Editor's note - Each Thanksgiving we ask a local pastor to share a sermon with our readers. We hope his words inspire and motivate you this holiday season.
I remember the surprised look on the faces of our Dutch visitors in Holland as they looked at the dinner table, all dressed up for them on Thanksgiving Day.
"Five pieces of corn," you could hear them thinking. "Is this what Americans do for a holiday?"
As we sat down, my wife — being a true American — explained the story of the five corn kernels.
"It was November 1621, and the pilgrims had survived their first winter with the help of native Americans," she said. "On many days all they had had to eat were these five kernels. But after their first plentiful harvest it was time to give thanks to God for His provision."
I have lived in the states for a while now and love the recurring Thanksgiving holiday. There is something magic about Thanksgiving. It seems to change people’s mind and attitude, making them happier and at greater peace. So, what’s the magic of Thanksgiving?
Maybe a start would be the disarming effect of "giving thanks." For example, how can you still be mad at your 3-year-old who earlier that day wrote with a non-erasable marker all over that freshly painted wall when you watch them lay in bed, sound asleep? What happens the moment you give thanks for this beautiful gift of life that has added so much joy to your life?
Or how about the spouse that drives you crazy, and just as you are ready to throw in the towel, here comes a bouquet of flowers, or an apology, or a memory of a moment shared together that can’t be erased? Have you noticed when you start giving thanks for your spouse it’s hard to be as mad about their ugly side as you were just hours ago?
Or how about the neighbor’s looks, house and belongings that seems just a little nicer than yours. As the discontentment of thinking about how you want to have it better rages in your head, guess what helps you escape this trap? Give thanks! All of a sudden, the sunset in your own backyard looks really cool, your barbecue is just fine, and you look nicer in the mirror!
Giving thanks seems like the anti-potion we need after receiving a venomous copperhead snake bite, or the warmth of the sun that warms you up after a cold rain shower. I think it’s because thanksgiving changes our perspective from our complaining "poor me," "it’s better out there" pathetic lifestyle that we all get caught up in.
Our daily dose of advertising, the shiny images and experiences of others on Facebook, and the pressure of our culture to get our full part of the American dream makes us forget that we, in so many ways, already have it all.
But I wouldn’t do justice to the magic of Thanksgiving if I ended here because it’s more than an attitude adjustment. It is found in a supernatural presence. Let me give you our "van story."
Our family has four kids who we end up driving in our van all over the place for ballet, football, soccer, basketball and the like, with lots of stops at fast food places. And there is always "more to be had." A larger shake, another drink.
After a day of running around for them, nothing seems worse to two exhausted parents than to hear disgruntled kids at the drive thru say, ‘I want the fancy mocha or the oversized….’ So we hit the pause button and teach them to say "thank you." Why don’t we encourage them to go for the "American dream" and always want more?
I love hearing "thank you" because it reminds me that they "get it." They are loved. Dad is with them and has their best interest in mind. Their self-centered wishes and desires are not the center of the universe, but they are deeply loved and cared for by two loving parents.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us to "give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." In other words, no matter how bad it gets — how bad you feel — keep saying "thank you," even when you feel like you should have had a larger drink, or a café mocha and you didn’t get it. When it doesn’t seem to make any sense ... why? Because your Father is with you!
Psalm 100:4 tells us that the way to enter into His gates, into His presence, is with thanksgiving. The act of saying "thank you" unlocks that secret to us as suddenly we realize our wants and desires aren’t the center of the universe, but that we’re in "the van" controlled and loved by our heavenly Father.
Is this too naïve or simple for our sophisticated lives? The Gospel message gives you a solid historical fact of His love and care for you today. "For God so loved the world that He sent his only Son that whoever believes in Him should not die, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
When Jesus died on that cross, he opened a door for you, so you could live in close relationship with God now and spend eternity with Him. He is "in your van," if you wish. Experience this by believing in Him or give thanks.
Here are five reasons why knowing God makes us thankful:
First, He is always with you. He knows how you feel and can identify with you because He became just like you. Be thankful for His presence.
Secondly, you belong to a whole new family and you have been set free to act in a new way. Be thankful for His salvation.
Thirdly, your identity is secure in Him because He loves you — no matter what anyone says to you or how you feel about yourself. Be thankful for His love.
Fourthly, there is no difficulty that is beyond the reach of His care — if you believe in Him, He uses everything to work out His purpose and His character in you. Be thankful for His work.
Fifthly, this life isn’t the end. Your health, savings, loved ones may be taken away, but He’ll never leave you. He wants to spend forever with you! Be thankful for His heavenly plan.
So there you have it — the magic of Thanksgiving! Instead of getting all worked up about what you don’t have or how people mistreat you, Thanksgiving makes you realize what you do have — Him, others and a blessed life!
Being thankful directs your eyes to look upward instead of downward, to live in awe. There is hope! So here’s my proposal for this Thanksgiving: Let’s make it Thanksgiving always. Take a moment this day to give thanks and then do it always, everyday.
"Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. For his steadfast love endures forever!" (Psalm 118:1)