thanksgiving-2015

In my estimation, one of the greatest gifts that God has given us is the ability to remember. Because I am able to remember I will always treasure that day that a friend of mine led me in a prayer to ask Jesus into my heart as Lord and Savior of my life. Because of God’s gift of memory I will always treasure, not just the surroundings, but the feelings I felt when I stood before the preacher and said “I do.” Because of the gift of memory I will never forget what it was like to experience the birth of my children and the joy that Connie and I shared together in welcoming them into this world. Because I am able to remember, I will always be able to have a laugh whenever I recall the Sunday that I baptized Ina Whitt and she forgot to tell me that she was scared of water. When I plunged her beneath the water she pulled me under with her! My clothes were so soaked that I had to preach in a choir robe. I don’t know that there were many of you who were here for that one. If you were then you will surely remember! Because of memory I will always treasure the friendships the Lord has allowed me to share and the blessings that each of you have been to my life. Because of God’s incredible gift of memory I have such wonderful, vivid memories of my mom even though she has been gone for more than three years now. The ability to remember is truly one of God’s greatest gifts when it is used in the manner in which the Lord has intended.

The gift of memory can also be used as a divisive and destruction tool in the hands of those who choose to use it to hold things against others or as an instrument to forecast a future of doom based upon a negative experience in the past. We can choose to remember a time when we were hurt by someone who professed to love God and therefore come to the conclusion that we don’t want anything to do with God anymore. We can choose to remember a time when we took a risk and it failed and therefore choose to never risk again. We can choose to remember a time when we were taken advantage of by someone we forgave and therefore conclude that we will never forgive again. We can remember a time when we trusted someone only to be let down and therefore conclude that we will never trust again. We, as a church, could have chosen to remember a time when there were few of us here on Sunday and concluded that we will keep declining for the rest of our days. God doesn’t intend for us to use our memory in these ways. He wants us to be forgiving, He wants us to be trusting, He wants us to be people who are willing to take a risk for the Kingdom, and He wants us to be people who are filled with hope of a brighter day rather than filled with despair.

There are many uses of the precious gift God has given us called memory, but the greatest use of the gift is for us to remember who God is and what He has done in times past throughout history and in our own personal history. When we choose to use God’s gift in this way, to remember who God is and what He has done, then it keeps us focused on God and not on our circumstances or situations. He’s able. Hasn’t He proven this in times past? He is able, but for us to know that, to be comforted by that fact, we must remember.

This is not some new idea that I’ve invented, it has been the practice of God’s people for thousands of years. There are 166 places in the Bible where we find the word, “remember.” We are to remember the faithfulness of Almighty God, the acts of Almighty God, the mercy of Almighty God, and the love and forgiveness of Almighty God each and every day of our lives.

We are to remember God and His faithfulness each and every day, but in our country we have a day called, “Thanksgiving” set aside to remind us to “give thanks.” In order to give thanks we must recall the many things that we are thankful for, right? Throughout the history of the observance of Thanksgiving there have been innumerable trials, hardships, and tragedies faced by individuals and the nation, and yet we have so much to be thankful for don’t we?

Long before the establishment of our nation and the observance of Thanksgiving, we read in God’s Word that God called His people to remember His faithfulness. Not just to remember, but to pass on the information to their children and their children’s children in order that they would not forget Almighty God. I want to share with you an example of what I am talking about before we take a few minutes to remember what God has been doing among us. Take out your Bible and turn to Psalm 78 as we begin our study this morning.

1 O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. 2 I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old– 3 what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. 4 We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. 5 He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, 6 so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. 7 Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. 8 They would not be like their forefathers– a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him. 9 The men of Ephraim, though armed with bows, turned back on the day of battle; 10they did not keep God’s covenant and refused to live by his law. 11They forgot what he had done, the wonders he had shown them. 12He did miracles in the sight of their fathers in the land of Egypt, in the region of Zoan. 13 He divided the sea and led them through; he made the water stand firm like a wall. 14 He guided them with the cloud by day and with light from the fire all night. 15 He split the rocks in the desert and gave them water as abundant as the seas; 16 he brought streams out of a rocky crag and made water flow down like rivers. 17But they continued to sin against him, rebelling in the desert against the Most High. 18 They willfully put God to the test by demanding the food they craved. 19 They spoke against God, saying, “Can God spread a table in the desert? 20 When he struck the rock, water gushed out, and streams flowed abundantly. But can he also give us food? Can he supply meat for his people?” (Psalms 78:1-20 NIV)

Verse 11 jumps from the page and challenges me at every turn. The verse reads, “They forgot what he had done, the wonders he had shown them.” I don’t want us to forget. We look around our society today and it isn’t difficult for any of us to come to the conclusion that we as Americans have, to a large degree, forgotten God. In times of national crisis God is permitted back into our land, back into our conversations, and back on prime time television, but then, as time passes, we dismiss Him all over again.

I don’t want us to forget. I want our children to know about God’s faithfulness and His mighty power, but they will never know if we forget to tell them. If we forget God’s mighty deeds then we are doomed, if we forget then we will most certainly become a people with no hope!

