Sunday, November 23, 2008

Learning to Live Thankfully - Deuteronomy 16:11-17

I was very blessed by this sermon today and felt it important enough to share. These are the notes I took. I hope that you are as equally blessed by it as we come quickly upon a day of Thanksgiving, in a time where there is so much uncertainty and anxiety about the future.

On April 5, 1621, a small band of 51 pilgrims stood on the shore of Plymouth Bay in what is now the state of Massachusetts. They had endured a terrible winter. 102 of them had come to the New World on the Mayflower and in January and February of that year, 51 of those 102 had died. Those remaining stood on the shores and watched the Mayflower leave as she headed back to Europe. Not one of the surviving pilgrims boarded the ship to return home though, even though they certainly could have. They stayed because they had come to America to build a place where they could worship God and despite the hardships that they had faced, they remained.

These were a devout people who had brought with them their most prized possession in the world, the Bible. Just 9 years before they came to this new world, this Bible had been published and had taken a prominent place in their lives. After they built their homes where the Bible was the center of their lives, they erected their churches where the Bible was taught. After they erected their churches, they erected their schools, where the textbook was the Bible. Their children learned to read using the text of the Bible.

In the fall of 1621 they elected Governor Bradford and he announced a time of thanksgiving - the very first thanksgiving in the New World - and for 3 days they rejoiced and celebrated in the goodness of God. They were simply responding to what they had read in the Book that they had brought with them. That Book was the Bible. They had read things such as:

Psalm 100:4-5

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

200 years later, in 1863 Abraham Lincoln officially set aside the last Thursday in November as a day of thanksgiving and praise “to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” This was to be a day of religious observance and a day set aside as a day of prayer and a day to praise God. It was at a time when there was great stress and deprivation and death and disease and difficulty that the celebration we know as Thanksgiving was born. No, it was not born out of plentiful, bountiful, abundance - but out of abject poverty ... and yet these people were thankful.

But long before the celebration of thanksgiving in America, thanksgiving was part of the worship of the people of God.

Exodus 23:16

Celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field. Celebrate the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field.

James 1:17

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

Exodus 34:22

Celebrate the Feast of Weeks with the first fruits of the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year.

If the Israelites were admonished not to forget the Lord their God when they counted up the benefits of His grace, certainly those of us who live today in this time of great blessing and prosperity in comparison, we must be doubly careful to avoid the sin of ingratitude. As we examine this Old Testament time of thanksgiving we will discover that there are principles here for the celebration of our thanksgiving. We can observe them today even though these words were written so many years ago.

I. Thanksgiving is a Time for Relationships

One of the great blessings of our holiday celebration is the opportunity they afford us to be with those that we love. One of the great qualities that the Bible teaches is the quality of relationship. In fact, the Bible may be the best manual on personal relationships that you will ever find, for in the Old and New Testament you cannot avoid this Truth ... God put a premium on relationships. It was God who said it is not good that man should be alone, and He brought together the family. And when you come to the New Testament you understand that God did not intend for believers to live alone, He brought to us after the family that brought husband and wife together, He brought us the church, which brings believers together. God looks at us in community and thanksgiving is a time for us to look around at all the people that He has brought into our lives and express gratitude for each and every one of them. Even if you feel alone, due to death or separation or some loss, if you look around you carefully you will see that there is someone in your life that God has or is providing to you at this particular time and this is the moment to embrace that person and be thankful for them. Don't miss this opportunity to be thankful for those that God has brought into your life.

Deuteronomy 16:11

And rejoice before the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name—you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, the Levites in your towns, and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows living among you.

Deuteronomy 16:14

Be joyful at your Feast—you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns.

Genesis 2:18

The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."

Matthew 25:40

The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

II. Thanksgiving is a Time for Remembering

The word "think" and the word "thank" come from the same root word. Almost as if to teach us that thanksgiving is about thinking carefully about what has happened in our lives. To remember. At times you may have thoughts of some who have long passed from this life - flashbacks of memories. Perhaps it is that God is bringing those things back so that you will appreciate the heritage that you were given. Memories call back to our minds things that happened many years ago not for the purpose of recalling some oppression or agony, but for the purpose of reminding us that that is where we were, and that God has brought us out, and to be grateful for what He has done. The Bible is full of information that helps us understand that God has given us a memory so that we would not forget what He does for us.

