November 28, 2015

Thanksgiving Day - Deuteronomy 8:10-18


The oft-forgotten fruit of faith: Giving Thanks
1) Drowned out by the dressings of “More” and “Me”
2) Produced by Remembering the Covenant

Deuteronomy 8:10-18 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." 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 ancestors, as it is today. (NIV)

Have you ever noticed that the traditional Thanksgiving meal doesn’t have many fruits? Everyone celebrates differently and every family has different foods. But for the most part you don’t see fruits emphasized. You might have apple pie or cranberry sauce, but that’s not fruit by itself. Our banner shows several different kinds of fruits: apples, bananas, pears, and grapes; certainly all part of God’s blessings in our lives. But most Thanksgiving tables won’t have them present. I suppose it doesn’t really matter in the end. Thanksgiving meals aren’t exactly meant to be healthy all the time, so fruit not’s necessary.

But I wonder if it serves as a picture of what has happened with the spiritual fruit of faith of giving thanks to the Lord. In many homes today, that fruit is also absent from tables and conversations. Most people today associate Thanksgiving with eating a ton of food and spending time with family. More recently it’s turned into a football holiday and even a day to go Christmas shopping among the chaotic crowds. The more things you add into a holiday like Thanksgiving the more it takes away from the real meaning. The same thing has happened with Christmas and Easter. When the Pilgrims and Puritans celebrated the first Thanksgiving meal there was no doubt about what they meant. They meant it as time to thank God specifically and to remember His gifts to them.  

We might be quick to say that the problem with today is that people just aren’t thankful anymore. I’m sure that’s certainly possible but I think there’s an even bigger problem. It’s not so much that people are blatantly unthankful, it’s simply that they forget to give thanks. We’re all here today expressly because we are thankful, but outside of church how often do we really show that thankfulness? Is it a fruit that we produce often much like being kind to others and being studious with our time and occupations? One way to gauge our level of bearing the fruit of thankfulness is to think about our mealtime prayers. Do we take time before each meal to give thanks? Have you ever been in that awkward situation of eating with someone who doesn’t give thanks? It’s sad that taking 10-20 seconds to thank God has become something of an awkward thing for most people.

I remember sitting down to eat with Micah and Allie at a fast food place a couple of months ago; and we said our normal prayer; nothing major, not even loud enough for anyone else to hear. A few minutes later and man who noticed came up to us and thanked us for praying before we ate, because in his words, “not enough people do that anymore.” Saying a prayer at mealtime is only one way to give thanks, and a small example at that. But if we’re suffering in consistently saying a 10 second prayer, how much more do we suffer when it comes to giving thanks for the bigger things!

Is the problem that we’re just ungrateful? Perhaps some extent. But there’s more to it. Ultimately, it’s a problem in remembering. We know this because giving thanks has always been the oft-forgotten fruit for all people. We see the very same thing in our text. These words are almost a snap shot of a Thanksgiving afternoon. Eating until you’re satisfied, fine houses, peace, prosperity, and protection are all things that we have on Thanksgiving Day. But at that point, in the midst of all our blessings, do we return thanks? Or do we forget?

That’s one of the things that makes giving thanks the oft-forgotten fruit. The more you have the harder it is to remember to be thankful. And we certainly have a lot. Many times, we confuse want with need and we treat God as if He’s not providing for us. But we have abundantly more than we need in many areas of life. Should we thank God for those blessings, even though we don’t need them? Absolutely, but we should also realize that the riches and prosperity of life can lead us to expect more and more, instead of being content with what we have.

Getting more is also dangerous because it naturally leads us to think about ourselves. If I’m receiving more blessings it’s good for me. Shaping our thoughts and attitudes around “more” and “me” can be like adding pure oxygen to a fire. In an instant, it can get out of control. Without a proper balance of humility and gratitude, our brains can very easily be conditioned to think only of ourselves. It’s like any habit, the more you do it, the easier it gets; and before long you don’t even need to think about it anymore, it just comes naturally. Do we really want our lives to be all about “more” and “me”? We can see it happen in the world, but can we recognize it in our hearts? That’s the question that really matters. 

