Dear First Baptist Family,

The autumn of East Tennessee is nearly over. The colors have been spectacular in spite of the dry weather. The cold is coming to stay for a while, but that means Christmas isn’t far off.

Sometimes I see the sunrise or sunset over the beautiful Smoky Mountains and think of that old Louis Armstrong song What a Wonderful World.

I see skies of blue
And clouds of white
The bright blessed day
The dark sacred night
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

I hear babies cry
I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more
Than I’ll ever know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

I played What a Wonderful World in church one time when I was a youth minister. It was Graduation Sunday and we showed pictures of the seniors from the time they were babies through elementary and middle and high school. Not a dry eye in the house.

And I think about the world Armstrong lived in when he wrote that song. The founding father of jazz was often mistreated for the color of his skin. At one time he was the most famous person in the world, but couldn’t stay in some hotels or eat in certain restaurants. He was the recipient of subtle and not-so-subtle racism his whole life

Yet he sang songs like Hello, Dolly and Mack the Knife and Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.

Armstrong found a way to find beauty in a hard world. His song is full of wonder and thanksgiving. When I sing it, my heart goes up to God in a kind of thankful prayer.

God calls us to give thanks in everything and at all times. “Rejoice always,” Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. “Pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV).

It may be that this year you choose to give thanks because of your circumstances. God has been especially good to you in 2023. You may have experienced financial blessings, encouraging news, or relationship reconciliation. You’re feeling pretty good as the year winds down. You can give thanks with a full and grateful heart.

But it may be that this year you choose to give thanks in spite of your circumstances. Life has been hard for some of you. The death of a spouse. The loss of a job. Unfair treatment. Health problems. An uncertain economy and a brutal war in the news. The lingering fear of COVID-19.

What kind of song do you sing in a time like that?

It makes me think of the plaintive cry of Psalm 137: “How can we sing the LORD’S song in a strange and foreign land?” (Psalm 137:4, AMP)

You may think it’s too simple, but I do believe that consciously counting your blessings can make a big difference.

You can focus on the good and not the bad. You can remember how God has seen you through a challenging time and been faithful.

It’s not denial and it’s not avoidance. Sure, there’s a time to lament and a time to work for a better day. But the practice of counting your blessings can help you to catalog all the ways God has brought good things into your life.

Why don’t you do that right now?

Give thanks today. Sing a new song. Name your blessings one by one. Ask the Lord to help you see the benefits of God’s wonderful world. Then see what happens to your heart when you do.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

With love,

Pastor Brent McDougal

P.S. During the Advent season (the 4 Sundays of preparation leading to Christmas), my sermon series is called Thin Places. It’s about the miracles, signs and wonders that come during this season. The idea of thin places was introduced to Christianity by the Celts. Thin places are the locations, events, and circumstances where heaven and earth seem to meet. This week my sermon is called Bent Backs and Patient Prayers with a focus on Simeon and Anna from Luke 2. I hope you’ll be present for worship at every service in the coming weeks, whether in-person or virtually, so that we can experience together more of God’s Spirit and expectation among us.