Biblical Recorder:A Joyful Thanksgiving?
October 30 2003 by Tony W. Cartledge, , BR Editor

Biblical Recorder:A Joyful Thanksgiving?

| Home | NewsOpinion | Baptist Life | ResourcesFriday, Oct. 31, 2003

By Tony W. Cartledge,

BR Editor

We think of the Thanksgiving season as a time of great gratitude. Even if we don't feel thankful, we feel like we ought to be thankful, but some of us may wonder why. Maybe you've had a good year financially despite the struggling economy. Maybe your family has grown closer this year. Then again, maybe things haven't gone so well. Maybe you've been sick, or someone you love. Maybe you got downsized. Maybe your family is cracking at the seams, and you don't know what to do about it. Maybe you are asking, "What do I have to be so thankful for?"Psalm 100 was written for people on both ends of the spectrum, and in between. It was written for every person who believes, and even for those who do not believe. It is a joyful invitation for all people on earth to celebrate God, and to celebrate God's goodness. It is also our text for today.The psalm is only five verses long in English (6 in Hebrew), and it falls naturally into two parts. The first three verses call us to celebrate the Lord because He is God. The last two verses call us to celebrate the Lord because He is good. If you can remember no more than that - that God is God and God is good, you already understand the main point of the psalm.Celebrate the Lord. . . (vv. 1-3)"Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth!" So says the psalmist. He seems to be talking about serious noise -- but just what do you think he means by that? Are we to appoint holy cheerleaders to build pyramids on the pulpit and exhort us to shout praises as they shake their sacred pom poms? Should we have the music director lead us in the fashion of "Otis Day & the Nights" from Animal House, going "Shout! a little bit louder now, Shout! a little bit louder now, Shout! real loud now Shout! come on now . . .?" Maybe not.So what does it mean? Can you make loud noises in church? Many churches have big organs that make lots of noise, but they don't always sound very joyful. Our more charismatic friends and many ethnic congregations have no problem with shouting out words of praise and thanksgiving and encouragement during the church service. Most Baptists don't do it because they're afraid the pastor might get so pumped up that he'll preach too long, because they know that saying "Amen!" to a preacher is like saying "Sic 'em!" to a dog.When it comes to making noise in church, however, it's not the volume that counts, but the attitude. The psalmist calls us to come together with an attitude of praise, to make a joyful noise, to worship the Lord with gladness, and to come into his presence with singing. All of those verbs are imperatives. As far as the psalmist was concerned, there was no role for wallflowers at the temple - all were called to worship and sing joyfully. We know that the psalms were written as songs to be sung in the temple, and we even know the names of some of the tunes, but we don't know the tunes. Sometimes I like to imagine what a psalm would sound like if it were written today. I am convinced that Psalm 100 would have a joyful, Jamaican beat. I once paraphrased the psalm to fit into a common Caribbean beat, and it came out like this: "Calypso 100"Verse 1 (vv. 1-2)Praise the Lord in his holy temple,make a joyful noise and sing.We will worship our God with gladnesspraise the Lord for everything.Verse 2 (v. 3)Know ye that the Lord he is God, nowhe has made us and we are his,Like the sheep within his pasturewhat a blessed joy it is!Verse 3 (v. 4)Come on in with great thanksgivingcome into his courts with praise.Bring your hallelujahs to him,bless his precious holy name.Verse 4 (v. 5)For you know the Lord is good nowand his love will never end.He is faithful and eternal, he will always be our friend.This psalm calls us to praise the Lord, and to praise the Lord with joy. Now the important question: Why? Why should I praise the Lord with gladness? And the first answer is this:Because He is God! Verse 3 calls us to "know that the Lord is God!" That is where worship begins. Thus far, the psalmist has referred to God by the special name that was revealed to Moses, the name Yahweh, which means something like, "the one who is," or "the one who causes to be." English translations usually render "Yahweh" as LORD, in all capital letters. Why do we worship Yahweh? Why worship the Lord? Because he is God! He really is. There really is a God, says the psalmist, and we know his name, and we know he cares for us in a special way.There really is a God, and we belong to him. It is he that hath made us, and we are his! The familiar King James version translated that as "It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves." Some other translations follow the same idea. That is because there are two Hebrew words (l'o and l�) that sound just alike, but are spelled differently. The first means "not." The second means "belonging to him." Whichever translation you prefer, the meaning is the same. We did not make ourselves. God did. We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.That tells us something about our basic identity in life, and it is important to know. If we can accept what the psalmist has told us, we can know where we came from, and we can know where we belong. We came from God, who created us, and we belong in his pasture, where he cares for us.Take just a minute to think about that first imperative word in v. 3: Know. In Hebrew, that word means "to know by experience," not just by intellectual understanding. I know many people by reputation. I know a lot of things about Bill Elliott and Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett as race car drivers, for example, but I don't know them as individuals.For a long time I knew Fred