This morning I want to refresh our memories. I want us to take a look at some of the benefits of remembering based upon what God has to teach us from His Word. Before we take a look at the benefits of remembering the things God wants us to remember, let’s take a look at one of the biggest pitfalls of failing to remember. Turn with me to Judges 8:33-34.

The book of Judges is a tragic account of a people who forgot God over and over again. When they forgot God they would suffer the consequences of their decisions until they were absolutely miserable. At that point they would cry out to God, He would send a deliverer to rescue and restore them, and then they would slowly but surely forget God all over again. In the Scripture that we are getting ready to read, you need to know that Gideon was the man that God raised up to deliver the people from the oppression of the Midianites. After God had used Gideon and the 300 men who joined him to win a great victory, the downward cycle began until Gideon died. Let’s read our Scripture together.

33 No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They set up Baal-Berith as their god 34 and did not remember the LORD their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side. (Judges 8:33-34 NIV)

What happens when we forget God? We do whatever we want to do. We do whatever we think is best for us. What we think is best might very well lead to our own destruction. How many times have you and I set our sights on what we wanted only to be disappointed when we finally got our way?

You need to know that Gideon was no pillar of virtue or courage when God sought him out. He had his own opinions about what was happening in the land. He has his own ideas about what he thought about God and they were all wrong. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon he was threshing wheat in a winepress, hiding from the Midianites. Gideon must have been thinking when he was threshing that wheat because when the angel of the Lord appeared to him the conversation went like this:

12 When the angle of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” 13 “But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.” (Judges 6:12-13 NIV)

Gideon felt abandoned, but he didn’t know that his Deliverer had just shown up. When we forget God nothing good can happen, but when nothing good is happening we can remember God and know that He is able! Don’t forget. I urge you to never forget.

On the other side of the coin, when we choose to remember, to always remember the Lord and His faithfulness, His mighty power, His mercies that are new every morning, and His Sovereignty which reassures us that He has a plan for our lives, then we are changed by those thoughts. There are so many benefits derived from remembering God, who He is and what He has done, but I want to narrow the list to just five this morning.

First of all, remembering enables us to be aware of the wondrous privilege of being a child of God. In Ephesians 2:11-13, Paul wrote,

11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)– 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:11-13 NIV)

Remembering helps me to never forget the greatest single act God has ever done in my life—He has made me His own. I belong. I have purpose. I am forgiven. I have hope. I have a future. Who has done this? You may have your own answer to that question, but I know it is absolutely nothing that I have done. He has done it all! Each and every day I am to remember that at one time God was a stranger to me, but then He made me His own, He made Himself known. I belong to Him.

Secondly, remembering who God is and what He has done gives us hope. Is it easy to lose hope? In our own personal lives? On a broader scale, a national or global scale? No question about it. Troubles visit every home. Heartache is known by every heart. Some succumb to the blows and throw in the towel.

On a broader scale, as we survey the landscape called, “humanity,” all you have to do is watch the evening news and it is almost impossible to finish the broadcast feeling hopeful or inspired. If it is not suicide bombers shattering lives in Paris, it is anxiety about where the next bomb will go off. If it’s not racism continuing its devilish division of people it is 6.5 million Syrians who have fled their home looking for a new, safe place to live. If it’s not a world that seems to be coming apart at the seams, it’s a sagging job market leaving many wondering if they are going to have a job. It’s easy to lose hope. Hope is fragile, and yet, for those who will choose to remember, hope is not elusive, hope is rooted in God, and our continually abiding and trusting in Him.

Those who had been slaves in Egypt could no way be characterized as people of hope. They had had their hopes dashed over and over again. When God delivered them from the Egyptians and they began to make their way towards the Promised Land they began to grumble about the trials they were experiencing. As they made their way closer to the Promised Land they began to worry about the nations that were already in the land, nations much stronger than themselves. In Deuteronomy 7, Moses encouraged them to remember. Read along with me beginning in verse 17.

17 You may say to yourselves, “These nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out?” 18 But do not be afraid of them; remember well what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt. 19 You saw with your own eyes the great trials, the miraculous signs and wonders, the mighty hand and outstretched arm, with which the LORD your God brought you out. The LORD your God will do the same to all the peoples you now fear. (Deuteronomy 7:17-19 NIV)

I’ve got to share one more Scripture with you before we move on to the third benefit of remembering. You all know the story of Jonah. He tried to run from God and ended up as fish food. All hope was gone. It looked like the end had come. Jonah writes,

7 “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. 8 “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. 9 But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD.” (Jonah 2:7-9 NIV)

The third benefit of remembering is this: humility and gratitude. When left to our own devices we will take far more credit for our successes and blessings than we should. Have you ever been guilty of this line of thinking? Something good happens for you, you make “first team,” are voted “Homecoming Queen,” get a raise, your child turns out “OK,” you have a good marriage, your business prospers and you think, “I have really done well.” Like Toby Keith you lift your voice and say, “How do you like me now?” This is a sure sign that someone has forgotten. Those who remember know who it is that has given them their abilities, their tenacity, good looks, and an endless list of other blessings.

