- INTRO: Days of Anguish Days of Hope
*Robert Preston Taylor
-Chaplain Robert Taylor was stationed in the Philippians in 1941 when the Japanese invaded.
-He was a part of the infamous Bataan Death March: 80K pows were force marched, beaten, bayoneted, starved…almost 30K died on the trail.
-Then were loaded into box cars where more died…in the terrible conditions.
-Then he spent years in an infamous pow camp, where hundreds died per day.
-At one time he was put into a “heat box” to punish him for helping dying prisoners obtain medicine…the box was made of bamboo and was 4 feet high, five feet long and held two prisoners.
-Mosquitoes, maggots, flies swarmed the men…left in the heat, little food or water…many lost their minds…most died.
-Ch Taylor spent two months there…only removed when they thought death was imminent.
-The entire camp prayed round the clock for him…he survived.
-His survival brought a revival to camp, opened many hearts to the gospel.
-He was later put into a cargo ship and taken to Japan, which resembled the conditions of slave ships…many died from lack of food, water, air.
-He finally survived…death march, imprisonment, deadly sickness, and death at sea to return home and find that his wife had waited for 4 years but had been told Ch Taylor had died…She had remarried just one month earlier…Ch Job.
*Ch Taylor went on to become the AF chief of chaplains…continued to love God and people well.
*This month we are going to look at Thanksgiving from the Psalms.
*The context of the Psalm we are going to look at today is likely the Babylonian exile and the return…because of ongoing national sin, the people were defeated and deported into modern day Iraq.
*It is a Psalm of Thanksgiving that flows from God’s rescue of his people from a variety of circumstances.
*I used Ch Taylor’s story because he was rescued from the whole gambit of circumstances mentioned in this Psalm…death march, prison, danger at sea, deadly illness.
*But also because it opens up some questions as we think about and practice giving thanks.
- Why did Ch Taylor survive when so many didn’t? Survivor guilt can be a real problem. It can be difficult for men in his situation to feel grateful when they feel so guilty.
- How are we to be thankful for what we have when there is so much suffering in the world…for some there is a sense of guilt for being grateful when so many have so little.
- Can we hope for temporal things? Should we? Health, Relationships, food, comfort… Our one sure hope is eternal. If we dare hope for temporal things aren’t we being set up for disappointment.
-All temporal hopes are temporary hopes…so shouldn’t we avoid putting our hopes there at all.
- How do we go about being thankful? What should our gratitude encompass?
*”Terry, you are making this way to complicated.”
*I don’t think so…for many people, thanksgiving(the action not the Holiday) can feel hollow for these and other reasons.
*Unreflective thanksgiving can actually set people up for disappointment…and in the long term, undermine, rather than build an enduring faith.
*So we go the Psalms…to consider Thanksgiving.
*Thanksgiving that flows from difficult situations.
*Its a long Psalm so let me give you the likely backstory so you can listen with it in mind.
*Israel had been taken into captivity by the Babylonians(because they had, for many years, rebelled against God).
*Then after the Persians defeated the Babylonians, many were allowed to return to their homeland.
*But this was still a very difficult time…along with their memories of great difficulty…many had not survived the ordeal.
*So the Psalmist is going to outline a variety of tough situations and God’s rescue from them…followed by encouragement to give thanks for the ways that God comes through for people.
- EXPO: AMY
Psa. 107:1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever. 2 Let the redeemed of the LORD say this — those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, 3 those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south. 4 Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle. 5 They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away. 6 Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. 7 He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle. 8 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, 9 for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. 10 Some sat in darkness and the deepest gloom, prisoners suffering in iron chains, 11 for they had rebelled against the words of God and despised the counsel of the Most High. 12 So he subjected them to bitter labor; they stumbled, and there was no one to help. 13 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. 14 He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains. 15 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, 16 for he breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron. 17 Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities. 18 They loathed all food and drew near the gates of death. 19 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. 20 He sent forth his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave. 21 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men. 22 Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy. 23 Others went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters. 24 They saw the works of the LORD, his wonderful deeds in the deep. 25 For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. 26 They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. 27 They reeled and staggered like drunken men; they were at their wits’ end. 28 Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. 29 He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. 30 They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven. 31 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men. 32 Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people and praise him in the council of the elders. (End here)
*What did you hear?
