So, there you have it: Some good and, maybe, not-so-good reasons to be thankful. Any of them sound like you? In one sense, at least, all of us have much to thank God for. For one thing, we live in America, a country that enjoys unparalleled prosperity. We don’t have to build walls to keep people in this country, we are tempted to build them to keep people out. We have many reasons to celebrate Thanksgiving.
Kind of reminds me of the nation of Israel. They, too, had many things to thank God for. In fact, if you read their “bio,” they’d sound a lot like us. Moses made the prediction in his last will and testament before he died. In Deut 8:7 he says,
For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills; 8 a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; 9 a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper.
Kind of sounds like this country doesn’t it? Moses was predicting that the place God was taking them was an awesome place where they’d “eat bread without scarcity and lack nothing.” Thanksgiving day, Moses predicted, would be like Thanksgiving day at Grandma’s house: You know, Turkey, dressing, giblet gravy, green beans, homemade bread and pumpkin pie!
But something was expected of these very blessed people. There was a concrete response they were supposed to have: v 10 tells them, “When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. That word, “bless” comes from the root which means “to kneel before” in order to offer praise. So you could say it like this, “When you have eaten and are full, then you shall Kneel before God in order to offer praise to the Lord your God.” We are to tangibly prostrate ourselves before God and offer praise for what He has done.
But, I wonder this morning, have you ever asked yourself, “Why?” Have you ever asked why a Holy, righteous God, who is all-sufficient within Himself, would ever desire to be praised? Obviously, the thanksgiving is about more than making God feel good about Himself. After all, why would the Almighty need any help with his self-image? I believe that there is more going on in this thanksgiving thing, and I want you to hear it because
You may be missing the whole point through your own independence. Like so many other people, your very own independence may be causing you to trust in yourself. If so, here’s what we must know: Trusting self offends God. The audacity of the created to tell the creator “thanks, but no thanks” reveals a heart stuck on “self.” And those kinds of hearts are not thankful. If you are independent, you’re probably not very thankful. Proper thanksgiving is the only antidote for the self-dependent soul.
But some of you may also be missing the whole point of thanksgiving because of the very blessings of God. One of the most mind-blowing in the Bible is in Romans 1:25 that speaks of those rejecting Christ and says, that (they)exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen . This echoes Deuteronomy 8. It is possible to get so enamored with the creation of God and the blessings of our Heavenly Father, that we forget about Him.
And, quite frankly, that is the worst possible thing a human being can do. Forget God. Why is that such a problem for God? Why does God always want us to remember? It’s because God, being the all-perfect Being that He is, still desires a relationship with human beings like you and me. In fact, I really think that the whole point of thanksgiving really has to do with this relationship. In fact, in Deut 8:1-10, you get a description of this relationship and how it can be nurtured in the human heart. You see, this really is the whole point of thanksgiving. It’s not about stroking God and making Him feel good about Himself, No its about building a relationship with Him. So let me, right from these verse give you four steps that will lead you to this kind of thankful relationship God wants you to have. The first step is this:
DIV 1: THIS RELATIONSHIP IS LEARNED THROUGH DEPENDENCE.
Moses reminds the people of just how God had led them over the last 40 years. He says in v 2 and v 4
And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not . . .
God had a national development program for the Israelites. It was a lot like Boot Camp. They were to wander in the desert while He humbled them and tested them. But that wasn’t all. They were to watch as He, time after time, met their needs. In fact v4 says, Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. How’s that for good clothes. Their britches and their shoes lasted for 40 years! Wow! That’s better than Levi’s!
What was the point of all of this? I mean, it wasn’t as if it took 40 years to travel from Cairo to Jerusalem! Why did God put them through the wilderness. It was so that they would learn that they had to completely depend on Him if they were going to make it. They were not to just engage a deity so that they’d have good crops. They were to intimately depend on Him and learn about Him. He wasn’t offering them “run-of -the-mill” religion. He wanted a particular kind of relationship with them.
