11.23.14: Thanksgiving 2014

Categories Sermon Archive

Reflection / Notes / Summary


  • This was my second sermon ever.
  • Nervousness almost vanished. I still swayed a bit but pacing was great.
  • I started to get a little looser, I winged it and added some jokes that went well.
  • The Target / Bible Tract story really struck home.

Summary: This sermon was about being content with what you have and moving away from a consumerist lifestyle. It was about finding contentment in whatever season of life you’re in.

Sermon: Thanksgiving

Good morning Church! A brief introduction for those who haven’t met me before: The name is Denny, and it’s a privilege to be here once again today. For those of you paying attention, I’ve been here a couple of times and every time I’ve walked through those doors, I have been so blessed. I only hope I’ve been able to bless you in the same way. A little history: I am a good friend of Pastor Richard’s, and in fact, he is one of the people responsible for helping me get to where I am right now. I don’t mean *literally* where I am right now: Standing in front of you. He is definitely responsible for that as well, but I’m talking about this ***whole*** ministry thing. Well, I don’t think I need to spend much more time buttering Richard up to his own congregation, but if I say so myself, for the record, he is a pretty ok guy.

Enough talk about butter, it’s time to get into the meat and potatoes of this message. I’m sure you guys all know, and are all looking forward to this coming Thursday, right? In case you live under a rock, this coming Thursday is Thanksgiving! I’ll let you in on a little secret …I love thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays….not because of the abundance of awesome food, but because it’s one of the two days a year I can fall asleep at three in the afternoon, sleep for hours in a room full of people I love, and somehow not feel guilty about it. How do I do that? Well, I blame it on that drug that everybody says is in turkey: tryptophan. By the way, you’d have to eat about two whole turkeys by yourself to get a large enough dose to actually make you sleepy. Let’s be real here: we’re tired because we just ate two days’ worth of down home cooking in one sitting. We’re not fooling anyone.

Before we get too deep into the teaching today, I will give you a little history about the origin of Thanksgiving:

Times were much different in the early, developing years of this great nation. Imagine yourself in the early 1600s. Times are tough. Things are rough. You are in a new land for the first time. You know when Christmas is, but no one knows when to start shopping for Christmas gifts. Nothing is on sale. No one knows what layaway is yet. Colonial women wanted to start shopping for gifts near the end of September, maybe the beginning of October, somewhere in there, meanwhile the men in Colonial America wanted to start their shopping around Christmas Eve. A great war broke out and after the dust settled, it was decided that the Thursday four weeks before Christmas would be the best day to kick off the holiday shopping season….note: that entire story may or may not be true, I found it on the internet.

Thanksgiving as a holiday, while not defined as one of the major “Christian” holidays, is most definitely a celebration grounded in Christian faith. If there’s any question about that, look at what our first president said: George Washington, one of those government guys, you know, our first president, proclaimed our first thanksgiving as a sovereign nation, marking November 29. 1789, as “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many favors of our Almighty God.”

As far as thanksgiving as a tradition: we all know the story of the ‘first thanksgiving’, when the Pilgrims celebrated their first harvest in what would one day be “America” in 1621. You know, pilgrims, funny hats, big belt buckles, all that stuff. That story is actually just about as false as the one I made up. The ‘first thanksgiving’ was one of many harvest festivals that Pilgrims had. Yep, that’s right. Thanksgiving was no big deal at the time. They had them in England before they came here, they had them regularly while they were here…simply put, they gave thanks to God ALL THE TIME. They didn’t have to block out 0.3% of a calendar year to do so. The colonists regularly took time out of their busy lives to stop what they were doing and to celebrate smaller “thanksgivings,” which were days of prayer and giving thanks to God for blessings in their lives, big and small.

On that note, I ask that we all ask God to bring us all into his presence and into a spirit of thanksgiving. Let us pray: Prayer

Instead of focusing on thanksgiving as a single day, a single event where we stuff ourselves with food and watch some great college football, I am going to go a little crazy and say that maybe, just maybe, we should cultivate thankfulness in our lives to the point that it is a way of life. How important it is to adapt an attitude of thanksgiving in our everyday lives? Paul writes, in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul mentions “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Paul uses words like “always, continually, and ‘in all circumstances” All throughout that passage. There’s a good reason he uses those specific words: because he means them. The only problem is that it can be really, really hard to read a passage like this and just run with the idea. I don’t know about you guys, but I can think of about, oh, a hundred verses off the top of my head that I can read time and time again, be like ‘yeah, I’ll get on board with that!’ decide to make a radical change, and then find myself completely forgetting what I just read about three minutes later and repeating my same old patterns.

That’s how life though, isn’t it? You’re trying to learn to see the good and be thankful for all situations. It seems to be going great, and right when you think you’ve finally got this “thankfulness” thing mastered, life throws you a 90 mile an hour curveball, completely derailing all progress you thought you made. Here’s the deal, In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul never says “Give thanks FOR all circumstances,” he says “Give thanks IN all circumstances.” That means that we can’t let our situation determine our level of thankfulness.

