Messiah Lutheran Church 6201 W Patterson Av
Chicago IL 60634
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November 2017

Thanks-living!

Philippians 4:8 advises, " ... whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

However, living in this sinful, it's easy to find ourselves weighed down, depressed, and filled with negative thoughts.

Much like the Israelites, when they wandered in the desert toward the promised land, we can find ourselves grumbling and complaining about our lot in life, as we make our earthly sojourn toward the promised land of heaven.

Perhaps you can relate to the old Saturday Night Live character "Debbie Downer", as played by Rachel Dratch, who just manages to ruin every possible moment, by bringing up the negative, thereby bringing down the mood of everyone around her.

As the theme song describes, "You're enjoying your day. Everything's going your way. Then along comes Debbie Downer. Always there to tell you about some new disease, a car accident, or killer bees. You'll try her to spare you, 'Debbie, please!'. But you can't stop Debbie Downer."

But, on the opposite spectrum of the "Debbie Downer" types are the "Pollyana" types, who have adopted a positive approach to life that is unrealistic and insensitive to the sinful conditions of this fallen world.

As you may be aware, the term "Pollyana" stems from a children's fictional character created by author Eleanor H. Porter, who takes on an optimistic view about everything, by playing what she calls the "Glad game". For example, when Pollyana opens up a trunk, looking for something to play with, but only finds a set of crutches, she is glad, because at least she doesn't have to use them.

However, in today's vernacular, calling someone a "Pollyanna" implies that they are living in denial, and unable to accept the facts of an unfortunate situation.

So, how should we then live? On the one hand, not being a "Debbie Downer", who views life through nothing but negative lenses, while on the other hand, not being a naive "Pollyana"? who fails to acknowledge the reality of living in a sinful world? (As Jesus Himself tells us in John 16:33, in John 16:33, "In this world you will have may troubles").

We find the key in healing of the Samaritan leper, as described in Luke 17. At first glance, the main difference between the Samaritan leper and the nine others appears to be that he was thankful, and they were not.

But, it's hard to imagine that the other lepers weren't also thankful for being healed. After all, leprosy was a horrible disease, causing lepers to be treated as outcasts, and isolated from family and friends. And after the priest declared them fit to enter society again, these former lepers may have even told others that they had been healed by a Rabbi from Nazareth.

But the key difference between the Samaritan and the nine others is that they only saw Jesus as a temporary source of blessing, while the Samaritan saw him for who he was, the fount and source of every blessing.

Hence, we find him returning to Jesus, after his healing, praising God in a loud voice, and throwing himself at Jesus' feet, giving thanks. Because of this, he found healing not just for his: leprosy, but for all areas of his life. As Hebrews 12:2 describes, he looked to Jesus as the author and perfecter of his faith.

And, therein, lies the key to our being thankful at all times, even when our life seems to be filled with nothing but bad things. By not merely focusing on the positive, while avoiding the negative, but by keeping our focus at all times on the best news of all, Jesus and his saving work on the cross.

Have you ever noticed that the cross is shaped like a positive sign? This is symbolic, not only of the greatest blessing of all, namely our forgiveness and salvation in Jesus Christ, for which we~ ought to give thanks each and every day and moment of our lives. But along with that, as God's children, we are assured that He can transform any negative situation into a positive.

As he promises in Romans 8:28, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose". Yes, all things! Not just all things that appear to be good things!

But, you might be thinking, that's easy for you to say. You don't know just how bad my situation is. How can anything good from this? Well, He's worked seemingly bad things for good in the past, and He can do so in the present. We find examples of this in the lives of Joseph, Daniel, Ruth, Esther, etc., as God worked their bad situations into good. And He's able: to do the same in your life as well. As He says in Malachi 3:6, "I the Lord, do not change". And Hebrews 13:8 similarly describes God in flesh as being the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

And with that perspective in mind, we can give thanks for all the situations we find ourselves in, confident that God is working out all things for our greatest good.

Consider what happened at the waters of Marah, as recorded in Exodus 15. Shortly after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, they came upon a pool of poisonous water, and so they called it Marah, meaning bitter. It looked like they were going to die of thirst, as there was no other source of water to be found.

But Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord told him to throw a piece of wood into the waters, and the water became sweet and good for drinking. And so God would have us do the same, whenever we find ourselves facing a "bitter" pool in life, a situation that seems nothing but negative.

To "throw" the cross of Jesus into that situation, the "plus sign" upon which Christ suffered and died for our sins, making us forgiven children of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, heirs of salvation and eternal life, and all the promises in God's Word are ours to claim as yes and amen in Him. And watch, just watch, how He turns your sorrow into joy, and your mourning into dancing.

In a sense, it's kind of exciting when God places us in difficult situations. Because, it is in those very situations that He seems to delight the most in proving Himself. As Jesus said of the man born blind in John 9, "this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life". We can truly give thanks to God in even the most difficult of situations, as by faith we anticipate how God will work things out for good, just as He has promised.

And so for the Christian, thanksgiving is not just an act of focusing on the positives and ignoring the negatives in life. Instead, it's about focusing on Jesus as the Source and giver of all good things.

When we focus on Jesus, then we will find ourselves giving thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18), and rejoicing in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4) and not be so dependent on our outward circumstances.

We can truly follow the advice found in Philippians 4:8, for who or what can be more pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise, than our loving Savior?

May God give all of us eyes to see the world through the lenses of the cross, so that we might be known as people of thanks.

When we focus on the cross of Jesus, Thanksgiving will not be just one day of the year, but our lives will be filled with thanks! Or what has been described as "Thanks-living!"

As the words of the chorus puts it, "Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face; and the things of this world will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.'

When we focus on Jesus, we will find ourselves living lives of Thanks-living every day of our lives, and not just once a year!

"O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good!"

In His Grace,
Pastor Wendt

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