Do you remember the comic strip Funky Winkerbean? The comic strip followed the day-to-day activities and relationships of high school life.
I especially remember a week-long series from the comic strip several years ago.
On Monday, the stage was set. It was late spring. There was a girl who was going to have to pass the final exam in one of her classes on Friday if she was going to graduate. On Monday, she promised herself she would study like she had never studied before. That day, she did just that.
On Tuesday, the comic strip showed her studying equally hard. She was not sure she could learn enough between then and Friday, but she was going to try.
Wednesday and Thursday were the same. The girl was putting in long hours of study. Her friends were helping her and encouraging her. As Friday approached, there was a sense of tension. Would the girl’s study pay off? Would all her hard work pay the dividend of her passing and being a graduate?
On Friday, I was anxious to open the paper to the comics to see how the girl did. Even in the comics, people sometimes fail. Everything does not always turn out just fine.
On Friday, in the first frame, the girl was taking the test. In the second frame, she turned in her test. In the third frame, she received the result. She had passed! As I recall, she got an A on the test.
But listen to what she said in the fourth and final frame of the comic. She said, “If I had known how easy the test was going to be, I would not have studied so hard.”
Amazing. The girl saw no connection between her study and the test. She had no idea the reason the test was easy was because she knew the information and that she knew the information because she had studied.
The test was not in math, which was probably a good thing, because the girl was unable to put 2 and 2 - studying and doing well on the test - together.
As we know, Thanksgiving Day was Thursday. The Christmas season will not officially start - except in stores and on some radio stations and on some TV stations - the Christmas season will not start here until next Sunday. That means we are in kind of an in between time. That being the case, today, one more Thanksgiving message, with a hint of Christmas spirit in it. A message based on two Bible passages, one from the Old Testament, the other from the New Testament.
And what does the Funky Winkerbean story have to do with that? This. Like the girl in the comic strip knew she was supposed to study, we know we are supposed to give thanks to God. Like the girl should have known that if she did what she knew to do, she would be rewarded with a good grade, so should we know that when we are thankful, we will be rewarded with God’s blessings. Let’s do better than the girl in the comic strip. May we not surprised, but even more thankful when our obedience is rewarded.
Today, let’s remember to be thankful. As we are thankful, our celebration of Christmas should be even more joyous than usual.
The Old Testament passage for this message is a portion of Psalm 31. Specifically, the verse that speaks of giving thanks - reasons to be thankful - is 19. However, the call from David, the author of the Psalm, to be thankful is very interesting since it came in the midst of all sorts of problems David was facing.
Let’s think about those problems - problems listed before verse 19 - because we, too, may be facing lots of problems. Even if we are, we are still to be thankful.
Psalm 31. Listen to the problems David faced, the problems listed in the first part of the Psalm.
David wrote, “In thee, o LORD, do I seek refuge.” That is a hint David faced problems. Otherwise, he would not have needed refuge.
The problem referred to was people trying to put him to shame, doing that verbally and physically. Many people were trying to ruin him physically, or at least give him such a bad reputation as being a poor leader, he would be hurt socially and mentally. The hope of his enemies was that if he survived, David would lose all his followers.
David also wrote the request that God “incline His ear to him.”
David wrote of his need for “rescue.”Again, he obviously had problems or he would not have needed to be rescued.
Apparently another problem was that David was surrounded by people who worshiped false gods. He wrote about people who paid “regard to vain idols.” David trusted in God, but others around him apparently did not. That caused David problems.
David reminded God that He - God - had seen David’s “affliction” - his pain, his suffering, his humiliation. He reminded God He - God - was aware of David’s “adversaries.” There were so many of them all around him.
David claimed he was in “distress.” He wrote that his eyes were “wasted from grief.” His “soul and body” as well. He added that his life was spent with “sorrow and sighing.” That his “strength was failing,” his “bones wasting away.”
David added that he was so “scorned” by his adversaries that even his “neighbors fled from him” and did all they could to “forget him“ They were afraid to have anything to do with him.
There was “terror on every side” of David. That is what he wrote in the first part of Psalm 31. He was being hit with problem after problem after problem.
