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Give Thanks and Rejoice

Give Thanks and Rejoice

We are now just four days from Thanksgiving Day. 

What an important holiday Thanksgiving is. A national tradition that reminding us each year to be thankful. 

A tradition that officially began when George Washington, in 1789, proclaimed the first nationwide thanksgiving celebration in America, that year happening November 26. President Washington declared it a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer,” to be observed by “acknowledging with grateful hearts the many favors of Almighty God.”

What President Washington proclaimed is an interesting challenge for us to include God in our celebration. 

It is of course so easy to center on other things, like excellent food and football. Thanksgiving features a college game and three NFL games. Yet even with those things there are reasons to be thankful. Thankful to God that He has allowed us such abundance of good food and clean water, that He has allowed us the freedom to gather for sporting events, doing so in safety, and the technology to watch or listen to games in the comfort of our own homes. And since both food and sports are often enjoyed with family and friends, God can also be thanked for the blessing of having people with which we have fellowship.

Let’s always be thankful to God for His blessings. In fact, let’s continue to do that in today’s message, which will highlight three Bible passages - two from the Old Testament, one from the New.

First, an Old Testament passage. Deuteronomy 8:11-14.

The passage is a small portion of a very long speech Moses gave to the people of God. Talk about your long sermons. This one that Moses gave begins at the start of chapter 5 and continues to the end of chapter 28. In it, Moses presented to the people of God the statutes and ordinances of God. Commandments that cover a wide variety of life.

The setting of today’s first passage is the wilderness between Egypt, where the people of God had been slaves until they were, through miracles performed by God, freed. Between Egypt and the Promised Land. A land promised to the people by God. The land to which the people of God were headed.

Toward the halfway point of Deuteronomy 8, Moses reminded the people of God the wonders of the Promised Land. A good land. Better than the barren wilderness through which they were walking. A land with water in brooks, fountains, and springs flowing in valleys and hills. A land with wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and honey. A land rich with iron and copper.

What hope there was for the future in the Promised Land. But then, beginning with verse 11, there is a very dire warning. A warning that is still relevant today, at least for us in this nation with such abundance.

Verse 11. “Take heed [be careful] lest, in the abundance you will have, you forget the LORD your God,” seen in not keeping His commandments and ordinances and statutes. All that Moses had and would share in his long sermon that day.

“Lest,” Moses continued, “when you have eaten and are full, and have built goodly houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply, and your silver and gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God.”

What a warning that is. The warning that when things go well, it is so easy to let our hearts be lifted up, meaning we can begin to think we have achieved the successes we enjoy, forgetting that all good things come from God.

And how easy it is to think all the good we have should continue. That we are somehow entitled to everything always being good and easy for us.

I came across a story. I assume it is fiction, but maybe not. Either way, the moral of the story is important.

Two old friends met each other one day. One of them looked forlorn, almost on the verge of tears. His friend asked, “What has the world done to you, my old friend?”

The sad fellow said, “Let me tell you. Three weeks ago, my uncle died and left me $40,000.”

“That’s a lot of money.”

“Yes. But you see, two weeks ago, a cousin I never even knew died, and left me $85,000, free and clear.”

“Sounds to me that you’ve been very blessed.”

“You don’t understand!” the sad friend interrupted.  “Last week my great-aunt passed away. I inherited almost a quarter of a million dollars from her.”

Now the sad man’s friend was really confused.  “Then, why do you look so glum?”

The answer. “This week? I got nothing!”

We are not entitled to God’s earthly blessings, so when we have them, let’s be thankful. Thankful enough to give God the credit for the good things that happen to us.

That is a warning for us. It was a warning to the Old Testament people of God. Moses, through God, knew the danger of great blessings. Which is not a call to be nervous about being blessed. It is instead the call to always remember, as President Washington proclaimed, to acknowledge with grateful hearts the many favors of Almighty God.

*       *       *       *       *

As we do that, it should be easier to fulfill another teaching. A New Testament teaching found in chapter 4 of Philippians.

Verses 4 through 7. The passage begins with the call for us to “rejoice.” To rejoice “in the Lord,” remembering He is the source of the blessings we receive. To rejoice “always.” Then Paul wrote, “Again I will say, Rejoice.”

