Posted in Thanksgiving

Why We Celebrate Thanksgiving: God is God and He is Good

The following is some excerpts from this past Sunday’s sermon delivered in a facility with more than ten people, not socially distanced, and without masks (a.k.a. A normal worship service). I have structured them in a fashion that flows somewhat succinctly. The overall tenor of the sermon was to emphasize our privilege and responsibility before God and fellow man to offer prayerful thanksgiving to the Lord of Hosts. Without fear, without anxiety, without discouragement, but in boldness, unashamedly in the Name of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit’s leading. During a time when forces in government, in the media are seeking to pit family and friends against one another using the fear of a pandemic, I thought it appropriate to remind God’s people that we are to eat, drink and be merry…to enjoy those wonderful blessing that our Creator has granted us in this life, during this season, yes, even during a time such as this. I hope you enjoy and are likewise encouraged

Start of the excerpt…

You may or may not be surprised to learn that Thanksgiving as a celebratory feast has been a customary practice for about 400 years. Yes, that’s right…400 years. That’s a long time. The reason it is so vehemently attacked today is due, by and large, to an ignorance that has permeated our culture. A purposeful attack by those who have been in charge of our youth’s education system for nearly a century.

Christian historian and economist Gary North explains, “Thanksgiving is an old tradition in the United States. Although it was not the first such thanksgiving feast, the holiday had its origins in Plymouth Colony, in the fall of 1621, when the Pilgrims who had survived the first year invited Chief Massasoit to a feast, and he showed up with 90 braves and five deer. The feast lasted three days.”1

I’m sure you’ve all heard the story. The first pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts landed on the shores in the year 1620, “a year later…[many] were dead.”2 They had either starved to death, became ill due to poor health, or fell prey to the elements. The following year, however (1621), the colonists had what is commonly referred to as a Thanksgiving festival. Much thanks were given to Squanto and the Wampanoag Indians by the colonists, but the greater thanks was attributed to Almighty God.

Gary DeMar writes, “William Bradford, governor of Plymouth and the colony’s first historian, continually makes references to ‘the Lord Who never fails,’ ‘God’s blessing,’ and ‘the Providence of God,’ in times of both plenty and want.”3 He continues, “As the historical record shows…thanksgiving was ultimately made to God. ‘Governor Bradford, with one eye on divine Providence, proclaimed a day of thanksgiving to God, and with the other eye on the local political situation, extended an invitation to neighboring Indians to share in the harvest feast…This ‘first Thanksgiving’ was a called to suit the needs of the hour, which were to celebrate the harvest, thank the Lord for His goodness, and regale and impress the Indians.”4

The key to understanding the true nature of Thanksgiving, in the words of Rush Limbaugh is to understand, the colonists “thanked God for the guidance found in the Bible for restructuring their community, and shared the bounty with the Indians, who did teach them how to do things they didn’t know how to do, basically be farmers.”5 As was noted earlier, however, this was not the first such thanksgiving celebration, but one of many. In his book, America’s Christian History, DeMar writes, “The colonists of another era were aware of the many instances of thanksgiving celebrations found in ‘holy writ.’ Thanksgiving, as it was practiced by the colonists was a religious celebration that shared the sentiments of their biblical forerunners, giving thanks to God for His faithful provision. For these devoutly religious people, thanksgiving would have come naturally.”6

Here are a few examples:

  • In the year 1564 a small French colony near present-day Jacksonville, Florida established a settlement. These Christians, led by Rene de Laudonniere sung “a psalm of Thanksgiving unto God, beseeching Him that it would please Him to continue His accustomed goodness towards us.”7
  • In the year 1610, 409 colonists settled in what is now known as the Jamestown settlement (Virginia). These individuals led by strong Christian leaders and principles were reduced to 60 survivors mainly due to starvation. “[They] prayed for help that finally arrived by a ship filled with food and supplies from England. They held a prayer service to give thanks.”8
  • “On December 4, 1619, 38 colonists landed at a place they called Berkeley Hundred [in Virginia]. ‘We ordain,’ read an instruction in their charter, ‘that the day of our ships arrival…in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God.”9
  • “The first official Thanksgiving Day was celebrated in June 29, 1676 in Charlestown, Massachusetts, across the Charles River from Boston…” similar proclamations were given in the year 1730, and in 1749 in New Jersey, New York.10
  • In the fall of 1789, then president George Washington proclaimed an official day of Thanksgiving to be celebrated on “Thursday, November 27.”11
  • Finally, “in 1863, Abraham Lincoln officially restored it as a wartime measure. The holiday then became an American tradition…[becoming] law in 1941.”12

The point of this historical study is this: the celebration of a day of thanksgiving has always been a part of our nation’s history. The focus has always been on giving praise to God for providing for us, His creatures, all the basic necessities of life, and every other free grace that He bestows on His children.

Reminders from Ecclesiastes

Whenever I find myself getting bogged down by those things in life that stretch you thin I turn to this little book of Solomon. I picture him writing this book in the last few moment of his life as he reflected on the things he studied, on his past successes and failures, as he perhaps struggled with much regret. Things that he didn’t do that he wished he would have. Things he had done that he wished he hadn’t. Plans that never reached fruition. Things he’d carefully planned and built that would be torn down and squandered by others.

