Theme: Thanksgiving and what Thanksgiving means. The importance of giving thanks, living with grateful hearts, truly living our grateful hearts, thanking God for all that God is and for all that God does in our lives and specifically in the context of our relationships
and Psalm 111
So now, I invite you to open your Bibles with me to Philippians, Chapter 1. I am going to be reading verses 1-11, and I would like you to follow along with me as I do so. Hear the Word of God from Philippians, chapter 1.
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ-to the glory and praise of God.
The EPIC team had no idea how relevant that clip is to what I want to share with you this morning, because I want to start this morning with a statement that may trigger pangs of great fear and trepidation in you. It’s unavoidable. I don’t intend for it to, but it’s going to happen. Are you ready? Thanksgiving is just four days away, which means that Christmas is right around the corner. Fear? Anxiety? Oh, come on. You don’t have a ton to do between now and the time the dishes are done on December 25th? Well, for me it triggers a little fear and trepidation because I have a ton to do between now and the time that Christmas rolls around.
What worries me a little bit is that we sometimes move so quickly into Christmas and into preparing for Christmas and all the things that we have to do between now and December 25th that we forget what this week is all about. I don’t know if you would agree with me, but I think this time of year more than any other the words, so much to do and so little time, means so much more than at any other time of the year. It’s crazy and it often feels like I said, like we just jump right into it because we do have a lot to do. It’s as if Thanksgiving in some ways is a day set aside to give thanks for the start of the holiday mania. We whip through Thanksgiving. We stuff ourselves with turkey. We corporately complain that we have eaten way too much food. We fall asleep in front of the television usually watching football and we wake up Friday morning ready to do what? Shop! That’s right, to get the best sale of the season and the best prices of the season until next season, which is next Saturday. Right? We all do that and it’s okay to get ready for Christmas, but I want us not to spend this week getting through Thanksgiving and then moving on as if it never happened. I don’t want that to be our experience this year.
As a matter of fact, really I found out the hard way that Christmas starts long before Thanksgiving this year, because I went last week to the White Marsh Mall on a Saturday morning, that was my first mistake, to get my son’s haircut. I innocently went to the mall to get his haircut at Cartoon Cuts. He’s 15-months old. Does anybody know what was happening at 10:00 o’clock last Saturday morning at the White Marsh Mall? The Santa parade. See, you all knew that. I didn’t know that. And so, I went to get his haircut and I am going to tell you in a little bit about a lesson that God just struck me right between the eyes with. As I was in the mania of this get ready for Christmas mode at the White Marsh Mall with people looking for deals and literally 200 people about in line to get their kids pictures taken with Santa, two weeks before Thanksgiving. I am going to get to that lesson in a minute. For now, I want to focus our attention and I want to really bring us into Thanksgiving and what Thanksgiving means. The importance of giving thanks, living with grateful hearts, truly living our grateful hearts, thanking God for all that God is and for all that God does in our lives and I want to think about this with you in the context specifically of our relationships and I want to look at a couple of questions.
What does it mean to really thank God for the important people in our lives? What will our relationships look like if we truly operate as thankful people? Acknowledging not only through our words, but perhaps more importantly through our actions that our family, our friends, our colleagues, our neighbors are gifts from God. How do we demonstrate our thankfulness in and for our relationships? Those are the questions that I have been pondering and I want to share with you and have you think through with me. And I want to suggest that it involves more than simply verbalizing our gratitude to God. That’s the first step, and we are going to see that in a minute. But, I believe it involves more than that. It involves conscious choices about how we interact, about what we say, about who we are with others. Scripture is clear that we are to care for one another, that we are to bear with one another, that we are to love one another. We see that all over scripture, but what does that look like? How do we live thankfulness? The passage that we read out of Philippians gives us tremendous insight, I think, into just how thankful Paul was for his loved ones. Specifically those in the church at Philippi, and it offers us the model that we are going to look at in a minute, but before we dive into the scripture together, I want to share with you just a little bit of background that will be helpful in us figuring out kind of what Paul is saying and why he is saying it. A little background about his relationship with the people in Philippi.
