I didn’t see the remake. I don’t know if I want to see the remake. In fact, some things shouldn’t be remade. But I loved the original. Growing up, The Magnificent Seven was my western of choice. Seven gunfighters are hired to defend a small Mexican village from an entire army of bandits. They know the odds are against them going in, but odds don’t matter. They have a job to do. Now, to achieve the proper effect, play the theme music loudly in your head and then reread those last three sentences. It kind of gives you goosebumps, doesn’t it? Keep the music playing and then listen intently as Steve McQueen says, “We deal in lead, friend.” Let it play some more and listen in as Cavera (the head of the bad guys) mocks all the new walls the villagers have made saying, “These won’t keep me out.” Only to have Yule Brenner say: “They were built to keep you in.” Now that’s a western! Okay, you can turn off the music.
We didn’t have seven professionals. We did, however, have impossible odds. Fourteen years of stuff crowded the downstairs closets like banditos hiding in the mountains. You wouldn’t believe all the stuff that was down there: VHS tapes, paper bowls from an event no one remembers that probably took place in a galaxy far away, and flashlight that never worked and a host of other unidentifiable items. And against this trash stood fifteen stalwart gunslingers (and five were kids!). There was Mark with the heart of an archeologist digging through stuff to find and store rare treasures. He was kind of like the Indiana Jones of River’s Edge. There was Jenn who worked diligently all day and never once lost her smile. There was Chris the translator that deciphered ancient Chinese decorations, resulting in a purge of old stuff of epic proportions. There was Debbie the disciple who mixed hard work with spiritual conversations. There was Kelley the musical who sorted through all the music team’s binders, not only organizing all the music we sing on Sunday mornings, but making everything sound even more beautiful. There was Ed the enlightened who went through all of our Christmas candles and candle protectors, throwing out the old and saving humanity from future burning wax. There was Zach the clean, who put elbow grease to clean out under the downstairs sink, risking tetanus, rabies and probably the plague as he ventured into the dark corners of the cabinet. There was Sue the kind who not only accomplished all sorts of good things, but recruited Bob the builder to make a platform for us to store instruments up off the floor. And then there was Beth the visionary and Jo the answerer who led us through the whole process with grace and wisdom and purpose. And when all was said and done, the three closets and the smaller room looked spectacular. What was just a week ago closets filled with chaos and confusion became true Presbyterian closets. They were now decent and in order. And I am ever so thankful for all of their hard work.
If you are like me, you are struck by the number of times Paul in his letters thanks God for the people in his church. Take for instance, Paul’s comments in Philippians 1. There Paul writes (vs. 3-6): “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all 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 on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” If Paul said things like this only to the Philippians, we would think the church in Philippi was something special. But Paul does this all the time. He is even thankful for the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:4)! But note how Paul does this. He certainly expresses his deep gratitude to the people in his church for their partnership with him, a gratitude that speaks into the heart of Paul’s people and motivates them to even greater service. But he does so in a way that puts the emphasis, not on his people, but on God. Read through every occasion where Paul thanks his people, and you will see that he always does it indirectly. Instead, he thanks God for them. That may be a new thought for you, so let me give you an example. Note first, what Paul didn’t say in 1 Corinthians 1:4. He doesn’t say “Thank you for your help in the gospel ministry.” He doesn’t say, “Thanks for all you do to make my work possible.” He doesn’t say, “Thanks for being the kind of disciples who live lives of gratitude and service.” He doesn’t say anything I would normally say in such a situation! Instead, he says, “I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.” He says (Rom. 1:8): “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.” He says (Philemon 1:4): “I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers.” He says, (1 Thess. 3:9): “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?” Paul never directly thanks his people for their faithful service. Instead, he thanks God for them; and in so doing, he speaks powerfully into the hearts and souls of his people about his immense gratitude for them.
And why does Paul do this? Think of what could happen if Paul thanked them directly. Paul’s churches could twist his praise and become proud (“Look at us!”), or self-reliant (“Look what we did!”), or even self-absorbed (“If enough people look, we will act.”). But by thanking God for them, Paul helps his people turn their focus to God (“Look what God did through us!”) so that their faith would grow (“If we trust in God, he will do even more through us!”). Paul understands the importance of expressing gratitude, but he is also aware of the dangers of the human heart to spin gratitude into arrogance. More than that, he understands that even though he meant it sincerely, it could be wrongly perceived by some to be flattery. And Paul knows the way to avoid all of that is to express your gratitude to God for all evidences of his grace at work in his people.
Bottom line: I thank God for all of you, for all of our volunteers who work so diligently advancing God’s kingdom and caring for the needs of our kids; but today I am extra grateful because it is so fresh in my mind, for all of you who came and helped us clean out the downstairs closets. Not only was it extremely helpful, giving and loving, but it was also a lot of fun to be with you all. But far more importantly, it was another clear evidence that God is at work among us for where there is loving service, God is always present. And for that I am extremely grateful.