Oh, I think he took much comfort towards the end in the insurmountable grace of our God. But knowing that God is better to us than we actually deserve is bittersweet. Sweet as honey when we really, truly grasp the wonder of His loving kindness towards us. Bitter as we struggle with those past regrets, “Oh…that I never sinned against you My Lord, My God!” Knowing what I do about the gospel, if my choice of books were limited, I believe that this little book here would be one that I would determine to hold onto. For the wisdom in it is deeply profound in its simplicity. And, I am convinced that our lives under the Lord’s Headship are meant to be more simple than what we tend to make them out to be. We put too much pressure on our lives, on our performance, in reality assuming that we have abilities beyond our control.

An appropriate nugget of truth:

Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly. But it will not be well for the evil man and he will not lengthen his days like a shadow, because he does not fear God…So I commend pleasure, for there is nothing good for a man under the sun except to eat and to drink and to be merry, and this will stand by him in his toils throughout the days of his life which God has given him under the sun.”

Ecclesiastes 8:12-13, 15

Here we are reminded that sinner’s will not escape the doom that awaits them: “…it will not be well for the evil man….” There will be a reckoning. Both for those who do not fear God and those who do. I cannot help but think how important this reminder for us is. Are we not surrounded by evil in this day? Do we not see the walls of our society shaking, as the culture makes outright war against our Lord and Savior? And yet, we are reminded that though it seems as if they will get away with everything they pursue…judgment is looming over them. Not only are we told elsewhere in Scripture that they will eventually fail in the works that they do (2Tim 3.9), but we are commended to enjoy life “to eat and to drink and to be merry” in spite of the sorrow that such persons try to bring into the world.

We have toils in this life. Life is filled with trials and tribulations. Wicked men grow more corrupt and seek greater power to lord over us all, but we are commended to rejoice and to enjoy life. I cannot help but think of how across this nation there is a concerted effort by politicians at both the state and local level trying to rob people of their joy this holiday season. They want to limit our time of celebration. They want to stifle our getting together. People want to know why I believe the issues around us are religious in nature and not scientific, and this is the reason why. God has given us freedom to live freely and to pursue happiness. I know that we are not guaranteed happiness. There are times meant for sorrow, for tears rather than laughter, but when tyrants try to rob you of the simplest of joys…it has nothing to do with safety but power!

We are to gather, to pray, to rejoice, to eat, to drink, to have festivities. We are not to cower in fear, for the state is not our god, but the Lord on High is!

Final Refrain:

For I have taken all of this to my heart and explain it that righteous men, wise men, and their deeds are in the hand of God. Man does not know whether it will be love or hatred; anything awaits him…Go then, eat your bread in happiness, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works. Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He [God] has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.”

Ecclesiastes 9:1, 7-9

It does not matter what is going on around you, for the righteous, the wise have their works in the hand of God. We do not know what the morrow will bring. We cannot see the future, but that is not to be our focus. Do you see that. As tempting as it might be we are not to worry, to grow anxious of what might be. Instead, we are to eat in happiness, drink in cheer knowing that God has already planned our steps ahead of time and He approves of His people’s activities. Those that seek to walk in His righteousness—clothes in white; those that desire to live under His Spiritual anointing—abundance of oil on the brow. Such are the sort of people that are commended (commanded) to “enjoy life with…” those dearest to you “all the days of your fleeting life.”

We are to live under the sun in a spirit of Thanksgiving. And no one can rob a thankful heart from the man or woman who trusts in their Maker—Jesus Christ.

So my friends, my message is this. Do not let fear govern your hearts this holiday season. Do not allow panic to keep you from enjoying one of the most sacred times of year where we celebrate life with the one’s we love. Enjoy your life and Thank the Lord above for it.

ENDNOTES:

1 Gary North, “Thanksgiving and Marginal Utility,” American Vision, November 25, 2015, accessed November 25, 2016, http://americanvision.org/127561/thanksgiving-marginal-utility.

2 Ibid.

3 Gary DeMar, America’s Christian History: the Untold Story, (Atlanta, GA: American Vision [1993], 1995), 25.

4 Ibid, 27.

5 Rush Limbaugh, “The True Story of Thanksgiving,” November 23, 2016, accessed November 25, 2016, http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/daily/2016/11/23/the_true-story_of_thanksgiving.

6 DeMar, America’s Christian History, 203, 204.

7 Ibid, 204.

8 Ibid, 204.

9 Ibid, 204, 205. Excerpt quoted from: Jim Dwyer, ed., Strange Stories, Amazing Facts of America’s Past, (Pleasantville, NY: The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1989), 198.

10 North, Thanksgiving and Marginal Utility.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid.

Posted in Beliefs

Time: Whose Side is it On?

