Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Thanksgiving

In Everything Give Thanks In Christ Jesus

Lois asked if I was writing a Thanksgiving blog.

“Yeah.  But I don’t know what to write.”

“How about ‘in everything give thanks'”?

Right.  Fitting.   Also a sermon for me.  No, for Lois too.  My PLS and cancer are diseases we both have to endure–and give thanks in.

Here are Paul’s words, part of a closing exhortation to the Thessalonica church . . .

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

It’s  a triplet of closely-related appeals.  “[G]ive thanks” presupposes we have blessings to rejoice over.  (I do!)  Prayer(spoken or singing) is how we verbalize joyful thanks.

” . . . this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” adds punch to the appeal.  It’s what God wants.  And here, part of the puzzle of knowing God’s will for us is solved:    “give thanks in all circumstances.”

That includes adverse circumstances.  Not only good times, but bad.  All the time, no matter what.

My nature doesn’t work that way.  When I’m hurting, I pray without ceasing, “Father, heal my hurt”–and maybe complain about it.  My default response isn’t “thank you, Lord.” When the dermatologist said, “You have malignant melanoma”, I didn’t hang up the phone and break into thanksgiving.  Paul isn’t telling us to give thanks for all circumstances.  He’s urging us to give thanks in them.  Still, it’s hard.

I have a confession. ( I hope no one’s keeping track of how many I’ve made!)  I’m one of those guys who thinks it borders on fanaticism to give thanks in all circumstances.  I mean, some circumstances are horrid.  Not just a tummy ache.  Deathly.

Then I remember what God is doing.  It’s the old Job-thing.    If I give thanks, even in suffering circumstances, it shows I’m serving him for him, not just for what he gives–and he is glorified.  That means his reputation is somewhat at stake if I limit my thanksgiving to good times and mope in the bad.

But , giving thanks in all things is for me, too..  It lifts my head from the pit up above to the greater One–“my glory and the lifter of my head” (Psalm 3:3).  Giving him thanks sets my eyes on him.

But for what to give thanks?  It’s hard to thankfully rejoice over mere food when I’m in pain.  Here’s where “for this is God’s will in Christ Jesus for you” comes in.  I’m in Christ Jesus!  I’m connected to him by faith and the Spirit!  I share in his life!  Here’s what that means . . .

. . .
In  Christ Jesus I was given grace before the world was created,  “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the ages began . . . ” (2 Timothy 1:9b).

. . . In Christ Jesus I was chosen by God before creation.  ” . . .he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love” (Ephesians 1:9).

. . .In Christ Jesus God loves me with a love from which nothing can ever separate me. “For I am convinced  that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38,39).

. . . In Christ Jesus I am redeemed, forgiven for all my sins“In [Christ Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace . . . ” (Ephesians 1:7).

. . . In Christ I am made right with God, Christ’s righteousness imputed to me“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

. . . In Christ Jesus I am a new creation. “So if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

. . . In Christ Jesus I am God’s child.  ” . . . in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith” (Galatians 3:26).

. . .In Christ Jesus I am, here on earth, already seated with Christ in heavenly places“[God] raised us up with [Christ] and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus . . . ” (Ephesians 2:6).

. . .  In Christ Jesus all God’s promises are YES for me“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20).

. . . In Christ Jesus I am being sanctified and made holy like him. ” . . .  you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

. . . In Christ Jesus all my needs will be provided for.  “And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

. . . In Christ Jesus God’s peace will guard my heart and mind.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

. . . In Christ Jesus I have eternal life.  “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 3:23).

. . . In Christ Jesus I will be bodily raised from the dead when he comes again.  ” . . . for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.  But each in his own order:  Christ the first fruits, then at his coming, those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:22,23).

I have more to give thanks for than my mind can contain–even when my “light and momentary afflictions” seem heavy and endless.  But giving thanks in all circumstances doesn’t sound so fanatical now–not when I ponder what I have “in Christ Jesus”.  It makes my heart sing in prayerful, joyful thanksgiving!  Lois and I wish you a rejoicing Thanksgiving! In Christ Jesus.



Thank You, Turkey

Once I preached a Thanksgiving sermon entitled, “Thank Who?”  I thought it raised a serious question about people who didn’t believe in God.

