We are all refugees of the world. Victor Kubik, President of UCG, tells of his life as a refugee. How thankful he is of all the blessing he has received. And how thankfulness is helpful for our well-being.
[Victor Kubik] We live in very difficult times, and it’s good for all of us to be together. I think it’s going to be more important for us to value our relationships, and to value these moments. As we are told in Hebrews 10:25 Hebrews 10:25Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching.
American King James Version×, that we’re to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, so that we can be with one another, to exhort one another as the day approaches. And certainly, I feel that way especially today with all the events that have taken place around the world. It’s been a very, very difficult week. And I don’t foresee things getting better, not until Jesus Christ actually returns.
It’s been a week since the ISIS attack in Paris, and actually seems like a lot longer than that with all of the commentary and all the news coverage that’s all that we heard this past week; massive coverage, and we’ve even commented about it from the Church. We certainly live in very, very dangerous times. David Cottle, he works for the diplomatic service and is currently in Paris. His home is Milford, Ohio, and he had been the deputy ambassador to Iraq, had done two tours there. And the last place he was stationed, he was 50 miles away from an ISIS stronghold.
He came and spoke to us here at the Home Office, spoke to ABC for about one and a half class periods, and talked about the Middle East, and talked about all the dangers that are there; very knowledgeable person. He has a wealth of knowledge about the Middle East, and he talked… this was two years ago. I heard him a year before, his presentation here at ABC. But a year before that, he spoke to us and said that “Syria is a nation that has exploded. It has completely spewed out its poison to the world, ISIS Refugees.” Syria is the place that has been the big bugaboo in the world.
He says, “Egypt, on the other hand, as a nation has imploded.” But Syria has exploded in ISIS and refugees. You don’t hear about Egyptian refugees. We don’t hear about refugees coming… the word “Syrian, Syrian, Syrian,” is just there in connection with the refugees. Eastern Syria and Northern Iraq are the focus now in the world, and the harbinger of future sorrows, as other nations begin to move in there to take advantage of the situation, most notably the Russians. America, the United States has pulled back, and the Russians are all too happy to help out under the guise of fighting ISIS, but really stirring up more trouble in the Middle East, where 60% of the world’s oil is found. And that is what they are licking their chops over.
That part of the world is extremely complex. When I visited Jordan and some of the people that we worked with in the past who have been our friends, and after a nice meal and talking in a very friendly way, they turned to us and said, “You know something? You Americans just don’t understand the situation here. You just don’t know the situation. You don’t know anything about the relationships here in the Middle East that are very, very complex.” And they were very frustrated because we’re very knowledgeable, we think ourselves, but they’re so frustrated because we don’t get it.
Well, my sermon this afternoon is not about the Middle East. Rather it’s about a subject that is top of mind or should be top of mind at this time of year, which is the subject of Thanksgiving. So that’s what I’ll be talking about. But I have some very personal thoughts because they have been engendered by the refugees this past week, and also refugees that have been streaming into Europe by the hundreds of thousands, over a million people. I don’t know where in the world, how they could all be coming from Syria, which they really haven’t. They’ve come from everywhere.
You see lines of people. You can’t figure out exactly who they are. There are women. There are children, but there are also men. There’s movements of people, nations absorbing them, taking them, trying to dole them out to different parts of the world. And the big debate now is raging in our country between those who say, “Let them in.” We should be humanitarian to those who say, “Well, how do we know that we don’t have terrorists among them, who will commit some of the atrocities that we are seeing what’s happening?”
I’d love to talk to you about the refugee matter a little bit in context with the gratitude that we should have at this time of year. So we say, “Well, what’s the connection? Gratitude, refugees?” Because I have something that I am far more grateful for than $1.65 a gallon gas. I have some things that I’m far more grateful for than having plenty of food, a home, a wonderful wife, family, and being a part of the Church.
My heart goes out to the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are streaming from Syria and other places, because I was a refugee at one time. My family, my mom and dad were slave laborers in Germany during World War II. They worked for the Nazis, who took them from their homeland at age 16 to work in the factories from 1942-1945. And I’ve spoken about the refugee experience… I won’t go through it here, but I’d like to explain a little bit more about the refugee part, not the slave labor part of our family.
When Europe was liberated by the Allies in 1945, they found themselves first under American occupation, but the Americans pulled back and then they were under Russian occupation and they saw that it was not good. The way the Russians were treating these young people who had worked there against their will, they were treating them like collaborators, and they were very abusive. Actually, General Eisenhower saw that the Russians were treating these displaced people in a very, very abusive way, and he stopped the repatriation process. Meaning he didn’t force these people to go back to their homes, because of the way the Russians were treating them.