- Desert wanderers…death march.
*Desert was a place to cross through, not a place to aimlessly wander in.
*No place for protection or provision…supplies run out quickly.
*This was what was called the “second Exodus” the return from exile after being in Babylon
*We don’t want to turn this into allegory…when everything has some hidden meaning.
*However, its not a stretch to say this desert wandering is both literal and spiritual in nature.
*They were wandering through trackless physical deserts because they had wandered from God spiritually.
*Then God heard and answered their prayers…he lead them to a city, he provided shelter, food, drink.
*The Psalmist said therefore give thanks…for food, drink, shelter…appropriate things to give thanks for.
8 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, 9 for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. (this is physical as well as spiritual)
*Sitting in darkness and deepest gloom, prisoners suffering in iron chains.
*They were in this situation because of their rebellion against God.
*Nonetheless when they cried to God for help…he saved them from their distress.
*So again give thanks…for freedom…physical and other forms.
*15 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, 16 for he breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron.
- The Sick
*In this case they are sick because of sin.
*Perhaps because their sin had lead them into situations that were prone to disease.
*When large numbers of people are exiled and interned into crowded conditions…disease is likely to be prevail.
*So their sin led them to these situations.
*They were so ill they “loathed food”…this happens to the very sick and those on death’s door.
*But again, God heard them and healed them…kept them from death.
*So give thanks for physical health, for healing of all kinds.
21 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men. 22 Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy.
- Finally, Sailors on the sea
*Here is a completely different scenario…some sailors just going about their business.
*Engaged in commerce when storms struck their ships…threating their lives and their livelihood.
*Again, not to turn this into pure analogy…but the Psalmist does paint this as a real situation with spiritual realities.
*These men going about their day to day lives…doing business as usual…encountered the greatness of God in the form of the raging ocean.
*No evidence of judgment on sin…just opportunity to remember God’s greatness in the normal routines of their lives…routines that quickly became non-routine.
*Their lives and livelihoods were at stake.
*As a result of their peril their courage melted…they were at their wits end…they were brought to the end of themselves.
*Very often God’s severe mercy uses difficulty to separate us from our illusions of self-sufficiency.
*Then they cried out to the Lord and he rescued them.
*They were thankful for safety…calm seas…a return to normal living.
31 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men. 32 Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people and praise him in the council of the elders.
*The right response for their rescue was thanks to God…public, not just private thanks.
*We talk the most about what we think about the most…our affections are revealed in our discussions.
*Elections, hobbies, sports, houses, diets, movies…kids, grandkids, vacations.
*Please don’t misunderstand me…I am not opposed to talking or thinking about these things.
*My point is simply that when the minority of what comes from our mouths should be the majority of what is in our hearts…we should pay attention to this.
*Thanksgiving is not just personal, it is public…its important to take every opportunity to “boast about what God has done for us.”
*Not in weird or obnoxious ways…but simply to remember to tell people when God has answered a prayer or made a provision.
*If you have children…remember to tell them when God has given cause for Thanksgiving…talk about it out loud…they many hear you grip about something…be sure they hear you giving thanks about all your are thankful for.
*France has a principle called “laicite”(lay e cetee)…that both believers and unbelievers have widely accepted.
*It is a basic disdain for public displays of religion…keep all belief private…it has no place in the public space.
*Humans are inherently religious…even in secular France.
*We should not wear people out with testimony, or awkwardly throw “God” into our conversations
*However, what is in us, will in fact come out us.
*We need to pay attention carefully to whether thanksgiving is “in” our hearts…if it is, it is going to be coming out of our mouths.
*This constantly challenges me when I listen to what I am saying and realize how little of it is thanksgiving.
Some initial points to ponder from our Psalm
- Opportunities for Thanksgiving often flow from difficult circumstances.
- Opportunities for Thanking are revealed in a wide variety of circumstances
- Thanksgiving is appropriate for temporal blessings…not just eternal ones.
