Being Thankful Revisited

Luke 17:11-19
I Thessalonians 5:14-18

In Making Grateful Kids, psychologist Jeffey Froh summarizes his team’s research on the benefits of gratitude among adolescents:

We’ve found that grateful young adolescents (ages 11-13), compared to their less grateful counterparts, are happier; are more optimistic; have better social support from friends and family; are more satisfied with their school, family, community, friends, and themselves; and give more emotional support to others. They’re also physically healthier and report fewer physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, and runny noses. We’ve also found that grateful teens (ages 14-19), compared to less grateful teens, are more satisfied with their lives, use their strengths to better their community, are more engaged in their schoolwork and hobbies, have higher grades, and are less envious, depressed, and materialistic. 1

I have two stories to tell about giving thanks in everything.

The barracks where Corrie ten Boom and her sister, Betsy, were kept in the Nazi concentration camp, Ravensbruck, were terribly overcrowded and flea-infested. They had been able to miraculously smuggle a Bible into the camp, and in that Bible they had read that in all things they were to give thanks and that God can use anything for good. Betsy decided that this meant thanking God for the fleas. This was too much for Corrie, who said she could do no such thing. Betsy insisted, so Corrie gave in and prayed, thanking God even for fleas. Over the next several months a wonderful, but curious, thing happened: They found that the guards never entered their barracks. This meant that the women were not assaulted. It also meant that they were able to do the unthinkable, which was to hold open Bible studies and prayer meetings in the heart of a Nazi concentration camp. Through this, countless numbers of women came to faith in Christ. Only at the end did they discover why the guards had left them alone and would not enter into their barracks: It was because of the fleas.

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I Thank God for You

Ephesians 1:15-23
1 Corinthians 1:4-5

Asked to write a composition entitled, What I am thankful for on Thanksgiving, little Johnny wrote, “I am thankful that I’m not a turkey.”

Shawn Achor, a psychologist who teaches at Harvard, suggests that we can train our brains to become more grateful by setting aside just five minutes a day for practicing gratitude. He cites a study in which people were asked to take five minutes a day, at the same time every day, to write down three things they were thankful for. They didn’t have to be big things, but they had to be concrete and specific, such as, “I’m thankful for the delicious Thai take-out dinner I had last night.” Or, “I’m thankful that my daughter gave me a hug.” Or, “I’m thankful that my boss complimented my work.” The participants simply expressed thanks for three specific things at the same time every day. At the end of just one month, the researchers followed up and found that those who practiced gratitude were happier and less depressed. Remarkably, even after six months, the participants were still more joyful, less anxious, and less depressed. The researchers hypothesized that the simple practice of writing down three thanksgivings a day primed the participants’ minds to search for the good in their lives.

Clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life. It lowers blood pressure, improves immune function and facilitates more efficient sleep.

One recent study from the University of California San Diego’s School of Medicine found that people who were more grateful actually had better heart health, specifically less inflammation and healthier heart rhythms.

And finally stress hormones like cortisol are 23 percent lower in grateful people.

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Not As They Should Be

Genesis 1:1, 31
Romans 8:18-24
Revelation 21:1-7

Things are not always as they should be.

A young couple had been experiencing what they thought were major problems with their three year-old son. It reached the point where they invited their pastor to their home to get his council on how they as parents could improve. They were a little anxious about having their pastor over because whenever the urge would strike him, he would just shout out, “I gotta whiz!”

So just before the clergyman was due, the boy’s father said, “Son, please don’t shout out that you’ve got to whiz; whisper!”

So the pastor arrives they all sit down and begin to talk and the pastor notes that the longer they talk the antsier the boy becomes. Finally, the minister says to the boy, “What’s the matter, son?”

The boy looks at his dad and says, “I’ve gotta whisper!”

The Pastor says, “Well, that’s okay my boy, go ahead and whisper in my ear.”

I do not believe that I have to remind you that things are not as they should be.

Not a day goes by without me being reminded that things are not as they should be. Every time I watch the evening news, (or read my google news feed) I am reminded that things are not as they should be. Every time I feel a twinge here, a pain there, I am reminded that things are not as they should be. Every time I forget something that I should have recalled, I am reminded that things are not as they should be. Every time I receive a call or an e-mail from someone asking me to pray for someone who is either ill, or in some kind of trouble, I am reminded that things are not as they should be. And especially every time I read the obituaries, I am reminded that things are not as they should be.

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All the Saints Salute You!

II Corinthians 1:1-2, 13:11-14
Hebrews 11 (selected)
Hebrews 12:1-2

How many saints are with us today?

