Sermon 11/17/19: Notice Blessing; In Everything Give Thanks!

Sermon at Kinmundy and Wesley United Methodist Church on November 17, 2019.
Title: Notice Blessing; In Everything Give Thanks!
Text: I Thessalonians 5:16-18.
Audio link – Right-click, open in new tab to play: Kinmundy. Right-click, open in new tab to view slides as a PDF: Slides.

TRANSCRIPT (This transcript is not yet edited.)

What we’re talking about in the month of November, four Sundays, is to remind ourselves that you have choices at every single point in your day, at every single hour of your life you have choices. The world is going to try to put pressure on you so that you have no choice but the world cannot win. You always have the choice to choose joy. When someone is struggling, including you, you always have the choice to choose to pray. To pray even without ceasing and it’s not always easy but you always have the choice to be thankful in all circumstances. You have choices.

Now the devil wants you to think that you have choices too. If you’re really old you probably remember this. The actor in the picture is the guy that plays the cowardly lion. Do you remember this Lay’s commercial? Betcha can’t eat just one. Well, there are a whole lot of people that found out they couldn’t eat just one. But this is how we think of temptation. Here’s something beautiful. Here’s something wonderful. Here’s something delicious. Here’s something covered with chocolate icing. Betcha can’t eat just one. I don’t know how you like your potato chips, but that’s what I like.
Temptation, a lot of times, seems like this. There’s something wonderful and beautiful and we just can’t get enough. But temptation, honestly, can have different forms and some of those forms are darker and, to be honest, more cruel.

Here’s a darker form of temptation and it’s coming. What happens just before Christmas? Black Friday. Every year, it seems, I hear more and more and more and more about Black Friday and I find myself wondering what it’s like to be addicted to Black Friday.

Now, I’m not addicted to Black Friday but I am addicted to getting things on sale. The thing my doctor would say would most benefit me is to lose weight. Let’s say, maybe 75 pounds.

I want to tell you, I understand perfectly where that 75 pounds came from. Do you know where it came from? It came from every bargain on food that I ran into. Buy one get one free!

Krispy Kreme there. Buy a dozen donuts. Get another dozen free. Who needs two dozen donuts? Buy one Egg McMuffin get another Egg McMuffin free and, I’ll be honest with you folks, that free egg McMuffin … there it sits. (pats stomach) Right there. It’s still with me. It stays with us forever.

The most dangerous thing for me is an all-you-can-eat buffet. Not because the food isn’t delicious, because it is, but because there’s something down deep in the darkness of my heart that says, “They’re going to lose money on me!”

And so now we have Black Friday that may be more challenging than this smorgasbord. For $278, you can buy a TV that, if you put it diagonally setting on a corner, from the floor it would come up to here. You can buy a TV where if you set it diagonally, it may be taller than you. How can anyone resist that?

Well, I can tell you, after you have 13 or 14 of them, it doesn’t have the same appeal. But the flip side is, it’s not what you’re buying. It’s that you got it at such a great price. This is one reason why in the kitchen cabinets and closets of our house we have something like eight crockpots. They were on sale. It’s a buy. It’s that it’s on sale.

And what happens when things are on sale? We hear about it every year. A couple of years ago, a man was actually killed, trampled to death, by people trying to get into a Wal-Mart. I don’t know if you noticed this; Black Friday means that before the dishes are done from Thanksgiving, Wal-Mart employees have to be back at the store by 6 o’clock on Friday because they don’t want the idiots– I mean, the crowds of people waiting in line to be there all night long … because they would be. Because to get $30 off on a TV set drives people crazy.
And you see this is the darker form of temptation. The pressure from the world. The pressure that tries to conform us to the way the world works, and it’s a temptation for us to let go of reason, to let go of calmness, to let go of common sense and be pulled into despair. The idea that someone else is going to get that 65-inch TV and we’re not.

Now, I get the whole buy-one-get-one-free dozen doughnuts. I get the whole bet-you-can’t-eat-just-one-potato-chip because that brings pleasure. Racing to try to get that cheap TV– I don’t think it makes anybody feel happy. But people feel compelled. They’re dragged into it. They’re dragged against their will into situations where they lose their temper. They’re dragged against their will into situations where they judge other people and they’re cruel to other people. And if they don’t get what they want, they feel robbed, unfairly treated. They’re pulled, almost like gravity pulls on us, into situations to where they vent their feelings.
And down underneath all of that is what some people call FOMO. FOMO stands for fear of missing out. You didn’t get that new 65-inch TV? Your life is all downhill from there. Nothing’s ever going to be right again. And, of course, that pulling of us downward– the end result of it would be depression. How odd it is that the devil can tempt us through negative feelings and skip the idea of pleasure because we’re more easily manipulated by our negative emotions.

