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Enter His Gates

Thanksgiving  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a few acquaintances and the subject of Thanksgiving came up. One of the guys in the group said, "This year the idea of Thanksgiving is a joke. What do we have to be thankful for? The country is in the worst shape it's ever been in. As soon as we recover from one tragedy, another disaster strikes. I can't think of one thing America has to be thankful for."
I suppose he's not alone in his sentiments, but it got me to thinking about the history of Thanksgiving that we all learned in grade school, and the impact this holiday has had on our nation.
As you no doubt remember, the first Thanksgiving took place in October-ish 1621 — the exact date isn't known. It was held at the Plymouth Plantation, and the festival lasted three days. It was attended by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims. And though throughout our history our relationship with Native Americans has not always been exemplary (to say the least), this event was a positive first step in two communities living and working together in peace.
The purpose of this celebration was very specific: It was to say Thank You to God for his goodness and his blessings.
It's interesting that those early Americans felt this way, because it could be argued that they didn't have a whole lot to be thankful for.
This group of one hundred or so people who did not feel welcome in their homeland had traveled across the ocean to make new lives for themselves. What they found on our shores was not paradise, but rather hardship beyond imagination.
They had no communication with their friends and loved ones back home, they had no support from their government, they had very few resources to work with.
During their first winter, 45 of the original 102 immigrants died as a result of their harsh conditions.
So, really, what did they have to be thankful for?
They were able to say thanks because they could see more than just the hardship they endured.
They saw the blessings, too. And they saw the possibilities of what could be. So when the harvest was complete in the fall of 1621, this group of overcomers said, "Let's take a little time right now to say 'Thank You, Lord,' for all he's done for us."
They said this, in spite of the heartbreak they had suffered, and in spite of the fact that winter was right around the corner and they knew would be necessary to brace themselves for another difficult season.
Still, they wanted to say thanks — and they wanted to do it in a big way.
As a nation we celebrated Thanksgiving off and on for the next 240 years. Then, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln made it official: He proclaimed the fourth Thursday in every year to be "a national day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens."
What is significant about this particular year, 1863? It was right in the middle of the Civil War — one of the darkest hours in our nation's history.
1863 was a year when America didn't seem to have much to be thankful for. During this miserable war, 620,000 American soldiers died from combat, starvation and disease.
Right in the middle of that, President Lincoln said, "Let's come together as a nation and give our thanks to God."
How was he able to say that? Because he saw more than the turmoil our nation was enduring. He saw the freedom of an enslaved people. He saw the unity we could achieve. He saw the prosperity that could be ours.
He didn't just see what was happening today. He could see a couple of turns around the bend, and he said, "Let's give thanks to God."
Today, our country faces many challenges — and most Americans believe we're moving in the wrong direction. Rassumen Reports indicated that in a national survey taken in November 2017, 61% of Americans believe that we are headed in the wrong direction.
These are not just Republicans saying this, and it's not just Democrats saying this — it's people from ideological every point in the spectrum. It may be the only thing that Americans agree on: things aren't as they should be.
And yes, it goes without saying that there are many serious issues that we, as a nation, need to resolve. There are certain things that we can no longer ignore. We have much reason for concern.
But in the midst of our concern, let's remember the example set by the early American colonists: even in the midst of hardship, we can still find a reason to be thankful.
And let's remember the example set by our sixteenth president: even in the midst of our darkest days, we can be thankful for all that God is about to do in the weeks and months and years to come.
This principle of thankfulness not only applies to us as a nation, it applies to you and me as individuals.
There are some here today who might say, "You know what? I'm not that worried about the country, but I am worried about my family. I am worried about the future. I am worried about what will happen next in my life."
There are people here today who would say, "With all the mess I've got going on in my life, I don't have that much to be thankful for. I'm just trying to get through the storm."
To you I would say: Here are a couple of examples to follow.
In the midst of the storm you can find something to be thankful for. Like the courageous remnant of pilgrims thanked God for the new harvest, you can find something in your life today for which you can say thanks.
The harvest may seem meager, but it's a harvest nonetheless. The blessings may seem minor, but they're blessings nonetheless.
In the midst of hardship, I challenge you to have the courage to say, "Thank you God, for you are good."
And if you're just trying to get through the storm, there's another example to follow: the example of Lincoln. I'm saying that you can look beyond the darkness of today in anticipation of the light that is soon to appear.
Things won't always be the way they are today.
This nation was at war with itself, but the war didn't last forever. Peace came our way, and healing began, and prosperity appeared on the horizon.
For those of you who are going through the storm, I'm challenging you to look beyond the darkness to the blessings that are coming your way ... and give thanks and praise to your beneficent father who dwelleth in the heavens.
