Tag Archive | Matthew 28:20

Do Not Be Afraid

Luke 3:7-18

We just survived the Thanksgiving holiday – cornucopias, fall harvests, turkey and pumpkin pie, corn stalks, and scarecrows — symbols associated with the holiday we celebrated only seventeen days (and 17 pounds on my
hips!) ago. Even before Halloween and Thanksgiving ended, holiday colors had changed. Orange pumpkin lights were replaced by white or multi-colored twinkling lights.

And now we are rapidly moving to Christmas Eve and the birth of the Christ Child. Frosties begin to adorn yards and rooftops. The Grinch Who Stole Christmas’ inflatable green body, topped with a red Santa hat, sits a few feet away from a lighted, plastic Nativity scene. Halloween candies have been removed from the shelves, replaced by candy canes and red and green wrapped Hershey kisses.

We hear “Happy Holidays!”, and Christmas carols assault our ears everywhere we go.

These four weeks of Advent prior to Christmas Eve are supposed to be a time of reflection and anticipation – waiting for the arrival of that small baby who would save the entire world as an adult. We should have ‘dreams of sugar plums in our heads’ and humming Christmas carols as we move through the days until Christmas.

But in recent weeks, unbelievable acts of violence have become normal. From Paris and Syria to Colorado and California, our nightly news centers on the daily terrorism which has raised our fears. Gun violence has led most of us to wonder aloud whether anything can be done, or if the all world had gone nuts. We have had more mass murders (4,052 as of last week) than we have had days in this year. There are political candidates who want to either stop people from entering the country, branding those who are not ‘Christian’ with numbers, or exporting
anyone who does not look and think like them. We hear from some conservative Evangelicals that the end of the world is not far away.

Instead of anticipation of Christmas Eve, we are shocked and immobilized by the extreme violence and cruelty that we are hearing about every day.

Advent is supposed to be a time of hope – hope for a better world. . . for peace, for justice and for loving one another. And we are halfway through the Advent Season; we should be waiting with anticipation for Christmas – the renewal of the hope for the world.

During this upcoming Christmas season, we had expected to enjoy times with families and friends and festivities and joy. But those expectations have been shattered this year. We could throw our hands up in despair; we could lament over a shattered world. We could grieve what we are losing, the dreams that have been shattered.

Or we could pray fervently for courage and hope.

In Luke 3:7-18, John the Baptist warns those he had just baptized that they were going to face adversity – things were not going to be ‘a bed of roses’. So what might John the Baptist say to us today in the wake of the refugee crisis in Syria, the attacks in Paris and Beirut, mass shootings in Colorado and California, and the daily violence that fills our lives?

John the Baptist does offer us a ray of hope. He had some sound advice for the people of that day and for us too. He did not feel the need to be politically correct; he named the sins of racism and sexism and fear of ‘the other’. And he blamed those responsible for these sins.

But he also said:

    “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:16)

And with the baptism of the Holy Spirit, God promised us:

    “Never, Never, Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

And Jesus, when he sent the disciples out into the world told them, and us:

    “You can be sure that I will be with you always. I will continue with you until the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20)

So no matter what is going on in the world, no matter how discouraged we may feel, no matter how we are sure the world has forever been changed by the violence and injustice around us, we can be reassured that:

    “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me..” (John 14:1)

We are always in God’s presence and hands, loved as children of God:

    Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

Let us pray:

Compassionate God and Father of us all, we are horrified at violence in so many parts of the world. It seems that none are safe, and some are terrified. Hold back the hands that kill and maim, turn around the hearts that hate. Grant instead your strong Spirit of Peace – the peace that passes our understanding but changes lives. Amen.
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 13 December 2015

Being Thankful, No Matter What (Sermon for Thanksgiving)

Thanksgiving 2013

Lord, open my eyes to see and my ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the church. Amen.

What is Thanksgiving Day?

    • Is it a day for family and friends?
    • Is it a day for food?
    • Is Thanksgiving Day a day for watching football?