For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them” (Eccl 9.11)[1]

The signal was given by the tour guide to his assistant. Immediately the vast cavern was encased in darkness, after a hidden a switch was flipped. The lack of light was palpable, almost weighted if you will. Not sure how one feels the darkness, but feel it we did. At that moment the opened eye was straining to gather in all the light that it could, but to no avail.

It only lasted for a few moments, but time appeared to stand still.  Several things rushed through my mind all at once. Wave after wave of thought hit me. Sorrow, loneliness, separateness, and other such emotions seemed possible for the one found trapped in such a situation. As I mulled over such things, I murmured to myself, but slightly louder than I had intended: “This must be close to what it feels like….”

The lights were turned back on…the sensation of light coming out of the darkness forcing the separation between seeing and unseeing, and I finished my musing “…when a person is cast into outer darkness. The source of their gnashing teeth….”  The comment came to my listening ears, “Oh my…the doctrine of death!” This from my sister Rachel whose family was on vacation with my own in Arkansas last summer (2019).

Over the years I have noticed—this is not unique, I am sure—that we go to great lengths avoiding the subject of death. I watched a clip the other day where Keanu Reeves was asked on a late-night talk show what he thought happened when we die. His response avoided the question altogether. He said that people who love us will miss us. The host shook his hand and the studio audience oohed, awed and offered their applause. (As seen below.)

We don’t like thinking about death. To think that our lives are short, that they are as prominent as the dew in the morning or the fog upon a lake when touched by the sun’s rays, is troubling. It disturbs us to consider that our lives can be snuffed out in an instant…without a moment’s notice. And yet, the reality is this:

“Man[kind] is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow” (Psa 144.4)

Though my sister was teasing me for what I suppose she thought was a melodramatic moment, the reality is our days are numbered. And, nothing we can do will add another moment to the time afforded to us. For it is God who as established them:

“In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12.10).

“Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you [O God], and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass” (Job 14.5).

We are prone to forget such things. We want to forget such things. And our adversary the Devil surely does not want us to recall the brevity of our lives. Rather, he is pleased that we fool ourselves into living for the moment with no consideration of what the day might bring. It is no wonder that, we like Mr. Reeves, would rather subvert the question being daily asked of us.

“Daily?” you say. “How so?”

Have you truly looked at the world around you with closed eyes? Is it possible to miss the message painted throughout all of nature? Every summer I am reminded of the horror of death as my nostrils are filled with ripened road kill. Our property’s little forest is littered with decay; fallen trees, rotting leaves, and withered flowers. How many loved ones, how many friends have gone before us into the brink?

Often times you will hear statements like “you can’t outrun death,” or “time will eventually get you,” “you will feel its cold bite.” How easy it is to give death and the grave life like qualities. Though some might argue that this is mere poeticism, I disagree. It is the way that we sinners want to massage our troubled consciences. It is not “time” or “death” that comes for you, but your Creator. He will have His day. There will be a reckoning.

Such thoughts are too troubling. Who can accept them? Better to believe our lives are accidents born of purposelessness, utterly meaningless, than to face the reality of our having been created. Better that than to think of accountability, of responsibility, for how we have spent our lives on this earth. Jesus said something to this effect as well:

“…I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample good laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God [says]…, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12.19b-21).

Now you say to me, “But this is a warning to the rich man, to the selfish, to those who only care about themselves. You are taking it out of context to apply this to anyone else.”

In response I would ask the following: “Who do you consider with the time allotted to you? Do you think of HE who created you, who gives you breath, who provides you wealth and time? Where are your treasures? Are they in Him or they in yourself? Are you merely a fatted calf being readied for the slaughter? Do you see life as a pleasure cruise that is meant to give you every delectable that your little heart can muster…or do your thoughts, words, and actions lend credibility to the contrary?”

Sadly far too many people are too self-absorbed to be worrisome about whether or not they are pleasing the Lord of Glory. God says, “Be fruitful and multiply,” and unbelieving thought says, “I can’t have children, I still want to live.” As if having children hinders living; rather than making it more robust. God says, “Be content with what you have received,” and unbelieving hearts are never satisfied constantly desiring more.

Do I say this pridefully? Do I look at the rest of humanity and say in my own “self-righteousness” tsk, tsk, tsk.  No, the reason for my comments in the darkened cavern and in this post are the same—concern.

I appreciate the reminder of death around me, because it keeps me humble. These reminders point me to one who can give meaning to my life even in death. Such reminders, prick me in my wayward heart to be concerned about the things of God…about His Glory, and not my own. Likewise, being reminded of death emboldens me and drives my passion for that which is lost.

My life is a blessing, because I am aware of the reality that awaits us all. Each day is a gift. Each breath, a miracle. Each relationship, a blessing. Each sample of food and drink, and other leisure activities that I might participate in after a hard day’s work, a pleasure. I am content with the life I have been given, and I try to be mindful of thanking my Creator, my Lord and Deliverer, each and every day. I am confident that He who delivered me from my sin is also able to deliver others, but my heart goes out to those who live in and love their deception for in the end the sorrowful torment of darkness awaits.

I am the resurrection and the life,” said the Lord Jesus, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he life, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11.25-26).


[1] This post uses the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible throughout.