THANKSGIVING DAY IS FOR MORE THAN TURKEY!

In his Thanksgiving Day address to the country in 1963, President John F. Kennedy said:

Let us therefore proclaim our gratitude to Providence for manifold blessings–let us be humbly thankful for inherited ideals–and let us resolve to share those blessings and those ideals with our fellow human beings throughout the world.”

Indeed, Thanksgiving Day is a time for us to remember the many ways that we have been blessed during the past year.

In years gone by, the traditional day was celebrated with the best china, glassware, linens and, of course, the best food that the family could afford.

Family holiday table from years past.
Family holiday table from years past.

It was also a time for the family to gather, from various parts of the city, state, or country, to celebrate together.

When I was a child, we went to my Great Aunt and Uncle’s home for the dinner.  It was a special time when relatives from another state would come and the cousins would sit at the “children’s table” in another room.  Now that I am a parent and grandparent, I realize this is what you did so the adults could have a grand conversation which was uninterrupted and without hassle, usually about those who sat at the “children’s table”.  The children liked it because we did not have to sit and be quiet!

Even in our home today, the Thanksgiving Day meal is more formal and “dressy” than the normal fare that we consume the other 364 days of the year.

The Thanksgiving Day meal table set for celebration.
The Thanksgiving Day meal table set for celebration.

Of course, in school we learned that the Thanksgiving meal was in celebration of the harvest and of the bounty that the country afforded the Pilgrims.  So, in keeping with the “bounty” part of the holiday, we have food that is a traditional part of the celebration as well as a few new things to try.  One year I tried a recipe of acorn squash with raisins, brown sugar and a number of spices cooked in the slow cooker.  To quote my Beloved, “This is a keeper!”

New recipe for Thanksgiving Day meal.
New recipe for Thanksgiving Day meal.

In our home, although there are other foods prepared, the centerpiece of the meal is the turkey, all bronzed and tender.  I recognize that it is not too good from the turkey’s point of view, but I know that it is exceptional for the family’s enjoyment.

The holiday turkey ready to go on the table!
The holiday turkey ready to go on the table!

Before eating, we “say grace”, a time when we thank the Lord for the manifold blessings that he has provided for us, focusing primarily on the food we are about to eat!

Then, after gorging ourselves with the meal, we visit and talk about what we are thankful for.  Often the list includes friends, family, health and frequently the children will add thanks for their toys, pets, good grades at school, etc.

Often, while the ladies are cleaning up the kitchen, the children and gentlemen will go in the backyard for the holiday football game.  For the grandparent, there is no tackle, but for the elementary school child the adult will not be penalized when he is picked up off the field, as long as a hug follows and the descent to the ground is not a drop.

Family playing football after holiday meal.
Family playing football after holiday meal.

Holiday traditions and stories are important to keep us together and to define who we are.  Traditions and stories play a critical role in our life before God as He states in His Word.

For example, the Passover Meal is a time when the story of the Exodus is retold each year, even today, thousands of years after the event.  Scripture admonishes us to teach our children about God’s acts in our life.

The act of thanksgiving is described and discussed often in the Scriptures.  The Old Testament described the peace offering that was made to God in thanksgiving in Leviticus 7.

In 1 Chronicles 16:7 we read that David appointed that songs be sung in thanksgiving to God.

“I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving.” – [Psalm 69:30]

Psalm 50:4 tells us to:

“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High,” [ESV]

Scripture tells us that “grace” is more than just saying a quick prayer before the meal, although grace and thanksgiving are frequently paired.  In 1 Corinthians 1:4, Paul states:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you.”

Paul is giving thanks to God for the grace given to the Church in Corinth, a church that he established, counseled, and nurtured.

I remember learning the term G-R-A-C-E by the phrase “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.”   But, grace is so very much more than this trite phrase defines.

  • Grace provides us with God’s love.  Paul says: “and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 1:14
  • Grace enables us to do the will of God.  1 Corinthians 12:4-6 tells us: “”Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.”
  • Grace provides forgiveness of sin.  “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,…”  Romans 5:20
  • Grace enables Christians to love others.  “We love because he first loved us.”  I John 4:19.
  • Grace provides us with the opportunity to fellowship with God.  “”Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power…. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.”  Ephesians 3:7, 10-12.

I pray that we are thankful daily not just for the material blessings we have from our Father but also for the grace given to us by the Lord. We should think about this marvelous gift of grace from God and include it with humble gratitude in our prayers of thanks to God our Father.

