What happens after Christmas? Matthew 1 & 2, Luke 1 & 2.

Post Christmas Manuscript

What happens after Christmas?

Hope everyone had a great Christmas here. Let me ask you a question. How many of us were able to sit back for a moment, or more, and really reflect on what we just celebrated? Like really reflected what Christmas is. I want to take a quick look back at the Christmas story and see what that means for us all going forward into the new year and into the rest of our lives. Go ahead and grab your Bibles. If you do not own a Bible, please take one from the back table as our gift to you. We are going to be spending most of our time in Mathew and Luke, in the Christmas stories.  

Now, we have all heard the Christmas story, many times. And I’m willing to bet we all have our favorite people in the story. We heard the kids talk about theirs last week.

For some of us it is Mary. Mary was a young lady, possibly as young as 13 or 14, we don’t know for sure. She was a virgin and betrothed to be married. She was an everyday, average, normal jewish girl. Except that God chose her. She was visited by an angel, named Gabriel, who told her that she was going to bear Gods son.

Some of us, our favorite is Joseph. The Bible doesn’t tell us much about Joseph. However, in the christmas story, Matthew tells us that “Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream” The angel told Joseph that Mary was not cheating on him, but was conceived of the Holy Spirit and he decided not to divorce her, and to raise the child. Not to be overlooked is that Joseph was also called to be the one that named the boy, the name that we call the son of God, Jesus.

Some of us, we like the Shepard’s. These men were out in the fields on the night Jesus was born and angels appeared to them, and they quickly, hurriedly & purposefully went to Bethlehem and saw the baby Jesus.

And others of us, love the story of the magi. These men, saw a star in the sky, realized something big was happening and travelled a great distance, and presented gifts to a young Jesus, who was likely close to 2 years old by this time.

We all have our favorites, our people that we relate to the most, that speak to us. They are all different, different lives, different experiences, different encounters with God. But they all have something in common.

Each of these people risked a lot to respond to God and follow what they were told. None of them stayed with the status quo, instead they acted. They took risks to follow God. Lets look at some of those risks.

Mary risked being forever labeled and shunned. She was unmarried and pregnant. Luke 1:26-27 tell us, “ In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed[b] to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.”

The text, as we saw a moment ago shows that Joseph was a just man and unwilling to shame her so he would divorce her quietly. Mary couldn’t have known how Joseph would react. We can read into this and see that a quiet divorce was not a guarantee. We see that Joseph is the exception and not the rule and that most men in that day in his position would have made as big a deal as possible of putting her as far away from him as possible. Mary was risking her marriage, her social standing, and maybe even her life. Her life?

Lets look at the passage in John chapter 8, verses 3-11.

3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”]]

In this passage, the scribes and Pharisees brought Jesus a woman who was caught in adultery. They point out that the Law commands them to stone the woman. Now Mary was not caught in the act of Adultery. In fact, she did not commit adultery at all. But those who were not tuned into the Holy Spirit, who were not in tune with God, would point to her pregnancy as proof positive evidence that she had. Mary risked everything to do what she did. The comments behind her back or too her face, the ridicule her kids must have gotten, The disbelief of her explanation…and she held her head high.

Joseph also risked everything. Joseph was a just man and was ready to do what he was supposed to do. What he thought he was supposed to do, what he thought the right thing to do was to divorce Mary quietly, trying to allow her to keep as much dignity as possible. He would have been ridiculed in one of two ways. In the people’s minds there were only two options. Either his fiance cheated on him, or he broke the marriage contract and slept with Mary before they were married.

The other way Joseph risked all was in providing for his family. We see this today. Often times we choose to support or not support a business because what we know or hear about that business practices they use, or the owners personal actions. Joseph was a carpenter. He had to work to feed his family. And in that day, in that culture, your reputation was everything.

We see Jesus point this out time and time again with the Pharisees. He showed that their reputation was more important to them than their heart and then God to them. Josephs reputation would have been….. questioned…. to say the least. It is entirely plausible that some people would have chosen not to use Joseph as their carpenter.

