A Tailgating Kind Of Thanksgiving!

1 Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
    2 Worship the Lord with gladness.  Come before Him, singing with joy.
 3 Acknowledge that the Lord is God!  He made us, and we are His.  We are His people, the sheep of His pasture.
 4 Enter His gates with thanksgiving; go into His courts with praise.  Give thanks to Him and praise His name.
 5 For the Lord is good.  His unfailing love continues forever, and His faithfulness continues to each generation.

Psalm 100 (NLT)

In the state of Alabama there are 3 topics that must be avoided at all costs when in a group of more than one.  Religion, politics, and football; especially college football.  College football is more than a sport or pastime in our state.  It’s on the level of time travel and quantum physics.  The entire future of the universe hinges on whether their team wins or loses.  But there is something else I’ve noticed about College Football.  There is a sacred ritual that is deeply connected with it.  And that ritual is this:  Tailgating!  Now, for you unfortunate souls who may not be acquainted with this sacred ritual, I am going to give you a quick digest of it.  I would not have enough time this morning to go into the depths of all that this ritual involves.

For the serious fan, you just don’t show up as the gates open up.  You come early that morning and some even days before.  It truly falls into the realm of religious experiences.  You have the altar of fire, otherwise known as a grill.  On that altar of fire, great sacrifices are offered up; things like hotdogs, hamburgers, chicken, pork loins, briskets, steaks, seafood, chicken; you name it.  You will even find some folks celebrating something similar to communion, with the bread and some liquid in a red solo cup. 

Your spot has your team’s liturgical colors along with many signs and symbols of your team.  Everyone is in a great mood.  Excitement abounds and celebrations are everywhere.  And the game hasn’t even started yet.  Now most of you know I think a bit different from most folks.  But I have to ask this question:  I Wonder How Our World Would View The Message Of The Church, If On Sunday Morning People Drove By And Saw Christians Having Tailgate Parties? 

Well, minus certain forms of liquid refreshments.  I mean we could have coffee and tea, orange juice, Pepsi, Mt. Dew, and Coca Colas.  You could have flags with the cross on it; banners with doves on them; music going; people talking, laughing, and full of excitement.  I mean, can you imagine what non-church goers, non-Christians would think?  I can just imagine one of them pulling into our parking lot with looks of bewilderment.  They come up to your tailgating spot and ask, “Uh, what’s going on?” 

So you grab a plate, take some of whatever is on the grill; get them a glass of tea and say, “Jesus is going on!  He loves us so much that He left His throne in heaven to be born just like us.  He grew up to be a common man and as a man, He died on the Cross.  He didn’t have any sins of His own, so He took on everybody’s sins.  Told the Father, ‘I’ll pay the price for them.’  Then Jesus rose from the dead, went back up to heaven and sent back down the Holy Spirit to let us know how much He loves us.  And in just a little while, see those doors over there, they are going to open up and I get to WORSHIP this God who loves me so much.  Man, I can’t wait!”  And then some cheerleaders come up shouting, “Gimme a J; Gimme a E; Gimme a S; Gimme a U; Gimme a S.  What’s that spell?  JESUS!  Who loves you the most?  JESUS!  Who gives you life?  JESUS!  And in the end, who’s gonna win?  JESUS!”  Can you imagine what those who distrust, even dislike the church would think?  Some of you may think I am being irreligious and disrespectful to our heritage and traditions. 

But it seems to me, that the Pharisees thought the same thing about Jesus.    And maybe, just maybe having tailgate parties in the parking lot is a bit extreme, at least for some, but here’s the point God wants us to get, and get it right and it’s the One Thing You Need To RememberGod Wants His People To Be Passionate About This Life In Christ!  Passion for Jesus unlocks the code for having a thankful heart 365 days a year; and 366 days in Leap Years.

For This Life In Christ To Have Any Meaning For Us, And If We Are Going To Share With Others This Life In Christ, Then There Needs To Be A Sense Of Excitement And Anticipation In Us.  It comes from the deep realization that everything God has done, everything God is doing, and everything that God will do for us, through us and in us comes from His unimaginable love for us revealed in this mystery of Grace

God freely lavishes His extravagant and outrageous love for us.   And in return for this mystery of this unmerited favor, all God asks from us is to surrender each moment of our ordinary day-to-day life as an offering to Him.  He doesn’t ask us to earn His love because we won’t.  He doesn’t ask us to understand His love because we can’t.

