The Bounty and Goodness of Our God: A Thanksgiving Story

November 22, 2007

From Chuck Colson and Breakpoint.

“It has become the worst drought in the history of the Southeast. The ground is parched; crops are dying. And last week, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue decided to do something about it. He urged Georgians to pray for desperately needed rain. Despite much ridicule and some protest, last week, Gov. Perdue led a prayer vigil on the steps of the State Capitol. Praying along with him were pastors from several denominations and hundreds of Georgians.

Gov. Perdue may not have realized it, but he was following in the steps of our Pilgrim fathers and mothers nearly 400 years ago: Joining together with neighbors for prayer was a familiar ritual for the Pilgrims. For example, in April of 1623—three years after the first Pilgrims landed—the transplanted Englishmen and women planted corn and other crops. A good harvest was essential to their survival. But in the weeks following the planting, it became clear that a dry spell was turning into a drought.

Pilgrim father Edward Winslow recorded their distress in his diary. “It pleased God, for our further chastisement,” he wrote, “to send a great drought; insomuch as in six weeks . . . there scarce fell any rain.” The crops began to shrivel up “as though they had been scorched before the fire . . . God,” Winslow wrote, “which hitherto had been our only shield and supporter, now seemed in His anger to arm Himself against us. And who can withstand the fierceness of His wrath?”

The Pilgrims decided the only solution was to humble themselves before God in fasting and in prayer. They appointed a day of prayer and set aside all other employments.

Winslow describes what happened next. “In the morning,” he wrote, “when we assembled together, the heavens were as clear, and the drought as like to continue as it ever was.” But by late afternoon—after eight or nine hours of prayer—”the weather was overcast, the clouds gathered on all sides,” Winslow wrote. The next morning brought “soft, sweet and moderate shows of rain, continuing some fourteen days.” The needed rain was “mixed with such seasonable weather,” he wrote, “as it was hard to say whether our withered corn or drooping affections were most quickened or revived, such was the bounty and goodness of our God.”

This dramatic answer to prayer was a witness to the local Indians. As Winslow notes, “The Indians . . . took notice . . . all of them admired the goodness of our God towards us, that wrought so great a change in so short of time, showing the difference between their conjuration and our invocation on the name of God for rain.”

The harvest that fall was abundant—and the Pilgrims survived yet another year.

Today is Thanksgiving—the day on which we recall the three-day celebration in 1621 in which the Pilgrims invited local Indians to join them in thanking God for His blessings on them—not, as some school children are taught today in class, giving thanks to Indians. And Americans ever since have been celebrating this, an occasion recognized and enshrined by Congress. We ought to take time to thank God for His manifold blessings on us today.

By the way, the day after Governor Perdue prayed on the Capitol steps, rains swept the state—nearly an inch in places. But the drought has continued. So, as we give thanks today, let’s remember those in the drought-stricken Southeast and ask the Giver of all good gifts to bless the land with rain.”

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“What should be the focus of Christians on Thanksgiving?”

November 22, 2007

From gotquestions.org.

“Answer: First, a brief history of Thanksgiving – the original thanksgiving celebration was held by the Pilgrim settlers in Massachusetts during their second winter in America in December 1621. The first winter had killed 44 of the original 102 colonists. At one point their daily food ration was down to five kernels of corn apiece, but then an unexpected trading vessel arrived, swapping them beaver pelts for corn, providing for their severe need. The next summer’s crop brought hope, and Governor William Bradford decreed that December 13, 1621, be set aside as a day of feasting and prayer to show the gratitude of the colonists that they were still alive. These Pilgrims, seeking religious freedom and opportunity in America, gave thanks to God for His provision for them in helping them find 20 acres of cleared land, for the fact that there were no hostile Indians in that area, for their newfound religious freedom, and for God’s provision of an interpreter to the Indians in Squanto.

Along with the feasting and games involving the colonists and more than 80 friendly Indians (who added to the feast by bringing wild turkeys and venison), prayers, sermons, and songs of praise were important in the celebration. Three days were spent in feasting and prayer.

From that time forward, Thanksgiving has been celebrated as a day to give thanks to God for His gracious and sufficient provision. President Abraham Lincoln officially set aside the last Thursday of November, in 1863, “as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.” In 1941, Congress ruled that after 1941, the fourth Thursday of November be observed as Thanksgiving Day and be a legal holiday.

Scripturally, you find things related to the issue of thanksgiving nearly from cover to cover. You find individuals offering up sacrifices out of gratitude in the book of Genesis. You find the Israelites singing a song of thanksgiving as they were delivered from Pharaoh’s army after the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 15). Later, the Mosaic Law set aside three times each year when the Israelites were to gather together. All three of these times [Unleavened Bread (also called the Feast of the Passover) (Exodus 12:15-20), Harvest or Pentecost (Leviticus 23:15-21), and the Feast of Ingathering or Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:33-36)] involved remembering God’s provision and grace. Harvest and Tabernacles took place specifically in relation to God’s provision in the harvest of various fruit trees and crops. The book of Psalms is packed full of songs of thanksgiving, both for God’s grace to the Israelite people as a whole through His mighty deeds, as well as for His individual graces to each of us.

In the New Testament, there are repeated admonitions to give thanks to God. Thanksgiving is to always be a part of our prayers. Some of the most remembered passages on the giving of thanks are the following:

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).

“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men” (1 Timothy 2:1).

