THANKSGIVING

encouragement, God, happiness, Joy, Philippians, religion, Uncategorized

Sorry this Thanksgiving message is coming to you after the celebration of Thanksgiving.  I found this message in my files today.  I had prepared it, and preached it the Sunday before Thanksgiving in 1997.  I hope that, as you read this message, you gain a better understanding of the history of the event, and an increased appreciation for what we can be thankful for.

In 1620 the English settlers, called the Puritans, arrived at Plymouth Rock, what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts, on their ship, the Mayflower.  These people were very religious and believed that they were on a mission for God.  In spite of the cold weather and lack of food, they gave thanks to God for the safe journey across the Atlantic Ocean, and for the freedom from an unjust government.  It was a harsh winter, and by Spring only 52 Puritans were still alive.  The Native American Indian chief, Squanto, had  pity on these settlers and befriended them.  He and his tribe taught them what things to grow, gave them seed, and told them when to plant them.  By Fall, they had a bountiful harvest.  In gratefulness to God, they had a worship service and then they had a feast and invited their Indian friends to join them  Five of the surviving women made the meal.  It wasn’t until almost  250 years later that president Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.

The word “thankfulness” comes from the old Anglo-Saxon term that meant “thinkfulness”.  If you can’t think of anything to be thankful for, you have a very poor memory!  Psalm 103:2 says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.”  A story is told of a gifted preacher who suffered a nervous breakdown.  A friend told him that with God’s help he could overcome his depression.  The key was to practice thanksgiving.  He suggested that the minister think of all the people who had a special influence on his life over the years.  Then he asked, “Did you ever thank any of them?”  The downhearted man confessed that he couldn’t recall ever doing so.  His friend challenged him to think of one person and write to him, expressing his appreciation.  The pastor took his advice, and when he learned that his letter had greatly encouraged the person, his heart was lightened.  So he jotted down a list of all who had helped him, a list of over 500 names, and wrote a letter of appreciation to each one.  As he counted his blessings, his depression left him.  Realizing that the Lord had been showering him with encouragement through these individuals, he began thanking God daily for His love and goodness.

Psalm 93:1 says, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to your name, O Most High”,  Thankfulness is good for us.  People who see their unworthiness of God’s favor, and are filled with gratitude to Him, won’t be proud or discontented.  They also won’t be  selfish, unforgiving, or hateful.

Psalm 116:12 says, “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits?”  His immediate answer is:  “I will take up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord”.  Nothing gratifies God more than when we gratefully receive His gifts, and nothing grieves Him more than when we reject His gifts.

What are you thanking God for today?  There’s always the traditional things like food, family, and friends.  But what about those things we cannot lose, such as eternal life, forgiveness, God’s presence, and access to God in prayer?  Remember that the English word, “thankfulness” meant “thinkfulness”.  When you think about what God has done for you, be thankful!

RIGHT LIVING – Philippians 4:9

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INTRODUCTION:

In Philippians 4:8 we learned about right thinking.  And it takes right thinking and right attitudes to produce right living.  In verse 9, Paul challenges the members of the church in Philippi to respond to the four ways that his life has been an example for them to follow.  Let’s take a look at what Paul wants them to gain from his life.

I.  WHAT YOU HAVE “LEARNED”.

Paul had spent time in Philippi where he gave personal instruction and discipling to the Philippians.  The Greek word, “emathete”, is related to the noun “mathetes” which means learner or disciple.  A  “mathetes” was one who attached himself to another person in order to gain knowledge and experience.  It would be somewhat similar to an apprenticeship today.  In first century Judaism the rabbis had disciples who studied under them.  The disciple left his home and moved in with his teacher and served his teacher.  The disciple was expected, not only to learn all that his rabbi knew, but also to become like his teacher in character and piety.

The apostle Paul had been a pharisee himself.  In Acts 22:3 he tells the Jewish leaders that he had studied under the pharisee Gamaliel.  In Acts 5:34 Gamaliel is described as “a pharisee . . . a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people.”  In the Greek culture also, discipleship was not so much formal training as it was fellowship with the teacher.  They lived with their teacher just as Jesus’ disciples lived with Him.  Disciples were the main means of perpetuating teaching in the ancient world, since many of the great teachers wrote no books.

II.  WHAT YOU HAVE “RECEIVED”.

The Greek word, “paralambano”, means to “take with oneself”, “to make it one’s own”.  Receiving should always accompany learning truth.  The Philippians not only understood it clearly, but also gave assent to it, and by so doing, they became responsible to live it out. This receiving of the Word of God is seen in the church at Thessalonica.  Paul writes in I Thessalonians 2:13, “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God’s message, you accepted it not only as the word of men but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.”  It is one thing to learn a truth, but it is even better to receive that truth and make your own.

III.  WHAT YOU HAVE “HEARD”.

Paul is saying “what you have heard firsthand from my preaching, teaching, and conversations with you”.  He is also  saying, “what you have heard from others concerning me”.  Paul is speaking about his reputation.  They had heard from many other sources about Paul’s imprisonment, how he got there, and the way God was using him.

