The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Thanksgiving (page 1 of 2)

Gifts & Contentment: A Thanksgiving Message from Ecclesiastes

This is an adapted version of a sermon a preached this past Sunday. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays of the year. I enjoy spending time with family, and I enjoy the good food that you get to eat at Thanksgiving. I’m also a big fan of Christmas, and to me, Thanksgiving always kicks off the Christmas season, so I like that about it too.

But most of all, as a Christian and a minister, I really appreciate that we have this time built into our yearly rhythm where we are encouraged to stop, reflect, and give thanks for what we have. That is an incredibly biblical thing to do. Thanksgiving is the basic response that God’s people should have in light of what God has done, and although this may be something that we lose sight of at times, this holiday, anchored on our calendars, helps remind us of this action which is central to our lives as followers of Jesus.

This particular Thanksgiving meditation comes from a somewhat unusual source: the Book of Ecclesiastes. I say “somewhat unusual” because the Book of Ecclesiastes is not something we focus on too much. Many people have a quotation from Ecclesiastes that they like, but they don’t really study the book in detail. A big part of this, I think, is that a lot of people think that the Book of Ecclesiastes is really depressing! Many people (including biblical scholars) suggest that Ecclesiastes has a very pessimistic view on life.

I disagree with that, though; I don’t think Ecclesiastes is pessimistic, I just think that it is very realistic. My wife would laugh to hear me say this, because all the time she tells me that I am a pessimist, and I disagree and say that I am a realist. I am just very aware that the world is broken, that people are deeply flawed, that we tend to get let down a lot, and that there is a lot of disappointment in life. I don’t always walk around with a scowl on my face or imagine the worst possible outcome of every situation, but I acknowledge that there are a lot of things that happen in life that are out of our control, that we don’t understand, and that we wish didn’t happen. And I think that is exactly how the author of Ecclesiastes looks at the world. I love Ecclesiastes.

And in this very realistic book, I think we are given a great perspective on Thanksgiving.

Real Talk About Money

I want to look specifically at the last half of Ecclesiastes 5, but to give a little bit of context, Ecclesiastes starts off with the author (who calls himself the Teacher or Preacher depending on your translation) saying that life is vanity, like chasing after the wind. And what he means by this is not that life has no meaning, but that life is brief and it’s hard to grasp, both literally and metaphorically—we don’t get to determine how long our lives are, and there are things about life that we simply can’t understand. It’s like trying to catch the wind or smoke.

And then the Teacher talks about all of these things in life that he sought after to find meaning, and he says that none of it lasts. We could say more, but that’s sufficient to give us an idea of what is going on in Ecclesiastes. Picking up in Ecclesiastes 5.10-17:

He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.

There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.

The Teacher begins by talking about money, and he has some important things to say about it. The harshest feedback I ever got from a sermon came once when I preached about money, but here’s the deal: the Bible talks about money all the time! The Law of Moses discusses it in detail, it is addressed repeatedly in wisdom literature (like Ecclesiastes), the prophets deal with the (mis)use of money, Jesus talks about it frequently, etc. If we want to be biblical, we will talk about money a lot—not because we worship it, but because we want to make sure that we don’t!

From earlier chapters in Ecclesiastes, we know that the Teacher was incredibly wealthy. He knew all about what money could buy, and he said it was vanity—vapor, smoke. It doesn’t last, and therefore doesn’t provide real significance. Here he goes on to list some of the problems that can come with money: addiction (v.10), it attracts the greedy (v.11), it promotes worry and lack of sleep (v.12), it leads to hoarding (v.13), it can easily be lost (v.14), and it cannot follow us after death (vv.15-17).[1]

Here I am, thinking that things would be a lot better if I just made a little bit more, but the Teacher doesn’t seem to agree. What a downer!

I should be clear here that money is not inherently a bad thing, but Scripture has a lot to say about wealth that should make us very careful in how we view it. Money can very easily become bad for us. It can compete with God for our devotion, twist our hearts, and destroy our lives.

To combat that, we should consider our money and indeed, all of our material possessions, as being a loan from God. All that we have belongs to God, but He gives us our possessions so that we can use them for His glory. Therefore, we should take care of our money and be good stewards of it, but we should always remember that it isn’t really ours. This perspective will help us to not get too attached to our money, and also to look for ways we can use it which will glorify God.

Everything Is A Gift

If this sounds pessimistic (first, it’s not; it’s realistic!), keep reading in Ecclesiastes 5.18-20:

Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.

Ecclesiastes 5 ends with a summary statement emphasizing the importance of enjoying the blessings that God has given us (cf. Ecclesiastes 2.24-26).

Work is a good thing; we were created to be workers. When God created Adam, He placed him in the garden and told him to tend and cultivate it. From the beginning, we were intended to be workers. Think about those who are disabled and cannot work, or those who need jobs to provide for their families but can’t find them; those are unfortunate situations. If you are able to work and have a job, that is a blessing. If you enjoy your work and enjoy the people you work with, that is an even greater blessing.

In Ecclesiastes, the Teacher doesn’t understand everything about life (and if you go through the book, he is very clear about the parts of life that don’t make sense to him), but he does know that work, food, and family are blessings—gifts—from the Lord and should be enjoyed as such.[2] It is incredibly important that we view these things as gifts rather than achievements; if we do so, it completely changes our perspective.

