Thanksgiving: A Declaration of Dependence

“Now write down this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it, so that it may be a witness for me against them. When I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, the land I promised on oath to their ancestors, and when they eat their fill and thrive, they will turn to other gods and worship them, rejecting me and breaking my covenant. And when many disasters and calamities come on them, this song will testify against them, because it will not be forgotten by their descendants. I know what they are disposed to do, even before I bring them into the land I promised them on oath.” So Moses wrote down this song that day and taught it to the Israelites.  Deuteronomy 31:19-22

Barry Manilow was an up and coming popular song-writer and artist during my formative years of the 1970s. Even if you’ve never heard of Barry Manilow, you’ve heard his work. He wrote the commercial jingle, “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” Know it? I dare you to stop humming it! You can’t, can you?

Manilow also wrote “You Deserve a Break Today” for a fast-food hamburger chain. I don’t need to say which company. You already know. Even if you haven’t heard that jingle for decades, you would recognize it instantly if you heard it. That’s the staying power of music.

One of Barry Manilow’s best known hit songs is from 1975, “I Write the Songs.” Ironically, Manilow made it famous, but he didn’t write it. Bruce Johnston did. Scottish politician Andrew Fletcher is credited with saying, “Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.” We may debate the wisdom of such sentiment. Yet the point stands: music has impact.

The pedagogical power of music was recognized long before Barry Manilow’s mellow voice soothed a broken generation of youth in the 1970s. Drum and fife cores have long marched with armies into battle to inspire tired soldiers to give their all for the cause.

The stories of the Bible are peppered with songs. It starts with Adam singing in the Garden of Eden. Yeah, he really sang when he saw Eve for the first time. You can look it up! The music continues through the Hallelujah Chorus in the book of Revelation. From the beginning of the Bible to the end, people are singing. In the very center of the book there is even a collection of 150 worship songs.

The church has long used songs to pass their faith on to the next generation. One of our traditional Thanksgiving songs is called “We Gather Together.” Adrianus Valerius originally wrote it to celebrate Holland’s liberation from Spain around 1600. But the church coopted it for their own purposes of celebration. Theodore Baker translated the Dutch song into English. It became an American Thanksgiving hymn in the 20th century.

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens his will to make known;
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining his kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
thou, Lord, wast at our side; all glory be thine!

We all do extol thee, thou leader triumphant,
And pray that thou still our defender wilt be.
Let thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

This grand old song reminds us that Thanksgiving involves a declaration of constant dependence upon God. God has not set us free from sin to make us independent. He has set us free in Christ to make us ever more dependent upon himself.

This song is not only our testimony to the world; it serves as a witness against us if we ever forget our dependence on God. We don’t forget our songs. This is one which might indict us some day if God should use it against us. Let’s include a declaration of dependence as we give thanks to God this week.

Overflowing Thanksgiving in a Blizzard

As I write this on a Friday morning in Clarkfield, Minnesota, the wind is howling and the first snow of the season is flying. The accumulation is amazing. It’s a genuine blizzard on November 18, complete with a school snow day. The kids are cheering, but not their teachers, who have long term vision and understand the definition of “make up day.” Even a funeral scheduled this morning at another local church has been postponed.

In earlier generations, such a storm would have taken us by surprise. Farmers would have been surprised in the fields. Travelers would have been trapped on the roads. Productivity would have been halted. There would have been loss of livestock and possibly loss of human life. But vastly improved weather forecasting has turned this dangerous storm into a minor inconvenience, at least for those who heeded the warnings and have stayed indoors.

For some that will mean working in the barn instead of the field. For others, it will mean braving the meteorological elements and finding a way to their necessary work. For a few, it will mean the first popcorn and movie night of the season, the first installment of what will eventually turn into a raging cabin fever. But not quite yet.

It’s a good day to be thankful.

All of this raises a good question: Where does thanksgiving come from? Amazingly, it doesn’t come from abundance. The human response to abundance is happiness and satisfaction, often followed by a subtle desire for more. Local farmers will face a stiff test next year when they are tempted to compare the 2017 harvest with the 2016 harvest – and then grumble. Last year I said the same thing after the record harvest in our area, only to be surprised by another year of even greater yields.

Yes, God has blessed us greatly in 2016. Our challenge is to turn these blessings from heaven into overflowing gratitude from our hearts. This is complicated by a sure knowledge that such material blessings both come and go. There are good years and there are bad years… all of which are to result in thanksgiving.

How is that even possible? The starting place for gratitude isn’t bounty; it’s blessing. It’s not good grain; it’s a good God. It’s not preparing for a blizzard; it’s having a refuge when we’re unprepared for the blizzards of life. In a word, it’s grace. For all our lip service to grace, this is a hard lesson to learn. But I’ll try anyway.

Here are two statements to soften my heart: Abundance breeds complacency. Complacency breeds entitlement.

Entitlement kills thanksgiving. If we think we deserve bounty, it’s impossible to be thankful for it because thanksgiving comes from grace, which by definition is a blessing we don’t deserve. We must guard against complacency. Yesterday I guarded against complacency by raking wind-blown leaves, mowing the church lawn and searching out the snow blower. Blizzards come whether we’re ready or not. But we’re not entitled to a refuge from them.

Today is a good day to be thankful, not because I prepared yesterday, but because God’s grace has provided a refuge from the storm. To God be the glory, great things he has done.

Overflow

  All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         2 Corinthians 4:15 

A couple years ago a friend in the area experienced a crisis none of us want. One of his visiting grandchildren left the upstairs bathroom sink running just as the family departed for an outing. While they were absent, water overflowed the sink and baptized everything in its path.

When the family returned hours later, they encountered water damage all over the house. Floors, walls, stairs, carpet, insulation, fixtures, furnishings – everything was impacted by the overflow. It took months and thousands of dollars to repair the damage. I think Jim can laugh about it now. But it wasn’t a laughing matter at first. No doubt he now has a working overflow drain in the sink.

Overflow makes a difference in life. It’s not symbolic or benign. Engineers are very familiar with it. Overflow is powerful. It’s a matter of physics. Put 16 ounces of Coke in a 12 ounce glass and you’ll experience the power of overflow for yourself. If you want to make it even more powerful, try tomato juice… in the living room… with your wife watching. Or just overfill the gas tank in your car. People will notice your overflow, but not in a good sense.

There’s a better way to experience overflow. The Apostle Paul said followers of Jesus impacted by grace can have an overflow of thanksgiving. This overflow is powerful. It’s a matter of spiritual physics. This overflow impacts everything in its path. It strengthens faith. It focuses worship. It rewards the strong. It encourages the brokenhearted. It multiplies joy. If we connect with Jesus, the pipeline of grace will overflow our lives with thanksgiving. This overflow will make a difference in the lives of others.

Thanksgiving is not just for those who reaped a bountiful harvest this fall or voted for a winning candidate in the recent elections. In fact, thanksgiving actually has little to do with such things. The Apostle Paul thanked the Philippians for their material support while he was in jail. But his appreciation focused on the benefit their giving had on them, not him. You can read it for yourself in Philippians 4:10-19.

This holiday season, may our thanksgiving overflow because of God’s grace in the lives of others.