(This is the sermon I preached at our two morning worship services yesterday, November 18. I thought it might be an encouragement to a few of you.)
Okay, be honest. If you found out that we had bugged you over the last couple of weeks, since…oh…say…November 6, would it be safe to say that we would hear a lot of complaining coming from your mouth? Perhaps some moaning and groaning about the choices the America people have made and some fear expressed at the future of our great land? I have been around a long time and have never seen a time when conservative Christians were as despondent and discouraged about our nation and its future as we are today. Despair is in many hearts and on many tongues.
And, while our spirit of complaining may have been ratcheted up by recent events, it is not that unusual. Americans can sometimes be an ungrateful people. We complain about our jobs when so many people are unemployed or under-employed. We have so much (just travel to third world countries and you will gain a better perspective on this) and yet we spend our time focusing on what don’t have – especially if someone else has what we do not. We are among the most prosperous nations this world has ever produced, and likely its most secure. We live in safety and comfort and yet we act like things are so awful. I do not normally recommend foul-mouthed and filthy comedians like Louie CK, but his riff on Conan called “Everything is amazing but nobody is happy,” encapsulates our tendency to disregard the beauty of life and simply complain anyway.
It is a good thing that we serve a God of such love and patience, or after pouring out so many amazing blessings on us and still hearing us complain about so many things, he might despair of us, turn his back and leave us to ourselves. But his great mercy and grace keeps him from that. We ought never use God’s patienc as an excuse for our complaining ways, but it is comforting to remember that his mercy endures forever.
This is not to make light of the real problems that many people in this congregation have. Life is not easy and we are often faced with challenges that are beyond our ability to endure. Some of you face job situations or financial issues that cause stressful days and sleepless nights. Maybe some of you are in difficult marriages or dysfunctional families and do not have the support and security you need to face life in this cold, cruel world. Maybe the tensions and stresses of life have gradually worn you down and you are in the grip of discouragement, or even depression. Many of you walked into this building today carrying heavy burdens, worn out by life and ready to give up or run away.
Happy Thanksgiving! This can be an inconvenient and difficult holiday when you are in the middle of one of those hard times. Some of you genuinely believe that this country that you love so much is circling the drain, and yet you have to give thanks this week. You may be trapped in despair and a sadness of the soul, but still you are compelled to give thanks. Maybe your relationships are not as they should be or people are not treating you well. Maybe things are tough at work, or you just cannot find that job you need. Maybe your outgo consistently exceeds your income and you live under the stress of trying to get your bills paid, you are watching your savings dwindling and your credit score shrink. Regardless of all of these problems, it is still thanksgiving and you have to give thanks whether you feel like it or not.
Oh, there are probably some of you for whom giving thanks is easy. You got the new job, or the promotion, or you just fell in love or your family is the heavenly haven it should be. Everything is coming together and working out and you couldn’t be happier. God bless you! But you may well not be in the majority here. For most, it is not always that easy. Maybe it is the struggles of life. Maybe it is a bad attitude. But there are many of us who find giving thanks to be more of a challenge than it ought to be.
The Thanksgiving we celebrate is usually based on our life circumstances. I am thankful for my family. I am thankful for my job and this church. I am thankful, despite all of its warts and blemishes, for this great nation I live in. But a circumstantial thanksgiving can be a fleeting one. I would like to encourage you to take a step beyond circumstantial thanksgiving to eternal thanksgiving. If you change your focus and set your mind on those spiritual, heavenly and eternal realities which are ours in Christ, you can give thanks even when life’s circumstances are not so good.
When you look at your circumstances, you will ride the roller coaster of life, with ups and downs galore. But when you consider Christ and all that he is and all that he does, you can experience a thanksgiving that is not dependent on life’s circumstances. While I could enumerate 14, or 40 or perhaps 400 of such realities, I would ask you to think of 4 eternal realities today that will fill your heart with thanksgiving and joy every day regardless of what the world throws at you.
1) Our God STILL reigns
As long as theologians have debated the nature of God, they have argued about how God can be sovereign in this world and yet still hold us responsible and accountable for the choices we make. There is a simple answer to that conundrum – I don’t know and neither do you. But we know that both are held to be true in Scripture. Your choices matter, they have consequences.
But if the Bible presents anything clearly, it is that God is sovereign over world affairs. He created the world, will one day consummate it in his glory and is at work every day in between to display his glory, accomplish his purposes and bring spiritual good to those of us who love him.
God is in control. Whatever happens in your life, whatever struggles you face or whatever trials come your way, you know that God was not surprised by them; he was not asleep on the job. He is writing this world’s story for his glory and our good.
Look at two scriptures in which human beings were given a glimpse into heaven. There is an interesting fact about both of those instances. The first is recorded in Isaiah 6:1, where his eyes were opened and he saw the Lord.