Does life ever feel that way to you. I have had a few problems along the way in my life. Fortunately, very few, but I can think of a time or two when the problems felt close to overwhelming.
Perhaps you have been like that, too. Maybe you are feeling that way now.
If so, you and I are not alone. David had many, many problems which, I find interesting, he felt free to share with God. Of course, God already knew what David faced, but David did not put on a happy face. He did not pretend everything was just fine in his life. He did not sing, “don’t worry, be happy.”
David shared with God all that was going wrong. I think that gives us permission to share our problems with God when we are troubled.
However, then comes verse 19, which gives the challenge that no matter how bad things get, and even though it is OK to share the bad things with God, there must be a next step, which is to give thanks to God for His help in the midst of troubles.
Verse 19. “O how abundant is Your goodness, LORD.”
Isn’t that amazing? David had just written several verses about all his problems. He still wrote, “O how abundant is Your goodness, LORD.” Goodness You have “laid up for those who fear You and given to those who take refuge in You.”
Did we catch the two requirements in verse 19?
We are to fear God. As always, fear, in this context, does not mean being afraid of God. It means to be in awe of Him. We are to respect Him more highly than anyone and anything else. It means to want to do what He wants us to do.
And we are to take refuge in God. Not in drink or drugs. Not in discouragement. Our “refuge” - our “haven” - is to be in God. He is to be our “rock” and our “fortress,” keeping us strong and protected.
Fearing God and taking refuge in Him are the requirements we are to meet to receive His goodness. But to what is David referring with the word goodness?
Some of God’s goodness is sprinkled in the midst of David’s list of problems. God had been David’s refuge. David had been redeemed. God had given David the strength to trust in the LORD, even during the problems. God had protected David from his enemies. David’s enemies had not defeated him physically or emotionally.
David went on to write of his assurance that God had heard his prayers. David continued to be assured he would be preserved because he was faithful to the LORD.
That is what David wrote about God’s goodness. However, it was not just in Old Testament times that God’s goodness was seen. Remember the comment toward the start of this message that there will be a hint of Christmas spirit. Here is an example of that. Let’s think for a moment about what Christmas says about God’s goodness.
Such as the goodness of God giving us a gift on the first Christmas. The gift of Jesus, who willingly left Heaven to come as a baby.
A baby who grew up, thereby experiencing all the things we did or do face during those years.
A young man who grew into an adult who had a ministry in which He taught and healed and did other miracles. A ministry He completed to the end, showing us it is possible to live righteously, even in troubled times.
Do we have problems? Of course. So did Jesus have problems, who showed by example how to trust in God in the midst of problems. That example is part of God’s goodness, even to us.
And by the way, let us never say that if Jesus could do it, so can we. Instead, let’s say that with the Lord’s strength - strength He proved He has and is willing to share with us - we can survive. That can happen as we fear Him and take refuge in Him and as we trust in Him. As we remain faithful to Him. As we remember His promise to hear our prayers.
Listen to verse 24. What a challenge this is for us. “Be strong, and let your heart take courage.” Even in the midst of whatever problems we have - personal, financial, family-related, issues with society not appreciating our faith - let your heart take courage. Here is the key. “All you who wait for [who rely upon] the LORD.”
How abundant God’s goodness is. Goodness given to those who fear Him and take refuge in Him. Let’s remember that, even in times of trouble. Let’s be thankful for that as the Thanksgiving weekend comes to a close and throughout the upcoming Christmas season.
In fact, let’s remember that all the time, which brings us to today’s New Testament passage, which is in chapter 3 of the Book of Colossians.
Colossians was written by the apostle Paul to the Christians in the city of Colossae - to the members of the congregation he had started in that city.
In chapter 3, Paul called on the Christ believers in that city to do a number of things.
Quickly, those things included to “seek the things that are above.” Heavenly things. Spiritual things. Things that are worthy of Christ, their Savior.
Part of the seeking was to “set your minds on things that are above rather than on things that are on earth.”
They were to “put to death” - to completely remove from themselves - the evils of sexual sins and all other kinds of impurity, including impurity of thought. They were to eliminate from their lives passion - the kind of passion that leads to sin - and evil desire and covetousness. Covetousness is wanting what someone else has, all the way from possessions to reputation.