What is Thanksgiving Day?

Thanksgiving as an attitude – not a day. It’s a day for:

Reflecting on God’s Grace.
What is Thanksgiving Day, it’s a day for reflect on God’s grace and his forgiveness from every failure, fault and from every sin. Don’t forget the words of Ephesians 2:8 on Thanksgiving Day?

    For by grace are ye saved through faith; and not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.

What is Thanksgiving Day, it’s a day to reflect on God’s grace.

Reflecting On God’s Goodness.
What is Thanksgiving Day, it’s a day for reflecting on God’s goodness, as you’ve faced the storms, sorrows, and adverse situations this past year. in Lamentations 3:22-23 we read,

It is of the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.

What is Thanksgiving Day, it is a day to reflect on God’s goodness.

Think about all the things you have and all of the other people who have nothing.

There, now: give thanks. Don’t concentrate on what is missing; be grateful for what you have.

Reflect on God’s Guidance.
What is Thanksgiving Day, it is a day for reflecting on God’s guidance, when you were looking for the right direction, when you were looking for the right door to open, or you were in a situation you didn’t knew what to do. Let’s not forget the words of Proverbs 3:5-6 this Thanksgiving Day,

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

What is Thanksgiving Day, it is a day to reflect on God’s guidance.

How many will stand with me today to say, I’m going to remember what Thanksgiving Day is, it’s a day to reflect on God’s grace, it’s a day to reflect on God’s goodness, and it’s a day to reflect on God’s guidance.

When we stop and think about everything that we are blessed with we can only be thankful. I love what the apostle Paul had to say about that. We hear in Philippians 4:12-13:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Thanksgiving is a time of the year that should bring us to the place where realize that everything that we have comes from one source – God! When we confess Him with our mouths and believe Him with our hearts we come to the proper attitude that we need to have in order to worship.

The only thing we know for sure is that things change. A thousand things can come along to change our well-laid plans. Ecclesiastes 3:1 states:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven

Back during the dark days of 1929, a group of ministers in the Northeast, all graduates of the Boston School of Theology, gathered to discuss how they should conduct their Thanksgiving Sunday services. Things were about as bad as they could get, with no sign of relief. The bread lines were depressingly long, the stock market had plummeted, and the term Great Depression seemed an apt description for the mood of the country. The ministers thought they should only lightly touch upon the subject of Thanksgiving in deference to the human misery all about them. After all, what was there to be thankful for? But it was Dr. William L. Stiger, pastor of a large congregation in the city that rallied the group. This was not the time, he suggested, to give mere passing mention to Thanksgiving, just the opposite. This was the time for the nation to get matters in perspective and thank God for blessings always present, but perhaps suppressed due to intense hardship.

I suggest to you the ministers struck upon something. The most intense moments of thankfulness are not found in times of plenty, but when difficulties abound. Think of the Pilgrims that first Thanksgiving. Half their number dead, men without a country, but still there was thanksgiving to God. Their gratitude was not for something but in something. It was that same sense of gratitude that lead Abraham Lincoln to formally establish the first Thanksgiving Day in the midst of national civil war, when the butcher’s list of casualties seemed to have no end and the very nation struggled for survival.

Perhaps in your own life, right now, there is intense hardship. You are experiencing your own personal Great Depression. Why should you be thankful this day? May I suggest three things?

We must learn to be thankful or we will become bitter.
Even the mention of the word conjures up a particular look upon the face of a bitter person. This is a person who is constantly unsatisfied with their life. Nothing makes them happy and they purposely make life miserable not only for themselves, but also for those who have the misfortune of being around them. The bitter person becomes absorbed with the question of “why me.” He feels that he has been short-changed.

Dr. Jim Moore, a Christian author and pastor of the 12,000 member St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas. Several years ago he wrote a little book that perhaps some of you have seen entitled You Can Get Bitter or You Can Get Better. He told the story of a twenty-six-year-old woman in his congregation, whose husband died in a bizarre accident.