Church, I hope you guys can see that. There’s a HUGE difference between giving thanks FOR all circumstances and giving thanks IN all circumstances. That difference is a little thing called “contentment.” Which brings me to the first point on our outlines: “The secret to cultivating thankfulness is to be content. That may seem like a pretty strong statement, but these two things really do go hand in hand. God doesn’t tell us we have to *like* every situation we find ourselves in, but we do need to learn to have a spirit of thankfulness in all situations.

One of the biggest problems we have is that it’s hard for us to thank God for all that he does in our lives when we stay so focused on the *more.* Whether it’s more money, more stuff, a bigger house, the perfect mate, a perfect physique, it doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, all of those things become roadblocks. Let’s face it, we live in a society that LOVES to make us discontent. In the course of two commercial breaks, you could start to question your entire existence.

  • Hey, I’m kind of out of shape. If I call that number I just saw in the next 12 minutes, I can get a program guaranteed to get me 8 minute abs in only 5 minutes a day.
  • I can’t believe the winter sale they’re having down there. Man, I want that boat. I need a boat so I have a reason to show off my 8 minute abs.
  • If I have 8 minute abs, I bet could probably fit in that sports car I just saw on TV. And I can finance at 0% for 96 months.
  • I know, but if I get that sports car then I can’t tow a boat.
  • Well OK, but if I get a sports car, a truck, and a boat then I’ll need a bigger garage. Maybe it’s time to upgrade the house.
  • If you stack two sleep number beds on top of each other do the numbers get multiplied or added to each other? I could sleep like a king.
  • Whoa, the McRib is back.

It’s so easy for the world to convince us that we shouldn’t be happy with ourselves. One of the most eye-opening experiences in this area of my life happened in 2010. That year, I went on the first international mission trip I’d ever been on. I learned a lot about what true contentment looked like. It was the first day there and our mission team was just getting settled in. We were in a very poor area in one of the poorest countries in the world. We were in Grand Guave, Haiti, during the one year anniversary of the big quake. We walked down to the ocean, a few blocks from the mission compound, and we ran into two children that couldn’t have been more than ten or eleven years old. They were chasing each other around and having a blast with toy cars they had made themselves using empty oil bottles and what looked like milk jug caps for wheels. We talked to them and they were some of the most joyous kids I’d ever met in my life. No cares in the world. To me, they had everything in the world TO worry about. They had cares, they had fears, and in my mind they had every right to be angry at the world. Where was their next meal coming from? Do they have clothes for the next day? Shoes? Are the parents in the picture? Can they even provide anything? But you know, they weren’t worried about all of the things I was thinking they’d worry about.

Walking back to the mission house that evening, I had a revelation: I was looking at those kids through the lens of a guy who grew up in a middle class family in the middle of Ohio. Why were they so happy with their makeshift oil-bottle toys? Because nobody ever told them it’s not OK to be who they are, where they are, and nobody ever told them to be defined by what they own.

When I think about the kids I met overseas that day, my mind goes to Matthew 6:25-34: Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Instead of worrying about keeping up with the Jones’ and upgrading to the newest piece of technology, let’s step back and take a moment to marvel at the fact that with  a couple of button presses we can talk to someone on the other side of the world. Do you realize that we can pay a couple of hundred dollars to strap ourselves into a giant metal box hurtling through the air at 600 miles per hour, and be in a state on the other side of the country in three hours? To put it in perspective, just a few generations ago that kind of trip used to take 6-8 months and only about ¾ of the people that started on that trip would even live til the end. Look at where we are now. How can we not be AMAZED at what God has provided us? What does the world look like from the lens of someone who trusts enough in God and his ability to provide to stop worrying about tomorrow and to start being thankful for today?

This brings me to point number two on the outline: Contentment is a product of our faith in Christ.See, Paul went through it all, folks. He was beaten, stoned, imprisoned, and taken to the brink of death one more than one occasion…but he had found a peace and a contentment that was only possible through Christ. Paul, who is in prison at the time of writing his letter to the Philippians says, near the end of his letter, in verses 12 and 13: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” His faith in Christ and his willingness to bear the burden of everything he went through for the sake of spreading the message of Jesus gave him the strength he needed to find that joy, to be content, even when things were going, by the world’s standards, horribly wrong. Regardless of how Paul was doing according to the world’s standards, he was content because he had found the joy of living for Christ.

