Let me give you a quick introduction. I’m Lori. I’m a preacher’s kid. And as most preachers’ kids do, so did I. I rebelled. I walked away from God and the Church and His will for my life. I was about 25 years old. And while I searched for what I thought I wanted out of life, in a very rebellious super-woman / “I can handle it myself” / no-i-don’t-need-your-advice kind of way, Christ ignored my attitude and continued to shower me with His love… in spite of my stupid, thoughtless, selfish, careless rebellion.
Some of you have already heard/read my full testimony… but I will briefly share that in HIS perfect timing, I eventually returned to His fellowship and into an amazing Church (after years of prayerful tears on my parents’ part, I’m sure).
All of that to say, I was redeemed by a loving God and He saved me from some ridiculous craziness … and in doing so He renewed His call on my life.
However, there’s still a bit of a rebellious streak in me. I owe my Mom a big “thank you” for encouraging that streak. You see, my Dad (the Norwegian, a second born) follows rules to the” T”. My Mom (a Bohemian, the middle child) pushes the envelope… all.the.time.
I share what I do about that rebellious streak because it might help you understand why, at Christmas time, I like to focus on Thanksgiving.
I know, bear with me… I do recognize that it’s December. And that we just finished with Thanksgiving. I’m sure we’ve all taken down and packed up the pilgrims and pumpkins and Pinterest projects… and I’m sure quite a lot of us have already replaced those items with garland and greenery and glitter. Right?!
Nevertheless, I’m still insisting that we take some time to ponder thanksgiving. Not the holiday… rather the feeling, the action. I’d like to present a letter from the Apostle Paul to the church of Philippi and we’re going to take a look at gratitude, rejoicing, being merry…
How many of you have enjoyed the task of doing a “Thankful Tree” during the month of November?
The premise behind the Thankful Tree is to write out a tag every day during the month of November, one thing every day you’re thankful for.
Here are a few of my thankful tags from this year’s Thankful Tree…
- I’m thankful for coffee.
- I’m thankful for my studio, my creative space.
- I’m thankful for afternoon naps.
- I’m thankful for God’s creative gifts.
- I’m thankful for laughter.
- I’m thankful for catching up with long time friends.
But on some of the tags I wrote Bible verses: Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
That verse gets me every time. What an inspiring challenge!
It’s this verse that brings about the inspiration for this thanksgiving topic at Christmas time. Let’s take some time to look at the history and context of Paul’s words… let’s put ourselves in his shoes, uh “sandals”, and contemplate where he was coming from when he wrote this letter. And we will further understand why it is still relevant … why it is so important to us today.
Imprisoned Paul was the recipient of a gift delivered by a messenger named Epaphroditus. The church of Philippi sent the messenger to visit Paul in prison, most likely with some letters and gifts and the like. We don’t know much about that visit, or how long it was supposed to last but we do know that soon after the messenger arrived he fell ill. Paul decided to send him back to Philippi with this letter… which is what we know as the book of Philippians.
Philippians was written by Paul while he was imprisoned for preaching the gospel.
Imagine. Here Paul sits… in this dark, dank prison and writes a letter to the Church of Philippi. It wasn’t just a “Hey – how’s it going?” letter… he took the time to send a personal challenge to the Church.
This letter stands out as one of the most personal that Paul wrote. It is joyful in nature. Paul’s immense gratitude towards the church shines through this letter, thanking them for their generous gifts.
Thankfully, Paul wasn’t just talking to the Philippians. His words live on … his beautifully crafted letter continues to admonish and encourage us and offers our church several challenges…
Challenge #1 – Rejoice in everything – verse 4 starts with “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Period.
You see what he did there? He left us with no doubts about what he meant. Period. Always. Not when things are great… or just on Thanksgiving… or when the bonus check comes in… or when there is no conflict with family or friends or co-workers. Paul’s exhortation is very clear… ALWAYS. And then to drive it home he continues, “I will say it again: Rejoice!”
So, what exactly does “rejoice” mean? What are we being held to here? When I look up the word “rejoice” in the dictionary I find several definitions: exult, revel, celebrate, delight, triumph, be glad, be overjoyed, feel happy, jump for joy and be merry.
Paul continues “With Thanksgiving, we can present our requests to God”. Verse 6 says “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
The intriguing thing is, God already knows our requests… before we even utter the words. And I believe Paul knew that too. So to read this verse I am encouraged to hear Paul, sitting in prison, imaginably in chains… encouraging us to approach God with thanksgiving?