Turned out I was wrong.  Increasingly, atheists, secularists, humanists, agnostics, and other types of “nones” are giving thanks.  American Humanist Association executive director Roy Speckhardt explains, “Thanksgiving is a uniquely secular holiday, as gratitude is a universal human emotion.  This special day of the year is a chance for humanists and other nontheists to express gratitude . . . ”

Austin Cline, agnosticism and atheism expert (what’s an expert on what isn’t?) argues somewhat cynically . . .

“There’s a popular belief among some American Christians that the American Thanksgiving holiday is necessarily religious.  Aside from the apparent desire to turn everything into an expression of their religion, the primary reason behind this seems to be that the whole point must be to give thanks to their god–not other gods, just theirs–thus making it a Christian holiday too.  If this is true, then it makes no sense for non-Christians, or at least non-theists, to celebrate Thanksgiving.

“It is undeniable that non-Christians and non-theists all over America participate in Thanksgiving observances.  This proves that the insistence on the religious or Christian nature of Thanksgiving is false.  It simply can’t be true, but this doesn’t tell us why it isn’t true.  For that, it must be shown that giving thanks to God is unnecessary or senseless, or that there are others to whom we can give thanks, or preferably all three.”

Speckhardt is right; gratitude is a universal human emotion.  Why?  Did we just happen to evolve that way?  Or did our Creator use the same mold for us all?

Cline’s argument that non-Christians and non-theists “all over America participate in Thanksgiving observances” proves that “the insistence of the Christian or religious nature of Thanksgiving is false” is nonsense.  Does the fact that theists observe Thanksgiving prove it’s a religious holiday?

My biggest disagreement with Cline, though, is his unconcern for truth.  It’s the “Christians’ god” and the atheists’ god.  Both are “true”.  “You create your reality and I’ll create mine.”  Bit delusional, no?  For the theist, there is a God; for the atheist there isn’t.  Alternate realities.  Yet even the atheist feels compelled to offer thanks.

But, if not to God, to whom?  Here are their suggestions . . .

  1.  People who help us live or live better.
  2. Farmers who provide food we eat.
  3. Soldiers and veterans who keep us safe.
  4. Doctors and medicine to fight disease.
  5. Engineers and modern technology that improve how we live.
  6. Friends and family who help support us.
  7. Truck drivers who deliver food.
  8. Turkeys who gave their lives for us to enjoy a feast.

Secularists even have Thanksgiving prayers . . .

For the food . . . for the sun and earth, farmers and cooks . . . We give thanks . . . For family and friends . . . For ____________ (this is the interactive part; the leader of the prayer names person to right, who says, “and for ________ naming person to the right, and so on, till back to leader; or the leader could just name everyone . . .  We give thanks . . . For the time to gather and the leisure to sit and the spirit to celebrate . . . We give thanks . . . We pause to remember those who cannot be with us today . . . And those who live more in famine than in feast . . . May our sense of good fortune overshadow our daily troubles . . . And yet cast light on the struggles of our neighbors . . . For life’s great bounty and the will to share it . . . We give thanks . . . And in gratitude we eat . . . Amen.

(Information above from the following web sites . . .

Commendable.  Gratitude is far better than greed.  But, if the Bible is true, the thankful secularist is playing with fire . . .

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools,  and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:18-23, ESV).

Non-theists have no excuse.  God says he’s clearly seen “in the things that have been made”.  So non-theists “know” God, but “did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.”  That refusal leads to mind and heart problems—futile thinking, darkened hearts, ignorance about their foolishness and idolatry.   Such is God’s wrath on those who will not acknowledge him.

We may shake our heads in scorn.  But we have to admit, “except for the grace of God”, there we go too.  So here’s a Thanksgiving prayer in addition to “thank you for the food” . . .

“Father, thank you for calling me to yourself through your Son.  I admit I honor you not because I’m wise or good.  Apart from your grace my thinking is futile, my heart darkened, my “wisdom” foolishness and my worship idolatry.  Only because of you I’m in Christ Jesus.  He alone is my wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption.  Thank you for opening my eyes to see you in creation, and to see you in Christ Jesus as my sacrifice on the cross.  Thank you that I have far more for which to give you thanks than a turkey” (from 1 Corinthians 1:26-31).

