A Bleak Thanksgiving
NOVEMBER 1, 2023
At Key Life, everything we write, record, and prepare for posting on the website must be done in advance.
And that’s true of what I’m writing here. Often, someone will comment on a broadcast I’ve done or something I’ve written, and I won’t even remember what it was about. I have trouble remembering what I did and said a week ago, so remembering it from two months ago is a real struggle.
We’re in good company. Everything God does is done in advance . . . way in advance. It’s another subject, but God even considers the prayers we pray before we are born. What? God isn’t bound by time and space. So, past, present, and future are irrelevant to God. He hears the prayers of Moses, Paul, you and your children, and your great-grandchildren before those prayers are ever prayed within the time continuum in which we live.
We’ll talk about that another time, but it’s November and Thanksgiving. But what I wrote above is connected to what I’m writing now. Last week, Matt Heard (one of Key Life’s voices) and I recorded the Key Life broadcasts for Thanksgiving week. But, going in, we forgot those programs were to be about Thanksgiving. Cathy told us, but, as she sometimes says, “You guys don’t listen.” She’s right, and we both repented. Still, Matt and I had a problem. We had decided to teach about the Gospel as a story we live and not just truths we affirm, but we needed to do broadcasts on Thanksgiving.
What did you guys do?
We’re preachers, so we made it fit. Actually, we realized that the material we had prepared was ideal for Thanksgiving . . . and the broadcasts weren’t half-bad. And they say there’s no God.
Thanksgiving is a time of giving thanks for God’s blessings—family, friends, provision, health, country, and a thousand other good things for which we are properly thankful. But what if, this year, things aren’t going so well? Someone said, “Every day, the world rolls over on top of someone just sitting on top of it.” Not only that, every day, the world rolls over, and those who were once under it end up being, as it were, “on top of the world.”
There was a slang expression that, I’m told, originated in the WWII trenches. An officer would tell the troops about their cigarettes, “Smoke ’em if you got ’em.” In other words, we should do what we want if we have the means to do so. But what if you don’t have “’em”? What if things aren’t going well? After all, things change, and sometimes not for the better. What can you do about a bleak Thanksgiving?
It is a good idea to remember what never changes and to be thankful for that stability and gift of sameness. The Bible teaches that God never changes. “For I the Lord do not change” (Malachi 3:6). God says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8). And then the statement in Hebrews 13:8 that stands up and sings the “Hallelujah Chorus,” “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
James writes something perfect for Thanksgiving: “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.” There has never been a perfect turkey, person, or day. The turkey may be too dry. You may not be altogether happy spending time with Aunt Gertrude at Thanksgiving. The credit cards may be maxed out. You may have lost someone you love. You may be facing a doctor’s bad diagnosis. You may feel lonely and rejected. That may be true, but the good stuff—the good and perfect gifts—never changes because God doesn’t change.
God’s love doesn’t change. “But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear [worship, revere, know] him, and his righteousness to children’s children” (Psalm 103:17).
There is an old story about a little orphan girl who put a note in a tree limb overlooking the orphanage. The orphanage director saw her do it and retrieved the note. The little girl had written, “Will somebody love me?” If I had been there, I would have told her, “Oh, yes, God loves you, and he loved you before you were ever born, and he will love you forever. Count on it!”
What should you do if you don’t feel loved this Thanksgiving (or at any time, for that matter)? Remember God’s love and give thanks. Then, live your life trusting his love; eventually, that love will become your reality. God and his love never change. God made up his mind about you a very long time ago, and no matter what you do, think, or say, he will always love you.
No matter what else is happening, that makes for a great Thanksgiving.
God’s forgiveness doesn’t change either. “If we confess our sins [the ones we’re aware of], he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness [the sins we don’t even know we’ve committed]” (1 John 1:9). When Jesus was crucified he forgave and asked forgiveness of those who drove the nails. Driving nails into the hands of the Son of God is bad enough to dwarf anything we have ever done or will ever do. Peter once asked Jesus how many times he had to forgive his brother, who had sinned against him, suggesting that he had already forgiven him seven times. Jesus said, “Not even close. Forgive him seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22). The number seven means perfection and without limit. God requires that of us because that’s exactly what he did for us.
As someone said, “Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving.” If I think about it, I still feel guilty lying about the chewing tobacco I swallowed by accident while playing baseball with my friends. I was so sick that I turned green. Then I went home and told my mother I thought it was the flu. I still feel guilty about that lie to this day.
But what if I didn’t have to feel guilty for that lie? I’m authentic about little, acceptable, and sometimes funny sins but not so much about the big ones that shame me and keep me up at night. What if God forgave me for all of those sins—every single one? I am forgiven. You are, too!
Once you get that, it can make even the worst (and the best) Thanksgiving incredibly exciting. It’s the soil out of which thankfulness grows.
I could make this list very long, but let me share one more thing that never changes. God’s promises don’t change. They are always fulfilled. Stephen gave a “deathbed” sermon in which he says, among other things, “And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers, and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem” (Acts 7:15-16). There is a lot to those verses (some of it controversial), but God promised Abraham that he and his descendants would inherit the Land of Canaan. When Jacob (and maybe Abraham) bought the land there, that was placing faith in God’s promise about that land, even though at the time of the purchase, it looked like it would be cold in a hot place before it happened. When the bones of Abraham and the fathers were brought to the Promised Land and buried there, it was a fulfilled promise, and God would declare, “Fulfilled and finished!” And those bones being brought home would point to all of God’s promises always being fulfilled.
Paul writes, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Corinthians 1:20). God always and without exception does what he says he will do, and Jesus is God’s methodology for fulfilling promises.
God promises that “all the books will be balanced.” And, as the Archbishop of Canterbury said to Queen Victoria, “Just because the books aren’t balanced every Thursday, doesn’t mean that all the books won’t be balanced.”
God promised. Be thankful.
God promises in Revelation 21:4 that every tear will be wiped away, all mourning will stop, and all pain will be removed. As my late friend John DeBrine often said, because God promised, “You can be as sure of heaven as you would be if you were already there.”
God promised. Be thankful.
God promises in Philippians 2:10-11 that the time is coming when “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” That includes those who have made fun of our faith and laughed at our testimony.
God promised. Be thankful.
I could go on and on, but I’m running out of space here.
There is one more thing—a problem with humility. If you are always valued and loved no matter what, if you never have to struggle with guilt and are always forgiven, if you have seen the movie and know how it all ends, if you are free from shame, if you are no longer afraid or lonely, and if you know the truth that others don’t know . . . it’s hard to be humble about it. After all, Thanksgiving is about God and his goodness, not about us.
Frankly, I’m not sure how to pull that off.
That being said, enjoy the holiday, and do your best not to let it go to your head.
He asked me to remind you.