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An Attitude of Thanksgiving

I like to tell my son, "Your attitude determines your altitude." In other words, how you respond, in your heart and mind and actions, to the things that challenge you will shape the person you will become, how high you will go, or how low you will stay.
Thanksgiving is a time to reevaluate our attitude towards God.
So, how are you doing?
This morning, I ask you to join me in considering our response to the life God has given us by meditating upon one of the greatest of the thanksgiving psalms, Psalm 136.
Psalm 136 is a psalm that Spurgeon called one of Israel's favorites because it was so simple. We love simple songs. And this one has a refrain that repeats 26 times. Some might be tempted to wrongly apply our Lord's warning against vain repetition to this liturgical device. But John Calvin reminded his congregation in Geneva that it was never wrong to sing a refrain that enables an assembly of believers to join in voice to thank God for His grace.
And it is true that this psalm shows up at the most special of times in Israel's history. For instance, it is there at the dedication of Solomon's Temple where we read:
"When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the LORD on the temple, they bowed down on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, 'For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever'" (2 Chron. 7:2-3, NRSV).
The refrain of this psalm is a refrain of praise to God's grace. The word goodness or steadfast love or mercy in some of your various translations is hesed, and many of you know about this word. Hesed is God's steadfast love, His loyal love, His covenant faithfulness; it is His covenant of grace. And what we learn today is that this hesed love, this grace, this mercy, this loyal love forms the sacred refrain of a believer's life that leads us to thanksgiving.
The division of the psalm suggests how His grace leads us to thanksgiving for four major themes.

1. We may first thank God for His Person (read vv. 1-3 responsively).
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

We thank God for who He is.
This psalm uses the holy Triune structure to praise God and in doing so reveals His Person. In verse 1, He is Yahweh, the Covenant-making, Covenant-keeping personal God of Israel. In verse 2, He is called Elohim, and He is differentiated from the small gods, the idols that seek to seduce us, but who cannot deliver, cannot save, cannot bring happiness, cannot give life. In verse 3, He is called Adonai, the Lord of lords. I thank God today for our Triune God! For the Father who chose us in love before the worlds were framed, for the Son who came to give us life through His life lived and His atoning death for our sins, and for the Spirit of the God, proceeding from Father and Son to draw us to Jesus, to comfort us, to teach us, to open our hearts to receive Him and to thank Him. Oh we should thank God for who He is.
This past week, I hosted a Ugandan pastor and his wife in my study. We talked about his testimony. Pastor Mukambi had been a witch doctor in Uganda, like his grandfather before him. He told me that he has often heard the horrible voice of demons in trees and in the mountains and in animals. And people would come to him and pay much money to be healed, but the price was always demon possession. But he said that he learned from his grandfather and from his own experience that no power could touch a believer in Jesus. And that the name of Jesus was more powerful than the demons. He knew little of Jesus except he said, "He is the God of gods, the Lord of Lords." But that was the beginning of his journey. He then found that this God lived inside of His followers and He learned that this God was a God of grace who showed His love not by demanding a price of a person, like the demons, but by giving His only begotten Son. So Pastor Mukambi repudiated witchcraft, and turned to Jesus and the demons fled. He publicly burned down his hut where he practiced witchcraft, and he began preaching Christ Jesus and built a church, where today the demon-possessed are finding freedom and many Muslims are also being saved by this God of grace. The very nature of God stirred this man to salvation. And his response was to turn from the lesser gods and follow Jesus, the Lord of lords.
And the response is "your steadfast love endures forever." God's very Person is grace. We come today before a God who loves us. It is right that the psalmist begins with thanks for who God is for all other blessings flow from His Person. We can know love, for He is love. This Thanksgiving is God's time for all of us to repudiate all pretenders to His primacy in our lives and fall in love, again, with the God who is love and grace personified.

2. For we are shown that we may thank Him for His grace in creation (read vv. 4-9 responsively).
to him who alone does great wonders,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who by understanding made the heavens,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who spread out the earth above the waters,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who made the great lights,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
the sun to rule over the day,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
the moon and stars to rule over the night,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

We thank God for what He has made.
The psalmist calls us to thank God for His wonders and then lists them: His wisdom in making the heavens, His stretching out the earth above the waters, His creation of the moon and sun and stars, which he calls the "great lights."
And I draw your attention to the wonder of it all: God's wisdom in creation.
Recently I had the opportunity to go through a major surgery with one of our physicians in our congregation. As the patient was before us, opened up, surrounded by unbelievably gifted medical personnel and led by a brilliant surgeon, my friend, progressing methodically through every procedure to bring healing, suddenly stopped. He drew all of our attention to an artery. The artery was beating with the pulse of life. The eyes of this Christian surgeon looked out above the surgical mask and with child-like wonder twinkling in his eyes, he said, "This is God." For a moment, all of the doctors and interns and nurses and this visiting pastor were stopped in our tracks. We were in the presence of supernatural power beyond this world and yet filling this world.
You may not be a surgeon looking at the power of life beating in a human artery, but all of us are drawn to see the glory of God in the heavens, in the innocent beauty of a child's laughter, in the warm embrace of a friend. Or rising early to leave for work, as I did recently, and seeing the geese flying in pattern over the colorful dawn skies, their instinctive honks praising God for the freedom to fly.
"And His grace is seen in His creation" is the sacred refrain of the believer.  In spite of your problems. In the face of your darkest hour, will you not look at the creative power of God and see that He who created a world out of nothing, He who created a Son of Man in the womb of a woman named Mary, He who gave you new birth when you were "dead in trespasses and sins" is worthy of your thanksgiving.

