Thank you, God, For Working in Mysterious Ways!

Give thanks to God at Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day Sermonettes

Jonah 1:17– Thank you, God, for confronting me

How would you have felt?  God asked Jonah to go preach in the capital city of one of Israel’s most powerful enemies… because God wanted to show them compassion and love.  Would you have been jumping up and down to go?  Jonah wasn’t.  So he got on a ship that was sailing as far away as possible.  But God sent a fierce storm, so fierce the ship was about to break up, the sailors figured out that the storm was because of Jonah.  So with Jonah’s permission they threw him overboard…and everything immediately grew calm.  But what happened to Jonah?  “But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.”  Do you think Jonah got God’s message?  Do you think he had time to think?  Do you think God got his attention?  He did…in a very unusual way.

Have we been in Jonah’s shoes, shoes of rebellion against God? God tells us to forgive those who sin against us, but do we say, “No way!  That’s his problem; after all HE sinned against ME!”  God tells us to put Him first, but do we say, “No!  I have my own wants and needs to take care of first, maybe if I have some leftovers I’ll give something to God.”   We’ve all had times like that.  And what does God do?  He wakes us up.  Probably hasn’t been with a great big fish, but maybe it’s a sudden challenge in our lives which draws our attention heavenward.  Maybe it’s a serious illness that strips us of our “I can make it on my own” attitude.  Maybe it’s a long, hard look at God’s law that shows us how greatly we’ve fallen and how desperately we need a Savior.  Whatever it may be, THANK the Lord for confronting us with our sin and showing us our desperate need for a Savior.  Realizing our sinfulness let us confess our sin to God:

Hosea 3:1 – Thank you, God, for your faithful love

God has taken away your sin.   For as high has the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for you; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed your sin from you.  You are forgiven.  How might you picture that kind of love?  I’ll bet you wouldn’t have guessed this one.  God gave the Israelites and us an object lesson.  God told the prophet Hosea to marry an adulteress, a prostitute.  God wanted Hosea to unconditionally and unselfishly commit his life to a woman who had a terrible history of being faithless and unfaithful in the deepest way.  How would you have felt if you were Hosea?  I think it’s safe to say that no one looks for a spouse who is unfaithful or not-trustworthy.  But what was God’s point?  Look at the verse, “The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress.  Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”  What’s the point?  God still loves the unfaithful.

Although we are the unfaithful ones, unfaithful with the gifts and abilities God’s given us, unfaithful with our devotion to His Word, although that is who we are…guess what…  God sent his Son, Jesus, to die for your unfaithfulness.  God picked you up and united Himself with you.  God still continues to love you. God will not turn away from you, God will never divorce you, God does not leave you.  God loves you unconditionally and His abounding love and forgiveness will never, ever run out for you!  Is that something to be thankful for?  THANK you, Lord, for Your incredibly faithful love!

Jeremiah 32:7-25 – Thank you, God, for reminding me of the big picture!

To understand this next segment, we need to understand the context.  Nebuchadnezzar – the Babylonian king – has come with his army and is besieging Jerusalem.  He’s already overrun the rest of the country, and is about to destroy the capital city, Jerusalem, and will be killing many and taking many more off into exile.

What do you think?  Is that a good time to be buying property?  Not so much, right?  J

And, yet, that’s exactly what God tells Jeremiah to do.  He tells Jeremiah that his cousin is going to come and ask him to buy his field, and that Jeremiah should buy it.  So, sure enough, Jeremiah’s cousin shows up, and Jeremiah dutifully weighs out the silver, and buys the field.

Later, Jeremiah’s praying, and he says to God, and it seems like it’s probably with some degree of frustration, “See how the siege ramps are built up to take the city. Because of the sword, famine and plague, the city will be handed over to the Babylonians who are attacking it. What you said has happened, as you now see. {25} And though the city will be handed over to the Babylonians, you, O Sovereign LORD, say to me, ‘Buy the field with silver and have the transaction witnessed.'” (Jer 32:24-25 NIV)

What was God teaching Jeremiah, and us?  He’s reminding us that He sees the big picture!  Yes, the army was at the gates at that point.  Yes, the Israelites were in trouble at that point.  Yes, they would be going into exile.