All God asks of us is that we accept, live in, and share with others His love, and invite others to do the same by telling YOUR story of grace.  Think about it, this should make life exciting.  Yet Sunday after Sunday so many enter God’s sanctuary out of a sense of duty rather that this Tailgating Kind of Thankfulness

When we try to live out the life of grace from a sense of duty rather than this Tailgating Kind of Thankfulness, it zaps the energy right out of us.  And the world sees it and make up their minds, “Well, if that’s what a Christian looks like, I can do without it.”  And So Can I.  And who blames them.  If we walk into the sanctuary looking like we’re mad at the world and walk out relieved that it’s finally over, I wouldn’t want a life like that!  In fact, I’m not settling for that kind of life, and God doesn’t want you to either.

If living this life in Christ has become a burden to you, if you are not excited about this relationship of love and grace, then something has gone wrong, and the key to the recovery of the joy and excitement is found right here in Psalm 100.  The Psalmist tells us that to live every moment with that Tailgating Kind Of Thankfulness, there are 4 elements that are guaranteed to put the zest back into your life.

1.  The First Element Is Delight! 

“Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!” (Verse 1)

Here is a worshiper who feels absolutely no sense of duty about worship, but finds Exhilaration In Worship.  Take Delight in the fact that God loves you.  Let His love give you the satisfaction and contentment that is so often missing in action in your day to day life.  To Take Delight In God’s Grace Means We Become Captivated And Overwhelmed By This Undeserved Favor.  Don’t feel bad that God loves you.  Exalt that love.  Relish that love. 

Be happy that God loves you.  Get excited about God’s love.  Some folks say, “Well, I would rather be mature than have a childish excitement.”  Well, God would rather you have childlike excitement because Jesus said the Kingdom belongs to children.  Live every day as if there is an adventure, a discovery awaiting you, because it is!

2.  The Second Element Is Joy! 

(Verse 2)  Worship the Lord with gladness.  Come before him, singing with joy.

Facial expressions tell a lot about a person, and the absence of joy in our faces reveals an absence of love and faith in our hearts.  I know that everything doesn’t work out the way we want.  I know that there are times full of fear and pain, heartache and loneliness.  God doesn’t promise His people they will be exempt from these experiences. 

But God does promise this:  That You Can Count On Him Being With Us Through It All.  It’s easy to whine, it’s easy to be fearful, because that’s what Satan wants us to do.  Every whining moment, every fearful moment, every moment we spend focusing on the pain of what’s happened or worse—what might happen—is a moment we withdraw from God’s presence. 

Joy Is Not Rooted In What Is Happening Around Us, But Rooted In All That God Is Doing In Us, For Us, Through Us And With Us.  Worship Is Meant To Be Full Of Joy.  And worship is not something we do just on Sunday.  Worship means we honor God with our work and recreation.  Our whole life is meant to be an act of worship.  God doesn’t want sad faces in worship.  He wants joyful faces.

3.  The Third Element Is Dependence! 

(Verse 3)  Acknowledge that the Lord is God!  He made us, and we are His.  We are His people, the sheep of His pasture.

The Message puts it like this:  “Know this: God is God, and God, God. He made us; we didn’t make Him.”  As I understand it, the original Hebrew would be something like this:  Yahweh is God, God is Yahweh.  Why is this important?  Remember that Yahweh means “I Am”!  The sovereign God has created us and has chosen to love us and offers to take care of us. 

God wants to be involved in every aspect of your life.  He wants to be with you in every moment; the highs and the lows, the good and the bad, the wonderful and the horrible.  And He wants to do more than BE with you.  He wants to help you, but He can’t until you give Him back that one gift He gave you:  Your free-will.  God will woo you, plead with you, draw you to Himself, but He will not violate your choice to reject Him. 

Allow Him to change your life—to change the things you can’t change or don’t want to change.  The Reason He Changes Our Life Is So That We Can Become Who We Are Created To Be.  Live in the confidence that if you depend on God, He will always be with you, He will always have your best interests at heart, and He will always take care of you.

4.  The Fourth Element Is Gratitude! 

(Verse 4)  Enter His gates with thanksgiving; go into His courts with praise.  Give thanks to Him and praise His name.