So my parents escaped from the Russians, and that’s a whole story of its own. They escaped from the City of Magdeburg which is now in… well, was East Germany, eastern part of Germany. And they found themselves in Hanover, which is where the border was close to East Germany at that time. And they found their way into a United Nations refugee camp. And that’s where they lived for the next four years.
I’ve actually gone back there to visit that location. It’s about two to three miles north of the center of Hanover. And it’s now a police academy. There they waited and waited to be resettled. They came there in 1945, they weren’t married. They got married in the camp. I was born in that camp in 1947, in October of 1947.
They waited and waited to find a country that would take them in. They tried the USA, Canada, Australia, Latin America. Nothing was happening. Some of their friends, some of the people they knew in the camp, one after another, found relocation, especially their best friends that found relocation immediately because they had a relative that lived in Alberta, Canada. Well, after 4 years, and this is 1949, they thought that, “Well, we better go back home. We better go back to Ukraine.” It seemed like things were settling down. And that was what was meant to be.
They were packing up and heading east, and going to the train station, now on their way back. The story really gets very interesting here at this point because I just learned some things this past couple of years that I had not known before. I didn’t realize that my parents were just that close from leaving Germany, going to the U.S.S.R. I was a year and a half old at that time. And as they were going to the train station, a mailman came to them with a courier with a letter. The letter was from my grandfather, who is my father’s father, David. And he advised him otherwise. My brother wrote to me. He wrote this report, he checked it out with my sisters for accuracy. And I just wanted to confirm, but here’s a note that he wrote to me, just about a year ago actually.
“The second effort to go back,” he was writing to me, “was immediately after your birth. You were a newborn, and Mom and Dad were heading back to Ukraine since there were assurances the Ukrainians were not being mistreated.” Well, actually I wasn’t newborn. I was already a year and a half old. “At the train depot, Dad received a letter from his father, David, telling him not to come. And Dad was offended by the letter because it was so blunt. He hadn’t been home since 1942, and hadn’t been home in seven years.” See, four plus three, seven years and dad says, “Don’t come back.”
The courier that caught up with Dad gave it to him at the last moment. “Later on, Dad found out that relations were so bitter between Russians and Ukrainians, that long after the war was over, they were killing each other. Our mother was Russian and would have been killed by the Ukrainians. Dad was Ukrainian and would have been killed by the Russians. And also you had been killed, too. Things were really raw in that part of Ukraine after the war. But then shortly afterward, Dad got the okay to emigrate to the U.S.” Finally came through. “I think you were about one and a half when you crossed the ocean.”
“Mom and you were very sick on that troop carrier that took us from Bremerhaven in Germany to Ellis Island in New York. You almost died on the journey over. Mom was not able to walk off the troop carrier when it docked at Ellis Island. A group of Pentecostal volunteers heard of her plight and ran past the guards to help carry her off. They took her to the infirmary where she stayed a few days before getting on the train to Chicago. There they got on a train called the Northern Pacific, that went on to Seattle. They got off at St. Paul, Minnesota where they were greeted by their sponsors, and that was July 1949.”
They finally found a friend of my grandfather’s who had a relative in Minnesota, whose cousin was a University of Minnesota professor. And then he became our sponsor and friend for many years when we lived in Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Well, Bev and I have gone back to the U.S.S.R. and Ukraine many times, going back to the days of our Y.O.U. youth trips that we led. But in 1988, this was still under the U.S.S.R., we had a family reunion in my mother’s village, but this time both my parents had died. And we saw some of my mother’s friends with whom she worked.
One lady in particular, who was a friend of hers working in the German factories, and here she is back in her home village. And I thought to myself, “You know something? That could have been my mother. I could have been growing up in the Soviet Union and Soviet Ukraine with rotten teeth, aluminum teeth, you know, that many of the young people had, being in poor health. And here I am in the United States.” I just always just marvel the thought how close and how fortunate I was to be here.
I can still see that lady with her babushka scarf on her head, and her looking way older than my mother would have been. In fact, my cousins all look 10 years older than I had. I am so thankful that I did not end up in the U.S.S.R., or that part of the world. I have so much to be thankful for: to live in America, to know God, to have a great family. It could have been so different. Our congressman here, Brad Wenstrup, who is our representative to the House of Representatives, on his blog—and I check his blog because we’re actually working with his office to have ABC certified. We feel like we’re just that close to being able to issue certification for international students to be able to come to study here at ABC.
And he had a question out there yesterday, “Do you favor Syrian refugees coming? Are you against it, or do you have something that you would like to say?” I have met Representative Congressman Wenstrup personally. So I wrote this to him yesterday. I’d like to read it because it kind of explains some of my thoughts about my feelings about this relationship of refugees, of which we all are refugees to one extent or another.