Further Thanksgiving Thoughts

“Further” because I already shared some yesterday.  Surprisingly my old mind has a few more.

Memories.  Cheering our local high school football team.  Worshiping at the community
Thanksgiving services.  Eating feasts—one with Lois’ parents, one with mine.  So many blessings with our young family.  Wish I could go back.

I think today, too, of suffering people—parents grieving over a child lost to war or gun violence; the widow with the love-of-her-life’s chair empty; the father diagnosed with cancer afraid this may be his last Thanksgiving with his family.  Hospitals are filled today.  Today, on Thanksgiving, people will die.

Morose?  Guess I’m emotionally caught between the blessings of younger years and so much suffering I see.  Into that unsettling mix comes the apostle Paul’s admonition . . .

Be joyful always, pray at all times, be thankful in all circumstances. This is what God wants from you in your life in union with Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, GNT).

This is what God wants from us:  always joyful! at all times praying! in all circumstances thankful!  Whether stuffing down a Thanksgiving feast surrounded by our young family or chomping down a peanut butter sandwich alone and hurting.

God wants this from us, not to earn points, but because he’s made this possible for his honor and our joy.  “This is what God wants from you in your life in union with Christ Jesus.”  Our Holy Spirit-connection with Christ has not only given us reasons to “be thankful in all circumstances”, but power to “be thankful in all circumstances.”

Reasons?  Regardless of circumstances, we are God’s children in Christ Jesus.  He’s with us in Christ Jesus.  He’s coming for us in Christ Jesus.  We’ll live with him forever in a new creation in Christ Jesus.  I could go on . . .

Awareness of those reasons helps us be thankful in all circumstances.  “Count your many blessings; name them one by one” we used to sing.  Good advice.  There are times, though, when present pain smothers good reasons.  Reasons make it reasonable to give thanks in hard times.  But hurting can overpower logic.  It’s then we need power to give thanks.  And in union with Christ Jesus, we have it.

May I make a confession though?  Sometimes, for me at least, power isn’t there.  What then?  A suggestion:  since we know giving thanks is what God wants (for his honor and our good), but the circumstances strangle the thanksgiving in our throat, pray for the Spirit’s power!

“O God, I know you want me to be joyful today.  I know you want me to give thanks today even though my body aches and my mind is filled with doubts.  And I know I have good reasons (yes, plural) to do what you want.  But I can’t.  Not by myself.  So please, Holy Spirit, empower me.  Give me a ‘shot’ of joy.  Grant me a grateful heart that overflows with thanksgiving from my lips.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

What’s the “big deal” about “thank you, God”?  In his latest blog (, Dr. Albert Mohler, calls thanklessness “the primal sin” . . .

“After making clear that God has revealed himself to all humanity through the created order, Paul asserts that we are all without excuse when it comes to our responsibility to know and worship the Creator.  He wrote:

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. . .  [Romans 1:20-22].

This remarkable passage has at its center an indictment of thanklessness. They did not honor Him as God or give thanks. Paul wants us to understand that the refusal to honor God and give thanks is a raw form of the primal sin. Theologians have long debated the foundational sin — and answers have ranged from lust to pride. Nevertheless, it would seem that being unthankful, refusing to recognize God as the source of all good things, is very close to the essence of the primal sin. What explains the rebellion of Adam and Eve in the Garden? A lack of proper thankfulness was at the core of their sin. God gave them unspeakable riches and abundance, but forbade them the fruit of one tree. A proper thankfulness would have led our first parents to avoid that fruit at all costs, and to obey the Lord’s command. Taken further, this first sin was also a lack of thankfulness in that the decision to eat the forbidden fruit indicated a lack of thankfulness that took the form of an assertion that we creatures — not the Creator — know what is best for us and intend the best for us.

They did not honor Him as God or give thanks. Clearly, honoring God as God leads us naturally into thankfulness. To honor Him as God is to honor His limitless love, His benevolence and care, His provision and uncountable gifts. To fail in thankfulness is to fail to honor God — and this is the biblical description of fallen and sinful humanity. We are a thankless lot.

Sinners saved by the grace and mercy of God know a thankfulness that exceeds any merely human thankfulness. How do we express thankfulness for the provision the Father has made for us in Christ, the riches that are made ours in Him, and the unspeakable gift of the surpassing grace of God? As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, ‘Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift'” [2 Corinthians 9:15].

