The Thanksgiving tradition of granting a Presidential pardon to one very fortunate bird started (officially) with President George H.W. Bush. Other stories date back to Lincoln going without bird one year because his son Tad was so attached to the turkey the President couldn’t bear to hear both the bird and his son squawking as Thanksgiving approached. It is American folklore that Tad taught the bird to follow him around the Whitehouse gardens. I would imagine it was a very happy bird…and thankful!
It was President Lincoln who gave official status to Thanksgiving Day in America:
In the midst of a civil war of unequal magnitude and severity I do, therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States...to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father." October 3, 1863
Considering America’s Civil War, and the uncertainty of the future during the years of that first “official” Thanksgiving Day, the Apostle Paul’s memo to the Philippians is a pretty good example of Thanksgiving – especially from the turkey’s side!
…for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Philippians 4:10b - 13 (NLT)
Turkeys get nervous in November. After weeks of "livin' high on the hog", the bird is the guest of honor at a meal in which he cannot take bows, nor hear the applause. In short, for the turkey, it's nothing less than a pain in the neck!
The apostle Paul could relate to the turkey. When he wrote his memo to the Philippian church he was the guest of the Roman government in a cold, dark, rather smelly prison cell. Paul knew he was facing what our Thanksgiving turkey experiences; an unceremonious execution by the blade of the axe.
While Paul was waiting he received a gift from the church at Philippi. More than likely it contained some material needs, and some needed encouragement from the folks who, only a few years prior had been a mission Paul had started in northern Greece. In the middle of terrible circumstances, Paul receives a breath of fresh air. But the odd thing here is that he takes pains to tell the church folks not only that he appreciates the gift, and that it has refreshed him, but that long after the physical gift itself is gone the source of his thanks giving will be stronger than ever.
Today we celebrate Thanksgiving, and it is right to enjoy our material blessings, and family blessings, and to share these with others. But as we do, let us not convey a message to the world that these pleasures are the source of happiness. Rather, like the turkey, let us remember that it is our connection with Jesus Christ that is the center of true thankfulness and worship.
There are two REALIZATIONS I have come to lean on about thankfulness, especially when I am in the same circumstances as the turkey
1. TO BE TRULY THANKFUL IS A SUPERNATURAL GIFT OF GOD
It is so very natural to express gratitude when things are going well. Paul's situation was different. He was in jail, without comfort, friends, or material blessings. It would not be natural to be thankful for those conditions. That is why I say it is a supernatural gift of God to be thankful when you're in the pits!
Paul had been through it all. He'd been a well-respected member of the educated, politically able upper class; he'd been "demoted" to itinerant preacher, shipwrecked, beaten, stoned, left for dead.
He'd been rich, poor, hungry, and full. And yet it was never the circumstances that determined his thankfulness to God.
So, tell me, preacher; does that mean I should be complacent, not even try to make things better? Just sort of meander through life, let the tides of circumstance push me here and there? No, not at all. Paul wasn't one to be passive when it came to accomplishing great things. He overcame obstacles and circumstances.
To be "content" literally means to experience sufficiency. It's freedom from depending on outside human resources; it’s freedom to concentrate on discovering God's will IN the circumstances of life, rather than attempting to change what circumstances DO exist.
Jesus in the inner-person, makes for sufficiency that says "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation." When friends disown me; When family disappoints me; When sickness comes; When business fails; When loved ones die, the Jesus in me says, "Father, ALL things are working towards your ultimate plan, and I thank you for loving me!" That is a super-natural gift!
2. THANKSGIVING IS THAT WHICH MAKES STRENGTH OF WEAKNESS
Anyone who is truly thankful is a person who is in debt. When we receive a gift, our thankfulness is an expression of the meaning of the gift. Give me a mess of okra, I'll say a rather formal "thank you" (God could NOT have created that slimy stuff!). But give me a Rolls Royce, and I'll be your adopted child if you so desire.
The principle is thusly: The degree of thankfulness is directly proportional to the perceived value of the gift.
Here’s the way that works:
Paul had a weakness, a "thorn in the flesh". It was a sickness, or problem, something any of us would have found distasteful. (The Bible is not specific as to what exactly afflicted him). Paul spent much prayer in trying to get rid of the pain.
God finally said to him, "Paul, my grace covers that! I'm going to take that weakness of yours, and do something wonderful with it." Paul was immediately filled with thanksgiving and learned to glorify God even in the midst of pain.
Paul knew it was possible to, do anything God wants to do in him when he was thankful enough to let Jesus be senior partner in the firm of Jesus and Paul."
· Would you like to live with this supernatural gift of thankfulness?
· Would you like it to be so that you learn, even in the tough places life drags you, to glorify God rather than gripe and complain?
· Would you like to see God take even that which is weakness, and a bother to you, and have Him make it strength for the sake of His kingdom?
Beloved, the difference is found in Jesus.
When you begin to put Christ on the throne of your life, all that was your own weakness and insufficiency, all that was drudgery and failure becomes the sacrifice of praise, a sweet smelling savor in the nostrils of a holy God.
We have choices to make. Thanksgiving is not just a national holiday when the turkey gets stuffed, and then the people get stuffed with turkey. Thanksgiving is a way of life...eternal life. It's a gift from God, and it is God's strength in His children.
Beloved, be thankful. Be filled with Jesus.
From our house to yours, Elizabeth and I pray yours is a very Happy Thanksgiving (especially from the turkey’s side!).