This week I had the opportunity to read an article from the November issue of Christianity Today. It was about the Christian author Ann Voskamp. . Ann Voskamp lives on a farm in Canada. Her husband, is “The Farmer.” Her book, One Thousand Gifts, has become a national best seller. Ann Voskamp’s the story is important and touching. She grew up in Canada as the daughter of a farmer. When she was quite young, her younger sister wandered into a farm lane, where she was hit by a truck and killed. Their family entered decades of trauma. Both of her parents were emotionally and spiritually wounded. Her father stopped going to church. Ann was also emotionally wounded and had difficulty trusting God or feeling any joy in Christian faith.
After years of suffering, she had a revelation about the importance of thankfulness. As she was studying her Bible she recognized how many times Jesus gave thanks in difficult circumstances. She then discovered how often the apostles gave thanks in difficult circumstances. She learned that the word for thanks in Greek comes from the same root word, “charis,” as “”grace” and “gift.” She began to find things to be thankful for in the midst of suffering and hard times. She became thankful for fresh jam, for a baby’s breath, for the harvest, for all the simple things of life. One day, one of her friends noticed the change in her, and she recognized that her practice of giving thanks for the little blessings of life had begun to overcome the darkness and the bitterness that pervaded her life. Even her friends noticed that she was a changed person.
Thanksgiving is an important holiday. At Thanksgiving, we celebrate and remember the gifts of God. In modern society it is harder to remember to be thankful for the harvest because we no longer live close to the soil. That’s too bad. The fact that we are here this morning, that we have enough to eat, that we have family and friends, – all of these are gifts of God.
Thanks at the End of an Era.
Last week we studied Second Chronicles. The book covers the period from the ascension of Solomon to the throne of Israel to the Babylonian exile, a period of about 400 years. Today’s text is from the end of the reign of King David, or around 970 B.C.  It was written hundreds of years after David’s death. By the time First Chronicles, was written, David was a distant historical figure, somewhat like George Washington is for people today. Let’s listen to David’ final prayer:
David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying, “Praise be to you, Lord, is what the God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name. “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you. I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things I have given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. Lord, the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep these desires and thoughts in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you. And give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, statutes and decrees and to do everything to build the palatial structure for which I have provided.” Then David said to the whole assembly, “Praise the Lord your God.” So they all praised the Lord, the God of their fathers; they bowed down, prostrating themselves before the Lord and the king (I Chronicles 29:10-20).
Prayer: Eternal God: Give us thankful hearts this morning. Fill our hearts with thankfulness for the simple things of life and for the nation we are privileged to live in. Give us thanks for those who sacrificed for our freedom—and for those who are sacrificing for us this very day. In Jesus Name we pray. Amen.
The Life of David.
Oh I wish I had time to preach a sermon series on the life of David! Years ago, a Presbyterian pastor I know preached an ingenious series of sermons called: “The Life of David: God’s Soap Opera.” David’s life often reads just like a soap opera. Most of us know the outline of the story. David was the youngest son of Jesse. His great-grandmother was Ruth the Moabitess. He was the youngest son of his father Jesse. Through God’s miraculous intervention in his life, he was anointed king of Israel to succeed Saul. As a young boy, he fought the giant Goliath armed only with a sling. He won a great victory.
As a result of the victory, he was brought into the court of King Saul. Because of his talent as a musician he was called upon to sing for Saul when Saul was depressed or in a dark mood. He became a great soldier, eventually the greatest soldier in Saul’s army. Saul became jealous of him and for many years David was an outlaw wandering in the wilderness of Judah trying to stay one step ahead of his kingdom. All along David remained faithful to God and trusted God even in his desperation.
After many years, Saul was killed in battle, and David became king of Israel, first in Judah and then in Jerusalem. As king, he continued to provide security for his people. Then, he had a notorious affair with the beautiful Bathsheba. In the process of trying to cover up his affair with Bathsheba, David committed murder. The son conceived as a result of the affair died shortly after childbirth. As a result of these events, God brought a terrible judgment upon David. From that time forward he faced revolt and revolution from within his own family. He saw two of his children die violent deaths. He had a grand daughter who was molested by one of his own sons. One of his children led a rebellion against him. As an old man who could barely lift the sword he had to return to the battlefield. He was victorious in that battle.
After these events David entered a season of peace. He had a son by Bathsheba whose name was “Solomon.” Solomon turned out to be the most brilliant and capable of his children. Therefore, he determined that Solomon would replace him as king. At the end of his life, for a period of time, he and Solomon ruled together. David wanted to build the temple in Jerusalem. God did not permit him to do so because he was a man of violence and had shed blood. In today’s text David looks back upon his life and realizes that every good gift he has received: his positions came, his wealth, his power, his family, – all these things – came from God.
Grace and Thankfulness.
As part of preparing for this blog I wrote this week’s meditation posted on Facebook:
Thankfulness and grace go together. If we think we are entitled to the gift of life and to the things we want and need, we will never be thankful. It is only when we realize that everything we have as individuals, as a church, and as a nation are gifts of God’s grace that we can be truly thankful—and thank the One who bestowed them upon us.