It is also interesting to note that one of the charges brought against mankind universally is that, although we have an innate knowledge of God and of His provisions to us, we are unthankful (Romans 1:18-21). This is brought out in one pastor’s attempt in trying to illustrate the importance of sharing with those having less than we have. He had asked the children to come to the front and sit in the front pew on both sides of the church. Then he began to hand out a few M&M’s to the children on one side and none to the children on the other side. After doing so, he stood back and asked if they noticed anything wrong. One child, on the side having the candy, piped up, and indicating the child next to him, said, “Yeah, you gave him three, and you only gave me two!” So, too often, instead of noticing all that we have been given and being thankful for it and sharing it with others, we focus on what we don’t have instead.

Of all of God’s gifts, the greatest one He has given is the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. On the cross of Calvary, Jesus paid our sin debt, so a holy and just Judge could forgive us our sins and give us eternal life as a free gift. This gift is available to those who will call on Christ to save them from their sin in simple but sincere faith (John 3:16; Romans 3:19-26; Romans 6:23; Romans 10:13; Ephesians 2:8-10). For this gift of His Son, meeting our greatest need, the Apostle Paul says, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).

We, like the Pilgrims, have a choice: in life there will always be those things that we can complain about (the Pilgrims had lost many loved ones), but there will also be much to be thankful for. As our society becomes increasingly secular, I am afraid that the actual “giving of thanks to God” during our annual Thanksgiving Holiday is being overlooked, leaving only the feasting. May God grant that He may find us grateful every day for all of His gifts, spiritual and material. God is good, and every good gift comes from Him (James 1:17). For those who know Christ, God also works everything together for good, even events we would not necessarily consider good (Romans 8:28-30). May He find us to be His grateful children.”


Thankful to Whom?

November 22, 2007

From Kevin Connor and Townhall.com.

“As we approach Thanksgiving Day, most Americans know what we are thankful for, but to whom should we be thankful? Be careful with your answer, because it may offend the politically correct crowd.

A “religion debate” has arisen over Thanksgiving just as it has over Christmas. Andrew Santella writes about the debate on Slate.com. He explains both sides: there are the politically correct revisionists who want to point out every historical inconsistency and discrepancy in the Thanksgiving tradition in order to destroy its “religious roots”, and there are the staunchly religious fundamentalists who argue that Thanksgiving must be labeled “Christian”.

Santella argues that this bickering turns the holidays into “a tug of war between cold, hard history and comforting popular folklore, between fact and faith.” His solution is not to argue for one or the other or even a separate position nearer the middle. Rather, Santella believes all positions are acceptable: “Shouldn’t our holidays be able to accommodate both? . . . Can’t we assume that the holiday has evolved as some more subtle mix of the secular and the spiritual, one that each of us can adjust according to our own values? . . . Prescribing to others the right way to observe the day is surely one aspect of the traditional Thanksgiving best left behind.”

While Santella is correct to see the debate as overblown, his postmodernist answer leaves something to be desired. He is right that Thanksgiving is indeed a more “mixed” holiday than Christmas or Easter—it is not based on a “big event”, whether “secular” or religious. But Santella errs by not recognizing the cultural tradition of Thanksgiving and what it means to be giving thanks and to whom.

Regardless of the precise historical details of when exactly the first thanksgiving was celebrated and whether it was a “harvest celebration” or a time of “specific thanksgiving”, the important point is that Thanksgiving has been celebrated for many years as a specific time to give thanks as the original Pilgrim settlers gave thanks. This is what has been celebrated for over a century, regardless of its exact historical accuracy. Furthermore, the pilgrims gave thanks to the God of the Bible. Edward Winslow, the governor of the Plymouth Colony, wrote about the great harvest the colony had gathered and finished with, “And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.” The Pilgrims saw all good things as coming from God, and thanked Him for His Providence. This has been the traditional American view of Thanksgiving ever since the holiday was celebrated in the individual States and then on the national level.

The “thanks” of the Thanksgiving tradition has always been directed towards God. Most of the early settlers thanked God regularly for his Providence. And when Abraham Lincoln instituted Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863, he described it as “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent father who dweleth in the Heavens.” He meant it to be a day of thanks to God, penitence for man’s disobedience, and prayer for the less fortunate.

This tradition seems to be changing now, as our culture becomes increasingly secularized. More and more, Americans are focused on eating and watching football on Turkey Day. True, we know what we are thankful for, but to whom do we owe our thanks? What is the meaning of Thanksgiving without God?

Some atheists argue that it is inappropriate to thank a “God” who does not exist. And, they acknowledge that it is less than satisfying to thank the Law of Gravity or the Second Law of Thermodynamics for all they have made possible for us. Hence, they argue, we should thank “goodness—the wonderful fabric of excellence created by individuals working together in human civilization to make this planet a better place.” But does this really make sense? If the world is merely a product of random chance, if there is no Creator and no transcendent morality, can there be such a thing as “good”? And if this “wonderful fabric of excellence” is simply the result of cosmic accident, then is any thanks owed?

The sad reality of our secular society is that, while we retain many of our traditions, they are increasingly losing their meaning. Many “feel” thankful, but they have nothing to thank. Over time, as they continue to live out the logic of their position, they will eventually stare blankly into the abyss, their only feeling being one of despair.

Thankfully, I still know who to thank for my blessings. And for those of you who also know, I extend a hearty, “Happy Thanksgiving!”

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC and a nationally recognized trial lawyer who represented Governor Jeb Bush in the Terri Schiavo case.”

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