But they would be coming back!  It would be years later, but they would come back!  God knew the big picture, and would guide His people through it!

And so God will do with you and me.  He knows what will happen next month, next year, 50 years from now.  Even now He’s guiding and directing all things for the good of His people, including you.  In fact, even now God’s causing/allowing things in your life which will be a blessing for your great, great, great grand-children!

Thank you, God!  Thank you for knowing the big picture!  And thank you for reminding me of that big picture, that I might approach all of life with confidence and joy!

Exodus 17:10-12 – Thank you, God, for Gifting Me in Unique Ways!

Okay, everyone, I want you to do something a bit different.  Hold up your arms into the air.  Go ahead, hold them up high as you listen to this last sermonette.

The Israelites were on their way to the Promised Land after having left Egypt.  Indeed, it wasn’t long after God had begun giving them manna, that the Israelites were attacked by the Amalekites.  And God did something, well, strange.

He had Moses stand on the top of a hill, holding up the staff of God (the same staff, apparently, which he’d held out over the Red Sea when God divided it).  As long as Moses’ hands were up, the Israelites would be winning the battle; when his hands went down, the Israelites would begin losing.  Strange!  The challenge, of course, was for Moses to keep his hands up there.

By the way, how are your arms doing?  Starting to feel it a little bit?  Well, imagine doing this for hours, and the success of the battle depends on you keeping your hands up!  Would it be nice to have some help?

Well, that’s what happened!  Aaron and a man named Hur stood to Moses’ side, and held his arms up, and so the Israelites won the battle.  Aaron and Hur’s contributions were huge!  Simple, but huge!

And, you know what’s neat?  God uses each of our talents in accomplishing His eternal work!  God uses each of our talents – maybe we’re “Moses,” maybe we’re “Aaron/Hur”, maybe we’re one of the “foot-soldiers” in the trenches – to accomplish His eternal work!

All of which leads us to again say, “Thank you, God!  Thank you for gifting me in a unique way!  Thank you for using me to either hold up my hands, or to help hold up someone else’s hands, or to be blessed by those hands being held up!  It may not be obvious to me how it’s happening.  It may not be obvious to me how I’m a blessing to others.  But You’ve promised that I am.  Hands down!  J

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Day
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! What is it that will make this a good Thanksgiving Day for you? What is your “ideal” Thanksgiving Day so that at the end of the day you can sit back and say, “Now that was a good Thanksgiving Day.” What is it? Is it having all the family together? Is it if the turkey is cooked just right- moist and delicious? Is it if you get your fill of all the Thanksgiving feast trimmings? Is it if you get to do all your Thanksgiving Day traditions? Is it if the Packers come away with a win? What is it? What is it that will make this a good Thanksgiving Day for you? Perhaps another question: What is it that makes any day a good one? What makes one day good and another day bad for you? There could be all kinds of answers, right? But for most, good days are days when things happen like you plan or want and bad days are when things happen that you don’t want or don’t plan.

And knowing that there are such things as good days and bad days might make the words of our text this morning sound quite impossible: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is Go’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Really? Joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances? Always? Continually? In all circumstances?

No way! Right? There’s way too many bad things that happen in life to make this possible, right? There’s way to much garbage and trouble and problems that we have to deal with on a regular basis to make this even possible, right?  But don’t we know God’s promises? God’s given us some pretty spectacular promises in His Word that extend for our entire lives- not just on good days. Surely I will be with you always to the very end of the age, I will never leave you or forsake you, God works all things out for the good of those who love Him, God will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways, cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  All kinds of promises and hundreds more. But isn’t there a little voice in the back of our heads that says, “Come on, show me the money God.” I need to see it to believe it. If things don’t happen the way I want or the way that I plan, then this can’t be a good day. And what happens? We make ourselves miserable. Jesus has given us more blessings than we could possibly use and is ready to load us down with even more, and we make ourselves sick wondering if God really means it and worrying that he might not! And hence our joy disappears, our prayers cease, and we find more things about which to complain than give thanks.