“My parents were refugees in the United Nations camp in Germany from ‘45 to ‘49. They waited almost five years to come to the U.S. and were almost sent back to the U.S.S.R. I was born there and came to the U.S.A. with them at the age of two. My parents had to find a sponsor, which happened to be a University of Minnesota professor. We first came to Faribault, Minnesota and then onto St. Paul Minnesota. Before proceeding out to citizenship, which took another few years, they had to have a basic understanding of English, understand the three branches of government, know who their congressman and senator was, and lots more. I remember my mother and father studying English feverishly to learn all these things about their new country. I became a citizen in the second grade. I remember when all the little kids threw me a little party when I became an American citizen.”
“Not all the refugees made it out of that camp. Some returned to the U.S.S.R. Others were sent to the U.K., South America, Canada, and Australia. There was great scrutiny about every single one of them. While I’m sympathetic to the plight of refugees because of our family’s experience, we must realize that we must become loyal and thankful to the country that grants us a second chance in life. We are glad to be naturalized Americans, support our government, learn the language, and renounce any other national loyalty, and live by the laws, and adopt the culture of this great country.”
“By the way, my dad became a carpenter, and our family never needed government support. They raised five of us, who went on to meaningful careers. We are so thankful.” And I, in particular, feel very, very thankful to God for all the blessings that he has given me because I could have been one of those statistics, one of those people that nobody would even know who they were. And here I have a life, I have an identity, and I have a wonderful, wonderful future.
Thanksgiving is a Christian virtue that is as important as loyalty, honesty, responsibility. And probably after hearing the words, “I love you,” we probably would like to hear, “Thank you,” more than anything else. But we live in a time especially in our society when human feelings are jaded and perverted. We’ve quoted this scripture many times, 2 Timothy 3:1 2 Timothy 3:1This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
American King James Version×, about the times in which we live. I remember it being quoted 40 years ago, 45 years ago at Ambassador College. And we thought the world was doomed at that time, has become just a whole lot worse because this reflects society today in the face of the times in which we live. 2 Timothy 3:1 2 Timothy 3:1This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
American King James Version×, “But know this,” and the apostle Paul is speaking about the last days, “that in the last days perilous times will come,” which they’re certainly here and we’re living through them right now.
“For men will be lovers of themselves,” become narcissists, be focused on themselves. “Lovers of money,” and we think that just because we have a lot of commotion, and just because we have a lot of conflict in the world that there’s poverty, or there’s no money. That’s not true. Israel went into captivity under some of the greatest periods of prosperity. And poverty does not bring conversion. And neither does prosperity inhibit, or make people more righteous. “Lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents,” how much worse has this gotten to be?
“Unthankful,” as one of the signs of our times, “unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers.” Now you can write any slander you want on the internet, have it spread out all over. “Without self-control, brutal, despisers of good.” And you see all the crazy things on the internet having to do with values and people attacking these values. “Traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness” as “a Christian nation” which we are now really not even talking about that. We are slipping away from being a Christian nation. We’re in what’s called a post-Christian period now, “but denying its power. And from such people turn away!”
Back to Thanksgiving and the comment about unthankful. Do you know that 50% of all teens have never written thank you note? Do you know that 83% of teens have never written a love note, the kind of love note to a parent or to a sibling? Of all people who send out newsletters, this is from Richard Branson, in which he writes in the recent newsletter, his most recent newsletter, about the fact that half of teens have never been able to express themselves in a thank you note. One reason is that they all have devices. They have telephones. They’ve got tablets. They have different things that really inhibit them from writing something in a very personal way.
And the name of his blog was “Bring Back the Pen.” A lot of kids don’t even own a pen. You know they’re writing quick things, have their own shorthand, and has taken feeling away from another. He talks about how he wrote letters to his sister, who he really loved, and he would just write her a very nice handwritten note. People express feelings one to another of appreciation, gone. People don’t do that; 83% have never written a love note to a sister, a brother, or a parent. Also, this brings to the fore, Romans 1:20 Romans 1:20For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
American King James Version×, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.”
I mean God’s presence is known. Last night, my wife and I watched “The Privileged Planet.” It’s one of my favorite documentaries about God and God as Creator, and where we are in this solar system, and in this universe. “Even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” I mean God’s presence has been more known to us now than ever before. When David marveled at all the stars in heaven, he can only see about 4,000 at a time, 3,000-4,000. And right now, with the naked eye, of all the stars around the world, you can only see 12,000. Of course, half of them are in the daytime but you can’t see. But only about 12,000 stars are visible.