Joseph was not the only one that risked his livelihood to listen to God that first Christmas. We look at the Shepard’s, how they saw the angels announce the arrival of the Messiah, and they hurriedly and purposely went straight to Bethlehem. Luke 2:15-20 shows us:

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

They left their flock, they walked out on their career, leaving the sheep to do what it is that sheep do. They left them their without protection from wolves, bears, other predators or shepherds who would take them as their own. They didn’t walk away from visiting the baby Jesus with anything tangible in their hands either. They went there to see and to worship and because that’s what God was telling them to do. These men were not just risking a smaller paycheck or skipping a paycheck, the flocks they were keeping were responsible for their entire years wages.

You know, These shepherds pre-filled one of Jesus parables when they left their 99 and went after the One. They found the only one that matters. They found the Good Shepard who left heaven to bring himself down to come after us.

The Magi also did not leave their visit with Jesus with tangible items in their hand. In fact, they did the opposite. We don’t know where they came from exactly, only that it was from the east. In fact we know very little about them. We know they weren’t Jewish. They saw a star in the sky, not much brighter than the other stars and they knew that something much bigger than them was occurring, something that no one had ever seen before. That star had not been there before, and for a star to appear out of nowhere was an uncommon occurrence and a very big deal. They travelled for a long time to Bethlehem, leaving their home, risking their families and their well-being for a promise in a scroll that was from a culture not their own. They brought expensive, rare gifts for a baby….. a baby. , We wonder how they communicated with Mary and Joseph. No commentator I’ve read has seen any possibility that they spoke the same language. Herod, who was an absolute paranoid, violent ruler, wanted to use the Magi to find this new threat to him and then kill the Magi. They were risking their lives.

All of these characters risked their world. Why? Why would they do that? Why would they risk everything they knew for a baby? Because they encountered the living God. Mary, Joseph and the Shepard’s all encountered angels that told them what God wanted them to do. They all encountered that at different times, being given different messages and in different circumstances. The magi saw a star. They saw a star. Let me say that again. They saw a star.

But that’s what happens when we come, figuratively, face to face with God. None of these characters were allowed to stay where they were. None of them were allowed to encounter God, and then sit back and wait. Each of these characters physically got up and went. Now we have no idea where the shepherds were, but they went to the manger in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph left Nazareth and went to Bethlehem. And the Magi came from somewhere in the East, some speculate it could have been as far as from China. We just don’t know.

Christmas is celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. A reminder that we could not raise ourselves up to be with God, that he had to humble himself down to our level for us to have any hope of being reconciled with Him. Thats what Christmas is. Usually we celebrate this with family. This could be blood relations, it could friends whom we consider family or it could be our church family. All of us here.

God doesn’t let us stay in our comfort zone. We are called to risk. There is a change in us when we encounter him and when we turn to him. We are called to turn away from the things that we used to turn to and instead turn to God. We are called to give things up. Like Mary and Joseph, some of us might be called to risk our friends and our family to follow what God has told us to do. Like the Shepard’s, some of us might be called to risk our jobs to follow what God has told us to do. Like the Magi, some of us might be called to risk our homes move far away to follow what God has told us to do. Gods call to risk the things in our life is not always the same for everyone. Not all of us will be called to risk our friends. Not all of us will be called to risk our jobs, or our homes. But some will be.

And we will all be called to risk pieces of our lives and turn away from things that we have held dear. I would argue that the tighter we have held onto something, the more likely it is that that is what God is going to call us to turn away from.

With risk comes fear. Fear causes us to stay still. Fear causes us to not act. It freezes us into inaction. Fear kept the Israelites out of the promised land for 40 years. It is one of the most human reactions to have. We are supposed to have fear. Fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, Proverbs says. But too often our fear is not of the LORD, instead, our fear is of what our friends and family will think. Our fear is what will happen when, in our minds, God fails to live up to his word. Our fear is what will happen when he sends us to do a task but wont help us accomplish it.

When we come face to face with this fear, and with our other issues, we need to go back and ask what the Bible says. The Bible is Gods word to us. It is the inerrant message that God wants to tell us. Lets look for a moment at one verse where God address fear to follow his commands. Joshua 1:9 reads in the NIV, Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

There is a lot packed in to that verse. God speaks his commands, and the expectation on his end is that when he says go, we go. This also implies the expectation that when he tells us to go, he enables us and equips us to go. He will make us able to go. Then he says, Be strong and courageous, Do not fear; do not be discouraged. God tells us numerous times to not be afraid. I have often tried to count the times he says this in the bible and have lost track each and every time I’ve tried. I know that in the NIV, the Bible has this phrasing, Do not be afraid, over 70 times. He also uses variations and additions often. I’m just gonna run through a few real quick.

