Is the celebration of the national holiday called Thanksgiving a time of reflection and thanksgiving or merely the sound of the starting pistol in the race for buying stuff? The answers to this question vary and will be wide ranging. For some these days will be very difficult. I received news early on Thanksgiving Day that a friend’s husband had unexpectedly passed away earlier that morning. The season will be difficult for the family even though they are believers. A few days earlier a friend of my daughter and son-in-law was rushed to the hospital with a heart attack. He is about 40 and to the best of our knowledge, not a believer. We do not know yet if he will survive.
For some the holiday is one of a series of firsts. My mother passed away this year, as did Joy’s older brother and my sister’s husband. For us and other members of our families, this was the first Thanksgiving without someone who was special to us. For those of us who are believers and whose family members whom have passed from this life were believers, we have our feet firmly planted both in the present and the future. While we grieve we recognize that our current feeling of loss is temporary and for that we are thankful. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
Yes, comfort one another. Gentle reminders that although we are separated today, we will one day be together again and that for eternity. That reminds me of Ecclesiastes 3:11. After demonstrating that everything has its time in 3:1-10, Solomon writes:
He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.
Eternity in our hearts. As believers, we have not only the desire but the promise of eternity. Because those who love God have the promise of eternity we can enjoy and be thankful in the present:
I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor—it is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him.
The fear or reverence of the Lord brings perspective. To shop or not to shop isn’t really the question. The opportunity to make the choice is itself the gift of God. My nephew serves in the armed forces. His willingness and ability to do so is a gift of God and for that I am grateful. His service is a sacrifice on the part of his wife, children and mother. I am thankful to them. Some believers serve as missionaries to impoverished areas. That is their calling and choice and is God’s gift to the people they serve. I am thankful for their service.
In recent months we have seen a sharp distinction between the thankful and the thankless. It has been sad to watch. While my nephew quietly serves to protect our freedoms, the Occupy Wall Street movement exercises their free speech to demand that those with more material stuff than them should be required to give it up and redistribute their stuff. Thankless. More than 2 billion people on this planet live on less than $450.00 annually, I didn’t notice the Occupy Wall Street crowd expressing any willingness to distribute their stuff to the 2 billion who subsist on less than the occupiers spend (or have spent on them by their parents) on toiletries each year. In fact, the homeless started coming to the parks and food commissaries which the occupiers had set up and, wouldn’t you know it, the occupiers began working to get the homeless out who were taking their food and “stuff.” Hmmm…
Most movements which try to force charity are almost always thankless movements in orientation. This is true of the Emerging Church (McLaren, Bell, et. al.), the Occupy Wall Street crowd, even politicians who try to force wealth redistribution and charity through government programs. In the end, they produce resentment and more poverty because the focus ends up being, “What do I get out of it?”
A thankful heart gravitates naturally or perhaps supernaturally, to asking, “How can I help?” Years ago I worked as a carpenter for a company that had laborers and I struck up a friendship with a laborer by the name of Otis. I learned a great deal from Otis. He was hard working and would often offer suggestions as to how to perform certain carpentry tasks. He was smart and could have been a better carpenter than most on the project. I asked him why he wasn’t and his response was that he was content and thankful for what he had and didn’t want more responsibility because that would interfere with what her really wanted to do. He wanted to earn his living and go home and spend time challenging neighborhood youth to be good citizens instead of getting into gangs. He would set up his bar-b-que and invite anyone who wanted to join his family. If the kids broke windows in the neighborhood, beat up other kids or worse, he would bar them from coming for a period of time.
Otis said he had a hard time understanding people today (this was year’s ago and people haven’t changed a whole lot since then). He said they walk around with their fist closed tight trying to hold on to their stuff. He thought at best they ended up with the little bit of stuff they held on to so tightly but more often had their fingers broken in the process of losing their stuff. He said he tries to walk around with his hands open. Sure he might lose some stuff but with open hands lots of new stuff falls into them. I was intrigued by his stuff doctrine and have found over the years that he is right. As you might have guessed, Otis was a Christian. He saw the good in God’s creation, saw the good in his labor and celebrated with and shared his food and drink with those around him.
Otis had grown up in the segregated South. He had played baseball on the “Negro” league. He had lived a hard life but was in a comfortable place and chose to live with a thanksgiving attitude in spite of how others had treated him. He figured they would suffer enough at their own hands; he didn’t need to add to it and believed he would be happier focusing on the things God had given him. I miss Otis and am thankful God brought him into my life.
Thanksgiving is a choice and can develop into a life style. True thankfulness comes of realizing that we came into the world with nothing, deserve nothing and therefore anything we have is more than we deserve. God provided salvation at no cost to us the undeserving as His Son freely gave His life to pay a sin debt that we owed. God then extends to the undeserving His kindness (called grace) and salvation to those who accept it. Now there is something to be thankful for.