Thanksgiving
by Jack M. Lane
 
 
 
In the United States we celebrate a national holiday of Thanksgiving every year in November.  This article discusses our Thanksgiving celebrations, but also the larger biblical topic of thanksgiving, or giving thanks, or just being grateful.
 

 
 
 
 
Here is some interesting history of our national Thanksgiving day.  Thanksgiving Day in the United States is an annual day of thanks for the blessings of the past year, observed on the fourth Thursday in November in each of the states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.  It is a historical, national, and religious holiday that began with the Pilgrims.  After the survival of their first colony through the bitter winter, and the gathering of the harvest, Gov. William Bradford of Plymouth Colony issued a thanksgiving proclamation in the autumn of 1621. This first thanksgiving lasted three days, during which the Pilgrims feasted on wild turkey and venison with their Indian guests.
 
Days of thanksgiving were celebrated sporadically until, on Nov. 26, 1789, President Washington issued a proclamation of a nation-wide day of thanksgiving.  He made it clear that the day should be one of prayer and giving thanks to God.  It was to be celebrated by all religious denominations, a circumstance that helped to promote a spirit of common heritage.
 
By the way, what was going on in 1789?  We had been fighting the War for Independence from England until we won in 1783.  George Washington was trying to bring the nation together, and point it in God’s direction.
 
Credit for establishing this day as a national holiday is usually given to Sarah J. Hale, editor and founder of the Ladies' Magazine (from 1828) in Boston.  Her editorials in the magazine and letters to President Lincoln urging the formal establishment of a national holiday of thanksgiving resulted in Lincoln's proclamation in 1863, designating the last Thursday in November as the day. 
 
What was going on in 1863?  The Civil War!  Lincoln was trying to bring the nation together, and point it in God’s direction.
 
Succeeding presidents annually followed his example, except for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who in 1939 proclaimed Thanksgiving Day a week earlier -- on the fourth but not the last Thursday -- to encourage holiday shopping.  In 1941, Congress adopted a joint resolution setting the date of Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday.  

What was going on in 1939?  The Great Depression.  Roosevelt wanted to stimulate the economy, so he moved Thanksgiving up one week to allow for more time for people to go to the stores for their holiday shopping.  It was part of his economic stimulus package.
 
A traditional Thanksgiving dinner takes place yearly at the White House and in almost every American home.  Roast turkey and pumpkin pie are among the symbols of this festival.  An ancient harvest symbol, the cornucopia, or "horn of plenty," has also been attached to Thanksgiving.  Schools and businesses close for this day of family reunion and national, rather than individual, giving of thanks.   [1]
 
Here’s some information from an article called “Turkey Facts for Thanksgiving”:  In the United States turkey is a $2.67 billion industry. The average American gobbles about 18.3 pounds of turkey per year. In the United States, white meat is preferred by a 2-1 ratio. Top-heavy breeders are twice the size they were 35 years ago. Ninety percent of the turkeys sold worldwide are the offspring of a few thousand superbirds that are owned by just three corporations that control the world market. Turkeys have been bred with breasts so swollen with white meat that they are too clumsy to mate and often cannot stand.  As a result, almost all commercial turkeys are the result of artificial insemination.   [2]
 
So there you have some interesting trivia about the American Thanksgiving Day.
 
But more important than the American Thanksgiving Day is that aspect of the human condition, the actual act of thanksgiving, or giving thanks. We can call it gratitude, appreciation, or acknowledging blessings.  It’s good manners grown big.  If we give something to our children, we expect them to say “Thank you.”  I wonder if our Father in heaven has the same expectations for us. 
 
Jesus said, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward" (Matthew 10:42, NIV throughout).  I can tell you, if somebody gives me a cup of cold water because I’m one of Christ’s disciples, I’d find a way to say thank you. 
 
Here are some items from a list some ladies compiled about things they were grateful for.  They wrote that they were especially thankful for these:

"For automatic dishwashers because they make it possible for us to get out of the kitchen before the family comes back in for their after dinner snacks.”

"For husbands who attack small repair jobs around the house because they usually make them big enough to call in the professionals.”

"For teenagers because they give parents an opportunity to learn a second language.”

"For smoke alarms because they let you know when the turkey’s done.”

Here’s my favorite:  "For children who put away their things & clean up after themselves. They’re such a joy you hate to see them go home to their own parents.”   [3]
 
Sometimes I have wondered if people in general feel gratitude based on what they have.  If we have money in the bank, we can feel grateful.  If we’re having troubles in our lives, we would tend not to feel so grateful.  But this doesn’t seem to be true in all cases.  Some of the most ungrateful people I have ever run across are the ones who have a lot of the “things” of life.  And some of the most grateful people I’ve met have little. 
 
Some people are going through horrendous financial problems, or health problems.  Many times, things that happen to us can drain us of whatever money we may have.  How do we remain grateful at times like that? 
 
Psalm 69:30:  “I will praise God's name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving.” 
 
“Yes, but I have problems in my family.”
 
Psalm 95:1-2:
1 Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.
 
“But I just got laid off.”
 
