Thanksgiving Service 2002
Scripture: Psalm 100 - All The More Reason To Give Thanks
(Comment on God's goodness in comparison to pagan gods.)
Man makes pagan gods in his own image and likeness which is fallen in sin; whereas God makes man in his own image which leads to righteousness. We are what we worship. Do we worship ourselves or the God who made us?
We have much to be thankful for in knowing the God who redeems us.
We are in the world but not of it. Reference Daniel 1.
Suggested Text: Ephesians 5:20, "In All Things Be Thankful"
Back during the dark days of 1929, a group of ministers in the Northeast,
all graduates of the Boston School of Theology, gathered to discuss how they should conduct their Thanksgiving Sunday services.
Things were about as bad as they could get, with no sign of relief.
The bread lines were depressingly long, the stock market had plummeted, and the term Great Depression seemed an apt description for the mood of the country.
The ministers thought they should only lightly touch upon the subject of Thanksgiving in deference to the human misery all about them.
After all, there was not much to be thankful for.
But it was Dr. William L. Stiger, pastor of a large congregation in the city that rallied the group.
This was not the time, he suggested, to give mere passing mention to Thanksgiving, just the opposite.
This was the time for the nation to get matters in perspective and thank God for blessings always present, but perhaps suppressed due to intense hardship.
I think these ministers struck upon something.
The most intense moments of thankfulness are not found in times of plenty, but when difficulties abound.
Think of the Pilgrims that first Thanksgiving.
Half their number dead, men without a country, but still there was thanksgiving to God.
Their gratitude was not for something but in something.
It was that same sense of gratitude that lead Abraham Lincoln to formally establish the first Thanksgiving Day in the midst of national civil war, when the butcher’s list of casualties seemed to have no end and the very nation struggled for survival.
Perhaps in your own life, right now, you are experiencing intense hardship.
This is a common occurrence during holiday seasons when we tend to have certain expectations about family, togetherness, acceptance ---.
Perhaps you are experiencing your own personal Great Depression.
Why should you be thankful this day – or any day for that matter?
If you can't think of much right now you are not alone.
I read an interesting story in Teacher to Teacher magazine (Vol. 6, No. 4, November 2002) the other day about giving thanks by a person who couldn't think of much. It was entitled Thanks For Nothing.
The idea was that when we have trouble finding things for which to give thanks, we should perhaps think of the things we didn't get, or things that didn't happen, for which we can give thanks. (Give examples.)
Ephesians 5:20 tells us to be thankful even in all things. That could include even things that don't seem good at the time.
It is true that some things are bad, but we must believe that for those who love the Lord, all things work out for good (Rom. 8:28).
Perhaps we can bring ourselves to give thanks for the things we can eventually give thanks for.
But back to our question about why we should be thankful. Why should we give thanks to God for everything?
Ask: "What does giving thanks do or accomplish for us?
May I suggest three things? (the essence of thanksgiving)
1. We must learn to be thankful or we become bitter.
Better Not Bitter
If we are not thankful then we can become bitter. If we are not thankful,
then it becomes too easy to sit around and ponder the question: why me?
Dr. Jim Moore, pastor of St. Luke’s UMC in Houston wrote a book entitled
"You Can Grow Bitter or You Can Grow Better".
He writes that he got the idea for the title from a young woman who once came to him in a most tragic moment in her life.
She had tears in her eyes and her knuckles were white as she twisted a handkerchief.
She had just received word that her twenty-six year old husband had been killed in a farming accident, leaving her alone with three pre-school age children.
One moment he was alive and vibrant, the next moment gone.
"I don't know how I am going to be able to get along without him," she sobbed. "But I do know one thing. I can either get bitter or I can get better."
One way that we can get better rather than bitter is to develop a thankful
We must learn to be grateful to the Lord with whom we shall spend
Our morning prayer should always begin: O Thou who has given me
so much, I pray that you give me yet one more thing--a grateful heart.
With Heart and Hand and Voices
Martin Rinkert was a minister in the little town of Eilenburg in Germany
some 350 years ago.
He was the son of a poor coppersmith, but somehow, he managed to work his way through an education.
Finally, in the year 1617, he was offered the post of Archdeacon in his hometown parish.
A year later, what has come to be known as the Thirty-Years-War broke out. His town was caught right in the middle.
In 1637, the massive plague that swept across the continent hit Eilenburg... people died at the rate of fifty a day and the man called upon to bury most of them was Pastor Martin Rinkert.
In all, over 8,000 people died, including Martin's own wife.
His labors finally came to an end about 11 years later, just one year after the conclusion of the war.
His ministry spanned 32 years, all but the first and the last overwhelmed by
the great conflict that engulfed his town.
Tough circumstances in which to be thankful. But he managed. And he wrote these words (#556, Hymnal):
Now thank we all our God
With heart and hands and voices;
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom his world rejoices.
