Abundance with Thanksgiving

November 17, 2017

We have hot water heat at the house. Last week the boiler went out. This is not a complaint. The boiler hasn’t needed any maintenance in about 20 years, so it was due. Mechanical things eventually break. But a November night in Michigan can be quite chilly without heat. We were fine. We bundled up and had extra blankets on the beds. We survived, but I’m very thankful for heat.

By the way, I’m also thankful for thermostats. We command heat in our houses with very little effort. My grandmother Holden lived in a tenant farm house with my great-aunt and great-uncle. It had a burner that had to be stoked manually. The houses I grew up in still showed the evidence of coal chutes. We are not that far removed from a very different time. I’m thankful for thermostats.

After the boiler was repaired, I awoke and took a cold shower which is not my preference. Apparently when the boiler was repaired, it necessitated the hot water heater be turned off, and it wasn’t relit once the boiler was fixed. I successfully relit the hot water heater. I had to use my phone to take a picture of the tiny print instructions, but the hot water heater is now relit. I’m thankful for hot water.

I like Thanksgiving Day with the traditional meal and time with family. The Calorie Control Council has calculated that the average Thanksgiving Day meal with drinks, desserts, and appetizers is about 4500 calories. If you are wondering how far you should walk to walk off your Thanksgiving meal, a moderate walk of 12 hours would work off 4500 calories. Although it seems to me that there is nothing moderate about a 12-hour walk. Why do we traditionally have such a meal? It is a celebratory feast. We are thankful for the abundance of harvest, and the feast reflects that abundance.

Our American experience is one of abundance. It can be found in the little things that we take for granted except when they don’t work like heat, running water, or hot water on tap. It runs the gamut to the complicated things like smart phones that we use for many things besides talking like taking the picture of small print so that we can read it. What is the appropriate response to such abundance?

First, I need to thank God for the blessings in my life. It is God who has made an abundant world and given us the ability to acquire possessions (see Deut. 8:18). Second, in abundance I need to learn contentment. There will always be things I don’t have, and that is okay. I have more than I need. Paul instructs us that if we have food, clothing, and shelter, we should learn to be content (1 Tim. 6:8).* Finally, abundance brings the responsibility of good stewardship. I am responsible to God for how the good things in my life are used, and when I face abundance, I must also learn to give and to share. Putting these into practice will help us face abundance with thanksgiving.

* “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:8, ESV). Paul’s word skepasma means covering and likely includes both clothing and shelter even though it is translated only as clothing in the ESV. The word is also the plural form in this verse — coverings. I suspect that Paul could say in two words (food and coverings) what we usually say in three: food, clothing, and shelter.

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Calendars and Hearts

November 17, 2016

Governor William Bradford declared the first Thanksgiving Day on December 13, 1621. The Plymouth Colony’s first severe winter had killed nearly half the settlers. The summer of 1621 coupled with the harvest had given them renewed hope, so they observed a day of feasting and prayer.

On November 26, 1789, President George Washington also issued a general proclamation for a day of thanks, but for many years after there was no regular national Thanksgiving Day. Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, promoted the idea for 30 years. Finally, in 1863, President Lincoln issued a proclamation setting aside the last Thursday of November “as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.”

Presidents since Lincoln have issued official proclamations of Thanksgiving on behalf of the nation. President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed the date to the fourth Thursday in November. Congress approved this in 1941.

A nation’s strength depends on the moral and spiritual fiber of its people. As Psalm 127:1 says:

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. ESV

Security and blessings come from God. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, ESV).

That is why ingratitude is such a serious matter. It cuts us off from the Gift Giver. Paul’s description of society’s downward spiral begins with “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Romans 1:21, ESV).

Our country has a long history of setting aside this day of Thanksgiving. It is a rich tradition, but traditions have the danger of losing their meaning. May Thanksgiving not only be something on our calendars but also within our hearts.


Calendars and Hearts

November 22, 2014

Governor William Bradford declared the first Thanksgiving Day on December 13, 1621. The Plymouth Colony’s first severe winter had killed nearly half the settlers. The summer of 1621 coupled with the harvest had given them renewed hope, so they observed a day of feasting and prayer.

On November 26, 1789, President George Washington also issued a general proclamation for a day of thanks, but for many years after there was no regular national Thanksgiving Day. Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, promoted the idea for 30 years. Finally, in 1863, President Lincoln issued a proclamation setting aside the last Thursday of November “as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.”