Psalm 100:
1 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
3 Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.
5 For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
 
“But I’m facing foreclosure.”
 
Ps 147:7:  “Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make music to our God on the harp.”
 
“Listen, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to buy a turkey for Thanksgiving.  You know what I mean?”
 
2 Corinthians 9:10-11:
10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.
11 You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
 
“Okay, but it’s hard to be happy when I’m having problems.”
 
Philippians 4:4-7:
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
 
“Okay, I get it.  I may not have money, but I have a lot of the other good things in life, the really important things.” 
 
Matthew 26:11:  The poor you will always have with you …
 
It’s no stigma to be poor.  The poor we will always have among us.  In any group of people, there will be poor people.  Poor in money, perhaps, but what about the other areas of life? Let’s look at some of those things, in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew chapter 5.
 
Matthew 5:3:  "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 
By the way, “poor in spirit” doesn’t mean those who have a bad attitude.  It means those who are meek, humble, teachable, those who look to our Father and our older Brother for guidance, wisdom, advice, protection, and vindication. 
 
Verse 4:  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
 
If you’re mourning the loss of a loved one, a career, your health, or whatever, take heart:  you will be comforted.
 
Verse 5:  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
 
I think that’s a great idea.  The meek should inherit the earth.  The selfish, power-hungry folks who have been running the world for the past 6,000 years have done a really bad job of it. 
 
Verse 6:  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
 
You might have to miss a meal once in awhile, but if you want to eat up all the righteousness you can get your hands on, there’s plenty to go around.  It comes from God, who doesn’t run out of His supply of it.
 
Verse 7:  Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
 
We will be shown mercy to the extent that we show mercy to others (Matthew 6:14-15).  Father, don’t give us what we deserve.  Instead, give us more of Your mercy.  
 
Verse 8:  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
 
Purity of heart, purity of intention, purity in how we deal with the people around us; these are gifts of the Spirit.  If you live your life this way, you get to see God.  Does that mean literally see Him, with the faculty of vision?  Or does it mean you’ll get to understand Him better, and see things eye-to-eye with Him?  I think it means both. We get to see God.  And we get to see eye-to-eye with Him.
 
Verse 9:  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
 
I remember how much fun the press was having, some years ago, with Henry Kissinger and his “shuttle diplomacy.”  Kissinger, when he was United States Secretary of State, would travel back and forth between heads of nations who weren’t getting along, and help to soothe their political egos and straighten out misunderstandings.  The result of this shuttle diplomacy was that national leaders around the world didn’t feel the need to go to war with each other as often as they might have.  I have blessed Henry Kissinger on a number of occasions, because he was a peacemaker in this troubled world.  We should keep our eyes open, and never pass up a good opportunity to be a peacemaker. 
 
Verse 10:  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 
When you take a stand for what’s right, and always do the right, even if you suffer persecution from the people around you, the kingdom of heaven is yours. 
 
Verse 11:  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
 
Can you stand up to it?  Can you suffer some persecution because you are a follower of The Way? 
 
Verse 12:  [In that case,] Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
 
Now, isn’t that something to be grateful for?  You have a fabulous future, and you are held in the hands of a loving Father and older Brother.  You know things the people around you may never know in this life. 
 
“Okay, but I’m still having trials in my life.” 
 
Let’s turn to Hebrews chapter 12.  This comes right after Hebrews chapter 11, the chapter that outlines some of the people in the Bible who had to go through horrible things for their faith.  And you think you have problems? 
 
Hebrews, chapter 12:
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  
 
If we were to just step back one chapter, to Hebrews chapter 11, we would read about any number of people in the scriptures who did resist to the point of shedding their blood. 
 
5 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:  "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." 
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?
8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.
9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!
10 Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.
11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
 
Do you remember being that little child who got a good whack on the behind when you got out of line?  Didn’t feel good at the time, did it?  But if it helped you to remember to be good, the whole thing was worthwhile, because it led to you having a better life because of the discipline.  As you grew, you were able to exercise self-discipline.  At some point in our lives, we took over our own discipline from our parents. 
 
Nowadays, if we give our little kids a thwack for stepping out of line, and they don’t really care for that too much, we still know that it’s for their own good, and their little tears aren’t going to stop us from doing what we can do to raise good citizens and responsible people to send out into the world.  We need to instruct and guide our children so they will turn out to be responsible adults. 
 
Now, let’s take a step back.  God is our Father.  He hasn’t relinquished the fatherly duties of training us, guiding us, helping us to see what’s good and what’s bad.  As we get older, we get to make more decisions in our lives, but God is still our Father, and He’s in charge of the discipline department. 
 
12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.
13 "Make level paths for your feet," so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.
14 Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.
15 See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
16 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.
17 Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears.
 
Now, in verse 18, we come to an interesting section contrasting the idea of a liberated slave people coming to the mighty and powerful God with the idea of beloved children coming to our loving Father, who, by the way, is still big enough to spank us if we need it.  
 
