Tomorrow our nation celebrates Memorial Day. Do you understand the meaning and significance of Memorial Day? Does it mean anything to you other than a day off of work and a time to picnic and play?
Memorial Day is a time to remember the U.S. men and women who lost their lives serving their country. It is a day of "National Mourning." All U.S. Flags should be displayed at half-staff during the morning hours. At noon, they should be raised back to full-staff. Originally known as "Decoration Day", it was established in 1868 to commemorate the dead from the Civil War. Over the years, it came to serve as a day to remember all U.S. men and women killed or missing in action in all wars.
As a society, we have memorials to help us remember things that we don't want to forget. In January 1983, a memorial to the American men and women who died in the Vietnam War was unveiled in Washington, D.C. The name of everyone on record who was killed in the fighting was etched in that huge black stone. Many thousands of parents, wives, brothers, sisters and friends have traveled to the capital to find the name of their loved one on that monument. Most are grateful that the sacrifice of their beloved relative or friend has been memorialized.
Far too often, our nation, as a whole, takes for granted the freedoms all Americans enjoy. Those freedoms were paid for with the lives of others few of us actually knew. That's why they are all collectively remembered on one special day. So, in order not to forget those who have sacrificed their lives for this country, we annually celebrate Memorial Day.
As Christians, we know that the freedoms that we enjoy in this great country are given to us from the hand of God. As we pause to remember those who have given their lives for this country let us remember that our Sovereign God has given us this country as a gift of His grace.
In the 26th chapter of Deuteronomy, we find a verse that is very much applicable to us today:
Deuteronomy 26:9 (NKJV) 'He has brought us to this place and has given us this land, "a land flowing with milk and honey"
The Lord has brought us, twenty first century Americans, into this place, and the Lord has given us the fruit of the earth in this place; he has given us our daily bread; he has brought us safe to this point in time. This is the message of all scripture - that everything around us, and everything that we are, and everything that we have is a gift of God.
We live in a truly blessed nation. Think of all we have. We live in huge homes that are carpeted wall to wall and climate controlled. We simply turn a dial and our house gets warmer or colder. We have bathrooms, several of them, with toilets and hot and cold running water. We have refrigerators, stoves and microwaves; our pantries are filled with every kind of food you can want. And if we run out, all we have to do is get in our climate controlled cars and drive to the supermarket where we can buy every kind of food imaginable. We have telephones and computers that allow us to talk to anyone around the world. We have televisions that bring us movies and news and sporting events. We are a very blessed people!
We live in peace, counting on our military might to keep us safe from any aggressor. What more could we ask for in this country? We should be the most thankful people on the planet. But are we?
Do you realize that there are many people in the world who have no electricity, no running water, and have to work all day just to get enough food to keep them alive? They live in constant fear for their lives as war is a daily part of their life. Yet, here we are, we're rich, we're blessed, we're at peace, we've got it all. And we must recognize that all we have has come from God.
Deuteronomy 8:18 (NKJV) "And you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth..."
As we enjoy all the blessings of this great nation, do we remember God? As we celebrate Memorial Day, are we aware that all that we enjoy in this great country comes from His gracious hand?
Let me share with you a story that I came across: One afternoon a shopper at the local mall felt the need for a coffee break. She bought herself a little bag of cookies and put them in her shopping bag. She then got in line for coffee, found a place to sit at one of the crowded tables, and then taking the lid off her coffee and taking out a magazine she began to sip her coffee and read. Across the table from her a man sat reading a newspaper. After a minute or two, she reached out and took a cookie. As she did, the man seated across the table reached out and took one too. This put her off, but she didn't say anything. A few moments later she took another cookie. Once again the man did so too. Now she was getting a bit upset, but still she didn't say anything. After having a couple of sips of coffee, she once again took another cookie. So did the man. She was really upset by this - especially since now only one cookie was left. Apparently, the man also realized that only one cookie was left. Before she could say anything he took it, broke it in half, offered half to her, and proceeded to eat the other half himself. Then he smiled at her and, putting the paper under his arm, rose and walked off. Was she steamed! Her coffee break ruined, already thinking ahead of how she would tell this offense to her family, she folded her magazine, opened her shopping bag, and there discovered her own unopened bag of cookies.
I like that story because it makes me think about how well God treats me even when I am not thinking all that kindly about him. It also makes me think about how, sometimes, I don't really appreciate what I have or act like I know where it has come from. It serves as a kind of reminder to me of how God has graciously provided for me.