To nurture a real spirit of gratitude, you begin with thanking God that HE IS God!  We think thanksgiving means listing all the things God has done for us.  And make no mistake about it—God does so much that is marvelous, amazing and wonderful. 

But before you list all those things, focus on the reality of God.  If we make giving thanks all about what He does for us, we will become fickle.  Sometimes God doesn’t do the things we want or think He should do.  Then we begin comparing our lives to others and feel like we are missing out, and we are convinced that it’s God’s fault.

Focus your heart and mind on God—Who Exists And Dwells In Immeasurable Glory And Holiness—Who Isn’t Just Powerful But ALL Powerful—Who Can Speak A Word And Create—Whose Awesome Presence Causes Angels To Bow In Worship And Lift Their Voices In Praise. 

Be Grateful That God IS God, Because Radiating From The Very Core Of God Is Pure, Unadulterated, Unpolluted Love!  And the object and desire of His love???  You!  Gratitude is lifting our hearts and voices in praise that this indescribably Eternal Holy God has broken into the limitations of our space and time and died for us, so that we might know that of everything God is, above it all is this—He Is Love

And the way we can live in a Tailgating Kind Of Thankfulness is to come to the realization that His love never changes and will never go away.  (Verse 5)  For the Lord is good.  His unfailing love continues forever, and His faithfulness continues to each generation.  Now that you know God’s Love is unchangeable—maybe a tailgate party isn’t such a weird idea.  But better yet, why not surrender your heart, mind, and each moment of your life to Him.  I believe we can reach more people for Jesus here when we claim for ourselves this exuberant, passionate life of Thanks Giving.

And here is your Next Step:

Find Your Voice Of Joy!

Sing a little louder in here—and a whole lot louder out there.  When you look at the culture of society, the culture of politics, the culture of economics—there’s not much joy—if any.  But If You Look To God—Look At Jesus—Watch The Holy Spirit At Work—Now There’s Great Joy—And A Tailgate Party I Want To Join.  How about you?

When Jesus returns one day, He is going to gather all His people into one place. I know that Jesus described it as a marriage banquet. It was an image that the people He spoke to could understand. For me, it’s going to be the Biggest Tailgate Party ever. I want to be there, how about you?

Misery Or Joy-Your Choice

Living in misery…or…living in joy…it is your choice. It is the choice you make BEFORE anything happens.

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Yesterday I had a lunch meeting with a brother and close friend. We were talking about a mission we are both passionate about: Disaster Response! We live a considerable distance apart, so I chose for us to meet in Russellville, about half way between us. I also chose to ride because…well you need to be a biker to understand.

There are few earthly things that compare to riding in the open air on a bike–the smell of fresh cut grass, the coolness of passing through a hollow (or hollar if you are from the South), in season smell of honeysuckles. But yesterday…well, it was 98 degrees plus and there was the occasional smell of road kill baking in the hot sun…and then the smell of commercial chicken houses. I could have (notice I said “could have”) complained–but I made a choice. I made this choice before I fired her up. I made the choice to enjoy the ride.

And do you know what? I had a blast! Sure, there were some unpleasant aromas wafting about. So what? I wasn’t seeing God’s beautiful creation from the inside of an air-conditioned car. Nope! I was in the middle of God’s beautiful creation–and the wind in my face reminded me that the wind of the Holy Spirit was all around me–and I was getting to breath it all in.

But…you knew there was going to be a “but”…I’m reflecting now on our current culture. One of the way too often seen characteristics of this culture is the ability to WHINE! I can think of a number of people I know who would have experienced that ride yesterday with much disdain. The wafting aroma of road kill and chicken houses…the heat…well at the end of the ride that would have been their closing remarks…and they would have been in misery.

Look, misery is a choice that YOU can make! But…so is Joy! In Luke 7, verses 31 through 35 Jesus described the culture around Him at that moment…and it is an on target description of today’s culture. He said they were like this bunch of kids trying to play. One side wanted to play
“wedding” but the others didn’t join in. They wanted to play “funeral”…so they whined and bickered AT each other.

Living in misery…or…living in joy…it is your choice. It is the choice you make BEFORE anything happens. Before the ride began, I chose joy and it was a joyful thing in me; even with the unpleasant aromas and searing heat. Because of my choice to be joyful, my heart looked for, leaned into, ALL the many reasons I have to be joyful. The unpleasantness of a few things were not able to dispel the joy! Why? Simply because I chose JOY!