Really? I mean, imagine. And wait until you see what comes next. It’s not so much his words, but his spirit of hope.
Challenge #2 – Paul continues, “Think on these things”. Verse 8 says “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 about such things.”
From Paul, whose very life defined persecution and pain … who suffered for the advancement of the gospel more than you or I will ever understand! This challenge reminds us of how much we truly have to be thankful for… despite our circumstances, despite our position in life, despite our suffering or worries or … well, you get the point.
This is difficult. How often do we get caught up focusing on the problem and then complaining about it to 2 or 10 of our closes friends? How often do we whine about it before we ask God to help us with it? How often do we catastrophize it before we seek God’s will on it?
Yeah, me too!
Let’s look at this from another direction… from a more personal perspective.
I’d like to take a few minutes to compare this to a chapter in my life and our family’s journey through difficult times … which leads to me sharing a bit more about my personal faith experiences. On a couple occasions my Pastor Father was without a church to lead for several months, and that meant no pay check. And we literally lived from miracle to miracle.
I simply love telling people about these miracles!
One morning, short on money, and with a mostly empty food pantry… someone left bags of groceries on our doorstep; anonymously… we never knew who left them. On another occasion we found a check in an envelope, stuck to the wind shield of our car overnight, in our driveway… again anonymously… written for the exact amount of the house payment. Even as a kid I somehow understood that was God taking care of us…
And I think back on that summer when my Dad was in between churches… we were living in San Luis Obispo at the time. I think I was 7 years old. In between his part-time job at a local gas station and interviews he took the time to help me and my brother build a tree fort in our backyard.
We found scrap pieces of wood, and rope and cardboard and blocks… and right there in the corner of the yard, between the fence and the palm tree, we built a kingdom the size of Disneyland! Or at least that’s how it felt to the 7 and 4 year old kids who soaked up every minute with Dad that summer.
To this day I still reminisce about those times… and I often remind my family that some of my favorite memories were built that summer.
Sure we were struggling financially, but we had what we needed.
We had what we needed because God met every last one of those needs… the tangible and intangible. And we learned the meaning of rejoicing, being merry.
Like Mary and Joseph did in the barn, they were in a position to do nothing but trust God in those moments when they were in need. They were led to a faith deeper than they thought possible. They didn’t understand the reasoning behind having to be HERE for Christ’s birth. They didn’t understand why God could “allow” this to happen.
But they obeyed. They made the best of the situation they were in and found that they were indeed protected from the elements in that shelter and had exactly what they needed.
They were among the barn animals, sitting and sleeping upon hay … and while it wasn’t the royal delivery most people would think of for a King, it is exactly how God wanted the birth of Christ to look … and God, in His sovereignty, showed them His provisions.
In fact, these humble surroundings were perfectly suited for the Son of Man.
As we move through the holidays with our intent on BEING MERRY we live out our thankfulness for the Nativity story by showing God’s love to others. Let me give a challenge to each of us to focus on His light in this dark world and continue to share His enduring love.
That’s better than the alternative, isn’t it?
So to summarize, in each of our own unique ways, God wants to use our MERRY.
As we focus on that which is TRUE, whatever is NOBLE, whatever is RIGHT, whatever is PURE… those things that are LOVELY and ADMIRABLE… we are challenged to live out Paul’s challenge to BE MERRY.
Who’s with me in this?
I want to share one more verse that I just discovered. As I study the word I often look up a passage in a number of translations on www.biblegateway.com. You can quickly pick, from a drop down menu, which translation you want to read and the verse switches right over for you. So, I like this verse… but I really like it in The Message translation. It really drives home a special challenge to BE MERRY this Christmas season.
So to wrap up, I leave you with this challenge from Psalms as we head into the holidays…
“Thank God! Pray to Him by name! Tell everyone you meet what He has done! Sing Him songs, belt out hymns, translate His wonders into music! Honor His holy name with Hallelujahs, you who seek God. Live a happy life! Keep your eyes open for God, watch for His works; be alert for signs of His presence. Remember the world of wonders He has made, His miracles, and the verdicts He’s rendered – O seed of Abraham, His servant, O child of Jacob, His chosen.” Psalm 105:1-6 (The Message)