Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 27, 2008
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Thanksgiving, 2008
Dr. Joseph B. Fuiten
Dear Friends,

Today is a wonderful combination of a national holiday and a spiritual observance.  I love this country and I love the Lord who is the author of our liberty and blessings. What better place for us to gather than as the Church and with grateful hearts!

I am not unmindful of the economic times in which we live.  Some are saying this is the worst we have seen since the great depression.  At least in the Northwest, that seems like an extreme statement.  Most of us, if we had no exposure to the news, would not know a problem is happening.  Yet others are feeling the pinch in very painful ways.

A thinking person might wonder why we should gather to give thanks to God while we are in such a collective predicament.  I would suggest to you that these kinds of times are the very heart and soul of what Thanksgiving is all about.

I appreciated the Thanksgiving Proclamation of President Bush for today.  He noted the pilgrims and their early celebration which followed an absolute disaster of a start where many died and others were great malnourished.  He also made reference to George Washington's first proclamation born out of the struggles of our long Revolutionary War and his response to our success and blessings.  Then he made reference to Abraham Lincoln who presided over the horrors of our Civil War, the bloodiest war in American history.

Portions from President George W. Bush's 2008 Thanksgiving Proclamation:

"Every Thanksgiving, we remember the story of the Pilgrims who came to America in search of religious freedom and a better life. Having arrived in the New World, these early settlers gave thanks to the Author of Life for granting them safe passage to this abundant land and protecting them through a bitter winter. Our Nation's first President, George Washington, stated in the first Thanksgiving proclamation that "It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor." While in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln revived the tradition of proclaiming a day of thanksgiving, asking God to heal our wounds and restore our country.

"Americans are also mindful of the need to share our gifts with others, and our Nation is moved to compassionate action. We pay tribute to all caring citizens who reach out a helping hand and serve a cause larger than themselves."

The present economic situation bears some similarities to those three eras of our history.  Each of the tree was marked by incredible loss or suffering on the part of our people.  Yet those were the situations that precipitated our most significant thanksgiving observances.

The Pilgrim Thanksgiving in the Face of Great Difficulty

The Pilgrims came to this land to worship God in their own way without restrictions. Their faith helped them through great hardship. In 1620, when the pilgrims landed, they had 102 people in their community. Due to starvation, the harsh weather, and attacks by hostile Natives, 51 people died that winter. They were buried in unmarked graves because the pilgrims did not want the Natives to know how small their numbers had become and how vulnerable they were by then. In the spring they planted 3 crops; English Peas, Barley, and Indian Corn. The Peas had been planted too late. Though they blossomed beautifully, the hot sun parched the blossoms and the plants died. One of the Pilgrims described their barley crops as "indifferent." Apparently the barley wasn't worth harvesting either. Only the Indian Corn survived; this corn was not big, plump and yellow like the corn we are used to. The ears were only about 2 to 3 inches long with kernels of different colors.

The Pilgrims harvested only 20 acres, about half the land here at our church in Bothell.  And to top it all off, a second shipload of 35 settlers arrived without any provisions because they expected to live off the crops the first settlers had raised. By the end of their second winter in Plymouth, food had been rationed out to 5 kernels of corn for each person per day.  With all that happened to them, it seems that the Pilgrims had little for which to give thanks. Their food supplies were low. Much of the food on the table that day had been supplied by their Native American friends.

As they sat around the table, they surely missed their moms and dads, their husbands and wives, their children who had died during that first harsh winter.

In spite of it all, they gathered to give thanks to God
. How was that possible?

Maybe our greatest challenge as a nation was the civil war in the early 1860's.  Abraham Lincoln was our president during that time.  Here is Lincoln's 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation.  It was his message to America in that year. 155 years later is should be the message to America still.

Abraham Lincoln, October 3, 1863:

"It is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God; to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord.

"We know that by His divine law, nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world. May we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people?

"We have been the recipients of the choisest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown.

"But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.

"It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens."

What do you suppose Abraham Lincoln would say to America on this day?  Would his message be "we can do it" or "let's all hope for the best"?  We need such leadership in America again both in the church and in the nation.

Giving thanks for what we have, not what we don't have.

If we are feeling low this season, how is it possible for us to give thanks? No matter what the Pilgrims had they paused at Thanksgiving to affirm that what they had was "enough" regardless of what they did not have or in spite of what they had lost. On that day they expressed gratitude with a feeling that they had abundance in their lives. It's only when we believe we have enough that we are truly grateful. Having enough is a matter of the heart and soul, not the pocket book, the 401 (k), property values, or what others do.

The difference between people who operate from the principle of abundance and those who live by the principle of scarcity is that some people approach life with an attitude that begins by saying, "There is not enough. There is not enough esteem. There is not enough money. There is not enough love. Therefore, I must grasp and compete and hoard."

Grateful people approach life with an attitude that assumes there is more than enough for everyone. There is more than enough money. There is more than enough love. There is more than enough esteem.
We can decide to be openhanded and openhearted as an act of faithfulness rather than comparing ourselves to anyone else.

Instead of being tight and self-protective, we can be free, generous, and grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving to You and Yours!

Yours for the Kingdom,

Pastor Joe

Dr. Joseph B. Fuiten is the senior pastor of Cedar Park Church in Bothell, Washington, and he is the former president of Positive Christian Agenda. Currently, Pastor Fuiten serves on the Board of Directors for the Family Policy Institute of Washington, an associate organization of Focus on the Family.