Be Thankful

Be Thankful

Be thankful for Community and Christ

I’ll tell you what, through good times and bad times, sadness and sorrow, ups and downs, He’s good all the time and man He’s a good good Father who loves us and cares for us. God desires the best for us, all for His glory and to bring honor and glory to His Name, that is for sure.  We can be thankful that we serve a good good Father, right?  We can be thankful that through the most difficult circumstances we have Him, He knows what we’re going through. He’s been through what we’re going through and He never leaves us nor forsake us.

Now, I don’t know about you, but there have been times in my life where I found it hard to be thankful.  Think about it for a second. Those times in your life when you’ve gone through something and just in the midst of it, it was so hard to say thank you.  I was thinking about this sermon on Christmas morning as I watched my kids open their presents and TJ goes, “it’s the best Christmas ever!”  I got to thinking what would he have said if he would have gotten a lump of coal in that box?  “This is not a good Christmas, ever.  It’s the worst Christmas ever!”  We have times where it’s hard to give thanks. We have times where it’s hard for us to be joyful or to be happy, and for some of us were looking for the future blessings.  If my kids just would behave better, I’d be really grateful.  New Year’s resolution.  When I lose weight and build muscles.  When I have a flat stomach and big biceps, I’m going to be thankful, right? Anybody in my boat with that?  I saw one hand go up.  That’s important. Some of us are like I’ll be so thankful when remote education is over. That’s where all the students go, yes, yes!!  Did you ever think students?  Did you ever think you would say I will be so thankful when I can actually go back to school every day?  When you think about it, you’re like. I’ll be so thankful when I’m out of school and I’ll be so thankful to get back into school.

We find these things, it’s hard to be thankful. We have experiences in our life, and if we’re troubled, we just can’t think of anything to be thankful for.  Now, maybe you’re a super critical person.  Now, I’m not going to make you raise your hand on that one. I can be at times, a super critical person where no matter what happens, I see the bad.   Right?  You can relate to that.  No matter what happens, I find it really hard to see the good and I’m always going to see the bad.

Then you have the complete opposite, which are these super-duper, hyper, happy people.  I mean, you know the people I’m talking, they get on your nerves. I mean, let’s just be honest and real. The super-duper, happy thankful, they get back into somebody’s car in the parking lot, jump out and say praise Jesus. You know they would find the good.

Now you say why are you saying all that? Well to say this, we’re starting a series of sermons called Advancing the Gospel Together. The Apostle Paul writes a letter to this church in Philippi.  It’s really a friendship letter. It’s a letter to his friends, but here’s what makes it interesting to me. Paul’s writing while he’s in prison.  He’s in prison for his faith. He’s locked up, he’s in chains. He’s probably in prison in Rome, but it’s possible he’s writing in a house prison in Ephesus. But either way, he is chained up and he is in prison.  Now, I don’t know about you, but if it was me and I was in prison, I would probably be sitting there thinking, “why is this happening to me?”  I would be focused on all the things that I had lost, all the things that I’m not going to have.  In Paul’s mind, he’s sitting there.  I gotta go on trial. I’m in prison. It’s very likely he’s going to be executed.  Now, just to tell you the end of the story, he’s not executed at this time, but he could be and he doesn’t know that he’s sitting in prison in chains, away from his friends, away from his family expecting to be executed when he’s found guilty. Now I’m not sure I could be thankful for anything in that circumstance. I would probably be saying, “God, I have been faithful. I have proclaimed the Gospel. Why am I here?”  But yet throughout the letter, he writes to this church, we see he takes a completely different attitude. He takes an attitude of thanks. He takes an attitude of joy, and I know if you’ve heard Philippians before, it’s probably been a sermon series on joy and joy is very much a part of Philippians. But Paul’s overreaching theme is, he wants this church to advance the Gospel together. He wants them to be able to unify no matter what their circumstances are and advance the Gospel that he has been advancing together as one church and one body.

So, let’s connect the dots we started in September with Nehemiah.  We saw what God could do when people love God and love people. God help them do and unimaginable, unthinkable thing by building that wall. And it was because they loved God and they loved people. Then we went into the Advent season where my goal was to saturate you with the Gospel message that Jesus loves you. That Jesus died for you.  And now we’re going to tie both of those things together. We’re going to be a people that love God and love people, and we’re going to advance the gospel together.  And so, for the next several weeks, that is what we’re going to look at.