IV.  WHAT YOU HAVE “SEEN IN ME”.

Paul is talking about firsthand knowledge of him:  their personal observations of Paul while they were with him in Philippi.   Paul is saying, “do as I taught you”, and he is also saying, “do as you heard of me doing and saw me doing”.

Mahatma Ghandi was the man who led the country of India to independence in the early to mid 1900’s.  He also inspired movements for non-violence, civil rights, and freedom around the world.  Dr. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa, were followers of his philosophy of non-violent resistance.  As far as we can know, Gandhi never became a Christian.  When he was asked to put his message into one simple sentence, he replied:  “My life is my message”.

Personal example is an essential element of effective teaching.  The teacher must demonstrate in action the faith he expresses in words.  Remember that before the completion of the New Testament scriptures, the lives of the apostles furnished the main source of divine truth.  As Paul told them earlier in Philippians 3:17, “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us”.

THE EXHORTATION:

Paul concludes by exhorting them to “practice these things”.  Make them a way of life. Dr. Dwight Pentecost summarizes the purpose of truth very clearly in these words:  “Truth is communicated to a person through the channel of his mind, and truth is grasped by the mind. But unless that which is received by the mind is loved by the heart and translated into action by the will, the truth has not done its proper work.  Truth is designed to possess the total person.  Truth is not designed simply to teach the mind;  truth is communicated  so the heart might respond in obedience to the truth.  Blessing comes on the believer as he translates into action the truth that his mind has received.  Maturity in the Christian life is not measured by what a man knows but by what he does.”  He concludes his explanation by saying:  “Let that be indelibly impressed upon your mind.”

THE PROMISE:

The apostle Paul ends this verse with a promise:  “the God of peace will be with you”.  This is a favorite saying of the apostle Paul.  He uses it at or near the end of many of his letters, for example, Romans, II Corinthians, and I and II Thessalonians.   Peace comes as a result of following the pattern of Christ:  having right attitudes, right thoughts, and right actions.  When we follow these instructions Paul says that “the God of peace will be with you”.  And if He is with us, we have no reason for worry, and our lives can be filled with joy, right?  Dr. Vernon Grounds, the president of Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary for many years, gave this exhortation:  “Pray, then, that like Paul we may live out our lives before the watching world”.

RIGHT THINKING – Philippians 4:8

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INTRODUCTION:

Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as he thinks within himself,  so is he.”  Our thoughts are the clearest test of our character.  When compared with our actions and our speech, our thoughts are the hardest things to control.  Evil thoughts, impure desires and temptations are constantly knocking at the door of our minds.  We cannot always avoid them or shut them out, but we can keep from entertaining them and making them feel at home.  The best way to keep evil thoughts out, is to bring good thoughts into our minds.  What you and I read, look at, and listen to, will to a great extent determine our thoughts and our outlook.

The best way to keep evil ideas and worry out of our minds is to concentrate on things that are good and pure and beautiful.  The mind is not a blank slate, and is never totally at rest. Also, our thoughts are real and powerful, even though our thoughts cannot be seen, weighed, or measured.  In verse 8 the apostle Paul tells us in detail what things we ought to think about as Christians.  He gives us eight things to dwell upon.

I.  “WHATEVER IS TRUE

Dr. Walter Cavert reported a survey on worry that indicated that only 8 percent of the things people worried about were true concerns.  The other 92 percent were either imaginary, never happened, or involved things that the people had no control over.  In John 8:44 Jesus said that Satan  “is a liar and the father of lies”.  Whenever we choose to believe an obvious lie, Satan takes over.  The word “true” means “real” instead of phony. It can also mean “unconcealed” or “undeniably true”. Two opposite examples of this kind of thinking are found in the New Testament.  Barnabas determined to sell his property and donate the money to the church in Jerusalem.  He responded to the leading of the Holy Spirit and did it.  Ananias, on the other hand, had thoughts of personal glory.  He said publicly that he would give all the money from the sale of a piece of property to the church at Jerusalem;  but then he only gave a portion of the money, kept the rest, and lied about it.  This attitude, and the actions that resulted, cost him and his wife their lives.  You can read about this in Acts chapter 5.

II.  “WHATEVER IS HONORABLE

The word means whatever is “worthy of respect” and “serious”, rather than trivial and unimportant things.  For example, while Moses was on the mountain, alone with God, and receiving God’s Law for his people, his brother Aaron was down in the valley having a party with the people of Israel,  and they worshiping a golden calf.  Later Aaron was ashamed.  God wants us to fill our minds with things that are serious and noble, rather than things that are of little or no value.

The apostle Paul also uses this word when speaking to the deacons and elders of the church in I Timothy 3.  He tells them to be honest and straightforward, not being gossipers nor slanderers. Paul is saying, “If it’s not true, don’t let it enter your mind.”

