Posts tagged ‘Thankfulness’

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving Dinner, Autumn, Fall, Food

Credit: Max Pixel

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  So much of my day-to-day life centers around what I must do.  There are tasks to complete and errands to run and bills to pay and conversations to have and decisions to make and Bible studies and sermons to write and preach.  These things to do are often, even if not always, joyous, but Thanksgiving reminds me that I must never get so caught up in what I have to do that I forget about what has already been done.  God has done great things for me.  He has given me a family I adore, a church I love, and a forgiveness I need.  And for these things, I am called to be thankful.

Thanksgiving keeps me humble.  When I am tempted to boast in all I have accomplished, Thanksgiving reminds me of all I’ve been given.  Even my life itself is a gift of God’s grace.  This is why I must continually and humbly rely on Him.

Each year, I make it my tradition to read a Thanksgiving Proclamation from one of our nation’s founders.  This year, I came across George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789.  In it, he thanks God:

…for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

President Washington rattles of a list of the many blessings for which, he believes, a newly minted nation should be thankful.  And he’s right.  These are things for which our nation should still be thankful.  But what I love most about his proclamation comes in what he says next:

May we then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions.

President Washington was under no delusion that our nation’s blessings were somehow the product of our nation’s – or her individuals’ – intrinsic merit.  This is why he offers not only a prayer of thanksgiving, but a prayer of confession.  For he knew that God had blessed this new nation in the same way He has always blessed every nation:  by grace.

When God chose Israel to be His people and gave to her a Promised Land, He made sure she knew her blessings came by His grace:

It is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.  Remember this and never forget how you aroused the anger of the LORD your God in the wilderness. From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against the LORD.  (Deuteronomy 9:6-7)

God did not bless Israel because of her righteousness, but in spite of her unrighteousness.  God works this way with every nation and every person.

Ultimately, then, to be thankful is to be repentant, knowing that we have what we have not because we’ve earned it or deserved it, but because God has willed it.  Thus, each Thanksgiving, I am called to make little of myself and my accomplishments, which are few, and much of God and His blessings, which are bountiful.

As this long weekend draws to a close, my prayer is that the holiday of Thanksgiving becomes a habit of thanksgiving.  After all, I have plenty to be thankful for.

You do, too.

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November 26, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Thanksgiving Lessons From Lincoln

Thanksgiving Dinner

Credit: Luminary PhotoProject / Flickr

I have made it a tradition of sorts to read one of Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamations each year during this time.  His proclamations are not only extraordinarily well-crafted pieces of oratory statecraft, they are also genuinely theologically rich.  In his Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863, Mr. Lincoln recounts the blessings God has bestowed on this nation and then declares:

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.

President Lincoln beseeches the nation to give thanks on its knees, humbly recognizing that anything it has is not due to some inherent civic merit or to some twisted theology of a manifest destiny (a concept Mr. Lincoln resolutely opposed), but to the unmerited mercy of God.  In other words, the president recognized that rather than judging this nation as its sins deserved in wrath, God instead blessed this nation apart from its sins out of grace.  And for this, Mr. Lincoln was thankful.

What struck me the most about President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation as I read it this year was how the president believed divine mercy should lead to concrete action.  Mr. Lincoln concludes his proclamation thusly:

I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to God for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

In view of God’s mercy, the president invites the American people to three things:  repentance, remembrance, and restoration.  He invites the American people to repent of their sins, both in the North and in the South, understanding that any snooty swagger of self-righteousness can never receive mercy from God because it does not understand the need for the grace of God.  He also invites the American people to a remembrance of those who are suffering – those who have become widows, orphans, and mourners in the strife of the Civil War.  He finally calls the American people to restoration – to be healed from a wound of division that runs so deep that it has led Americans to take up arms against Americans.

