Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Life-giving Reality of True Thanksgiving

Autumn days rush headlong into early evening; Christmas decorations peek conspicuously from their high perches above parking lots and city streets. A slight chill in the wind hints at the advent of Advent -- but the Christmas lights aren’t lit yet, and winter is still on the way… because we haven’t celebrated Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving: A mistreated holy day between Halloween and Christmas, stuffed with turkey and football and bloated humans lounging on couches, checking Fantasy Football and Facebook on smartphones. Is this all there is to Thanksgiving? Variably corpulent citizens feeding their faces and then worshiping electronic media?

Hardly. True Thanksgiving is a life-giving reality for both persons and nations. Thanksgiving was revealed as a divine principle in the covenant life of Israel, and recovered in America by faithful leaders who understood its import. We’ve fallen far from this divine understanding of Thanksgiving, but for those who return there is great reward. Consider three components of true thanksgiving, and the restored covenant relation they entail.

Humility. The first confession of true Thanksgiving is that all good comes from God -- not human self or national resources. God warned Israel, “Beware lest you say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms His covenant, which He swore to your ancestors, as it is today” (Deut. 8:17-18). And so the psalmist confesses: “It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them” (Ps. 44:3). Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation confesses the same: “These [national blessings] are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.” Humility before God is the first confession of Thanksgiving -- and the first step toward renewal in covenant life. Confession: “O God, we thank you and praise your glorious name! But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to celebrate like this? For all things come from You, and of Your own we have given You.” Alleluia! (1 Chron. 29:14)

Penitence. The second confession follows the first, as humility cannot be separated from penitence before God. God commanded Israel not only to remember the Source of blessing, but also the path of restoration. He says, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14). Likewise, Lincoln called the American people to celebrate Thanksgiving with “humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience,” with acts of contrite benevolence toward widows and orphans. True Thanksgiving means real repentance. Confession: “I confess the sins that my People, including myself and my father's family, have committed against you. We have acted wickedly and not obeyed your laws. Please forgive us and restore your light upon us, I pray” (Neh. 1:6ff).

Patience. The third confession follows the prayers of the previous, as children bow in humility before God, confessing their sins and the sins of the land… they then choose to faithfully follow God, awaiting His time of favor and restoration. Psalm 147:11 witness: “The Lord takes delight in His faithful followers, and in those who wait for His loyal love.” It is in the long hours between promise and fulfillment that true Thanksgiving is shown. Sometimes such waiting takes a lifetime, like Nehemiah or Daniel -- or, in the case of Abraham, four lifetimes -- but the end is inconceivable blessing: divine favor and eternal life. Confession: “Like the eyes of a handmaiden to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes wait upon you, our Lord God, until you show us your favor!” (Ps. 123:2)

If you love your country, and if you love your family, let this Thanksgiving be a real one -- where you renew your life in the covenant love of God, and bow before Him in humility and penitence, patiently waiting His light and favor. As Jesus said, “Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?” (Lk. 18:7). Truly, He will. But when the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth? May it be so, in your true Thanksgiving, and mine!



Note: This is an article that I wrote for the Sunday, Nov. 17 edition of the Okeechobee News.

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