The day before Thanksgiving, my wife and I were watching one of our favorite television shows. One of the characters made the observation that all across the United States, on Thanksgiving, families were gathering to spend an awkward time around their table. In this country, this is the day where family differences are supposed to be set-aside, so that we can all celebrate ways that we have been blessed, while gorging ourselves on turkey. Unfortunately, the modern day of Thanksgiving is much different from the original day. Our celebrations of Thanksgiving have lost their spiritual fervor over the years.
History of Thanksgiving
In 1620, one hundred Brits stepped off a small ship, not knowing what their future held, and ill-prepared for whatever this new world and life would throw at them. They received a rude awaking that winter. Half of their number died of cold, sickness, and starvation. They didn't have enough provision for everyone, nor did they have adequate shelter from the cold and storms. In the spring, those left who were strong enough began to plant crops, as they knew how. However, their skills were not enough for this new world. Thankfully, by God's sovereignty, a local Native American knew English and had compassion on these settlers. He convinced the tribe he was living with to "adopt" these Brits. They taught the English how to plant native crops, how to fish, and how to hunt. That Fall, they had a harvest that would last them through the winter. They wouldn't have the mass death again.
After harvest they invited the Native Americans to celebrate how much God had blessed them. Ninety from the tribe showed up, bringing five deer. In addition to the deer, they had plenty of corn, fowl, fish, and other provisions. They feasted for three days, talking and playing games with the family and friends who had not died, and with the new friends that God had provided. God had been merciful, and they wanted to celebrate that.
Two years later, in 1623, the Brits celebrated Thanksgiving again, as ordered by their Governor William Bradford. They had been experiencing a drought. They had fasted, asking God for rain, which he sent. After fourteen days of rain, the governor called for a day of Thanksgiving, making this the first civil recognition for a day of Thanksgiving in the New World. They wanted to celebrate God's mercy in the midst of suffering. Later, many other colonies adopted yearly celebrations of Thanksgiving, giving thanks for all that God had carried them through that year.
In 1789, Washington called for a day of Thanksgiving, the first nationally recognized holiday under the Constitution. He called on the nation to give thanks to God for his mercy to them throughout the previous war and for his guidance in building a new government. The nation eagerly followed Washington's lead.
In 1863, Lincoln called for a day of Thanksgiving, in the midst of the horrific Civil War. He acknowledged that God had been merciful to them, even in all the bloodshed. He had shown compassion to many injured, he had supplied crops, he had built peace with other nations, he had allowed for babies to be born. In the words of the proclamation: "No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy."
God gives blessings and shows mercy in the midst of tragedy. The American Thanksgiving was built on this amazing truth.
Paul taught about Thanksgiving. He said, "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Life rarely goes as we plan. In spite of our best efforts, we experience loss, grief, tragedy. However, in the midst of that suffering, we see God's mercy surrounding us in so many different ways. If we open our eyes, we can see it in all circumstances.
In Psalm 9, David tells about his enemies who are trying to destroy him. But, he begins by reciting all that God has done. He acknowledges God's mercy in this midst of his trouble. This is the hope that carries him through.
David's and Paul's perspective is not easy. It is not natural for us. However, with practice, we can rejoice and give thanks to God for His mercies in our tragedies. Let us go back to the original intent of Thanksgiving: Blatantly acknowledging all God's mercies that can be seen in our suffering.
So, as you think about Thanksgiving and plan for next year's, take some time to share with your guests the real reason you are thankful. If the gathering is already awkward, go ahead and make it more so.
There is an apple on top of a pile of books. That apple would not be where it is if the books were not supporting it. However, the apple probably does not realize that fact.
We all go through life with messages thrown at us. We slowly grab random messages, apply them to our lives, and move on. Unknown to many of us, more messages are affecting our lives than we realize, just like those books are affecting where the apple is.
Proverbs 4:23-27 says, "Above all else, guard your heart for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep you foot from evil." What we let into our mind (or our heart) effects our mouth, our eyes, our decisions, and our path in life.
These messages which could control us come from many different sources: Facebook, video games, movies, TV shows, YouTube, Twitter, news stations, friends, etc. None of these sources are bad. In fact, a lot of good can come from each of these sources. However, each of these sources are created and maintained by broken humans. Consequently, a lot of bad can come from these sources. Many times, these movies, games, shows, etc, have messages that are not blatant. They are "undercover." If we are not careful, we will let those messages influence us without realizing it.
Every source of information, no matter how entertaining, conveys messages which could either take us closer to God or farther from Him. Even if a movie is "Christian", it could be dangerous. Even if a movie is "secular", it could be safe. Therefore, each message, no matter the source, should be filtered in light of the Gospel.
So, how do we filter the messages that are thrown at us?
First, we need to understand what the message is. Everything has messages. Many of them are subliminal. We need to be able to listen to a song, or watch a movie, or see a clip of a video game and be able to say what the message of the author is. Nothing is truly entertainment. Everything has a message.
Second, we need to evaluate the message with our worldview. We look at the world in a different way, because we are followers of Christ. We have the Bible and the Gospel as our standard. The world has Satan and his message as its standard. So, once we understand the message given to us, we can ask: Is it true? Is it consistent with the Gospel? and Is it consistent with the life of love Christ has called us to live?
If the message is true, consistent with the Gospel, and consistent with Christ, we can accept it and use it for our maturity and encouragement. If the message is not, we must disregard it and caution those in our sphere of influence against that message.
If we go through these steps, we will guard our minds and hearts from evil. If we do not go through these steps, many messages that are thrown at us will influence our minds and hearts in a negative way, often subconsciously. We should take care to weigh everything we listen to, watch, or read. Messages are thrown at us everyday. Be aware and filter.