They were to “put away” anger, wrath, malice, slander, foul talk, lieing.
All that bad stuff they used to do. They did those things before they had become Christians. As Christians, they were to be different. As Christians, they were to put to death and put away the bad behaviors listed .
They were then to “put on” - they were to make a part of their lives - many good things. Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, and love.
To be able to accomplish the putting to death and the putting away of what is bad and the putting on of what is good, Paul instructed the Christians in Colossae what to do. They were to “let the word of Christ richly dwell” in them. They were to “teach and admonish one other in all wisdom.” They were to “sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God.” They were to join together in singing to God.
And then verse 17 of Colossians 3. “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
Give thanks to God the Father, even in the midst of problems. And remember that as David had problems in Old Testament times, so, too, did early Christians, including those in Colossae, have lots of their own problems. Economic problems when they lost work opportunities from those who disagreed with their faith. Family problems if some family members disowned them because of their faith. Other kinds of persecution.
* * * * *
There have been, there are, and there will be many problems faced in life, sometimes because of our choice to be followers of Jesus. And again, it is OK to share those problems with God, but like David wrote and like Paul wrote, we are, during the good times and in the midst of problems, to give thanks to God for His blessings. Including His blessing of help, His blessing of salvation, His blessing of being able to rise above our problems.
A blind boy sat on the steps of a building with a hat by his feet. He held a sign that said, “I am blind. Please help.”
There were only a few coins in the hat when a man walked by. The man took a few coins from his pocket and dropped them into the hat. He then took the sign, turned it around, and wrote some words. He handed the sign back, placing it in the blind boy’s hands so everyone who walked by would see the new words.
Soon the hat began to fill up. A lot more people gave money to the blind boy.
That afternoon, the man who had changed the sign came by to see how things were. The boy recognized his footsteps and asked, “Were you the one who changed my sign this morning? What did you write?”
The man said, “I only wrote the truth. I said what you said, but in a different way. I wrote, ‘Today is a beautiful day, but I cannot see it.’”
Both signs told people the boy was blind, but the first sign simply said the boy was blind. The second sign told people they were so lucky that they were not blind.
The moral of the story? Be thankful for what you have. In the case of the story, be thankful for the gift of physical sight. From the Funky Winkerbean story, be thankful that when we do what we are supposed to do, we will be rewarded. Based on Psalm 31 and Colossians 3, be thankful for the help of God and His protection and His answers to our prayers and opportunities He gives us to serve Him in everything we do, all those rewards given to us even in our troubled times.
Let’s enjoy those blessings. Let’s benefit from them. Let’s enjoy and benefit from them even in the midst of problems. And yes, even the boy who was blind could thrive spiritually by being thankful, which I think he was with the help he received.
I read this. When life gives you a hundred reasons to cry, show that you have a thousand reasons to smile. To smile spiritually because of the love of God.
Today and all through the Christmas season and of course beyond that as well, keep your faith. Let’s keep our faith. Let’s do that by being thankful to God.
In thanks to God for Jesus, and to help get us ready for the Christmas season, today’s closing song is two verses of Glory in the Highest.
Glory in the highest! Glory to His name!
Joy as come into our lives; We’ll never be the same.
Glory in the highest! Worthy is our King!
Come let us adore Him, and give Him everything.
Glory in the highest! Let the song begin!
Joy has come into our world; let us worship Him!
Glory in the highest! Worthy is our King!
Come let us adore Him, and bring Him everything.
In today’s first passage, David, and in today’s second passage, the apostle Paul, tell us what to do, even in the midst of problems. They tell us to be thankful to God. When we do that - when we are thankful - God will bless us.
Unlike the girl in the Funky Winkerbean comic, let’s not be surprised when that happens. Let’s see the connection. Let’s be thankful that our obedience to what we are supposed to be and do is rewarded so abundantly.
Lord, Your name is glorious, worthy of our thanks and our celebration. As we have thanked You in the Thanksgiving season now coming to a close, so our goal is to celebrate You throughout the upcoming Christmas season, and of course beyond. We come before You to adore You. Help us to make sure we are giving You our hearts and minds. Again, You are worthy of our celebration. Thank You. Amen.