Some who read this may think, “Look, it’s not all that simple!” My response comes from something I learned and am continuing to learn from writer and speaker Andy Andrews. It’s not all that complicated, either! I have a choice–to be miserable or to be joyful; it’s a choice to make BEFORE my day begins…and it’s the choice I make throughout the day. (For more on Andy Andrews, visit his website www.andyandrews.com)

You have a choice–at the beginning of each time–in every situation and circumstance–Misery…or…Joy! What’s your choice?

Communion Is A Time to Dance!

One time, back in the day when dancing was considered taboo, a Methodist bishop was asked, “Can Methodists dance?”  He thought for a moment and said, “Well, some can, and some can’t.”   Dancing is certainly biblical.  King David danced in a parade as the Ark of Slide1God was brought to the city of Jerusalem.  King David created the first line dance.  They would take a step, then David danced.  Another step and David danced some more.  This went on until they arrived in Jerusalem.  Man, talk about Extreme Aerobics!  The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that “There is a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

Our text for today, has something to say about dancing. The author, David, tells us his personal story.  It is a personal that moves from proud self-sufficiency to lonely distance from God and then ends up on such a joyful note that he feels like dancing.  Look at Psalm 30

1 I will exalt You, Lord, for You rescued me.  You refused to let my enemies triumph over me.  2 O Lord my God, I cried to You for help, and You restored my health.  3 You brought me up from the grave, O Lord.  You kept me from falling into the pit of death.  4 Sing to the Lord, all you godly ones!  Praise His Holy Name.  5 For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime!  Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.  6 When I was prosperous, I said, “Nothing can stop me now!”   7 Your favor, O Lord, made me as secure as a mountain.  Then You turned away from me, and I was shattered.  8 I cried out to You, O Lord.  I begged the Lord for mercy, saying, 9 “What will you gain if I die, if I sink into the grave?  Can my dust praise You?  Can it tell of Your faithfulness?  10 Hear me, Lord, and have mercy on me.  Help me, O Lord.”  11 You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.  You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, 12 that I might sing praises to You and not be silent.  O Lord my God, I will give You thanks forever!

In the first 6 verses David confesses his proud self-sufficiency.  When I was prosperous, I said, “Nothing can stop me now!”  In other words, David felt safe and secure in what he had earned and built with his own hands.  Haven’t we all felt like that at times, or I am the only one?  We’re doing really well, acquiring some stuff, making a good salary, with some insurance.  Our security becomes virtually independent of God.  That is the very point when we get into trouble.  Adversity is not the greatest enemy of faith.  Prosperity is the greatest enemy of faith.

If you can remember only 1 thing, this is it:  God Loves To Watch Us Dance!

David drifts from God’s presence because he thinks he’s in charge.  Then Boom, it hits him that God isn’t there anymore.  “You turned away from me, and I was shattered.”  Have you ever felt the absence of God?   Being confident and comfortable in your own strength and your accomplishments is to be standing on thin ice.  When you rely on yourself or anyone other than God, eventually like David, you become shattered—and there is collateral damage.  When our lives become shattered we hurt and wound others.

Then David takes us to another level.  He tries to bargain with God. David says to God (this is another Burbank paraphrase; one day I will have my own paraphrase; look for it on the shelves of your local bookstore) “If I die you will lose a good advertiser.  You better look out for me because that will be good business for you.”   Have you ever tried to bargain with God?  It sounds like this:  “Lord, if you’ll just fix our marriage, I’ll give 10% of our income to the church.  Lord, if you’ll get my teenager on the straight and narrow, we will be there every time the church doors are open.  Lord, if you’ll get us out of financial trouble, I’ll volunteer for anything.”  But He doesn’t bargain with us.  God doesn’t play “Deal Or No Deal.”  His righteousness is not negotiable.

But David comes to his senses.  He simply throws himself on the mercy of God. “Hear me, Lord, and have mercy on me.  Help me, O Lord!”  In other words:  no excuses, no deals, no bargains; just a humble David bowing before the powerful, gracious God.  Are you aware that most of us are not fair with God?

