Sermon delivered November 30, 1996

by Pastor Donald Gettys

McDonald Road SDA Church, McDonald, TN

Precious Gratitude

As a boy I have great memories of Thanksgiving. Usually we had a wonderful mid day feast. As a small boy I grew up meatless. In our home we ate simple wholesome fruit, nuts, grains and vegetables. I grew up smokeless: rather innocent. No alcohol. Most of my aunts and uncles did not attend church.

On Thanksgiving we all assembled at grandmothers house. As I went up the walk to the front door I could smell a whole different world. Strange odors drifted out the door. Smells of meat being cooked, of cigars or pipes being smoked. The air was saturated with blue smoke. My Uncle would blow smoke rings for me, and he even made smoke come out of his ears. (I finally figured out how he did that later in life.). Smells of coffee being fixed. It's a different world. We had the pre-tour of the food table. Mother would say: "Don't take any of that: it has meat in it." And of course I did not want to eat anything that used to walk around in the barnyard.

I don't remember anything very religious about Thanksgiving. Usually my dad was asked to have the prayer over the food because we were church people. None of the other men did. That was about the only spiritual thing I suppose that happened that afternoon. Except that I knew that in my heart and the hearts of my parents and my grandmother we had a deep gratitude for God.

I want you to turn in your Bible to Ephesians 5. This tells us something we don't want to hear. We wish Ephesians weren't in the Bible. It's the 20th verse we have the problem with. It says, (EPHESIANS 5:20) "Giving thanks ALWAYS for ALL things unto God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ". ALL things: that's the problem. I don't want to give thanks for everything. Are we supposed to give thanks for evil? Am I supposed to give thanks for back pain? I don't like that verse; at least the way that it is normally presented. I'll explain more about it in a few minutes.

I believe that Christians should always have an attitude of gratitude, of thanksgiving. How happy we are depends on the depth of our gratitude. The Dipstick we use to check the level of our gratitude is our ATTITUDE. Did you ever have your parents say, "You've got an attitude problem, son." That's how you can check your gratitude. Be grateful for what you have.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta born in 1910 (I understand she's not doing very well this week) said: "The best way to show my gratitude to God is to accept everything, even my problems, with JOY." Maybe that's why she's lived since 1910.

You don't have to be rich to be grateful. You don't have to have a lot of trinkets and things. I remember one time in my early ministry I was visiting a gentleman who had lost his wife. You know, it's hard to lose a loved one. This poor, elderly man was alone in the world. We had just had the funeral for his wife. I went to visit him a few days afterwards. As I went inside he was just ready to sit down to a meal. He said, "Will you eat with me?" And I said, "No, I'm not hungry." I looked at his plate and he ad some mashed potatoes and some greens and some water and a slice of bread. He did not have much. And he said, "Do you mind if I eat?" "Go right ahead. I'll just visit with you." I sat at the small table covered with an old oil cloth. He bowed his grey head and his prayer went like this: "I thank thee Lawd, that I may dine sufficient today." That's all he said. I thought, what an attitude of thanksgiving.

I learned some powerful lessons while sitting on that rickety old chair pulled up to his table. First he showed a genuine attitude of thanksgiving and gratitude. It has been my observation that thankful people are not necessarily those with much goods, but they are big on the things of the heart.

Secondly, even though he was sad, he had not lost his hold on Jesus. With a heart of gratitude, a meal of potatoes and greens can become a royal feast. Thanksgiving is a product of the heart.

Ephesians 5:20 says we should give thanks always for ALL things. That makes some of us squirm. It is better understood in the NIV. God is not saying that we should thank God for EVIL or SIN. The NIV says: "Give thanks in all circumstances." In every situation, no matter how bad it is, we can have an attitude of praise and we can find something for which to be thankful. If we had to plan the end from the beginning, we would probably not choose any other way than God has chosen. for our life.