Paul’s relationship with them was strong, very strong and he held them very close to his heart. He loved being with them. He loved interacting with them. He cared for them deeply. And they were his good friends. Bottom line. They were good friends with Paul. He missed them when he was away from them and he longed to be with them and we see this in his writing. They were the only group of believers that remained faithful in supporting Paul all throughout his missionary journeys. And, it is safe to say that Paul was as close to the Philippians as he was to any other group and if we can say this about Paul, you have to bear with me for a second because we don’t often say things like this about Paul, he had favorites. I know. And the Philippians were most likely his favorites, many would argue that, but, this was his favorite group to be with. He loved the people at Philippi. They were his dear friends. So, I want to take that little bit of information and have you look with me as we dive into this letter that he has written to his dear friends.
After beginning in a style that is very typical of all of Paul’s letter with an introduction and an offering of grace and peace from Jesus Christ, Paul immediately tells the Philippians that he thanks God for them. Verses 3 and 4 say, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all of my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy.” There is a lot of big words in there meaning, in all of my prayers, every time, I always pray with joy. Those are a lot of all-encompassing words and Paul is clearly thankful for the Philippians and for their faithfulness to him in his ministry, and he lets God know it constantly. He doesn’t take his relationships with these people for granted. Quite the opposite. He thanks God for them every time he remembers them. I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty impressive to me. I don’t, every time I remember somebody remember to thank God for them. I wish I did. But, this is a challenge to me directly from scripture from Paul’s example, to thank God for the people in my life every time I remember them. I find it very true of my life and very unfortunate in my life, and I would imagine that I am not alone in this, that often its very easy to take for granted the people in our lives. And its really unfortunate that a lot of times I think that the people I take for granted the most are the people who are closest to me. People that I love the most. People that are the dearest to my heart. It’s taken living thousands of miles away from the friends that I grew up with and my family who are all in California, I have been away from there for about seven years now, and it has taken living thousands of miles away for me to realize how seldom I remembered to thank God for the people who I love and who love me, and for the privilege of those relationships. It’s unfortunate that that’s true, but for me it is. And that’s again why this is such a challenge to remember as Paul did, that we shouldn’t take our relationships for granted and that we are called to thank God for them. That’s the first challenge.
The second lesson that we see in Paul’s letter is the honesty with which he addresses the Philippians. He tells them exactly what he is feeling. He lets them know that he cares for them, that he is thankful for them and why it is that he feels this way. I find that really refreshing and another challenge. He doesn’t just give them a kind of blanket statement that says, I am thankful for you, which he does say that, but what does he do then? He jumps into the why. Right? Why he is thankful for them and he lists it. I hope you have had the experience of somebody coming to you and saying, I am thankful for you or thank you for whatever and listing or at least telling you in some way, shape or form, exactly why it is that they are thankful for you. For me, it gives me a boost. It takes the relationship to a different level. It’s not just the blanket, thank you, but I want to say thank you and I want to tell you why. And for me that gives a connectedness that goes beyond what a lot of at least my relationships can tend to be about. Take it to the next level.
