Thanksgiving Make the Most Part 2

Well good morning. Good to see everybody this morning. This is my favorite time of the month when we have our chapel service. I was not able to be here last month because we were in the midst of a hurricane, but Harold did a great job. I was listening online. Thank you, Harold, for filling in and being my executive pastor for the month. I was actually working this weekend. My wife and I were in Colorado for an event, and I took Saturday morning off to prepare for today. She said, “Where are you preaching?” I said, “I’m preaching to my congregation on Tuesday.” So I didn’t get to preach last month, so get ready for both barrels this morning. This is my favorite time. It’s also the general’s favorite time of the month, isn’t it? You are always happy about chapel.

All right. How many are in our daily Bible reading? If you’re smart, everyone would raise your hand, even though you would be lying. What is today’s passage? Ephesians 6. That is a passage that is quite familiar, especially if you listen to Washington Watch. I sign off every day from Ephesians 6:13. So this morning we are going to speak on standing, but we’re going to take it from Ephesians 5. The topic today is, “Stand and Give Thanks.” Our key verse is Ephesians 5:20, “Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Now let me give you the context of Ephesians for those that either don’t know it or just need to be refreshed. Ephesians is one of the four letters Paul wrote from prison. Paul was imprisoned in Rome around 61-62 A.D., and he writes these four letters during his imprisonment. He writes one to the Ephesians, one to the Philippians, and a personal letter called Philemon to the owner of a slave asking him to cut him some slack. I think this letter to the Ephesians is probably one of the most significant letters that Paul wrote. The first three chapters deal with the foundation of the church, the doctrine of the church, and the last three deal with the practical application of our faith as followers of Christ. Keep in mind that Ephesus at that time was a key city. It was in Asia Minor or modern-day Turkey.

Three years ago, I was in Izmir, Turkey which is about 45 minutes from Ephesus. My plan was to go to Ephesus. I was there for the trial of Andrew Brunson, and he was miraculously released. It was almost like a New Testament account of the prison doors opening. My plans for the next morning had to be shelved, and I had to immediately leave the country with Andrew when he was released. But that was someplace I wanted to go, to Ephesus, because it was really a hub of cultural activity. The temple to the Princess Diana, a fertility goddess, was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was this elaborate temple which housed temple prostitutes because that was part of the worship of this fertility goddess. It was an educational center. It was a cultural center. It was a religious center. It was a political center. It was a crossroads of all of these things, and it was this place that Paul established this church in Ephesus. He spent more time in Ephesus than he did in any other place in his ministry. He spent nearly three years pouring into these people. They were very close to him, and he had invested a lot. So he is sharing with him in this letter how they’re to walk out their faith in a very culturally, politically corrupt, fallen world. All of the Bible is applicable to us, but if we were to take one book that I think really has bearing and relevance to us today in the culture and the times in which we live, it would be the Book of Ephesians.

What I want us to look at in our few moments together is that the wise have thankful hearts that enable them to make the most of life, even in the midst of life’s obstacles and challenges. I think that has tremendous bearing on us today given what’s happening around us, whether politically or natural disasters. I mean, if you watch the Weather Channel, the world is ending. My son, Samuel, watches the Weather Channel just to get the chuckles. He says, “These people are crazy. Everything is a crisis.” There are a number of crises in our world today, but even in the midst of this, if we’re wise, we’re going to be able to make the most of the opportunities that God has given us. This morning, I want us to look at the key to how we do that. How do we seize these moments in the midst of challenges to do things that have eternal significance? I’m going to begin in Ephesians 5:15, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Let’s pray, “Father, we thank you for your Word. We thank you for the power of your Word. We thank you that your Word is living. It is sharper than a two-edged sword. Father, your Word is truth. I pray this morning that our ears would be anointed and opened by the Holy Spirit to hear your Word. It is your Word that has the ability to transform our lives. It’s not the words of man, it is the words that come from the mouth of God. And we know that your Word is ordained. It is infallible, Lord. It is your Word. So I pray this morning that our hearts would be receptive, and that Lord we would be transformed by the truth of your Word. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Ephesians 5:20, “Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” You could take Ephesians and preach every Sunday for a year on this book, verse by verse. There’s so much in it, and Ephesians we can easily overlook because it’s a little pearl in a treasure chest of truth. It’s almost a regular saying of Paul. When somebody says something all the time, you just kind of pass over it. I mean, look at Paul’s writings in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, ‘Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Colossians 2:6-7, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 4:2, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” In some ways, the call to thanksgiving seems so elementary, that not much is needed to unpack or explore its significance or its importance. Yet it is a fundamental building block of our faith, obedience, and victorious living. The psalmist gives instruction on approaching the throne of God in Psalm 100:4. He says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!” I think there’s something to this thankfulness, so let’s ask a few questions here. Why are we to be thankful? It is the will of God.

