Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Truth about Thanksgiving (Thanksgiving)


A young woman teacher with obvious liberal tendencies explains to her class of small children that she is an atheist. She asks her class if they are atheists too. Not really knowing what atheism is but wanting to be like their teacher, their hands explode into the air like fleshy fireworks. There is, however, one exception. A beautiful girl named Lucy has not gone along with the crowd.

The teacher asks her why she has decided to be different. “Because I'm not an atheist.” Then, asks the teacher, “What are you?” “I'm a Christian.”

The teacher is a little perturbed now, her face slightly red. She asks Lucy why she is a Christian. “Well, I was brought up knowing and loving Jesus. My mom is a Christian, and my dad is a Christian, so I am a Christian.”

The teacher is now angry. “That's no reason,” she says loudly. “What if your mom was a moron, and your dad was a moron. What would you be then?” She paused, and smiled. “Then,” says Lucy, “I'd be an atheist.”

It’s easy to say no thanks at times. We have lots of reasons not to be thankful: 911, terrorists, Iraq, tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, bird flu, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake with over forty thousand people in inland, school shootings. A site listing the worst 100 disasters of the 20th century listed China with four in the top ten and more than 10 million dead from these disasters.

Psalm 100 comes with a unique title attached to this psalm rare to others. Most salutations in psalms, as you know, come with gestures such as “To the chief musician,” “A psalm of David,” “A psalm of Asaph” or “A psalm for the sons of Korah.” They are usually name- related, honoring people or identifying authors. The Hebrew designation or sub-heading of Psalm 100, on the other hand, consists of two simple and modest words – “psalm” and “of thanksgiving,” or “a psalm of thanksgiving.”

Most scholars see this passage this way: Verses 1-2 and verse 4 are introductions for verse 3 and 6 respectively, which are the reasons for thanksgiving or the grounds for praise.

Thanksgiving Must Be First and Foremost Given
1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. 2 Worship the LORD with gladness;come before him with joyful songs.

Charlie Brown’s sister Sally had an important piece of news for Charlie Brown. It was so secretive that she had to make sure the coast was clear as she took him to a hiding place to tell the news. First, she opened the door to make sure no one else was around the house. Then she waved him to follow her. Once outside her room and into the living room, they both looked outside the glass windows to see if anyone was listening. Finally the two kids crept on their knees to hide behind the living room sofa before Sally blurted the news in a hush voice to his brother: “We prayed in school today.”

Thanksgiving is a believer’s celebration, a public holiday but an atheist’s nightmare. It’s been said, “Who do atheists thank on Thanksgiving?” and “Can an atheist really celebrate Thanksgiving?” Besides saying “Thanks for nothing,” atheists can only thank the family and friends and themselves.

An atheist leader was asked, “How does an atheist cope with everyday life in America? Is there anything to believe in at all?” The atheist responded, “No, nothing. We don't believe in anything. I suppose you could say we 'believe' in decent behavior. We 'believe' decent behavior is a social construct learned from the days when we lived in caves. But you have to remember the word 'belief' is a religion-based construct.”

The word thanksgiving or “yadhah,” as in the title, occurs 32 times in the Bible, 12 times in Psalms, and twice in this passage, including verse 4.

We are called to express thanksgiving in a big way to God, not to hold back our praises and not to second-guess him. The three verbs in verses 1 and 2 are “shout for joy,” “worship” and “come.” It might surprise you to know that the phrase “shout for joy” is just one word in Hebrew. Some translators prefer the phrase “make a joyful noise.”

The Israelites were no strangers to this approach to worship, which was a significant and vital approach in the temple and even on the battlefield. The first use of the word was when God instructed the sons of Aaron, the priests, to blow or sound the trumpets to gather the assembly (Num 10:7). Also, this is the same shouting the Israelites did on the road to victory when they encircled the city of Jericho that later came tumbling down (Josh 6:10). Externally, the contemporary terms would be to raise the roof, cause a din, clamor for attention, make a racket and holler for awareness.

In verse 2, the psalmist claimed a glad spirit is necessary in worship. The first time the Israelites heard of this word was when Lord heard the bitter complaints and saw the sullen attitude of the Israelites when He led them through the wilderness of Sinai, and stated, “Because you did not serve the LORD your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity, therefore in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies the LORD sends against you (Deut 28:47-48). The joy of worship as exemplified by David (2 Sam 6:12, 1 Chron 15:16, Ps 21:6, Ps 68:3) and Solomon (1 Kings 1: 40) were often forgotten and neglected but revived in the days of Jehoshaphat (2 Chron 20:27), the priest Jehoiada (2 Chron 23:18) and Hezekiah 2 Chron 29:30). The exile brought an end to the joyless and thankless attitude of the people. By the time of the return from exile led by Nehemiah they did not merely have joy, they have great joy (Neh 8:17, 12:43), as promised by the Lord through the prophet Isaiah that it will be everlasting joy (Isa 35:10, 51:11, 61:7).

You cannot come into His presence and know and experience Him if you clam up externally, hold or bottle things inside. We come into God’s presence abandoning and loosing and unfastening our spirit, reserve and voice, not thinking of our burdens but thinking of the Lord.

