I’m Not Writing About Thanksgiving
NOVEMBER 6, 2019
As I started writing to you, that phrase kept coming to mind so I Googled it. (Someone said that kids ought to respect their parents because they got through college without Google.) That title was of the 1969 movie (staring Suzanne Pleshette and others) about a man who leads tours through Europe.
I guess I was thinking of that because…if it’s November, this must be Thanksgiving. Actually, it isn’t November for me. It’s September. But you’ll receive this in November, Thanksgiving month.
Only I’m not writing about Thanksgiving this year. So there!
It isn’t because I’m not thankful and all, or because I think it’s a bad thing to have national day of giving thanks. Maybe it’s my authority problem. If you’re a preacher, you have to preach a Mother’s Day sermon on Mother’s Day Sunday and I refused to do that. I also refused for Father’s Day and National Peanut Day. It was required and because it was, something in me “kicked against the goads.” It was similar to when the town fathers requested that we cancel our church services on Sunday July 4th when the town’s annual parade planned to march by our church during our worship time. What? I told them that it would be cold in a hot place (actually, I said it a little stronger than that) before that happened, and if nobody came to our church that Sunday, I would still sing a hymn and preach a sermon.
I think the authority thing is a sin, but I refuse to repent.
So I’m not writing about Thanksgiving Day because having a day devoted to giving thanks implies that we should be thankful only one day a year. Once that’s done, it’s done, and we don’t have to do it again until next year. It becomes just another obligation. We do it because it’s a good thing. We’re like the man whose job description was to hammer on the train wheels when it came through the depot in his town. When the man was asked why, he said, “I don’t know why, but I never miss one.”
Paul said that Christians should “address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always [not once in a while or one day a year] and for everything…” (Ephesians 5:19-20). Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving when it becomes an item on our religious “to do” list. It’s just doing religious stuff and getting it over with.
There’s another reason I’m not writing about Thanksgiving. It’s because having a day of thanks is an indication that we aren’t very thankful in the first place. In my teaching on grace, I’ve often been accused of encouraging sin. My standard reply is that I don’t have to encourage sin…people were already doing fine in that area before I came along. It’s the same with being thankful. If it has to be encouraged, there isn’t much thankfulness going on. If you have to have a day devoted to mothers in order to be nice to your mother or wife, or a day devoted to fathers in order to be nice to your father or husband, there’s a problem. I once told a man whose wife didn’t believe that he loved her to tell her that he loved her at least five times a day and to bring flowers home to her at least once every two weeks. He did that. The wife called me and said, “Please tell him to stop this. I feel like my husband says he loves me because you told him to and, when he brings flowers, I think he’s having an affair.” Not such good advice. I never gave it again because thanking God and loving one’s wife or husband isn’t an obligation.
In Jeremiah 30:19, God talks about how he will bless his people and then says, “Out of them shall come songs of thanksgiving, and the voices of those who celebrate.” Thanksgiving isn’t forced. It naturally flows from God’s goodness and blessing.
And speaking of being forced, Thanksgiving must drive atheists and agnostics nuts. We have this national day of Thanksgiving to a God in whom they don’t believe. I’m not into manipulation, so I probably shouldn’t do too much to force them to participate in something that offends them. However, I once asked an atheist friend, whose son had just been born, who he planned to thank. That question led him to become a Christian. But, with that being said, I suppose I shouldn’t put too much public emphasis on Thanksgiving in order to spare pagans of embarrassment. Paul did say, though, that we should pray for them—“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2).
There is one other reason I’m not writing about thanksgiving. It’s because telling people to be thankful at a particular time is like telling a fish to swim or a tree to grow at a particular time. I have to struggle with doing or not doing what I’m supposed to do or not do as a Christian…but one place where there is no struggle at all is in the area of being thankful. My heart is naturally thankful, and sometimes so filled with thankfulness to God that I don’t have the words and wish I could speak in tongues. I’m simply overwhelmed with his goodness, his gentleness, and his love. It is, “The Wonder of It All.” Really.
Now for a confession. I loved telling you all this and it’s true. There is, however, the problem with my self-righteousness for which—by the time you read this—I will have repented. Besides, my thankful heart isn’t a sign of my disciplined spirituality. I just can’t help it.
In the October issue of First Things, Onsi A. Kamel wrote an article, “Catholicism Made Me Protestant.” Among other things, Kamel wrote that he was reading Luther, the heretic, on the subject of justification, and it transformed his understanding of salvation. He realized that “Every Christian possesses Christ, and to possess Christ is to possess all of Christ’s righteousness, life, and merits….All things were mine, and I was Christ’s, and Christ was God’s (Gal. 3:27; 1 Cor. 3:21-23). His was not an uncertain mercy; his was not a grace of parts, which one hoped would become a whole; his was not a salvation to be attained, as though it were not already also a present possession. At that moment, the joy of my salvation poured into my soul. I wept and showed forth God’s praise.”
You’ve probably heard me say (and often) that laughter is the sign of Jesus’ presence. The last time I was teaching a seminar at The Cove, they asked for the title of my 2020 seminar because they wanted to advertise it to the people who were at the 2019 seminar. Good heavens! I don’t know what I’m going to do tomorrow, much less what I’m going to do a year from now. So, off the top of my head, I gave them the title, “The Laughter of the Redeemed.” I had no idea what in the world I was going to teach on that, and some people asked me what the seminar would contain. “Nothing,” I said. “We’re going to come here next year and tell each other our best jokes.” (Some very spiritual people weren’t happy with that, but most said, “Way cool.”)
Free and joyous laughter always comes from a thankful heart. I have a lot of wrinkles on my face and I’ve earned all of them. Well, not really. Mostly they’re laugh lines. Now you know why.
Steve, do you realize that you just wrote a long letter on Thanksgiving telling us why you weren’t going to write anything about Thanksgiving?
I did, didn’t I?
Since I’m already writing about something I said I wasn’t going to write about, do let me wish you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving.
He told me to tell you.
Actually, he made me say it.