Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Thankful in All Things

Last night, I was the preacher for the Lakeview Ministerium’s Community Thanksgiving Service at the Oak Grove Church not far from Clarks Mills. I repeated (!) a sermon I had used in 2006… Turns out the Bible hasn’t changed since then!

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Thankful in ALL Things
Philipians 4:4-8

Thanksgiving. I love this holiday. It’s one of the most peaceful, deeply spiritual holidays for me. Yeah, I know Christmas and Easter are the biggies in the realm of religious holidays, but this one is SPIRITUAL…. there’s no big religious festival, no ritual, no special call to worship prescribed in some book. In the Revised Common Lectionary there’s not even a special Thanksgiving set of passages like the other religious days.

It’s not a religious holiday, because it’s not one prescribed by the church… not the church throughout the ages, not the Roman Catholics, not the Eastern Orthodox churches, not the Protestant churches, not even my own United Methodist Church.

But it is a spiritual holiday… and for me it is a Holy Day.

Why? Because it calls each of us to consider our lot in life and to be thankful…But not even to just be thankful, but to go beyond being thankful and actually give thanks.  It’s wonderful to be full of thanks, but you gotta do something with all of that thanks or else it means nothing except a warm feeling.

With Thanksgiving, as we have it here in America, our government asks us to give thanks to God….yes, I said the government asks us to give thanks to God.  They may not highlight that aspect, but that’s where it comes from isn’t it?  You go to Canada and this week is not Thanksgiving week. You go to Mexico and this week is not Thanksgiving week.  You go to Britain and this week is not Thanksgiving week. You go to Israel, the one place where God’s religious holidays are still observed, at least in part, and you’ll find that this week is not Thanksgiving week. Only in America, where we are ONE NATION UNDER GOD.

Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving?  If I ask school children, they might tell me stories of pilgrims and Indians and a cold winter and then a fruitful harvest and a big feast with plenty to spare and the pilgrims proclaiming a day to give thanks to God.  Yep.  That’s part of what we remember this week.

After that first harvest was brought in, it was the Governor of the colony, William Bradford, in 1621, who proclaimed a day of thanksgiving and prayer.

It was an American President over two hundred years years later that asked us….”to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November.”  And he did not ask us to just to be thankful, but listen to President Lincoln’s actual words about this day. He wanted us to have a day of thanksgiving: “…as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens…”

And every year since then, whichever President is in that office has asked us to do the same thing. And so we celebrate Thanksgiving… and we give thanks and praise to GOD, because our governmenthas asked us to.

Separation of church and state? Yeah, right.

Now, before you think this preacher is getting too strange, I just want to clarify something here.  I am not complaining that the government calls us to prayer.  I happen to like that a whole lot. 

(Although I’m not convinced that even us Christians use it as a day of prayer and giving thanks.  Unfortunately for many of us, if you watch us on this Thursday, you would think the day should be called THANKS-PIGGING, instead of Thanksgiving.)

My concern is much more Christian…. not governmental.

You see, I am afraid that since we find Paul and others reminding us so often to “give thanks” and then even the government of the United States has to set aside a day for us to give thanks, that maybe it is a sad indicator that we, the Christians, instead of entering the gates of our Lord with praise and entering His courts with thanksgiving, are actually nothing more than an ungrateful bunch of hypocrites.

Let’s take a minute, shall we, and just do a reality check. Now, being a good Christian pastor, I won’t ask you to raise your hands, but just consider with me the following items:

ØWhen we pray, are we praising and thanking God…or just asking for stuff and for blessings or healings or whatever? Are we thankful people?

ØWhen we are at church, are we in an attitude of gratefulness and worship…or are we looking for what someone else does wrong or does that annoys us? Or checking to see if the preacher makes a mistake? Are we thankful people?

ØWhen we meet with the other people in our town are we focusing on the positives and the good things, the things someone has done well and praising them for a good job…or are we sitting there like vultures just looking for a weakness so that we may attack? Are we thankful people?

ØDo we look around us in this country where we have the right to select our leaders, worship as we desire, and even are encouraged unwittingly by the government to have days of thanks and prayer and to praise God for a great land where we still live as One Nation Under God…  or do we deliberately badmouth and curse our leaders rather than pray for them? Are we thankful people?

