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Sunday Night Live Sermons

PEOPLE WHO THINK - THANK!
Philippians 4:4-9

1st December 2002

I have always admired the American Thanksgiving celebrations. This past week, millions of Americans travelled back to the family home, enjoyed good food, relived memories and for many of them, celebrated a deeply religious experience where thanks was given to God for their nation. The celebrations, which are a bigger event than Christmas celebrations, goes back to December 21, 1620 when the Pilgrim Fathers (who provided the European settlement of USA) landed at Plymouth Rock and the modern nation began. Through the dead of winter the colony struggled with poor and meager food, strenuous labour, a biting wind that chilled to the bone, and the ravages of disease. Nearly half the 102 Mayflower passengers did not live to see Spring refresh Cape Cod Bay.

We do it with an Australian flavour. When our European founding fathers, convicts and warders, anchored in Port Jackson, the chaplain, Rev Richard Johnson, used Psalm 116: "What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord." This weekend, make time for your personal thanksgiving. Make time also, as part of Wesley Mission, to thank God for all of His blessing, for our members, staff, donors and other stakeholders for such an incredible ministry.

We have much for which we should be thankful. Some mornings after a series of long days and late nights, I am awaken by the alarm telling me it is time to swim. It is dark and cold. I want to sleep. I wish I had not heard the alarm. But I thank God, because many people cannot hear. I stumble outdoors in the dark, my eyes hardly open to the coming dawn. I wish they could remain shut. But I thank God I can see the early dawn as many are blind. I dive into the cold water. The shock of it awakens every cell in my body. I thank God because many never feel the exhilaration of stroking through cold water.

In our windows the little festive lights shone brightly. I purchased for $17 a box from Big W. As I undid the 480 little lights packed so tightly, I wondered about the Chinese peasant who had packed them. In my study an email from a friend told me a Chinese pastor Li De Xian, whom I knew from my visit to China has been arrested again. From October 2000 Pastor Li was arrested more than 15 times for preaching in his unregistered house church in Guangzhou. His jailers tied his arms and legs together and chained him to a bedpost for three days.

I read that after his release, he was forced to work in the prison factory putting bulbs into strings of Christmas lights to send overseas. He and the others had a quota of 5,000 bulbs a day. I was stung by the fact that many of the goods we buy were manufactured by Chinese Christian brothers and sisters in forced labour camps. Pastor Li's wife, Zhao Xia, says, "Don't feel sorry for us. At least we are constantly reminded that we are in a spiritual war. We know for whom we are fighting. We know who the enemy is. And we are fighting. Perhaps we should pray for you Christians outside of China. In your leisure, in your affluence, in your freedom, sometimes you no longer realize that you are in spiritual warfare. Christ was the first to suffer. We just follow Him. There are many thorns, but we are just injured a little on our feet. This suffering is very little."

Most of us do not even know when to say thanks to God for life, health, freedom and ability to worship. Thanksgiving is the mark of a Christian, because thanksgiving points out and up while my complaining points only back to me and feeds my pride and dissatisfaction. Thanksgiving towards God and man fits the Great Commandment like a glove, to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love my neighbour as myself. What better vehicle than thankfulness to express love?

Wesley Mission meets in this Thanksgiving Service to thank God and other people for all the blessings we have. Our ministry is a simple one of serving people, building hope and honouring God. When we think of what has happened we give thanks to God. When we think, we thank!

1. SERVING PEOPLE.

For 190 years, from our Methodist beginnings, we have practised a social care for all people, especially the poor. Just as John Wesley did in the 18th Century, Wesley Mission today, continues to care for the poor, the needy, the alcoholic, the widows, the homeless and the hungry. Just as he did then, we continue to restore spiritual Christianity in order that the church might be renewed. Wesley was an evangelist who also balanced a passion for social justice and responsibility. He took the Gospel message outside the traditional church buildings and into the marketplace and the community. He said "Go not to those who need you, but to those who need you most".