I have studied this passage before. This time my eyes picked up an interesting insight. The insight that after Paul wrote “rejoice,” it came to him that his situation was not good and would likely continue to include struggles. He was in prison at the time. He at least expected to meet death at the hands of his religious enemies, which did indeed eventually happen.

At the same time, he knew the persecution he faced would also be faced by his fellow early Christians, which brings to my mind the thought those people would have very few blessings of a material nature.

But even thinking about the problems he was facing and other Christians would face - in full understanding of all that was happening and might happen in the future - he said again, “Rejoice.” Why? It is because of different kinds of blessings offered to those who suffer.

Blessings such as “forbearance,” also translated “patience,” the word meaning to be able to handle difficult circumstances with grace. Able to stay true to Jesus even in times of trouble. Even when being persecuted.

Remember a couple weeks ago we prayed for Christians who are persecuted because of their faith. A point made was the call to also pray for the persecutors. That they would repent and turn to Jesus.

A person being persecuted praying for those who do the persecuting is certainly an example of forbearance.

Paul added that forbearance is possible because “the Lord is at hand.” He is present in the lives of people who accept Him as Savior.

Therefore, “let others see your [our] forbearance.” Then this. Having forbearance is the only way to achieve what Paul wrote next. “Have no anxiety about anything.”

Wow. Talk about a difficult teaching. Have no anxiety.

But what about the state of the world? But what if the economy falters. But someone is mad at me. But there is persecution all around. To some extent, we might feel a little of it.

“But.” What an interesting word. However, Paul did not write to have no anxiety when things are going well. He wrote to have no anxiety at all. About anything.

Many teachings in the Bible are a whole lot easier to preach than they are to do. But we are to do them. In this case, we are to work at - we are to keep working at - having no anxiety.

Which can be achieved by what Paul wrote next. “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything” pray and supplicate. Prayer refers to talking to God about His goodness, love, and faithfulness. Supplication refers to praying specifically for specific needs to be met, which can include the physical needs of life and the strength to survive persecution and other problems that may come our way.

We are to have no anxiety about anything. By the way, understand the significance of “anxiety.” I think it is OK to be concerned about things. I think that is simply normal. But anxiety is to be avoided because anxiety describes an overwhelming fear that can take life over. Anxiety leads to forgetting about the love of Jesus, the power of God, and the hope of the Holy Spirit.

“Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God.” Pray and supplicate “with thanksgiving,” thanking God - remembering to do that - for all His blessings, including providing the strength needed to survive whatever troubled times come our way.

Verse 7 tells the reward for giving thanks. It is “the peace of God, which passes all understanding.” There is no way to explain it, but the peace of God “will keep your hearts and your minds fixed on Jesus.”

“Will keep.” The meaning is to stand guard. The promised reward is that when we pray and are thankful, doubts will be kept from entering our hearts and minds and our faith and trust in the Lord will be kept from escaping from our hearts and minds.

*       *       *       *       *

When difficult times are experienced, we are to thank God. That is what we are taught to do by Paul in Philippians.

When good, easy times come, we are still to thank God. That is what we were taught to do by Moses - by God - in Deuteronomy.

At all times, no matter the circumstances, we are to be thankful to God. The rewards are peace and continued blessings, in good and bad times alike.

Now, back to the Old Testament, what are we told to do about the call to give thanks? How is our obedience to the challenge to be displayed? For that, the first two verses of Psalm 9.

Later in Psalm 9, there is a list of both problems and good things. That is a reminder that yes, we have not only good days, but difficult days as well, and not only bad days, but good ones as well.

And yes, we are to be thankful on both kinds of days. The bad and the good for David, the author of the Psalm? Here is the list.

Going back and forth, David had faced enemies, but they had been turned back and he had been established as king. Wicked people could be found, but God had rebuked them. Some nations had sunk into evil, but God had executed judgment on them. Some became arrogant, but David’s prayer was that God cause the arrogant ones to be put in fear with reminders they are just people.

Enemies, wicked people, arrogant people. Of course those things still exist today. Which means that like David did back then, we now have difficulties. But God still promises - at least offers - to turn back our enemies and rebuke the wicked who live now and deal with arrogance. So we, like David, also have some good things given to us.