Rogers by reputation. Bethany and I used to watch "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" most every afternoon. I knew that he appeared to be a kind and gentle man who loved children. I had read that he was ordained as a Presbyterian minister, but I didn't know Mr. Rogers. Then the phone rang one day about a month after Bethany died. It was Fred Rogers. I had written him to thank him for being a part of Bethany's neighborhood and for having a part in building her good sense of self-esteem. He called and talked with Jan and with me for a long time. He asked us to keep in touch, and since then we have visited with him in Pittsburgh and in Raleigh. His wife Joanne came and did a piano concert in our church. I came to know Mr. Rogers as one of the most gracious, compassionate and wise people on the face of the earth. When he died, my grief was different, because I really knew him. There is a difference between knowing about someone and knowing them. The psalmist tells us that we can go beyond the simple knowledge that Yahweh is God - we can know God in a personal and intimate way, even as a shepherd and his sheep know each other. Can you think of a better reason to praise the Lord, than the realization that he really is God, and that he really cares for you?Celebrate the Lord . . . (vv. 4-5)But the psalmist is not finished. Once again, he calls us to celebrate the Lord. "Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him, and bless his name!"Notice we have three more imperatives - Come into his courts! Give thanks to him! Bless his name! I like to think of the psalmist as running outside to gather even more people for joyful worship before God. There are always those who see no reason to worship, who feel no need to be thankful to God. Many people are convinced that they owe everything to their own hard work and determination, that they did it all themselves. Even to those folks who remain outside, the psalmist cries "Come on down! Give thanks to God! Bless his name!"And we still may ask "Why?" We still may be less than inspired to give thanks. But the psalmist never hesitates, for he has an answer - Because he is good! We celebrate the Lord because he is God, and we celebrate the Lord because he is good. And how is the Lord good to us? His steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. God's goodness to us is shown in that he truly loves us. The psalmist uses a word that means something like "steadfast love," or "faithful love." God's love is not like human love, which is often fickle or shallow. It is a deep love, an abiding love, an eternal love. Because of God's love for us, those who trust him need never feel alone or unwanted or unloved. What are some of the ways we see evidence of God's creative power and his enduring love?Once upon a time there was a delightful young girl named Barbara Ann. She was a happy child, much of the time, because she had the special ability to find happiness in little things. When the skies were cloudy, she found joy in the shapes of the clouds. When she was stuck inside, she found happiness in the smell of a Crayola crayon, or in the sight of her cat streaking by at thirty miles an hour, or in the soft fluffiness of a cotton ball. Sometime in Barbara Ann's sixth grade year, she began to write down all of these little things that made her happy. She started with an ordinary spiral bound notebook, and soon she had filled it up. She got more and bigger notebooks, and as she grew older, she continued adding to her collection of all the little things that gladden the eye and bring wonder to the heart. Things like:Ancient alphabets. Lighthouses. Onions on a hot dog. Beachcombing. The little bitty red and blue threads you can see in a dollar bill. Different accents. Honeysuckles. Three-gallon tubs of ice cream.After twenty years of this, bubbly Barbara Ann Kipfer decided that other people might enjoy reading her collection, and she persuaded Peter Workman to publish them in a book called 14,000 Things To Be Happy About (New York: Workman Publishing, 1990). When I read from Barbara Ann's list, I discover that some of the things that make her happy don't do a thing for me. We are different people. But reading her list inspires me to be more aware and more appreciative of some of those little things that bring joy to my own life and remind me of the goodness of God:The smell of new-mown grass. Writing with a yellow No. 2 Ticonderoga pencil, freshly sharpened. Baked beans with real bacon. A new novel by a favorite author. The softness of a baby's head. The laughter of children. A day when things go right. Purple-inked test papers fresh from the spirit master duplicating machine.Finding socks that match. Corn flakes and cold milk. A cat sleeping in your lap. Sunshine. A mountain stream.Fall.Homemade bread. The voice of a friend on the phone. Looking at cloud tops from the window of an airplane. Sleeping until you're ready to get up.What kind of things remind you of God's love and goodness? Can you think of one or two or three of those little things in life that bring a special joy to your heart and remind you of the ever-present loving-kindness of God? You may even want to write them down in your bulletin, and start your own list.Whenever I contemplate a list of things that bring me hope and joy, it always concludes with the hope we have in Christ that God's blessings don't stop when we die. The psalmist's emphasis on the lasting quality of God's love - his faithfulness that extends to all generations - reminds us that God's love stretches even beyond this life for those who trust him - even into eternity. I think that's something worth celebrating - and maybe even making some noise about!I hope you will do both.1| Home | NewsOpinion | Baptist Life |

10/30/2003 11:00:00 PM by Tony W. Cartledge, , BR Editor | with 0 comments

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