Deuteronomy 16:12

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and follow carefully these decrees.

Deuteronomy 8:18

But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.

Psalm 68:19

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.

Psalm 107:21-22

Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for men.
Let them sacrifice thank offerings
and tell of his works with songs of joy.

Romans 11:33

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

Ephesians 1:3

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

III. Thanksgiving is a Time for Reflecting

God wants to make us people who exhibit thankfulness in proportion to the gifts and blessings we have received and not ever to take them for granted. A hungry man is more thankful than a rich man for his heavily laden table. A lonely woman in a nursing home will appreciate a visit more than a popular woman with a party that is thrown in her honor. A Russian that finally gets his own copy of the scriptures after 75 years in state imposed atheism is more thankful for his little Bible than we are for all the Christian books, and magazines and translations that overflow our shelves.

Deuteronomy 16:15

For seven days celebrate the Feast to the LORD your at the place the LORD will choose. For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.

IV. Thanksgiving is a Time for Rejoicing

Thanksgiving is a time for joy and rejoicing and to say Lord God thank you. I am so filled with joy because of all of your blessings in my heart. Gratitude is not just something that you have to do. Gratitude is a gift from God so that when you experience it, it puts you in a spiritual high like nothing you have ever before experienced. Are you so wrapped up in all the issues, difficulties and negatives of life that you have not allowed yourself the opportunity, and the blessing and the privilege of pure absolutely unfettered gratitude to God? Why don’t you try to get yourself in that place and see if it isn’t the most wonderful thing you have ever experienced?

Deuteronomy 16:11, 14, 15

And rejoice before the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name—you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, the Levites in your towns, and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows living among you. Be joyful at your Feast—you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns. For seven days celebrate the Feast to the LORD your God at the place the LORD will choose. For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.

V. Thanksgiving is a Time for Responding

Thanks. Giving. Giving thanks. A person who is thankful will have open hands to help others. A person who is thankful will realize that God has just given them what they have in order that they might be a vessel of blessing to others. God gives us influence, wealth, skills and abilities so that we can help others. Nothing that God gives us is ultimately for us to horde to ourselves but we are to be channels of blessings to others. When you are thankful, how will you know it? You will be knowledgeable of your thanksgiving attitude when you have a desire to take what God has given you, and pass it on to others. Thanksgiving requires a response from us.

Deuteronomy 16:10, 16, 17

Then celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the LORD your God has given you. Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles. No man should appear before the LORD empty-handed: Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the LORD your God has blessed you.

VI. Thanksgiving is a Time for Reaching Out

Thanksgiving is not just for the family, but for all who are in our midst, that we would invite them to participate in this time of rejoicing.


A young Midwestern lawyer had a dark side to his nature in his early years and it was during this time in 1841 that he wrote:

"I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. Whether I shall ever be better I can not tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me."

That man was Abraham Lincoln. His law partner said melancholy dripped from him as he walked throughout the day during that period. Yet some twenty years later in 1863 as he established that Proclamation of Thanksgiving we spoke of above, he said,

“The Year that is drawing toward it's close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come.”

Although Lincoln was painfully aware that at that time thousands of young men were dying in the Civil War and that the country could be on the brink of collapse, he was still able to see the goodness of God around him. Sometime between 1841 and 1863, something had happened in Lincoln’s heart. He had learned how to live in the midst of tragedy and still cultivate gratitude and joy in his own life. We don’t know what happened, but he did leave us one little clue, when in a casual remark he made to an acquaintance he said:

"I have noticed that folks are generally about as happy as they have made up their minds to be."

Thanksgiving is a decision that we make. It is a thing that we choose. All of us have a landscape out in front of our lives from which we could pull out negative things and dwell upon them and make them the primary conversation we have with our loved ones and with our friends, so that that one thing out of all things would then become the whole picture. But by the help of God and his grace, we must choose not to do that. We must decide in our spirit that yes, while in every life there are some places which we would like not to have been or to be in, we cannot choose to live there if we want to be a happy, joyous, grateful person.

Take stock of all that God has done for you. Make your lists this week and write them down. Count your blessings - name them one by one - and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

Thank you Papa - in love,

Based on the sermon:

Dr. David Jeremiah
“Learning to Live Thankfully”
Deuteronomy 16:11-17

November 23, 2008


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