The passage of Scripture I read a few minutes ago that says “THINK ON THESE THINGS” isn’t just a nice suggestion… It is Scripture. There is a life-giving, life-fulfilling dimension of following the principles of Scripture. If we were to look at all aspects of our lives through the glasses of this Scripture, we truly could give God thanks and praise in all of life… no matter what may come our way… Because we would see things as God sees them.

It all boils down to a pretty easy mind-picture for me:

Imagine with me that we are at the mall in some other community where no one knows us and we are walking into a bookstore. There’s the magazine section off to our left. We walk towards it and there are all kinds of magazines there, aren’t there?

I am waiting for my wife to shop for whatever it is she’s shopping for. I am bored stiff and so I have come to look through the magazines…. If I find one I really like, I may even pay money for it so that I can keep it.

What magazine to choose?  

 I see some of the titles: People, Us, Seventeen, Biblical Archaeology, Reader’s Digest, Billy Graham’s Decision magazine, Guideposts, US News & World Report, Teenbeat, Newsweek, Playboy, Penthouse… and the list goes on, because there are hundreds of magazines.

Now, do I begin picking up each and every magazine, reading it cover to cover?  NO! Because for me, some of those titles are AUTOMATICALLY ruled out, because they are advocate and support behaviors and actions that are contrary to what I believe.  I won’t even consider buying them and I won’t even considerlooking inside them. I do not want my mind filled with the images that are contained in their pages.

That’s EXACTLY what Paul’s saying here, my brothers and sisters.  Every single day of our life, in every waking moment, we will choose things for our mind to dwell on and to think about.  And Paul says we, as Christians, need to be keeping our minds on the things that are true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. The things that are worthwhile and worthy of praise.

To allow our minds to focus otherwise is a direct contradiction to what we as Christians are to do.

It would be just like you or I going into that bookstore and making poor choices in our magazine reading. 

That’s how we can easily become thankful again… by deliberately choosing what we’re going to focus on in our minds, in our thoughts. Rather than looking for negatives (which is SO easy), we’re going to start focusing on the things in our lives the way God does…by looking for the good in each situation, the lovely, the pure… by looking for the “thanksgiving” moment in each situation… the part of the situation that we can turn into a praise to God.

Yeah, we’ll still encounter people who annoy us and do things wrong…they may even do a job differently than we like.  And they may even do something in the church in a way that we think is ridiculous and so very inefficient. Oh well. Too bad.

God didn’t ask you or I to be his efficiency experts, we weren’t called to right all the other Christians in the world… let alone stand as their judge.

Rather, we were called to shine a light… so that everyone who sees us will want what we have.  If all we do is focus on the bad and focus on the faults of other people, then all the others will see in us is vinegar…. and instead of drawing others to our churches and to our God, we will see them staying away from us like the plague.

Paul hits this message pretty hard and pretty personal… because it’s a message that we seem intent on forgetting.  God is to be approached with praise and with the giving of thanks… and we are to approach our very lives with praise and the giving of thanks… and that’s pretty hard to do if we’re looking for the what’s wrong around us. 

Let’s approach this Thanksgiving time, and then the season of Christmas which so quickly follows, with the positive, affirming, praising, thankful approach.

And maybe we won’t need the government to remind us to give thanks.
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Thanksgiving 2010

This is my Thanksgiving letter for 2010 that’s being mailed to family and friends of Reynoldsville’s First United Methodist Church.

(clicking on the image should take you to a full size view)

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A Year To Be Thankful

“… So I will go about Your altar, O Lord, that I may proclaim with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all Your wondrous works.” —Psalm 26:7 (NKJV)

At this time last year, I was oblivious to the fact that a cancerous tumor had invaded my left kidney and had already begun the process of killing me. But a sudden kidney stone attack in the other kidney forced me to the ER where a visiting urologist just happened to be on duty… and he just happened to notice a shadow on the cat scan that prompted him to do further testing. And because of several of those “just happened” kinds of moments, the surgeons were able to remove that affected kidney and effectively killed what turned out to be a rare form of kidney cancer before it ever made it out of the collecting duct tubule where it had implanted itself. We caught it so early that I didn’t even have to do chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

Most of you already know that story. In fact, many of those who read this letter were actually ones who were actively praying for me as I went through this process. You prayed, you called, you visited, you wrote. And again, I thank you. You can’t possibly know how much healing came into my life and my family just through your love and care. I truly thank God for this congregation.