Father, we thank you for your love that you extended to us while we were yet sinners, before we could even think of loving you. Thank you for Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on our behalf, and thank you for the Holy Spirit who indwells us and is transforming us into the image of your Son. Thank you for our country and the freedom to worship that is provided. We pray that our leaders and those in authority over us would look to you, Father, for wisdom, guidance and discernment as they lead us in these difficult times. Thank you, Father, for your presence and for your mighty hand.

OF BILLBOARDS AND BANNERS!

Every fall, college football reigns supreme in Knoxville where the University of Tennessee football team, the Tennessee Volunteers, face off with the visiting team while over 100,000 people fill the stadium for a home game and they cheer, scream and watch every move made.  This does not only apply at the home game – such dedicated watching includes all televised away games as well, but then we don’t have the stadium cheerleaders, so we have to find our own!

Our own private cheerleader for U.T.
Our own private cheerleader for U.T.

In an earlier post, “I will give my all …”, I talked about seeing the billboard for the football program that challenges the players to give their “all” to the program.  The billboard has the shape of our state in the background and, in the University’s colors of orange and white, the words on the billboard say that we will give our “all for Tennessee today”.  The billboard not only has that slogan in print, it also has a giant hand coming up from the foliage under the sign as if to touch the sign as an imaginary player passes beneath, a subtle reference (for those who know the history) to the sign on the player’s locker room wall that says the same thing and which, according to tradition, each player touches as they run through the T into the football stadium.

Scripture tells us that God demands wholehearted devotion.  Deuteronomy 6:5 contains the following commandment from our Holy God:

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

That pretty much sums up “our all” doesn’t it … heart, soul and might.

But in case we missed the message there, Deuteronomy 10:12-13 follows up on it and says:

And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?

Talk about our “all” … God is saying that we are to serve Him with our whole being, not to serve Him half-heartedly.   Of course, Jesus also reiterated this command as being the first and greatest commandment that we are to follow.

Even for us in 2015, this commandment clearly extends to us as believers of our Lord subsequent to his crucifixion and resurrection.  He gave His life for us; how can we even think of giving anything less than our “all” to Him?

Going back to the billboard about the team giving their “all” to Tennessee football, in the prior post I pondered if I would be willing to have a sign in the front yard saying that I would give my “all” for Jesus, and if that sign would make a difference in my life.

As I came down the stairs thinking about that post and the billboard, I looked up and … low and behold … we do have such a sign in our house.   Actually, it is a banner placed over the primary exit door of our home which reads:

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Banner of Joshua 24:15
Banner of Joshua 24:15

That, of course, is taken from Joshua 24:15.   I remember when we bought this banner many years ago; I have always loved that verse in Joshua and this was a beautiful representation of it.  And, it encapsulates the commandment in Deuteronomy and the thoughts about obedience and allegiance to God that runs throughout Scripture.

I mention this because our banner has been hanging there quite a while, and I am afraid that it has become part of the room décor – sort of a statement of “ambiance” rather than a statement of intent for any of us when we exit the residence.  I am not certain that we notice it at any time other than when we have to dust it before company comes over (okay, maybe not even then).

In fact, if I were to ask our grandchildren about what the banner across the door said, they probably would have to go to the living room to read it, even though it has been there for years and they pass under it each time they exit the house.

This realization raised some questions in my mind and heart:

    • I wonder if each of the Tennessee players think of what that sign says every time they touch it as they go through the passageway into the stadium, or if it is a gesture that gets lost in the excitement of the moment?
      • I wonder if our children and grandchildren think of the lessons learned in our home when they are outside of our reach?
    • I wonder if the coaches remind the team of the sign’s significant message before they run into the field for the sports conflict of the day?
      • I wonder what would happen if we reminded the children and grandchildren to remember our Lord as they face the world and its challenges when they left the security of our home each day?
    • I wonder if I reflect the message that banner has been expressing so eloquently all these years?
      • Do I serve the Lord?  Every day?  In all my activities? Whenever I leave the house?
      • Does my family serve Him?  Is Jesus Lord and Master of all those in my family?
    • I wonder if my cheerleading for the Lord is as driving and exuberant as the cheerleading for the football team?
      • Do my children and grandchildren know that I am on the Lord’s team?
      • Do the neighbors see an excited exuberance for my Lord or do they see someone who goes about “serving in the church” with a grumble and frown?