Moses warned the people about a day when they would experience prosperity and a good life. In Deuteronomy 8:17-18 we read,

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 forefathers, as it is today. (Deuteronomy 8:17-18 NIV)

The fourth benefit that comes from remembering God and what He has done is that we will care for those who are poor and needy. Did you know that there are over 300 verses in God’s Word about the poor? Those verses deal with God’s love for the poor, mistreatment of the poor, and how we are to care for those who suffer because of poverty. Without reminders from God’s Word it is so easy for us to become calloused, draw conclusions about the poor that are stereotypical generalizations and not necessarily true, and dismiss the poor because they ought to do “this or that.” In Deuteronomy 15:11-15 we read,

11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land. 12 If a fellow Hebrew, a man or a woman, sells himself to you and serves you six years, in the seventh year you must let him go free. 13 And when you release him, do not send him away empty-handed. 14 Supply him liberally from your flock, your threshing floor and your winepress. Give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today. (Deuteronomy 15:11-15 NIV)

We are not “encouraged” to be openhanded towards the poor—we are commanded to help those who are poor. I love verse 15. “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you.” You may have never experienced financial poverty, but each and every one of us knows abject spiritual poverty. What did God do for us? He lifted us up and redeemed us. We are to lift others up, help them get back on their feet, and praise God for the opportunity we have been given to help. I’ve got news for you; we will never do this if we forget. Don’t forget God and His wonderful grace that He has lavished on you or you will forget the blessing of helping those in need.

The fifth benefit of remembering God that I want to share with you this morning is this: Remembering God will lift us out of the pit. You know which pit I’m talking about. The one that makes you not want to get out of bed in the morning. The one that saps your energy. The one that makes every day “gray” whether the sun is shining or not. The walls close in on you. You feel heavy. Your eyes grow dim. Joy is an elusive experience that is reserved for others. Happiness is…hopeless.

Many of you know what it is like to experience depression, a heaviness of heart and soul that a run or positive mental attitude just won’t resolve. Those of us who have never felt the weight of persistent depression are too quick to encourage you to just snap out of it. My own mother battled depression most of her life and took medication to help her. I’m grateful for the help medical science can offer and at the same time I know that remembering God is also good medicine for the troubled soul. In Psalm 77 we can read about a man writing from the pit.

3 I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint. Selah 4 You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak. 5 I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; 6 I remembered my songs in the night. My heart mused and my spirit inquired: 7 “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? 8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? 9 Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” Selah 10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.” 11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. 12 I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds. 13 Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God? (Psalm 77:3-13 NIV)

Can you hear it? The echo of the pit? I sure can. He is down. He is questioning everything in his life. Been there. Then in verse 10 the tone begins to shift. “Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.’ I will remember the deeds of the Lord…” Not only is he “remembering,” but he is also “meditating” on what God has done. Our memory of who God is, how He has acted in the lives of others and in our own life—that is the stairwell out of the pit. Let me explain to you why this is so. When we begin to sink down in the pit we become consumed with us. We think about the raw deal that we have gotten, what a loser we are, and how there is nobody else in the world who is suffering what we are suffering. When we set our thoughts on God and how He has acted in the past, His faithfulness, His provision, His mercy and grace, then it takes our focus off of us and places it on Him. What a wonderful assurance! He is able. I am not, but He is. He is able.

All of the benefits that I have shared with you on this Sunday before Thanksgiving can only be experienced with a renewed, transformed mind. Our natural thought processes are not the thoughts that I’ve shared with you this morning. Our natural inclination is to think about what comes most naturally to us—us. “What do I think about this? What am I doing? What do I want out of life? How will I go about getting it? Why can’t I be happy? Why can’t I catch a break?” And the list goes on and on and on. God calls us to fix our minds on Him so that we might experience an altered reality full of trust, faith, hope, and possibilities in the midst of heartache and trials. A renewed mind will lead us to ask, “What is God’s will for my life? What is God desiring to teach me as I go through this?” A renewed mind will lead us to remember: “God was faithful to those who have gone before. He was with Abraham, Joshua, Deborah, Barnabas, Paul, and He will continue to be with me as well.” “God used the trials of Jesus’ life, Paul’s life, and the lives of countless others to mold them and shape them into the men and women He desired for them to be. He is using this trial in my life to mold and shape me as well.” Do you see how important remembering from a renewed mind is for you and me?

Remembering begins with “knowing.” Knowing that we need a Savior, that we are experts at breaking things, that we can’t do it on our own, and that we need God, desperately need God. I hope this morning that the Lord has shown you how much you need Him. If so, won’t you invite Jesus into your heart as your Lord and Savior?

Mike Hays

Britton Christian Church

922 NW 91st

Oklahoma City, OK. 73114

November 22, 2015

 

 

 

Remember
Psalm 78:1-20
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