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THANKSGIVING – 2016

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Evening, November 20, 2016

“Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving” (Psalm 95:2).


President Reagan once said:

      Our nation’s motto – “In God We Trust” – was not chosen lightly. It reflects a basic recognition that there is a divine authority in the universe to which this nation owes homage.
      Throughout our history, Americans have put their faith in God, and no one can doubt that we have been blessed for it. The earliest settlers of this land came in search of religious freedom. Landing on a desolate shoreline, they established a spiritual foundation that has served us ever since…
      While never willing to bow to a tyrant, our forefathers were always willing to get on their knees before God. When catastrophe threatened, they turned to God for deliverance. When the harvest was bountiful, their first thought was thanksgiving to God. (Ronald Reagan, Proclamation on National Day of Prayer, March 19, 1981).

Author Stephen Sumrall tells us about the first Thanksgiving in America, back in 1621:

      “Encouraging as were many of the developments among the Pilgrims, they experienced much sadness, but they suffered their way through to Thanksgiving. Brimming over with gratitude as a result of bountiful crops in the summer of 1621 – crops that produced more than enough corn to see them through their second winter [in America] – Governor Bradford declared a public day of thanksgiving, to which the Indians were invited…
      Chief Massasoit was a remarkable example of God’s providential care for His Pilgrims. The chief and eighty-nine other Indians joined with the Pilgrims in feasting on venison, wild Turkey, vegetables from their gardens, and pies. It was a joyous occasion for all, as they ate and then competed in games and merrymaking, and in prayer. Even though they had endured great hardship, God had been good to them and they recognized this” (Stephen Sumrall, Pulpit Helps, November 2002, p. 1).

The American Peoples Encyclopedia continues the story of Thanksgiving:

      Another Thanksgiving feast was held in 1623, and thereafter it was celebrated at intervals throughout the Colonial history of New England…During the American Revolution, Congress annually appointed a day of national thanksgiving…In 1789 President [George] Washington issued the first presidential proclamation for a Thanksgiving Day to be observed on Thursday, November 26, but he did not do so again until 1795. In 1815, after the War of 1812, President Madison set aside a holiday in November. [After that] for nearly [fifty years] the custom was kept alive by proclamations of the governors of the various states.
      The establishment of Thanksgiving Day as a national festival came about…through the life-long campaign of [a widow] Mrs. Sarah J. Hale...In 1863 she [urged President Abraham Lincoln to make Thanksgiving a national holiday] and won his support. On October 3, 1863, [Lincoln] issued a national Thanksgiving proclamation… (The American Peoples Encyclopedia, Chicago: The Spencer Press, 1954).

And we’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving ever since!

Thanksgiving is one holiday they haven’t been able to ruin. They’ve destroyed Christmas. The birth of Christ is completely forgotten amid the tinsel and lights and madness of “the holidays.” We used to be upset that they put out a few Christmas items in the stores a day or two before Thanksgiving. But I noticed this year that some stores put out Christmas items a few days after Labor Day – in September! Yes, greed and materialism have destroyed the real meaning of Christmas. That’s why you need to plan right now to be here with us on Christmas Sunday and Christmas Eve. Put Christ back into Christmas by being in church – the way it used to be – and the way it’s supposed to be! Don’t let the secular money-grubbers take the real meaning of Christmas away from you! And one more thing – don’t you let the Christ-rejectors take the word “Christmas” away from you. Go everywhere and say “Merry Christmas” to everyone – with a cheerful smile! To every Muslim you meet, say, “Merry Christmas!” To every politically correct liberal you meet, say, “Merry Christmas!” Don’t let them take the word “Christmas” away from us! And be in church on Christmas Sunday and Christmas Eve as well!

Yes, they’ve ruined Christmas. They’ve turned Halloween into a national orgy. Easter has just about been forgotten. But they can’t seem to spoil good, old Thanksgiving! The last time I talked with my mother was on Thanksgiving Sunday, just before she went into a coma and died. Mother said, “Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.” I agree with her!