Deuteronomy 20:3 says Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified

Isaiah 7:4 says keep calm and don’t be afraid

And the Psalmist says in Psalm 118:6 The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid

This message is usually delivered by God, through a prophet, or through an Angel, as is the case numerous times in the Christmas story or through Jesus directly. We look again at Mary. Mary shows that we can receive the most impossible mission from God, and still respond in a godly way, full of worship. We see in Luke 1: 28-38:

28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”[c] 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”[d]

35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[e] will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant[f] of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Mary knew that this was impossible for her to do. She knew it was not going to be easy and she knew that if this were to happen, that it was all God. Again, she knew it wouldn’t be easy. God never tells us that us following him is going to be easy. The Bible tells us exactly the opposite. Jesus tells his followers in John 15: 18-19, ““If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. “

Paul suffered greatly after he turned his back on persecuting the early church and following the call Jesus had on his life. He tells us a little bit about that in 2 Corinthians 11, saying,

24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food,[b] in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.

Those are likely not the same hardships we are going to face in 2019, in the United States of America. But are we willing to deal with the hardships that come today with following Jesus. We are not called by God to come here once a week and sit in the pews and go home after the service. He has more than that for us. I was not called to stay at my warehouse job and just continue on with life. I was not called to have a steady 9 to 5 job that provided benefits and security to my family. Thats what I wanted and that’s what I had. God had more for me, once I was willing to listen and once I told him, as Mary did, “Behold, I am the servant[f] of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

I’m not saying that he is calling all of you to quit your jobs and go into ministry. He doesn’t have the same calling for all of us. Remember Pauls analogy of the church body. We are not all arms, or all heads, instead some of us are the feet, some are the hands, some are the eyes, others the ears. He has a different call for each of us.

One thing he does have for each of us is a call to be active in our faith and in our spiritual growth. What are we being called to do? To grow in him, to learn to depend on him more and more each day. We are called to turn away from the things that keep us distracted from him and keep us from diving deeper into his word. Most often, those are the mundane things of everyday life. There usually are not big obvious things that come between us and God.

But are you willing to recognize those mundane, everyday life things. Recognize them and step out of your comfort zone? Are you willing to give up some of your time during the week to attend the prayer meeting, or Bible Study and contenders Discipleship Initiative when we start those up? I promise you that it will only improve your walk with God and often, God will reveal the path he wants us on through these. Are you willing to give up a little bit of time during the week to help clean the church or take care of the grounds? Are you willing to volunteer to teach the kids during the service in children’s church? It would require missing part of the service when you do, but we do have ways to supplement that.

A couple of those ways are that I print the manuscript of my sermons and have them here for those who would like a copy. I have also started printing of the scripture references and verses to put in the bulletin so it is easier to follow along. We record the sermon here and I post it, along with the manuscript online. It is available either on the Bangor Community Church Facebook page, or at CaseyHolencik.com. The sermon audio is also available as a podcast on iTunes. There is no excuse not be under the teaching and in the Word from Sunday Mornings.

Are you willing to come to events early to help set up? Or stay late to help clean up? Often times God will use us where we feel gifted. But other times, he needs you to step out of your gifting and do the job that needs to be done. Many of you have heard me talk about how all this up here, it’s not me. Its God, It’s the Holy Spirit using the areas where I am not gifted on my own, where I am weak, and God is using me here, the last thing I would have ever picked based on what I was good at.

The question I had to ask myself when I was searching for Gods calling for me, and that we all have to ask ourselves, what are my priorities? Is God, and walking with him, following him, living for him, is that my priority? Or is it something else? For me, it was stability and structure for me and my family. For you, is it your job? Is it your kids activities? Is it your house, your bank account? Youth, is it your grades, or your sports? Or is it God? What is your priority?

