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Nov 25 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 24, 2019


Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:17-21

Intro: When I was twenty years old, I moved to 29 Palms

A group of young married couples wanted a Calvary Chapel there
– so I drove out there to speak at a Christian concert,
• and the next day when the bands went home,
• I stayed behind and we had our first Sunday morning service

While living there, I would drive to a church in Palm Springs on occasion for their Wednesday night Bible study. Sometimes I would also hang out at a Christian coffee shop–The Ark–, where Brother Harold spent a lot of time. Brother Harold was a wonderful, little old man with white hair and a long white beard. He was something of a Christian guru to the young Christians who frequented The Ark. People referred to him as a “walking concordance,” because he knew the Bible so well that he had almost all of it memorized.

Brother Harold sometimes visited the same Bible study I enjoyed. After the night’s teaching, the preacher would take questions. One night a question came up regarding 1 Thessalonians 5:18, . . . in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. The preacher explained, “Notice that it says in all things, not for all things.” Suddenly, Brother Harold blurted out, “In Ephesians 5:20 it does!” Taken back the preacher paused, then, with embarrassed smile, said, “Yes, Brother Harold, but right now I’m talking about 1 Thessalonians. Stay out of Ephesians!”

We have made November “Thanksgiving Month”
– and today we come up against an impossible challenge

Does the Bible say we must give thanks to God for bad things?

There are Christians whose interpretation of this is rigidly literal
– they will tell parents who have lost a child,
• even if it feels wrong or is difficult to do, they must give thanks
• “It’s what the Bible says, so that’s what you must do”
– since this is their belief,
• they have to somehow justify this practice
◦ the authoritarians might say, “God moves in mysterious ways”
◦ the rationalists might say, “Giving thanks changes your perspective”

It is true that, eventually, we have to accept everything that comes
– but do we have to give thanks for everything

There is an upside-down facet to Jesus’ worldview

Blessed are you poor . . . hunger now . . . weep now (Lk. 6:20-23)
You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant (Mk. 10:42-43)
– we do have to learn new attitudes about some things
• Christians are not guaranteed immunity from pain
◦ our trust in God does not exempt us from suffering
◦ but it does teach us to respond to it in a new way
• if we give thanks for things we do not understand,
◦ it creates in our minds room for mystery
◦ mystery is the paper in which gifts are wrapped
when the wrapper is removed, we have the gift
David Steindl-Rast, “Once out of a hundred times we will be challenged to respond fully and gratefully to something which we cannot enjoy. This, too, is given reality; it, too, is gift. Although I cannot enjoy it, will I still be grateful? It all depends on whether or not I have learned to unwrap the gift-within-the gift: opportunity — the real gift — is always opportunity to grow.”
– when Martin Laird addresses hindrances to contemplation,
• he argues that they turn out to be helpful
• like resistance exercises for the spirit,
◦ handling hindrances properly strengthens our contemplation
Distractions: if we meet them “with stillness and not commentary,” they contribute to our training in . . . awareness and stillness”
Boredom: reveals that “our prayer is going deeper than where our thoughts and feelings reach”
Negative emotions: when they come up in contemplation, we can follow them to their roots, where they can be weeded out. “The inner calm that is slowly cultivated by the practice of contemplation encourages and enables us to see right into the mind.”
Intellectual struggles: bring us to mystery – freedom does not come when all our questions are answered, but when we stop allowing our intellect to filter and control what God wants to pour into us
– I was reminded of this last week reading Mark 6:1-6
• when Jesus visited his hometown, his old neighbors asked,
Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. . . . And he could do no might work there . . . . And he marveled at their unbelief
• relying on what they knew about him,
◦ they never guessed there was much that they did not know
• what Jesus could do for them was limited by their unbelief
◦ unfortunately, our rational mind can sometimes get in the way

So, okay, God uses hardship and suffering to work good in us

But does that mean we thank him for everything?
– No! And why not?

First, we draw the line at absurdity
– if our interpretation of scripture suggests a ridiculous response,
• we look for a more accurate interpretation
• otherwise, a lot of Christians would be going around,
◦ with one hand or foot cut off and one eye gouged out (Mk. 9:43-48)
– true, God’s prophets were sometimes told to do some strange thing
• but those actions were meant to grab attention
◦ and to emphasize their message
◦ the fact that their action was strange is what made it work
• but even then, there were limits
◦ Ezekiel told not to grieve the death of his wife
◦ but he was not told to give thanks for it (Eze. 24:16)

Second, if we’re not even to mention certain evil actions,
• how much less are we to give thanks for them in prayer?
But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving (not for these things, but instead of them, vv. 3-4)
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret (vv. 11-12)

Third, Because God isn’t responsible for everything that happens
– I imagine thanking God for something terrible,
• and him saying, “Don’t thank Me! I didn’t do this.”
• in Job, Satan challenged God,
Stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face
But God’s answer was, Behold, all that he has is in your hand
(Job 1:11-12)
◦ God did not have a hand in the evil that fell on Job
◦ we also learn from Job it is okay to be silent
okay to grieve, okay to be angry, and okay to complain
– are we supposed to give thanks for:
• the sex-slave trade? drug trafficking? child abuse?
• God is not pleased with humans spreading violence on earth (Gen. 6:13)
◦ through Jeremiah, God addressed child-sacrifice
[They offered as sacrifice] their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination (Jer. 32:35)

Fourth, because God’s gifts are good
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (Jas. 1:17)

Conclusion: In Job’s first round of trials, he did not give thanks

However, he did bless God – and that’s different
Fr. Romuald, “Bless God for everything that comes, even painful things”
– it is a way to rise above what comes at us
• we forget that everything matters to God
• our sorrows and suffering, our fears and anxieties
◦ so we are told,
casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you (1 Pe. 5:7)
– you see, we need to connect everything to God
• I have been with parents who have lost children
◦ you don’t say, “This isn’t bad,” or “This isn’t wrong,” or “This doesn’t hurt”
◦ Jesus’ prayer from cross was not thanksgiving,
My God, my God, why have your forsaken me? (Mt. 27:46)
• Job grieved: he tore clothes, shaved his head, fell on the ground
◦ but he blessed God
◦ because by blessing God we connect the bad thing to him
– we experience a tragedy and we say,
• “O God, I hate this loss. I can’t live with this pain”
◦ but you are connecting it with God
◦ we do this even with our sin
Romuald, “If you cannot connect something with God, then you’re lost”
• you’re stuck with having to deal with it on your own

There is a great irony here
Because we do give thanks for the suffering and death of God’s Son
We give thanks because:
the cross was not a dead end, but an open door
it is the mystery of good defeating evil,
of love love prevailing over hate,
and the ultimate victory of life over death

God does not expect us to give thanks for bad things
but we can always give thanks,
because God is good
even if everything else is not
And if we find it possible
to give thanks through our tears,
it will be for this reason,
that because God is good,
our story doesn’t end in sorrow and pain,
but in never ending joy and life

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