Presidents since Lincoln have issued official proclamations of Thanksgiving on behalf of the nation. President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed the date to the fourth Thursday in November. Congress approved this in 1941.

A nation’s strength depends on the moral and spiritual fiber of its people. As Psalm 127:1 says:

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. ESV

Security and blessings come from God. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, ESV).

That is why ingratitude is such a serious matter. It cuts us off from the Gift Giver. Paul’s description of society’s downward spiral begins with “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Romans 1:21, ESV).

Our country has a long history of setting aside this day of Thanksgiving. It is a rich tradition, but traditions have the danger of losing their meaning. May Thanksgiving not only be something on our calendars but also within our hearts.


The Habit of Thanksgiving

May 16, 2014

N.T. Wright in his mammoth work on Paul notes the practice of thanksgiving in Christian living. He writes:

Thanksgiving isn’t just a way of being a bit less grumpy and a bit more cheerful. It is a habit of the heart which indicates the nature and particular shape of the worldview. It is closely associated with joy, which for Paul is one of the primary signs of the spirit’s
work.1

What kind of a worldview elicits this thanksgiving? It is the view that God is the creator of the universe. Because there is a creator, there is someone to thank.

Wright cites a wonderful quote from the rabbis on giving thanks to God.

On comets, and on earthquakes, and on lightning and on thunder, and on storms say, “Blessed [be He] whose strength and might fill the world.” On mountains, and on hills, and on seas, and on rivers, and on deserts say, “Blessed [is He] who makes the works of the beginning.” R’ Yehuda says, “One who sees the great sea says, ‘Blessed [is He] who made the great sea,’ only if he sees it occasionally.” On rain and on good news say, “Blessed is He who is good and does good.” And on bad news say, “Blessed [are You] the true judge.”2

When we turn to the Bible, some form of the word thank, thanks, or thanksgiving occurs 170 times. Thanksgiving peaks in the Psalms for the Old Testament, and it peaks in the New Testament in the letters of Paul (the high point in Paul is in 1 Corinthians). Looking at these many occasions of thanks instructs us on how to be thankful.

The wisdom of learning to be thankful is important. The nineteenth century hymn lyrics by Johnson Oatman, Jr. pictures learning to be thankful even in times of discouragement. Because God is our creator there is always something that the Lord has done for which we can be grateful.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

“A bit less grumpy and a bit more cheerful” is good way to be when it is deeply rooted in the view that God is my creator. It is not just a doctrine to add to the check list, but a practice to live. It is a habit of the heart, the habit of thanksgiving.

____________________

1Paul and the Faithfulness of God, p. 412.
2Mishnah Berakhot 9:2


It’s Not Black Thursday

November 22, 2013

My daughter is a speech language pathologist in a school with early elementary students. Last year in the days before Thanksgiving, she told of a fellow speech pathologist who asked her students, “What holiday is this week?” The out of the mouths of babes answer came: ”Black Friday!”

Black Friday has entered our vocabulary. It is the day after Thanksgiving with all the great sales. The typical explanation for the term goes like this. Retailers may be operating in the red for much of the year. The red refers to red ink in an accounting ledger indicating that the store is operating at a loss. This shopping day puts them in the black (operating at a profit), hence Black Friday.

But a post for the American Dialect Society traces the phrase to Philadelphia in the 1960s. The police would refer to the shopping day after Thanksgiving as Black Friday due to the increased headaches for them from traffic congestion and pedestrian jay-walkers. They didn’t mean something positive by it. When a newspaper reporter picked up on the phrase from the police, retailers were not happy. They wanted to call the day “Big Friday.”

The phrase, however, caught on and spread to other cities in the 1970s. By the 1980s, the retail explanation of operating in the black became firmly attached to the phrase. At some point, stores began to open as early at 6:00 a.m. In the late 2000s, the opening times began to be earlier — 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. In 2011, a few stores opened at midnight, and last year, some stores opened on the evening of Thanksgiving Day.

While reporting on the stores opened on Thanksgiving Day last year, I heard a reporter call the day “Black Thursday.” I suppose the phrase was inevitable, and I don’t blame reporters for tying to be clever. But I wanted to talk back to the TV, “Excuse me, the day already has a name — it’s Thanksgiving Day.”