Our greatness as a people and our greatness as individuals is dependent on our ability to look beyond ourselves and look beyond our current situation and look to the God who loves us, the God who is good, to the God whose grace can get you through any problem you face ... look to him and give thanks.
In fact, I would say that during the difficult days of your life, the most important — and the most empowering — thing you can do is to demonstrate a thankful heart and a grateful attitude.
Stephen Post teaches bioethics at the University of Chicago medical school. Several years ago he created a research group called the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love. The group is dedicated to testing and measuring the effects of love, gratitude, and other positive caring emotions in human life.
Dr. Post's research revealed that spending 15 minutes a day focused on things you're grateful for has several positive effects on your physical health:
It increases your body's natural antibodies. It increases mental capacity and reduces vulnerability to depression. It creates a physiological state of "resonance", improving your blood pressure and heart rate.
He's saying that one of the healthiest things you can do is practice gratitude. It's good for you.
And the Bible tells us about one more benefit of gratitude — a benefit that goes beyond getting better physically or feeling better emotionally.
It's the greatest benefit of all.
What is it?
Gratitude — simply being thankful— leads you directly into the presence of God.
Today our text is , and we're looking at one specific verse:
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. ()
Let's focus on that first phrase...
Enter his gates with thanksgiving...
When you become thankful — more specifically, when you express your thankfulness — you are drawing near to God. It's like you're opening the temple gate and walking in.
And this attitude of thanksgiving leads inevitably to an attitude of praise.
It's an attitude that says, "God, I am thankful to you for all the good you brought into my life ... And that's because, God, you are good.
Thanksgiving leads to praise, and together they lead us into God's presence. Enter his gates with thanksgiving; enter his courts with praise.
We may be the most 'entitled' generation in our nation's history. We want — we even demand — the good life, but we expect to come at with a deep discount. Generally speaking, our tendency is to want more than the generation who came before us, while paying less than the generation before us. And when the hard reality of life confronts us face-to-face, our tendency is to point fingers and place blame and demand that someone else make our problems go away.
This self-entitled attitude prevents us from being grateful for the blessings we have received. It also prevents us from being able to see beyond the difficulties of today. And even worse, it causes a who-can-I-blame mindset.
Today I'm challenging you to break that pattern and adopt a new mindset: a thankful heart and an attitude of gratitude.
Many times in my Thanksgiving-related sermons I talk about how important it is for us to demonstrate our gratitude toward one another: You need to say "thank you" to your spouse and your kids and friends and neighbors and your customers and your boss and every other person who contributes to your life. And, of course, this is true. We do need to say "thank you" to one another at every opportunity.
But let's remember that the holiday that we celebrated this week was about more than two communities coming together in peace, or two communities making an effort to express gratitude to one another.
The first Thanksgiving was designed to be a holy celebration of God's goodness, and his faithfulness, and his protection, and his love.
In this generation's way of looking at life, the pilgrims had little to be little to be thankful for, and much to be bitter about.
But from the early settlers' point of view, even in the midst of hardship and heartache, they saw evidence of God's goodness, and they knew the best was yet to come.
It is my prayer that you leave here today with this same assurance: knowing that you are surrounded by mercy, that God's goodness can be seen at every turn, and the best of his blessings are yet to come.
Where does it all begin?
You enter his gates with thanksgiving in your heart: Saying 'thanks' ushers you in to the presence of God.
Every time you say "thank you", you're one step closer to the throne of God.
For this reason I encourage to say thank you — not just on Thanksgiving Day, but every day, as many times throughout the day as you have opportunity.
In the research I mentioned earlier, Stephen Post said that those who spend 15 minutes a day feeling grateful experience all kinds of health benefits.
Imagine, then, what might happen if you were to spend 15 minutes simply saying "thank you" to God for every good thing that has come your way.
Do you know what will happen?
You will find yourself closer to God than you've ever been before. And the closer you are to him, the more you are able to see your life through his eyes, and through his perspective.
You will see something other than the day-to-day misery that so many are consumed with; you will see also his goodness in every moment.
And you will also see, through his perspective, the possibilities that the future holds for you, the blessings and joy and prosperity that are coming your way.
Jesus died on the cross two thousand years ago for the sins of the world, for your sins and mine, so that we should no longer live separated from God. And the Bible says that through Christ we can boldly approach the throne of grace to find help in our time of need.
I would venture to say that for all of us, that time of need is today. We all need more of God's presence and more of God's power in our lives.
It begins with gratitude.
If you want more of God in your life, if you want to be closer to him than you've ever been, if you want to see all that surrounds you today with a spirit of hope, if you want to see all that lies ahead through the eyes of faith ... then take the first step.
You enter his gates with thanksgiving in your heart. Saying "thanks" ushers you into the presence, and in his presence you will find strength for today and hope for tomorrow.
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