Paul doesn’t miss the opportunity to express his thanks and love for the people and we see this in verses 7 and 8 very clearly. He says, “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart;, for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Those are powerfully honest words when we think about this being a letter that he is writing to his friends. And I want you to hear how Eugene Peterson, some of you are probably familiar with the message, which is his paraphrase of the scriptures and in verse 8 he paraphrases it this way. He says, that Paul is kind of getting into the heart of what Paul was saying, that Paul is saying, “God knows how much I love and miss you these days. Sometimes I think I feel as strongly about you as Christ does.” The core of what Paul was feeling. “I love you. I miss you. I think I feel just as strongly about you as Christ does.” That took some guts to say. But, Paul was in the business of saying what was on his heart, because Paul knew that there might not be another opportunity. Paul knew that he needed to take life and live it to the fullest and do that within the context of his relationships because literally for Paul he may not have had another day in the context in which he was living. His life was threatened and he may not have had another time to say that and so he took full advantage of that. I wonder if sometimes we get complacent thinking, oh we have a lot more days. And so we don’t share after the model of Paul what’s on our hearts and what’s deepest at the core of who we are in telling others, I love you. I care for you. I thank God for you. This is why I appreciate you. The challenge is to do that and to not miss those opportunities, which unfortunately I think we, sometimes let slip away. And with that exception for me when I let those opportunities slip away, I regret it later. I absolutely regret it. There is just not an exception to that, to that rule for me. If I know that I have an opportunity to say something and I don’t say it, and then I miss that opportunity, I often find myself either driving home or sitting back or sitting in my living room if I had been on the phone with a family member and saying, “Why didn’t I say that”? Why didn’t I take advantage of that”? My question before us is do we model our lives after Paul? Do we honor God and those with whom we are in a relationship with the same level of honesty and gratitude and forthrightness about what we are grateful for? That’s the second challenge before us.
And the third and perhaps the most important lesson that we see in Paul’s relationships with the Philippians begins in verse 9 where Paul says, “And this is my prayer: that you love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ –to the glory and praise of God” and this is my prayer. What a prayer! What a prayer! Paul’s number one concern for those in Philippi with whom he is in relationship and for whom he is thankful, is that they receive from God what they need to live lives worthy of the gospel and to grow in depth in their relationship with Jesus Christ. What a tremendous gift Paul gave to the Philippians every time he prayed for them. We would be wise to memorize and at the very least write down this prayer. And pray it for our loved ones daily. To lift them up, for there is no greater way in my opinion than to give thanks for someone, and to let them know that we are thankful for them than by praying for them, by lifting them up. That’s the greatest gift we could ever give to anybody, is to lift them before the Father, to intercede on their behalf out of the thankfulness that we have because of who they are in our lives.
I want to tell you about a friend of mine. Her name is Betty and she is an older lady at the church that I interned at in California. She is a dear, dear lady and she is one of these people that doesn’t have an enemy on the face of the planet, you know these kind of people. There is just not anybody who doesn’t like Betty. Everybody truly loves Betty and it took me a while. I had all these great reasons why and I actually had them listed here, but I took them all out because I figured out what the one reason is that everybody loves Betty. And it sounds so simple, but it’s true. It’s the way that Betty greets people. It’s the way that she greets people. When I was working at that church and when I was around town and when I went to the grocery store, it was the kind of community where you run into people all the time, without exception every single time I ran into Betty she would give me a warm hug, she was about 5’2″ so she would look up, I am about 5’10” so she would take my hands in hers, both of my hands, and she would look up at me, and she would just have a glimmer in her eye, and she would tell me how thankful she was for me, how she was thankful for our friendship, how I was a gift from God in her life and how she was praying for me.
And I said it at the first two services; I did not make this up to go with this text. This is absolutely true of Betty and what she did, and I don’t have to tell you that every time I would see Betty coming, my day just brightened. I mean it just got elevated to a different level. I was so excited every time I saw Betty coming. And the gift, the greatest gift was the last part of what she would always say, which was I am praying for you. She walks, at 75 or 80, a four-mile loop every day in her neighborhood, every single day. And as she is walking by herself, she has index cards. And these index cards, there are like 3 or 4 of them that she carries every day. It’s the same 3 or 4 and they are filled front to back with the names of people for whom Betty is praying. And I have seen her twice since moving from California and both times that I have seen her, she has assured me, and reminded me that I am still on those cards and that she still prays for me. I moved seven years ago. That she is praying for my ministry, that she is praying for my family, that’s she is praying for me. That is the greatest gift that Betty could ever give to me. She has given me some great baked goods and some great hugs and you know, but the praying for me goes above and beyond any of those. And whether Betty is aware of it or not, she clearly lives the example that we see in Paul and in his relationship to the Philippians. Betty doesn’t take her relationships for granted. She lets God know that she is thankful for her loved ones. She lets them know as well, lets us know. She knows how important it is for people to know that they are a gift from God and Betty prays for those that she loves. Tremendous gifts. The greatest gift that we can give to anybody in our lives is to lift them up in prayer. That’s the third challenge.