Now for the challenge that you look for in a reflection like this… As I remembered this past year, and all of the seeming coincidences and “just happened” kinds of moments, I marvel at how God was quietly working behind the scenes. In the same way that God sort of egged on Satan in the book of Job, and Job then endured testing and trials, I see a similarity here. Yes, God allowed Job to be tested by Satan, but only because He knew that Job could “pass the test.” Satan wasn’t permitted to lay a finger on Job until God knew for certain that Job would be able to face the trial of his faith successfully.

In the same way, it seems that somehow Satan got permission to afflict my body with that tumor… I hope I dealt with it as successfully and graciously as Job did with his trials. But it hit me… God set me up to find out about it. I shouldn’t have known it was there until a week or two before I died. And there would have been nothing I could have done at that point. But here I am. God set me up with the right doctor visiting at the right hospital at the right time to treat the presenting problem of a kidney stone AND to spot the secret tumor. Coincidence? I think not! God set me up!

I’m not the only one to experience this phenomenon, am I? I’ve heard different ones share stories about how there seemed to be coincidence after coincidence in their life, and they recognized it was simply God, behind the scenes, setting them up for blessings!

In the scripture passage above, the psalmist goes to the altar. Old Testament worship suggests that when they would go to the altar they presented a gift to God. And then, with the “voice of thanksgiving” he goes out to proclaim all the wondrous works God has done in his life. This year, I’m following the example of this psalmist. I’m making a special Thanks Offering and then going out and sharing how awesome our God is… and how much we can trust Him and lean on Him… in whatever circumstance we find ourselves.

How about you? How has God been working in your life? How can you offer Him thanks? How can you share the good news of His wondrous works? How about joining with us and giving your thanks?

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Thankful in ALL Things

I was the speaker for the Reynoldsville area community Thanksgiving service this evening. These notes, based on an original sermon I wrote in the late ’90s, were the basis of my message.

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“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” –Philippians 4:4-8 (NIV)

Thanksgiving. I love this holiday. It’s one of the most peaceful, deeply spiritual holidays for me. Yeah, I know Christmas and Easter are the biggies in the realm of religious holidays, but this one is SPIRITUAL…. there’s no big religious festival, no ritual, no special call to worship prescribed in some book. In the Revised Common Lectionary there’s not even a special Thanksgiving set of passages like the other religious days.

It’s not a religious holiday, because it’s not one prescribed by the church… not the church throughout the ages, not the Roman Catholics, not the Eastern Orthodox churches, not the Protestant churches, not even my own United Methodist Church.

But it is a spiritual holiday… and for me it is a Holy Day.

Why? Because it calls each of us to consider our lot in life and to be thankful… But not even to just be thankful, but to go beyond being thankful and actually give thanks. It’s wonderful to be full of thanks, but you gotta do something with all of that thanks or else it means nothing except a warm feeling.

With Thanksgiving, as we have it here in America, our government asks us to give thanks to God… yes, I said the government asks us to give thanks to God. They may not highlight that aspect, but that’s where it comes from isn’t it? You go to Canada and this week is not Thanksgiving week. You go to Mexico and this week is not Thanksgiving week. You go to Britain and this week is not Thanksgiving week. You go to Israel, the one place where God’s religious holidays are still observed, at least in part, and you’ll find that this week is not Thanksgiving week. Only in America, where we are ONE NATION UNDER GOD.

Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving? If I ask school children, they might tell me stories of pilgrims and Indians and a cold winter and then a fruitful harvest and a big feast with plenty to spare and the pilgrims proclaiming a day to give thanks to God. Yep. That’s part of what we remember this week.

After that first harvest was brought in, it was the Governor of the colony, William Bradford, in 1621, who proclaimed a day of thanksgiving and prayer.

It was an American President that asked us….”to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November…,” not just to be thankful, but listen to President Lincoln’s words: “…as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens…”

And every year since then, whichever President is in that office has asked us to do the same thing. And so we celebrate Thanksgiving… and we give thanks and praise to GOD, because our government has asked us to.

