Christians across America love Thanksgiving . . . but do they love it for the right reasons? Is the God to whom we owe all of our thanks truly celebrated during the average Thanksgiving festivities? Today AMBrewster starts a two-part discussion on how we and our communities can put on a Thanksgiving that truly pleases the Lord.
The Year Long Celebration of God is a family resource from Truth.Love.Parent., a ministry dedicated to rooting families in God and maturing families for God so they can harvest blessings from God.
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Hey, everyone, welcome back to The Celebration of God discipleship experience.
Why do we call it an experience? Why not a program or method or curriculum?
Discipleship is not a program, method, or curriculum. Discipleship is something you must do. You must disciple, you must be discipled, it’s an action, it’s a lifestyle, it’s something that must be experienced.
The Celebration of God takes our holiday calendars and the most average moments of the most un-extraordinary days and teaches people how to use those moments to better know, love, and serve God while — at the same time — helping their friends, classmates, communities, congregations, and families to do the same.
As mentioned in the introduction, I’m your host, Aaron Michael Brewster, and I got my start in podcasting in 2016 with Truth.Love.Parent. By God’s mercy and grace, Truth.Love.Parent. went from a podcast recorded in the my bedroom in the Northwoods of Wisconsin to a non-profit ministry in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
The podcast is still growing, has been heard in over 100 countries, and has received many accolades. I think it’s continuing to grow because it’s all about how God intends to use His Word to inform our parenting.
So, if you are a parent, school teacher, youth pastor, or anyone who works with children or families, you really should check it out. I pray it’s a blessing to you.
In fact, The Celebration of God started as a resource of Truth.Love.Parent. You can listen to our introductory episodes to learn more about how The COG came to be, but I’m happy it has its own life and is being used by Christians all over the world regardless of whether or not they have children.
Now, if you are new to the show, you may be wondering how someone uses The Celebration of God. It’s really simple. Listen to the introductory episodes, then follow along as we step week-by-week through The Year Long Celebration of God. Each episode will give you multiple ways you and those in your life can better worship Him.
You can also invite me to speak at your church or group. I speak regularly on discipleship, worship, and protestant liturgy.
Those are some really simple ways to start engaging with The Celebration of God discipleship experience.
With that said, let’s get into today’s topic, and — if you’re interested — you can go to CelebrationOfGod.com to download free episode notes and read the transcript.
Thanksgiving is a big deal in my family. If you trace my father’s ancestry you will find that he descended from William Brewster. What’s interesting is that if you trace my wife’s father’s ancestry, you will find that he too descended from William Brewster.
Yes, that makes my wife and me very, very distant cousins.
But — for those of you who don’t know who William Brewster is because you didn’t pay attention in history class — William Brewster was one of the pilgrims who landed in America in 1620, and who — subsequently — celebrated what American’s recognize as the first American Thanksgiving.
So, I’m sure you can understand why Thanksgiving is such a big deal in my family. In fact, we’re planning a big event in 2021 as that marks the 400th year my family will have been celebrating Thanksgiving on American soil.
But, though everything I just told you is really neat, if we’re not careful, those elements can be yet one more distraction from the real purpose of Thanksgiving.
Today we want to talk about how to Prepare to genuinely and intentionally and robustly celebrate God this Thanksgiving instead of the many, many substitutions.
Now, I don’t normally do this, but I want to take some time investigating some of these substitutions today.
Of course, I don’t have time to unpack it all now, but we need to understand that human beings were created to worship. We are worship factories designed to give God 100% of our worship.
On this podcast, we use the words worship and celebration interchangeably. God deserves to be celebrated in all things at all times, and He will receive that perfect worship in the eternal state.
But for now, man has the freedom to choose to worship God or choose to worship something else. Now, many people like to immediately picture mankind worshipping idols. However, idol worship is actually a facet of self-worship.
Picture it this way, God commands us to worship Him, but I decide that I’m not going to worship Him. Instead, I’m going to exchange His worship for the worship of an animal statue. What god am I really worshipping?
If it were true that Yahweh were standing in one corner and some animal deity were standing in another, and both were commanding me to worship Him/him, then you could say that my choice to worship the animal statue was worship of the animal deity.
But there is no animal deity calling me. In fact, all false god’s are nothing more than man’s creation. Romans 1 and Isaiah and many other passages make it clear that in the same way that God is the creator of mankind, mankind is the creator of false gods. That makes mankind the one deciding not to obey God.
God is in one corner calling us to worship Him, and we’re in the other corner calling us to ignore God and do what feels right.
We’ve set up our own desires in God’s place. Whatever it is we choose to worship — whether it be idols or money or sex or power — is actually in fulfillment of our own desire.
I like to put it this way — I worship myself by sacrificing the elements of my life to myself in fulfillment of my own desires.
Now, let’s plug Thanksgiving into this equation.
If someone is looking forward to Thanksgiving because they get a four-day weekend, an excuse to gorge on food, and the opportunity to entertain themselves into a stupor . . . that individual only cares about what will please him. He’s not factoring God into the equation at all.