Thanksgiving Must Be Fittingly and Fully Given
3 Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

The word “made” takes us all the way to creation. Two words stand out in the creation process – “creation” and “make.” The latter word is the subject of Psalms 100. In Genesis the Scriptures noted that God made the sky (Gen 1:7) and the great lights – the sun, the moon and stars (Gen 1:15-16) without much explanation or qualifying. He made the fruit tree and the wild animals with explanation - according to their kinds (Gen 1:11, 25), but the first thing God said upon making man was, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Gen 1:26). Of all creation, man is the only creature made in His image and likeness. God made you special, in His image and likeness, which means God made you a spiritual, moral and intelligent being. Frail as he is, man is such an amazing, extraordinary, interesting, outstanding and unique creature. In fact, he is the crown, the centerpiece and the climax of God’s creation.

However, God did not make us for the fun of it. We are His; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Humans are frequently referred to as sheep in the Bible and not goats, cattle, donkeys, horses or camels. The picture of man as sheep is an apt description. Sheep are dirty, dumb, dependent and defenseless animals. They do not know how to fight enemies, flee danger or follow well! They alternate between having a mind of their own or having no brains, listening to the voice of the Shepherd and heeding the call of the wild, sweet and silly, smart and senseless, and stubborn and stray.

The Associated Press reported (7/8/05) that “nearly 1,500 sheep jumped off a cliff in Turkey, about 450 are killed, cushioning the fall for the rest” First one sheep jumped to its death. Then stunned Turkish shepherds, who had left the herd to graze while they had breakfast, watched as nearly 1,500 others followed, each leaping off the same cliff, Turkish media reported.

In the end, 450 dead animals lay on top of one another in a billowy white pile. Those who jumped later were saved as the pile got higher and the fall more cushioned, Aksam reported.

The world tells us that man is made for pleasure, freedom, society, companionship and work, and that our existence is a chance happening, a pointless existence and a lucky break but the Bible tells us that man is made fellowship and communion and relationship with God. He is made for God alone. God created us not for life’s or experiment’s sake but for His sake and glory.

Thanksgiving Must Be Frequently and Faithfully Given
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. 5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Mrs. Green thanked Tom, the grocery boy, for delivering a loaf of bread.

“Do not thank me. Thank Grocer Jones,” Tom smiled. “He gave me the loaf to deliver.” But when she thanked the grocer, he said, “I get the bread from Baker Brown. He makes it, so he deserves the thanks.”

So Mrs. Green thanked the baker. But he told her that Miller Milligan should be given the gratitude. “Without Miller Milligan’s flour, I could not make bread,” Brown replied.

The miller told her to thank Farmer Foster because he made the flour from Foster’s wheat. But the farmer also protested, “Don’t thank me; thank God,” Foster said. “If He did not give my farm sunshine and rain, I could not grow wheat.” (Tom Maines)

“I do not have to thank anyone for anything I have,” an old miser grumbled. “Everything I have I got the hard way--by the sweat of my own brow.”

“But who gave you the sweat?” asked his neighbor. (Mark Roper)
 The text did not say that the climate or our circumstances will not change, but that He is good and His love endures forever.

The Hebrew word “good” occurs 69 times in Psalms alone. Who is the Lord good to? The Lord is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart (Ps 73:1), those who fear Him (Ps 103:17) and good to all (Ps 145:9). The proclamation “The Lord is good,” (Ps 34:8, 135:3, 145:9), “He is good” (Ps 106:1, 118:1, 118:29), “Good is the Lord” (Ps 25:8), “God is good” (Ps 73:1) and “You are good” (Ps 86:5, 107:1) is a declaration exclusive to the Psalms, with the exception of two “wake-up” and “come around” post-exile references (Ezra 3:11, Nah 1:7). In thanksgiving the focus and recognition is not what the Lord gave us is good, but that He is good in essence. We praise the Supplier and not necessarily for his supplies, the Provider and Producer of all things and not merely for his provisions and products, the Benefactor but not because we are beneficiaries and we have benefits, blessings and breaks.

God is the object of our affection because He is the most secure, steady and stubborn. It is not a marvel that you do not love Him; it is a miracle He loves us. The uniqueness of the expression “his love endures forever” is that Psalm 100 is the first of all psalms to introduce this phrase even though David and Solomon used this phrase previously. The theology behind this is also breathtaking. Previous to David’s interpretation the Hebrew word “forever” has always been associated with God’s covenant with man (Gen 9:16), Abraham (Gen 17:7, 13), Jacob (1 Chron 16:17) and David (2 Sam 23:5), Israel’s everlasting possession of God’s gift of the land (Gen 17:8, 48:4), lasting ordinance (Ex 12:14, 12:17, 27:21, 28:43, 29:9, 31:16). Israel is God’s everlasting people and God is their God (2 Sam 7:24). David was first to designate individuals and choirs to sing this short chorus in the temple (1 Chron 16:34, 41), which was later picked up by Solomon (2 Chron 5:13, 7:3, 6) and Jehoshaphat (2 Chron 20:21).

This psalm is unique in that the psalmist turns things around from other psalms. The previous ninety-nine psalms were all vertical in describing God’s “everlasting” attributes – His reign, kingship or throne is forever (Ps 9:7, 10:16, 45:6), the counsel or plans of the Lord are forever (Ps 33:11), his praise is forever (Ps 41:13, 45:17), his name is forever (Ps 72:17, 19), but the psalmist here declare His love reaches down.

His chesed love or lovingkindness in the text has been described as “great” (Num 14:18-19,), higher than the heavens (Ps 108:4). The closest to this rendition in the New Testament is the word agape.

Conclusion: Psychologists, doctors and mental health experts can testify that a thankful attitude is the foundation of a healthy physical, emotional and mental well-being, and the groundwork for a good relationship and a civilized society.

God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present and all-wise, and He is deserving of our thanksgiving and praise. Mostly, thanksgiving is not a seasonal but a daily and consistent activity.


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