So now I want to take you back to the White Marsh Mall for a minute. Are you ready for a trip? After we got my sons haircut, which took a while because everybody was getting the haircuts before the pictures, as I was getting a little bit more annoyed at being there, I wasn’t annoyed at anybody or anything in particular, but it was just my expectation wasn’t what is should have been when I walked into the mall that day. So by the time the haircut was done and Josh was hungry because it was almost lunchtime now, even though we had gotten there at like 10:30 or 10:45, I knew that I had to feed him. He’s 15 months old and we had a 15 minute drive to get home, so with 15 months old and the middle of the day hour they fall asleep on the drive home, and I wanted two hours when I got home with him sleeping and not waking up from hunger so we got a bite to eat at the mall there. And as I am shoving the Chick Filet chicken nuggets down his throat, God just kind of smacked me in the face with the reminder and in the middle of; you know the craziness that was going on around us, right? I mean, there were balloons being sold and not a person could find a table anywhere and people were, it was just mayhem and I bought Josh one of his first kid meals. He hasn’t had a lot, just because we don’t buy them a lot. And this is the bag that it came in. Can you see that? It says, “Get the gratitude attitude.” And it says, this is from Chick Filet, which we know is owned by a Christian family, and it says “growing kids inside and out” and I read this as I am sitting there in the middle of the mayhem and it says, “It’s important to realize that we all live lives in this world together, when our families, friends and neighbors enhance our lives through their words and actions, Chick Filet also believes it is important to say thank you. There are all kinds of ways to show appreciation for the people in your world, so let’s go.” And then it just goes on in the front and back and even on the bottom about how kids can show thankfulness, saying thank you, acting kindly toward others, appreciating life every day. This may sound so trite, but this was God’s way of just going, smack right in the middle of it all. He was telling me to slow down and to stop. And to remember, because I was already thinking about this sermon and thinking about his week and thinking about Thanksgiving and thinking about how I could share and what I should share. It came across loud and clear that we as faithful followers of Jesus Christ are to have an attitude of gratitude. And that sounds kind of trite and it sounds a little corny, but we need to stop. I need to stop and I was challenged by this yesterday, my husband Judd said, “I am going to tell on you” as we were taking the boxes down out of the attic for Christmas. I mean I am confessing. I was taking the boxes down yesterday. We didn’t do anything with them; we just wanted to get them down out of there. We need to stop and we need to put Christmas aside for at least the next four days, right? And remember what this week is all about.
And more importantly than that, remember that this week reminds us what our lives are to be about. Gratitude. Thanking God for the people in our lives. Thanking God for the greatest relationship in our life of all, which is with his son Jesus Christ. Verbalizing that, but more than that, acting on it. Acting on it. With the people around us, with our loved ones, with the people that we are going to be sitting across the table with at Thanksgiving dinner that are a challenge to love and you are all laughing, so you all got that person in mind, right? And here’s the bigger challenge. Telling that person that you are thankful for him. Not just telling God, that’s sometimes the easy part. Telling that person and telling them why, because if we are not living our gratitude, I challenge us to think about what kind of witness we are being in this world.
Let’s pray. Holy and loving God, you do call us to be people who live with grateful hearts. That’s easy sometimes God to forget. It’s also easy God to forget to stop, to put aside the busyness, to remember your love, your presence, so we ask God that you would help us to do that, that you would help us to be about your kingdom this week, that you would help us to love those around us and to let them know that we are so thankful that you have put them in our lives. God help us to be the face of Jesus to everyone that we meet. We ask this in his name. Amen.