    The man’s tractor brushed up against a hot electric wire and killed him instantly. Now here she was, with three children, insufficient money, and hopes dashed. “I don’t know what I am going to do without him,” she sobbed. “But I do know what my choices are. I can get bitter or I can get better. I am turning to the church so that I can get better.” She underscored a universal truth. When trouble slams us, we do have choices.

Ralph Sockman, a renowned [Methodist] minister of a generation ago used to express it this way.

    He said, “A grief is a sorrow we carry in our heart. A grievance is a chip we carry on our shoulder.” All of us must face trouble. None are immune.

    Indeed, I stand before you this morning as one whose clerical robe provides no shelter from misfortune. At one time or another trouble will come up to all of us and place its hand on our shoulder, speak our name, and say to us: “Come and walk with me a while.”

    Why is it that nine of the ten lepers never returned to give thanks to Jesus? We are not told. I suspect that they had become so embittered that they had all of the thankfulness squeezed out of them. There is only one anecdote for the embittered mind. It is a thankful heart. When we do this it becomes a witness to others that they also can take heart, rather than become dour disciples. Don’t become self-absorbed with the issue of “why me?” For a season it might offer some comfort but it does no good in the end. Do we ever ask that question when some joy comes into our life? Not really. We must learn to become thankful or we shall surly become bitter.

Secondly, we must learn to be thankful or we will become discouraged.
It is an inescapable tenant of Christianity that hardship will come. No one is immune, from the greatest to the least of us. But there is another inescapable tenant of our faith; we are not to become discouraged. The Bible is an encouraging book.

Jesus said,

Let not your heart be troubled. (John 14:1)

At another time he said,

Fear not, for lo, I am with you always. (Matthew 28:20)

Paul encouraged the Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always.(Philippians 4:4)

As you reflect upon some of the events of your life this Thanksgiving, I challenge you to ask yourself this question “if it had not been for God?” That’s the question I would like you to focus on for the next four days leading up to Thanksgiving.

Where would you be right now, if it were not for God? Where would you be? Would you be: Isolated? Mentally broken? Financially ruined? Physically destroyed? God has not let you down. So, be of good cheer!

As you sit down with family look around at them and ask yourself, where would I be without her? Where would I be without him? And then consider where would I be if it were not for God?

The Apostle Paul wrote:

“In everything give thanks.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

It is not the test of faith to give thanks when the sun is shining. It is not the test of character when everything you touch turns to gold. It is not the test of our metal when we have won the election. The test comes when we have been knocked down.

We must learn to give thanks to God with whom we plan to spend eternity. Over and over again scripture makes it clear that God delights in a grateful heart.

Therefore, may our prayer in times of trial be

    “O God, who has given me so much, I pray that you grant me one thing more, a grateful heart.”

We must learn to become thankful so that we do not become discouraged.

We must learn to become thankful or we shall surly grow arrogant and self-satisfied.
Mankind is certain that whatever he has achieved is of his own doing. But the truth teaches us that none are independent. When we give thanks, we reach beyond ourselves. I was always taken with the scene in the Jimmy Stewart movie Shenandoah. The time frame is the Civil War and Stewart is the father of a very large family. Each meal time they gather around the table and he gives the exact same blessing:

    “O Lord, we planted the seed, then harvested the crop. If we had not put the food on the table it wouldn’t be sitting there. But Lord, we give you thanks anyway.” This is the problem with the thankless heart. We end up giving credit where credit is not due.

When we give ourselves to self-congratulation, then we inevitably set ourselves up for disaster, forgetting the law of nature that says what goes up can also go down. How quickly trouble can come. A telephone call and our life is turned upside down. A national crisis and the Dow takes a dive, retirements are gone, and jobs are lost. How quickly our lives can change.

There are many things that confound me in life, but the one anchor of my soul has always been that God is good.

