The True Meaning of the Thanksgiving Holiday 

The True Meaning of the Thanksgiving Holiday 

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Biblical Bytes

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Brent Pollard

Hopefully, those within the United States enjoyed a safe and joyous Thanksgiving holiday yesterday. Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that has come under attack by secular humanist forces in recent years. Worse than merely shifting the focus to turkey and American football, some people are trying to attack the holiday based on injustices perpetrated against the American Indian population over a century ago. While true that the “Thanksgiving feast” in seventeenth-century Plymouth serves as a romantic backdrop to our current holiday, we should not forget that days of giving thanks is not limited to one group or one time.  

 

Many countries observe some Thanksgiving holiday today. These observances are typically about the giving of thanks for the bounty of the harvest. They may reflect a pagan rather than Christian influence. However, to single out the United States’ practice as a matter of perpetuating injustice is a move by those seeking to erase American history with its Judeo-Christian values. The removal of said Judeo-Christian values are necessary to create the secular humanistic state esteemed by the disciples of Karl Marx. It is not an exaggeration to say we are in the midst of a great cultural war here within the United States. The winner of this cultural war will determine whether the United States continues to be free or becomes despotic. I realize that may sound like hyperbole on my part. Still, the Founding Fathers were clear in emphasizing that only religious people could maintain the liberties enshrined within the Constitution.  

Thus, we find the American Thanksgiving holiday’s actual genesis in 1789, the year of the United States Constitution’s ratification. President George Washington wrote that Congress had tasked him to declare a day of Thanksgiving. The purpose of this day was to thank God for blessing the newly-formed United States with peace and prosperity. A cursory examination of all of the Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations demonstrates the common theme of acknowledging and thanking Providence. Many Presidents likewise include an exhortation to remember the less fortunate and spend the day in service to others. President John Adams approached it differently. He asked people to fast on Thanksgiving and include with their prayers those of penitence, acknowledging national sins. How novel!  

Thomas Jefferson balked at the idea of making Thanksgiving Proclamations. He thought it smacked too much of enjoining the populace to some State religion. I believe Jefferson was mistaken, but it should help you understand that this holiday has been one long conceived as religious in tone. After Jefferson’s successor, Madison, the practice of the President giving a Thanksgiving Proclamation fell by the wayside until the Civil War. At the behest of Secretary Seward and a private citizen, Sara Josepha Hale, Lincoln reinstated the practice of issuing Thanksgiving Proclamations. Essentially, Lincoln helped make Thanksgiving an annual observance. It would not be until 1941, though, that the federal government made Thanksgiving an official holiday. Except for President Garfield, who died from an assassin’s bullet, every President since Lincoln has issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation, regardless of party affiliation.   

The beloved Norman Rockwell contributed to the iconic depiction of Thanksgiving with his painting “The Freedom from Want” in 1943. (It was a part of Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms” series.) A patriarch and matriarch stand at the head of the table around which the family has gathered. The matriarch has prepared a sumptuous turkey feast. Delight fills the faces of all assembled. For me, however, the best Rockwell depiction of Thanksgiving was the last Thanksgiving cover he would paint for The Saturday Evening Post in 1951. He entitled that painting “Saying Grace.” A “grandmother” and a little boy sits in a restaurant. Their heads are bowed in prayer as others look on. The looks given by their tablemates seem to show amusement or curiosity. (Frankly, they seem to be reacting as if it were the first time they have seen this behavior.) Within those brush strokes, Rockwell has, to me, captured the true meaning of Thanksgiving. Amid the rush of a secular world, we pause, giving our thanks to God for even the simple meal. It matters not if others are willing likewise to thank God.  

 

I fully expect that should God allow time to continue that we will see an assault on the Thanksgiving holiday of 2021 since that would mark 400 years after Plymouth. Again, secular humanists want to take God from the picture. They wish to define the holiday as an observance in which we celebrate the rape and plunder of indigenous peoples by calling their seized property our possession. Yet, such critics demonstrate ignorance also of that original Plymouth feast. Thanksgiving is not about what we have. Thanksgiving is about acknowledging our Benefactor. It is a day for our nation to pause and admit that we would not be here without the Providence of God. And, as we count our blessings, we are motivated to show mercy to our neighbor as God has shown mercy to us. 