It wasn’t until the 1920s that we found that the universe was not the Milky Way when Hubble discovered Andromeda and other constellations. And then some of the most amazing pictures of all, to me, have been Hubble’s exploration into the deep field, as it’s called, where Hubble was able to have a very small microsecond of an angle in a constellation where there weren’t too many stars that were interfering. And it made 875 revolutions around the earth to capture enough light to see what was out there. Fellow scientists said, “How come you’re wasting Hubble’s time? There’s nothing out there.” And they found 123 quintillion stars and massive galaxies in three different explorations in 1990s, that began until the latest one in 2012, where they have found what are called “the reach of the ends of the universe,” just amazing displays of matter and energy that are out there.
And you would think that mankind would be thankful, that mankind would… dawn upon them that somebody did this. Somebody put it there. And Paul from the first chapter of Romans says, “All you got to do is take a look as to how things fit, and how things work, and how things are put together. That there’s some kind of a mind behind it.” Of course, if you get to that point, whose mind? What power does that mind have? And you get closer to God, which people hate. And they don’t want. You know, I’m so thankful that we can see these things that the world cannot see. One of the most grateful things I am for is that, frankly, I get it. And so do you. You get things that a lot of the great minds in this world have absolutely no clue about.
This other telescope going up, still another three years before it’s launched, the James Webb telescope. It’s about the size of a school bus and will be a million miles out. Hubble is only about 375 miles. It circulates just above all the atmosphere, all the distractions of our atmosphere. But the James Webb telescope is going to be a million miles out in a stationary orbit. And who knows what it will find, what new discoveries. I’m sure that they’ll be wonderful and great. But these things don’t impress people. People are not thankful. Not thankful.
Verse 21 of Romans 1, “because, although they knew God…” You know, it’s interesting that atheists and those that don’t like God kind of fall into two categories. And they kind of are self-defeating because if they say that there is no God, then how can you hate Him? How can you hate something that doesn’t exist? So many of them do know God that He’s there, but they just don’t like Him, and they don’t want to have anything to do with Him. They don’t want to obey Him. They don’t want to adopt the rules and laws that God has given us.
“Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful,” nor were thankful, “but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish heart was darkened.” One of the most wonderful things that I’m grateful for is that, while I’m not perfect, believe me. I’m not perfect, I have my faults, but I’m so thankful that I understand that there is a God, Creator. Not only that, He’s put all these things here, but that I have a personal relationship with Him. Thanksgiving is a trait though that is not necessarily automatic. It’s something that needs to be taught and trained. Otherwise, a person doesn’t naturally come to the point of being thankful. As I said, 50% of teens have never written a thank you note of any sort.
Jesus Christ gave the story about the 10 lepers who were cleansed. And here are people that had a chronic condition, that was going to result in early death. And they were put out of the town into a lepers’ colony where they lived with one another, and Jesus Christ healed them. In Luke 17:11 Luke 17:11And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the middle of Samaria and Galilee.
American King James Version×. Luke 17:11 Luke 17:11And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the middle of Samaria and Galilee.
American King James Version×, “Now it happened that as He went to Jerusalem, that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee.” Samaria is always a very interesting place because the Jews hated that place. But some of the greatest heroes of humanitarian work were Samaritans. “Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off.” Because of quarantine, “And they lifted up their voices and said, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’”
“So when He saw them, He,” Jesus, “said to them, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed.” They were healed. Can you imagine this? Having something that for years, your skin is scabbing, and of course, the leprosy of that time was worse than the leprosy manifestations of our time. “And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down at his face at His feet, giving Him thanks.” “Jesus, thank you! Thank you, I’m healed!” “And he was a Samaritan.” Verse 17, “So Jesus answered and said, ‘Were there not ten cleansed?’” I mean, you’re one, there were 10. “But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” He was not even a Jew.
“And He said to him, ‘Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.’” In a sense, faith is equated here with gratitude and thanksgiving. Interesting that in certain societies that have a lot as compared to societies that have very little, there is oftentimes an interesting disparity of who’s more thankful. And I want to relay this story because in 1992 I went to Ukraine. That was the first time that I had met Sabbatarian Ukrainians. This was one year after Ukraine became independent. The economy was in the pits. There was just extreme shortages; food was short, fuel was short, but that’s the year that I visited the Sabbatarians for the first time. The government was still trying to adjust to independence from being part of the U.S.S.R.
And we stayed with one of the families in the village, with Ivan and Anya Pavliy family. And the Sabbath approached, and they all knelt down on their knees in a circle. We all knelt down on our knees in a circle, and the prayer was “What has God done for you this past week?” And every single one of the children, there were three children in that family, and mom and dad, and myself. And at that time John Carlson was with me. And so I was just absolutely astounded as to what they prayed about. Now, here are people with nothing, with the government that just stank. They were just able to open up a church for the first time ever, after being Sabbatarian because freedom of religion had just come to their area.