This is the last week of our series on many ways of giving. As we have every week, we are returning to the subject of God’s grace. As I mentioned a moment ago, one of the interesting parts of Ann Voskamp’s spiritual healing was recognizing that grace and joy and thanksgiving go together. The Greek word “charis” is at the root of our word for grace, thanksgiving, gift, and joy. If we do not develop a gift of thankfulness, we will never experience the joy that God desires us to have as Christians. It’s only when we recognize that all of life is a gift that we can truly experience the healing power of God and the joy of God in our lives.
One thing I hope we have all gotten out this series of blogs is the importance of recognizing how dependent we are on God and on the love and mercy of God not just for our salvation but for all of the blessings of life. We cannot be thankful until and unless we put our own wisdom, our own work, and our own striving into perspective: No matter what I have done or accomplished, it is still because of God’s grace that I have accomplished it. When I have this realization, I am released to be be humble, open, wise, loving, and thankful.
The First Thanksgiving.
Last week I mentioned how important it is for our country to remember something of our history and traditions. The Pilgrims left England for America because they did not have freedom of religion in England. People who belonged to the free church movement, the Puritans, who took their faith very seriously, were unable to practice their religion with freedom. They were persecuted not just by the government but by the people of their day. They left England and went to Holland for a short period of time. They did not find Holland a good place to live because their children were developing Dutch customs and speaking Dutch at the expense of English. They learned that they could move to America, have religious freedom, and remain British citizens. So, they embarked on a voyage to the New World in a sailing ship that would fit into the sanctuary of our church. Many of the pilgrims died on the voyage. They landed late in the year and many died during that first cold, dark, dangerous first winter.
The following spring, the survivors began building their colony and planted a crop. They were aided by members of a local Native American tribe. Their first harvest was successful; and in November the group’s leader called for a feast to celebrate. Hunters were sent into the wilderness to hunt game for the event. Members of the local Native American tribes were invited and brought deer meat to add to the menu. The celebration lasted for three days.
We can learn some lessons from that first Thanksgiving. The survivors of that first time in the New World were not wealthy. They had not been terribly successful. They had barely enough food to make it through the next winter. Nevertheless, they were thankful. We don’t have to have everything that we desire to be thankful. To be thankful is to recognize that everything we have is a gift. In a society in which we feel entitled to happiness and success, it is hard to realize that even our failures involve God’s grace and we should be thankful for what we’ve been given.
In a little less than two weeks, we will celebrate Thanksgiving. I hope that all of us will take some time to think about what we are thankful for before that day. Perhaps we can develop the habit of Ann Voskamp of taking time every day to think about what we are thankful for, even amidst the problems and difficulties and stresses of that day.
Some years ago, I was witness to a very touching moment. An elderly gentleman was near the end of his life. He managed to take care of his family, raise his children, and put away little money for retirement. He knew that he had very little time to live. There was a meeting in which he made some final arrangements for his wife, who would be left behind, his children, and his grandchildren. When the meeting was over, he looked up and said, “Oh God thank you that I was able to do this.” This man, like many members of his generation, have lived through the Great Depression and the Second World War. He had had medical problems and business problems and all the problems that we have. Now, he was dying. Yet, he was thankful.
In many ways, David had a hard life. As the youngest son, he had been relegated to the most menial tasks on his father’s farm. As a young man, he had to fight wars for a mentally unbalanced king. That king had ultimately feared, persecuted, and tried to kill him. He spent many years in danger, fleeing from place to place trying to save his life. Even after he became king, he was in constant danger for a long time. When he managed to defeat most of his enemies, he made a mistake that followed him every day for the rest of his life. As an old man he saw two of his sons die. He might have been bitter. Instead, he made arrangements for his son Solomon to replace him, to build the temple in Jerusalem, and to be successful as a king. Then, he thanked God for the blessings of his life.
This week, and between now and Thanksgiving, perhaps we all could focus on three questions:
- What should I be thankful for?
- What have I forgotten to be thankful for?
- What are my hopes and dreams for my family, for my children and grandchildren, my church, for my city, and for my nation? And, what arrangements should I be making so that these dreams can come true?
I am not by nature a thankful person. When I read the article in Christianity Today about Ann Voskamp, and when I read her book on gratitude, I realized that this is a great spiritual weakness. She’s very right: we will never grow into the people God wants us to be until we learn to be thankful for the little things of life. And, we will never learn to be thankful until we learn to be thankful like Jesus even in the midst of the difficult circumstances of life.
Copyright 2016, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved
 Katelyn Beaty, “Contemplative Activist” in Christianity Today (November, 2016), 50-52. Ann Voskamp’s first book from which I quote below is, One Thousand Gifts (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010).
 See, The Interpreter’s Bible Vol. 3. “Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job” Vol. 3 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1954. This is a Methodist commentary with a fairly progressive Biblical studies background and tilt. This commentary would place the work at around 350-250 B.C. or much later than the time of Ezra. By the time the book was written Israel had been conquered by the Babylonians, the Persians had captured Babylon. Cyrus of Persia had released the Jews, and some of them had returned home.