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Nov 26 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 24, 2013 – Romans 1:18-21 & Ephesians 5:17-20

The Paradoxical Life of Giving Thanks

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them, for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Romans 1:18-21
So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father Ephesians 5:17-20

INTRO: I am going off-topic today

In light of Thanksgiving this Thursday, it seemed appropriate to meditate on gratitude

WARNING: I will make reference to several people who are here this morning
– first names only – I don’t mean to embarrass anyone
• my intention is to make a point

I chose these excerpts of scripture because both mention giving thanks
– however, they come at this subject from two different directions
• in Romans, Paul explains what’s wrong with society and he tracks a downhill slide:
○ the truth God has revealed in nature has been suppressed
○ the result has been an intellectual, moral, and spiritual decline
○ at the lowest point of this descent, “they did not . . . give thanks” (no acknowledgement or reverence of God)
○ society, therefore, was left with a foolish, darkened heart
• in Ephesians, Paul explains how the Christian life works, and the movement is in the opposite direction:
○ beginning with foolishness, Paul says it’s time to leave it behind
○ believers express the truth of God — “in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs”
○ at the epitome of this ascent, we are “always giving thanks for all things”
– so, the trajectory of society is from God to foolishness
– the trajectory of Christian faith is from foolishness to God
• and the primary symptom of the direction in which one is moving is gratitude

Last week Lee reminded me of a book I read last year

In fact, it was a book that Nancy had given me
– I had been thinking about it for couple of weeks
Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are
– sitting in a salon, Ann noticed the title of a book that another woman was reading
One Thousand Places to See Before You Die
○ she wondered, “Is that what makes for a full life?” she pondered this for awhile
○ it occurred to her that it might enrich her experience of where is right now by giving thanks for every good thing
• in my opinion, her work is the best contribution to the practice of gratitude in recent years

But reading One Thousand Gifts, we immediately encounter a paradox
– Ann begins her journey with the gruesome and tragic death of her little sister
• Ann was four years old when her sister was killed

“She had only toddled into the farm lane, wandering after a cat, and I can see the delivery truck driver sitting at the kitchen table, his head in his hands, and I remember how he sobbed that he had never seen her.”

• we want to live in thanksgiving, but realize we must deal with the fact of cruel pain and grief
○ doesn’t that undermine gratitude?
○ it certainly did for her father – that senseless loss took God right out of his life
– so here’s the paradox

“But awakening to joy awakens to pain. Joy and pain, they are but two arteries of the one heart that pumps through all those who don’t numb themselves to really living.”

• it was her refusal to give-in to darkness and despair that fueled her passion to give thanks

My reading in the Scriptures yesterday brought me to 2 Corinthians 1-4

It seems to me, if Reflexion had a “vision statement” it would be 2 Corinthians 3:18

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

– in the next chapter, Paul talks about seeing “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”
• but then he says, we have this treasure in clay jars
• the treasure is the “contents” and not the “container”
○ our bodies are common, ordinary, and breakable
○ Paul then composed a short list of ways that death was at work in his own body (2 Cor. 4:4-12)
– but that’s not where the chapter ends
• if there’s death, there’s also resurrection

knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God. (2 Cor. 4:14-15)

○ there it is again – the “giving of thanks”
• for Paul, it was about having the right perspective or, as Ann Voskamp put it, “We don’t have to change what we see. Only the way we see.”
○ Paul explains that we “don’t lose heart” even though our exterior is decaying, because inwardly we are “being renewed day by day”
○ it is as if breaking the clay jar is what allows God’s light, love, and life spill out and into the world

I’m taking another group through the DVDs of my conversations with Fr. Romuald

In the first one, we talk about worship and he says, “Worship is awe” and asks,

“If you don’t stand in awe of someone or something, how could you worship?”

That lead to an interesting group discussion about the big things that evoke awe and wonder
– Duane asked, “But aren’t we supposed to live in awe?”
– aren’t we supposed to be so alive and aware, that we see mystery everywhere?

A couple of weeks ago, sitting on a bench in the headlands with Pat in one of our bi-monthly meetings
– we were talking about awe and worship, and he asked, “Where do you think awe takes you?”
• I immediately went into my theological mode and tried to think up something profound
– then Pat suggested his simple yet profound answer, “I think it leads to thanksgiving”
• we experience the awe of a thing, person, or event and we are compelled to say “Thank You”

Giving thanks can deepen our experience of God in contemplative prayer

In You Are Not Your Brain, Jeffrey Schwartz quotes “Hebb’s Law”: “Neurons that fire together, wire together”
– the brain is a learning and habit-forming organ
• in our first encounter with a situation, our brains connect neurons to produce a response
○ neural circuits are created, like a foot path through a field of weeds
○ every time our brain takes that path, it is strengthened — these become the brain’s habits
• but the brain does not distinguish healthy responses from unhealthy ones
○ so if we constantly focus attention on what’s wrong and gripe about it, the more our brain is wired to dwell in negativity
– “always” giving thanks wires the brain toward what is positive (see Php. 4:6-8)
• the positive activity of thanksgiving that goes on in the prefrontal cortex “neurologically suppresses emotional circuits in your brain,” according to Newberg and Waldman in How God Changes Your Brain
○ what this means, is that ongoing gratitude causes us to be more at peace and experience more joy

CONC: Can we prepare ourselves for Thanksgiving Day? (we only have a few days)

Yes, if we:

  1. Look for it – a positive experience of beauty, kindness, simplicity, etc. in every day
    Voskamp said, “I only notice because I’m looking”
    – do this and you’ll find yourself smiling more often
  2. Feel it – it’s not enough to just create a list
    – take a deep breath; let your body enjoy the feeling of gratitude
  3. Speak it – pray it, or “sing” it, or post or tweet it
  4. Practice it – if helps, keep a journal, but make it a habit
    again, Voskamp says, “Daily discipline is the door to full freedom, and the discipline to count to one thousand gave way to the freedom of wonder and I can’t imagine not staying awake to God in the moment, the joy in the now.”

Now I’ll explain why I’ve mentioned so many personal names this morning
– for the same reason that, in his letters to Rome and Ephesus, Paul said,
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you (Ro. 1:8)
I . . . do not cease giving thanks for you (Ep. 1:16)
– people we know and love frequently evoke our deepest gratitude
• we sing our thanks with each other – and to each other

So let’s encourage ourselves in this grateful way of being with each other in the world and in God through Jesus Christ

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