III.  “WHATEVER IS JUST

The apostle Paul is talking about focusing our thoughts on what is right rather than on what’s comfortable or what’s convenient.  For example, Joseph of Arimathea was a just man, concerned about doing the right thing.  He risked his life when he went and asked for the dead body of Jesus.  Taking the body of Jesus and burying Jesus in his own tomb was no easy task, and Joseph became an enemy of the Jews for doing it.  But it was the right thing to do and he did it.  Pontius Pilate, on the other hand, tried to avoid the decision he was faced with, and he tried every trick in the book.  But Jesus was still standing before him on trial for His life.  Pilate knew what was right, and he knew what would happen if he did it.  He chose what was convenient, washed his hands of the matter, and let the Jews put Jesus to death. Pilate went to his grave responsible for his thoughts and his actions. The word “just” here means “just in the eyes of God”, not merely in the eyes of men.

IV. “WHATEVER IS PURE

This probably refers to moral purity. There will always be temptations to sexual impurity. There is so much in our world today that gets our minds focused on things that are immoral. In the Old Testament scriptures David and Uriah are good examples of these two opposite thought patterns. King David sent his men to war and went to bed himself. He saw his neighbor’s wife and went to bed with her while her husband was fighting the enemy. He got the woman pregnant and called the husband home on a phony excuse hoping he would go to bed with his wife, but his plan failed. David then got him drunk but he still wouldn’t go home to his wife. So he sent Uriah back to the battlefield with instructions that he be killed. All of this was the result of David’s dirty mind. Uriah, on the other hand, was pure and blameless. He couldn’t go home to his wife for even one night when the soldiers under his leadership were risking their lives on the battlefield. Even when David got him drunk, Uriah had more moral stability than David did when he was sober.

What do you do when impure thoughts and desires start to enter your mind? Do you open the door and invite them in, or do you shut the door and move away from them? God wants our minds to be uncontaminated by sin and always prepared to worship Him.

V. “WHATEVER IS LOVELY

It means to think about things that promote brotherly love rather than conflict and disharmony. Many things happen to bring misunderstanding and conflict, and often these things happen because they are made to happen by people who want them to happen. They are miserable people, and they want to make other people miserable too. For example, Demetrius, the silversmith in Acts 19, was trying to stir up trouble for the apostle Paul and cause a riot at Ephesus, but the town clerk, whose name we don’t know (so we’ll call him “anonymous”), calmed the crowd. What are you – a Demetrius or an “anonymous”? Do your thoughts focus on peace with others or conflict?

VI “WHATEVER IS OF GOOD REPUTE

We get the word “euphemism” for this Greek work.  It refers to what is praiseworthy, highly regarded, and of good reputation.  The word is used to describe Cornelius in Acts 10:22.  He was “well spoken of” by the entire nation of the Jews.  Are we focusing on the good things we see in others, or do we dwell on their faults and shortcomings?

The following is a powerful lesson learned about negative thinking.  In 1892, John Hyde boarded a ship in New York harbor and set out for India.  His goal was to proclaim the gospel to people who had not heard about Jesus.  During the next 20 years he earned the nickname “praying Hyde” because he often spend hours and even many days in prayer for the salvation of nonbelievers and the renewal of Christ’s followers.  On one occasion, Hyde was upset about the spiritual coldness of a pastor, so he began to pray, “O Father, you know how cold -”  But it was as if a finger stopped his lips from uttering the man’s name.  Hyde was horrified when he realized that he had judged the man harshly.  He confessed his critical spirit and then determined not to focus on the shortcomings of others but to see them as individuals whom God loves.  Let’s not be faultfinders in our thoughts, words, and prayers.

VII. “IF THERE IS ANY EXCELLENCE

The word means “helpful”,  not critical. It also means “goodness” and “uprightness”. When Nehemiah and Ezra were trying to rebuild Jerusalem, Tobiah and Sanballat found fault with everything that was done. In contrast, in Mark 5, when Jesus healed the demon possessed person, this man went through ten cities giving a helpful message to all who would listen, and great blessing resulted. What a wonderful demonstration of his joy and appreciation!

VIII. “IF THERE IS ANYTHING “WORTHY OF PRAISE”

This means thinking about the positive side rather than the negative side of a situation. When the twelve spies were sent out to look over the promised land and give their report, Joshua and Caleb gave a positive report and believed that God would give them the victory. The other ten spies saw some large problems and wanted to forget the whole thing. They disobeyed God’s command to conquer the land which He had already given to them. The result was that God allowed only Joshua and Caleb, from their generation, to enter the promised land.

As a thought enters your mind, ask yourself the question:  “Would God praise me for that thought?” Then ask yourself:  ” Do I want my thoughts to  be worthy of His praise?

CONCLUSION:

These eight categories of thought can be found in their clearest form in the Bible , the Word of God, and also in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ as He is described in God’s Word.  The apostle Paul says, “consider these things” –  memorize them, meditate on them, let your mind be constantly occupied with them.  Remember, we are in a battle against the ways of the world, the lusts of the flesh, and the temptations of Satan, and that battle is won or lost in our minds.  We give in first in our minds.  We sin first in our minds.  As II Corinthians 10:5 says, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.  Enjoy the victory as you fill  your mind with the things God desires, and leave no room for the things He forbids.  “Good thinking, my friends!”