Historians have concluded that in Martin Luther’s day 6 out of 10 children died in infancy, life expectancy was about 40 years old, not long before Luther was born the black death wiped out a third of Germany’s population, in 1515 a law was passed that stipulated that German farmers could not be forced to work more than 15 hours a day. In the midst of all that, what did Luther write in his explanation of the First Article?  “I believe that God still preserves me by richly and daily providing clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, cattle, and all I own, and all that I need to keep my body and life.” Where was the evidence, where was the proof?  In his day, Luther didn’t have much of either.  But he had a faith that believed he would receive because Jesus promised it.

And isn’t that the answer? How can we be joyful always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances? Is it not simply trusting that we will receive all we need no matter what simply because Jesus says we will?  So we can rejoice always. The joy that every Christian has is a joy that underlies their whole life. It is the joy of the gospel. The joy of knowing their sins are forgiven, the joy of knowing Jesus as their Savior. The devil knows he can’t take away your salvation so he will try again and again to take the joy of your salvation away. He will use adversities and troubles and problems to get you to think that God doesn’t care about you or make your life miserable, or convince you that you have no reason to rejoice. But remember, Jesus’ promise to you: He works all things out of the good of those who love him –even “bad” things God is able to turn for our good to draw us closer to him, to purify our faith, and give us opportunities to share the hope we have to others.  At Christmas time we let our children pick out presents for each other at the dollar store. Sometimes I am just shocked at what they pick out and think I’d never pick that out. Well, sometimes we think we understand life but really don’t. We think we know what would be best for us, but really don’t. God has a much greater idea of what we need when we need it than we do. A Christian rejoices always because he or she knows that God is graciously guiding all things to bring them to their eternal home in heaven.

How can a Christian pray continually? A Christian prays continually when he or she commits all things at all times to the one who cares for us. It’s an inward spirit of trust in God – a constant leaning of the heart upon God in all things. How is that possible? Because Jesus says that he hears all our prayers, listens to them all, and has made his home inside of us, His people. He hears the trust we place in him, he hears the thoughts in our heart as we think about him, he hears the prayers we speak from the heart that don’t even make it on our lips.

And give thanks in all circumstances? What happens when you receive gifts or blessings? Does it not lead you to give thanks? How can we be thankful in all circumstances? Isn’t it by recounting the great blessings God has given us: physically He’s given us air to breathe, food, water, clothes, house, cars, family, and an abundance of things we don’t even need, but even more importantly what has he given us spiritually? Faith, peace, joy, God’s presence, protection, guidance, care, love, His Word that nourishes our faith, His own body and blood in the Sacrament, Jesus’ perfect life credited to us, eternal life with him in heaven forever. You see, it’s when we see our blessings that we’re led to give thanks in all circumstances. And it really changes our entire outlook on life in general. People who are thankful see so many more things in life; they can see the blessing and mercy of God in every situation in life. I recently ran across a neat illustration: If you had a bowl of sand and in it mixed some iron shavings, it would be nearly impossible to dig through them with your hands to find them. But if you had a magnet you could find them all by mere attraction. Having an unthankful heart is like digging clumsily through sand and it’s almost impossible to find the blessings of God, a thankful heart is like a magnet that attracts and finds –even in the worst of circumstances- the blessings of God in every situation.

So, what will it take at the end of the day today to say this was a “Happy Thanksgiving”? The family, together or apart, wealth, much or little, health, good or bad, everything comes from God who wants his blessings to bring us closer to him.  “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.”

I have no idea what blessings you’re thanking God for today.  But pray God that he would give you a faith that receives those blessings and then sees those blessings in the light of God’s greatest blessings, that he has forgiven your sins in Christ, that he has joined you to himself by the blood his Son, and that he will take you to heaven to be with Jesus in Paradise.  Then you will have a faith that leads you to rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances today and tomorrow too.  Amen.