So there they are—“further thanksgiving thoughts”.  I’m done.  Thanksgiving Day is just about over.  All that’s left, then, is to give thanks . . .



Thank You for Giving to the Lord

Pastors, elders, deacons, missionaries, Sunday school teachers, youth group leaders, worship team members, soup kitchen volunteers, small group leaders, prayer warriors.  Tens of thousands of you daily give to the Lord by serving others.  An army of servants greater than the U.S. military.  More numerous than any volunteer organization in the world.

You serve children, babies, parents, seniors, singles, the sick, the lonely, the lost, the least.

You serve by preaching, teaching, modeling, praying, singing, playing instruments, encouraging, listening, hugging.  And we are among the beneficiaries.

But sometimes you servants get discouraged.  Pastors, you preach your hearts out and no one says, “Good Word today, pastor.”  You missionaries work hard to plant the Word, but get ignored or rejected.  You Sunday school teachers agonize over squirming, noisy children more interested in clowning around than learning the lesson.  And you worship team members rarely play the right worship song.

Words of thanks are few, and rare.  Not that you’re looking for them.   But some days, when it seems your efforts go unnoticed at best or criticized at worst, you need them.

You give to the Lord.  I don’t remember how many years of preaching and pastoring it took me to learn that.  If no one recognized me, so what?  I was giving to the Lord.  His delight in me—that’s what mattered.  But when someone said, “The Lord really spoke to me through your sermon today, pastor”, it was like a breath of springtime fresh air after a cold, dark winter.

As I listened to the accompanying video, I thought of you discouraged servants.  Your reward, of course, comes from the Lord.  But I also believe that one day in the new creation, the words of this song will be fulfilled.  You who give to the Lord faithfully may very well be greeted by a long-to-the-horizon-line of grateful people who, finally from eternity’s perspective, recognize how you served them by giving to the Lord.  And as they recount how their lives were changed, they  will thank you.

So be encouraged today, servant of the Lord.  Your giving to him doesn’t go unnoticed by him.  And one day the line of grateful people thanking you for your service will stretch further than you can imagine.  Listen to this song.  Be encouraged!  And thank you.  Thank you for giving to the Lord.  Lives are being changed because you give.

* * * * *

“Let us not become weary in doing good,
for at the proper time we will reap a harvest
if we do not give up”
(Galatians 6:9).

“But encourage one another daily,
as long as it is called Today,
so that none of you may be hardened
by sin’s deceitfulness”
(Hebrews 3:13).

“Let us not give up meeting together,
as some are in the habit of doing,
but let us encourage one another
— and all the more as you see the Day approaching”
(Hebrews 10:25).




Thank Who

O PreacherI’ve always wondered who most people thank on Thanksgiving.  Christian Smith’s research (Soul Searching:  The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers) shows we’ve pretty much made God a moral–therapeutic deity, who sits in his heavenly firehouse ’til we sound the alarm.  So, unless he put out a holocaust for us last year, whom will we thank tomorrow?

Perhaps in some homes where parents want to instill a gratitude attitude in their children, everyone in turn will say thanks to someone else at the table.  “I want to thank Mom for feeding us all year.”  “I want to thank Dad for working hard so we can have what we have.”

That’s a far cry from the apostle’s admonition . . .

” . . . be filled with the Spirit . . .
giving thanks always and for everything
to God the Father
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . ”
(Ephesians 5:19a,20)

Thank who?  God the Father.  Practically from cover to cover, the Scriptures make God the “who” of giving thanks.

But the unregenerate heart balks.  In fact, the apostle makes refusal to thank God a step downward to depravity.

“For although they knew God,
they did not honor him as God OR GIVE THANKS TO HIM,
but they became futile in their thinking,
and their foolish hearts were darkened”
(Romans 1:21).

Therefore, we need the regenerating work of the Lord Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to awaken us to the reality of the “giving-ness” of God and to enable us to respond with heartfelt thanks.

Of course, this “thank you” to God shouldn’t be reserved for one American holiday.  ” . . . giving thanks ALWAYS and FOR EVERYTHING”, Paul urges us in Ephesians 5:20 (above).  Earlier he wrote similarly to the Thessalonians . . .