It’s very much like all the many dressings on our Thanksgiving table. Do we need the stuffing, the pie, and the dinner roles? No, but they’re nice to have and they’re examples of how much the Lord has blessed us. But don’t allow these unnecessary things to drown out the simple, everyday things that God gives too. Things like eyes that still see and ears that still hear, a reserve supply of money in the bank account, and a family that loves you. These things are not small by any stretch, but they are easily forgotten.

When God spoke to His people long ago, they needed to be aware of the same thing. They were blessed beyond their simple needs. They had large flocks and stores of gold and silver. Think of that in modern terms a padded bank account and a healthy retirement package. Yes, the Israelites had come a long way from the days of slavery in Egypt. The LORD led them through the dangerous wilderness. He even took the time here to remind them about those days when He fed them with manna. Nothing special compared to what they had today, but still a gift of providence for their needs. But remember what they did, as they surely would have at these words. They complained about the manna, it was too ordinary, they were sick of it. They became indignant at the LORD much like we do when our electricity goes out or our smart phone breaks. And in this moment of their great prosperity and wealth they were on the verge of letting the same thing happen – forgetting to give thanks.

God knows that money and wealth doesn’t lead to happiness and it certainly can’t buy contentment. The Israelites were tempted to get wrapped up in the Thanksgiving dressings; all the great blessings the LORD gave them but that could also so easily lead them astray. His prescription: Remember. Remember the LORD. Remember His decrees, His commands, and His laws. Remember His protection and His providence. And most of all, remember His covenant. That was God’s lasting message to the Israelites. Above all, remember My covenant with you. The deep promise of love; the binding Word of truth that establishes My relationship with you. The unbreakable prophecy that My Son will come and rescue you from your sins. That is the covenant, remember it.

When the Israelites would be tempted to block God out because of all the dressings of “more” and “me” it would be the covenant that would bring them back. That’s why God fought at the greatest lengths to preserve it. The law was good; ordinances and commands could certainly point them in the right direction. Protection and provision was needed too. But only the Gospel Covenant of Jesus builds and reinforces faith. Only the covenant brings the promise of an eternal inheritance of heaven; the very reason why we are content in all adversities and trials. Notice what God adds at the very end of our text too. It was because of His covenant with them that He blessed them with so much. God put abundant food on their tables, gave them peace and security and the ability to produce wealth for the very purpose of keeping the covenant intact. A thankless attitude not only loses sight of the many gifts, but eventually the entire purpose.

We are members of the same covenant, even though we look at it from a different perspective. We’re waiting for the second Advent of Jesus by remembering the first; something we’ll pick up with on Sunday. And so God’s prescription to us is the same. We could say we live in a more affluent nation and culture than Israel, and we might be right. We could say that our modern conveniences greatly trump any rudimentary pleasures they enjoyed, and that’s probably true. But no amount of wealth changes God’s prescription: Remember the Covenant.           

So today, as you enjoy time with families; as you eat and are satisfied with God’s goodness – remember the covenant and be thankful. As you continue this year and move into the next; as you grow in knowledge and skill; as you succeed at your career and gain “silver and gold” – remember the covenant and be thankful. As life moves rapidly forward and you age; as you move closer to that day when God will bring you out of this land of slavery and into your eternal home – remember the covenant and be thankful.  

It’s not just the billionaires of the world who can say honestly today that God has blessed them many times over with much more than they’ll every need. You and I can say that too, in fact all people can no matter what their station in life is; because we are all underserving sinners who entered this world with nothing. There’s a good kind of humility there that comes through God’s laws and commands when we recognize that truth, and we should be thankful for it.

Without God we are nothing; we have nothing. But it’s the Covenant that clothes us, feeds us, and shelters us; as much in our hearts as in our mortal frames. It’s the Covenant that showers us with blessings upon blessings; that make us rich in body and soul. The Covenant protects us from danger and harm, not by taking it away in this world, but by taking us to be with God in mind and body.

Everywhere you turn, there will always be more dressings to get in the way of God’s wholesome Word. There will always be those who say defiantly, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” And we will always be tempted to feel the same. But never forget the fruit of giving thanks. Thanks for the food, the money, the possessions, the good health, the freedom, and the family and friends; yes for all those things are more – gifts that underserving sinners receive from God. But most of all, give thanks for the Covenant. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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