With this newsletter you will find the November calendar. Yep, there it is, fourth Thursday of November: Thanksgiving. Just as April showers bring May flowers, Thanksgiving brings a note about giving thanks. It’s like clockwork; it’s expected. And, like clockwork, when we give thanks at Thanksgiving, we typically focus on what we have for which we give thanks.
Ever watch those syrupy sweet made-for-TV movies around the holiday? (They’re usually on the Hallmark Channel, go figure.) Even when the characters don’t specifically mention God, they always have a moment when they go around the table and give everyone a chance to tell what they’re thankful for. “I’m thankful for family,” says the matriarch or patriarch of the family in focus. “I’m thankful for turkey!” says the obligatory cute kid. “I’m thankful that I didn’t miss the contrived opportunity that we’ve been focusing on for the past two hours,” says the main character, relieved that he/she didn’t marry the wrong person/take the wrong job or whatever. While all those things are legitimate reasons for being thankful, there’s a degree of selfishness that distracts us.
Our cultural fascination with being thankful at Thanksgiving is more a matter of expressing contentment, if not outright pleasure, with what we have, rather than giving thanks to God. The celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday is more about the appearance of gratitude, often out of sense of obligation. Just as when a young child has received a gift – one they can’t take their eyes off – and Mom or Dad must prompt them, at Thanksgiving many people seem compelled to mumble “thank you,” when all they really want to do is play with what they’ve got.
It reminds me of the parable Jesus told in Luke 18:9-14. Jesus said that two men went to the temple to pray, a Pharisee and a tax collector. He said, “The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get’” (vs. 11, 12). What a prayer, right? The Pharisee was going through the right motions; he was doing what was expected: he went to the temple and he prayed. But it says he “prayed about himself”; his prayer was totally self-centered. “God, I am thankful that I am like me and not like ‘them,’ especially not like him. By the way, God, you did notice all that I’m doing for you, right?” That’s a selfish prayer. He was focused on who he was and what he had and what he did. That’s not exactly the right attitude and perspective when you go to the temple to pray, and that’s exactly what Jesus pointed out in this parable.
How do you approach Thanksgiving? Is it with your eyes on the table, loaded with all the food? Is it on all the things you have acquired in the past year or throughout your lifetime? Is your “giving thanks” focused on what you have or even that you’re not like those people who don’t have? Do you approach Thanksgiving giving thanks to God for what he has given you or for who he is?
Yes, we ought to respond to what God gives us, because God is the one who provides every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). However, we must remember that God gives good gifts because he is good, not because we deserve it:
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. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. (Psalms 100:3-5, NIV)
Be grateful for what you have, but go to God with your thanks because he is good, because he has given us all good things, and because he alone is worthy of our praise.
I don’t go by the title “pastor” because the biblical word for it refers to the guys we call elders. So, let me offer a word of appreciation to our “pastors,” our elders: Chuck Higgins, Gary McKibben, Jeff Wallace, and Dick Woolison. I am truly grateful for their leadership and care for this congregation.