But here’s how Paul opens this letter. He opens it by giving thanks, even though he’s in prison and he gives thanks for really two things. Community and Christ.  In fact, he’s giving thanks because it is Christ who created the community of faith in Philippi.  So I want to just walk through this today. Here’s what he says in Philippians 1:1-9.  “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all God’s people, everybody, to all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers in the deacons.  Grace and peace to you from God and Father in the Lord Jesus Christ.”  This is a typical Pauline style letter from Paul to the Philippians. So, verse three, “I thank my God.”  I love that. That’s how he starts this prayer in these opening versus.  I thank my God, but he’s not praying for things.  He’s not thanking God for stuff. He’s thanking God for people. “I thank my God every time I remember you in all of my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.  Being confident of this that he who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  It is right for me to feel this way about all of you since I have you in my heart and whether I am in chains or defending the Gospel, or confirming the Gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.  And God can testify how I longed for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.”

He starts the letter being thankful for the joy that he finds in community. He talks about this Christ centered partnership that Paul has with this church.  The church in Philippi, more than any other church that Paul planted, has partnered with him and has walked beside him. They’ve prayed for him. They sent him money. What we’ll learn as we read through the book, they even sent a member of the church to check on him while he was in prison.  He’s remembering the joy and when he remembers the church, he’s finding joy in the partnership. Now I want you to picture this.  Paul’s in prison and he’s remembering the church. This church started in Act 16, about 10 years before this letter is written.  I would encourage you to read Acts 16, is kind of your homework.  But I’m just going to summarize it for you. Paul and his group are on their second missionary journey. They’re trying to go to these different places and the Holy Spirit says no, you’re not going there. No, you’re not going there. No, you’re not going there. And then Paul has a vision and he says you need to come here.  And so Paul and his team changed plans drastically. They were going here. We gotta go over here. This is where God wants us to go and they end up in Philippi, one of the most influential cities in the European region. It was called the Little Rome. It looked exactly like Rome. They worship like the Romans. A lot of Roman soldiers were there.  The Ignatian way ran through the center of town. Now you’re thinking, what is the Ignatian Way? It’s I-95.  It is the I-95 that connects Rome to the East. OK, it is the major Metropolitan highway that people traveled. God called this team of missionaries to Philippi to plant a church.  Why?  Because so many people were going to be coming through.  See how God worked through the missionary’s lives?

So, they get there. There’s no synagogue.  They find a small prayer meeting of ladies.  And Paul goes over. He shares the Gospel and Lydia, a really wealthy person, is the first convert to Christianity and Philippi.  She becomes the first member of the church. Then there’s a slave girl.  The slave girls walking around and she’s possessed by a demon. Paul cast out the demon and you know he gets really in trouble for that ’cause people are making money off of this.  You can read that yourself. The second member of the church, slave girl.  And then, while they’re in prison, the walls shake and they’re set free, and a Roman jailer, becomes the third member.  Rich, wealthy girl, slave girl, and Roman jailer.  In what world would those three people ever interact with each other? They wouldn’t.  And so, Paul’s remembering how the Gospel created this community.  How the Gospel created this partnership that is so diverse that the only way they would ever interact with each other is through the Gospel unifying them together.

Now think about this. Look around the room.  If you’re outside, just look around the cars that are outside. We have people from up North who came to this church. We have people from the Midwest who found their way to this church. We have people from Stanley County, Amen, Rodney, where’s he at?   There he is. We have people from Cabarrus County. We have people from Iredell County and Mecklenburg County. We have people from Rowan County.  We have people of different ages, different socio-economic status. We don’t look the same. We don’t act the same and I find myself thinking of what world would all of us ever interact with each other, if it were not for the Gospel bringing us together.

God brought you here to be a part of this community of faith. A partnership that is created by the Gospel for the advancement of the Gospel. You have a gift in a talent that God wants you to use to help this church impact the world for Jesus Christ and we are in partnership. We’re in fellowship with one another.

Now Southern Baptists know how to fellowship, Amen.  You bring the potluck out and we can fellowship.  You go to Bojangles, Bojangles. See I went to Bojangles and I asked her if she wanted something.  Now, if you’re new that was from a sermon a long time ago, but I did that. See, I chased a squirrel. But yeah, we can eat.  Us Baptists know how to eat.  Us millennials, man we go to the coffee shop? We can fellowship around some good coffee.  You get you a cold mocha latte Frappuccino, something, I don’t know, you can fellowship.  But the idea that Paul is joyful about is so much deeper than just hanging out with each other.