At that time, I was working for Church Administration Department, thinking about all of our ministers, all of our churches, all of our congregations, all the cars, the Feast of Tabernacles, everything. And here are people with nothing, and are just starting to get going. And they all prayed, thanking God for what they had: their relationships, their health, the knowledge of God. It was so pure, it was so innocent, it was so beautiful to have them talk about these things. They had virtually no income and everything I thought to myself, “What am I going to say? What in the world can I say? I’ve got a car. Here, there and everything else.” I just thanked God in the nominal way, you know, with them. But I thought they were so thankful in spite of having very little.
Interesting that earlier on that day, they said, “Victor, can you help us out?” The bread truck is coming to town. And they only allow two loaves of bread per person. And that’s going to take us…” I’m not sure if it was a week or more. “And we’re going to go and get bread, but if you could stand in line with us, maybe you could also get two loaves of bread, and give it to us,” because they don’t check ID or anything. And so sure enough, here I am standing in the bread line Friday afternoon.
They gave me the coins, they called it coupons at that time. That was a name of the currency at that time. And here comes a truck backing up there on the street. And two big women opened the door and here are all these big loaves of bread. Nothing’s wrapped, you know, they’re all just there. People walk up, give their money, and the woman gives them bread, just one after another. Here I am kind of inching my way up. I’m not sure exactly what the transaction thing is. You know, do I need to talk to her or whatever? No, not at all. This big woman just throws two loaves of bread at me, takes my money, and pushes me out of the way. That was my… not exactly a Costco experience, but it was an experience. We still talk about that. We laugh with him all the time about our standing in the bread line experience. That night is the night that we all prayed for the wonderful things that God has done for us.
The Feast of Tabernacles in Estonia. This was a few years ago. It was about maybe 10 years ago. I’m not sure if it was about ‘05 or ‘07 Feast, where we had people there from a number of beleaguered places in the world. We had a family, a German family from East Germany that lived under the Stasi, an East German government.
We had people from Latvia. We had people from Estonia that knew the KGB well. We had Natasha, who works for us, from Belarus. And we had one lady from New Zealand that was from Zimbabwe. And we had one evening as kind of our evening of like a seminar thing. We had the people from this part of the world sit facing the rest of the group of people, about 70 at the Feast that year. And they told their stories. Their stories were amazing what they had to go through, especially the one, Atheling from Zimbabwe, where all the children were taught how to use automatic weapons during the Rhodesian civil war. So somebody came to the door. You knew how to shoot them, and you were just ready to defend yourself.
The story about the Stasi… and these are people that were believers that found their way to the Feast in Brno, Czechoslovakia. They talked about the restrictions and all the things upon them. I thought, “What amazing stories and how they could be faithful to God.” And the people from Latvia and Estonia talked about the KGB, how people would disappear. One-fourth of the male population in the Soviet system disappeared in Estonia, gone. Then they told us the next day, “Well, maybe we could have a night that you could tell us your stories.” And I said, “What? How many times we’ve been to Panama City Beach?”
You know, our story sounded so shallow in comparison to what these people had gone through. But back to teaching thanksgiving and gratitude. Levitical priests in the five major offerings… the first part of the book of Leviticus speaks about the five main offerings that Levites offered. And there was one called a “peace offering” which were specifically to teach people thanksgiving, and to offer thanks. Leviticus 7:11 Leviticus 7:11And this is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings, which he shall offer to the LORD.
American King James Version×, “This is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings which he shall offer to the Lord. If he offers it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer, with the sacrifice of thanksgiving, unleavened cakes mixed with oil, unleavened wafers anointed with oil, or cakes of blended flour mixed with oil. Besides the cakes, as his offering he shall offer leavened bread with the sacrifice of thanksgiving of his peace offering.”
So very specifically and emphatically, the offering, the peace offering was to show thanksgiving to God for what He had done. Actually, thanksgiving and offerings and sacrifices to God and glorify Him go back all the way to Cain and Abel, where thanksgiving was offered to God. When the Ark of the Covenant was brought back in David’s time, when it was brought to a Tabernacle, still before the time of the temple, in David’s time the Levites were commissioned to offer thanks and appreciation.
A whole choir was just set up for the purpose of singing praises and thanksgiving to God. 1 Chronicles 16:7 1 Chronicles 16:7Then on that day David delivered first this psalm to thank the LORD into the hand of Asaph and his brothers.