Deuteronomy 8:6-14 (NKJV) "Therefore you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him. 7 "For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills; 8 "a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; 9 "a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper. 10 "When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you. 11 "Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, 12 "lest; when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; 13 "and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; 14 "when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage;
Here, Moses tells the people of Israel how they will prosper in the promised land that they are about to enter; how, after so many years of slavery and then of wandering in the wilderness, they will eat their fill and have fine houses and large herds, and that their silver and gold will multiply. Then he warns them saying, "Do not say to yourself":
Deuteronomy 8:17-18 (NKJV) ".... 'My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.' 18 "And you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
Chapter eight of Deuteronomy is really one of my favorite chapters of the Old Testament. It speaks so well of what we all know somewhere in our hearts but often seem to forget in our actions and our attitudes. It speaks of how everything we have is a gift from God. God gives us ALL that we have. Would that I would remember this at all times - it would make my life so much easier, and it would bring honor to God.
Not long ago, famous people all over the world were polled by a magazine which asked them the question, "If you could be granted one wish that will come true right now, what would that be?" There were some very interesting responses, but one response impressed the magazine's editors so much that they commented on it. That response was this, "I wish that I could be given an even greater ability to appreciate all that I already have."
That is an interesting thing to wish for. What do you think would happen if each one of us suddenly became a more grateful, thankful person, if all of us suddenly became more appreciative of what God has given us?
Christians should be the most thankful people in the world. Our lives should be full of praise, thanksgiving, and joy. We have so many reasons to be full of thanksgiving, even in the midst of adversity, but because of the world around us and the attitudes of most, and because of our own bent toward self-centeredness, we are prone to be very unthankful. Instead, we are prone to be full of the kind of mental attitude sins that lead to complaining and grumbling.
As Christians, we are commanded to be thankful:
Colossians 3:15 (NKJV) And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.
An important element in allowing the peace of Christ to rule is found in the closing words of the verse: "and be thankful." The present tense of the Greek text suggests the translation: "keep on becoming thankful." There is a connection. A constant spirit of thankfulness is an essential part to letting the peace of Christ rule in one's heart. Because of our tendencies as sinful people, our natural bent is to be unthankful, and an unthankful person is one in whom the peace of Christ does not rule. Thankfulness is thus something we must develop and work at. It takes time and effort. This is suggested by the present tense which refers to that which is to be repeated or continued, and by the verb ginomai: "to become, come to be." The Greek
text is looking at a process of developing and maintaining a thankful spirit.
HOW CAN WE GROW IN GRATITUDE?
1. BIBLE STUDY.
Thankfulness is motivated by Bible doctrine.
Colossians 3:16-17 (NKJV) Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
As you come to know God through His Word, you can always have a thankful heart. Remember Jonah? He found himself in quite a severe trial, he was eaten by a fish.
Jonah 2:1 (NKJV) Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish's belly.
Jonah 2:9-10 (NKJV) But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD." 10 So the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.
How could Jonah pray like this? He could pray like this because he had a knowledge of God, he understood God.
Jonah 4:2 (NKJV) So he prayed to the LORD, and said, "Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.
You might say, "How can I be thankful in this situation?" You can be thankful in any situation by focusing on the promises of God. You know that God can't lie, so whatever he promises we can count on.
Numbers 23:19 (NKJV) "God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?
And the God who cannot lie said:
1 Corinthians 10:13 (NKJV) No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
Your trial may be very difficult, but you can thank God that it is not more than you can bear, and that he is in control of the trial. God also said:
Romans 8:28 (NKJV) And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
All our trials, sufferings, and disappointments are geared to help us mature as a Christian. We can always thank God in the worst of situations for the available power to carry us through the trial.
It is through the Word of God -- the Bible -- that we are constantly reminded of God's goodness. Note the relationship in Psalm 100 between the command to give thanks and the reason:
Psalms 100 (NKJV) Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands! 2 Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before His presence with singing. 3 Know that the LORD, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. 4 Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. 5 For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations.
We are to give thanks because "God is good." Thanksgiving is a matter of response to facts of revelation. Everything that we have comes from the gracious hand of God.
2. COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS!
If you want to grow in gratitude, count your blessings. Focus on what you have.
James 1:17 (NKJV) Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
One sure way to grow in gratitude is to count your blessings. What I mean is to literally write out all of the blessings that God has given you. Things such as: salvation, health, family, friends, a job, a church, food, water, your car, your house, life in a prosperous peaceful nation. We could go on forever, but you get the point. We have much to be thankful for. Other than being on a self-inflicted diet, when is the last time you were hungry or thirsty?