DA Carson says it this way. “The partnership that Paul is talking about is a self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision.  A self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision.”  What that means is this. Every family in this church every Sunday school class in this church. Every committee in this church, every ministry; Oasis, men on Mission, Youth and children, and I’m probably forgetting many.  But every ministry of this church, every person, everything is a Great Commission Ministry.  With one vision, we set aside all of our own agendas and we work together, moving in the same direction to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And that brings Paul great joy because this church is done that.   This church has problems. We’ll see it later on. This church has a unity problem, but they have still through 10 years successfully advanced the gospel, and they have worked together.

In my old house, I had a desk.  The desk is probably 1,400 pounds, OK, probably not. It’s probably 400 pounds.  I took it apart one day and I had this bright idea. I didn’t like where it was at in the room. I had this bright idea that I’m going to move this desk to the other side of the room ’cause I wanted to be able to look out the window. Now this was before my neighbors had free range chickens, but anyways it’s fine ’cause I wanted to look out the window so I took this desk apart by myself.  The first piece, no problem, had no problem. I moved it. The top piece and the bookshelves like had no problem. The main part of the desk, which is the 400-pound part, that is where I ran into difficulty ’cause I had to inch it away from the wall far enough so I could fit myself between the desk in the wall and use the wall as kind of a fulcrum. And I bet for an hour I push it. I was pushing as hard as I could. You know how far that thing moved in an hour?  An inch.  I couldn’t pick it up. I couldn’t move it. Then I had the bright idea. Let me take the books out of it. That would have been a smart thing to do. I still couldn’t move it. My dad shows up. I said Dad, I need to move this desk. I can’t do it by myself. It’s too hard.  So he jumps in there and two people move the desk.

Partnership.  Working together to get the job done. That’s what brings Paul joy. Advancing the Gospel in our world today and in that world then is hard work.  I mean it’s next to impossible to do by yourself, but when we do it together, we can be successful.  So Paul says I’ve got this joy in my heart because I remember the partnership that you entered into, the partnership you entered into with me. But I’m also confident in the work of Christ. I’m confident in Christ’s work.  In verse 6 “because I know for a fact that what Jesus started, he’s going to complete.”

You know, as we advance the Gospel, here’s what we need to know. We do not do it under our own power. We do not do it under our own authority. We can’t do it without God’s working and God’s authority. The Great Commission I read at the beginning, all authority in heaven, has been given to Me. And lo, I am with you to the end of the age.  We can do the work Christ has started in this community because we know He is going to complete it.

China Grove First Baptist Church. You got a rich history. You have a rich history of advancing the Gospel and God’s not done with you yet. You know how I know that?  He called me here. He called you here. He’s still calling people here. He’s not done with this church and He promises to complete the work He has started.

But He also started to work in your individual life. He saved you from your sins.  He wants you to grow and to mature and to be more and more like Jesus.  And Paul is confident that the work He started in your life will be completed when Jesus returns.  Folks we should not be the same today as we were yesterday.  And our hope is that we will be different tomorrow than we were today. That is growing in Christian maturity.  That is growing in this knowledge that we know that Christ is working in us and through us to create us, to make us the people that He wants us to be.

Have you ever started a job and not finished it? Any husbands, your wife wanted to do something and you started it and didn’t do it.  What did she say? It’s incomplete.  It’s an incomplete work.  You didn’t finish. Now let’s be honest.  For myself, I usually start it because I think I know how to do it and then I find out halfway through I don’t know how to do it. So the old Andy Griffith show they just called a man. So I have to call the man and he will come and fix it.  Usually he has to tear apart what I did and then redo it the right way.  Or we don’t have the right tools.  And some of us, some of us are just lazy. We just don’t want to do it ’cause it sounds hard.  Or some of us are too busy and so we get incompletes.

In school, if you don’t do an assignment, it’s an incomplete.  I had an incomplete in seminary.  I didn’t think I was going to graduate because of it, ’cause I’d forgotten about it.  So I had to go back and do it and I did it and it went from incomplete to complete. Thank God He never incompletes a task, right? God never gets an incomplete.  If He starts it, He’s gonna finish it. He started something in your life, He is going to finish it.

What Christ did for you is called grace. What God does for us is because of His grace, and because of our faith we are saved. That’s what God does for us. What God does in us is grow us to maturity and that’ll be what we talk about next week. What God does through us is missions and evangelism and advancing the Gospel together? And we can be thankful knowing that God is going to empower us to advance the Gospel together.

