Steve's Letter: "It's Called Guilt!"
Do you know why Christians sometimes have a hard time enjoying Thanksgiving?
It's because we have so much and know that, if we got what we deserved, we would have nothing.
The rich in general and film/rock stars in particular have that problem too. That's why they say such dumb things and support so many crazy causes. They're surprised that they have so much and they're afraid people will find out that they just "lucked out" and are not as wise and as gifted as people think they are. And then they live in constant fear that their stuff will be taken away. So they try to make up.
It's called guilt.
I understand that for unbelievers who have so much and don't deserve it. They have a problem in a lot of areas—they don't have anybody to thank, they are afraid that it will all be taken away, they feel guilty about it, and they think that self-righteousness and throwing money at problems will justify their elite position and balance the books or, even if it doesn't, it will make them feel better about their stuff.
But it is less understandable for Christians.
Our guilt robs us of the joy of a Thanksgiving party. With every bite of the turkey, there is this knowing that we didn't deserve it. Our laugher is sometimes forced and our guilt is often (though not always) mirrored in the prayer before the meal: "Lord, thank you for this day and all your blessings. As we enjoy the blessings, keep us ever mindful of those who are less fortunate than we are."
"Eat your food...There are people in the world who are starving."
Okay. It's a good prayer and a true one. There really are those (and a lot of them) who are less fortunate than we are. And, of course, we should be mindful of them and actively compassionate toward them...as long as we can "name them." Not only that. Jesus said that when we are compassionate to them, we are compassionate to him (Matthew 25).
That goes without saying.
The problem is our guilt isn't that much different than the guilt of unbelievers...and that is kind of sad.
Paul wrote to the Philippians from jail: "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need" (Philippians 4:11-12). Then, later, he writes, "And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever" (Philippians 4:19-20).
Because we're so neurotic, we always read what Paul wrote as a way to deal with deprivation. After all, he was writing from prison.
But that isn't all Paul was saying. Don't miss the "abundance" and the "abounding" part. Paul said that he was contented when everything was right, when he had stuff and when he wasn't in jail. He was affirming true Thanksgiving for whatever a good God gave.
The Thanksgiving of the Christian is different than the Thanksgiving of unbelievers and it's more than just the fact that we have Someone to thank.
First, Christians are not only thankful to God, we are thankful to a good, wise and gracious God who likes us and gives us good stuff.
Benjamin Franklin said, "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." Without making an editorial comment on the beer part of that, the attitude is quite Biblical and suggests the real reason Christians can enjoy a Thanksgiving without guilt.
Martin Luther said, "Blessings at times come to us through our labors and at times without our labors, but never because of our labors. God always gives them because of His undeserved mercy."
But there is more than that to a Christian Thanksgiving. We are thankful because God owns it all and he delights in our using his stuff.
Right after Hurricane Andrew when we lost our house, were conned out of thousands of dollars from a dishonest contractor and had thousands of dollars in liens on what we had left, I came out of our small rented one-room apartment and noticed that someone had stolen our car.
(That surprised me. A tree had fallen on the car and it had a big gash in the side. So, there is no accounting for the taste of thieves.)
Do you know what I did? I started laughing. Yeah, laughing. I then went back into the apartment and said to Anna, "Someone just stole God's car."
What happened? I had learned (and often forget) that stuff was stuff and that God owned it all and could do with any of it as he pleased. Not only did I not feel sad about the thieves who had stolen his car (a month before, I would have gotten my gun and gone looking for them!), when I finally got another one (and a better one), I didn't feel guilty about driving that one either.
There is great freedom in realizing the sovereignty of God in every circumstance. It allows one to rest and to have peace in the bad and to really rejoice in the good. Both are from his loving hand.
When I was a young pastor at a church in the Boston area, we sponsored an annual "Bobby Burns Day" dinner honoring the 18th century Scottish poet. For that event, I memorized the Robert Burns blessing. I don't think he was a Christian (or, if he was, not a "red hot" one), but his blessing and the attitude of it was quite Biblical.
Some hae meat an' canna eat
An' some wad eat that want it.
But we hae meat an' we can eat
And sae the Lord be thankit.
(For those of you who need a translation: "Some have meat and can't eat it. Others cannot eat who want it. But we have meat and we can eat. Let the Lord be thanked.")
There is an old common saying that I'm told was often said to soldiers during a break, to wit, "Smoke 'em if you've got 'em."
Let me wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving Day. If you've got it, enjoy it...and be thankful.
He asked me to remind you.
In His Grip,