Works Consulted and Further Reading 

“Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789.” George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association,www.mountvernon.org/education/primary-sources-2/article/thanksgiving-proclamation-of-1789/

 

Maranzani, Barbara. “How the ‘Mother of Thanksgiving’ Lobbied Abraham Lincoln to Proclaim the National Holiday.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 3 Oct. 2013, www.history.com/news/abraham-lincoln-and-the-mother-of-thanksgiving

 

Miller, Cheryl. What So Proudly We Hail, What So Proudly We Hail, 30 Apr. 2013, www.whatsoproudlywehail.org/curriculum/the-american-calendar/thanksgiving-day-proclamations-1789-present

 

“‘Freedom from Want,” 1943 – Norman Rockwell Museum – The Home for American Illustration.” Norman Rockwell Museum, Norman Rockwell Museum., 1 Mar. 2017, www.nrm.org/2016/11/freedom-want-1943/

 

“Saying Grace (Rockwell).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Sept. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saying_Grace_(Rockwell)

 

A Family, A Fraternity, And A Fellowship

A Family, A Fraternity, And A Fellowship

Neal Pollard

A little over a week ago, my son Dale called me to tell me one of his elders gave him tickets for the Georgia-Missouri football game. He asked if I could swing coming. Thanks to a generous travel voucher from American Airlines, I was able to go on short notice on their nickel. The best part of this trip was getting to see one of my adult children for a couple of days. We made the most of those moments, and that game between the hedges was not a disappointment. Though Dale had watched games with me on TV, he was not the diehard fan I have been since 1979. We made the drive from Valdosta to Athens. Once on campus, he got his first glimpse into “Dawg Nation.” By the time we left the game, he was hooked. Georgia has another diehard fan. What did the trick? Perhaps the camaraderie between people who otherwise would not come into contact with each other. There was the shared lingo, shared knowledge, shared passion, and even shared clothing color schemes. There were traditions to partake in. People were excited for every play and intensely interested in the outcome. That was infectious! It was an unforgettable experience we plan to duplicate in the future.

As I look back on that great memory, I got to thinking about an infinitely stronger bond I have. Even regarding this game, I think about the part they played. I’m talking about the Lord’s church and the Christians who make it up. There was Doug Jones, the elder who gave us the tickets. There was Wes Hazel, who let Dale borrow his car so he didn’t have to pick me up from the airport or carry me around on the back of his motorcycle. There were Lance and Susan Leavens, who opened their home to allow Dale and me to take a nap before I caught a flight back to Denver yesterday morning and Dale drove back to Valdosta. While I was in Georgia, Kathy was in Texas doing a ladies day, and Carl was experiencing major trouble with his truck, an overwhelming, generous response from literally dozens of Christians helped make it possible for our youngest to resolve that heart-sinking trouble.

All too frequently, I see people who major in pointing out the perceived problems and seeming shortcomings of the saints. To listen to them, we do nothing right and even do those things from sinister motives. As a preacher’s kid who’s lived a life of a full-time preacher for more than a quarter century, I am far from naive. The church, without exception, is comprised of flawed, faulty, and finite folks. I have been extremely disappointed in the actions of church members, from the leadership to the membership. I have tearfully witnessed Christians abandon the church for the world, breaking many hearts in the process. But, the church is special. It is unique, from the doctrinal standpoint, dedicated to speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where it is silent and seeking to replicate New Testament Christianity.

In addition to that, there is the common bond we share. What a fellowship! What a family! What a fraternity! You read it when you open up the New Testament. As importantly, you experience it today when you open your heart and life to all the others who make up this special group. We’re incurably imperfect. We should strive to be more patient and gracious. But, God’s people are the greatest in the world! Thank God for that blessing today and every day.

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Sharing Trade Secrets Or Sharing The Wealth?

Sharing Trade Secrets Or Sharing The Wealth?

Neal Pollard

Last month, Von Miller gathered some of the NFL’s elite sack specialists at Stanford University for what he called a “pass rush summit.” The participates were star defensive players from around the league, with several different teams represented. Addressing concerns that each man was sharing his trade secrets, Miller replied that it was more like sharing the wealth. He said, ““A sack is a sack. I’m going to get sacks, they’re going to get sacks. You really can’t stop that. You really benefit more from really just sharing that knowledge and just trying to be the best players that you can possibly be” (Denver Post, Nicki Jhabvala, 6/29/17). Do you find that surprisingly magnanimous and unselfish? Yet, don’t you find it refreshingly classy and helpful?

When I think about the spiritual battle God calls us to, I often think about the outposts God has in towns and cities throughout our state, country, and world. These individual congregations of the Lord’s church are facing struggles with a formidable foe (cf. 2 Cor. 10:2-4; 1 Pet. 5:8-9; Eph. 6:10-17). God has endowed us with a mission and purpose, reaching those outside of Christ, showing charity and compassion to the world, and helping to strengthen those already in Christ. We seek to achieve this through various ideas, ministries, programs, efforts, and events. We bring in speakers, host activities, organize, and create. When we find ways to be productive and get results, we should be ready to help. When he hear of such things, we should be eager to hear. At times, we may inadvertently develop a sense of competition rather than a spirit of cooperation. But this ought not to be so.

