Books of Note - The First Thanksgiving and A Better December

The First Thanksgiving by Robert Tracy McKenzie

Every year around Thanksgiving, I enjoy reflecting on the Pilgrims, their Mayflower voyage and that firstThanksgiving back in 1621. Being a descendant of no less a figure than John Alden (the one who stole Miles Standish’s girl, Priscilla Mullins) only encourages my Thanksgiving reverie. This year, I enjoyed finishing a first-rate historical survey of that special Pilgrim holiday. The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us About Loving God and Learning from History by Robert Tracy McKenzie (IVP, 2013), is a book I thoroughly enjoyed but one that challenged me to reexamine the historical record and the reasons why I love to reflect on my Puritanical roots.

McKenzie takes the occasion of writing a book on the first thanksgiving, to remind his Christian audience about the role history should play in our faith. He covers the nuts and bolts of historical research while he’s at it. Now, he does tip some sacred cows. He points out how we have scant records of the actual first thanksgiving, and demurs that it wasn’t the first thanksgiving in any true sense—at least four other public occasions of thanksgiving in America (the French Huguenots on Florida’s shores in 1565 being the earliest) have greater claim to that honor. Intriguingly “Plymouth Rock” was born from second-hand recollections of an original Pilgrim some 100 years or more after their landing. And more importantly, American history didn’t instill the Pilgrims’ autumnal feast with national importance for several hundred years. It was left for Franklin D. Roosevelt to be the first American President to directly connect the national observance of Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims of Plymouth and their historic feast.

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Gratitude for God's Holy Angels

Where can we begin as we thank God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit for telling us what we need to know about the true identity of the Triune God and what each Person of the Godhead has done and will do in the created universe?

First, the Father, through Christ the Son, as revealed by the Spirit in the Bible, created millions of wonderful spirit-beings called angels. The Lord asked Job:

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
When the morning stars sang together,
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (NKJV, Job 38:4, 7; Job 1:6 informs us that “the sons of God” were angels).

How many angels did God create? Approximately 600 million—because one-third of all angels, led by Satan, rebelled against their Creator (Rev. 12:4), and their number was 200 million (Rev. 9:16). That is a large number—but praise God, twice that many remained faithful to Him, in contrast to mankind, where:

All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way. (Isa. 53:6)

Now, this is the focus of our Thanksgiving meditation this year: We, being limited human beings, need the help of God’s holy angels. “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” (Heb. 1:14).

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Happy Thanksgiving from In the Nick of Time


’Tis by Thy Strength the Mountains Stand
Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

’Tis by Thy strength the mountains stand,
   God of eternal power;
The sea grows calm at Thy command,
   And tempests cease to roar.

Thy morning light and evening shade
   Successive comforts bring;
Thy plenteous fruits make harvest glad,
   Thy flowers adorn the spring.

Seasons and times, and moons and hours,
   Heav’n, earth, and air are Thine;
When clouds distill in fruitful showers,
   The Author is divine.

Those wandering cisterns in the sky,
   Borne by the winds around,
With watery treasures well supply
   The furrows of the ground.

The thirsty ridges drink their fill,
   And ranks of corn appear;
Thy ways abound with blessing still,
   Thy goodness crowns the year.

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Only One said "Thank You"

The command

God commands us to give Him thanks for everything He has done, is doing and will do for us. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (NKJV, Phil. 4:6).

“In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:18). “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men” (1 Tim. 2:1). “Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20).

The problem

But this is not the normal response of the sinful heart of man. Even in times of health and prosperity, do we genuinely thank God for what He has given us?

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