Depending which history book you read, Thanksgiving was first celebrated in St. Augustine, Fla., in 1565 or on the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts in 1621. Whether it was 388 or 444 years ago, Thanksgiving has become an integral part of our American culture. Your traditions may include fixing turkey, dressing, cranberries, pumpkin pie and watching football or none of those. But, hopefully, you pause to give thanks for the many ways you've been blessed.
I happen to believe that there are three different levels of gratitude we can live at. The first level is to stop complaining about what we don't have. Many of us waste way too much energy just griping. We grumble because our homes aren't worth what they once were or the weather is too hot or too cold. We complain that our favorite football team isn't undefeated this year or ranked in the top 25. Whatever we tend to moan about, we would all do well to take inventory and maybe take some steps to improve our attitudes. Now, that would make our homes and our community a lot more pleasant place to live. But just managing our negativity isn't really the level that God has called us to stop at.
God has called us to a much higher level of gratitude. We should start expressing thankfulness for what we do have. God calls us to be thankful in all things at all times. The Psalms in the Jewish scriptures repeat this phrase over and over - "Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His love endures forever." We are to be filled with gratitude for the gift of God's grace. We are to be thankful for life itself and the people that God allows us to do life together with. We are to be grateful for the resources that God entrusts us with - to manage and steward them on His behalf. Think about it, wouldn't it change our world if we stopped whining about the things we don't have and regularly gave thanks for the incredible blessings we do have?
This past year, I've been blessed to travel far more than usual - all over the world - China, Ethiopia, Egypt, India, Israel, Nepal, Sudan, France, etc. I'm always astonished by the intensity of the gratitude that is expressed by people in extreme poverty and those who have so few resources. Six percent of the world's population controls 60 percent of the wealth, but we tend to express the least amount of gratitude. While in Ethiopia a few weeks ago, I was moved to tears when I met a pastor who had walked with his wife and 10-month-old baby four hours one way just to personally say thank you to me for paying $125 for his books and education so he could be trained to start a new church.
Which leads to the third level of gratitude that I believe God wants all of His fully devoted followers to learn to live at - Sow generously so as to create a harvest of thanksgiving in others. Jesus said it this way, "When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required" (Luke 12:48).
Let me be very specific and practical. In comparison to many right here in our own community, most of us have been given much. Did you realize that in our mostly middle class community, we have some elementary schools where over half of the students qualify for free lunch. That means, the total household income for a family of four is approximately $28,000 or less. The need isn't just over on the other side of the river. There is need right here in our own community.
The Bible says it this way, "What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don't show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, 'Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well'-but then you don't give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn't enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless" (James 2:14-17). Our faith is to be more than talk, it is also walking it out in practical actions.
Think what could happen in our community if all of us, through generous acts of giving, helped hundreds of families who need help right here in our own city. There are dozens of ways to help. Through your own place of worship, giving to those collecting gifts or money at the entrance of stores or in other ways. There will be no lack of opportunity, only a possible lack of generosity.
I can't wait to see how God will bless the generosity of each of you over the next weeks. Good things will happen in both you the giver, and in those who receive. And you and I will complain a whole lot less and find ourselves more thankful and there will be a harvest of thanks giving right here in our own city.
Dennis Gingerich is Founding Pastor at Cape Christian Fellowship in Cape Coral. He is writes a Family Matters blog on the Cape Coral Daily Breeze website. For more information, e-mail DGingerich@capechristian.com