"GREATEST THANKSGIVING"

TEXT:      II Cor. 4:7-5:10

INTRO:

Each year we are faced with this national holiday called THANKSGIVING. As an American we are thankful for the bounty of our land and the blessings of God on our past, present, and the anticipated good future. Yet, as Christians our thanksgiving is much more fundamental than giving thanks for material things. It is more than celebrating food; it is celebrating faith that is the greatest thanksgiving! Our salvation is the most amazing thing in the Universe. We who were full of sin have become God's very treasures, in the fallen heap of humanity God has brought forth great treasures by His son's death on Calvary! ILLUS: Craig Randall drives a garbage truck in Peabody, Massachusetts. In a garbage container one day, he noticed a Wendy's soft drink cup bearing a contest sticker. Having won a chicken sandwich the week before, Randall checked it, hoping for some french fries or a soft drink. Instead, he peeled a sticker worth $200,000 toward the construction of a new home, reports U.S. News and World Report (11/6/95). -- Bob Weniger, Ft. Collins, Colorado, Leadership, Vol. 17, no. 2. PROP. SENT: The bible teaches us that the greatest thanksgiving comes from the realization that in Christ we become stronger and stronger as the years pass by, while our physical being may slowly decline our spirit can soar! I. REALITY IN THANKSGIVING      4:7-12 A. Problems!     4:7-11 1. God's most precious treasure resides in plain ordinary clay jars! a. Paul's point is quite simple .. there is nothing externally to suggest that we are the vessels of great wealth! b. By casual appearance we would not seem to carry such treasure! ILLUS: When I was in high school, I worked for a time at an armored-car company, Brink's Armored Co. in San Bernardino, California. My job was to take care of the coin that Brink's handles. We used to get forty tons of coin from Las Vegas. My job was to wrap this coin, and you had to be double-jointed and triple witted to run the huge machine that wrapped coins. And I could wrap $10,000 worth of quarters an hour. A bag of quarters weighs about eighty pounds--a thousand dollars. One day we got a call from Bank of America in downtown San Bernardino, and they were in a panic: "We've got to have some coin in the hour." Well, all the armored trucks were gone, and so Larry, my manager, backed his '49 Ford pickup into the bay. Now if Brinks ever finds out about this they're going to shoot this guy. We loaded $25,000 worth of coin in a '49 Ford pickup. That thing was dragging. That's over a ton. Larry said, "Hop in. We're going up to B of A." We hopped. I'm in my T-shirt and blue jeans. We drove up to the front of the Bank of America, parked the truck, and Larry said, "Hang on, I'll go in and get the dolly, and we'll haul this stuff in." I'm whistling, standing against this truck for twenty minutes. I don't have a gun. I thought, If anybody notices what is in this common looking pickup truck, I'm a dead duck! Of course, you can't carry eighty pounds very far. The treasure that people were walking by! But they didn't see it for the commonness of the delivery system. -- Roger Thompson, "Treasure in a Brown Bag," Preaching Today, Tape 42. 2. Paul says there will be plenty of times when we will feel like we are hard pressed from every side, perplexed, persecuted, even struck down; yet not crushed, not in despair, not abandoned, and not destroyed! a. Paul just described much of the Christian life! b. The celebration is not found in the tough parts, it is in the victory parts! 3. The fact of the matter is that Christians like those of this world undergo severe trials, the difference is that these trials cannot destroy us, they can only make us get stronger! B. Power     4:12 1. Though physical death is at work in our lives, God's life is at work in our spirits! 2. Our power is not always that of the flesh, it is of spirit! 3. The truth is that our spiritual being is actually made stronger by the tough trials of the flesh. a. No wonder God doesn't deliver us from all material trials! b. They are used by God to strengthen us in the inner man. ILLUS: For two years, scientists sequestered themselves in an artificial environment called Biosphere 2. Inside their self-sustaining community, the Biospherians created a number of mini-environments, including a desert, rain forest, even an ocean. Nearly every weather condition could be simulated except one, wind. Over time, the effects of their windless environment became apparent. A number of acacia trees bent over and even snapped. Without the stress of wind to strengthen the wood, the trunks grew weak and could not hold up their own weight. Though our culture shuns hardship, we would do well to remember that God uses it "for our good, that we may share in his holiness" (Heb. 12:10). -- Jay Akkerman in Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker), from the editors of Leadership. 4. We often do not see the spiritual strength we are learning in tough trials until years later. a. Power comes from the use of faith in tough times, not from the comfortable times. b. Muscles only get stronger when they are flexed to their max. c. God's life is at work in us, even in those times when it seems we cannot go on another day! 5. His strength is made perfect in our weakness! 2 Cor 12:9 "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'" II. REASON FOR THANKSGIVING      4:13-18 A. Promise     4:13-15 1. What is the basis of such optimism in the Christian though we face even the trials of death? a. It is our faith in a living God, one who raised Christ from the dead. b. He who raised Christ from the dead will also raise all those who believe in His son. 2. The basis of our thanksgiving is rooted in both the past and the future! a. The cross of Calvary b. The second coming of Christ and the rapture of the saints! 3. It is the present where we struggle. 4. The present struggles are only strengthening our confidence in God, building a faith that makes us a winner against Satan and his schemes. 