Martin Rinkert was a minister in the little town of Eilenburg in Germany some 350 years ago. He was the son of a poor coppersmith, but somehow, he managed to work his way through an education. Finally, in the year 1617, he was offered the post of Archdeacon in his hometown parish.

    A year later, what has come to be known as the Thirty-Years-War broke out. His town was caught right in the middle. In 1637, the massive plague that swept across the continent hit Eilenburg… people died at the rate of fifty a day and the man called upon to bury most of them was Martin Rinkert.

    In all, over 8,000 people died, including Martin’s own wife. His labors finally came to an end about 11 years later, just one year after the conclusion of the war. His ministry spanned 32 years, all but the first and the last overwhelmed by the great conflict that engulfed his town, tough circumstances in which to be thankful. But he managed. And he wrote these words:

      Now thank we all our God
      With heart and hands and voices;
      Who wondrous things hath done,
      In whom his world rejoices.

It takes a magnificent spirit to come through such hardship and express gratitude. Here is a great lesson. Surrounded by tremendous adversity, thanksgiving will deliver you…with heart and hand and voices.

The Benefits of a Grateful Spirit
Now why do you think being a thankful person is so important? Well I think it is because gratefulness is good for us. There are a many ways being a grateful person can benefit you.

For one, being a grateful person can INCREASE YOUR PERSONAL HAPPINESS. Most of us think that our happiness is determined by our circumstances. If I asked you, on a scale of one to ten how happy you are right now, you might say, “Well, I’m about a 2 on the happiness meter because of my circumstances.”

We’ve been taught that our happiness is somehow dependent on how well things go for us. But really our happiness is determined by attitude. It is really in how we see things. The apostle Paul wrote these words from prison (yes prison).

Rejoice in the Lord always,

he wrote,

and again I say it rejoice. (Philippians 4:4).

Paul was happy despite being in prison and how, he learned to thank God in everything he did. It was really his perspective on life.

A young woman wrote her mother from college:

    “Dear Mom: Sorry I haven’t written sooner. My arm really has been broken. I broke it, and my left leg too, when I jumped from the second floor of my dormitory…when we had the fire. We were lucky. A young service station attendant saw the blaze and called the Fire Department. They were there in minutes. I was in the hospital for a few days. Paul, the service station attendant, came to see me every day. And because it was taking so long to get our dormitory livable again, I moved in with him. He has been so nice. I must admit that I am pregnant. Paul and I plan to get married just as soon as he can get a divorce. I hope things are fine at home. I’m doing fine, and will write more when I get the chance. Love, Your daughter, Susie.

    P.S. Mom, none of the above is true. But I did get a “C” in Sociology and flunked Chemistry. I just wanted you to receive this news in its “Proper Perspective!”

Happiness is really determined by our perspective in life not by circumstances. If we learn to be grateful people despite circumstances that will greatly improve our happiness.

Being a grateful person can also IMPROVE YOUR WITNESS FOR CHRIST. Having a noticeable countenance of thankfulness and joy will certainly make us better witnesses for Christ. What is sad is that most Christians are the most negative, sour people in the world. Mean spirited and ungrateful lugs. We act like we have been baptized in vinegar not in the Holy Spirit. It is no wonder people don’t want to have anything to do with us.

But when we are thankful, joyful, upbeat people. We attract the lost with our spirit of gratitude because the world is so dark and depressing and ungrateful. Have you looked at this world lately? People are so discouraged? Yet if we can learn to be different, upbeat and thankful, we will attract them. We have something they don’t. 1 Peter 2:12 reads,

Live such good lives among the pagans that they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Living a life of thankfulness will attract the lost.

Being a grateful person will also ENHANCE YOUR RELATIONSHIPS. There is one thing I notice about some married couples. After awhile many of them become ungrateful and unappreciative of their spouses. Over time they take each other for granted.