As I reflect on the wisdom in President Lincoln’s proclamation, the words of the teacher in Ecclesiastes come to mind: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).  Today, as in Mr. Lincoln’s day, examples of delusional self-righteousness abound – both among the secular and the spiritual – which close us off to appreciating and receiving God’s mercy.  Today, as in Mr. Lincoln’s day, widows, orphans, and mourners still live among us, often unnoticed and sometimes even ill-regarded, suffering silently and in desperate need of our help.  Today, as in Mr. Lincoln’s day, America still suffers from a wound of division, which some, almost masochistically, delight in ripping open farther and cutting into deeper for their own cynical political purposes.  The problems that plagued our nation in 1863 still plague our nation today in 2017.  Our problems persist.  But so too does the mercy of God.

154 years later, we are still extravagantly blessed with bounty.  154 years later, our republic has not dissolved, even as it has frayed.  154 years later, God still is not treating us as our sins deserve.  Our sinful rebellion, it seems, cannot thwart the tenacious grace of God.  And for that, on this Thanksgiving, I am thankful.

November 23, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Some Thoughts on Thankfulness

Thanksgiving-Brownscombe

Jennie Augusta Brownscombe,
The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, 1914

Thanksgiving holds a special place in my heart. In many ways, it is an overwhelming holiday for me because I quickly realize, if I take even just a moment to reflect, that I have so many things for which to be thankful. I am thankful for my wife. I am thankful for my daughter. I am thankful for the son I have on the way. I am thankful for my home. I am thankful for my extended family. I am thankful for what is always my favorite meal of the year on Thanksgiving Day. I am thankful for Christ and Him crucified. I am thankful for blessings too numerous to count.

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. From the first Thanksgiving celebration with the Puritans and Native Americans at Plymouth in 1621 to the likes of presidents such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, who both wrote moving proclamations calling Americans to days of national Thanksgiving, to Franklin Roosevelt, who formalized Thanksgiving Day as the fourth Thursday in November, Americans have always found plenty of reasons to be thankful.

But Thanksgiving, at its heart, is much more than a national holiday. It is a theological necessity. We are commanded by Scripture to “give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Indeed, it must be very difficult to celebrate Thanksgiving apart from faith. For, without faith, who does one give thanks to? Certainly, one can be thankful to others for what they have done. But the gifts of nature and beauty and joy and the cosmos come from no man. And without a theological framework, they come from nowhere. And so there is no one to whom an unbeliever can say “thank you” for these things. As it turns out, thanksgiving, at least for the things greater than humans can give, is an inescapably theological exercise.

One of the things I deeply desire for my family is that we would share together a sense of thankful wonderment. We, as a family, are blessed beyond measure. My wife and I have jobs that are fulfilling, even when they are challenging. We are part of a church that we love. We can provide for our family in ways that many cannot. And our life together is marked by a general peace and contentment. God has given us much. But, as Jesus says, “Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48). We have a responsibility to recognize just how much we have been given, to steward it well, and to, above all, be thankful for it and be thankful to the One who gives it.

I have often mused that the difference between being blessed and being spoiled is thankfulness. A person is blessed when he has been given much and he knows it. So he thanks God for it. A person is spoiled when he has been given much and he fails to see it. So he grumbles for more. To borrow a distinction from G.K. Chesterton: there is a world difference between taking things for granted and receiving things with gratitude.[1] Spoiled people take things for granted. Blessed people receive God’s gifts with gratitude.

This is not to say that there are no reasons to lament. But there is a difference between lamenting and grumbling. Grumbling looks at God’s blessings and says, “That’s not enough.” Lament looks at the sinfulness and brokenness of our world and says, honestly and candidly, “There’s something wrong.” This is why the same Psalter that sings, “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1), also cries, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning” (Psalm 22:1)? Christopher Wright explains it well when he writes, “Lament is not only allowed in the Bible; it is modeled in abundance. God seems to want to give us as many words with which to fill out our complaint forms as to write our thank-you notes.”[2] So to those who are facing a tragedy, a trial, or a temptation this holiday season, know that your lament is just as holy as your thanksgiving. For both lament and thanksgiving turn to God in faith rather than turning in on oneself in greed, as does grumbling. Lament and thanksgiving can comingle.

