Count Your Blessings (8:30am)
November 6, 2016 Series: Exploring the Pastoral Epistles
Topic: Thankfulness Scripture: Psalm 145:1–145:9, Psalm 145:10–145:21
One morning this week I was walking into the church by the Hershey Road entrance. Halfway along the sidewalk, I stopped in my tracks. The sun poked through to illuminate our church landscaping. The little stone path, newly placed, the dazzling reds and deep purples, the cross from the old church, the bench and stonework, the Peace Pole, the grasses and shrubs: altogether it was a mystical moment. I found myself giving praise for the sheer beauty of it, for those who have poured themselves into the care of it. My grateful heart was lifted up to the Creator by the glory of this small piece of creation.
Modern psychology points to the benefits of counting our blessings, and giving thanks and praise for all of life’s wonders. Thousands of years ago, the Psalm writer knew the power of praise, too. Psalm 145 overflows with celebration: for all God’s gifts, yes, and especially for God—God’s own being and character. “Every day I will praise you, and bless your name forever. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.” The focus is on God. Gifts of food, prosperity, family, health: they’re important, of course. Yet, apart from any gift, there is the Giver. Apart from any particular blessing, there is One who is the Source of every good thing.
Why is this distinction important? God’s good gifts are cause for gratitude, of course. For all of us, all “things” will one day be no more. The grass withers, the flower fades—but the Word of our God endures forever. Paul writes, the one thing that will never be taken from us is the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus. God alone endures.
A church member loaned me a book called, “Radical Integrity: The Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.” As a young pastor in Germany, only 27 years old, he went on the radio two days after Hitler was installed as German chancellor. Bonhoeffer had the radical integrity to recognize what was happening and to call it out. He was cut off the air in mid-speech, but he continued to stand against the evil that had befallen his beloved country. Ultimately he was imprisoned and sentenced to death. All outward blessings of normal life were stripped away. He stayed faithful and praiseful. He was grounded in the Psalms, including Ps. 145. Fellow prisoners noticed his unfailing good cheer as he faced the worst. As he was led away to die, he turned to those nearby and said, “For me this is just the beginning.”
Praise and thanks for blessings are an antidote for the culture of complaint that surrounds us—and sometimes dwells within. We have a very human inclination, not toward gratitude for what we have, but toward whining for what we don’t have. On Halloween, our 6-year-old had a full day, starting with a trip to the dentist. Who makes a dentist appointment for a kid on Halloween? The dentist was dressed in costume as Willy Wonka, and his assistants were the Oompa-Loompas. The assistant told our little one, “Only a little candy today—and don’t brush your teeth, so the fluoride will stay on.” From there it was a special lunch with the teacher, for the 50 dojo points she had earned. Then came the annual costume parade and party at school. In the evening, Trick or Treating of course, first with Mommy, then in our neighborhood. What a great day!
It ended, however, with tears of lament. Along the way, she met another trick-or-treater who had been given a baggy full of toys instead of candy. Our little one—whose bucket was overflowing with treats—insisted that she would not go home until she, too, had such a baggy filled with toys. Trouble was, she had no idea where that special baggy had come from. There are dozens of houses in our subdivision, and beyond was the whole city. So, no baggy. After a day of fun and abundance, we weren’t satisfied or grateful. We wanted more. The tears flowed. And Dahlia said, “Don’t cry, grandpa…it will be okay.”
Do we remember to rejoice in our blessings? Are we thankful for what we have, instead of regretting what we don’t have? The turbulence of this season in our nation has caused deep anxiety for many the world over, because the United States is such a beacon of hope and decency for hundreds of millions.
It has also caused me to be thankful for the blessed gift of our constitutional government. Precious freedoms enshrined by our founders--freedom of speech, assembly, the press, due process, fair trials, and separation of powers: dare we forget what a rare and fragile flower we have been given to nurture and protect?
The great 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Whatever the character of the day, or my circumstances or conditions during the day, I will continue to glorify God. Were we well to consider the matter, we should see abundant cause in each day for rendering special blessing unto the Lord. All before the day, all during the day, all following the day, should constrain us to magnify our God every day, all the year round.”
Give thanks for blessings, and give thanks even when we can’t feel the blessing. It’s an inspiration to witness those of our church who remain faithful and of good cheer when they are really up against major issues in life. Their attitude in adversity speaks volumes about their faith character and faith. “What if your blessings come through raindrops, what if your healing comes through tears….”
Today I’m thankful for the start of the liberation of Mosul in Iraq. The ISIS reign of terror—which targeted the ancient Christian community of Iraq, among other groups—is coming to an end. Thanks be to God. I’m thankful for 5 million people, and millions more at home, who cheered their team’s victory, and let’s not forget the others whose heroes fought the good fight but fell just short.
I’m thankful, when I think of it, for food and all who provide it, for sunshine and rain and dogs (usually), fall colors, all who work to save the world that God has given us. I’m thankful for the generous giving of our congregation. It is truly a sign of faithfulness and joy in the Lord, and I give thanks for you.
I’m thankful for family, the joy of children, the visit of relatives Lynn and Marge Pemble on her 88th birthday from St. George, Utah—and our son home from Carbondale. I’m grateful for all who lead in service, mission, witness, and caring: the people of our church. I’m thankful for Pastor Matt and all our wonderful staff; and for those who are in a time of life where they receive the care of others—blessings all.
By grace there are those times when the Spirit turns my heart to the real meaning of communion. I say, “Thank you, Lord—for You!” Or as King David said more eloquently, “Every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever.”