November 25-26, 2015
Pastor Timothy J. Spaude
Text: James 1:16-17
“OH GIVE THANKS TO THE LORD!
1. For He is good!
2. For His mercy endures forever!
James 1:16-17 “Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. 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.”
Oh, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good. For His mercy endures forever. If you are like me and was raised in a family and live in a family that regularly uses those words from the Psalms as a mealtime prayer and if you eat your three squares a day then each year you have about 1095 opportunities, 3 more in leap year, to pray that prayer. That means you also have the same number of opportunities to just say that prayer without meaning it. We can do that can’t we, just go through the motions. We can do that with Thanksgiving too. Happy Thanksgiving. I can say that without meaning it. I can live the day without a thankful heart. So can you. But it’s not what we want. Let’s look at God’s Word then with a prayer to the Holy Spirit that He enable us to have a truly happy Thanksgiving as we join to give thanks to the Lord!
The Apostle James helps us with that today. His letter is filled with spiritual wisdom. Listen to it again. “Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” Every good and perfect gift is from above, from God. That’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? You would think. Why does James start by saying, “Don’t be deceived.” God had him write that because the Lord knows it happens—to Christians. Christmas is just around the corner. A long time kids’ favorite is Dr. Seuss “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” He tries to steal Christmas joy. There’s a Thanksgiving Grinch as well. Two of them actually, which the Devil uses to try to steal Thanksgiving thankfulness. Those Grinches are arrogance and entitlement. Don’t be deceived by arrogance. God had Moses warn his people way back into 1500 BC. You heard about it in the Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy. “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’” That’s arrogance. Surely we would never do that? How about it, kids? Do you do well in school? Why is that? Is it because you are so smart and do things so much better or is it because the Lord gave you abilities to do well? To be sure, you still needed to use them but hard work alone doesn’t cut it. God must bless. The same is true if you are good at music or sports or anything else. Good thing we adults know better, or do we? Did you have a good year wealthwise? Did you make good decisions on investments or spending? “But remember the LORD your God,” Moses wrote, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” He, not me. Arrogance! Any time we do well and have obvious blessings the Devil and ourselves fall for the deception. We feel we are so good at what we do, so smug and self satisfied instead of thankful. That’s one Grinch, arrogance.
There’s another. Entitlement. Kids, as I mentioned Christmas is coming up. Do you think you are going to get any presents? Why would you think that? Because you’ve gotten them before? Because your parents have to?Thinking that you deserve or are owed certain privileges or blessings is called Entitlement and we Americans have gotten very good at it. Children think they are entitled to their presents and so if they don’t get what they want they may be disappointed. For adults the bonus at work can be an entitlement and if workers don’t get it they may get mad. Waiters and waitresses can look at a tip that way. American Christians can look at God’s blessings that way. We are good. We ought to get blessings. At the back of the service folder I’ve included some of the history of Thanksgiving from a description of what’s often called the first Thanksgiving in America in the Plymouth Colony to various proclamations of Thanksgiving from Congress and US presidents. I’ve underlined some words. How the first thanks givers saw good weather coming as a result of God’s mercy, how Sam Adams acknowledged that sins forfeit God’s favor, how George Washington begged for pardon of transgressions, how Abraham Lincoln admitted that no human counsel or hand had worked their blessings. None of them thought they were good. They acknowledged that God was good. Oh give thanks to the Lord for He is good!
God is good. Although He needs nothing He created this world and showers it with His love. He set in motion and keeps going the laws of nature that provides for all living things. He is good and puts things in our life for our enjoyment and ease. God is good. He’s good when He gives us the job promotion, right? Is He still good when our job is taken away? God is good when He grants good health to us and our loved ones. Is He still good when He allows a serious illness? God is good when He blesses us with savings. Is He still good when the unexpected car repair drains our savings? God is good when He freely forgives us our sins. Is He still good when He forgives the one who has hurt us?
James helps us to have a deeper Thanksgiving than the unbelievers. Even pagans and those who are deliberately rejecting Jesus as Savior feel good and grateful in a way for those things that most people will view as blessings: good health, more money, things. James helps us be thankful for those things that don’t look positive like unexpected repairs and health problems. He does so with a simple reminder. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” God does not change like shifting shadows. Have you ever really looked at shadows on a warm sunny day as the sun is shining on a tree on a breezy day? Watch them shift and move. They’re never the same. People are like that too. They change. They (read we) can be happy and joyful and then be grumpy and cranky and complaining. They (we) can be kind and nice and mean and cruel. They (we can be giving and selfless and then be selfish and self centered. People change.
God is always the same. If we go back to the common thanksgiving prayer one of the things we are thanking God for is that His mercy endures forever. Now if you compare the King James translation of the Bible with the New International Version of the Bible you will see that while the King James translates “For his mercy endureth forever” the NIV translates “for his love endures forever.” That’s because the actual Hebrew word to describe this attribute of God is too big for one word. Others have tried lovingkindness, faithful love and abundant kindness. It’s the characteristic of God that describes how God is faithful and generous in doing good things for His people. It’s this abundant mercy of God that moved Him to plan and carry out justice for sin on His Son instead of on us sinners. You know the details of that plan: How Jesus became one of us. How He gained the status of righteous in the eyes of God for us by His perfect obedience and how He experienced an awful pain we can’t imagine and will never know, that agony of separation from God in our place.
That’s how we know God is good even when we experience hardships in this life. We can thank God for them like the Apostle Paul whose thorn in the flesh was actually a grace from God to help Paul from becoming conceited and the other Apostle who rejoiced that they could endure hardship for the name of Jesus and like so many brothers and sisters some of whom you know saw failing health as a blessing to pull family together, bodies wearing out as the preparation for heaven, low income or loss of income as an opportunity to grow in trust, loss of a loved one as a chance to proclaim the Gospel. The list can go on. Because God doesn’t change, because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever we know what God allows is not Him punishing us but actions of a Father who really does know best, a Father whose mercy endures forever.
If you are like me and my family and regularly use the common thanksgiving you do have about 1095 times to just say that prayer or to really pray that prayer. You get one Thanksgiving Day a year. Let’s reject the grinches of arrogance and entitlement. Join me and let’s pray that prayer! O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever. Amen.