- Thanksgiving is appropriate for the things God does in our own lives…regardless of what he does or doesn’t do in the lives of others.
*Last month we looked at how emotions like: anger, envy, despair can signal misplaced hopes.
*Ultimately our hope is in Christ…the gospel.
*Heb 6:19 “This hope is the anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”
*But hope has a scale…there is no sense in scripture that we are not to have any hope other than eternal ones.
*This is an area where balance is important, and imbalance…easy to fall into.
*One imbalance is to believe the temporal is everything or the main thing.
*The other is to believe the temporal is really nothing…only the spiritual really matters.
*The balance, of course, is that the temporal is not everything and it is not nothing. (sorry English majors)
*This has implications for Thanksgiving…hope fulfilled is what we are thankful for…small or large
*When what we hope for, happens…we are thankful…or should be.
*Let’s look at the balance in Scripture.
- The Physical is nothing
*There was an imbalance that crept into the 1st century and blossomed in the 2nd…later called Gnosticism.
*All matter is evil, only spirit is good.
*All physical pleasure is sin…so no thanks giving for anything “non spiritual” in nature.
1Tim. 4:1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,
*Here Paul uses the examples of marriage and certain kinds of food…but it could be any number of temporal pleasures or hopes.
*Paul says to those who say these temporal things are not to be enjoyed…”Nonsense, God made these things good and they should be received as good…with Thanksgiving.”
- The Physical is everything
*In the same letter Paul addresses those who are using spiritual positions for personal gain.
*He addresses the other side of the spectrum…they were over valuing the temporal, because they under valued the eternal.
1Tim. 6:6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.
*Being content with God IS great gain.
*We brought nothing with us at birth, we will take nothing with us at death.
*But if we have food and clothing…let’s be content with that.
*He is outlining a spectrum of hope.
*Be content with and grateful for what God provides…you don’t need all that you think you do.
*In fact people driven by the desire for more and more ruin their lives.
*Be content with God…by being content with what God provides.
*So Hope and corresponding gratitude have a scale.
*If we keep hope ordered…then our ultimate hope, empowers lesser hopes…and thanksgiving for those hopes fulfilled.
*When I was a child…I began to dream of Christmas gifts early in the fall.
-I cut out magazine pictures.
-Wrote my lists
-Christmas Eve…I couldn’t sleep…my folks would finally give up sometimes at 4:30 in the morning or earlier.
*Christmas would come and go…as would the toys and candy.
*I would be let down in the days that followed…but not enough to keep me from that same hope the next year.
*So was this a misplaced hope?
*No, it was a childish hope.
*It was a small hope that taught me some things about hope and about thanksgiving.
*Small hopes are gifts from God…they are enjoyable parts of life.
*Hopes for an event with family, to enjoy a hobby, enjoy a meal, or sleep.
*Hopes for a family, or a raise, or a kiss, or a warm day or health.
*These are gifts from God…when we experience the fulfillment of hope…the response is gratitude…thanksgiving.
*When we don’t…there is sadness, loss…this is life.
*Here’s where the gospel becomes very important.
*Let’s use the example of hope for the most basic thing: life.
*We want to live…we want those we love to live.
*Exceptions: the very depressed, the very old, the very ill.
*When we are quite old and ready to go…wanting to be in heaven is normal…our hopes have all become eternal…the scale is very short.
*When a person is quite ill and not going to survive and ready to go…the mental transition to heaven is normal…they are not interested in planning a vacation, or a retirement account, or in the election…their world has shrunk down to right here, right now…and what is next…their hope has all transitioned to eternity.
*For the very depressed…they can focus on death because they have lost all temporal hope…this is not a good thing…it is something that people need help to deal with appropriately…help to not take their own life…to regain temporal hope…because they are still in need for hope on scale.
*But for most of us…we want to live and we want those we love to live.
*Yet, we know that death is inevitable…it has the potential to rob any moment of joy…because all temporal hopes that are being fulfilled…moments full of thanksgiving…are under the shadow of time.