We should be thankful for our friends. Are there people in your life who have hung in there with you through thick and thin; people who could have bailed out when times got tough, but didn't? Just the fact that they stick with you needs to be appreciated. Some of us have marriage partners who stuck with us through bad times. It may have been financial disaster, a mid-life crisis, a health problem, a terrible career decision. Some of us have been blessed with someone who has shown wonderful support, and we have taken them for granted.
Gratitude is an attitude! And attitude can have an incredible impact on our lives. The longer I live the more I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond. And because this is true, I believe that the single most significant decision I can make on a day-to-day basis is my choice of attitude. It is more important than my past, my education, how much money I have in the bank, my successes or failures, what other people think of me or say about me - attitude is more important than any of these things. You see, if I have a poor attitude, it doesn't matter how much talent I have or how many resources God puts at my disposal, because if my attitude is wrong, then I am defeated before I even attempt the simplest task.
A little boy said, "Salt is what ruins the mashed potatoes when it is left out." Using the same kind of negative definition, we can say, "Gratitude is what ruins life when it is left out."
An attitude of Gratitude glorifies God.
And God created us for his glory:
Isaiah 43:6-7 (NKJV) I will say to the north, 'Give them up!' And to the south, 'Do not keep them back!' Bring My sons from afar, And My daughters from the ends of the earth; 7 Everyone who is called by My name, Whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him."
God created us to bring him glory, therefore, it is the duty of every person to live for the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31 (NKJV) Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
What does it mean to glorify God? It means to acknowledge his glory, and to value it above all things, and to make it known. It implies heartfelt gratitude.
Psalms 50:23 (NKJV) Whoever offers praise glorifies Me; And to him who orders his conduct aright I will show the salvation of God."
So, giving thanks is a natural obligation that man, the creature, owes to God as the Creator. As Creator and Sustainer of the universe, everything we have: our life, health, strength, our very breath, our food, shelter, and clothes; the sun, rain and snow; the seasons; the course of the stars, the moon - everything we owe to Him, because it all comes from the hand of God. This is one of the great themes of Scripture and one of the great reasons given for thanksgiving.
Revelation 4:11 (NKJV) "You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created."
God is worthy of our gratitude and worship because He is our Creator and God. We belong to Him by creation. Ungratefulness, by contrast, is a sign of unbelief. We have become a society of practical atheist. On the whole, we are a society that lives and acts as though God were dead. Ours is a society that thinks it has jettisoned God, that it has no need of Him. A common attitude is: "You owe no one anything, do your own thing, be your own boss, live it up, get all the gusto you can." But Scripture says, "for thy pleasure they are and were created."
God deserves our constant praise and thanksgiving. He is our Creator, our Sustainer, our Redeemer.
2 Corinthians 4:15 (NKJV) For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.
Our thankfulness, our gratitude, brings glory to God, and to glorify God is the reason we exist. Are you glorifying God by your attitude of gratitude?
As a magnet drawn through the sand picks up particles of iron, so a grateful heart finds some God-given blessing in every situation.
As an American, I am Thankful for: the taxes I pay, because it means I'm employed; the clothes that fit a little too snug, because it means I have enough to eat; a lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleaning, and gutters that need fixing, because it means I have a home; the spot I find at the far end of the parking lot, because it means I am capable of walking; my huge air-conditioning bill, because it means I am cool; all the complaining I hear about our government, because it means we have freedom of speech; the lady behind me in church who sings off key, because it means that I can hear; the piles of laundry and ironing, because it means my loved ones are nearby; the alarm that goes off in the early morning hours, because it means that I'm alive. I have never really thought about it in this way, but I'm grateful for all this and more. I hope you are too.
When we understand the grace that God has given us, the only normal, logical, and right response is to live a life of obedience and submission to Him out of heart felt gratitude.
Hebrews 12:28 (NNAS) Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe;
Believers, we have received a kingdom which cannot be shaken. By faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work on Calvary, we have entered the eternal Kingdom of God.
Colossians 1:13 (NKJV) He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love,
What is our response to this grace? The writer of Hebrews says, "Let us show gratitude." How do we do that? "By which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe." Out of a deep sense of gratitude for all the Lord has given us, let us serve Him with reverence and awe. If you are truly grateful for all that God has given you, it will be demonstrated in your obedience. People who are truly grateful live every day of their lives as a way to show their gratitude to our Heavenly Father.
As we celebrate this Memorial Day, let us do it with profound gratitude to God for all he has given to us. As American Christians, we can truly say, "All this and heaven too!"