What kind of relationship was that? Well, it was a relationship that taught them several things. First, it taught them God’s priority: They learned this very simple motto: God first, me second. If I’m making a decision: God first, me second. If I’m deciding what to offer God: God first, me second. If I’m handling my money: God first, me second. If I’m deciding my career: God first, me second. This relationship taught them God’s priority.
And then that relationship taught them God’s provision. They learned that God provides, I depend. If I need clothes: God provides, I depend. If I need money: God provides, I depend. If I don’t know where my next meal is coming from, well get up in the morning and go collect some manna: God provides, I depend.
And that relationship taught them God’s leadership. That one went like this: He leads, I follow. If I’m deciding whether to go right or left: God leads, I follow. One commentator wrote:
The wilderness tested and disciplined the people in various ways. On the one hand, the desolation of the wilderness removed the natural props and supports which man by nature depends on; it cast the people back on God, who alone could provide the strength to survive the wilderness. On the other hand, the severity of the wilderness period undermined the shallow bases of confidence of those who were not truly rooted and grounded in God. The wilderness makes or breaks a man; it provides strength of will and character. The strength provided by the wilderness, however, was not the strength of self-sufficiency, but the strength that comes from a knowledge of the living God.
God took them into the wilderness, knocked all the props out from under them, and said, “Now just depend on me.” What He was trying to teach them is the lesson that is only learned in the wilderness. When I must depend on God for everything, then I get to know Him like I’ve never known Him before. The relationship is learned through dependence.
When Dick Peterson's wife, Elizabeth, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, he knew many challenges awaited his family. What he didn't know was just how many lessons he would learn along the way about love and service in the name of Christ. He writes:
The intruder invaded Elizabeth's body, and by extension, mine. Her disease became my disease and made demands on our relationship we were ill-prepared to manage. As she moved from cane to walker to electric scooter and finally to a powered wheelchair, then lost use of her right hand, I had to adjust my life to fit her needs.
Uninvited and unwelcome, this disease now forces us into a kind of sick reality game, leaving no choice but to follow the rules even as they change and become more restrictive …
Every family divvies up chores, fairly or not so fairly. The MS dictates ours and it's not at all fair, but we do have the choice to let it tear us apart or use it to strengthen our marriage bond as we face the adversity together. This reaches deeper than deciding who does what. It reaches to feelings, emotions, and attitudes about what we do, what's done to us, and who we are to ourselves and each other …
We both pray for healing. With our families and our church, we agonize before God for a return to the day when Elizabeth can offer an open handshake instead of a permanently clenched fist, or take a flight of stairs without thought.
But if we only grieve the loss, we miss the gain—that what this disease does to us may also be done for us. Even as the MS steals abilities from Elizabeth's life, a healing grows almost undetected inside. When we talk about this, Elizabeth wonders aloud, "Did it really take this to teach me that my soul is more important to God than my body?"
And I ask, "Is this what Jesus meant when he taught his disciples to serve? When he washed their feet, did he look 2,000 years into the future and see me washing my wife's clothes and helping her onto her shower seat to bathe? Did it really take this to teach me compassion?" …
God's healing can be sneaky. We pray that Elizabeth will resume her old life; he wants her to assume a new life. We long for change on the outside; he desires change on the inside. We pray for what we want; he answers with what he knows we need …
[God] has made me question whom it is I love. When I pray for healing, is it for Elizabeth? Or is it because her healing would make life so much easier for me? I challenge, "Aren't you the God who heals? I love her and I want her well." But in the back of my mind I know I also want her healed for me.
In response to my challenge, Jesus asks me as he asked Peter, "Do you love me more than these?" I think, He wants me to love him more than my wife. So I reply with Peter's words, "Yes, Lord. You know that I love you."
Do you get it? It’s dependence that brings relationship. So how dependent are you? Are trusting in the wilderness or lusting in the wilderness? Good question isn’t it? The wilderness will make you or break you. It will either drive you to God or away from Him and the key to which it does will be found in your willingness to surrender to Him and depend on Him.
It is dependence that teaches us how to love God. Thanksgiving is a symptom of dependence so God loves thanksgiving because of the dependence it reveals in us. It’s all about relationship. This relationship is learned through dependence, and then
DIV 2: THIS RELATIONSHIP IS PURSUED THROUGH PRIORITY
Deut 8:3 is a “famous” verse. See if it sounds familiar:
So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.