What is our goal with every benevolent outreach, every evangelistic attempt, and every edifying work? Isn’t it to get more people to heaven, to shine the light of Christ into a world of ever-deepening darkness? Why do we host camps, have lectureships, train preachers, hold fellowship activities in homes and at the building, reach out to our homeless community, stock pantries, build a robust youth program, minister to young professionals, young families, and seniors, do evangelism training, have marriage seminars, worship leadership training, and the like?

What about works our brothers and sisters are doing all over the country? Polishing the Pulpit, Focal Point, Fishers of Men, Gospel Broadcasting Network (GBN), Truth.fm, Mission Printing, World Video Bible School, Bear Valley Bible Institute’s Extension Program, World English Institute, House to House, Heart to Heart, and many, many others are what our larger church family are doing to grow the church and build its strength. Yet, there’s much more that could be done by so many more of us, working together to accomplish the mission. But we must see ourselves as cooperators rather than competitors. Obviously, there can be impediments making this impossible in specific situations, but as we acknowledge that are we missing opportunities. Meanwhile, countless souls are rushing toward eternity. Let’s band together to find out how to more effectively reach more of them. That will mean more saved souls and more glory to God!

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Vanguard Sports photo of the Pass Rush Summit

Devon Allen’s Baptism

Devon Allen’s Baptism

Neal Pollard

I will preface this by saying I cannot determine anything specific about the religion of Devon Allen, a remarkable college student-athlete at the University of Oregon. He is in the headlines now as a starting football player who qualified for the Olympics in track and field.  It was during his training and competition for the latter that he decided the time was right to be baptized. So he was, in the Willamette River in Eugene last Friday before the watchful gaze of family and teammates from his track and football teams. No less than ESPN reported on his religious quest alongside his impressive athletic achievements. The article ended with the proper sentiment, particularly if Allen was baptized in the right way for the right reason. It reads, “It was the right starting line for two different races” (Chantel Jennings, espn.com).

I am encouraged that Jennings found this newsworthy. I am encouraged that Allen thought baptism to be so important. I am encouraged that his friends and family showed up in impressive numbers to witness this act.

When even so many in Christendom go the extra mile in denying the importance and significance of baptism, Devon troubled himself to do it. We do not know, but he might have said what the Ethiopian said: “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36b). As he studied with Oregon football team chaplain, could he have been taught the New Testament truth that baptism is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), baptism washes away sins (Acts 22:16), baptism reenacts Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:1-4), baptism puts one into Christ (Galatians 3:27), baptism buries one with Christ (Colossians 2:12), and baptism saves one (1 Peter 3:21)? If he was taught baptism from the New Testament, these are the kinds of things he would have heard.

Regardless of Allen’s understanding about baptism’s function in God’s plan to save us, one who is taught in accordance with the several passages above and who has a good and honest heart (cf. Luke 8:15) will want to be baptized without delay (cf. Acts 22:16). Like the jailor at Philippi, they will submit to baptism even if it is the middle of the night (Acts 16:33). Like the 3,000 on Pentecost, they will demonstrate gladly receiving the word by being baptized (Acts 2:41). Thus, they will be saved.

My prayer is that Devon Allen understand these Bible facts and responded the way he did because he humbly accepted their truth. More than that, my prayer is that those who need to make the decision to be baptized will not let anything hinder them from doing what Jesus died to make possible for us all. May we ignore all rationalization that leads us to resist the act which, from a believing, penitent heart, washes our sins away.

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Fickleness

Fickleness

Neal Pollard

Here is my estimation of Peyton Manning’s few seasons in Denver so far: “Football fans frenetic for a famous flinger fawned over his fabulous finesse. A few festive, favorable football seasons fashioned full fondness for this fabled figure. Following his foot foibles and flawed, flat functioning, fickle followers flung their festering frustration field-ward, filling the field with foulness. Finally, this furtive footballer fell from fame, fun, and fondness from these fanatics. Forsooth, feelings fade, flag, and falter in fast fashion.”  That’s probably not completely fair, but it was a fun foray for me. Somebody stop me!

I will say this about human tendency—we are quick to crown our heroes and often quicker to dethrone them.  Janet Jackson captured the collective psyche of humanity with her song, “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” No one is safe or immune from the clutches of people’s capricious whims.