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.
Then, in Revelation 4:2, John is given a similar vision.
At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne.
In addition to all the wonderful truths revealed in these passages, there is an important tidbit I would like you to consider today. Note that in both scenes, God the Father is SEATED on the throne. He is not running for office or contending for sovereignty. He is seated – his rule secure and his position unthreatened by any force in this world or in the spiritual realm.
We often get caught up in a mythology that gives Satan a legitimate shot at threatening God’s rule in this world. But in these passages, God is not fighting the Enemy, he has already defeated him. At the Cross, when Jesus raised himself up in agony and uttered those amazing words, “It is finished,” he stepped on Satan’s neck and triumphed over him. Satan is like a mortally-wounded animal thrashing around to bite and devour as many people as he can before the end comes, but make no mistake about it, his end will come. Satan has been defeated and his days are numbered.
God is not struggling against the evil that is in this world, just hoping he can keep his finger in the dike and forestall the flood of evil. He is seated on the throne, ruling and reigning and accomplishing his sovereign purposes. People do some really awful things in this world that cause genuine hurt, but God is greater than these hurts and is working in spite of them to bring his glory into our lives.
And he is not hoping somehow to help us through our struggles. He has already determined our destiny. We love Romans 8:28 that tells us that God is working through all the evil of this world to accomplish his good in us. But the next two verses carry on the story. The God who loved us before the world began predestined us to be conformed to the image of Christ. If you are a child of God, your destiny has been marked out. God has determined to make you like Jesus.
And the passage goes on to say that those God has predestined he also called, those he called he also justified and those he justified he also glorified. Past tense. Have you been glorified yet? Of course not – just look at yourselves! But the entire process is a done deal in the heart of God, so much so that it is described in the past tense.
This world may be evil and there may be many things that happen in it that chafe and annoy and even injure us. But we must hold on to this truth, our God still reigns and he is working in our lives to accomplish his eternal purpose, to make us like Jesus Christ and to fulfill his glory in us.
And knowing this, give thanks with a grateful heart!
2) Jesus Christ STILL saves!
Romans 1:16 is a very we need to remember. Paul said,
Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
We have let the world intimidate us into being ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The world hates the message of the gospel. It cringes at the biblical doctrine of sin and depravity which tells us that we are born in sin, live in rebellion against God, stand under his judgment and are absolutely helpless to change our condition. No amount of good works or religious acts will gain us the favor of God. We have all sinned and fallen short, and face the wrath of God for it.
But Jesus did what we could not. He lived a perfect life, fulfilling all the righteousness of God. And at the end of his life he offered himself, the just for the unjust to bring us to God. He died bearing our sins in himself, paying the price, suffering the wrath of God for our sins. And then he rose from the dead, exalted to the right hand of God as Lord of all. He offers eternal life to anyone who repents of sin and trusts Jesus as Savior and Lord.
Most of you here today are already believers, by your own testimony. But there are undoubtedly some who have never put their faith in Christ. Salvation is found only in Christ and I would urge you to come to him today in faith, repenting of your sin and trusting Jesus as your Lord and Savior.
That would make this a true week of thanksgiving.
But, the message here is clear. The Cross is still open for business. The gospel is still the power of God for salvation.
And knowing this, give thanks with a grateful heart!
3) The Spirit of God STILL transforms.
At the moment when any of us comes to faith in Jesus Christ, we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit of God. He goes to work to transform us to become like Christ. Galatians 5:19-21 describes the works of the flesh, which we are all too familiar with on a daily basis. But the Spirit invades our lives and begins to transform our fleshly behavior so that we would demonstrate spiritual fruit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
The Spirit produces the love of God to replace our anger and bitterness. He gives us joy that overcomes our sorrows and peace that calms us even in the worst of storms. He gives us patience with those who mistreat us so that we can treat them with kindness. He reproduces God’s goodness in us, and his faithfulness. He replaces our stubborn pride with humility, helping us to become meek and gentle. And he gives us the power to control the sin that has so dominated our hearts.
And he never fails in the process of transformation. I have a lot of projects that I started, but never finished, books that are half done and evidence of procrastination all around my house and yard. But not so with God’s Spirit. Philippians 1:6 tells us about God’s determination to finish what he began.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
The God we serve sent his Holy Spirit to guarantee that the work he began in you when he awakened your heart will continue until the day you are glorified and made fit for eternal heaven. Whatever your struggles, failures or heartaches in this world, know that God is still at work in your life.
And knowing this, give thanks with a grateful heart!
4) Our future is STILL glory!
I’ve been getting used to losing recently. My Yankees didn’t do too well in the playoffs this year and my Hawkeyes are doing even worse. And the teams I don’t like, well, they all seem to be doing well! I’m getting used to the final score going against me. And, in political terms, let’s just say that not all the candidates I voted for got elected on November 6. I’m getting used to losing.
