Thanks Be To God

Thanksgiving Day in the United States is not normally thought of as a religious holiday.  It isn’t on any official church calendars, and it is not associated with any specific scriptural events.  Nevertheless, the spiritual connection is clear. To whom do we direct our thanks?  The recipient is Almighty God, of course.

There have been quite a few special days of prayer and thanksgiving that have been declared by various political leaders in the history of our nation.  As every school child knows, the first one was celebrated in New England by the settlers of the Plymouth Colony.  There followed other officially declared days of thanksgiving, sometimes in the summer months instead of autumn.  The first national Thanksgiving Day was proclaimed on Thursday, November 28, 1782 by the United States Continental Congress.

Later, on October 3, 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation that began as follows:

“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me ‘to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.’ Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.”

Other presidents also declared special days of thanks occasionally after that.  Then in 1863, in the midst of civil war, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day on the last Thursday of November in appreciation of “the gracious gifts of the Most High God.”  Each president subsequent to Lincoln annually declared the last Thursday of November to be Thanksgiving Day, up until 1939.  That year there were five Thursdays in November, and President Roosevelt declared the fourth (not the last) one to be Thanksgiving.  Fred Lazarus, Jr., founder of the Federated Department Stores (later Macy’s), is credited with convincing Roosevelt to push Thanksgiving back a week to expand the shopping season.  Since then it was only a matter of time until football, eating and shopping managed to push most of the Thanks out of Thanksgiving.  In fact, people these days often refer to the holiday only as Turkey Day.

I hope that this year all of us can be more mindful of the original intentions for our national day of thanksgiving.  Thanks be to God.  Have a blessed Thanksgiving Day.

[See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thanksgiving_(United_States)].

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Paul

I have been particularly interested in the first generations of the Church, those immediately following Jesus’ death and resurrection.  The most prominent individual during this period is undoubtedly Saul of Tarsus, who later became known as the apostle Paul.

Paul is a very interesting figure.  It has been said that Jesus founded Christianity, but Paul founded the Church.  He poured his life into his missionary journeys, starting churches, and writing letters to Christians across the known world.  Many of his letters are now included in our Bibles.  We literally have accepted them as gospel.

But consider a quote from Saving Jesus from the Church, by Robin Meyers:

“We know that Saul of Tarsus, who never met Jesus, became the apostle Paul through a completely mystical experience and seemed to care nothing for the earthly teachings of Jesus, only his “adoption” as the Son of God through the resurrection. Not only did he alter the nature of the gospel from a story to an argument, but his letters and those written by others in his name are the earliest Christian documents we have, written long before the gospels.”

If it weren’t for the fact that the other apostles eventually accepted Paul as a true apostle with corresponding authority, it would be easy to question whether his writings even belong in our Bibles.  I have noticed that Paul hardly ever refers to Jesus’ life on earth or his teachings.  In fact, not only had he never met Jesus, it seems that he had little contact with the eleven disciples who had actually walked with Jesus.  And he apparently did not have benefit of the four gospels yet either.  So he preaches about Jesus as Son of God and Savior, but includes very little of the teaching that Jesus gave the world directly.

In my own Bible reading I need to go back through the gospels, and then through the writings of Peter and John.  I want to make sure that I understand the teachings of Jesus and how they have been incorporated into Christian faith and practice, aside from the extraordinary influence of Paul.

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This post can also be found on my other blog at http://pathsofchristianity.com/paul/