Where have you heard that before? Well, in case you don’t recall, compare it to Matt 4:3-4: Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” 4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”
When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by Satan, He quoted this verse back to him. What does it mean? Well, I paraphrase one commentator this way:
(The manna God provided) was designed to teach the Israelites a fundamental principle of their existence as the covenant people of God. The basic source of life was God and the words of God to His people . . . If God directed the people to do something or go somewhere, the command was to be obeyed. (Lack) of food or water or strength wasn’t enough of an excuse to disobey the command of God because within His command would be His provision. This principle is used by Jesus in His temptation. If He had given into His hunger and Satan’s suggestion to turn stones into bread, He would have rejected the Father as His source of life, depending upon Himself.
And in His pursuit, He showed us that God and His word must always come first. This is a hard lesson for us to learn. We know that we have to work in order to provide for our families and our needs, but in that very work, we easily forget that it is God alone who provides our needs. So when God comes to us and asks us to step out in faith, or when some test arrives, we are often overwhelmed. Why? Because we’ve been prioritizing our own abilities and not depending on Him.
It all comes down to this question: Are you “Jesus flavored” or “Jesus filled?” This is a bottle of Grape juice. If you’re in the convenience store, you may think you’re being healthy by passing up the Coke to grab the grape juice, but think again! Now it says grape jusice. You see, it says it right here on the label, at least that’s what it seems to say. But notice the ingredients: Filtered Water, High Fructose Corn syrup, Grape Juice concentrate. Notice that what we thought would be the first, indeed, the only ingredient is really about 3rd on the list. Now what you all probably know is that the FDA requires companies to list their ingredients in the order of their importance in the product, so not only is this bottle not 100% grape juice, grape juice isn’t even its number one ingredient. It’s way down on the list. O, and by the way, if you drink a bottle of this stuff, you consume 290 calories! And you thought you were trying to be healthy!
Now before you get too upset with this misleading label, take a look in the mirror. By the way, I’m going to as well. We say that we’re believers. More than that, we claim to be disciples who are sold out to Christ, but is that really truth in labeling? Who really is prioritized in your life? Is it your work? Is it your family? Is it that person you’re dating? Is it your car? Your boat? Your place at the beach? Your house? Your wii? Your Ipad? What is it that lays claim to your heart.
The reason that God so loves Thanksgiving is because when someone is genuinely thankful, it is because they are pursuing Him as their primary priority, and when that happens, there is real intimacy between God and that person.
And you may be asking, “What does it mean to really prioritize God in my life? How do I really do that? Well let me suggest three questions you may want to ask yourself about this. First:
Is God more important to me than my needs? Yes, I need food to live. Yes, I need a place to live and I need to matter, but do those things crowd out the priority of God in my life? Is He more important to me than my needs?
And is He more important to me than my responsibilites? Yes, I must provide for my family. Yes I must take care of the things that God has entrusted to me, but does the house become an end in itself? Does the paying for the car come ahead of paying my tithe? Is God more important than my responsibilities?
And is He more important than my work and my efforts. If I truly believe that I do not live by bread alone; If I do not live because I am working to provide my own bread. If I do not live for this world and my efforts, but for Him and for His kingdom, what will my life be like?
I will tell you one thing: If I truly understand that I live by His word and prioritize Him in my life, I will enter into such a fulfilling relationship that nothing else can provide. C. S. Lewis wrote:
When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. Insofar as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving towards the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.
Jesus said it like this: Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you. God loves Thanksgiving because of the relationship real thanksgiving brings. That relationship is learned through dependence and pursued through priority. But
DIV 3: THIS RELATIONSHIP IS MOTIVATED BY LOVE
My favorite verse of this whole chapter is verse 5. In the middle of the somewhat severe things Moses says about them being led into the wilderness to be tested, almost in passing, it seems, Moses throws out the most wonderful reassurance. He says in v 5, You should know in your heart that, as a man chastens his son, so the Lord you God chastens you. In other words, its almost as if Moses says, “O by the way, of course you know that as a man would chasten his son, so the Lord your God chastens you.”