    Somebody described the first few years in a marriage this way. The husband seeing the wife has a cold, says, “You don’t look good. You should go to the hospital. I have already arranged it. I know the food is bad there, but we are going to have meals catered in.” The second year he says, “You don’t look so good. I have called the doctor. Go and lay down. I will take care of the kids. The doctor will be right over.” The third year he says, “You know you are not looking so hot. When you are done feeding the kids and cleaning up the kitchen, you ought to go lay down.” The fourth year he says, “Would you quit walking around here barking like a seal, you’re going to give me your cold?” The longer we become familiar; the less thankful we are for each other.

    But husbands imagine about how much your marriage would improve if you came home one day with some flowers and just told your wife how thankful you are for all she does. You might give her a heart attack.

    Wives, just think about how much your marriage would improve if you told your husband how much appreciate him once and a while. Kids, think about how much better things would go for you in the home if you told mom and dad once and awhile how grateful you are for the money they spend on you and the stuff they get you? And the things they do for you?

Just imagine how much better our church relationships would be if we expressed our thanks for each other from time to time. Instead of picking at each other faults so much, what if just stopped and became grateful for each other.

Do you know how the apostle Paul began most of his letters in the Bible? To the church in Rome he wrote.

“First, I thank my God for all of you.” (Romans 1:8)

To the church in Corinth.

“I always thank God for you” (1 Corinthians 1:4).

To the church in Ephesus,

“I have not stopped giving thanks for you; remembering you in my prayers.” (Ephesians 1:16).

To the church in Philippi,

“I thank my God every time I remember you.” (Philippians 1:3).

To the church in Colossae,

“I always thank God when I pray for you.” (Colossians 1:3).

Paul made sure that he let people in the churches know that he was thankful for them. Imagine how much better our church and our relationships would be if we expressed our thanks for each other.

I’ll tell you another way having a grateful heart will benefit you. It will SOLIDIFY YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD. Which is the top benefit. Someone once said that God lives in two places. He lives in heaven and in a humble, grateful heart. Hebrews 12:25 says,

“Let us please God by serving him with thankful hearts.”

You know what I have found to be true in my life? I have found that I have an overwhelming need to give thanks. There is a desire within me to give thanks to something for what I have. Even the atheist or non-believer feels in the mood to be thankful from time to time. You ever notice that? You ever seen an atheist give thanks?

Harriet Martineau was an atheist. One morning she and a Christian friend stepped out into the glories of a beautiful fall morning. As Harriet saw the brilliant sun peeking through the haze, the frost on the meadow, the brightly colored leaves making their way lazily to the ground, she was filled with the beauty; burst forth with “I am so thankful. I’m just so grateful for it all.” And her believing friend asked, “Grateful to whom, my dear?”

There is something inside of each of us that needs to give thanks to God. When I spend time giving thanks to God for all I have, I just feel close to him, don’t you? I think that is exactly why, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says,

“In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

It is God’s plan, his will for us to give thanks to him. He made us for that.

Ways To Develop Thanksgiving in Our Lives
Well, what are some ways we can become more grateful people? First, if we want to be thankful, remember that EVERYTHING WE HAVE IS FROM GOD. Acknowledge that everything we have is God’s and not ours. Psalm 24:1 says,

The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.

When we do this, it reminds us that it is a privilege that God has loaned us everything we have. 1 Corinthians 4:7 says,

What do you have that you did not receive from God? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

The story is told of a poor man who was given a loaf of bread.

    He thanked the baker, but the baker said, “Don’t thank me. Thank the miller who made the flour.” So he thanked the miller, but the miller said, “Don’t thank me. Thank the farmer who planted the wheat.”

    So he thanked the farmer. But the farmer said, “Don’t thank me. Thank the Lord. He gave the sunshine and rain and fertility to the soil; that’s why you have bread to eat.”

Everything we own, we ultimately received from God and we owe him thanks. James 1:17,

Every good and perfect gift is from above coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like the shifting sand.

Secondly, if we want to be thankful we need to AVOID COMPLAINING.