Every person in the Bible that had an experience with God, acted because of it. Even Jonah acted, by running away. At least he acknowledged what God was wanting him to do. He didn’t want to do it, but acknowledging who God was and that it was God who was doing the commanding, he ended up doing it anyway. He made God the priority. He stepped out of his comfort zone and did what he knew he was supposed to instead of what he wanted to. Abraham became the Father of the Jewish nation. Paul became what many consider the greatest evangelist. Peter walked on water. Moses parted the Red Sea. Mary gave birth to a son. Sheppard’s left their flock. Joseph manned up. His wife gave birth to a child that he did not conceive. Was Jesus Josephs step son? Technically, sure. You read what the scriptures say about Joseph and I’m willing to pretty close to guarantee you that Jesus was as much his boy as any other of Mary and Josephs kids. God gave us his son, Jesus. John tells us in his Gospel that “He came to his own,[b] and his own people[c] did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:11-13) and when we believe in him, when we turn away from this world and turn to Jesus Christ, we are adopted into Gods family and we are just as much his children as Jesus is his son.

God is then our Father. Our father has plans for us, better than anything we can imagine. But he also has some chores to do around his house, so that we, as he says in Romans 8:29, to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. God wants us to be like Jesus. And we only get to be like Jesus by doing the things Jesus did. Risking everything to do what God tells us, to follow the path that he has laid out for us, and to bear good fruit, being salt and light. Most of all, we can’t do any of that until we turn and follow Jesus Christ and are then given the right to be called a child of God.

It’s not easy, and Jesus does not pretend that it is. If someone tells you that become a Christian will make all your problems go away, or that if we have enough faith or pray hard enough then we wont have troubles or struggles, they either don’t know their Bible or they are lying.

But Jesus tells us that the reward is worth it. The promise that we can trust is that in this instance, the ends justify the means. That’s one way we can’t emulate God, our ends will never justify the means. But God can do that. That’s one of the benefits of being God.

Our reward and our treasure is in Heaven. Nothing this side of heaven will do. Nothing this side of heaven will give us an identity. Jesus sees you, and until that is enough, nothing else will be.

Jesus needs to be enough. He is enough. We have to treat him like he is enough. Because if he is not number 1 in our heart, mind, body and soul, then our rewards are here on earth and that is all we will see. Prioritize, take your thoughts captive. Do not Be conform to this world, but be renewed by the transforming of your mind. Put Jesus where he belongs, on the throne in your heart and follow him, no matter what that looks like, no matter what sacrifice that means, and no matter what he is calling you to do.

Lets pray.

Giving Thanks to God Psalm 136

His steadfast love endures forever

Psalm 136

Good Morning! Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving! Christmas season has officially started! Go ahead and turn in your Bibles with me, we will be anchored in Psalm 136. If you do not have a Bible, or do not own one, please grab one from the back table as our gift to you.

Luke recounts a story in his Gospel about Jesus walking between Samaria and Galilee, on his way to Jerusalem. He came upon a group of 10 lepers. The lepers called out to him and asked for healing. Jesus cleansed them from their leprosy and sent them to the priest for their ceremonial cleansing. One of those lepers returned to Jesus and gave thanks to him for his healing and cleansing, a Samaritan. Luke then recounts Jesus exclaiming, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” ( Luke 11:17-18) He speaks as if expecting all ten to return thankful, not just the one.

One of the clearest messages from the Bible is that God deserves our thanks. Were all 10 lepers grateful for their healing? Sure, but only one was thankful, full of thanks, with thanks in one’s heart. We are going to see that we are to give thanks to the LORD for two reasons. First is Who he is. The second is what he has done for us.

So Who is God? Why is who he is a reason to worship him, to praise him and to give thanks to him? God has spent the entire Bible (and all of time before and since then) revealing himself to us. First, he created the universe, the world, the heavens and earth, and us. He is more awesome and powerful, more loving and merciful and good, the Most knowing and creative being that has ever been. He has spent the entire Old Testament doing mighty works, performing miracles, delivering and saving people, making himself known to the Jewish people and the nations around them. He saved nations, destroyed cities and had individuals turn to salt or swallowed by fish.

We also see that God instituted the sacrificial system in the Old Testament to make atonement for our sins. Sin requires blood and God allowed us to sacrifice animals in our place for the forgiveness of our sins. But those were not the only sacrifices, or offerings that were instituted. Leviticus 22:29 also makes reference to giving a sacrifice of Thanksgiving. Psalm 50, a psalm of Asaph tells us the same thing, saying in v 14: “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the most high.”

What’s really neat is that when we look at the Old testament sacrifice of thanks, is what is required in it. The sacrifice requires a blood offering of a lamb or goat with no blemish. It requires bread or crackers made with yeast and bread or crackers made without yeast.