1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” You know, I hear people all the time say something like, “I’m just looking for the will of God.” There are actually a few places where Paul specifically says, “This is the will of God.” It’s like neon lights. Flash! This is the will of God. Be thankful. Give thanks in everything so that we know the will of God. It is God’s will for you. It is God’s will for me to give thanks in everything. So, when are we to give things? He’s got the answer for us. Give thanks always.

What does “always” mean? There you have it, folks. Always, at all times. Always, ever more. I read this, and it means that in all times forevermore we are to be thankful. From this time forward when we come into a relationship with Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven. Our eternity is secure. From that point forevermore into eternity, we’re to be giving thanks. That’s what it means. So, what are we to thank God for? Everything! That’s right. You mean the bad things, too? Yes. Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” I may have shared this before with some of you. After you’ve told the same stories over and over again, everybody knows them. Five years ago, we had a major flood in Louisiana. At the time I was here, but I was also pastoring a church as the interim pastor. It was right on the heels of the Republican convention, and it was the middle of a presidential election. I don’t think life could have been more fully occupied than it was for me at that moment. We also lost our house during this.

I will be candid. There were a few moments when I asked God, “Why? Why now in the midst of all of this?” I really wrestled with this and with the Lord. I was so busy that I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it, so I wasn’t on the sidelines just complaining to God. I just didn’t really think about it. But he brought me finally to a point where I remember thanking God in prayer that my house flooded. How could I legitimately do that? Well, it put me into a place that I was able to minister, where before I would never have been able to minister because I knew exactly what 60 percent of the population was experiencing. To see all your worldly possessions in a ditch water-logged in front of your house was relatable. I had to come to that point where I literally was able to thank God and say, “Lord, I thank you for this, that we’ve experienced it.” It was a freeing experience, but it’s very much like what we’re going to read tomorrow in Philippians 1:12-14. Here Paul says, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”

You see, when we’re able to give thanks for the difficulties in the opposition that we face, it frees us up to do the ministry that we’re called to do because we’re no longer looking at ourselves. We’re no longer lamenting our situation. The Lord has then freed us. To minister to others and to advance his kingdom is our calling. So when we look at where we are today as a nation and as an organization, there’s a lot that we could point to and bemoan and say, “Oh my gosh.” In fact, someone asked me the other day how things were in Washington. I said, “What country isn’t going to hell in a handbasket?” But we’re fine. Things are bad, but we can rejoice even in those things. We should give thanks because in the midst of this challenging time, for those who know the truth and are willing to speak the truth and stand upon the truth, people will come to know the truth and eternal business will be done.

When Paul was writing to the Philippians, he had that eternal perspective. When we have an eternal perspective, we can have grateful hearts. And when we have grateful hearts, we have an eternal perspective. It is cyclical. So finally, what are the results of being thankful? I think it’s important to look at the results of having a thankful heart.

First, a thankful heart is a barrier to bitterness. If you’re thanking God, you can’t be bitter toward God. How else can we be joyful in tribulations and trials, as James tells us. He says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” Maybe that sounds like a high bar. Thank God for the trials. We must be thankful in all things for all things. Harvard School of Medicine published an article on the work of two psychologists, Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California and Dr. Michael McCullough of the University of Miami. They’ve done a lot of research on gratitude. In one study, they asked all the participants to write a few sentences each week focusing on particular topics. In this study, one group was to write about the things that they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. The second group wrote about daily irritations and the things that had displeased them. The third group wrote about events that had affected them with no emphasis on being positive or negative. They just wrote something that happened that week. Guess what happened after 10 weeks. Those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to the physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.