    On a Wednesday night in October I challenged our church to fast for six weeks from complaining. And I’ve been asking everyone how they have been doing and we’ve all admitted that the quality of our lives have improved since we quit complaining and started praising. I’ve noticed I don’t even complain about the Bengals anymore! I just don’t watch!

    Dr. Dale Robbins writes, “I used to think people complained because they had a lot of problems. But I have come to realize that they have problems because they complain. Complaining doesn’t change anything or make situations better. It amplifies frustration, spreads discontent and discord, and can invoke an invitation for the devil to cause havoc with our lives.” Complaining makes us miserable. Psalm 77:3 says,

    “I complained and my spirit was overwhelmed.”

Complaining is the archenemy of thanksgiving. The two cannot co-exist in the same heart. And so I challenge you to try to quit complaining for a whole month. Just try it. When you feel tempted to complain, instead of filing your complaint, file a praise. It will change your life. Philippians 2:13 says,

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.

One last thing we can to do to produce a spirit of thanksgiving is to DEVELOP THE DAILY DISCIPLINE OF GIVING THANKS. In order to be thankful people we need to start to give thanks every day. Not just once a year on Thanksgiving. We need to discipline ourselves to find something each day that we should be thankful for and express our thanks to God. Perhaps create a journal or a file on our computers where we list the things God has done for us. Call it a praise file. Thanksgiving must become a daily habit.

Ephesians 5:19 says,

Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.

Always is the key word. Not just on Thanksgiving. Everyday.

In Daniel 6 we read that Daniel got down on his knees three times every day and prayed and gave thanks to his God. And how many of us do that? The only time in our lives we give thanks is on Thanksgiving day once a year because the government mandates it as a holiday.

Remember the old hymn?

    “When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed, when you are discouraged thinking all is lost. Count your many blessing, name them one by one. And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”

Thanksgiving is a daily discipline.

I read recently that if you own one Bible, you are abundantly blessed, because a third of the people in the world do not have access to a Bible. If you awoke this morning with more health than illness you are more blessed than 1 million people who will not survive the week. If you have never experienced the danger of war, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation you are more fortunate than 500 million people on earth. If you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof over your head, twenty dollars in your pocket and a place to sleep you are richer than 75 percent of the world.

O, God forgive me when I whine.

I found this list of questions you can ask to test whether you are a grateful person or not?

    #1 Which do you tend to talk about more – your blessings, or your disappointments?

    #2 Are you a complainer, always grumbling, always finding fault with your circumstances?

    #3 Are you content with what you have, or always dissatisfied and wanting more?

    #4 Do you find it easier to count your blessings, or is it easier to count your afflictions?

    #5 Do you express thanks to others when they help you, or do you just take it as your due?

    #6 Would others say that you are a thankful person?

Lois Stahling is the most thankful person I know. Lois goes to our church. When Lois was in the prime of her life she had a stroke and was confined to a wheel chair. She is still mentally alert but she cannot walk and do a lot of other normal activities. She lives in a convalescent home and the only time she really gets out is once a week to come to church. The highlight of her week is Sunday morning when someone comes from our church to pick her up. One day I went to pick Lois up. It is sometimes hard to get her into my car because it’s so compact. We could not get her in if it wasn’t for her slide board. A fiberglass board that fits under her legs and allows her to slide from the wheel chair to the car pretty easily. It is nothing fancy just an inexpensive piece of fiberglass Well one day Lois pulled me aside and said, “Aaron, you know what I thank God for every day.” I said, what Lois. And she said, “I am thankful for my slide board. Because then I can come to church.”

Here’s Lois, a person who has all the reason to be angry and bitter about her circumstances. All the reason to shake her fist at God. But instead she is thankful for whatever little blessing she has. She’s even taken the time to thank God for her slide board. Lois Stahling has counted her blessings. Have you?

So this Thanksgiving Day, we need to remember:

Day by day, step by step, we can be assured that we have a God in heaven who created us, we have a Son from heaven who saved us, and we have a Holy Spirit alongside to empower us.

And He never stops caring for us.