5. The struggles today prepare us for the victories of tomorrow! ILLUS: No professional football team that plays its home games in a domed stadium with artificial turf has ever won the Super Bowl. While a climate-controlled stadium protects players (and fans) from the misery of sleet, snow, mud, heat, and wind, players who brave the elements on a regular basis are disciplined to handle hardship wherever it's found. The Green Bay Packers were the 1996 Super Bowl champions, in part, because of the discipline gained from regularly playing in some of the worst weather in the country. "Endure hardship as discipline. ... No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (Heb. 12:7,11). -- Greg Asimakoupoulos, Leadership, Vol. 17, no. 3. 6. Power comes from the struggles when they are faced with faith! B. Perspective     4:16-18 1. For the Christian we don't lose heart no matter how tough things get! a. That doesn't mean we never tire of the battle or struggle with our faith, it simply means that underlying our life is the strength of God's perspective. b. Being a Christian does make a difference in how we view reality! 2. For Christians there is an eternal perspective that the world does not have. a. Even as our bodies grow older and begin to get weaker and weaker we realize that our inward man continues to grow stronger and stronger! b. As we grow older in the Lord we should have a greater and greater confidence in eternal realities. 3. Though the years bring heavy burdens our lives are not swept away, in fact, they will anchor our soul as we trust in Christ and not turn away from Him! ILLUS: In 1938 a hurricane threatened the New England coast. People feared that the railroad bridge at White River Junction would be destroyed. The danger was averted when some thoughtful person backed a line of loaded freight cars onto the bridge. The bridge withstood the force of the winds because of the weight that it bore. The weight of your responsibilities may rest heavily upon you, but that weight may be the very thing that keeps you from being swept away by the storm of sin.-- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997). 4. Notice that Paul compares the years here on Earth to eternity he shows how really short the time is that we must endure - our reward for these few years of light affliction is rewarded with eternity and enormous blessings! a. In this sense we fix our eyes not on the things of this world, rather we fix our eyes on those things which cannot now be seen except through the eyes of faith. b. The unseen things are the greatest realities of life those are the things that will long endure past the existence of time. III. REASSURANCE AND THANKSGIVING      5:1-10 A. Permanency!     5:1-8 1. Existence in this body isn't the only existence! a. We will live beyond the grave! (1. This is hope to the Christian. (2. This is fear to the unbeliever. b. Once born we all have an eternal existence - somewhere! 2. For now we live in a weak tent, we in fact "groan" as we pass through this life, longing for that day when we will have no weakness of flesh but be clothed upon with an eternal body. a. Think of the beauty that can even be found on this side of eternity, it will be much greater on the other side! ILLUS: A little girl was taking an evening walk with her father. Wonderingly, she looked up at the stars and exclaimed: "Oh, Daddy, if the wrong side of heaven is so beautiful, what must the right side be!" -- Charles L. Allen in Home Fires. Christianity Today, Vol. 32, no. 6. b. There is little doubt that Paul saw the present life as but a temporary existence, in Christ we look forward to a permanent dwelling place with Christ. 3. Every Christian funeral gives testimony of this truth for a funeral to a Christian is not a final event, only a temporary separation from those we will again see and fellowship with. 4. The proof of this future reality can be found in the presence of God's Spirit in us now! a. That still quiet voice of the Spirit of God is evidence of eternal existence! b. While others may not know for sure, we can if God's Spirit is in us! B. Preparation     5:9-10 1. You can have a great Thanksgiving reflecting on the past, but you can have the greatest Thanksgiving looking for the future! a. In light of the fact that every human will one day face God it is necessary to prepare now for that day. b. What have you done to prepare for that day? 2. We need to realize that God's ways are the best ways to go, too many people think they will be spiritual on their own terms, but it is by God's terms that we shall all be judged! ILLUS: There is an old legend that comes from a small town in Germany that for a number of years experienced very poor harvests. Finally those townspeople went to God at the beginning of the year and said, "God, our harvests have been so poor and so scarce, for one year will you let us plan everything?" God said, "All right; for one year." And so, whenever they asked for rain, God sent rain. And whenever they asked for sun, God sent sun. The corn never grew higher, and the wheat never grew thicker. But when harvest came, they discovered that the tall corn had no ear, and the thick wheat had no head of grain. They cried out, "God, you have failed us. We asked for sun, and you sent sun. We asked for rain, and you sent rain. But there is no crop." God said, "No. You never asked for the harsh north winds. Without the harsh north winds, there is no pollination, and with no pollination, there is no crop." I suggest to you today, in God's very loving hand, this is the harsh north wind that God is going to use to bring a crop. And faith says, "Okay, God, I trust you. Go ahead." -- Howard D. Vanderwell, "Memorial Service for Robert Huizenga," Preaching Today, Tape No. 71. 3. Why not do things God's way it is always better! 4. Real thanksgiving begins with our standing before God where do you stand today? a. Have you accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior? b. Do you know that your sins are forgiven? c. Are you sure where you will spend eternity? 5. YOU CAN KNOW! Make this your greatest THANKSGIVING! CONCLUSION:    How thankful we are when things go well for us in this lifetime, yet there is an even greater thanksgiving possible that covers eternity! While being thankful for what we have now is good, to be thankful for both now and what is ours in our future if we have faith in Christ is even greater. Why not make this Thanksgiving the greatest one ever.