But I love how Paul ends it. He’s thankful not only for the partnership, not only the confidence, but he’s thankful for the Christ-centered affection.  Folks, we need to love each other.  We need to love each other. “He says it is right for me to feel this way about you” in verse 7.  “I have you in my heart.”  He goes on to say that God can testify how I longed for all of you with affection.  The word affection is a very intimate word. It’s a word picture.  The Greeks didn’t always have words to describe their emotions, so they used pictures. This is literally I want to be with you and I love you in this feeling deep down in my stomach. It’s from the bottom of my from my guts. I love you.  We say today, I love you with all my heart. It’s the same concept, they just use a different word to describe it. Paul says I long to be with you because I love you from the depths of my soul. Do you love each other from the depths of your soul?

That is what makes Christians so much different than any other faith or any other religion.  It’s the love that we have for each other. The diversity we have in our community is surrounded by this love that we have for our community. When a member of this partnership or community is going through a challenging time, maybe it’s you know cancer. Or maybe it’s Alzheimer’s or heart disease or maybe you lose your job.  When you’re going through these challenging times, the church surrounds you and loves you and cares for you.  Because that’s it’s the love of Jesus that’s in us that overflows to our relationship with others. God loved us enough. Jesus loved us enough to die for our sins. He loves you enough to hang on a cross so you could be forgiven. Jesus says several times and John writes about it in first John they will know us by how we love.

For 300 years the early church was persecuted. They tried to eradicate the Christian faith.  They killed Christians and yet Christianity exploded in the Middle East and in the European world and in Asia. Why? In the midst of the persecution, it explodes because Christians were doing something nobody else was doing. They were loving people.  During the bubonic plague, Christians were doing something nobody else were doing. They were going into those cities and caring for those people, and many of those Christians died.  But they love those people so much that they were going to serve them. They were going to be there with them. Do you love each other and you love people the way Christ has loved us?  The way Paul is talking about a Christ centered affection.  Paul writes in Galatians 2 that we were to share each other’s burden an in this way we obey the Law of Christ.

Are you sharing each other’s burden?  Are you loving like Christ loved and we can be thankful for this?  We can be thankful that Christ created this community of believers. We can be thankful that Christ has brought us into this partnership. We can be thankful that as we go out and spread the Gospel, He’s going to be with us.  That is where we can be thankful for community and Christ.  From his prison cell, Paul prayed a prayer of thanksgiving because of the joy he found in partnership, the confidence in Christ and Christ centered affection.

God has called this church to a mission and thank God we’re not alone.  We can do it together.  One vision.  One purpose.  Advancing the Gospel of Jesus Christ together. Today, if you’ve been visiting this church, if you’re new to this church, I want to invite you to come and join this church.  I want you to pray about whether or not God is calling you to join this community to advance the Gospel with us. It’s not an accident you’ve been visiting. It’s not an accident you’ve been called here. God wants you here. He wants you to be a part of this community. You have a gift that can be used by God here to advance the Gospel.

And church, here’s what I want to invite you to do. I want you and invite you to pray for each other.  During our invitation time, I’m just going to ask you about your heads close your eyes.  We’re just going to pray for each other. We’re going to pray that God would work in our lives that God would help us to continue to be unified as we advance the Gospel, we’re going to pray for lost people in our community.  There’s a lot of houses around this church.  Are all of them saved? I don’t know.  If not, we need to be advancing the Gospel to those houses.  You go to work; you have someone in the office or the cubicle or in the truck next to you. Are they saved?  How can we work together to share the Gospel with them? Pray for them. Pray that God would open up those doors.  Pray for the China Grove Community and the Landis and the Kannapolis and Mooresville and Cabarrus County and Rowan County, the state of North Carolina. Pray that God would use everyone here in such a mighty way that we would impact the world for Jesus.  But it starts with Christ and community.

Let’s pray together, Father. I thank you for this community of believers. I thank you for bringing all of us together to be a part of this family. This partnership. This fellowship.  And Father, You know the needs of our area, You know how we can advance the Gospel, put it on all of our hearts with one voice and one mind and one purpose so that we made together through our committees, through our Sunday School, through our families, through our ministries that we would just advance the Gospel through good times and bad.  Through easy times and hard times.  And Father, we just continue to pray that You would multiply this community, that You would continue to draw people from outside to this church.  That we would be baptizing people and welcoming new believers into the family of God in 2021. Like we’ve never done before.  We ask all this in Jesus Name.   Amen and Amen.