One of the great 19th century preachers was a Scottish Presbyterian, Alexander Whyte, a much loved and respected pastor but who had a good sense of who he was. One day a lovely lady in his congregation came to his office and said, “Dr. Whyte, I just love being in your presence; you are so saintly.”

Alexander Whyte looked at her with great seriousness and said, “Madam, if you could look into my soul, what you would see would make you spit in my face.” 1

The reluctance on the part of many Christians to claim saint status stems from two things: first, the fact that the two words translated as ‘saints’ literally mean ‘holy ones’ or ones who are set apart for God’s use. And who among us, with Rev. Whyte, is willing to claim that we are holy? And secondly, it stems from the propensity of the Catholic Church to confer sainthood on a select few who have to meet stringent requirements for holiness.

And so, it can be a little confusing when we read the letters of Paul and in the salutation, he writes: this letter is from Paul sent to all the saints in Ephesus or Corinth. And we kind of feel left out because after all he’s only addressing the saints and I’m surely not a saint so why should I even pay attention? But wait a minute, I thought the Bible was written for everyone. What’s going on here?

And the answer is he is addressing anyone and everyone who has been justified by grace through faith.

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The Great Wager

Job 1:6-12, 2:1-10, 42:1-6
Hebrews 10:32-39

Sometimes it’s all about perspective.

A woman was exploring the waiting room at her first appointment with a new dentist when she noticed his full name on his diploma. Suddenly she remembered a tall, handsome, dark-haired boy with the same name had been in her high school class so many years ago. Could this be the same guy I had a crush on way back then? she wondered. She quickly discarded any such thought when she met the balding, gray-haired man with the deeply lined face. He’s way too old to have been my classmate, she thought to herself. Still, after he examined her teeth, she asked, “Did you happen to attend Morgan Park High School?”
“Yes! I’m a Mustang,” he gleamed with pride.
“When did you graduate?” she asked.
“Oh my, you were in my class!” she exclaimed.
“Really?” he said, looking at her closely; “What did you teach?”

Sometimes it’s all about perspective.

How many times have you been sitting in your living room watching a football game when the referee calls a pass interference penalty against your team. You yell, “Hey ref! Are you blind; that was interference!” And you are convinced the ref blew the call. Until the replay shows a different angle and suddenly you clearly see that the ref was right and you were wrong. Why? Because you saw the play from your limited two dimensional perspective. You were mistaken because you couldn’t see the entire picture from your limited perspective.

I bring this up because when we read the Book of Job we have this tendency to view the story from the perspective of Job.

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Discerning Disappointment

Psalm 13

Disappointment occurs when experience falls short of our expectation.

Jim Bridgewater had every expectation of depositing a paper bag full of cash at his local bank. But when he pulled up to the drive-through window, instead of picking up the bag of money laying next to him on the seat, he picked up a bag of grass; and I’m not talking fescue or bluegrass. The teller discovered 2.5 grams and 3 hand rolled joints and called the police. Bridgewater was still waiting for his receipt when the cops showed up. And disappointment began to set in as Jim’s experience fell far short of his expectation.

All of us have experienced disappointment at some time in our lives. And the truth is that for many of us, the scars we carry on our souls are there because we’ve been deeply disappointed; by other people and sometimes even by God.

The Bible is chock full of people who experienced disappointment, even disappointment in God. Beyond the person who penned the 13th Psalm, listen to these:

Psalm 6: 3-6: “My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long? Turn, Lord, and deliver me, save me because of your unfailing love.” 

Psalm 10:1-2: “Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”

Psalm 44:24: “Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?”

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The Wine of Staggering

Psalm 60
Luke 22:14-20
Romans 5:1-11

When was the last time you were astonished, astounded or stunned?

According to Paul Harvey, if you had been in Swan Quarter, NC in September of 1876, you would have been. A small group of Methodist Christians had been meeting in homes and desired to build a church building. As Swan Quarter is located near the Outer Banks, they attempted to purchase a vacant piece of elevated property near the downtown but the owner, Sam Sadler, refused to sell. Unfortunately the only land they could obtain was a low lying property down on Oyster Creek Road.