The most incredible part of that verse is the relationship of which it speaks. God is not relating to me as the Creator to the creature. He is relating to me as a Father relates to his son. He doesn’t have me in the wilderness just because he likes to see me squirm. No, He is chastening me. Literally that word means to train or discipline in order to teach. God is chastening me like a father.
What does that mean? Well at least three things. First, to be chastened means to be trained. This is an intentional process that is lived out in everyday life. I still remember my dad’s instruction on how to plow the garden and mow the grass. He taught me to paint. But more than these kinds of things, he taught me how to love and serve God. He trained me. Chastening means training.
And chastening means to be spanked. Wow! You can’t hardly even mention that word anymore, but yes, my father did spank me. He knew that, as the Bible says, foolishness, sinfulness, and rebellion is bound up in the heart of a child, but that the rod of correction, properly applied with love, will drive it far from him. Did you know that the Bible says that he who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly? Now I’m not saying that every child has to be spanked, but for most of them, the only way you’re going to overcome their natural rebellion is to, on occasion, spank them.
And my Christian friend, God loves you. He will spank you, often to drive the rebellion out of your heart. Chastening means spanking and chastening means training.
But to be chastening means to be loved. And let me hasten to add that chastening means to be loved in such a way that you both feel and understand it. It means that there are those occasions when your Heavenly Father takes absolute delight in you.
My dad demonstrated such love to me. I still remember the time he caught me doing something that greatly disappointed him. He was so disappointed that I don’t think he knew what to do. That afternoon, he picked me up from school took me to his office and cried (that was one of the only times I ever saw him cry) as he talked to me about what I was doing.
And then there was the time when he said something to me that let me know he delighted in me. I was in my senior year in high school, I think, and said something about going into the military. I wasn’t really serious, I was just rambling on like seniors who have too many dreams and not enough deadlines are prone to do. In the middle of my ramble, I said something about the military teaching me discipline, and he said something which really impressed me. I don’t know if he even remembers it today. But, when I said that I needed to go into the military to be taught discipline, he said, “Rusty, you’ve already got more discipline than most people in the service.” Now, folks, I know that was not true, ok. But you know what that did for me. I started thinking, “Wow, my Dad thinks a lot of me. He really thinks I’m disciplined. He delights in me.”
Listen, God delights in you as His child. The reason He loves thanksgiving is because it really gets you in touch with His love for you. When you really begin to understand Who He is and all He is done for you, you are driven to Him and you begin to be motivated by the great love He has for you.
If you’re here today and you really don’t know what it means to know Christ, you may not have the right concept of Him. Most unbelievers are not militantly atheistic, they’re just willfully misinformed. See, so many unbelievers think that God is out to get them; to ruin their fun and leave them high and dry. That’s not God. He’s not out to get you, He’s out to keep you from ruining you down. He’s not there to put you down, but to lift you up. He wants to be your Father. He wants to have an intimate relationship with you.
And unbelievers aren’t the only ones to struggle with God’s Fathering. In fact Christians react to the parenting of God in three ways. Some deny it, at least in a practical sense. They live what they think are “separated” lives, but not separated in the biblical way. They see their spiritual and physical lives as being totally separated. They either neglect or refuse to see God’s hand in all the circumstances of their lives, so they very often miss what God is trying to do in them. They deny.
Others rebel. These are the ones who are like strong-willed children. They are always trying to change God’s will and shape it the way they want it to go. And when God, the FATHER, hello! doesn’t allow them to set the agenda, they get mad, get down in the floor of their lives and pitch a fit. They say, “OK God, if that’s how its going to be, then forget You, God!” They take their lives into their own hands and run from God’s correction. So guess what happens: The same thing that happens when we discipline our children. If speaking to them doesn’t correct them, then we get the switch, right? Hey, one of the reasons that some of us seem to be getting nowhere in our lives is that God has been trying and trying to get our attention and we just won’t listen. So he must take increasingly drastic measures to correct us. Some deny; some rebel, but here’s what we should do. You see,
Some submit. That means that, when the pain comes, they don’t get mad and resent God. They don’t run just because they don’t understand. They don’t accuse. They say with Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” They submit themselves to the chastening of their Father.
