By the Rev. Thomas Nibbe
Sunday, August 2, 2020 @ 11:00 a.m.
“Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again, Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-8
“God is not ashamed to be called their God.” (Hebrews 11:16b)
Would you pray with me today? Dear Lord…today we will release the power that you have granted us to allow the Son (sun) to shine in our sometimes darkened vision of what we see before us. We are informed by your transforming Word that we have an important step to take in our faith lives, to give thanks, no matter what our circumstances. At times, that is difficult for us, because it is not natural for us. Understand, Lord, that we need to practice, and keep at it, until we have brought order and confidence into our daily living. We trust you, Lord, and we will proceed knowing this is the way we need to live in order to prosper. Amen.
Making the most of what we have turns it into being more. The Bible encourages us to give thanks no matter the circumstances. It sort of goes against our human nature, and therefore is properly called “supernatural”. Say thank you…until your mean it. Our football coach in college used to say, “…fake it until you make it…” Get good at a skill because your practice that skill. Thank God…be grateful for the gift of life…and for the world…and the whole world…for everyone…and everything sent your way.
We are talking about a biblical staple…gratitude! Gratitude is not a feeling in response to something that has happened for those that have the mindset of faith. It is an attitude set forth before the events of the day take place. Latch on to that…not a feeling in response to something good and positive. Rather, gratitude is an attitude…before all else. Lay the foundation by positing this basic notion in your heart and mind.
Gratitude releases us from “personal enslavement” to the variety of responses we could possibly have to the challenge of living out our daily lives in an imperfect and often all too cruel world. It is the victory in life over the play of various events taking place directly in our locality and in the world we live in that have a tendency to discourage us.
Gratitude turns denial into acceptance. We are actually much more healthy if we can accept and love the person that we are…with all our faults. We are more able to come to terms with our shortcomings and more able to love others despite the shortcomings they have, especially when it gets to the point where they disappoint and offend us.
Gratitude turns chaos into order. We get confused when difficult-to-comprehend information comes our way about human conduct in a very cruel and unmindful world. When we take to heart the ideology of Romans 8:28 (see below) we can cope and deal with any situation without withdrawing from the world. It is such a practical, liveable,realistic, and profound way to live. We are in the world, but we are not of the world.
Gratitude turns confusion into clarity. I keep thinking about prehistoric humanity and how religious belief allowed humankind to contend with an overwhelming world all about …the question then being…”How can I remain sane…and yet survive in such a dangerous place always making me afraid…and unable to function. The purpose of faith in our lives in a postmodern world remains the same as in ancient times…to encourage us to find meaning in life…to give us confidence to know that life is reasonably safe…worthwhile, rewarding and meaningful…keeping us free from fear and able to function efficiently.
Gratitude is a delight…but one needs to practice it in the heat of the day…every day!
After all, it can turn a regular meal into a virtual feast. I have often thought lunch with a friend is not so much about the food as it is the richness of the fellowship. It can turn a house into a home. It can turn a complete stranger into a friend. It speaks to a deep part of ourselves that tells us…we are not alone…we are valued by some one we hold dear. Yet, another reason to be grateful. Loneliness is the great bringer of despair…
Gratitude can turn problems into gifts. It can turn failures into success. It is said that Abraham Lincoln failed at major things in his life sixteen times, but those failures were considered learning experiences, eventually leading him into the White House. If you think that Lincoln figured this out for himself, you just may be wrong. President Abraham Lincoln was an outstanding student of the Holy Bible. He took what he read to heart. To Lincoln the Holy Bible was a very practical book. To Lincoln the Holy Bible was a very sacred, holy book. His language is laced with bible images. It is most evident to us, not on account of those who wrote about him, but by his own writings. It is possible that practicing gratitude and praying often got him through the American Civil War. Indeed, it was the Civil War that brought him to his knees. He was the only person in the nation who consistently pressed for the absolute union of the United States of America without compromise and without slavery. What caused him to be the most popular president in the history of our republic — confident about what should be preserved? Gratitude for the idealism and structure of our American Constitution. It was Lincoln’s profound gratitude as an attitude for our God-given form of government that, time after time, battle after battle, thousands of men dying (time after time), to achieve the goal of union. It was his appreciation for what had already be achieved by the Founding Fathers that caused him to be able, even with great compassion, to see beyond the bloodshed.Because of Lincoln we are the nation we are. I acknowledge his attitude of gratitude.
Gratitude can turn disconnected situations into important and beneficial lessons. Situations come up for me as when I’ve felt so irritated that things were not going my way I was ready to give up. Darn! …but wait a minute… I can remember letting go in the midst of things to discover that the Lord had His hand in those issues of the day. It wasn’t up to me to fuss about it, although I was a part of the solution to take care of those issues. Gratitude can turn the unexpected into “perfect timing”. It can turn mistakes into important events. In the final analysis it was discovered what part I needed to play, knowing that the Lord was at work, even though, I didn’t have control.