No one has ever been treated in greater fair-weathered fashion than Jesus Christ. On Sunday, He entered the city of Jerusalem to a welcome from a multitude of people crying, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mat. 21:9). The whole city was “moved” by Him (Mat. 21:10). By Friday, the multitudes were crying and crying louder, “Let Him be crucified!” (Mat. 27:22,24). Same Man. Same city. Certainly some of the same people. Polar opposite sentiment in just five days time. Their excited plea changed from crown Him to kill Him. Adoration was overrun by anger. How baffling!

Looking back, we can be filled with such indignation. Yet, when we look at our own lives, does our estimation of Jesus change with the events we endure in life? How do we feel toward Him in good times? Desperate times? When we struggle? When we are afraid? When we’re disappointed or betrayed? When we fail? When we’re lonely or loved?  Some live life on a spiritual roller coaster, vacillating between devotion and denial. The slightest trigger can change our tune from “How I love You!” to “How could You?!”

Faithful endurance must be our rudder. We can develop the mindset of the beleaguered Job, who cried, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15).  How it must please God to see steady, unwavering devotion from His saints, determined to stick with Him through thick and thin. Let’s be grateful that He does that for us! “It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:11-13).

Diversions, Distractions, Or Deviations?

Diversions, Distractions, Or Deviations?

Neal Pollard

All the following are legitimate outlets, kept in proper perspective:

  • Social causes and needs.
  • Politics.
  • Sports, recreation, leisure and fitness.
  • Wholesome forms of entertainment.
  • Family events.
  • Social media.
  • Socializing and fellowship with fellow Christians.
  • Church buildings.
  • Addressing controversial issues and false teaching.
  • Material possessions.
  • Hobbies.

But our common struggle is allowing these to eclipse our purpose on this earth as Christians.  Interestingly, they all can be utilized as part of our mission, but none were ever meant to replace it.  These activities can easily hinder our faithfulness and usefulness to the cause.  Will you pray for me to keep seeking and saving the lost at the top of my “to do” list of life?  I will do the same for you, if you let me know.  Let’s pray for courage, focus, discernment, resolve, and encouragement to take the gospel as we go about each day.  This is what energized the church in its infancy (cf. Acts 8:4).  They had access to the same distractions and diversions we do, but they could not be diverted from the prime objective. Consequently, we read throughout Acts of their exponential, if unlikely, growth.  May we help each other imitate their spirit and service!

HE WAS COACHING ON ONE KNEE

HE WAS COACHING ON ONE KNEE

Neal Pollard

What I’m about to do is painful and very nearly contrary to my nature.  It involves praising something about New England Patriots’ head coach Bill Bellichick, he of “Spy Gate” and “Deflate-Gate” infamy.  Yet, something he was witnessed doing on the sidelines during the late stages of Super Bowl XLIX gives great insight into why he has coached a record-tying four Super Bowl champions.  While Pete Carroll was on the other sideline, commendably patting players on the back and showing excitement and energy, Bellichick was seen on the other side of the field down on a knee speaking with players on both the offense and the defense.  For whatever we want to say about what we don’t like about him, he’s renowned within the team as a strict disciplinarian that even makes players nervous.  Without negotiation, he expects everyone to give their best.  And, he expects it done without fanfare, a Wall Street Journal article showing this with a memorable Bellichick quote: “Playing well is playing well. You can break it down into 17,000 adjectives, but it’s doing your job” (Kinkhabwala, 1/15/11).  But, when the Pats were down by 10 and panic might have overtaken him, he was calmly, coolly sharing an expectation or going over a game-plan to overcome the adversity.

So, I still don’t have to like him or the Patriots, but I appreciate that.

Leadership is about so many different, vital qualities. Energy and effervescence, passion and praise all can play a part.  However, there is hardly a substitute for a mentor, one who is serious, thoughtful, and caring enough to pull someone aside and give him or her individual attention.  The word usually translated “exhort” in the New Testament is from a Greek word which means “calling to,” “appeal to and earnestly request,” or “call to one’s side” (Kittel, np, Louw, np, and BDAG, 764).  Who doesn’t appreciate the loving, caring approach of an elder or other spiritual leaders, whether preachers, older members, deacons, and the like, who guide us and help us with biblical understanding, moral dilemmas, and ethical quandaries. They have that timely word when we are discouraged, that nugget of wisdom that seems meant for that moment.

I think we all desire leaders who will get down on one knee with us, as it were.  Leaders like these are who Paul had in mind when he wrote, “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another” (1 Th. 5:12-13).   Thank God for great leaders who, with weighty responsibilities on many fronts, take a moment to come alongside us with encouragement and insight.