But in the most important contest of life, make no mistake about it, I am on the winning side. I have placed my faith in Jesus Christ and he will one day rule over this world in glory and I will reign with him. By grace through faith, our side is going to win. It appears so often that evil is prevailing in this world, that those who stand for what is right and good and godly are on the defensive against the rising tide of wickedness.
But do not let the mirage of the moment lead you to believe the lie. Our God is not defeated. He is not even threatened or in danger. While the Word may be reviled by some and ignored by many, it is still the perfect Word of God. While so many have turned away from it, Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord, can still save souls and change lives – the gospel is still the power of God for salvation to all who believe.
Yes, this is a sinful, messed up, depraved world. Since Adam and Eve chose the lies of Satan over the commands of God, this world has been in a state of rebellion, a declared war against the God of Heaven. The nations have raged and plotted and set themselves against the Lord and against his anointed. People have wandered in the darkness and refused the light of Christ that has been given to them. Injustice often prevails and evil has its way. But that is not the permanent state of affairs in this world.
At some point, God, seated on his throne, will look to the Lamb that was Slain, the One seated at his right hand and tell him that the time has come; the moment that the disciples of Christ have longed for since he ascended into the clouds and his Second Coming was promised.
At that moment, the words that John penned will come to pass. (Revelation 19:11-16)
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
All of the rebellion will be instantly quelled as Jesus Christ assumes his rightful place on this earth as Lord of all. He will rule this world physically for a thousand years and then for all eternity.
And one more very good thing will happen. Since he tempted Adam and Eve in the garden, that great serpent, the dragon, the accuser of the brethren, the devil will be once and for all defeated and destroy. Never again will we be tempted by his inducements to sin, nor deceived by his lies or oppressed by those who have embraced the lies.
Jesus will reign supreme and Satan will be captured and bound. He will utter not a word as his judgment is carried out. He will be cast into the lake of fire that was prepared by God for him and the angels that followed him in his rebellion. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever and those of us who know Jesus as Savior and Lord will rejoice as we see the defeat of the enemy.
We win, folks. Here, in the middle of the story, it may seem to us like the bad guys are always getting the upper hand, but that is only temporary. All you have to do is read the back of the book and it becomes clear. Jesus wins and those of us who love him will reign with him forever.
Oh, my friends, we are in a tough place today. We serve a Lord that our world increasing hates or at least attempts to redefine in its own image. We live in a world in which our beliefs are often scorned, our morals are held in disrepute and our mission is rejected. But that is just today. Do not be discouraged. Do not faint. Do not become weary in well doing.
The present may be difficult, but the future is brilliant. Those of us who have repented of our sin and trusted Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord are living in the worst days we will ever see. No matter what Satan throws at us, God will have his way in our lives. Regardless of how weak we are, he is strong. No matter what the burden of sin we carry, his blood will wash it all away. When our challenges are great, he is greater.
And when this life is over, we have a sure and certain hope of the resurrection. These mortal bodies will be raised, and changed, and perfected. All traces of sin will be banished from our lives as the process of transforming us to be like Christ will be completed. Oh, my Christian friend, do not be discouraged. The world is hard but God is good. Life is tough, but at the end of life is a glory so amazing that all our hurts and pains will seem as nothing in the light of his glory. One glimpse of his dear face all sorrow will erase. Keep on going, knowing that your trials will soon be over and you will rest with him in unending peace. When you have been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, you’ve no less days to sing his praise than when you first began.
It may be tough, sometimes, to look past the challenges, disappointments, sufferings and hurts of this world. But when you get your eyes off the ground and raise them toward heaven, when you see all that God has done, is doing and will do for you, can you do anything else than sing his praise?
We have a glorious future in which we will join with the great choir of heaven and sing his praises. Why not live your life as choir practice, getting ready to join in praising God with these words.
Rev 4:8 “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”
Rev 4:11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
Rev 5:9-10 “Worthy are you (Lamb of God) to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
Rev 5:12 “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
Rev 5:13 “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
If, when you consider the greatness of the future that awaits you as a child of God, you are not caught up in a spirit of praise and thanksgiving, there is something seriously amiss in your heart.
This is not a world friendly to our beliefs or our mission. Jesus warned us that the world would hate us as it hated him. But remember these eternal, unchanging truths, and a spirit of praise will well up inside of you. Remember that our God still reigns in this world and that Jesus Christ still saves those who come to him in faith. The power of the Holy Spirit still resides in us to transform us and make us like Christ. And, though we will suffer much in this wicked world, in the end we are destined for glory as Jesus stands supreme over all the world.
And if you will remember these spiritual and eternal truths, you can give thanks regardless of the circumstances of your life.
Knowing these biblical facts, give thanks with a grateful heart.