Now you’ve heard of the power of positive thinking. Certainly, that’s part of it. But it’s more than that. A grateful heart is a healthy heart. A grateful heart is one that God can use. Another leading researcher in this field, Dr. Martin Seligman, was a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania who tested the impact of various positive psychological interventions on 411 people. Each was compared with a control assignment where they wrote about early memories. Their week’s assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness. Participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores, and this impact was greater than that from any other intervention. Benefits lasted for a month simply by saying thank you to someone who had an impact on their lives. Of course, studies such as this cannot prove cause and effect, but most of the studies published on the topic support an association between gratitude and individual well-being.

I think there’s something to this. God wants us to have a grateful heart as followers of Christ. We have a reason to be thankful. When we’re thankful, God can use us to reach others with that freeing message of the Gospel. This year will mark the 400th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving that took place in Plymouth, and I’ve been there. Some of you have as well. In fact, last year we were there for the 400th landing of the Pilgrims. It was a little less than one year from the landing to the first Thanksgiving. You know, pilgrims landed about December, and the first Thanksgiving was in the Fall of the next year. I want you to consider for a moment what happened in those almost 12 months preceding that first celebration. As I mentioned, they arrived just in time for winter. There in Massachusetts, during that first winter, nearly half of the 102 pilgrims died. 42 people actually died at the height of the winter in February. They were dying at a rate of two per day. 13 out of the 18 wives that came over died. Only three families remained unbroken by death after that first winter. At times, their daily rations consisted of one kernel of corn each. Peter Marshall wrote this in the light and the glory.

He said that these were not like other men. The more adversity mounted against them, the harder they prayed, never giving in to despair, to murmuring, or to any of the petty jealousies that split and divide. As they approach the one-year mark in October of 1621, William Bradford, the governor of Plymouth, whose wife also died shortly after they arrived, proclaimed the first official day of Thanksgiving. Now think about all that they had gone through and all that they had lost. They declared a day of Thanksgiving. This was not a day, as some of the textbooks now record, to give things to the Indians. It wasn’t a day to pat each other on the back and thank one another. It was a day to thank God. Gratitude to the Almighty. That sustained them, and it equipped them. To lay the foundations for a nation. Had they not had a heart of gratitude, rather had they thrown in the towel because they were bitter and angry with a God who they thought had betrayed them and left them, this nation would not be here today. The power of a thankful heart. May each of us cultivate a heart of gratitude and Thanksgiving toward God that he might use us to advance his kingdom and make a difference into eternity.

“Father, we thank you again for your Word. Thank you for just speaking to us right where we are. Your Word just speaks to us. And Lord, we’re a nation right now that has lost its way, and we see the evil that is just cascading down from Capitol Hill. And we just think, God, how is this happening? Lord, are you hearing our prayers? Lord, we see the devastation, the fallout from this, the young people that are being misled by the lies and deception that our media is putting forth in the policies they are supporting. We just cry out to you, Lord. How long will this go on? Lord, amid this, we thank you. We thank you, Lord, that we can stand on a firm foundation of your truth. You are not a Lord with arrogance but with compassion. You are not indifferent. Lord, with broken hearts we pray for our nation. And we thank you that you have placed us right here, each one of us. Lord, I thank you that you’ve called each one to be a part of this team right now at this time. Lord, we could lament the times in which we’re living. We can say, well I wish we were living a hundred years ago. No Lord, we thank you that you have entrusted these times to us, and we thank you that you’ve promised us that he who lacks wisdom, if he asks, you’ll give it. So amid these challenges, Lord, we pray for that wisdom. Give us the wisdom to know how to respond, what to do, and how to represent you. Teach us to navigate in taking these tough, difficult stands on issues. They’re not complicated. I mean, Jesus made very clear and affirmed it in Matthew, that you created male and female. That’s not difficult, but it is a challenge in today’s culture that denies truth. So Lord, how do we uphold that truth and stand on that truth in a loving and a compassionate way? We ask you for the wisdom to do that. The ability to communicate that truth because ultimately our goal is to bring glory and honor to you by introducing others to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Father, thank you. I thank you for each one here. I thank you for the opportunities you’ve given us. I thank you for our supporters that make it possible for us to be here and to hold high the banner of Jesus Christ. I thank you for the challenge because it keeps us on our knees. We’re beyond our own ability. I pray that we would be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. And in that we would stand. Stand with grateful hearts. But stand Lord, unflinching in the face of a fallen, broken world. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.”