Separation of church and state? Yeah, right.

Now, before you think this preacher is getting too strange, I just want to clarify something here. I am not complaining that the government calls us to prayer. I happen to like that a whole lot.

(Although I’m not convinced that even us Christians use it as a day of prayer and giving thanks. Unfortunately for many of us, if you watch us on Thanksgiving Day, you would think the day should be called THANKS-PIGGING, instead of Thanksgiving.)

My concern about the Thanksgiving proclamation is much more Christian…. not governmental.

You see, I am afraid that since we find Paul and others reminding us so often to “give thanks” and then even the government of the United States has to set aside a day for us to give thanks, that maybe it is a sad indicator that we, the Christians, instead of entering the gates of our Lord with praise and entering His courts with thanksgiving, are actually nothing more than an ungrateful bunch of hypocrites.

Let’s take a minute, shall we, and just do a reality check. Consider with me the following items:

– When we pray, are we praising and thanking God… or just asking for stuff and for blessings or healings or whatever? Are we thankful people?

– When we are at church, are we in an attitude of gratefulness and worship… or are we looking for what someone else does wrong or does that annoys us? Or checking to see if the preacher makes a mistake? Are we thankful people?

– When we meet with the other people in our town are we focusing on the positives and the good things, the things someone has done well and praising them for a good job… or are we sitting there like vultures just looking for a weakness so that we may attack? Are we thankful people?

– Do we look around us in this country where we have the right to select our leaders, worship as we desire, and even are encouraged unwittingly by the government to have days of thanks and prayer and to praise God for a great land where we still live as One Nation Under God… or do we deliberately badmouth and curse our leaders rather than pray for them? Are we thankful people?

This passage of Scripture that says “THINK ON THESE THINGS” isn’t just a nice suggestion… It is Scripture. There is a life-giving, life-fulfilling dimension of following the principles of Scripture. If we were to look at all aspects of our lives through the glasses of this Scripture, we truly could give God thanks and praise in all of life… no matter what may come our way… Because we would see things as God sees them.

It all boils down to a pretty easy mind-picture for me:

Imagine with me that we are at the mall in some other community where no one knows us and we are walking into a bookstore. There’s the magazine section off to our left. We walk towards it and there are all kinds of magazines there, aren’t there?

I am waiting for my wife shop for whatever it is she’s shopping for, I am bored stiff, and so I have come to look through the magazines…. If I find one I really like, I may even pay money for it so that I can keep it.

What magazine to choose?

I see some of the titles: People, Us, Seventeen, Biblical Archaeology, Reader’s Digest, Billy Graham’s Decision magazine, Guideposts, US News and World Report, Teenbeat, Newsweek, Playboy, Penthouse… and the list goes on, because there are hundreds of magazines.

Now, do I begin picking up each and every magazine, reading it cover to cover? NO! Because for me, some of those titles are AUTOMATICALLY ruled out, because they are advocate and support behaviors and actions that are contrary to what I believe. I won’t even consider buying them and I won’t even consider looking inside them. I do not want my mind filled with the images that are contained in their pages.

That’s EXACTLY what Paul’s saying here, my brothers and sisters. Every single day of our life, in every waking moment, we will choose things for our mind to dwell on and to think about. And Paul says we, as Christians, need to be keeping our minds on the things that are true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. The things that are worthwhile and worthy of praise.

To allow our minds to focus otherwise is a direct contradiction to what we as Christians are to do.

It would be just like you or I going into that bookstore and making poor choices in our magazine reading.

That’s how we can easily become thankful again… by deliberately choosing what we’re going to focus on in our minds, in our thoughts. Rather than looking for negatives (which is SO easy), we’re going to start focusing on the things in our lives the way God does… by looking for the good in each situation, the lovely, the pure… by looking for the “thanksgiving” moment in each situation… the part of the situation that we can turn into a praise to God.

Yeah, we’ll still encounter people who annoy us and do things wrong… they may even do a job differently than we like. And they may even do something in the church in a way that we think is ridiculous and so very inefficient. Oh well. Too bad.

God didn’t ask you or I to be his efficiency experts, we weren’t called to right all the other Christians in the world… let alone stand as their judge.