So where are you? Are you denying that the circumstances in your life have anything to do with God. May I tell you that many of the circumstances you are going through are simply the natural result of your own decisions. But even those things you bring upon yourself are never neglected by God. He wants to use all the details of your life to show you that He is a Father who is disciplining You.
And are you rebelling? Are you, right now, in the middle of a spiritual temper tantrum? Are you kicking and screaming and accusing God? If you are, you know what’s coming don’t you? That’s right, more discipline! He loves you too much to let you rebel and get away with it. Isn’t it time for you to submit? When you do, you will find Him to be your Father!
You see, God wants you to know that He loves You: He loves you too much to just leave you to your own devices. Like a Father He disciplines you.
And what does all of this have to do with Thanksgiving? Well, just ask yourself this question: Why would God have chosen a people like the Israelites to bless? Why would He have chosen a no-name like Moses, turned him into a prince, then allowed him to lose it all, just to bring him back in 40 years as the leader of that nation? Why would He have miraculously delivered them from Egypt? Why did He feed them and clothe them and watch over them like a Father does His own children?
Because what he was after was not their salvation. He was after their relationship. He wanted to demonstrate to them just Who He was so that they could get to know Him in all of His glory. He wanted to demonstrate what Adam and Eve had known in the garden and then lost. He wanted us to know Him and love Him. It is only the thankful heart that is really able to grasp that.
Listen, if you don’t know the Lord as your Savior, Thanksgiving can only go so far in your life. You can’t even really be thankful till you fully grasp who you are in the context of Who God is! You may be thankful for your blessings or for your health, and that’s good, but that’s not the thankfulness God wants from you. He wants the kind of thankfulness that can only come from a heart that is in radical relationship with Him.
And Christian, as long as you are primarily thankful for “stuff,” you’re just a spiritual idolater. As long as you are primarily thankful that you have a job, or your house is not in foreclosure, or you’re making your sales quota, you’re focused on stuff. What God is after is not for you to be carried away with your financial blessing, or your new job, or your miraculous healing. What God is after is for you to be carried away with Him. That’s real thanksgiving!
A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of spending the weekend with my grandson. I won’t bore you with the details, but I had a blast. We played silly games. He found one of the plungers in the bathroom (It’s the one we use to unstop the drains, not the commodes, ok?) He found it in the bathroom and we spent about thirty minutes just walking around the house unstopping make believe drains in our living room floor. He thought that was the greatest thing. He would just laugh whenever we’d do it. Now, I’m not in the habit of spending time unstopping make-believe drains. I don’t even enjoy unstopping real ones! But I did it because I did it with Him.
Then on Monday afternoon, I missed staff meeting here. Now, I don’t miss staff meeting for anything. It’s important. I discovered a long time ago that if you’re not at staff meeting, you’re the one who ends up being assigned all the things nobody else wants to do! But I missed this staff meeting. Why? So I could go shopping and babysit him. Now, you all know that shopping is not my favorite activity. So why would I do that? So I could be with him.
On the way home from shopping, he fell asleep in the car. We thought he would wake up when we got home, but he didn’t. I took him from his car seat, went into the living room and for the next 45 minutes I just sat in the chair and held him while he slept. May I tell you that was about the best hour I have spent in a long time. I delighted in him.
A little later on, suddenly it hit me: If God feels about me the way I feel about my grandson, He really loves me a lot.
Listen, sandwiched in the middle of this month is such an unbelievable opportunity for you. It is the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s not turkey day, and it has nothing to do with whether the Cowboys get beat . . . again! And this day isn’t even about stopping to thank God for your health or your provisions, although you should certainly do that. No, this day is a day to forget about the things God gives and focus on the person God is. It’s an opportunity to crawl up in His lap, give and tell Him all over again just how much you love Him. Now that’s real thanksgiving and that’s why God loves it!