse. Read Psalm 114:7. The Psalm is about God, who has made these things.
When we look at what has been created, as much as we might enjoy the beauty of what we see, we really need to cultivate a habit of thankfulness and like the Psalmist, allow the occasion of seeing the beauty of creation move us to give thanks to God who in creation has demonstrated His power, wisdom and creativity.
Psalm 33 is another Psalm which helps us focus on God as creator and moves us to thank Him for what He has done. From the outset, the psalm declares, “Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him.” As we read on, we find that the occasion of praise, declared in verse 6, is the fact that “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made.”
As we learn to direct our thanks to God for creation, we will develop a new focus. Instead of seeing the things here and being focused on them, we will develop a greater appreciation for God. We will see our Father who is wise, powerful, loving, creative, full of knowledge and glorious. As we take the time to perceive and to give thanks to Him, we will experience a sense of being in the hands of one in whose hands everything is OK and we will worship Him.
B. Giving Thanks To God Our Saviour
Thanksgiving is multiplied as we focus on God our saviour.
From time to time, we need to make an effort to think through carefully the meaning of our salvation.
As we think of our salvation, we need to start by understanding our need. Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” I wonder sometimes if we really believe this? Sometimes we think that we don’t fall that far short of the glory of God. I have heard more than one testimony of people who apologize for their rather tame salvation experience. They confess that they have never done anything really bad, that they were pretty good and that they just embraced belief in Jesus as a natural consequence of what they had learned from their parents. Many of us have had such an experience. When such a confession comes as an apology, I sometimes wonder if we have really grasped who God is and what He has done for us. In thinking like this, we either have a false impression of what God demands or we have a false impression of our ability to meet those demands.
Matthew 5:48, indicates God’s demands, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Now I don’t know about you, but when I read that, even though I have never been very bad, I know that I have been far from perfect. If the Olympic gold medal winner in the long jump and I were to have a jumping contest, he would win. But if we were trying to jump across the Grand Canyon, we would both die. I agree with Romans 3:10, which tells says, “There is no one righteous, not even one…” The problem is that often we compare ourselves with ourselves instead of with God. If we would ever compare ourselves with God and the demands which make a person fit for eternal life, we would throw up our hands in clear recognition of our utter unworthiness. When Isaiah had a vision of the presence of God, he said in Isaiah 6:5, “I am ruined for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.”
When we come to this point of recognizing our need, we rejoice with a great depth of joy as we realize that God has provided for our forgiveness and acceptance and gives it to us. Romans 6:23 says, “…the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” He does not ask us to measure up, He asks us to trust Him and He forgives us and promises that He will receive us as perfect in Christ and will work in us to make us perfect. As we contemplate the great gift of salvation and give thanks to God for it, we restore a focus on God.
At this time, we want to take time to give thanks for our salvation by the observance of the Lord’s supper. We want to celebrate our salvation. Let this be a time of saying thank-you to God.
I Corinthians 11:23b - 26 invites us to remember. What do you think of when you remember? Do you think of your sin? Do you think of the pain of Jesus suffering? Do you think of your sin causing His death? Do you think of your sin rolling away and being made free from it? Do you think of the hope of eternal life in God’s presence? As we partake of the elements, I invite you to remember, to think and to give thanks. If you know that your sins have been forgiven by the blood of Jesus, I invite you to partake. If not, I invite you to think about what these things mean.
Ask Larry & Benny, the serving deacons and the worship team to come to the front at this time.
Bread - We want to give thanks that Jesus gave his body to be broken for our forgiveness.
Give thanks - Larry Eidse
While the bread is being distributed, we will sing and then partake together.
What an amazing gift, Jesus life given for ours. We didn’t deserve this, but we have received it. Give thanks with me as we partake.
Cup - We want to give thanks that Jesus blood was shed for our freedom.
Give Thanks - Benny Friesen
While the cup is being distributed, we will sing and then partake together.
As we drink from the cup, let us give thanks to God for his indescribable gift.
C. Giving Thanks To God Our Sustainer
In “A Taste of Joy,” Calvin Miller writes some challenging things about how we seek joy in our lives. He writes, “Our minds sin against the present. It is lovely enough as it is. We must not force it to yield more joy because our minds are malcontent.” “With a kind of malcontent, we begin to search for deeper evidence of what we already possess.” “We move from sensuous experience to sensuous experience, seeking the higher highs that our gluttonous nervous system denied to us by ignoring the adequate and lovely present.” “This glandular approach to joy assumes that God exists in his fullness to make Christians feel good.”
We want to be excited and to experience some new and interesting thing every day. We are quickly bored and become discontent with our lives. With such an attitude, we miss so much of what God is already doing in our lives.
What Miller writes challenges me to seek out the things in daily life which God has given me. Thankfulness is also needed as an attitude which recognizes God’s good gifts in the every day. God is our sustainer every day, do we see it?
Miller goes on to talk about, “3 things I do every day”
1. I affirm the reality of Jesus
2. I call to mind the reality of Satan who tries to make me a miserable contradiction of evident joy.
3. I call to mind the gifts that are mine in Christ.”
When I read Romans 8:28-39, I am encouraged in such a perspective. When I read verse 28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Verse 31, 32, “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? And verses 38, 39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
If you would drop a handful of iron filings into a jar of sand, it would be almost impossible to find them all again, but run a magnet through the sand and you will quickly find them. A thankful heart is like a magnet. As it sweeps through the day, it gathers up many items for which to thank God. Such thankfulness allows us to grow deeper in our faith and in our confidence in God. I visited Frank Friesen this week. He does not have an easy life, but I found him thankful. I was encouraged by his thankful attitude. His is a good example for us.
The Bible calls us to thankfulness many times. In Romans 1:21, part of the movement away from God is identified as not giving thanks.
More positively I Thessalonians 5:17 calls for us to, “give thanks in all circumstances” and Ephesians 5:4 encourages us, “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.”
Our theme these days is a about how we can be a healthy church. At this time, we are thinking about how loving God will help us to be a healthy church. Today, we have noted that we will learn to love God more as we develop lifestyles of thankfulness. I invite you to let the thankfulness we are exercising today become a lifestyle habit as you give thanks to God our creator, our saviour and our sustainer. As we do, we will come to recognize his love for us and we will grow to love Him more.