And we do things like that all of the time.
What’s worse is that we take food and time and opportunities that would otherwise be Christ-honoring, but instead of engaging with them to the glory of God, we consume them for our own lusts. James 4:3 illustrates this by saying that some people actually pray to God so that they may receive things they plan to “spend . . . on their own pleasures.” And God refers to such people as adulteresses who are more interested in being friendly with the world that faithful to God.
In a similar way, if Thanksgiving is nothing more to me than a grand family tradition, and I spend the whole day revering Elder Brewster and the pilgrims and the general awesomeness of all Brewsters everywhere, all I’ve accomplished is my achieving my own desires for my own pleasure.
In this nation, on Thanksgiving, we have substituted the worship of God for the worship of self in the following ways:
Now, don’t get me wrong. The sacrifice on the altar may not be the problem. The problem is on which altar I set it. Am I offering that sacrifice to God or am I consuming it for me?
I can take the same yearling lamb and offer it to Baal just as easily as I could offer it to Yahweh.
The problem is often not the food, entertainment, money, or traditions. The problem is that instead of offering those things up to the Lord and intentionally engaging with them to His honor and glory, we’re engaging with all of them just to make ourselves happy.
In the end, many of us celebrate self all day on Thanksgiving.
I know I’ve done it. I know my family has done it. I’ve spent far too many Thanksgivings feasting on my own pleasure along with a bunch of other people doing the exact same thing.
And I’m really looking forward to breaking that cycle.
So, how does one go about breaking the cycle?
That’s where Preparation comes in.
If we intentionally and premeditatedly Prepare our minds to interact with Thanksgiving differently this year, then we will have far better chances of actually accomplishing that goal versus mindlessly walking into the day and inadvertently going into our accustomed auto-pilot.
So, let’s turn to Scripture to learn how we need to approach Thanksgiving this year.
Listen carefully as I read Psalms 95 and 100.
“O come, let us sing for joy to the LORD, Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation. 2 Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. 3 For the LORD is a great God And a great King above all gods, 4 In whose hand are the depths of the earth, The peaks of the mountains are His also. 5 The sea is His, for it was He who made it, And His hands formed the dry land. 6 Come, let us worship and bow down, Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. 7 For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. Today, if you would hear His voice, 8 Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, As in the day of Massah in the wilderness, 9 “When your fathers tested Me, They tried Me, though they had seen My work. 10 “For forty years I loathed that generation, And said they are a people who err in their heart, And they do not know My ways. 11 “Therefore I swore in My anger, Truly they shall not enter into My rest.”
“1 Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth. 2 Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing. 3 Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. 4 Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. 5 For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting And His faithfulness to all generations.”
There are so many things to glean from these two Psalms of Thanksgiving, but I want to focus on four in particular. And I want to explain that each of these is phrased negatively.
Here’s what I mean. I could say, “Remember to brush your teeth.” That’s saying it positively. I could also say it from the negative side, “Don’t forget to brush your teeth.”
It all depends on what I’m trying to communicate. If brushing your teeth is the main thing, I would admonish you to remember, but if you have been very forgetful lately, and it’s more about you not forgetting than it is brushing your teeth, I’ll word it differently.
In the same way, I’m going to state these from the negative side — I’m going to look at what Thanksgiving is not in order to learn what it is — because our biggest issue is not that we don’t understand Thanksgiving; our biggest issue is that we’re myopic.
You’ll see more what I mean if we just jump in.
1. Thanksgiving is impossible without God.
I genuinely appreciate the angst that unbelievers have about Thanksgiving. There’s really no reason they shouldn’t love it just as much as Christmas, but they kind of ignore it in many ways in their decorating and how much time they invest preparing for it and in their songwriting and the like because Thanksgiving requires something no other secular holiday experience requires. Thanksgiving requires someone or something to which we must be thankful.
Thanksgiving requires humility and dependence.
I can exploit Christmas time in prideful arrogance, entitlement, and greed. But I can’t truly appreciate Thanksgiving without being able to humbly acknowledge that someone or something has given me something that I don’t deserve and couldn’t have given to myself.
And — in a much bigger way — without the humble acknowledgement that we are nothing and God is the provider of everything, there can be no true gratitude.
Both of the Psalms we read root our thankfulness in God, His character, and His works.
Consider Hebrews 12:18, “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe.”
Our ability to be thankful is contingent on God and His providing a kingdom which cannot be shaken.
Psalm 118:28-29 declares, “You are my God, and I give thanks to You; You are my God, I extol You.
29 Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
And Hebrews 13:15 says, “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.”
But Who is the “Him”? The first half of Hebrews 13 is about the changeless Christ. Our ability to offer up a sacrifice of praise to God is a direct result of Jesus Christ in us, and it would be impossible otherwise.
This means that truly celebrating Thanksgiving is impossible without God. But not only that . . .
2. Thanksgiving is not about us.
It’s not just inspired and empowered by God, it’s all about God.