I read an article this morning that stated that if you complain enough, it literally re-wires your brain so that you see more, and more, and more that’s wrong in this world. What’s the opposite of this? To be thankful. And as we move toward the holidays, and not everybody has a wonderful time during the holidays, this may be helpful to us because you’re going to be put under pressure to be tempted like this. First Thessalonians, 5:16, rejoice always. We got that. Pray constantly. We got that. Give thanks in all circumstances. King James version: in everything give thanks. How do we do that, because these three things are the will of God in Christ Jesus for you? Not just on Sunday morning. Not just during this month but really the entire time of your life. You have a choice, and you can choose joy. You can choose to pray. And you can choose to give thanks.
How do we do that? Here’s a verse from Romans. We’ve spent some wonderful time in Romans. Paul writes, “We know that in everything God works for good.” Do you hear that? In everything, God works for good for those who love him. I would assume that’s us! With those called according to his purpose. If you want to do God’s will in your life. If you mean it in the Lord’s prayer when you pray thy will be done, that is what it means to be called to fulfill his purpose.

God is at work in everything. But please notice… That doesn’t mean that everything is good. What that means is whether it’s good or bad, whether it’s horrible and evil, or the happiest day of your life, God is in that day and God is working. And because God is working, you cannot be separated from God’s love. Because God is working, you will be in all these things more than conquerors! Because God is working in you through him who loved us.
But that doesn’t mean that everything is good. Everything is not good. But in the middle of everything that’s not good, there’s one tiny little corner where God is working. And if you can find that, and define it, and look at it, and put it into words, you will able to give thanks for what God is doing in the midst of all kinds of bleakness and horrible things. The darker the room gets the brighter the light shines underneath the door. The darker the sky gets, the brighter the stars shine.

God is shining a light. It may be small. But God is shining the light in every persons’ darkness, including yours and including mine. It may be hard for you to figure that out but that’s where you can put your energy.

I don’t know if it’s being an older thing but every now and then, I can’t sleep. Every now and then, I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep. Kim and I laugh about this, there’s a cartoon that says: “There’s somebody wrong on the internet.” And I remember that there’s someone out there in the world that doesn’t agree with me, doesn’t assume my position, might even have the gall to criticize me on the internet. And I will be awake half the night. I want to tell you the last time that happened, I found myself praying. Because again, that’s one of the three, pray without ceasing. And I just kept saying to myself over and over again, “I choose joy. I believe that God answers prayer. And what I know what to be thankful for, I’ll be thankful.” And I kept trying to think of how I could be thankful for this evil, twisted, horrible person who didn’t like me, or however you want to characterize it. The situation that I wanted to be different, that wasn’t the way I wanted it. It wasn’t my way. But I wasn’t quite sure how to be thankful. I’m still not quite sure.

But by praying over and over again, I choose joy. I choose for God to answer prayers. I choose to be thankful. Eventually, I finally bored myself to the point where I was able to fall asleep. I’m very thankful for that. But sometimes it’s not easy to discern the tiny little piece to be thankful for because that tiny little piece is the one that’s going to turn the whole situation around.
And I remembered this scripture, Matthew 7:7, where Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given you.” Okay, Lord, how can I be thankful?

“Seek and you shall find.” Okay, Lord, where’s the light shining in this darkness?

“Knock and the door will be opened to you.” Okay, Lord, where’s the door?

When you don’t know what to be thankful for, you can ask, you can seek, you can knock and God will show you the door. Because everyone who asks receives. And sometimes we need to stop asking for the bad and start asking for the good. Everyone who seeks, finds. And sometimes, we need to start seeking what’s good and ignore everything that’s bad while we’re looking for what’s good. And to him who knocks, to the one who wants to go where everything is reasons to be thankful, God can open the door out of darkness into the light if we ask, and seek, and knock.

But it’s not always easy to know how to be thankful. God is at work in everything. Remember we talked about that? Well, if God is at work in everything, maybe it would help us to understand what God is doing by understanding that this is the command. And the lawyer said to Jesus, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” This is what Jesus says God is trying to do.

Perhaps the way to be thankful is, “Okay, Lord, how am I going to love you more because of this that is happening to me … how am I going to love you with my heart when my heart is struggling? How am I going to love you with my head when things just don’t make sense? But this is what God is working for because in everything, God works. In everything. So therefore, in everything, there is a reason to be thankful. A lot of times, I’ll say that the Minnesota state motto is “could be worse!” I hope you can do better than “could be worse,” but frankly, it’s true. Whatever it is, it could be worse. So Lord, how are you working in this struggle that I’m having? “Well, I’m trying,” God might say to you, “to help you to love me more.”

