This Turkey is Hereby Pardoned (And So Am I)

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We crowd around the fence-line and watch as the turkeys waddle around fairly oblivious to the crowd that has gathered.

The mayor waits until we’ve all arrived and then he reads the official proclamation that goes something like this:

“I, the mayor of Newport News, do hereby pardon these turkeys.  May they live to enjoy many more Thanksgivings.”

Then we all clap and go back to making turkey hats and other Thanksgiving fun.

The turkeys carry on the same as ever, as if they were not just spared being the main course on someone’s table.

We’ve done this a few times now, watched as a local mayor “officially pardons” the turkeys at one of our favorite children’s museums.

Of course, these particular turkeys are never truly in much danger of becoming dinner.  They are decidedly off the menu.

But this year…this year I consider their pardon….beyond the fun yet essentially meaningless ceremony we love to witness.

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, but I’ve struggled this year in a new way. In fact, I’m tempted to brush right past on my way to the bigger and better things of Christmas.

This year has been beautifully blessed and I am truly and sincerely grateful because God is good and faithful.

Still, there has been sorrow this year and mourning, loss, loved ones with cancer, unanswered prayers and prayers answered with “no.”

There has been a struggle.  Even the blessings only came after long seasons of persevering and battling and then, by the time you settle into the promised land, you feel more weary than victorious.

So, what I feel in me is a deep sense of longing, an intense desire to see God’s glory, to see the blessing, to see promises fulfilled, to see heaven and healing and resurrection.

I want to toss myself down at the feet of Jesus in exhaustion and implore Him to “Come.  O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

Perhaps this is why for the first time in my entire adult life I sheepishly played Christmas music while I cooked dinner and cleaned before Thanksgiving.

Shocking.  I know.

Scandalous.  Yes.

I’m a champion of Thanksgiving and of protecting the sacred celebration of gratitude before any and all Christmas cheer.

But this year the longing is intense and Advent draws me in.

I have even lugged in some of the Christmas decorations from the garage and stacked them in my kitchen.  There they sit, Rubbermaid containers of joy with Christmas all ready to spill out of them.

I wanted to start slipping Christmas into the house this morning.  A little decoration here.  A lighted Christmas village there.

I’m desperate for the joy of knowing that Christ came.  That God fulfilled HIs Word.  That even in seasons of long and silent waiting, God was at work and what He did was beautifully more than anyone could have imagined. 

This is the reassurance I need.

But instead of decorating the house, I went for a drive and as I did,  I listened to these verses being read:

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation (Habakkuk 3:17-18 ESV).

This is the Thanksgiving reminder I needed.

We have been so very blessed this year and I give thanks.

But even in the middle of sorrow and sadness, of disappointment, discouragement, and fatigue, I still give thanks. 

Habakkuk reminds me: “yet I will rejoice in the Lord.”

In poverty, in despair, in hunger, in failure, Habakkuk took “joy in the God of my salvation.”

That’s why I consider the turkeys this year because, while the pardon I witness is fun and symbolic rather than real, they remind me of the truest reason to give thanks.

I have been pardoned.

Really and truly pardoned.

Not just symbolically, but deeply forgiven and washed clean.  Healed and made whole.  Declared not guilty before God even though I don’t deserve it.

The Psalmist said:

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
    whose sin is covered. (Psalm 32:1) 

And that is me.  I am the blessed one.

You and I are the blessed ones.

This is why we give thanks.

“Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
(Great is Thy Faithfulness).

Learning the Magic Word

It’s just something we moms do.  Generations and generations of moms.  I bet Eve was saying it to her sons as she raised her growing family in the wilderness outside the Garden of Eden.

Mom hands child juice cup.

Child takes juice cup.

Mom says, “Say ‘thank you.’

Child repeats, “Thank you.”

Parental instruction complete.

Some of us even begin teaching our children the sign language for thank you before they can actually talk.

Occasionally we vary our strategy and style.  As our kids get older, we do less verbatim repetition and more prompting.

Mom asks: “What do you say when someone gives you something?” or “What’s the magic word?”

Child, totally engrossed in cup of juice or with cookie picks up on the cue and says, “Thank you.”

We’re teaching gratitude here, establishing the discipline of thanks and appreciation.  We’re slowly shocking the human propensity toward selfishness and self-centeredness into the reality that when people do nice things for you, it’s not because you deserve them or you’ve earned them, but because of their generosity and grace.

Maybe we never grow out of this lesson.

Even when Jesus healed ten lepers and sent them on their way to purification and restoration with their families and with society, only one returned to give thanks.  Grown men responded to a miracle from God with forgetfulness and distraction, a shrugging of the shoulders and a moving on to other things.

Like any mom, I’m engaged in the training now, teaching my kids to be grateful for breakfast cereal, snack time, birthday presents and treats at the frozen yogurt shop.  I’m reminding them to take the time for gratitude and to put thankfulness into words.

And then sometimes my preschooler just remembers on her own.  She plays with her toys and in a moment of inspiration lifts her blond head and announces, “Thank you, Mom!  Thank you for taking me to the park today.”016

Anything could spark her little heart to give thanks.  Thank you for buying me these new shoes at the store.  Thank you for getting my favorite cereal.  Thank you for finding my Barbie in the basket.

The beauty here is the spontaneity of her gratefulness.  She’s been thinking about the gift and her response isn’t to collapse into selfishness or obsession with the gift itself, but to recognize the giver.

In Desiring God, John Piper wrote:

Worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God the radiance of His worth.  This cannot be done by mere acts of duty (p. 80).

There are times, of course, when the worship we offer up to God isn’t matched by our emotions.  We give praise when circumstances are hard.  We give thanks before the victory.

Sometimes we choose to worship in advance of the blessing and simply in faith, knowing that we can’t see God at work now and don’t know how He could possibly deliver us from such impossible circumstances, but still we know He is God.  He is faithful.  He is able.  He is worthy.

So we “offer up a sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15 HCSB).

Maybe we come out of duty and out of discipline, repeating the words “thank you” because that’s what you say and this is what you do.

Then slowly God changes our heart.  The shifting of our eyes from our problem to our God, the deliberate rejection of “self” and the purposeful choice to worship opens our eyes to His wonder and glory.

That’s how it goes sometimes.  We say thanks because thanks is what you say—and thus we truly become grateful.

The danger, though, is that we say the words without the heart change.

God said of Israel:

these people approach Me with their mouths to honor Me with lip-service—yet their hearts are far from Me, and their worship consists of man-made rules learned by rote (Isaiah 29:13 HCSB).

Worship that remains duty or discipline and never progresses beyond that isn’t ultimately worship at all.  It’s rules and rote, tradition, expectations, religion, service order, church etiquette or outward show.

At some point, those lessons in thankfulness have to dig deep roots in our heart and start producing shoots of life and eventually fruitfulness for harvest.Psalm 3011

That’s when we respond in spontaneous delight.

It’s when our hearts just can’t keep the joy inside, not when He’s so worthy, not when God is so gracious, not when His mercy is so overwhelming and power so awesome.

Like David, we sing:

You turned my lament into dancing;
You removed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
so that I can sing to You and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise You forever (Psalm 30:11-12 HCSB).

We’ve moved beyond praising because it’s required.  Now we praise because we can’t possibly keep silent about our God.

And so we worship.ShabbyBlogsDividerJ

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King