18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm;
19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them,
20 because they could not bear what was commanded: "If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned."  
21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, "I am trembling with fear." 
22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly,
23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect,
24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?
26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, "Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens."  
27 The words "once more" indicate the removing of what can be shaken — that is, created things — so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,
29 for our "God is a consuming fire." 
 
So what are we learning? Give thanks for everything.  Sometimes it’s hard to do that.  Give thanks for the discipline? Give thanks for the challenges of life? That can be hard to do. But it says to give thanks for everything. Even if your life is filled with trouble, you can still be thankful.  Are you alive?  Are you breathing?  There’s a start.  Is there anything good in your life?  Capitalize on those things, and bring praises to our God and Father because He has given you wonderful blessings. 
 
Along with the blessings come trials.  Along with the roses come thorns.  Does that mean there are no roses?  Does that mean there are no blessings?  Of course not! The trick is to develop “an attitude of gratitude.”  If we concentrate on the negative things, we’ll have “stinkin’ thinkin’.”  If we concentrate on the good things, our frame of mind will be much better prepared to handle the burdens of the day. 
 
Philippians 4:4-9:
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
 
Now here’s Paul’s advice on how to avoid “stinkin’ thinkin’”: 
 
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.
9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me — put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
 
That’s how to develop an attitude of gratitude. 
 
We have a family tradition, when we gather for Friday night dinner.  During dinner, we go around the table and “do our gratefuls.”  We tell about good things that have happened during the past week, triumphs, little victories, things we’re thankful for. 
 
The little kids get into it, too.  “What are  you grateful for?”  “I’m grateful for Mommy and Daddy.”  The bigger kids might say, “I’m glad I got through that test at school.  And I’m thankful for my family, my home, and my friends.” It’s a good habit to be in, whether you’re eight or 80. 
 
Now, sometimes we have to look into ourselves and see past the hurts, the disappointments, the failures of the week.  Sometimes it isn’t easy to come up with something to be grateful for when we’ve done nothing but slug our way through life all week long. 
 
But if we can – if we can locate something in our week to be grateful for – it’s good to say it out loud, and have the family there to reinforce it, and rejoice with you in your good news. 
 
If you don’t have your family there to rejoice with you, you can still “do your gratefuls” to God.  You can recite, out loud, to God, the good and marvelous things that you know He has done for you, during the past week, during the past year.  Maybe this can be a suggestion for a Thanksgiving ritual in your home year after year. 
 
It’s a good habit to be in.  Think on these things. That means to use these things – the true, the noble, the right, the pure, the lovely, the admirable, whatever is excellent or praiseworthy. Use those things to fill up your mind, displacing the negativity of the world, the cynicism of worldliness, the despair of wallowing in heaviness. 
 
If you have a glass, and you want to remove the air from a glass, what’s the easiest way?  Pour something into the glass!  That displaces the air in the glass.  If you want to displace the bad feelings in your mind, pour in the lovely thoughts of God’s grace, of your being forgiven, of you having a place at the side of our Father and Brother through eternity.  That can help you feel grateful during these scary times. 
 
But now, what if you don’t have any real problems in your life?  What if you are having a very blessed life?  Then you have no reason to hold back from feeling all the gratitude and thanksgiving in the world because of the fantastic blessings our Father has poured out on you!  Thanksgiving Day is for you! 
 
For others of us, though, who used to have real blessings, but now we have real trials, you also have the privilege of being able to give thanks to our Creator.  You can be grateful that God is testing you, strengthening you, watching to see how you come through your trials, so He can reward you for your faithfulness. 
 
If you had blessings in the past, you can rejoice and be grateful that you had, at one time, the blessings of good health, a good job, a happy family, and joy in your life.  That might seem a little strange, but if you never knew the wheat, then, how would you be able to recognize the chaff, now? 
 
If you had blessings in the past, be grateful to God, with thanksgiving.  If you are looking forward to blessings in the future, be grateful to God, with thanksgiving.  If God is disciplining you as a father disciplines his children, be grateful with thanksgiving that you have a Father in heaven who cares that much for you that He would put you through the training experience you are now having, so you can become a better son or daughter He can be pleased with. 
 
Here’s the take-home message, in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (New International Version):
16 Be joyful always;
17 pray continually;
18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
 
1 Thess 5:16-18 (New Living Translation):
16 Always be joyful.
17 Never stop praying.
18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
 
1 Thess 5:16-18 (The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language):
16 Be cheerful no matter what;
17 pray all the time;
18 thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.
 
Sure it takes some effort.  But it’s a great mindset to be in, whether or not we have problems in our lives.  If we get good at thinking this way, then we can do what Paul asked us to do in another place: 
 
Ephesians 5:19-20:
19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,
20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
 
So, the moral of the story is:  “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (1 Chronicles 16:34). 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Bibliography:
 
[1]   http://www.sermons.org/thanksgiving.html
 
[2]   http://www.sermons.org/thanksgiving.html
"Scientists get it off their chests" The Arizona Republic, November 19, 1995 A31.
 
[3]  http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermon.asp?SermonID=39929&Sermon%20Enter%20With%20Thanksgiving%20by%20MELVIN%20NEWLAND
 
 
 





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