Verse 1 of Psalm 9. This is what we are to do to display our obedience to the challenge to give thanks in all circumstances. “I will.” Not, I should or I might or I could if I remember or get around to it. “I will give thanks to the LORD. I will give thanks with my whole heart.” With everything I am.

I read those words with the idea that David promised to give thanks to God, in individual prayers with God. We are to do the same. 

But he promised to - and we should - expand our thanks so other people can hear it. Still verse 1. “I will tell of all God’s wonderful deeds.” Tell who? Of course tell God. That is part of expressing thanks to Him, but I read those words to mean we are to also tell other people God’s wonderful deeds.

Do we not all like to hear good reports about us shared with others? God also likes to hear us say good things about Him to others.

Verse 2. Notice the attitude with which our sharing is to be done. Again, not only the blessings that are easy to see, but also the blessing of getting us through our difficult times. “I will be glad. I will exult in Thee, O God.” To exult means to express elation or jubilation. Its root word means “to leap up.” The meaning is to be happy in our telling about God’s deeds.

And this. “I will sing.” It does not need to be professional quality. It might just be making some sounds. “I will sing praise to Thy name, O Most High.”

*       *       *       *       *

Let’s give thanks to God all the time, doing so with our whole hearts and minds and souls and strength. Let’s use that to be able to have our hearts and minds be guarded by Jesus so we can rejoice. And again I will say, rejoice. Let’s remember that even when we, like the people of God after the Book of Deuteronomy did, enjoy an abundance of good things.

Which brings us back to the story told earlier in this message. The one about the man who had received monetary gifts from an uncle, a cousin, and a great-aunt. Each week for the past three weeks he had received inheritances, each one bigger than the one before, but he was upset because the fourth week, he had received no money.

Here is the rest of the devotional related to that story.

The problem with receiving something on a regular basis, even if it is a gift, is that we eventually come to expect it. The natural tendency is that if we receive a gift long enough, we come to view it almost as an entitlement. We can easily feel hurt or angry if we do not keep receiving it.

It is the same way with the blessings God gives us every day. I do not deserve the house I live in or the beautiful scenery around me or the clean water I drink, but I receive them daily. May I never get to the point of expecting these as things to which I am entitled.

To prove the point of entitlement, do we not all know how disturbing it is to have the electricity go out? Most of us know the frustration that comes when the internet goes down.

Let’s not feel entitled. Instead, let’s recognize the blessings we receive from God. Let’s be grateful for each one, thanking Him and telling others about God’s goodness.

In fact, let’s do that now in our closing song. In Thanksgiving Let Us Praise Him.

In verse 1 is our expression of thanks to God, which, as we sing together, we will share with each other. Our thanks for nature and for the gift of breath.

In verse 2 there is thanks for the Lord’s grace, in seasons of plenty and seasons of need.

In verse 3 we will be thankful for God’s guiding hand and love.

From the first bright light of morning,

To the last warm glow of dusk,

Ev’ry breath we take is sacred,

For it is God’s gift to us.

In thanksgiving, let us praise Him;

In thanksgiving, let us sing

Songs of praise and adoration

To our gracious Lord and King.

In the season of our plenty,

In the season of our need,

We will find His grace sufficient, 

We will find His love complete. 

In thanksgiving, let us praise Him;

In thanksgiving, let us sing

Songs of praise and adoration

To our gracious Lord and King.

Safe within His hand that guides us,

Hidden in His healing wings,

Day by day His love provides us

Ev’ry good and perfect thing.

In thanksgiving, let us praise Him;

In thanksgiving, let us sing

Songs of praise and adoration

To our gracious Lord and King.

Lord, thank You for the abundance with which You have blessed us. Abundance of good food and freedoms, good friends and peace. We know from the Bible that all the good things we enjoy come from You. We also know that all the goodness we have might lead us to forget our need for You. At least forget to thank You. Do not let that happen to us. Keep us mindful of the need - of our responsibility - to give You thanks for all You do. Including helping us in difficult seasons of our lives.

We tell You and we tell others of Your goodness. Thank You for the opportunities You provide for us to do that. Amen.

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