Persevere with Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Day
James 5:1-11

This is the day the Lord has made let us rejoice and be glad in it!  In the name of Jesus, the most important gift to be thankful for, dear friends in Christ, being thankful is a good thing.  December 7, 2001, just before my 17th birthday, I can’t remember being more thankful in my life up until that day.  On that day I made the biggest purchase of my life up to that point.  I had worked long and hard and saved and saved so I could get it.  On that day I bought my first car, a pick up truck, a 1995 Dodge Dakota slt with the off-road package and only 195,000 miles on it.  It was great.  I remember driving it home and parking it in my parents garage and just spending hours looking it over.  I was very thankful.  But then a few months down the road I replaced a thermostat, a water pump, a radiator, a fuel pump, a catalytic convertor, but hey it was still my truck.  But after a couple years, the tie rod ends were bad, the ball joints were bad, the suspension was bad, and, the rust started settling it, and no matter what I tried I couldn’t get rid of that rust!  So about 3 and half years after I bought it, I traded it in for something else.  What happened to that thing that was so, so, precious, that I dreamt about, and I was so, so thankful for?  That happens to us, doesn’t it?  We can be so thankful at one point, so thankful for something in our life, but then the problems come, the disappointments come, and our entire attitude can change.

The word of God we’re meditating on this Thanksgiving morning is from James chapter 5.  James, who was likely the half-brother of the Lord himself, wrote to early Christians who were in a situation that would have made it difficult for them to be thankful.  Yes, they knew the Lord, yes, they knew they were heading to heaven, but the meantime was difficult.  Particularly because some of them were being mistreated by some wealthy unbelieving people.  Apparently, these wealthy unbelievers would deny their Christian workers their honest pay and live in luxury while others struggled for the basic necessities of life and as wealth often does, it gave them power, so they could win their case in court and even have innocent people executed.  So, James has some sharp words for these unbelieving rich people: (read 1st part)

Now, remember James is speaking about unbelieving rich people.  People who are unbelievers even though they are rich are ripe for God’s judgment.  In selfishness they have fattened themselves with earthly stuff like cows who continue to eat even on the day they are slaughtered.  And yet it’s also important for us to remember that it isn’t a sin for a Christian to be rich, likewise it is not a virtue to be poor.  In His wisdom God has determined to give people unequal amounts of wealth and goods.  Some have more, some have less, that’s just the way it is.  And we often have our own conceptions about who is rich and who isn’t.  Perhaps we think someone with millions or billions of dollars is rich.  Yet, someone from the jungle of Africa would look at every person here and say, “You are all incredibly, extraordinarily rich!”

And there are temptations for both.  James’ point in speaking such strong words against these unbelieving rich people was also a warning those Christians who are rich.  Literally, the end of verse 5 says, “You have fattened your hearts.”  That’s where the problem is.  The temptation for the rich is to trust in their wealth, to find their security in life in their riches, to treasure the gifts and forget about the Giver.  And as James points out, and as I found out with my treasured truck, earthly stuff has a way of falling apart, of rusting, corroding, becoming moth-eaten and in the end all of this earthly stuff is just food for the flames on the Last Day.

And yet there are just as many temptations for the poor person too, just like there were temptations for me when my treasured truck started having all kinds of problems.  I’m sure some of the Christians to whom James wrote were envying the riches, the wealth, the earthly stuff of their unbelieving oppressors.  “If only I had money, I would do all this good stuff.”  “If only I had money, then I could really show them who’s boss.”  Or there’s the temptation to complain or grumble when things aren’t working out the way we want.  So, James also wrote to encourage the believers: (read 2nd part)

So what does God tell us today about being thankful this thanksgiving day?  How can we remain thankful whether we have more than enough to know what to do with or we’re barely scraping by?  How can we remain thankful whether we just bought a new car or are car is having problem after problem?  How can we remain thankful whether everything is going well or we’re experiencing hardship and difficulty?

The Lord puts all of our stuff into its proper perspective.  Yes, He’s given us stuff to enjoy here on this earth, but one day all the stuff we own will perish in the flames when Jesus returns on the Last Day.  So, we don’t get lost in it.  The be all and end all of our existence isn’t in stuff.  We don’t complain or grumble when we miss that black Friday special, we aren’t envious or greedy because someone else has more stuff than we have, we don’t gripe or grumble when life isn’t easy, God is in control and Jesus will one day return.

Secondly, we realize we have everything to be thankful for this Thanksgiving day and always.  Whether we have a lot or a little, whether life is easy or life is difficult, whether someone is mistreating us or not, whether our car is breaking down or not.  Why?  Because “the Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”  “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.  In His compassion and mercy he rescued you from sin with his blood on the cross and because of that you are eternally rich.  Think on that this Thanksgiving day and you’ll see you have every reason to keep thanking the Lord again and again and again no matter what!  Amen.