American King James Version×, in this whole chapter, actually starting in verse 4 is about David setting this up. It appears like David had a lot to do with the way this was organized. 1 Chronicles 16:4 1 Chronicles 16:4And he appointed certain of the Levites to minister before the ark of the LORD, and to record, and to thank and praise the LORD God of Israel:
American King James Version×. “And he appointed some of the Levites…” 1 Chronicles 16:4 1 Chronicles 16:4And he appointed certain of the Levites to minister before the ark of the LORD, and to record, and to thank and praise the LORD God of Israel:
American King James Version×, “to minister before the ark of the Lord,” this is David, but he did, “to commemorate, to thank, and to praise the Lord God of Israel.” So it’s specifically set up to thank God. And why were they thankful? Well, the ark of God had found its way back with the tablets of stone. Now, back from the Philistines over to Jerusalem, where it was placed in the Tabernacle, in the big tent that they had.
The rest of this Psalm starting with verse 7 is a Psalm of David, which repeats over and over again. I won’t read the whole Psalm, just a few, touch on a few verses. Verse 7, “On that day David first delivered this psalm into the hand of Asaph and his brethren,” for what? “To thank the Lord.” And he starts out verse 8, “Oh, give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples! Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; talk of his wondrous works!” Praise God, talk Him up, thank Him, give Him credit. Praise Him for the things that He’s done.
I could read the whole Psalm, but you could read this on your own. Verse 34, “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” Verse 35, “And say, ‘Save us, O God of our salvation; gather us together, and deliver us from the Gentiles, to give thanks to Your holy name, to triumph in Your praise.’ …from everlasting to everlasting! And all the people said, ‘Amen!’” So be it. But it was basically an exercise in offering thanksgiving and praise. Oh, how far we have fallen from that type of exclamation of joy and thanksgiving for what we have.
When the nation of Israel… the nation of Israel was a nation of refugees. If you really understand what Israel was, when they got thrown out of Egypt, it was a crowd of 2.5-3 million refugees. And you know, God had delivered them, but they had no country yet. They were wandering around. They were, you know… had many wonderful things happen. They were delivered from the Egyptians, delivered from bondage, delivered from genocide, and now had found their way. This is after 40 years now after their own silly mistakes that they certainly should have learned from. And now God is speaking to them about the relationship that he wants to have with them.
Let’s take a look at one of those places. Deuteronomy 8. The first chapters of the book of Deuteronomy have to do with basically a pep talk to the people of Israel. That remember when you go into the land, do this, do this, do this. Remember the Lord your God. Deuteronomy 8:1 Deuteronomy 8:1All the commandments which I command you this day shall you observe to do, that you may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD swore to your fathers.
American King James Version×, “Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the Lord swore to your fathers.” This is on the eve, so to speak, of them entering into the land that was promised to them. “And you, shall remember that the Lord your God led you all these forty years in the wilderness, to humble and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone.” He says, “I wanted to teach you lessons.”
There are sometimes that we have to learn lessons in remembering God, to remember Him. There are things in our lives that are not always pleasant. There are things in our lives that are trials and setbacks. That’s also a time for us to show thankfulness and gratitude, and say, “God, what am I learning from this? And thank you for what I have learned.” There’s a beautiful article in this issue of the Good News, which I really would like you to read, by Amber Duran about being thankful to God in all circumstances. She talks about a traumatic instance in her life, the death of her mother this past year, and even ends on a sad note, “She won’t be with us for Thanksgiving.” But she talks about thankfulness and gratitude of understanding her mother’s life, what it means in the whole scheme of life, and that she will see her in the resurrection. It is written so honestly and so convincingly; I really would like you to read it.
Verse 11, you can read the whole chapter how God talks to them and says, “Don’t forget me. Remember me.” And part of an important component of Thanksgiving is remembering. You don’t just say, “Thanks, thank, thanks,” in a shallow way. You say, “Thank you for this. Thank you…” specifically. “Beware that you do not forget,” verse 11, “the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today.” Remember your God—what He has done. Verse 18, “And you shall remember the Lord your God for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.”
You know, our nation here, we have gotten the greatest amount of wealth—still do. We still do. No matter what they say about the economy, what they say about things, we don’t have people starving in the streets. And you know, I have traveled in many places in the world. The only continent I have yet is Antarctica. But I have been around the world, and there are very, very few places that I would ever want to settle in. We have worked in Malawi, in Zambia, according to the United Nations, some of the poorest nations in the world. There are different statistics, but either third or fourth poorest nations, or tenth and eleventh poorest nations in the world.
We’ve had people that have gone after us there to visit and say, “How can you watch these people with what they go through, and just not feel absolutely torn up?” Well, we have worked with these people for many, many years and we love them as our family, so to speak, and we’re looking to going there again for Passover. But you know something? We can always come back here. We always know we can come back here. We live here. We live in this land of great plenty, and freedom, and much less corruption. But these people live in a cesspool society with corruption, bondage, poverty, disease. One of our deacon’s 24-year-old son died this past week of tuberculosis.