Rather, we were called to shine a light… so that everyone who sees us will want what we have. If all we do is focus on the bad and focus on the faults of other people, then all the others will see in us is vinegar… and instead of drawing others to our churches and to our God, we will see them staying away from us like the plague.

Paul hits this message pretty hard and pretty personal… because it’s a message that we seem intent on forgetting. God is to be approached with praise and with the giving of thanks… and we are to approach our very lives with praise and the giving of thanks… and that’s pretty hard to do if we’re looking for the what’s wrong around us.

Let’s approach this Thanksgiving time, and then the season of Christmas which so quickly follows, with the positive, affirming, praising, thankful approach.

And maybe we won’t need the government to remind us to give thanks.

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Thanksgiving… Monopoly-style?

A friend recently called me to task for not updating this blog recently… What can I say? I promised that my life, my family, and my ministry would be more important than blogging! I guess you could call me honest! Anyways, there are still a couple of projects that still demand my attention, so I’m publishing one of my favorite Thanksgiving-themed pastoral newsletter articles I wrote originally in 2000. A version of this appeared in my new church’s November newsletter.

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I love playing the board game, Monopoly. I like the way this game helps to teach my girls about handling and counting money, making change, and thinking ahead. And if I just happen to smirk a little bit with a sense of glee as they head towards my hotel on Boardwalk, who can blame me, right? It’s just a game.

I actually read a book about playing Monopoly last week. It was a small, “insiders” book called The Monopoly Companion and I breezed through it in just a couple of nights before bed. I found interesting trivia like there were only three railroads that went into Atlantic City in the 1930s (Pennsylvania, Reading, B&O) and that the ‘Shortline’ was a bus company. Also, that Marvin Gardens is actually a pretty ritzy place outside of the city and is actually misspelled on the gameboard (It‘s Marven Gardens). I also found out that the ‘Chance’ cards usually will send you somewhere else on the board and the ‘Community Chest’ cards will most likely give you money you had no way of counting on.

I read how playing Monopoly properly is to try and squeeze your opponents out of their money as quickly as possible. I learned that you should never make loans, never let anyone change the rules by putting money on the ‘Free Parking’ space or try to talk you into doubling earnings when you land on ‘GO’ because those things just make the game longer and drag out the bankruptcies that are the whole object of the game. Be thankful when you’re the winner. Be thankful that you didn’t go bankrupt.

As we approach Thanksgiving, especially as a Christian, I wonder how many of us are approaching this holiday the same way we are taught to approach Monopoly: Be thankful for the good stuff you get and the good that happens to you… or for the bad that doesn’t.


We do it all the time don’t we? An earthquake rocks the west coast and those of us in the east thank God that we don’t live there. We hear of violence in the streets of Jerusalem and we condemn them for being so ungodly and pray a prayer of thankfulness that we live in a fairly peaceful country. Or we hear that our President or our neighbor has been caught in sin, and we rage with righteous anger out loud while secretly breathing a prayer of thanks that we have never been caught in our sins.

Most of us only express thankfulness to God in the matters that have no real spiritual significance. We’re thankful when the other team loses the baseball game and our team wins. We’re thankful we beat that guy in the wheelchair to the closest parking space. We’re thankful that thousands of people lost money so that we could ‘win’ the lottery. We’re thankful that farmers aren’t making as much money so that our milk can be a nickel cheaper. Who cares about those people anyway!


That’s not the Christian idea of giving thanks… that’s the American culture idea of ‘getting ahead’ and ‘looking out for number one.’ That’s the Monopoly idea of get them before they get you. Is that the best Christianity has to offer? Is that what it means when we are told in Scripture to follow Christ?

This Thanksgiving, let’s change this around, shall we? Let’s begin by thanking God that he loves us…. As well as all those others around us as well. And let’s look at those many blessings that we are counting, and realize that God only gave them to us so that he could use us to give them out to others with greater need. Let’s be thankful that He chooses to trust us with HIS wealth and trusts us to use it to help others.


For you see, in the ‘game’ of living everyday life, we Christians are not supposed to be the landlords greedily trying to bankrupt those around us, but rather we are supposed to be the ‘Community chest’ cards… offering the hope of sharing our blessings to those around us. And THEN we will truly be giving thanks!

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