*Moments in time do not last.
*We enjoy our loved ones…but death can threaten our joy…in fact the possibility of death is always an unwelcome guest at every event for which we are thankful.
*Here is where hope on a biblical scale fits in.
1Th. 4:13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep (euphemism for death), or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.
*We can have lesser hopes, temporal hopes…and be full of thanksgiving when they are fulfilled…without at the same time fearing their inevitible loss.
*Because of the gospel…our ultimate hope cannot be taken…this allows us to fully enjoy lesser hopes.
*I ran last week and was so grateful for legs, lungs, leaves…hows that for alliteration?
*I thought of how the day will come when I cannot run (unless I die running and wake up in heaven).
*But I am thankful for health…then I will likely not have it for a time…then it will return again…therein is my ultimate hope.
*We can have temporal hopes and enjoy them for as long as God gives them…and mourn them when they pass…without being undone by the loss…sad, overwhelmed…yes…but not undone.
*Perplexed, hard pressed…but not undone.
*Because of our ultimate hope, the anchor for our soul…is fixed and cannot be taken.
*Paul Comegys: Hopes for the Holiday.
-Many at our house
-A few at his own
-Many more back at our house
*He enjoyed hope and was full thanksgiving when hope was fulfilled and experienced sadness when it was not.
*But he was not undone in the end.
*There was about 6 months…were he sat on my couch and considered suicide at times.
*But his largest hope eventually overtook the loss of a very significant but smaller hope.
- Why did Ch Taylor survive and so many didn’t?
*Chaplain Taylor didn’t survive…he is gone now…has been for many years.
*No one survives.
*He lived a few years longer than his friends…
*They all had the same opportunity for faithfulness with their stewardship.
- How are we to be thankful for what we have when there is so much suffering in the world?
-Some with much are the least happy and some with little are the happiest.
-We often don’t really know how to measure who is blessed and who is not.
-Each person has his or own story with God.
*John 21:21 Peter was given a clue as to the “kind of death by which he would glorify God.”
-Peter asked Jesus about John…”What about him?”
-Jesus replied…”He is not your concern, you must follow me.”
*We cannot look around and spend our energy wondering why others have it better or worse.
*We are called to “follow him” in our own stories…stewardships.
*This will involve…caring for and loving others as we have opportunity.
*No one who is suffering is helped by our questioning God about their suffering.
*By many are helped in their suffering when we obey God and love them in his name.
- Can we hope for temporal things? Should we? Health, Relationships, food, comfort…
*Of course we can, we should…and thanks giving is the result of hopes fulfilled.
*I hope for lunch today…I look forward to it.
*I hope for Christmas with my kids and grandkids…I look forward to it.
*But I have not placed my final hopes in lunch or Christmas.
*We can have all kinds of hopes and all kind of Thanksgiving…but we have to keep our hopes ordered.
- How do we go about being thankful? What should our gratitude encompass?
*Between now and Thanksgiving here’s a way you can practice the spectrum of hope/thanksgiving.
- Small hopes:
-Practice thanksgiving for daily bread this week.
-Engage in more than a perfunctory prayer before meals…maybe linger and give an after meal prayer…for a small hope fulfilled (its in your tummy)
-Practice large thanksgiving for small hopes fulfilled.
- Larger Hopes
-Pick 2 things a day that are bit larger than a single meal.
-Health (such as it is), Home, Job, Car, Friend, Child.
-Express thanksgiving for this gift from God…pick different ones different days.
- Largest Hope
-Daily this week, reflect on the gospel.
-The fact that you have an anchor for your soul that allows you to be grateful for all lesser gifts of God without giving in to fear of losing them.
*That’s why this “final hope” is our life anchor…it keeps us from drifting on the rocks.
**Final question: Can you be fully grateful, thankful…without all your questions being fully answered?
*I pray that you can and will be…unanswered questions can be a barrier to thanksgiving…but they do not have to be.
*Considering the gospel can help with this…God’s clearest answer was Christ on the cross.
*When we have seen this great display of love, we can, if we will…trust him with the current unknowns of our lives…and be thankful.