You never know how much Thanksgiving means unless you are travelling somewhere else in the world on the last Thursday of November. I found that out in 1982. My wife and I had been travelling in Italy and reached the city of Rome on Thanksgiving Day. It was a strangely sad experience for us, as Americans. There was no Thanksgiving in Rome! It was just another cold fall day. And that’s the way it is in most of the world today.

Oh, I know America is far from perfect. Yet with all of our flaws and all of our national sins, America is still the home of freedom and hope in the world.

Two men were talking to a Cuban refugee, a businessman who had escaped from Castro. And in the midst of his story one businessman turned to the other and said, “We don’t know how lucky we are.” And the Cuban looked at them and said, “How lucky you are! I had someplace to escape to!” In that sentence he told us the entire story. If America ever falls, there is no place to escape to. Where would you rather be today? Turkey? Iraq? Saudi Arabia? When compared to them, our old country sounds pretty good! That’s why Abraham Lincoln called America “the last, best hope of man on earth.” And I still believe it!

But Thanksgiving means more than patriotism. It means that we love God and serve Him!

“Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving” (Psalm 95:2).

That’s why it’s important to be in church every time the door is open. It’s a cold and lonely world out there. Young people especially feel the coldness and loneliness of life without God and without the local church. But we say, on Thanksgiving and throughout the year, “Why be lonely? Come home – to church!” In the second century, Clement of Alexandria said:

The mother draws the children to herself; and we seek our mother, the church.

On Thanksgiving it is good to come home to our spiritual mother, the local church. It is good to come home to our mother every Sunday. Why be lonely? Come home – to church! And let us give thanks for our church, for our brothers and sisters in it, for the salvation of Christ proclaimed through it, for the love of God, manifest through it.

“Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving” (Psalm 95:2).

But there is something else we should thank God for this year. This is the first time in forty-two years that God has answered our prayer,

“Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence, As when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil, to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence! When thou didst terrible things which we looked not for, thou camest down, the mountains flowed down at thy presence” (Isaiah 64:1-3).

Yes, this year God came down from Heaven and sent us a “touch” of revival. In a few days’ time twenty of our people were hopefully converted. We baptized several of them last night. The power of God was so strong that it not only converted twenty people, but it also cleansed the church from some people who left the church and fled from God’s presence. This cleaned the church from some who were not serious about seeking Christ.

I said God gave us a “touch” of revival for the first time in forty-two years. It wasn’t a church-wide revival, but God did bring in 20 hopeful converts. I personally think that this “touch” of revival showed us that we could have an even greater revival in the future – perhaps next year! We thank God for sending down His Holy Spirit – and now we know He can do even more – much more – in the future. Let us stand and sing the theme song of this year’s revival. It’s number 1 on your song sheet.

Fill all my vision, Saviour, I pray,
   Let me see only Jesus today;
Though through the valley Thou leadest me,
   Thy fadeless glory encompasseth me.
Fill all my vision, Saviour divine,
   Till with Thy glory my spirit shall shine.
Fill all my vision, that all may see
   Thy Holy Image reflected in me.

Fill all my vision, let naught of sin
   Shadow the brightness shining within.
Let me see only Thy blessed face,
   Feasting my soul on Thy infinite grace.
Fill all my vision, Saviour divine,
   Till with Thy glory my spirit shall shine.
Fill all my vision, that all may see
   Thy Holy Image reflected in me.
(“Fill All My Vision” by Avis Burgeson Christiansen, 1895-1985).

Now sing hymn number 3 on your song sheet.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
   When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
   And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
   Count your blessings, see what God hath done;
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
   Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
   Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
   And you will be singing as the days go by.
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
   Count your blessings, see what God hath done;
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
   Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.

So, amid the conflict, whether great or small,
   Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
   Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
   Count your blessings, see what God hath done;
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
   Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.
(“Count Your Blessings” by Johnson Oatman, Jr., 1856-1926).

Amen and Amen! And we are praying that some of you who are still not converted will be drawn to Christ in the next few months. Thank God that He sent His only begotten Son to die on the Cross to pay the full penalty for your sins – and that He shed His precious Blood on that Cross to cleanse you from all sin – and that Christ rose physically from the grave to give you eternal life and joy! God bless you all! Amen.


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“Now Thank We All Our God” (by Martin Rinkart, 1586-1649).