These three pieces are symbolic in what they represent. A lamb without blemish is a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ. His blood was sacrificed for us and poured out on the cross just like the lamb here.

The unleavened bread, or bread made without yeast is very specific as well. Yeast and leaven are associate with sin, and so bringing bread without yeast represents a life without sin, a life of holiness and purity. Again, who amongst us has lived this life? Only one man. Also a part of the unleavened bread was that it was mixed with oil, which is often times associated with the Holy Spirit.

One commentator brings it together this way,

So, all three persons of the trinity are represented in this offering:
(1) God the Father to whom the offering is given, (2) Jesus represented by the unleavened bread and (3) the Holy Spirit represented by the oil.”

The commentator continues on, bringing in the last piece of the sacrifice, again, saying,

Now there was one more part of the thank offering, I mentioned the sheep or goat, the unleavened bread, and then the third part of the offering was cakes of bread made with yeast or leaven. This represented the person offering it, that is the sinner… you and I. This is symbolically saying, God, you’ve done so much for me,
You’ve given me all that I have, and I not only thank you,
but I give myself to you. That’s what the offering,
of this leavened bread was really saying. So God set up this system in the OT so that people would be giving him thanks, on a regular basis, by sacrificing to him.”

God has so many attributes that make him worthy of our thanksgiving and our praise and our worship. Psalm 136, gives us 26 verses of things that God is and things that God has done that make him worthy of thanks, but it repeats the same thing in the second part of every verse. I want to read you the first 9 verses of Psalm 136 and Im reading out of the english Standard Version:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
2 Give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

4 to him who alone does great wonders,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
5 to him who by understanding made the heavens,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
6 to him who spread out the earth above the waters,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
7 to him who made the great lights,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
8 the sun to rule over the day,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
9 the moon and stars to rule over the night,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

Now as I said, this continues on for an additional 17 verses and each one repeats “his steadfast love endures forever.” The word here translated as steadfast love, is also translated “lovingkindness” in this psalm. The Hebrew word, “checed”

Now, I don’t actually know if I’m pronouncing it correctly, but that’s the word. In other passages, this is often translated mercy, kindness or goodness. One commentator explains the use of the word in this psalm this way: “The LORD’s loyal love, mentioned in each of the 26 refrains, is his covenant faithfulness to his Chosen People whom he loves.” Forever means forever. God’s love endures forever. Nothing can take it away, nothing can change it. It always was and always is. His steadfast love is part of who he is. This is based on his qualities, not ours. Just like the other things the psalmist lists in Psalm 136.

What I like about this psalm in particular, is that it so completely lists that many reasons to be thankful to God, and as I mentioned earlier, it splits it in to two categories, Who he is and what he has done. The first 9 verses, what we just read, are about who God is. HE is the God of gods and the Lord of lords. He is good and he alone does great wonders. And it starts talking about the wonders of his creation. Genesis 1:1 starts off everything, “In the beginning, God created…” The first words of the Bible. Out of nothing, nothing! God created the Heavens and the earth, the seas and the lands, the skies and the mountains, the animals, the birds and the fish. And he created man.

Have you ever created anything out of nothing?

There is a joke about that. A scientist thinks he has finally figured out how to replicate Gods miracles. He thinks he knows how to make man out of dust. Remember this is a joke. God doesn’t believe the scientist and says, Ok, prove it. The scientist begins to gather up a pile of dirt and dust. All of a sudden, God cries out, “no, no, you have to make your own pile of dust.”

Now we are made in Gods image, so we are born with the ability to create with the gifts and materials that he has given us, but we cannot create something out of nothing. God is greater than us and deserves our thanks, and our praise.

The next section of the Psalm takes us into some of the things he has done. In the specific context of the Psalm, they start looking back at God freeing the Israelites from Egypt and bringing them to the promised land. But towards the end, it also becomes more general so that it applies to us as well. v. 23-26 reads:

It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
24 and rescued us from our foes,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
25 he who gives food to all flesh,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

26 Give thanks to the God of heaven,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

The psalmist points out here that when we give thanks for what God has done for us, it’s not enough to just give thanks to him for the good things in our lives. The Bible makes it clear that we are to give thanks in all circumstances. Here in psalm 136, the psalmist is saying that they were in low estates.

