Sunday, November 20, 2016

Giving Thanks and Other Problems Solved

We all have problems. It’s a part of our being fallen creatures. And while there will be times when it isn’t as bad as all that, we will still have problems. We all know this.

Now, the Gospel says that Jesus has come to deal with our problems. And while Jesus’ solution to some of our problems will need to wait for the age to come, there are plenty that can be dealt with right now in this age. And being convinced of that has a heartening affect on how we live. We can be freed of our problems, at least many of them. How encouraging.

However, there are some who are not convinced of this. As a result, they are, more often than not, simply resigned to live with their problems, to get along as well as they can. Oh, little issues can be dealt with, they’ll say, but not the big ones. Those are here to stay. Those problems are just a part of the landscape of their lives.

I’d like to disagree. To be sure, as I said, there are some problems that will need to wait for the age to come. But there are many, many problems that can be resolved in the here and now. And how to do that is what I’d like to talk about.

With this in mind, I thought it might be good to make use of this week’s holiday. Thursday is Thanksgiving Day. It’s a day that was intended as a time to stop and consider the goodness of God, and then to give thanks to Him for it all. It’s to be a special day for that, but it’s not to be the only day for that. Read through the Scriptures, especially the Psalms, and you’ll find that giving thanks to God is to be a normal part of everyday life.
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Psalms 107:1
Now, there are Christians who hear these calls to give thanks and realize that it isn’t a normal part of life for them. They realize their failure, their sin. They’re just not very thankful. That’s a problem, and they know it. So, what do they do? Some, when they discover this, resolve to do better. This year they are going to work harder at being grateful to God and expressing that daily. They might make a daily checklist so they remember to offer thanks. They might ask someone to hold them accountable, to make sure that they are doing better at this. And they’ll pray about it, asking God to enable them to do better at this.

Then, of course, there are others who have the same problem and know it. But they don’t do anything about it - except to feel guilty. You see, they’ve already tried the route of making resolutions. They’ve tried to work harder at it. And they’ve prayed about it. But from time to time, maybe on Thanksgiving Day, they are reminded that they are the same people that they’ve always been, still failing to adopt a spirit of gratitude to the God who has been so good to them. They have concluded that this is a problem can’t be dealt with. They just accept it as part of the landscape of their life. How discouraging.

And this is another reason why the Gospel is so good. The Gospel gives hope. Whether the problem is a lack of giving thanks or some other sin, Jesus has come to solve it. Believing that really does make a difference for us. Jesus has come to solve our problems.

So, how does Jesus do that? He usually solves our problems by using the Bible. So, meditating on Scripture makes sense. It gives Him something to work with.

So, when it comes to the problem of a lack of being grateful, here’s a popular verse that many choose to meditate on:
… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:18
Of course, as soon as I mention that verse there may well be some of you who cringe. You’ve meditated on that verse to solve the problem of your lack of giving thanks, but nothing changed, not long term. The only result that you experienced was feeling guilty at your failure. What went wrong?

It’s the wrong verse - at least for many who have a problem in this area. For these, the verse is a law to be obeyed. When they meditated on that verse, they approached it thinking, ‘If I obey this verse I will solve my problem’. Or to say the same thing more bluntly, they thought that by obeying that law they could save themselves. Where is the Gospel of grace in that? Where does Jesus fit in? So, you see, it’s the wrong verse for so many who struggle with ungratefulness. As with all law keeping of this sort, if there is the appearance of progress, it will result in pride. ‘Look at what I did!’ If there is failure, then there is the crushing sense of guilt. It’s the wrong verse being used in the wrong way.

I have a better verse. Listen to something Paul said.
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. Acts 17:24-25
Now some of you might be thinking, ‘What does that have to do with my lack of gratitude? It’s some verses about God?’

Actually, this is the perfect Scripture for many who have struggled with a lack of gratefulness - maybe not all who have struggled, but many. And it’s the perfect Scripture because it deals with the problem beneath the problem.