Our 190th year was an outstanding example of our direction, service, and effectiveness in supporting hundreds of thousands of Australians who are rarely in a position to return a favour. We give thanks to God for all His blessings. We thank our members, donors, churches, corporations, congregations, businesses and government departments without whose support this entire report would not have been possible. Wesley Mission is a remarkable partnership of community support, charitable endeavour, Government funding and oversight, and individual commitment. We each need each other. When we work together remarkable achievements result. Praise and thanks be to God for all the service we have been able to give to hundreds of thousands of individuals. Serving others is the price we pay for the space we occupy on planet Earth. To serve others is to follow the example and direct command of Jesus.

2. BUILDING HOPE.

I had been looking at some DVD's for a present. I was amazed at the gloomy outlook predicted for humanity in their storylines. Movies like the Mad Max trilogy, Blade Runner or Robocop generate visions of a future filled with rampaging mobs, scarce resources, gnawing poverty and hideous brutality. The Alien trilogy, Total Recall, The Running Man, Fortress and the Terminator films all emphasise a future dominated by evil corporations and fascist governments that work to stamp out every scrap of human individuality. My friend, Rod Benson, says, "Our world is awash in a sea of pessimism - if not from mass anarchy or nuclear holocaust then from environmental catastrophe. The minds and emotions of our young people are saturated with images of failure, and powerlessness, and empty hedonism replacing a sense of purpose and hope in life. Personally and nationally, it seems to me, we are on a journey from hope into despair, living in a world where, for the first time, the future seems less inviting than the present or the past: a world without salt and light, a world without models and heroes of conviction and commitment and compassion, a world without hope."

Yet everything Wesley Mission does is designed to help individuals build hope. The love of God is perfectly and awesomely demonstrated by the fact that God sent his Son Jesus on a mission to earth, to let us know what God is like, and to do what was necessary to bring us into relationship with Him. That relationship with God can hold us fast when the world is on a downward spiral of pessimism and despair. We build hope!

3. HONOURING GOD.

The third mark of commitment this year is that in all we have done, we have honoured God. We know the truth of the Old Testament promise: "Those who honour me I will honour, but those who despise me will be disdained." That is the secret of our strong success. We honour God, we thank God, we praise God, we preach God in every aspect of our work, and those who honour God find their work is blessed and they are honoured. I realise this is the reason why those denominations that are so trendy and do not insist on Christian values in their work ethic, who do not strive to ensure all their workers are positive Christians, who believe that only warm humanism is enough, find their work in decline and failing. God has said it clearly: "Those who honour me I will honour, but those who despise me will be disdained."

When you honour God, everything in life improves. I read this week of doctors wanting to know if people who are spiritual are better able to cope with medical problems. They are studying patients at Geisinger Medical Center. A pilot study in 2000 showed that people who had strong religious beliefs did respond better to heart disease and ailments than other patients. The latest study began in April 2001 and is being conducted by experts from GMC and Bucknell University. It is eyeing 100 patients in GMC's cardiac rehabilitation program who have suffered a first-time cardiac event, like a heart attack or bypass surgery, and will trace their physical and psychological improvement over five years. Those who had strong religious beliefs show a higher rate of improvement in their physical self-confidence than those who are less religiously inclined. When you honour God, even your health improves.

Why should you give thanks to God? The average person lives too far from the soil to be troubled by the drought. The Pilgrim Fathers and our farmers know different. We think food comes from a supermarket. Our biggest problem is not the drought but the slowness of the supermarket check-out line. We become impatient as the checkout chick works slowly through the loaded grocery cart ahead. So what can we be thankful for? Shorter lines? What about not being like the women who stand in lines for hours in Moscow to buy fresh fruit? The selection of food on our supermarket shelves is a reason to give thanks when we think of those in the Middle East and Africa who scrounge in the garbage cans and eat grass.

We need to thank God for a job to pay for our food while thousands are out of work. We thank God for a warm home and a table to eat, for we remember we serve hundreds of people who live in the parks and streets, and who eat at food hand-out vans standing up. One might object, "But I work hard for what I have." You do. But not so hard as Pastor Li who has to hand-pack 5000 bulbs a day or the Chinese peasant working in a cold rice paddy.

We all need a spirit of thankfulness and say regularly: "Thank you God, for the gifts you've given for which I have no inherent right. Make me genuinely grateful. Amen." As Paul puts it, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Those who think, thank!

REFERENCES.

Jesus Freaks Volume II: Men and Women Who Changed Their World for God Bethany House Publishers. 2002

Wesley Mission, Sydney.