Later on in this letter, when Paul is writing his closing to the church of Philippi he mentions “what I desire is that more be credited to your account.” For all of you bankers out there, Paul isn’t talking about compound interest here. Paul’s talking about the treasure that will be stored in heaven for them because of their actions. When they felt he was in need, they provided for him. The beautiful thing: Their gift will benefit them more than it ever benefitted him. As God starts to move in our lives in this area, we will start to become more content with what we have, and well will become even more thankful for what God provides. It becomes less about us, and more about the kingdom of God. People who are truly thankful for what God has given them are often radically transformed in the area of service and selflessness. A thankful heart is a selfless heart. That’s the last point on your outline. A thankful heart is a selfless heart. When people give total control of their lives to Jesus and they become committed followers, the work done in their lives is nothing short of amazing and all they want to do is share that with others.

Let me set the stage: It was the day before Christmas Eve and I was doing some last minute Christmas shopping (remember earlier, the story about the origin of Thanksgiving? You know what they say, there’s some truth to every story). As I was walking through a snowy parking lot, on my way to target, I saw a well-dressed couple walking out of the store. Our paths crossed and the guy stopped me long enough to hand me an envelope and mention, “Hey, I just want to let you know that God loves you, man.” I say “thanks” and shove the envelope in my pocket on my way in the door and I remember thinking “Great, I’m pretty sure this guy just handed me a whole envelope full of flyers or something to some random church thing. Really appreciate it dude, I guess I’ll just throw your trash away for you.” Maybe I’m the only person that thinks like this, but whenever a stranger hands me something while I’m on a mission to do something else, all I want to do is make a deposit in the nearest trash can. Well, good thing I didn’t find one.

Fast forward around ten minutes, curiosity gets the best of me. I open my pocket, open the envelope and I couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead of an envelope full of church junk mail, it was over $300 in cash. Then I read the envelope. It has John 3:16-17 written on it and a note, “You have a purpose in this world, Jesus loves you & God created you for a reason. This is just a small token of His love for you. Have a wonderful Christmas. Remember the reason we celebrate Christmas!” Needless to say, I ran off, locked myself in the tiny pharmacy bathroom at Target, and had a ‘moment.’ Well, about a 10 minute ‘moment.’ OK Church, I’ll be honest. A ‘crying like a baby because I was so blown away by the love of a total stranger’ moment. I’m surprised someone didn’t break down the door to make sure there WASN’T a baby locked in there.

That was it. $300. A “small” token of God’s love for me. Given to me by a complete stranger. A person I’d never met, and to this day I couldn’t even pick out of a lineup. Why would this person give a gift to a complete stranger? A person who may as well not even exist? Because he is SO thankful that Jesus Christ did the same for him two thousand years ago that he is willing to do whatever it takes to spread the love of Jesus.

I’m sure right now you guys are asking: “$300 is quite a Christmas bonus from a complete stranger. So, wannabe-pastor-guy-up-on-stage-bragging-about-his-$300 gift. What did YOU do with that $300? Random guy in target on fire for Jesus did his part. What did you do about it?” Honestly, I could have used it. I won’t deny for a second that I had things I needed that money for. Here’s the thing….after the dust had settled, I thought long and hard about what I needed to do with this amazing blessing. In the end, I passed it on. To give you an idea of where I was at that time, I had just started a job at a company that deals exclusively with the automotive industry. This was in December of 2008. We lost half of our customers overnight and we didn’t know day to day who was going to even have a job. No matter how bad I thought I had it, no matter what I thought I *needed* to with that gift, there were people out there more deserving than I could ever be.

I remember being there with the people I had decided to bless Christmas morning. Members of my immediate family going through some pretty rough stuff. I had already wrapped their actual Christmas gifts, and they weren’t much, but it was what I could afford. Honestly, I really wasn’t doing that great myself…I managed to sneak the money into the folds of the wrapping paper at the last minute. The joy that I saw on that morning: Nothing I could have bought could have beaten the joy I experienced from watching people experience even just a fraction of the joy I experienced on that evening in Target.

That entire event was a defining moment in my life. It brought the words of Matthew to life: Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?…… But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

I felt like I needed to use that gift for myself. I had bills due. I had a lot of stuff going on in my life. But, I felt convicted to do something more with that gift. It couldn’t just be one of those things that happened to me and ended with me. I felt compelled to give it away. In order to do that, I had to stop worrying about myself and just *know* that I would be OK if I did this. Guess what? I wouldn’t change that moment for anything in the world. At that moment, I stopped worrying about my life, what would happen to me, and decided to pour out into other people. In order to take that step, I had to be content with what I already had. I had to be thankful for the opportunity to even give something away. It wasn’t mine to begin with. Then again, is anything?

Church, I ask that, as we get closer to thanksgiving and closer to the holiday season, that we all take a step back, stop looking in the mirror, and start looking out the window. We all have so much to be thankful for. Even if everything is falling apart, we know for certain that we have a God who gave his Son so that we could be set free. With that kind of promise, is there a reason to even worry about what could happen to us in this life? Jesus already stood in that parking lot and Jesus already handed us the envelope, and it’s got a lot more than cash in it. What we do with that gift, whether we walk to the trash can or pass it on to someone who’s desperately needing it, that’s up to us.