Tom Elliff
Oklahoma City, OK

After pastoring for forty-two years, Tom Elliff served the International Mission Board, first as Senior Vice President for Spiritual Nurture and Church Relations from 2005-2009, then as President from 2011-2014. Tom served pastorates in Arkansas, Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma and as an IMB missionary in Zimbabwe. Tom also served as president of the SBC Pastor's Conference and two terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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10 Truths About Thanksgiving

By on November 19, 2010

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. Unfortunately, Thanksgiving is becoming a less recognized holiday with each passing year, most likely because it is devoid of the great marketing opportunities shared by Halloween and Christmas. Unless, of course, you are a grocer! This reality grieves me because, in a sense, Thanksgiving is perhaps the purest of holidays in terms of purpose and practice.

The annual expression of “thanksgiving” has been a distinctly American celebration for almost four hundred years, dating back to 1621. However, it was not until the Civil War period that Thanksgiving was designated as a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln. From its inception, Thanksgiving was directed primarily to an acknowledgement of the providence of God.

In more recent years, the Thanksgiving focus has shifted from God to groceries, faith to friends, appreciation to athletics, and providence to parades. I’m not seeking to be curmudgeonous here, far from it. I love the get-togethers, groceries and good times as much as the next guy. But I am saddened by the fact that there is an obvious diminishment of focus on the ONE who makes life, health, warm friendships and a purposeful future possible.

Of course, we are only reflections of the reality of human nature and the insidious sin of ingratitude. When considering a “thanksgiving celebration” that took place over 2,000 years ago, not much has changed. I’d like to offer you ten thoughts on Thanksgiving, harvested from Luke’s account of the healing of ten lepers (Luke 17: 11-19).

1. Thanksgiving is a rare practice (11-15a). “While He was on the way to Jerusalem, He was passing between Samaria and Galilee. As He entered a village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him; and they raised their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When He saw them, He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they were going, they were cleansed. Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back.” Only one of the ten turned back to offer gratitude! So not much has changed, has it.

2. Thanksgiving should be a “reflex response (15a). Notice that it was “when he saw that he had been healed” that the man turned back to offer gratitude. I am reminded of what one of Ronald Reagan’s caregivers said of him as they walked with him through the last, confusing painful days of his life on earth. “He never lost his gracious spirit. It was embedded in his character.”

3. Thanksgiving will bring you back to the Lord (15b-16a). The healed man “turned back” to his Healer. In most circles, everyone but God receives thanks for the good times, and no one but God receives blame for the bad times. Here is a man who knew the source of his healing, turned back, and fell at the feet of Jesus.

4. Thanksgiving is something you “do,” not just something you “feel,” or “think” (15-16). You cannot escape the action here. The grateful man turned back, glorified God with a loud voice, fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and gave thanks to Him. Thanksgiving, like love, is every bit as much an expression as an emotion.

5. Thanksgiving erupts from the heart of people who consider themselves truly undeserving (16). Luke considered it worth noting that this man who “fell on his face at Jesus’ feet” was a Samaritan. Most Jews considered the Samaritans as mongrels, or “half-breeds,” because they were the descendants of Jews who had earlier intermarried with their gentile captors. On more than one occasion, Jesus applauded the humility of the Samaritans. Humble people are grateful people, and God honors those who are humble.

6. Thanksgiving is one of the most quick and simple ways to get an audience with the Lord (17). As the psalmist reminds us, we “enter His gates with thanksgiving.” Immediately upon his return, we find the lone leper experiencing something the other nine totally missed, a conversation with the Messiah! Who among us doesn’t respond with interest toward the person with gratitude in his heart and on his lips.

7. “Thanksgivers” are easily identifiable, but so are the ungrateful (17-18). “Where are the other nine?” asks Jesus. Ouch! The Samaritan could only shrug his shoulders. After all, he could only express what was in his own heart. How sad that in this permanent record of the event, we remember the nine as readily as the one. How are you remembered?

8. Thanksgiving results in a satisfying sense of purpose (19). “Stand up and go your way,” said Jesus. It was His way of saying, “No need to linger now that you have expressed your hearts gratitude. Go show yourself to the priest, then run home to your family and friends and tell them about both your cure, and our conversation!” Until thanksgiving is expressed, you will live life with no sense of closure. There is always something yet to be said and done.

9. Thanksgiving is the path to greater understanding (19). This one grateful, healed leper received an insight and clarification that the other nine totally missed. His healing was the result of his faith in Christ! “Your faith has made you well,” said Jesus. Of all ten, here was one man who had the true message. His gratitude had brought him to school at the Master’s feet. All things come by faith!

10. As a child of God, if you can do just one thing…thank Him! You will probably have a lot on your plate this Thanksgiving, both literally and figuratively! So why not begin by coming to the feet of Jesus and expressing gratitude. Right now! Just fall at His feet and tell Him of your love and gratitude. Be specific! Then listen for His response. Let your heart of gratitude to God be your most evident expression this Thanksgiving.

As someone has said, “Gratitude is your heart’s memory.”

Let’s not forget to be grateful!

Rejoice evermore!

Tom Elliff

2 Tim 1:12

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