We have members’ children who die from time to time. We’re concerned about Malawi and Zambia. They had a crop failure. There’s going to be famine there. We’re going to have to help these people out. I think of going to huge stores like Jungle Jim’s and Costco. Nothing is withheld from us. You want raspberries in January? No problem. In Deuteronomy 4, blessings are enumerated to Israel. Deuteronomy 4, “Now, O, Lord [Israel], listen to the statutes and judgments which I teach to you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord my God commanded me.”
And then he talks about the many blessings, but the important verse that I want to focus in here is verse 9. “Take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, unless they depart from your heart all the days of your life.” As American society that lives in this land of luxury, of surfeit, of excess, and has totally forgotten or never knew where it really comes from. It didn’t come from entrepreneurship. It didn’t come from good business people. It came because our nation was blessed unlike any nation in the world. To get wealth as no other nation has, and also then, “and teach them to your children and to your grandchildren.” To teach our children where everything they have came from, and our grandchildren.
What about those kids that have never written a thank you note? Are they going to teach their children those values? Of course not. They don’t know. They don’t know any better. “Especially concerning the day, you stood before the Lord your God in Horeb, when the Lord said, ‘Gather the people to Me and I will let them hear My words, that they may learn to fear Me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.’” Are we teaching our children? We love it when we have our granddaughters visiting with us, like as we did just a few weeks ago.
We always kneel down before they go night, night, and all of us offer a prayer. And it’s just so wonderful to hear them being so thankful for the things that they have. I’m so glad they’re being taught right. Are we teaching our children to be grateful and thankful? The best way that we can teach our children is to model thanksgiving ourselves. Again, thanksgiving, just a concept of its own, is one that is unnatural. It is something we have to push ourselves to. Of the lepers, who lived in a horrible condition of sickness, of chronic illness, only 1 in 10 told Jesus, “Thank you for healing me.”
But we need to model thanksgiving in how we approach one another, how we say “thank you” to one another, how we show these courtesies and gratitude, and how we in our speech invoke God saying, “we’re so thankful to God for what he has given us!” “I’m so thankful for how He’s protected us.” “I’m so thankful how He’s worked things out.” “I’m so thankful that I’ve learned this lesson,” or “I’m so thankful that I learned things that I hadn’t known before, through this experience.” “I’m thankful to God.” Are we emulators of that and teaching our children in that way? Teach children to be thankful even through adverse circumstances so they don’t start blaming others and start cursing circumstances.
Just tell them that it “didn’t go this way for you right now.” It is something that “you ended up on the short end of.” We had a most wonderful presentation at the Portland conference two weeks… well, when was it? A week and a half ago with Bob Dick, speaking about his experiences in the ministry. And he spoke about learning to take the short end of the stick, and the lessons that he had learned while going through four decades, five decades, I should say, of the ministry. That’s maturity; learning to live, to be content at whatsoever circumstances you’re in. Not grumbling, not complaining, and not cursing the darkness, but learning from it.
Teach your children to be thankful to God. Teach your children to be thankful to you. Teach your children to be thankful when they are given something to them by others. You know, actually a little child… in a little child, you will probably find that gratitude probably more than you do with an older one. This past Tuesday morning, our Rotary Club distributed 160 dictionaries to the third graders at Batavia Elementary School. I was really surprised, I was really surprised. They all sat there in the gym sort of on the floor. And different ones of us just gave them a dictionary one by one.
Every single one said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” And I went to the principal afterward and said, “You know…” I said, “I was really impressed by that. I was impressed that these children all said, “thank you.” The teacher said, “Well, we teach them that. We teach them to show that type of adult behavior and responsibility.” So whether it was taught, whether it’s maybe more natural with the younger ones, I was impressed. It was beautiful. Those words were beautiful words to me when we handed them a dictionary and they said, “Thank you.” They started reading and looking at that dictionary.
What are you thankful for? Well, again, I’m going to say again, I’m thankful to God for opening my mind to His truth. That is something that we can become so jaded to, and that can become so taken for granted, that because we know the Kingdom of God, because we know what happens to a person after they die, because we know who the Father is, who the Son is, what the Holy Spirit is—we take it for granted so much that it’s just a matter of course. Do you know that most people in the world don’t know that? And you can’t tell them that unless God opens your mind to that knowledge. I’m so thankful that I have been a refugee who has been spared by God.
All of us have been refugees here who were spared death in this world, and have been given access to eternal life. We’ve all been given a new country to enter into. We’ve all been accepted into a new land, into a new country, with new laws, a new culture. I think of myself, of all the refugee experience that I had physically, in looking at it from a spiritual standpoint, that all of us as Christians who have been called out of this world, called out of Syria, called out of Egypt, and now have been called into a new life, a new land, a new identity, and eternal life.
