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A life practicing Thanksgiving

Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Psalm 111:1 ESV

I'm still in awe and ever so grateful because of God's amazing grace that saved a wretch like me. And I am not the only one.

A month ago, I asked one of the men who is still serving time in a federal prison in Oregon to share a exhortation about thanksgiving. This is from an inmate by the name of Leslie, or as he likes to be referred to, Unko Les. He is about 70 years old. Over the last couple of years he was told that he was going to be released early due to his age just to be denied at the last minute. This has happened numerous times. And this is what he writes,

I am so grateful and give thanks to him everyday and when I go to the Cross two thousand years ago, I picture Jesus nailed to the cross with blood dripping down, looking down at me, in 1979, with a needle in my arm. And in love, saying, I love you and I will die for you so that you may live. As Paul wrote in Romans 5:8, "But God demonstrated his own love towards us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us." (Me)

Today, I realize that I don't deserve anything and whatever comes my way, good or bad, is by the grace of God. All I deserve is death, which Christ swallowed up in victory at the resurrection.

That's why I shout, praise the Lord all the time with all my heart, for this is all I can do to bless him in worship. And whenever I start feeling down, broken, and contrite I start singing the old Maranatha favorite, "Give thanks".

Give thanks with a grateful heart,

Give thanks to the holy One,

Give thanks because he has given, Jesus Christ his son.

And now, let the weak say I am strong,

Let the poor say I am rich,

Because of what the Lord has done, for us. Give thanks.

Paul is one of the main writers of the New Testament and he also pen the majority of his ministry while in prison. This is the same man so zealous for the Jewish faith, he ripped families apart as he sent men and women to prison. He is also the writer that reminds the followers of Christ, including you and I, to give thanks to God as a regular part of our life.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. Philippians 1:3-5 ESV

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 ESV

And Paul also practiced what he preach. In Acts 16, Paul and Silas had just been beaten and thrown in prison for casting out a spirit from a slave girl who made her masters A LOT of money by telling fortunes. Luke says that she kept trailing Paul and the rest of the group for days and constantly saying, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17).

She just was speaking the truth. But Paul was getting annoyed. His casting out the spirit was not for her benefit. He just wanted to shut her up. As a result, Paul and Silas were stripped and beaten with rods before being thrown into prison. Their beating was by the Romans, so we can imagine the brutality that was afflicted on them. Their backside was raw and blistered.

Then they were placed in the "inner prison." This was maximum security which meant that they were placed in stocks and forced to remain in a seated position on their brutalized backsides. If they had to use the bathroom, they had to relieve themselves where they sat. They were prisoners. They had no rights. It was worlds away from how I was treated when I was in prison.

The pain had to be excruciating and impossible for them to sleep or find any comfortable position. So the response with their pain and their discomfort and their current situation was not to complain but to praise God. Luke tells that "about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. And all of the prisoners were listening" (Acts 16:25). That verse was the inspiration for the logo for our Radical Behind Bars newsletter.

However, in the middle of all of this suffering, Paul was praising God with his companion, Silas. Please understand that the ability to praise God like this is impossible without first being thankful to God.

So, how can I do that when there does not seem to be much to be thankful for, especially in these current times. As I read the Scriptures, I think I found a recipe for a life of thanksgiving. It also happens to be from the Apostle Paul, himself.

The recipe for a life of thanks living that I found is in Ephesians 5:17-21.

17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:17-21 ESV

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Looking back on my life in Christ, one of my earliest prayers was for God to show me his will for my life. I am confident that many of us have prayed and may still be praying for the knowledge of God’s will for our life. However, all of this pandemic and fear that surrounds us distracts us from our purpose. In Matthew 28:18 we are told to make disciples.

Yet, we are easily distracted. That includes all of us, me, your pastor, from the most mature christian all the way down to the newest follower of Jesus. And all of these distractions rob us of our joy and infects our willingness to give thanks.

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.

We are too easily satisfied with filling ourselves with the “wine” of the world. In English, there is another word that sounds like “wine”, and that is the word “whine”.

When someone is “whining”, that means that they are constantly complaining. An example is a child who is denied a piece of candy at the store by his mother. To someone watching, that child’s whole life just came to an end when you hear their endless complaining. To anyone watching, that child is acting foolish.

However, if this was that same child’s birthday, being denied that piece of candy would be almost meaningless because of the anticipation of the celebration that is waiting for him later that day. Being filled with the very Spirit of God can make any disappointment an opportunity for praise. That is NOT the natural state of man and that is why we desperately need the indwelling of the supernatural filling of the presence of God. We need that constant filling every moment of every day.

addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,

Verse 19 gives us the recipe for the perpetual filling of the Spirit of God. Being in fellowship with one another in the family of God is music to the ears of God, and it does miracles in raising the spirit and attitude in us and others.

During the day, I try to sign people up for free cell phones. You might think that would be simple but most days it is difficult just to make ends meet. However, as the person is waiting for the approval for their phone, I have a captive audience. When I am able share that I write to men in prison and what Christ has done for me, my depression turns to joy. My attempt to just survive the day has turned into a victory as I recount the mercy of God on my life.

giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

To give thanks IN all circumstances is hard enough, but to always give thanks FOR everything seems impossible. However, if the bible says that, and it is in the form of a command, then there has to be a way to make that a reality in my life. How can I give thanks to God FOR the fact that I have not seen my children in almost 20 years. It was not simple but I grew to give thanks that God was working in my life. I longed for a reunion with my children, but I was going to focus on becoming that godly man that would be the spiritual leader and moral example for my family again. On October 9th, 2021 I just reunited with my oldest son, Abraham. While God will bless us abundantly, that does not always happen in our timing or by our standards.

submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

We are the family of God and each one of us are image bearers of God. Sharing the Lord’s Supper together is meaningless if we are not living in humility with one another. In John 13:35, Jesus tells us that the world will know that we are his disciples by our loving actions toward each other. Serving each other is worship to God, too. It is a fantastic way to allow the Holy Spirit to flow unobstructed through you to others.

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7

In closing, by being grounded and growing in our faith in Christ, we can really have this level of thanksgiving in our always. But the main reason we can actually live a life of thanksgiving, or Thanks Living more and more to God is because of the victory Jesus Christ gives us every day.

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:57

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