I’m not opposed to retailers operating in the black. I’m not opposed to shopping. I’ve had fun looking at sale fliers and searching for bargains too. Yet, I know that things change over time, ever so slowly so that we don’t even notice it, unless we stop and reflect. The trends in our society suggest that we must guard our hearts against materialism and greed.

Recent definitions of Thanksgiving Day have often seemed watered-down. I’ve read descriptions that say “a national holiday celebrating the harvest and other blessings.” Historically, we have said a day of Thanksgiving to God, our creator. If blessings don’t turn our hearts to God in thanksgiving, then the lack of gratitude will turn our hearts away from God. It’s Thanksgiving Day. It’s not Black Thursday.


What Makes Thanksgiving Thanksgiving?

November 16, 2012

Last year for Thanksgiving Day I was in New Zealand. I’ve had a number of New Zealand Thanksgivings through the years. I remember searching the grocery store for canned cranberry sauce last year ‑ my contribution to the Thanksgiving feast. I finally had to break down and ask where it was, but I was thankful that they had some.

The reason is that Thanksgiving in New Zealand is a different experience. Obviously, the fourth Thursday of November in New Zealand is a normal work day. The Americans gather on a Saturday to have our Thanksgiving. Not everything we may be accustomed to is easily found. For example, turkey is too expensive, so it is usually chicken.

One year David and Mary Nelson searched the stores for Karo syrup for pecan pies to no avail. Mary decided to use Blackstrap molasses as a substitute. I won’t say that the pie was bad, but through the years that pie has been better as an amusing anecdote than it was to eat. That was followed by my tip to New Zealand when I carried Karo syrup in my checked luggage. It was interesting explaining to New Zealand customs what Karo syrup is. I think my suitcase also had some French fried onions for the green bean casserole too.

David always has a video of a Dallas Cowboys football game sent from the states by his brother-in-law. Watching it may include comments from New Zealanders like, “American football sure is slow — not like rugby.”

What makes Thanksgiving Thanksgiving? A few ingredients seem to be essential. First, we gather with family and friends even when we “adopt” family on foreign soil. Our table has often included those who are not our biological family, but are family none the less.

Second, we make wonderful memories. I suspect our traditional foods are one of those ways. Listen to people planning a Thanksgiving meal as they try to decide what are the non-negotiable items — the things you must prepare. It usually has to do with our memories of the past. It has to do with our traditions that link us with family. You may have other ways of making memories for that day — festive table cloths and candles on the table to football games in the afternoon.

Third, and most important of all, we thank God for our blessings. I have no patience for definitions of Thanksgiving Day that only say it is a day for celebrating the harvest. For me, it is a day “to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God” as in the words of George Washington from 1789.

But for you, what makes Thanksgiving Thanksgiving?


Thanksgiving Day

November 20, 2010

We live in a land of abundance. Here are a few facts from the U.S. Census Bureau as you begin to think about your Thanksgiving Day menu.

  • The U.S. produced 242 million turkeys in 2010. That’s 2% less than 2009. In 2009 the turkeys produced weighed 7.1 billion pounds altogether and were valued at $3.6 billion.
  • The U.S. is expected to raise 735 million pounds of cranberries this year.
  • The U.S. produced 1.9 billion pounds of sweet potatoes in 2009.
  • The U.S. produced 931 million pounds of pumpkin in 2009 at a value of $103 million.
  • The U.S. is expected to produce 2.2 billion bushels of wheat this year.
  • The US contracted 736,680 tons of green beans produced this year.
  • Yet, abundance has a risk. Gary H. Hall writes, “The road from dependency [on God] to self-centered sufficiency is paved with material wealth.”[1] When abundance is present, we may fail to see beyond the gifts to the Divine Giver.

    Moses warns against just such a danger in Deuteronomy 8. He reminds the people, “…man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3b, ESV). Moses looks forward to the abundance of the promised land, but he warns the people, “…lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God…” (Deuteronomy 8:12-14a, ESV).

    I noticed some recent definitions and comments on Thanksgiving Day: “…annual national holiday in the United States and Canada celebrating the harvest and other blessings of the past year…The holiday associated with Pilgrims and Native Americans has come to symbolize intercultural peace, America’s opportunity for newcomers, and the sanctity of home and family.”[2] It seems very easy to leave thanking God out of the picture.

    May our abundance turn our hearts to God in thanksgiving!

    [1] Gary H. Hall, The College Press NIV Commentary: Deuteronomy, p. 171.

    [2] “Thanksgiving Day,” Encyclopædia Britannica 2005.