Yes, the Lord is pleased when we rest and revive ourselves for His glory. He is pleased when we entertain guests and show hospitality in His name.
He loves play and festivities that enhance our redemptive relationships, but — did you notice — that each of those events I described carried an important descriptor.
When we rest to satiate our own laziness, God is not pleased. When we entertain people to make ourselves feel good, manipulate them into liking us and returning the favor, or to engage in inappropriate relationships, God is not glorified. When we play in order to fulfill or own desires with no thought to God . . . He is not magnified.
Ultimately, our life choices can only find meaning and satisfaction when they aren’t made for us.
3. Thanksgiving is not about what we’re thankful for.
Psalm 7:17 declares, “I will give thanks to the Lord according to His righteousness And will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.”
I don’t know that in all of my years of celebrating Thanksgiving that — when asked to share what they’re thankful for — I’ve ever heard many people say, “I’m thankful for God’s righteousness.”
Most of the praises that fill our lips are things that we like and wanted and prayed for and received.
But did you realize that thanksgiving is actually commanded of God’s people. It’s not about us trying to remember what happened this year that we liked, it’s about being thankful for everything because we’re commanded to be so.
I Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:6 is very similar: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Ephesians 5:20 commands us, “Always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.”
Now, I have had many people ask me, “How are we to give thanks for bad things? Are we supposed to thank God when people sin against us? Are you saying God wants me to be thankful when the wrong man is voted into the presidency?”
I understand the thinking behind these inquiries, and we don’t have the time to answer them here, but if you simply take these verses at face value then we need to recognize that Thanksgiving is not merely about receiving what we wanted.
By the way, before we review and I share our final lesson for today, yes, we can be thankful in situations where we don’t get what we want, where people sin against us, where “bad things” happen to us. And we can easily be thankful for them because we know that our God is sovereign and that He’s only brought this situation into our lives to mold us into His likeness.
He intends to use those situations for our greatest good and His greatest glory.
So, as we approach Thanksgiving this autumn, we need to meditate on the fact that . . .
1. Thanksgiving is impossible without God.
Therefore, 2. Thanksgiving is not about us.
And 3. Thanksgiving is not about what we’re thankful for.
And lastly . . .
4. Thanksgiving is not about a 20 minute time of testimony on the 4th Thursday of November.
For the Christian, Thanksgiving is a lifestyle.
Not only does it follow that if I’m thanking God for all of the comfortable things in my life and all of the uncomfortable things in my life that I’m going to continually be thankful, but God also directly commands a spirit of continual thanksgiving.
Colossians 3:17, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”
And do you remember Hebrews 13:15 we read earlier? “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.”
And Ephesians 5:20 — which we just read — says, “Always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.”
Just because we praised God on Thanksgiving Day doesn’t make our Black Friday complaints any less sinful.
What kind of message are we sending to our students when we encourage thankfulness in November, but we complain when we didn’t get that snow day we were expecting?
We aren’t discipling our congregation for the Lord when we preach on gratitude and then spend the rest of the year griping about our president.
Our families are the ones who know us the best. How incongruous does it seem when the person who complains the most in the family is calling everyone to be thankful right before we go outside to play football . . . a time when that same person will probably complain about the all the fumbles more than anyone else?
You see, Preparation isn’t just about preparing our hearts, it’s about preparing our disciplees.
So, as we approach Thanksgiving, I encourage you to go to CelebrationOfGod.com/thanksgiving and download our suggested Bible Reading.
Take time to read, study, and meditate on the Scriptures we provide. Share them with your congregation, your students, your youth group, your friends, family, and coworkers. Encourage others to meditate and prepare their hearts for Thanksgiving as well.
For those of you with Celebration Walls, I invite you to print out a key verse or two to display there so that your mind is drawn back to a spirit of thankfulness every time you see it.
Commit to God in prayer to make Him the focus of this year’s Thanksgiving.
I’m really excited about this. Every time I think about spending more time pleasing the Lord and less time mindlessly gorging on my own pleasures, I have this rush of exhilaration. I know it’s going to be hard to break my 40 years of bad habits and self-worship, but God is worth my celebration, and I want to please Him.
I hope you want to do the same, and I hope you know someone who would benefit from this episode. If you do, please share this it on your favorite social media outlets.
And join us next time as we talk about practical ways to celebrate God during Thanksgiving as well as discipling during Thanksgiving.
The Year Long Celebration of God is a dynamic, holistic resource that utilizes the Bible, our holiday calendars, and even the most average moments of the most normal days to equip Christians to worship God all year long
and disciple others to do the same.
AMBrewster is the creator and host of the Celebration of God. He originally designed the COG to be a discipleship tool for Christian parents to train their children to know and love God, but he quickly realized how valuable it is for all Christians. Whether it's a small group, church, classroom, one-on-one, or community relationship, this resource is guaranteed to draw people closer together as they draw closer to God.
Aaron is the President of Truth.Love.Parent. and host of its podcast.