3. And we are shown that we ought to thank Him for His grace in salvation (read vv. 10-22 responsively).
to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
and brought Israel out from among them,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who divided the Red Sea in two,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
and made Israel pass through the midst of it,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who led his people through the wilderness,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who struck down great kings,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
and killed mighty kings,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
Sihon, king of the Amorites,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
and Og, king of Bashan,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
and gave their land as a heritage,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
a heritage to Israel his servant,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

We thank God for what He has done.
The psalmist tells the principle motif of salvation under the old covenant: the exodus from the slavery of Egypt to the possession of the Promised Land. And we are told that these things happened for our instruction, that redemptive history did not stop there, but the Exodus of Israel to a small patch of earth was only a living history metaphor for a world-wide work of salvation that would generations after generations of people from all over the world out of the bondage of sin and into the freedom of a new life. There is now a more glorious salvation. A more glorious promised land. And a leader more powerful than all of Moses' signs put together. For we should thank God for His Son Jesus Christ and for leading us out of the bondage of sin into the freedom of life in Christ. I read from Colossians 1:
"… Giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.  He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Col. 1:11- 26, NRSV).
On Thanksgiving 1988, in this very sanctuary, one young woman who is here today learned to thank God for salvation. After a life apart from God and with no thanksgiving on her lips, the Spirit of the Lord led a lonely young woman with no family around her to find a church, which was open on Thanksgiving. She was just about to give up, when she saw cars parked on the street beside our church. And she went in and heard the Word of God, heard ordinary people standing and giving testimonies of thanksgiving. Through a Thanksgiving service in 1988, she came to know the One who has given so much to us, the Lord Jesus Christ. And she was not only redeemed by Christ in this place, but she grew in the grace and knowledge of Christ here. Finally, this Thanksgiving girl would leave to find others in need of a place to call home and a Savior to thank. I am speaking of our missionary, Susan Sundeed (one of our missionaries serving now in Mexico with the PCA's Mission to the World), who is with us today and who gave me permission to tell you this. Thanksgiving will always be a part of her testimony.
But the truth of Psalm 136 is that it should be that way, and can be that way, for all of us.
The refrain of our lives is to sing with Psalm 136, "thank you for your grace in my salvation."
Now look at verses 23-26 and note the fourth and final theme of this great psalm:

4. We are encouraged to thank Him for His preservation of our very lives (read vv. 23-26 responsively).
It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
and rescued us from our foes,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
he who gives food to all flesh,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of heaven,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

In this closing passage, the psalmist thanks God for remember our estate, delivering us from our adversaries and sustaining our lives with bread. He closes with a final "Give thanks unto (El Sha-ma-yeem), the God of heaven. Over all and above all, the God of heaven looks down and preserves His people. David would write of this preserving God:
"Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep. O LORD, you preserve both man and beast"  (Ps. 36:6, NIV).
This is the God whom our forefathers in Plymouth worshiped as they endured so much that first year to found this "city on a hill." This is the God of heaven to whom Washington looked and called a nation to confess sins to and to thank for His blessings. This is the God who not only saves us, but also preserves us, as a nation, as families, as a congregation, as believers. This is the God of whom Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6:
"Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (NIV).
In this very room are stories of how God has preserved our lives through military combat, loss of loved ones, loss of jobs, sicknesses, family strife, heartache and deep personal loss. But Jesus said, "I will never leave you. I will never let you go." And even more. This God preserves us body and soul unto eternity. He saves our souls and as I told a family gathered this week before the earthly remains of their loved one, He is coming again, as Job said, to stand upon the earth and redeem even the bodies of His people.
And so our refrain: through every trial, through the adversity of every enemy that comes against us, and even unto death: "The hesed love of God will never let me go. Therefore I thank You."

A Theology of Bing Crosby
We have seen how this psalm teaches to thank God for His creation, for His salvation, and for His preservation of our lives.
So, you might say, "Alright, it is good and honorable to thank God. But so what? Can Thanksgiving bring any practical benefit for our lives?"
It was no sacred hymn to be sure. But one of my favorite songs in the entire world is a song taken from the good old Christmastime movie Holiday Inn, or White Christmas for its more popular soundtrack. But the song I really love (and one which I have sung to John Michael as a baby) is when Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney can't sleep, and they meet up in their pajamas over glasses of milk and sandwiches. There in the kitchen, snowbound at an Inn in Vermont, old velvet-voice Bing belts out a real classic:
"When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings
When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep counting my blessings."
Now Bing Crosby wasn't a theologian, to be sure, but he was on to something there. Counting your blessings leads to peace. But let us add what we learn in God's Word and say that not just counting blessings but bringing thanks to the One who brings the blessings is the better way. This is what we are taught so clearly and memorable by Paul in Philippians 4:6,7:
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (ESV).
Thanksgiving as an act that transforms you, that soothes your soul, which heals you. It's not just a good old song. It is good theology. It's good living. And the invitation of this psalm is to draw close to the God of enduring grace who will never let you go. And then to thank Him for who He is, for what He has made, for what He has done, and for what He is doing right now in your life.
That is why we are here: to sing our sacred refrain, the song of our lives.