As I slowly eat my way through what are now my Thanksgiving leftovers, my prayer is that I see more and more of the things for which I have to be thankful. I am thankful for much, but I also miss much. Dear God, may I see what I have missed. To borrow some more wisdom from G.K. Chesterton: “Children are grateful when Santa Claus puts in their stockings gifts of toys or sweets. Could I not be grateful to [have] in my stockings the gift of two miraculous legs?”[3] Legs to go in my socks. There’s something for which I have not yet said “thank you.” I wonder what else I’m missing.

__________________

[1] See G.K. Chesterton, Irish Impressions (New York: John Lane Company, 1920), 24.

[2] Christopher J.H. Wright, The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 51.

[3] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: John Lane Company, 1919), 98.

November 30, 2015 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Dinner 2In what has become a bit of Thanksgiving tradition on this blog, I want to share with you a portion of Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation of Thanksgiving from 1863.  I will have some additional thoughts on thankfulness in my regular post on Monday.  Stay tuned!  For now, here’s President Lincoln:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.  To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.  In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict … Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battlefield; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.  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.[1]

This Thanksgiving, we have many things for which to be thankful.  But as we give thanks for these many things, may we never forget to heartily celebrate and give thanks for, to use the words of Lincoln, “the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”  God’s mercy is the reason that we have not only temporal blessings, but eternal forgiveness, life, and salvation.  And for these, we should be thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving.

_______________________

[1] Abraham Lincoln, “Proclamation of Thanksgiving” (10.3.1863).

November 26, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – “Rejoice…Always!”

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4)!  This verse has always frustrated me.  Not because I think it is somehow incorrect.  Quite the contrary, I believe the command to rejoice is a divine and a good command.  No, this verse has always frustrated me because I’m no good at it.  The command is clear:  I am to rejoice in the Lord always.  I, however, seem to manage to rejoice in the Lord only sometimes.  There are plenty of moments when I either find my joy in something other than the Lord or I lose my sense of joy altogether.  I fail miserably at following this command.

It’s far too easy, when reading a verse like this, to chalk up Paul’s language here to a bit of hyperbole – a bit of overstatement just to make his point.  “Surely Paul wasn’t being rigidly literal!” we might whisper to ourselves.  “As long as I rejoice in the Lord sometimes, or even most of the time, I’m sure the Lord will be content with my best efforts.”  But when our God gives commands, He does not hand out “A’s” for effort.  He actually expects us to follow His mandates.  And this mandate is clear:  We are to rejoice in the Lord always.

But how can this happen?  On the one hand, we must confess that it doesn’t happen – at least on this side of heaven.  As I admitted above, I certainly fall short in the joy department.  But I can rejoice that God forgives me through Christ for my lack of rejoicing.  As with every other command of God, this is a command which we do not – and, because of our sinful natures, cannot – follow.  On the other hand, it is important to note that Paul does not give this command to rejoice without offering us a roadmap to joy when he writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).  In verse 4, when Paul exhorts us to rejoice in the Lord always, the Greek word for always is pas.  In verse 6, when Paul tells us address everything with prayer and petition, the Greek word for “everything” is pas.  Here, then, is how we are to rejoice in the Lord during everything – we are to encounter everything with Him through prayer and petition.  That trial that we face – we are to face it with the Lord.  That triumph that we enjoy – we are to enjoy it with the Lord.  That question that we have – we are to ask it to the Lord.  We are to live our lives with a keen awareness that we live with the Lord.  For as long as we are with the Lord, we always have reason to rejoice.  This is why Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always!”

Rejoicing, then, begins not with an effort to conjure up joy, but with an awareness of God’s continual presence.  It begins with an awareness that, as Paul states, “The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5).  He is near in time – for His second coming is imminent.  And He is near in space – for He promises to always be with us.  And when you are aware of God’s presence and closeness, which is an indication of His care, concern, and compassion for us, it’s hard to anything but rejoice…always. 

Want to learn more? Go to www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s message or Pastor Krueger’s ABC!

November 28, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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