For the most part we are blind to many of God’s presence and His ways.  We take the good things for granted, assuming we deserve them.  The health we have, the fact that we almost never worry about the necessities of life.  Someone cared enough to lead us to Jesus.  We gather here in church without the slightest fear that the government is taking our names and might harass us because we were here.  Every Day Brings Hundreds Of Blessings That We Take For Granted.  But We Give God Plenty Of Credit When Problems Come Our Way:  like a child’s developmental problems, a failed marriage, cancer, the loss of a job, or other hardships.

There is a bird in Europe called the chaffinch.  It’s about the size of a robin.  It has a beautiful song, and people keep these birds in their homes to hear them sing.  But the chaffinch has a peculiar characteristic—it can forget how to sing.  If it does not learn how to sing again, it becomes depressed and dies.  There is only one way for it to relearn.  The bird must be taken back into the woods where the wild chaffinches sing.

Followers of Jesus sometime forget how to dance.  It is in such times as these that we need to gather with other Followers who still dance with God.  We let Satan tell us the lie, that when we don’t feel like dancing we should stay away from worship, stay away from God’s people.  But the exact opposite is true:  It’s WHEN we forget how to dance that we need the most what can only be found in the fellowship of the body of Christ.

And it is in those times we can’t dance that we need what the Sacrament of Holy Communion gives us.  During Holy Communion, God mysteriously re-teaches us chaffinches how to sing and dance.  Allow me to show you 3 reasons how Communion teaches us how to dance again:

We Dance Because We Remember!

We remember that the Cross is deeply rooted in the mercy, grace and love of the Father.  His grace isn’t limited to just once in a lifetime experience.  We remember that even if the Tennessee River runs dry, God’s love endures forever.  We remember that the Father’s arms are always open, always ready for us.  God never says to us, “Sorry, I don’t have time for you right now.”  Communion helps us remember that God is always there, always ready, always with open arms to receive us.  Do you want to try to exhaust the supply of God’s grace?  Take a bucket, go to the ocean and try to empty it.  You will empty the ocean long before grace runs dry.  If He loves us enough to die for us, He also loves us enough to live for us, through us and in us.  We dance because we remember God’s grace.

We Dance Because We Are Reclaimed!

In this Holy Meal, we the sinful, are once again cleansed and reclaimed as God’s chosen possession, His people.  We are made for a relationship of love and intimacy with the Father.  We have been bought and brought into the relationship because of the sacrifice of Jesus.  As we receive these powerful symbols of bread and wine, God is whispering to us:  “You are my child.  You are the joy of my heart.  With my help you are becoming once again, a reflection of my image.”  This Holy Meal is our assurance of God’s acceptance and His promises to us and for us.   We are brought out of our darkness and into His light.  We no longer belong to Satan, we belong to God—and he dares and delights in calling us His children.  We dance because He has reclaimed us.

We Dance Because We Are Revived!

When your proud arrogance shatters your life, God makes you whole again.  When your self-righteousness leaves you hollow and empty, God makes you holy and restores your life.  Even when you desert God for any reason, God does not desert you.  No situation is ever so bleak that God cannot redeem it.  God specializes in releasing prisoners and delivering captives.

When David realized the width and depth and height of God’s grace, he realized this glorious fact:  Even When God Seems Absent, He Is Powerfully Present.  And then David began to dance.  Dancing alone, dancing with your selfish desires, dancing with smugness is sad and tragic.  But the Good News this morning is that God renews us, revives us, rekindles the flame of His love, the Fire of the Holy Spirit.  We dance because we are Revived!

When you consider what God has already done, you will be convinced that He can do it again.  And He will make you feel like dancing!

You Make Me Feel Like Dancing

You’ve got a cute way of talking
You got the better of me
Just snap your fingers and I’m walking
Like a dog hanging on your lead
I’m in a spin, you know
Shaking on a string, you know
You make me feel like dancing, I’m gonna dance the night away
You make me feel like dancing, I’m gonna dance the night away
You make feel like dancing
I feel like dancing, dancing (whoo, whoo!)
Dance the night away (yeah!)
I feel like dancing (whoo!) dancing, aah!
Quarter to four in the morning
I ain’t feeling tired, no, no, no, no, no
Just hold me tight and leave on the light
‘Cause I don’t want to go home
You put a spell on me
I’m right where you want me to be
You make me feel like dancing, I’m gonna dance the night away