It takes a magnificent spirit to come through such hardship and express
Here is a great lesson. Surrounded by tremendous adversity, thanksgiving will deliver you...with heart and hands and voices.
2. We must learn to be thankful or we will become discouraged.
We're Getting A Divorce
One elderly Christian couple in Phoenix obtained thanksgiving by facing their discouragement 'head on'.
They were getting discouraged that their children hardly ever came to see them on the holidays unless they bribed them and paid their way.
So the father called his son in New York and said, "I hate to ruin your day, but I have to tell you that your mother and I are being divorced; 45 years of misery is enough." (not a lie – their children are divorcing them by not coming very often)
"Pop, what are you talking about?" the son screams.
"We can't stand it any longer," the old man says. "We're sick of it, and I'm sick of talking about it, so you call your sister in Chicago and tell her." Then he hung up.
Frantic, the son called his sister, who explodes on the phone. "Like heck
they're getting divorced," she shouts, "I'll take care of this."
She called Phoenix immediately, and screams at her father, "You are NOT getting divorced. Don't do a single thing until I get there. I'm calling my brother back, and we'll both be there tomorrow. Until then, don't do a thing, DO YOU HEAR ME?"
The old man hung up the phone and turned to his wife. "Okay," he said,
"They're coming for Thanksgiving and paying their own fares."
3. We must learn to be thankful or we shall surely grow arrogant and self-satisfied.
Have You Taken Inventory Lately?
The renowned teacher and author Dr. David McLennon tells about his very first job in a small town general store.
This was the day before malls and supermarket chains - at least it was in his community.
At age thirteen he was hired as a handy boy. He would sweep the floor, bag items for customers, put up stock.
On one particular Saturday, he recalled, he heard the owner say to one of the clerks “It’s that time of the year again, it’s time to take inventory."
Dr. McLennon wrote that this was a word that had not yet entered into his vocabulary.
When an opportune moment arrived, he went up to the kindly older man and asked, "Sir, what is an inventory?"
Patiently the owner explained that it was a time when you made a list of everything that you had--from groceries on the shelves to wrapping paper and string.
Still somewhat puzzled, the young McLennon then asked, "Why?"
“Well, responded the owner, it's easy to forget exactly how much you have
each year. Every now and then you have to take an inventory just to see what all you have."
This story pretty well sums up what Thanksgiving is all about.
It is a time when each of us needs to ask ourselves the question: "Have I taken inventory of my life lately? Have I made an effort to count all the things that I do have in life instead of complaining about the things that I don’t have."
It is a good exercise especially when we are of a mind to brood in self pity. Have you taken inventory lately?
What I am suggesting here is not some shallow "count your blessings"
But from time to time, in a genuine kind of a way, we need to sit down and do some talking to ourselves about all of the gifts and opportunities and challenges that God has given each one of us.
Perhaps there is a deep underlying wisdom in the children's poem that says: "Count your blessings one by one, and you might be surprised what the Lord has done."
The Source of Thanksgiving
I will remind you of that wonderful Children's holiday classic "The Grinch
Who Stole Christmas." It was released a few years ago as a movie starring Jim Carrey.
You'll recall in the story how the Grinch enters all the homes by way of their chimneys disguised as Santa Clause.
He takes all the presents and ornaments, the trees and stockings, and even their food down to the last morsel.
He drags his loot up to his mountain and then looks down upon Whoville with a sinister grin.
He is listening for the cries and wailings of the people to start as they wake up on Christmas morning to discover a Christmas lost.
What he hears instead surprises him. Up from the town of the Whos comes a joyful Christmas carol.
"Why are they singing?" he asks. It is because, he learns, that Christmas resides not in things but in the heart that is thankful. He could not steal their gratitude.
We must be reminded that we have an evil spiritual enemy who also wants to steal our gratitude.
He wants us to withhold thanks and praise from God to whom it is due.
If he can't have it all for himself, he wants no one else to have it either – especially not God who called the question on his motives long ago.
The enemy wants to deceive us into complaining rather than commending.
He wants to take our eyes off God's goodness and grace.
He wants to distract us toward what we don't have rather than what we do have.
I heard a homespun proverb the other day about this. "If the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence, it is probably growing over the septic tank."
We must stay on God's side of the fence. It protects us from pursuing the enemy's illusions that emanate from his septic tank of enticements.
The enemy would have us make Thanksgiving Day "Turkey Day" instead.
He wants it named after himself.
But the turkey ends up dead after he loses his head.
It is we who give thanks to God that will devour the enemy – that great spiritual 'turkey' who now struts around this world looking for whom he might gobble.
Yes, indeed, it is his day – to be stuffed and roasted.
Thanksgiving is the day that the children of God unstuff the turkey and devour him through the process of giving thanks to God – even for the turkey.
Now if that doesn't pour the gravy of gratitude on your sweet potato spirit, I don't know what will.
Have a great Thanksgiving!