Give Thanks, Psalm 136, 25 November 2012

Big Idea: when we pause to give thanks, we realize we are very blessed.

I love the Thanksgiving holiday as much as anyone. For decades, it was my favorite holiday as around 100 Schneemanns would gather in a church fellowship hall for food, singing, playing music, football, and a memorable time of giving thanks. That tradition ended several years ago, yet the heart of it can be recreated whenever people pause to give thanks to God for His countless blessings.

I think it’s safe to say that our culture is not known for pause. We are busy. We are productive. We work hard. We play hard. But many of us rarely pause.

This would be a great segue to talk about the Sabbath—God’s commanded day of rest each week—but instead I want to seize this opportunity for us to pause, reflect, and give thanks.

So just do it! Give thanks! That’s hardly motivating on its own, though. It’s like when you mom says, “Say you’re sorry” or “Say thank you.” It’s not always genuine.

Paul repeatedly told his readers to focus on thanksgiving.

2 Corinthians 9:11
Ephesians 5:4
1 Timothy 2:1
1 Timothy 4:4

When we pause to reflect upon our blessings, thanksgiving is a natural response. That’s one of the reasons we gather together each week. It’s not that God will like you more if you are here every Sunday. You will probably like God more, however, as you reflect on His awesome power, love, wisdom, and goodness.

Earlier we sang and read the admonishment of the psalms:

Give thanks to the Lord.

In the NIV, this phrase is used 19 times.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

(1 Chronicles 16:34; Psalm 106:1, 107:1, 118:1, 29, 136:1; Jeremiah 33:11)

In each case, the Hebrew word for “thanks” is

to express praise, give thanks, extol, make a public confession, make an admission; to praise is to speak of the excellence of someone or something; to give thanks has a focus on the gratitude of the speaker

How often do you give thanks? Before you eat? On Thanksgiving?

But why give thanks?

Luke tells a great story of ten lepers that are healed. Only one returns to say thanks—and he’s a despised Samaritan. But notice what happens to him.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him — and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:15-19)

The Samaritan was not only healed, he was blessed—blessed to recognize the healing, blessed to encounter Jesus, blessed at being commended for his faith.

When we give thanks, we are blessed.

The Jews have had a long history of giving thanks. In fact, their God-ordained festivals of celebration and thanksgiving were more than a meal or even a day. They would praise God for a week or more! Let’s just say they know how to party! Seriously!

Thanksgiving blesses God, but it also changes us.

"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder." ~
G.K. Chesterton
“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” ~
John Milton
“A thankful heart cannot be cynical.” ~
A.W. Tozer
"We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things?" ~
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Choose to be thankful

"Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint. I can choose to be grateful when I am criticized, even when my heart still responds in bitterness. I can choose to speak about goodness and beauty, even when my inner eye still looks for someone to accuse or something to call ugly." ~ 
Henri Nouwen
"If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled." ~
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
An old hymn by Johnson Oatman, Jr.,
Count Your Blessings, says

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed, When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, Count your many blessings, name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Are you ever burdened with a load of care? Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear? Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly, And you will keep singing as the days go by.
So, amid the conflict whether great or small, Do not be disheartened, God is over all; Count your many blessings, angels will attend, Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Perhaps the most oft-quoted Scripture involving thanksgiving is Philippians 4:6

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

We live in a fast-paced, complicated world. We are bombarded with news—usually bad news—constantly. It is natural for us to be anxious and to fear, but that’s where followers of Jesus are called to be different, to live radical, counter-cultural lives.

What I find interesting about this verse is that we are to present our requests to God with thanksgiving. When we are thankful, it blesses God. Do you prefer to be kind to those who are thankful and appreciate your generosity or those that feel entitled and complain if you don’t respond to their every request?

When we give thanks to God, it doesn’t guarantee that He’ll answer on demand, but it does remind us of our blessings, His faithfulness, and orients us to seek and accept His will rather than viewing Him as a cosmic genie to be manipulated by our desires.

"When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time.  Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?"  ~
G.K. Chesterton

Regardless of your circumstances, we all have so much for which to be thankful.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. (Psalm 100:4)

You can listen to the podcast here.

Identity, John 8:12-30, 11 November 2012

Big Idea: Jesus was clear about His origin and identity. Are you?

Last week a friend on Facebook posed this question: What is the most important question every person must address?

I believe there are two essential questions:

  1. Who is God?
  2. Who am I?

Many people stumble with both questions.

Who is God?
Who are you? Really.

Identity is a tremendous issue in our culture. Children are raised without knowing their dad...or mom. We tell kids how wonderful they are, yet they reach adulthood and realize not everyone gets a trophy in the real world. Many draw their identity from their sexual orientation, believing that it defines them. Others see themselves through the lens of their business card, what they do, their career.