One day when we lived in North Carolina (we lived near Fletcher) a beggar came to our house. I don't know if you've ever had that experience. His appearance showed a plea of destitution. His hair was grey and bushy. He was pleasingly plump so you wonder, "should I give anything or not." So I quickly looked around, because you can't just tell someone who is at your door; you can't just refuse them. I found some peanuts which happened to be there and I handed him some peanuts which were quickly consumed. He was hungry. He ate as one who was famished. He stuffed so many nuts in his mouth I thought he would choke.

I looked around and found a nice apple. He had consumed two handfuls of nuts and I was about to hand him the apple when all of a sudden it happened. As I extended the apple to the beggar he swiftly grabbed my hand and sunk his sharp teeth into my thumb. Only by painful and physical force was I able to break his cannibalistic grip. As I broke loose blood began to run down my hand.

I had been bitten by this squirrel. He bit me! And then ran up a nearby tree just off our deck and laughed at me, and had my apple with him. Teach me to feed squirrels! He bit the hand that fed him. "Biting the hand that feeds you" is very bad. But we do it. How? There must be unnumbered thousands of ways that we show our ingratitude. Whenever we show ingratitude or hatred or greed to our benefactor, we bite his hand. Sometimes we do bite.

The son or daughter who brings dishonor to their parents who have sacrificed for them is biting the hand that feeds them. The husband or wife who becomes unfaithful to the marriage is biting the hand that feeds. The prodigal who goes out to the drunken crowd and lives a high life is rebuffing and is turning his back on everything that his parents did to love him and he is biting the hand that feeds him.

But as painful as it is to have your hand bitten by one you are feeding, is it not much better to be the FEEDER instead of the BITER? "I praise God that I have fed, and I ask Him to forgive me for the times I have bitten.

I THESS. 5:18 NKJV----"In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." The NIV says: "Give thanks in all circumstances." So we're not to give thanks for everything, perhaps, but in everything we can have a thankful attitude.

I believe that INGRATITUDE is the wrong attitude. This condition destroys many a person. They go through life asking for favors. Give Me...this! Give me that! But when the gift is received, then like the muddy swine at his trough, this sub-human becomes silent and unthankful. Such a person is all throat and belly, like a common sewer opening, which constantly waits there for the things of the world to pass into, and the whole time the only thing it gives back is a foul odor. Ingratitude is very bad.

If you put a cold snake into your bosom, when it warms up it will sting you. The donkey, after having drunk, gives the bucket a hard kick. This earth does not produce anything worse than an ungrateful man. We need to be a people of gratitude. We need to be a people who show our thankfulness to the Lord.

As the Dead Sea drinks in the generous offerings of the River Jordan and is never the sweeter; As the ocean drinks in the gifts of all the great rivers of the world and is never the fresher; Just so is the ungrateful person who daily benefits from God's rich mercies and still remains unresponsive to the great love of God.

PSALM 103:2----"Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits." NIV. You may say, "I don't have any benefits. Tragedy has struck my life." There are some benefits. Not from the tragedy, but that you still have.

Thank your heavenly Benefactor for happiness; for opportunities; for health; for ideas; for employment; for each new day; for your voice, hands, and arms; for your family; for eternal life.

God's blessings are so constant and regular that we take them for granted. I suppose that because they are so constant, we don't even think about them. Suppose that tomorrow morning the sun did not rise. Suppose that at six in the morning you go out to get the newspaper and you think, "I don't see any sign of life yet." By 7AM no sign of light. By noon it was still as black as midnight. The sun never did come up. No birds singing, only the hoot of an owl. Phones would be ringing off the hook.

Long lines of automobiles with their headlights on would be coming to the churches of America to pray. Millions with worried faces would assemble about 6 AM Monday morning in the cold darkness to hope that the sun would return. Imagine the shouts of joy at the first rays of a bright dawn.

Well, we don't even think about it because it's so regular. The daily blessings become so routine that they stifle our human appreciation for them. Thankfulness is not natural. How often parents must say to their children who have received some gift: "Now What Do You Say. Tell them, 'Thank you.'". They just spent eighty dollars on some toy, and of course five minutes later, "What can we do? There's nothing to do." You know how that goes.