To deal with the persistent problem of a lack of giving thanks - or any other persistent problem - you have to ask, and then carefully answer, some questions. ‘Why don’t I give thanks as a regular habit? What is the problem beneath the problem?’ And what is this but trying to understand yourself where it matters most, not in terms of your behavior but in terms of your heart. After all, didn’t Jesus teach us that our problems begin in our hearts? The Scripture I just read to you - what Paul said about God - offers an answer to that question about why our hearts don’t give thanks.

When Paul said those words, he was trying to explain some basic Bible facts to some Greek philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens. He was trying to explain something about who God is. This is the part that I want you to consider.
He himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.
Let’s meditate on that.

All that you have - life, breath and everything - is a gift from God. What might that include? We can start with what some expect me to say, something religious. You’re a Christian, that’s a gift. But then, there are more mundane items. That breath you just took - that was a gift. And your most recent heartbeat? - another gift from God. In fact, all that you are able to do is because of a gift. If it isn’t included in ‘life’ and ‘breath’, then it certainly fits into the ‘everything’ that God gives.

It is when you understand what Paul was saying by those simple words that you begin to see how utterly dependent on God you are.

He himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

Now, don’t jump to conclusions and think, ‘Okay, I get it. Since God is so good to me - giving me all these gifts - I really should thank Him. It’s time for a new resolution’. That’s not how to use the verse. What is that but more law? It’s more law that you hope to use to save yourself from a lack of gratitude.

I have a different way to use it. The power of the verse is that it exposes unbelief. Many who fail when it comes to being grateful to God do so because they don’t believe that verse. In their daily living, they don’t believe that God himself gives to all mankind - gives to them - life and breath and everything. If they did believe it they would regularly give Him thanks. But they don’t. They think that they are able to do what they do because - well, just because they can. They fail to give thanks to God because of their pride. ‘I can do what I do because of me.’ They may never say those words, but they live those words. Their lack of gratitude to God reveals what’s going on deep within. It reveals what they really believe. They idolize themselves instead of acknowledging what God does and, as a result, giving thanks to Him. And that’s the problem beneath the problem. That’s what’s going on in their hearts.

If you look for the place where you don’t believe some aspect of the Gospel, you’ll find the problem beneath the problem. You will see what’s going on in your heart.

It’s now that we’re ready to pray. It’s when you see the problem beneath the problem that you will be able to see the solution. And the solution is, as always, repentance and faith. But for the folk who sin in the way I have described, it’s not repentance and faith about failing to give thanks. It’s repentance and faith about pride and idolatry - things which show up as failing to give thanks. You pray, first of all, about the problem beneath the problem. Then, you acknowledge how it shows.

Now, a few closing thoughts. Do you see what I’ve done? The point of the sermon wasn’t first of all about becoming more consistently grateful to God, though that really is important. The point of the sermon was about solving problems, about dealing with sin. Let me repeat what I said at the beginning.

The Gospel says that Jesus has come to deal with our problems. And while Jesus’ solution to some of our problems will need to wait for the age to come, there are plenty that can be dealt with right now in this age. And being convinced of that has a heartening affect on how we live. We can be freed of our problems, at least many of them. How encouraging.

I want you to be optimistic as you think about your life. I want you to be convinced that the problems that you have, the sins that trip you up so often - they can be solved. What it takes is identifying the problem beneath the problem where there is unbelief, and then applying the Gospel of grace there, repenting and believing there.

So, now what? What do you do now? I’m at the end of the sermon so you know what I’m probably going to say. I’m going to tell you to pray. Ask the Father to show you your sins, the sins that can be seen. And then, ask Him to show you the sins beneath those sins. Ask Him to show you that so that you will repent of the right sins. As you do this you will find that the sins that continually trip you up will be dealt with. Problems will be solved. Believe the Gospel, and enjoy more of the freedom that Jesus has promised.

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