Fill in the blank: I am _______________________.

Jesus was secure. He knew who He was. He was aware of His origins, His background. As J. Vernon McGee said, “Jesus came to not only redeem man but to reveal God to man.”

Several times in John’s biography of Jesus we see Him revealing His identity, beginning with “I am.”

He said previously “I am the bread of life” (Jn 6:35, 48, 51)

He will later say

I am the gate (Jn 10:7, 9)
I am the good Shepherd (Jn 1011, 14)
I am the resurrection and the life (Jn 11:25)
I am the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6)
I am the genuine vine. (Jn 15:1, 5)

I am the beginning and the end.

Today’s passage beginning with John 8:12 uncovers another thing about Jesus. Let me set the scene beginning with verse one. Jesus is in the temple courts surrounded by people. A woman is brought in by the religious leaders who caught her in adultery. They try to trap Jesus and, instead, He traps them, declaring that the first stone to punish this woman should be thrown by the one without sin. Everyone walked away except the woman and Jesus who, ironically, was the only one qualified to stone her. Instead, He tells her to go and leave her life of sin.

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Genesis 1...let there be...light! God saw that the light was good...

God speaks light into existence.

Energy cannot be created and cannot be destroyed.

Everything comes out of Him.

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:36)

For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. (Colossians 1:16)

Jesus created light. He is the light. He will forever be the light.

I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. (Revelation 21:22-23)

Sometimes we don’t want the light in our eyes because it’s invasive. We want just enough light to see in the dark, but not so much that we can be clearly seen. We want God to be our night light. He exposes all of the sin, deceit, lies, and brokenness.

The light isn’t judgment but freedom and forgiveness. We saw in the verses prior that the light did not consume her, but it covered and forgave her.

He wants to be the light to expose our pride, arrogance, and sin in order to transform, love, and forgive us.

The more comfortable you are in the light, the closer you are to God.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)

This doesn’t mean we’re perfect, but that we stop hiding.

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him. (1 John 2:9-11)

John heard Jesus say, “I am the light of the world.” In the light, there is love. In the light, there is forgiveness and compassion and life.

John Piper notes four things about light:

  1. the world has no other light than Him
  2. all the world needs Jesus as their light
  3. the world was made for this light; creation was made for this light to fill it; it exposes sin and enables us to see everything good in its true light; the light of Christ is native to the world, not foreign.
d. one day this world will be filled with the light of Jesus and nothing else

I can’t wait! Continuing onto verse 13, things take something of a detour.

The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.” (John 8:13)

They are accusing Him of boasting.

This is from John 5:31-32 when Jesus said, “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid. There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid.”

The next 17 verses follow their accusation.

Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. (John 8:14)

  1. He knows from where He came.

You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. (John 8:15)

2. He does not judge man according to the flesh.

But if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.” (John 8:16-18)

3. The Father testifies.

How would you respond to this line of reasoning? There was a voice from heaven that verified this (Mark 1:11).

Then they asked him, “Where is your father?”

“You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” He spoke these words while teaching in the temple area near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his time had not yet come. (John 8:19-20)

These are deeply offensive words Jesus uses. It should have incited a riot, but His time had not yet come.

God is sovereign and in control of all things, including time. It doesn’t always appear that God is in control, but that just speaks to our limited perspective.

Once more Jesus said to them, “I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.”

This made the Jews ask, “Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, ‘Where I go, you cannot come’?”

But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am [the one I claim to be], you will indeed die in your sins.” (John 8:21-24)

Here Jesus reveals more of His identity. He begins by predicting His crucifixion and then says He’s from heaven. He was sent by the Father.

He also speaks clearly about our two eternal options—sin which leads to death, and belief which leads to life.

We live in a dying world. Billions around us are literally dying in their sins. This is a tragic reality that provides incredible opportunities for us. The light shines brightest in the darkness.

“Who are you?” they asked.

“Just what I have been claiming all along,” Jesus replied. “I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is reliable, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.”

They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am [the one I claim to be] and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him. (John 8:25-30)

They refuse to believe He is the Son of God. These are the type of statements that ultimately led to His crucifixion.

But look at the last sentence. Many put their faith in Him, not because of His miracles, not because of His personality, but because they heard and believed the Truth.

Jesus is the light. Do you know Him? Are you reflecting His light to the world? If you are truly a Christian or “little Christ,” there must be light in your life, a light that reflects the Son, much like the moon at night.

For some of you, here’s the real challenge:

Are you willing to enter darkness in order to shine, or do you prefer to shine your light close to other lights?

Sundays are a time when we gather. The lights are joined in songs of worship, fellowship, and study of the Bible. This week we will scatter and take the light of the world to the world. Our world desperately needs it!

Credit: some ideas from “I Am the Light of the World” by John Piper

You can listen to the podcast here.