Father, forgive me when the cares of this world flood my mind and heart so that I am unable to even think about You or my Lord.  Forgive me when I am “too busy” to spend time with You in reading your Word.  Forgive me when I am so committed to my family, friends, work, entertainment, and even activities at the church, that I don’t take the time to pray or to listen to your Spirit.  Help me, today and for all the future todays that You give to me, to give You my “all”.  I pray this through the mighty name of Your Son and my Savior, Jesus Christ.

I WILL GIVE MY ALL ….!

Knoxville, Tennessee is the home of the University of Tennessee Volunteers football team.  In the fall of the year, the city falls under the spell of the Big Orange Volunteer Spirit, with over 100,000 fans cheering in the stadium at a home game.  During football season, it is not unusual to see stores, offices, homes, and restaurants of every type decked out in Big Orange colors of orange and white in support for the Tennessee Volunteers.

Support for Volunteer football team
Support for Volunteer football team

In fact, today is the first game of the 2015 season and it is out of town.  But the Volunteers don’t need to be in town to have dedicated fans.  Yesterday, I went to a restaurant for lunch with a friend, and well over 50% of the people in the building were wearing orange shirts, hats, jewelry, and the owner was even wearing orange pants.

Now, I, too, am a Big Orange Volunteer fan, make no mistake about that.  While none in my family are native to Knoxville, we long ago caught the fever of college SEC football, cheering for the Tennessee Volunteer football team, win, lose or draw!

Our dedication to the team even extended to the turf on which the game was played.  When the stadium was changed from artificial turf to grass a number of years ago, we purchased a square of the orange and white end zone for a souvenir of those days gone by!  It is hanging on the family room wall

Piece of the end zone turf, University of Tennessee
Piece of the end zone turf, University of Tennessee

We have our car flags, orange and white T-shirts, sweatshirts and blankets, as well as orange and white car decals, plastic plates, cups, spoons and forks, table cloths, … well you know what I am talking about.

Big Orange football game day table wear
Big Orange football game day table wear

And, of course we have the posters and caps on display, all of which are adorned with the beautiful orange and white of the Volunteers.

National Championship Poster for University of Tennessee
National Championship Poster for University of Tennessee

Finally, we can’t forget the spirit of the game … the cheerleaders, and in years gone past, we even had our own!

Cheerleading to willing fans.
Cheerleading to willing fans.

For the past several years there has been a sign along the interstate advertising the Tennessee Volunteer football program with the slogan that the team will “give our all to Tennessee today!”

It caused me to think about what that phrase meant. “Give our all to Tennessee today!”  I am certain it references the effort that the young players are to give to the game.  I am certain that it reflects the focus that the coaches have in training the team and guiding them during the big games.  I am certain that the team is reminded of this mantra throughout their training whether or not it is a game day.

But it made me think.  I certainly am NOT a football player, never have been and never will be! But I am a Christian.

Can I say that I will give my all to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, today?

Would I have a sign like this in the front yard telling the world that I will give my all to Jesus today?

  • If I had such a sign, would I actually pay attention to it or would it blend in with the scenery?
  • If I had such a sign, would I read it as I left the house each day or would I pass by it and ignore the admonition?
  • If I had such a sign, would I mean what it says, or would it be mere decoration?
  •  If I had such a sign, would I look at it and pray that I would fulfill that promise no matter what the cost, no matter what the consequence, no matter what ….?

Perhaps the first question I need to ask is:

“Do I really want to give my all to Jesus today? Am I that committed to Christ that I want this for my life, today?”

Scripture says this is exactly what we are to do.  In Deuteronomy 6:5 we read:

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

We cannot shrug our shoulders and mumble, yeah, but that was said thousands of years ago; it’s not for us 2015! Not so, my friend.  Jesus reiterated that this was still a commandment for us in Matthew 22:37 when He stated that this was the great commandment.

Note that it is an imperative statement — “You shall”.  It is not optional, and it is not a divine suggestion.  As Christians, this commandment expresses how much we should be committed to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Remember, our Lord gave His all for us — He deserves no less from us in response.

So, who will get your all today?

Father, forgive me when I have given my all to the world, to things that have no eternal significance, to idols that take time and attention away from You, my Creator-Sustainer-Sovereign God.  Give me the grace and mercy to give my all to You each day that You give to me. And, Father, I cannot do anything without your enabling through my Lord; so, please give me a heart that can be used by the Holy Spirit to do the work that you have ordained for me, in the name of Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord, I pray.