They were down on their luck, nothing was going right. This would be where we start to wonder where God is. We wonder what possible reason we have to give him thanks. We have some of the moments and feelings that we talked about last week.

This is where chesed comes in. It is his ability to be faithful, not our ability to see or not see him working. But the psalmist points to Gods grace. First, specific grace that is given to his people. V 24 says that God rescued us from our foes. Second, he points to common grace. This is grace, love and gifts that are given to all people, He says in v 25 that God gives food to all flesh.

Jesus parallels this in the Sermon on the mount. In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us not to be anxious, not to worry about what clothes we will where and what food we will eat. He says in v 26, “26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

Jesus is not telling us not to plan, not to be prepared, but what he is telling us is not to doubt the love and the goodness of God. We will always have this common grace to be thankful for. Charles Spurgeon speaks of these times in our lives, saying:

Some of us think at times that we could cry “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” There are seasons when the brightness of our father’s smile is eclipsed by clouds and darkness; but let us remember that God never does really forsake us. It is only a seeming forsaking with us, but in Christ’ sake it was a real forsaking. We grieve at a little withdrawal of our fathers love; but the real turning away of Gods face from his son, who shall calculate how deep the agony which it caused him? In our case, our cry is often dictated by unbelief: in his case it was the utterance of a dreadful fact, for God had really turned away from Him for a season. O thou poor, distressed soul, who once lived in the sunshine of God’s face, but art now in darkness, remember that He has not really forsaken thee. God in the clouds is as much our God as when he shines forth in all the lustre of his grace.”

God wants us to see him in the good and the bad, and see that he is in control, that he is our creator King and he will continue to take care of us, no matter what. James tells us right at the beginning of his letter, in verse 2, “Count it all joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of various kinds.” God has a way of working things together for his glory, that we can’t always see now, and we may not ever see.

When we read the Bible, we have the advantage of seeing from 30,000 feet. What I mean by that is that we often get to see the big picture, how God uses different circumstances and brings them around to his will and his glory. Two narratives that come to mind in the Old Testament are that of Joseph and of Job.

In Genesis, Josephs brothers do not like him and are jealous of him being their father’s favorite. They sell him into slavery and he ends up in Egypt. He is faithful to God, becomes respected, ends up in jail on false charges, becomes respected again and ends up being the Pharaohs right hand man. He is the one who is essentially running the country.

When there is a huge famine in the area, Egypt is the only country with food and people are coming from all around to try to buy food. This includes Josephs old family. He reveals himself to them and moves his family down to Egypt. His brothers show regret and think that their will be retribution for what they did to Joseph. In Genesis 50:20-21, Joseph tells them:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people[b] should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

Joseph was able to look back and see why God had put him through all the trials that he was put through. He saw the bigger picture. Job was not so lucky. We, reading the Bible see the part in the beginning of Job where Satan and God are talking and God gives him permission to put him through many various trials. So Job was put through all this to prove that he would not turn against God when everything he has was taken from him. See, Jobs fear of the LORD, his worship of God, his giving thanks to him was not only based on what God had done to him and for him, but because of who God was. Job got through the trials and God restored all that he had and more. But during the entire time that God was revealing to Job who he was and talking with him, Job never found out why he went through all the trials he did.

So we can see in each of those stories what there is to give thanks for, what good has come of them, and who God is in them. We see them from high up in the air, putting the puzzle together and seeing it in totality. When things are happening to us, we don’t see it from up in the air, we are seeing it from the ground and we can’t always, or even often see the big picture.

But what we do have is Gods word, his promises. And his promise is that we go through the things we go through for a reason. Lets go back to James. He tells us to be thankful for the trials that we are put through, but he goes onto tell us why. Starting in v 3,

 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

When we give thanks to God during times of trials, our faith grows and we come to know God better, growing closer to him. Paul tells us that no matter what, God’s will will be done. That He is in control and that he has our best interest in mind. Our job is to worship him and to follow him, giving him thanks and praise. Paul tells us on Romans 8,

 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[h] for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

The point of this passage is not just that God is good and will work everything to his will, which he will. But more than that it tells us a part of what his will is. That those of us that know him will be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. That we will grow to be more like Jesus and that we will grow to be closer to God. That we will give thanks and worship and praise to he who is our creator King and is all good all the time.