Isn’t that something to be thankful for? You bet it is. That is something we should be very grateful for. Don’t take what we understand for granted. I’m very thankful to God for my wife, Beverly. People oftentimes tell me that, “She’s your secret weapon.” I think that maybe that’s a little strong. But she is a person who, really, I’m so thankful for. I couldn’t do the jobs that I’m doing. I couldn’t do whatever I’m doing. She’s been a tremendous support. I thank God for her continually because, truly, she has been a very big part. People say, “She’s your better half.” I say, “She’s my better three-quarters.”
I’m thankful for my children, for our children, and for our grandchildren. What a joy they are. I’m thankful for the brethren in the Church. I take a look as to how the apostle Paul spoke to almost every church, “I thank you. I thank God for you continually.” And what do we thank God for about you? That you have been able to see things that other people have not been able to see. That you have been given status as a displaced person in this world to a new country. That you have been accepted into a new land. That you have the Holy Spirit. I’m thankful continually for living in the United States of America. We can be unhappy with this country. We can talk about the government. We can talk about the politics. We can talk about all of horrible the things, but you know, there’s no place like the good old U.S.A.
And people that sometimes talk about these things in a negative way, and being one who is very fortunate to come as a D.P., as a displaced person, and to live in this country, I defend our country. I defend our nation. I know where the blessings have come from, but I’m so glad that I live here. If I had no other place that I would like to live than Australia maybe or Canada… some of these places are far away or congested like Europe. There’s just no place like the United States of America. Thankfulness is important for our mental wellbeing. You know, when you are… believe me, I got these couple of points here from a secular source, actually from a health website. Because thankfulness is important for our wellbeing because we focus on others.
We don’t just sit there and think about ourselves. And we don’t just… are wrapped up in ourselves with anxiety, but we say, “thank you” to somebody, you’re thinking about them. You’re thinking of what they did for you and that’s a good thing. Thankfulness is important because we think of others’ good side and reinforce that. And also when you are thanking somebody, you are not criticizing them. Now, people say, “I don’t want to criticize.” Well, and I don’t like to criticize, but one way to do it is to thank somebody because it’s really hard to criticize and thank a person at the same time. Very, very important part of that.
What should we be doing? Do you have a prayer journal of any kind? Some of you have. I use a program called One Note, and I have a whole notebook there for prayer. And I have a section about people and things that I pray for. But the very first part of it is my praising God gratitude tab. I just thank God for all the things that have come my way, because I have lots of things that come my way. And you know, I could get really upset, and you know, grind to a depressive halt if I really wanted to. But I’m thankful to God for all the many blessings that He has given me, and the biggest one as far as operationally is that He always works things out.
When I feel like I’m up, looking straight up a cliff and don’t know how to get up there, something happens. God lifts me up and helps me with that. But do you have a gratitude journal about the things that you have? The Ukrainians do with nothing. Talking about a list of things that they are just always continually grateful for and maybe simple things like: beautiful sunset, seeing a good friend, relishing the feelings that you have. Simple things express your gratitude. Express your gratitude to others. People say, “I’m a thankful person.” Well, if you don’t utter it, it doesn’t happen. You’re not being thankful. You’ve got to say “Thank you, thank you,” and also explain why you are thankful.
Look for what’s right in the situation and not for what’s wrong. Sure, we can be frustrated with so many things that don’t work our way and don’t go right. But look for what is right about the situation and not what’s wrong. And also practice gratitude with your family and friends. Just practice it. Make sure that prayers are always stated, given at the dinner table, that different ones in the family say it. That you teach your children that when you see so and so as an adult, make sure to say thank you to them. My father was very good about that. He made sure that when we were around people that did nice things for us, or otherwise even, to “make sure you say, ‘Thank you.’” Make sure you show appreciation and thanksgiving. I’m very thankful to him for that.
So as we come to Thanksgiving, it’s not just Turkey Day or just a day that we just load up, but a day that spiritually we as Christians who have God’s Holy Spirit, who understand that Thanksgiving is a trait, is a value that is vitally important as love, faithfulness, and other Christian virtuous traits, that Thanksgiving is at the very top, the very close to the top of the heap.
I’d like to close with one scripture, one of the examples of the apostle Paul, saying “Thank you” to God for the people that he served. Romans 1:8 Romans 1:8First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.
American King James Version×, which he repeats to almost all the other churches that he writes. Romans 1:8 Romans 1:8First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.
American King James Version×. “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.” It’s not only Thanksgiving, but it’s a compliment.
“I thank God because of your faith,” whatever it was, is something that went way beyond Italy. Something spoke of throughout the whole world. And then verse 7. “To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”