Thanksgiving In All Circumstances

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (New Living Translation)

OK, this is a good verse for Thanksgiving Day—BE THANKFUL!  “That’s easy enough for today.  I can handle this verse today .”  I mean, why not?   Today we will get to eat all kinds of wonderful food, so sure, you will be thankful—unless you are the one who has to prepare and cook that food, or because of financial stresses there won’t be much food to prepare or there will be one less person at the table.

“I can be thankful today because there is PLENTY of football to watch!  Yeah, I’m thankful”  You can be thankful for all the football to watch—unless you’re the one who has to clean up after that Thanksgiving meal, and would love to start decorating the home for Christmas, but can’t get any help because they are watching football!

“Oh, I can be thankful today because of Black Friday—EVERYTHING goes on sale and I can shop for Christmas gifts (and maybe myself)!”  Yes, you can be thankful for all those Black Friday Sales—unless you are a sales associate or cashier who has to deal with all those unruly and obnoxious customers!

Am I getting through?  Is it clear what I am trying to say?  It is this:  to be thankful or unthankful all depends on what side of the issue you are looking through.  It is easy, at least for me but maybe not for you, to lose the focus that the new life in Christ brings to our daily living.  There are many things we can be thankful for (and we certainly should be thankful for them), but those same things can become cause of stress or concern for another—like the Thanksgiving dinner.  Who can deny that it is something certainly to be thankful for—but the preparations before and the clean up after the meal can rob us of the spirit of gratitude if our focus is in the wrong place.

 Paul reminds us here:  “Be thankful in all circumstances…”  (italics mine).  There are situations and circumstances for which it would practically impossible and unreasonable to be thankful for.  So, Paul reminds us to be thankful in all circumstances.  This is a bit easier because the emphasis is not on the thing or event, but on The Presence.  That first Easter morning, when Mary was left alone by the others in the cemetery, alone in her pain and grief, thinking—believing all was lost, her whole life was transformed by a single word—Mary!  (John 20:16)  When Jesus spoke her own name to her, the miracle of the Resurrection was transferred to her and she had her own personal Resurrection—all because Jesus called her by HER name.  And know that He is still calling each of us—by OUR own name—so that we may know His Presence is real.

 So, with all that goes on today, remember there is The Presence of Him who knows us and calls us by name.  Listen!  Listen carefully!  He IS calling to you; His vocal cords are reverberating with your name. Listen, you can hear it.  Now, that’s something we can truly give thanks for—the loving God who knows and calls us by name.  God is careful to make sure He is with us in every situation and circumstance, regardless if it is good or bad.  Remember the words from Psalm 139:1-10  (italics mine)

O Lord, You have looked through me and have known me.  You know when I sit down and when I get up. You understand my thoughts from far away.  You look over my path and my lying down.  You know all my ways very well.  Even before I speak a word, O Lord, You know it allYou have closed me in from behind and in front.  And You have laid Your hand upon me.   All You know is too great for me.  It is too much for me to understand.  Where can I go from Your Spirit?  Or where can I run away from where You are?  If I go up to heaven, You are there!  If I make my bed in the place of the dead, You are there!  If I take the wings of the morning or live in the farthest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me and Your right hand will hold me.  (New Living Translation)

So in the midst of the stuff of Thanksgiving Day, take a moment to listen for His voice, saying your name, and you will know that your are in The Presence!

And then Love God with all your heart. Love others the way He loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!

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?