” . . . give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”
(1 Thessalonians 5:18).

In all circumstances.”  “For everything.”  The latter phrase might mean for every good thing.  But the former makes it uncomfortably clear that no matter the circumstances, God wants us to thank him.  Does that mean I should thank God for every circumstance, as in “Thank you, God, for this illness”?  If “for everything” means literally what it says, it does.  That’s lunacy, unless we believe Romans 8:28 (which is not always easy to believe!).  But, even if God isn’t telling me to thank him for my illness, he is telling me to give him thanks in all circumstances.  “Thank you, Father, for Jesus, through whom you have reconciled me to yourself and thank you, Father, for the Spirit who indwells me with your holy, transforming presence.”

Question.  Does God “will” us to thank him because his ego needs massaging?  (“Hey, look.  I’ve given you lots of good things and I’m not feeling real appreciated.  So, how ’bout a great big THANK YOU, GOD!”)  Or does he want us to say thanks to teach us good Christian manners?  (“It’s not polite to not say thank you to me!”)  No, he wants us to thank him, because he deserves our thanks.  But, perhaps even more, he wants us to thank him because it does our heart goodThere comes a sense of fullness–of fulfillment–that makes the joy of receiving from God complete when we thank him.

This isn’t a commercial brought to us by God for a happy American Thanksgiving.  As we always hear, we should give thanks all year.  True.  But perhaps we can in some way make tomorrow a particular, even memorable, thanks-giving to God our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Because . . .

“Every good gift and every perfect present
comes from heaven;
it comes down from God,
the Creator of the heavenly lights,
who does not change or cause darkness by turning.”
(James 1:17, TEV)

Okay, everybody sitting round the table.  Before stuffing mouths with turkey stuffing, let’s give one big shout-out to God . . .


Oh, we can do better than that!  One more time—bigger!



Have a blessed Thanksgiving

Squanto: A Thanksgiving Miracle

O PreacherMaybe you’ve heard this story before.  Even so, it’s worth reading again (as it was for me).  You may even want to read it around the Thanksgiving table.  I’m indebted to Eric Metaxas who brought it back to mind on the  “Wall Street Journal” Opinion page today (

About 1608 (12 years before the Pilgrims arrived) an English ship arrived at what would become Plymouth, Massachusetts.  Friendly Patuxet Indians welcomed them.  But the sailors’ intention wasn’t friendly:  they brutally captured a number of the braves, took them to Spain, and sold them into slavery.

One became the property of some Catholic friars, who treated him well and set him free.  He began dreaming of somehow returning to the New World.  He managed  to get from Spain to London where he stayed with a man named John Slany who taught him English.  In 1618, the he found a ship that would take him to the New World, if he would work as an interpreter.

So it was that after ten years, the Indian returned to his village.  But when he arrived, he was shocked to find it deserted.  The Patuxets had all died from a disease (smallpox?) brought by ships from Europe.  Captivity almost certainly saved his life.  But for what?  To live alone in the woods?

Two years later, in 1620, Pilgrims, fleeing religious persecution in England, arrived on the Mayflower.  Their original destination was Virginia.  But, unable to go that far, they chose instead to settle at Plymouth.  It was November.  Harsh conditions—frigid temperatures, wet ground, little food—brought illness and death to many.  How could God have led them to such suffering?  They considered returning to Europe.

Then after the dark cold winter, one spring day in 1621, an Indian walked out of the woods.  He spoke English.  He had lived in London.  And he had grown up on the land where they now stood.  He knew how to plant corn and squash, how to find fish, and how to survive in the wilderness.

His named was Squanto.

Lucky for those Pilgrims, huh?  In Metaxas’ telling of the true story he calls it “an outrageous miracle of God.”  The Pilgrims certainly believed so.  The Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford wrote in his journal that Squanto “became a special instrument sent of God.”

We can be sure on that first Thanksgiving the Pilgrims gratefully gave thanks for more than food.  In a typically mysterious God-way, he provided for his people’s survival  in the New World.

Outrageous miracle indeed!

Oh, we should remember that God—our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ—
still acts “outrageously” today.

reenactment of the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Mass. (AP/Plimoth ...

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,
according to his power that is at work within us,
to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus
throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
(Ephesians 3:20,21)

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