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For six weeks I'm featuring the full text of my latest sermon series below.
The Divine Elephant

Reason Enough
for Embracing Today
Part 4
"Thanksgiving Day Is Every Day"
Delivered the weekend of January 31 & February 1

            There are a few important lessons that we try over and over again to teach our children and grandchildren.  We give one of these lessons when someone gives the child something.  We say to the child, “What do you say?”  Most children learn the routine and reply without hesitation, “Thank you.”  Gratitude is one of the fundamental values that we want to instill in our children.  Those of us who are older also need to be reminded occasionally that it's good to say “Thank you,” especially in the broader sense of going through each day with an attitude of gratitude.
            A university research project focused on determining how important gratitude and thanksgiving are for a fulfilling life.  Some participants in the study were asked to practice daily gratitude exercises such as keeping a list of things they were grateful for.  Others were asked to keep a list of bad things that happened to them, and a third group — the control group — were not told to do anything different.  The group that practiced daily gratitude “reported higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy.” (Radical Gratitude, Ellen Vaughn, p.46) You just feel better when you make a practice of giving thanks, finding reasons to regularly express gratitude! 

The Ultimate Expression of Gratitude
What determines how thankful we are in a given situation?  There are two factors.  One is the importance of the good thing that happened to us.  Was it something minor, major, or in between?  The second factor is the importance of the person who does the good thing.  If a girl really likes a guy and he gives her a single rose, she would probably be very grateful.  Though the gift was small, the giver is very important to her, so she feels very grateful.  On the other hand, a perfect stranger could pull you out of snowdrift and you'd be very grateful, even though the person meant little to you, because it was a big favor that the person did.  The best-case scenario is when someone really important to you does something really important for you.  That's a formula for great gratitude!
            This message is the fourth in our series of six messages with the theme “The Divine Elephant: Reason Enough for Embracing Today.”  We often use the phrase “the elephant in the room” to refer to a situation that shouldn't be ignored.  If God is the biggest and most important of anything that exists — and He is — He should make all the difference in the world to us.  If He’s the creator and sustainer and if — as the history and teaching in the Bible show — He wants to personally relate to us, nothing should be more important to us than God.  No one does anything more important than God does, so there’s no one we should be more grateful to than God!  Because God is supposed to be (if we don’t ignore the Divine Elephant in the room) a big part of our days, we should see every day as Thanksgiving Day!
            It has to be a sad experience for an atheist to view a beautiful sunset and have no one to thank for it.  I really feel sorry for people of no faith, or even those people who believe but usually ignore the Divine Elephant, when Thanksgiving Day comes.  Everyone, the media included, talks about being thankful, but often it isn’t made clear whom we should thank.  If the universe is here by chance and everything exists by some random, mindless, purposeless process, there’s no one to thank!  No wonder it’s called Turkey Day!
            By ignoring the Divine Elephant in the room, we miss our best and biggest opportunity to be thankful.  Thanksgiving to God is the ultimate expression of gratitude.  When it comes to God, there’s a lot that we can be grateful for.  We can join the psalmist in declaring, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (Psalm 107:1)
            In fact, the phrase “give thanks” in reference to God is in the Bible 33 times; it's that important!  If we aren’t going to ignore the Divine Elephant in the room, we should regularly express gratitude and live with a thankful attitude toward Him.

Gratitude When Life's Not Great
As pastor to several hundred people, I'm made aware every day — and often many times each day — of the tremendous problems that people are dealing with.  It's staggering!  Gathered in our three worship services this weekend are people facing debilitating illnesses, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, alienated relationships, financial struggles, cuts in medical benefits, and on and on.
            I considered all of this as I studied God's Word.  After all, it's hard to express gratitude when life isn’t good.  The reality is that life's never perfect, though sometimes it’s a lot harder than other times.  The question is whether we can be thankful while we’re in the shadow of the hard things in our lives. 
Let me share something that the apostle Paul wrote while he was in a far-from-ideal position.  In fact, he was under arrest for having preached about Jesus.  He referred to his incarceration as “my chains.” (Philippians 1:14)  In his letter to the Philippian Christians Paul stated, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)  Even in the midst of our troubles as we bring our burdens to the Lord, crying out to Him for help, we should have an undercurrent of thanksgiving flowing through us because God is good and we’re able to go to Him with all of the difficulties in our lives!
            We can't always be thankful for the circumstances we face, but we can always be thankful to God for being with us in those circumstances!  I like to remember three of the many qualities or characteristics that God possesses for which I'm eternally grateful.  I'm grateful that He’s all-loving, all-wise, and all-powerful.  He’s all-loving: that is, He’s all good and wants what’s ultimately best for me.  He’s wise and knows what’s ultimately best for me.  He’s all-powerful and can do what’s ultimately best for me.  We can take our requests to Him with thanksgiving, trusting and believing that His love, wisdom, and power will ultimately work in our favor and to His glory.
            Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German minister and theologian who was teaching in the
United States during World War 2.  He decided to go back to Germany and join the resistance movement against Hitler.  He was arrested and incarcerated in the Flossenburg concentration camp, where he was executed by hanging just three weeks before the liberation by the Russians.
            An English officer who was imprisoned with him said, “Bonhoeffer always seemed to me to spread an atmosphere of happiness and joy over the least incident and profound gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive.” (The Life You've Always Wanted, John Ortberg, p.72)  I dare say that if the apostle Paul and Dietrich Bonhoeffer could find reason enough to give thanks while they were incarcerated for trying to do good, we can certainly find reason to give thanks to God in the midst of whatever we're facing!
            There are always pluses and minuses in life, including jobs, health, finances, and close relationships.  Maybe you can find something to be thankful for but can also see things that you don’t like and aren’t thankful for.  When it comes to God and our relationship with Him, there’s nothing on the minus side!  Our greatest gratitude is reserved for God Himself!  As Ellen Vaughn stated in her book Radical Gratitude, our gratitude “is relational, rather than conditional.”  We can't always be thankful for the conditions we face, but we can always be thankful for being able to relate to God in those conditions!  Actually, it’s often during difficult times that we grow closer to God and deepen our faith in Him.  We can declare with the psalmist, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.  My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.” (Psalm 28:7)  We can be grateful to God even when things aren’t great! 

Practicing Gratitude
If we're determined not to ignore the Divine Elephant in our lives, we should be able to express gratitude toward Him every day.  There’s so much we can be grateful to God for!
            We started out by talking about teaching children to show gratitude.  I like the way the great Christian writer G.K. Chesterton put it: “If my children wake up on Christmas morning and have somebody to thank for putting candy in their stocking, have I no one to thank for putting two feet in mine?” (Can Man Live Without God?, Ravi Zacharias, p.88)
            The other day I heard the term “rubbernecking” used in reference to an accident on the freeway.  As they drove by the accident people were “rubbernecking,” as the news reporter said: they were slowing down and gawking.  I suggest that we ought to be “rubbernecking” throughout our days — not at a disaster, but at the often seemingly-small reasons for being delighted.  Let’s look for reasons to gawk with gratitude!
            Why not practice being thankful throughout the day?  When we get up in the morning, thank God for something.  At
noon during lunch, thank Him for something again.  At dinnertime, pause to give thanks.  At bedtime, express gratitude to Him again!
            If God is God — if God IS — that should make all the difference in the world to us!  Remember that if you've turned your life over to Him, you have a relationship with Him.  You have Him and much of His goodness every day!
            The Bible reminds us that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)  Just as a parent says to a child when he receives a gift, I ask each of us — as children of the Heavenly Father who have received many good gifts from Him — “What do you say?”

            Our response should be, “Thank you!”

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