Thanksgiving Day is well described in JOEL 2:26 - "You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord you God, who has worked wonders for you...." NIV So it aught to be a physical blessing and a day of spiritual blessing. That's what Thanksgiving should be.

Let me share with you the Parable of the Ungrateful cat.

A husband and wife lived alone. She loved God but he could not bring himself to accept religion. He had nothing to do with church, nothing to do with God or the Bible. She attended church alone. The couple had not wanted a cat but the children who brought the little kitten to their door one night had played on their pity. So the scrawny kitten gained admission, cat hairs, dirt, flea colony and all.

The new owners worked hard to help the small kitten. The tastiest and most nutritious cat food was given in combination with warm milk and love. The got a kitty box and a scratching post, which the cat hardly ever use because he found the furniture first. Rabies and distemper shots were administered. They named their kitten Boots because of her white feet. They loved Boots and always rubbed her fur the right way. She had balls, spools, a clawing pole and slept on top of the warm TV.

Then one sad day well nourished Boots suddenly decided that she did not need her master any more. Boots devoted all her affection to her mistress who stayed home with Boots all day. When the man came home every evening Boots shied away. Any time he came near the cat bolted off. She became a one- person-cat. She thought that her mistress was the most important person in the world and that he was nothing.

The fact that it was he who worked outside the home to provide the food and pay the rent did not change the ungrateful cats attitude. The man was hurt. He had never stepped on the cats tail or been unkind. He had cared for her in the best fashion.

And then he got to thinking about this ungrateful varmint. And suddenly it seemed that God was speaking him. He understood how God felt. God was saying: I have given you life. I have given you the best. I have nourished you and loved you and yet you run from me. You shun me and avoid talking to me. You are indebted to me for all you are, and all you have, yet you have turned your back on Me. You despise me. Right then the man dropped to his knees and gave his heart to God. He developed an attitude of gratitude. And that's what we need. God sums up this condition in HOSEA 13:6... God says: "When I fed them, they were satisfied; When they were satisfied, they became proud; Then they forgot me." NIV

So often when the paycheck is bigger than the bills and things are going smooth we forget God, but it is He who feeds us. Our praise does not keep pace with out purse. We become so interested in the pasturage that we forget the Master Pastor. We become so interested in being filled that we forget the divine Filler. Our very fullness becomes our foe and we forget the Divine Filler.

One of our members handed me a list about what he was thankful for this morning. It's a list of spiritual things from "A" through "Z". And all the worldly things he's thankful for. He says he's thankful for angels, the Bible, Calvary, devotions, EG White, faith, God, heaven, intercession, and "J" would be for Jesus. He's got quite a list here. "Q" is quietness. Some people are thankful for reverence, aren't they? "P" is pastor. Revival, salvation, truth, unity, victory, worship, eXcellence, youth and zeal. Sometimes we aught to make a list of things we're thankful for. In times of trial we seem to see more clearly. Mrs. Fraser was an example of one with an attitude of gratitude. At the age of 80 she lost her husband. She said: "I went to the mortuary and asked if I could sit down beside my husband's casket. They brought a rocking chair and I sat and rocked and thought about the 50 wonderful years my husband and I had had together. I just sat there and thanked God for all those good times. It was a very deep experience and helped me so much to handle losing him." (Quiet Hour Echoes, November 1993 page 7) That happened in 1993.

God has given us a lot, hasn't He? I am thankful for a beautiful congregation like you. And I'm thankful for my beautiful Savior who is coming soon to take me home, and to take all of us home. And I want to urge all of you to be faithful that we can be there together.

Prayer:  Thou hast given so much to me
     Give one thing more----a grateful heart;
      Not thankful when is pleaseth me,
     As if thy blessings had spare days,
    But such a heart whose pulse may be Thy praise
                by George Herbert born 1593, died 1680.

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