Now let’s be clear. The bible is not saying and I am not saying that these times aren’t hard, that they arent difficult and that we shouldnt hurt. When Lazarus died, Jesus wept. His friend’s death hurt him and he mourned. What the Bible is saying is that when we know him, we can look at these circumstances and we can know that somehow, someway, someday, sometime, God will use this for his glory. Charles Finney said that, “A state of mind that sees God in everything is evidence of growth in grace and a thankful heart.”

This past Thursday, our nation celebrated Thanksgiving. Many Americans sit down as a family, tell each other what they are thankful for and spend time together. Many Americans do this only on this one day of the year. But I want to challenge us to something more. Each day, tell each other what you are thankful for. Each day, whoever you are spending your time with, family, friends coworkers, tell them what you are thankful for in your day, in your life, big and small. And let everyone know who you are thankful to.

See, just like forgiving others and praying, having a thankful heart towards God has an actual effect on us. A few of the many benefits of having a thankful heart towards God include It honors Him, It refocuses our attention, It releases us from anxiety (Phil. 4:6-7), It refreshes our relationship with Him, It reinforces our faith, and It protects us from attacks and temptations from the enemy. Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke on the importance of biblical thanksgiving, saying:

“The way out of spiritual trial leads through thanksgiving.  . . . When thanksgiving fails, all else fails.  If there is something in our lives that we cannot include in thanksgiving, the Devil has found an open gate.  .

Giving thanks to God, having a thankful heart and mind towards him are vital for our well-being, for our growth and for our worship and right understanding of God. I think that thanksgiving to God is very similar to prayer to God. He wants to hear us pray for the big things. My old Pastor used to teach about how our prayers tend to not be very big, compared to Gods immeasurable greatness and power. But we also know that God loves us individually as singular people. And he wants to hear our prayers, not matter what they are, no matter how small they seem to us.

See, most of us fall into one of to categories. Either we believe that God is big enough powerful enough, to have the ability to create everything in existence, the entire cosmos, but does he really love and care about little old me enough to care about and do anything with my prayers? Or we go the other way, God loves me and cares about me, wants to hear about my wants and my problems, but he is not really going to do anything about it. Intellectually we may know that he is both, but viscerally, we have a hard time with that and tend to lean one way or the other.

He is both big enough to warrant thanks for life, salvation, this world. And he is also personal enough to warrant thanks for fried chicken, my kids and wife, for a heating system, for padded pews and chairs.

It matters to God. It should matter to us. It matters to the point that Revelation shows us in Ch 7 that the angels are on their faces before the throne of God and in v 12, : saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

The most important reason for us on a personal level, to give thanks to God is what we saw earlier in the quote by Charles Spurgeon. Our sins needed to be dealt with. We turned our back on God, we disobeyed his directions and found our selves separated from him. Because he wanted to restore that relationship, God sent Jesus Christ to take our punishment. We see that God had to forsake Jesus, to turn away from him, so that Jesus would feel that separation from God. We see the agony and the utter torment that cause jesus on the Cross. That was supposed to be us. Instead Jesus took it so we didn’t have to. Doesnt that deserve Thanks?

We look back at the story I opened with and Jesus healing the ten lepers. Do we want to be the one who came back or the ones who didn’t? I found a poem of giving thanks to God that I want to read to as we finish up.

When times are lean with nought to share
When love is hard to find
Where cold nights reign with cupboards bare
Then God is on the mind
But who gives praise when life is grand
When God has seen us through
Who’ve learned in truth to understand
That God remembers too
How oft we fail to thank the Lord
For all His kindness done
Through love He’ll turn His vengeful sword
In Christ His faithful Son
Give thanks to God for large and small
Give thanks for life on earth
From deep within or not at all
Give praise for all you’re worth

Worthy is God of all our praise
For all His wondrous deeds
Who serve The Truth in all their ways
May find they have no needs
Yet still the nations live in stress
Where harvest brings defeat
They need to turn so God can bless
With food for all to eat
Yet those who have can ill afford
With belly’s full to sit
We need to pray through Christ our Lord
We need to do our bit
For things can change as times before
When God held back the rain
For who can tell if sin once more
Won’t change our times again

Lets Pray

O Lord, Accept our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.
We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.
We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us.
We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.
Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.
Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things.