Gratitude as appreciation can make opposition knell in your behalf. Gratitude for the ability to see goodness in the negative things of life can make you successful…
During the Second World War, General George Patton continued making tragic mistakes in his series of skirmishes and battles with German general — Field Marshall Erwin Rommel in North Africa. Patton ended up reading Rommel’s “classic” on battle logistics in German, realized the mistakes he was making, and planned using Rommel’s logistics on Rommel. In the Battle of El Guettar in Tunisia, Patton routed Rommel’s forces using Rommel’s logistics. General Patton didn’t give up because he was getting his pants beaten off of him…he used researching his defeats to finally defeat his enemy. My father, as a football coach, always watched the films of his team, not to extol their strengths, but rather, to note weaknesses of his team’s efforts, and improve on the mistakes, to consistently improve the team effort eventually during upcoming games. Patton was a spiritual man, and my father was a spiritual man…their mindset was biblical…and that paved the way for their success. At the heart of their efforts was an attitude. Good! These things happen for a purpose. Can we learn anything from this?
Gratitude can turn just existing into a real life, filled with “good things” and “excellent things”. The verses noted above (Philippians 4:4-8) are accompanied by yet another powerful verse (Philippians 4:8): “…finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think of such things…” Often in this postmodern age, we get engaged in popular and attractive items…breaking news…for one thing…movies and magazines of questionable value…other things of curiosity that may not have any value whatsoever… We need to be on our guard! Those activities may just upset a delicate balance in terms of the way we view our lives and what seems worthy of our attention and time. We can get “carried away” into a deep abyss…and that abyss…may seem like acceptable opportunity to us…because we water down our standards by inviting things into our lives that will minimize the good life God intends for us. June Carter’s family used to sing, “…keep on the sunny side of life…”
Gratitude makes sense of our past. It brings that deep personal biblical peace…shalom…into the “actual time” of each day. You and I have heard people we know talking about what might have been in their lives. We may have also thought and communicated likewise. I have learned that things past have always turned out the best, no matter what. It is useless to try to re-configure our past. We all know the expression, “to cry over spilled milk”. It doesn’t do any good, but we waste time trying to do so, all too often.
Gratitude makes things right. Saint Paul writes (Romans 8:28), “…and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose…” God has His ways. God’s timing is perfect. God is wise. That wisdom surpasses our understanding and vision of what is, what could be, what has happened, and what meaning – the events of our lives have and will be. There is no failure with God. Trust Him…don’t place so much trust in the latest round-up of world and local news and what the news is supposed to mean for our lives or the world. Give Him praise and thanks for what is happening…in the process…let Him know you know He is in control.
Finally, gratitude turns negative energy into positive energy. There is no circumstance or situation so small or so large that it is not susceptible to the power you and I have of being grateful. We can start with who we are…and what we have today…apply that good measure of gratitude, and then let it work – its great work – in our lives.
Think and say “Thank you”, until you mean it. If you say it long enough, it’ll become the only acceptable truth for you. Your life…what’s outside and what’s inside you…will be transformed and you will notice it first when others will say of you, “She’s changed…He’s changed…and it is really good!” You will have moved from mere religion into the mindset of faith. There is nothing like it to make our lives completely worthwhile and ultimately encouraging and meaningful. What an affirmation in a time of pandemic!
Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life, and that you may have life more abundantly.” (John 10:10)
I am convinced, as I am sure Saint Paul was convinced, that the Lord Jesus was talking about, not only the forgiveness of our sins and the assurance of eternal life, but also, trusting in Him…so profoundly…we don’t need to worry about complicated international issues. We don’t need to get all tangled up in the difficult affairs of our lives. We have the knowledge to know (despite appearances) that everything is going to work out. We have the foresight to know the future lies in God’s good hands and we will benefit and thrive. I am reminded of a great truth that says a lot about what effective faith is…
“…now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see…” (Hebrews 11:1)
Do you really have that assurance?
Do you really believe this?
Is this what a perfect God has in store for imperfect people who trust in Him?
Such assurance comes to us when we live our lives with a bold attitude of gratitude. Gratitude is a great presupposition of Christian faith. So many followers of Christ Jesus get caught up in the attractive aspects of religion, the beauty of the sanctuary, the music and hymn melodies, the robes and wall-hangings, the pastor’s comforting words, the great choir, the lunch fellowship after worship…all great, encouraging and lovely things to look forward to…but nothing without the basics…a grateful response to the sacrifice of Christ Jesus on the Cross, His tragic death and His victorious resurrection…forgiveness for my sins and all those like me who are sinners…the assurance of eternal life, based not upon my accomplishments, my personal charm, or my good looks…but based upon gratefully trusting in His purpose in my life presently and the unfailing assurance of everlasting life in the time to come.
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost…and now I’m found. I was blind, but now I see…”
Habakkuk in the Old Testament said it this way (Habakkuk 3:17-19)”…I will wait for the day of calamity to come…though the fig tree does not bud…and there are no grapes on the vines…though the olive crop fails…and the fields produce no food…though there are no sheep in the pen…and no cattle in the stalls…yet I will rejoice in the Lord…I will be joyful in God my Savior! The Sovereign Lord is my strength…He makes my feet like the feet of a deer…He enables me to go on the heights…” (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
(The Rev. Thomas Nibbe is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Pacifica.)