Saturday, November 25, 2017

Thanksgiving -What's Next?

"Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. 
Give thanks to him and praise his name." Psalm 100:4

We have nearly finished the last of our leftover turkey and stuffing.  The pecan pie was gone in the first 24 hours and I have two slices of pumpkin pie that might not make it to the end of this blog post.

I have to admit for me Thanksgiving and food are basically synonyms.  I am truly thankful for the food, unlike my kids who have no gratitude for sweet potatoes, green bean casserole or spinach souffle. They are good sports so before we ate our feast, my family shared what we are thankful for this year.  It is a wonderful tradition to pause and acknowledge our blessings and give thanks as a nation and as a family.

In celebration of the food, I have been humming a song based on Psalm 100:4, "Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name."  This seemed like the perfect thanksgiving song so I decided to do a little research on the Hebrew word "Todah" which is translated "Thanksgiving."  Intrinsic in understanding this word is the idea of confession and sacrifice.  Since my definition of Thanksgiving equals food, I was pretty surprised to read the Hebrew definition; I had never thought of thanksgiving requiring confession and sacrifice, except for the turkey. Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Thanksgiving is used as a description of a sacrifice that was made to celebrate and give thanks to God. It was described in Leviticus 7 along with other peace offerings.  Ironically, for this type of offering, birds were not sacrificed, so no one was eating turkey for their thanksgiving sacrifices.  Thanksgiving sacrifices were communal and all the meat had to be eaten the day it was sacrificed; basically, it was a big cookout that you invited all your friends and family to because the meat had to be eaten ASAP. While it seems that Thanksgiving sacrifices were mostly about food, more importantly, they were about purity.

Before anyone could enjoy the feast, they had to be ceremonially clean.  Since a Thanksgiving sacrifice could be given at any time, joining in the feast meant being in a constant state of holiness. Sins had to be confessed and all the people who participated in the feast had to be pure according to the Law.  Purity and holiness according to the Law enabled God's people to have connection with Him through the sacrifice and connection with each other through the meal.  A lack of purity and holiness not only created a barrier to relationship with God but it also meant that you couldn't join the feast with your friends and family. Though our national day of Thanksgiving is over, this lesson still applies, we should be seeking purity and holiness so that we are ready and willing to join in a thanksgiving celebration with our friends and family members.

As King David wrote in Psalm 24:3-4 "Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear falsely."

The purpose of Thanksgiving was connection with God and celebration with others.  The preparation of the food was secondary to the preparation of their hearts.  When we have gone through the process of purifying our hearts and minds, we can experience joy-filled connection with God and others.  We can enter the courts of our Lord and we can join in praising and giving thanks with others in the presence of the Most High.

This weekend, we packed up the turkey platter and have started getting out Christmas decorations. If you are like me, it is easy to quickly lose focus on my relationship and connection to God and instead focus on the hustle and bustle of 50 million things that I have to do at this time of year.  Focusing on the exterior holiday activities misses the heart and purpose behind the blessing of Christmas.

I've decided to take this lesson from "Todah" to heart.  It is easy to imagine the Thanksgiving sacrifice was all about the food, when it was really about a heart of purity and gratitude that wanted to connect with God and bless others out of a thankful heart. In the same way, it is easy to think that Christmas is all about the presents, celebrations and food, when it is really about God wanting to connect with us and our desire to share that gift with others. 

Our thanksgiving celebration doesn't have to end just because the calendar is about to roll to December.  This month, my goal is to be ready to celebrate with clean hands and a pure heart.    Let the feast in the presence begin!

Is God calling you to clean hands and a pure heart?  Is there a place of idolatry or compromise in your heart?  In the Bible, thanksgiving and confession are synonyms. Take a moment to pray and confess your sins. You will open up new connections in your prayer life and restore relationships with other people.  I think this could transform this stressful time of year and fill it with peace and joy.  Let me know how it goes.

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