Or might be the other side of the coin. There it is. And second is likely Jesus will say, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. This would especially apply to the neighbor that it’s hard to get along with. Every single one of us has a neighbor from hell who continually irritates us because Lord knows they are awful and it would be wonderful if they were just like us. Maybe God is trying to work to help us to notice something to be thankful for with a person who’s driving us nuts.
Now I have never laid awake at night upset because my TV wasn’t big enough. But I’ll be honest with you, it’s people that can get to me and stir me more than anything that I can buy on Black Friday. I wish a credit card could solve all my problems. But once the credit card does everything it can do, you’ll be left with the problems with people, and God may be changing the way you relate to people by helping you see your way out of some place of darkness because the Scripture is true. In everything, God is working, including in that person with whom you don’t get along. God is working and gratitude changes everything. Let me tell you one other story about being thankful. Yesterday I was at the district Committee on ministry meeting and every year we interview all the local pastors within our district. And one of the local pastors is Deb Pollex, who works for Spero Family Services. You met her. She preached here. Deb Pollex works with children who are horrifically abused, children who grow up in families where the dad may be prison and the mom may be on drugs or the mom may be in prison and the dad may be on drugs, but for one reason or another, these children suffer in unimaginable ways, and sometimes, in such bad ways that they come to live in the facilities. And at these facilities, they have decided to take these kids to church. So these kids come into the First United Methodist Church in Mount Vernon, a very fancy, beautiful church, almost like a cathedral, and they’re wearing their hats all the way through the worship service and they don’t know how to behave and of course they’re shy and scared so they’re not very outgoing and friendly, and the church people look over and they go, “Wow. They don’t know how to behave in church.” And there was one boy the minute the organ music started he would lean his head back, and he would fall asleep, and he would sleep through the whole sermon. And a few of the folks in the church came up to the senior pastor and they kept saying, “What’s wrong with that boy? Why is he just sleeping through church? Why is he doing that?” So Chaplain Deb Pollex went back to the team meeting where they talk about the children and their needs, and she said I want to ask you a question, “Why does this particular little boy sleep in church?” And the whole team that worked with him in the apartment where they raise these kids, where they are with these kids, the teachers at school were shocked and said, “That little boy doesn’t ever sleep. He has such horrible nightmares he will not sleep all night long. He will not sleep in school.” And Chaplain Deb knew, but she asked the question, “Why do you think that is?” And what they said was, “He doesn’t feel safe.” And if you’re in a situation of abuse and neglect and violence and harm you don’t feel safe. So you know the conclusion that they came to? The only place this young man feels safe is when he’s in the church because God is there and the people are there, and for some bizarre reason, he feels that he can trust them. Kind of makes the problem of sleeping through church go away, doesn’t it? Because if you change your perspective it will change how you feel and how you think. And whenever you choose to find the reason to be thankful, whenever you choose to give thank you find your perspective changing because giving thanks helps us to appreciate what we have. And giving thanks helps bring clarity to what we need, not a TV, not something we can buy, something more important. And not only clarity but hope that we’ll be able to find what we need. Now Mt Vernon First has two services. I think they should arrange for this boy to go to both of them. He needs his rest. And in the same way for me when I can’t sleep, for you when you can’t sleep, for children like this who never feel safe, if you can begin to count your blessings you will begin to realize that God is at work in your life to bring love and joy and peace. Let’s pray.
Lord Jesus, I am so thankful that this is not the Devil’s world, but this is my father’s world, and I can rest myself in the thought that God is continually at work in my life to bring life into any kind of darkness, and so, Lord, I pray that you would help me help all of us. When we feel overwhelmed by darkness and stress and struggle to be like spiritual detectives and look for that little bit of light so that we can see what you’re doing in our darkness and give you thanks and lend our inner strength to bring about what you’re wanting to do in us. And we ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: Let’s have a conversation! Please reflect upon the questions below as you consider the material presented above. In a comment, share your thoughts and additional questions. What would you like to know?

What grabbed your attention?
What is the human need or problem?
What questions do you have about any quotes provided?
Does the Bible say anything about this?
What solutions do you see for the problem?
What specifically could we begin to do to make a change?

Additional Resources

Kinmundy United Methodist Church is located at 308 E. Third Street, Kinmundy, IL 62854. Worship begins at 9 am Sundays. The building is handicap accessible.

Wesley United Methodist Church is located at 3381 Kinoka Raod, Patoka, IL 62875 in the country between Kinmundy and Patoka. Worship begins at 10.45 am Sundays.

VISION: We are a functional family of God, where Jesus is Lord and people grow.
MISSION: Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); every layperson is called to be missional. (¶126 of the 2016 Book of Discipline)

Paradigm: There are two kinds of people in this world: people who need to become disciples and disciples who need to become disciple makers.

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