So they erected a white clapboard building and set it on brick pilings to provide as much protection as possible from flooding. They planned a Dedication Service for Sunday, September 17, but on Saturday a hurricane struck that area and most of the town was flooded. Three days later, it stopped raining and as people began to peek out their windows were amazed to see their newly constructed church building slowly floating down Oyster Creek Road! A dozen or so townspeople threw ropes around it and tried to stop but to no avail. They were amazed when it came to an intersection and the church building, as though it had a mind of its own made right-hand turn. But they were absolutely flabbergasted when, two blocks later, it settled on that same little knoll they had attempted to purchase, and slowly turned around in the currents to face the road. The owner subsequently sold the property to the church where it still stands to this day. 1

After this astounding miracle, the church name was changed from Swan Quarter Methodist Church to Providence Methodist Church. You better believe it! If you don’t I invite you to go on-line and check it on Snopes.

I asked you, ‘When was the last time you were ‘astonished,’ ‘confused,’ or stunned to the point that it made you ‘stagger’ in dismay?’

I asked you this because while reading Psalm 60 as part of my devotional time this week I came across a phrase that reached out from the Bible and grabbed me.

The New Living renders verse 3 “You have been very hard on us, making us drink wine that sent us reeling.” But other translators render the phrase, (Darby) ‘wine of bewilderment’, (NKJV) ‘wine of confusion,’ (BBE) ‘wine of shaking,’ (NIV, NASB) ‘wine of staggering,’, (Young’s) ‘wine of trembling.’ I don’t usually care for the old King James Version but I became enamored with the its rendering ‘the wine of astonishment.’ because I saw it as an apt description of the communion cup, for certainly it contains the wine of astonishment or so it should.

But let’s not leap into New Testament theology until we discover why this author, David, chose to use that phrase.

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The Tarnished Planet

Genesis 3:1-19
Job (selected)

According to Oxford Dictionaries, the word ‘tarnish’ means, ‘lose or cause to lose luster, especially as a result of exposure to air or moisture.’ Synonyms listed are: corrode, discolor, oxidize and/or rust. 1

In his book, Rust: The Longest War, Jonathan Waldman takes us chapter by chapter into the world of oxidation and the problem of rust. He tells the story of how America almost lost the Statue of Liberty to corrosion, the constant struggle needed to maintain oil pipelines, the development of stainless steel and rust resistant paint, and of the enormous cost and effort needed to beat back rust in the military. Rust happens and we can’t stop it. 2

Many of us remember when on August 1, 2007, a bridge over the Mississippi River in Minnesota suddenly collapsed during the evening rush hour. One hundred eleven vehicles rode the surface of the bridge down 100 feet to the surface of the water and riverbank, with 13 people killed and 145 injured. A school bus with 63 children returning from a field trip ended up resting on a guardrail at the bottom. What caused the bridge to collapse? Iron in the bridge reacted chemically with oxygen and the result is a reddish-brown product that we call rust.

What does this remind you of?

Every time I see an orange cone it reminds me that asphalt degenerates and concrete crumbles.

In fact, every time I see rust or tarnish or orange cones I am reminded that everything on this planet is either tarnishing, rusting, rotting, crumbling, decaying, decomposing, dying.

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Expire-ment Planning

Luke 12:13-21
Galatians 5:22-23

Retirees have taken to texting with gusto; they even have their own shorthand:

BFF Show AnswerBest Friend Fainted

CBM Show AnswerCovered By Medicare

FWB Show AnswerFriend With Beta-blockers

LMDO Show AnswerLaughing My Dentures Out

GGPBL Show AnswerGotta Go, Pacemaker Battery Low!

BYOT Show AnswerBring Your Own Teeth

You don’t have to be a retiree to be familiar with IRA’s and 401K’s, which have what in common? And the answer is: ‘retirement planning.’

Some of you are already retired and enjoying the fruits of your labor. It is probably true that the rest of us are concerned about our retirement, about whether we have saved enough money to live comfortably through our final decades. We wonder: Are our IRAs flush enough? Are our investment portfolios diversified enough? And ultimately: Will we run out of money before we run out of life? Retirement planning is certainly a legitimate concern and an ever increasing profitable business.

But in today’s lesson Jesus points us toward what is in His mind, a much more important concern that we might call ‘expire-ment planning.’ This is a form of planning that looks at death, not life; it asks whether we are ready to expire, not retire. Jesus indicates that this everyman clearly should have done some expire-ment planning along with his retirement planning.

What might this sort of expire-ment planning look like?

Expire-ment planners realize that wealth does not equate with peace and happiness.

The acquisition of so much material fortune gave the man in Jesus parable a false sense of security and a false sense of peace of mind. His tone is self-congratulatory: “And I’ll sit back and say to myself, ‘My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’ Clearly this man has yet to learn that wealth cannot buy peace and happiness.

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