Gifts are not something that we deserve. They are something that we receive because of the gracious nature of the giver. When you think about things in terms of gifts, it really changes your perspective. And here’s the secret, according to the Teacher of Ecclesiastes: everything is a gift! Life—as confusing as it is, as filled with heartache as it can be—is a gift. Work is a gift. Our food, our families…all of it: gift. If we look at the things that we have as gifts, it changes everything.

These are blessings God bestows on us to enjoy, not objectives for us to obsessively strive after. There is a lot of joy to be found in living a simple life that is satisfied with meaningful work, sufficient food, and edifying relationships.[3]

Content No Matter What?

This is all tied very closely to the idea of contentment, and if you’ll allow me, I want to jump to the New Testament for a minute to say a few words about that idea.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians is a favorite for a lot of people; it is one of his more positive letters, despite the fact that he wrote it from prison. He begins it by sharing his thankfulness for the Christians at Philippi. As Paul contemplates the possibility of his impending execution, He speaks of his great concern for spreading the Gospel and how Christ is at the very center of his work and identity regardless of what happens to him. He talks about the humility of Jesus and how He serves as an example to us, how as followers of Christ we are to be lights in the world and seek the standard of Jesus.

And then as Paul is closing the letter and encouraging the Philippian Christians, he says this in 4.10-13:

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

I think contentment is less about what you have and more about your attitude of thankfulness toward what you have. Paul says that he has learned to be content in whatever circumstance he finds himself. That confirms to me that contentment is an internal quality rather than an external one; it does not depend on what is going on around us. Paul had a lot of difficulty in his life (he was beaten, imprisoned, scourged, left for dead, shipwrecked, etc.), but he was able to find contentment regardless.

This also helps us better understand what Paul means in his famous “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” quote. This verse gets taken out of context and abused a lot, but Paul isn’t talking here about passing an algebra test or getting a job promotion or winning a basketball game. Instead, what he means is that Jesus Christ empowers him to find contentment in all situations.

And to me (and to tie this back to Ecclesiastes), one of the simplest and most powerful ways of finding contentment in all situations is to remember that our blessings are a gift from God.

Our world is filled with people who are chasing after the standards and achievements of the world in some obsessive quest for significance. As Christians, though, we are not to live lives of hopeless desperation; we find our significance and our meaning in the God who gives us all things. Our identity and purpose is not based on achievement; it is based on gift from our Creator.

And that is a cause for great Thanksgiving.


[1]See Chad Landman, Wisdom for Life: 6 Weeks in Ecclesiastes (Hashtag Media, 2013), 18.

[2]Phillip McMillion, Wisdom Literature Class Lecture Notes (Memphis: Harding University Graduate School of Religion, Fall 2010).

[3]William P. Brown, Character In Crisis: A Fresh Approach to the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 136.

Thanksgiving: Enzo the Baker, the Men of Jabesh-Gilead, and Gratitude

Some previously-published (and slightly edited) thoughts on Thanksgiving:

One of my all-time favorite movie scenes occurs fairly early in Francis Ford Coppola’s iconic classic, The Godfather.

Vito Corleone, Don of the Corleone crime family and the “Godfather” of the movie’s title, is in the hospital, having barely survived an attempt on his life. His youngest son, Michael, comes to visit him, but discovers that his father is unguarded and all by himself, and realizes that another attempt is about to be made on his life.

Michael calls his older brother on the phone and tells him to send reinforcements, and then hides his father in another hospital room.

About this time, Enzo the Baker arrives.

Earlier in the movie, the Godfather had used his considerable influence to take care of some immigration issues that Enzo was struggling with, and now the young Sicilian has come to pay his respects to the ailing Don.

Michael tries to warn Enzo of the danger he is in, but Enzo refuses to leave:

“You better get out of here, Enzo, there’s gonna be trouble.”

“If there is trouble, I stay here to help you. For your father. For your father.”

The two men go outside and wait on the front steps, posing as bodyguards. A car of would-be assassins pulls up, but confused by the appearance of guards where they weren’t expecting to find any, they drive on.

Scared to death, Enzo begins to shake and struggles to light a cigarette. He is out of place in the world of organized crime, but a debt of gratitude has compelled an ordinary man to act in an extraordinary fashion, risking his life to save someone else.

We talk a lot about being thankful, or grateful, at this time of year, but I wonder if we don’t often mistake appreciation for gratitude.

Sure, we’re glad that we are able to gather with family, and we appreciate the fact that we have a lot of blessings—we certainly wouldn’t want to try living without those blessings—but often that’s as far as it goes.

But gratitude goes a step further than appreciation. From Wikipedia:

“Gratitude is the substance of a heart ready to show appreciation, or thankfulness; it is not simply an emotion, which involves a pleasant feeling that can occur when we receive a favor or benefit from another person, but rather the combination of a state of being and an emotion; often accompanied by a desire to thank them, or to reciprocate for a favour they have done for you.”

Gratitude is a feeling of appreciation accompanied by a desire to act. It was a deep feeling of gratitude that drove Enzo to disregard his own safety in order to help the man who had helped him.

One of my favorite Old Testament stories illustrates gratitude very well, and focuses on the men of Jabesh-Gilead.

Just after Saul has been anointed as the first king of Israel, the Ammonites come and besiege the town of Jabesh-Gilead. The elders of Jabesh know that they can’t withstand the Ammonites, and they also know that they will be treated harshly if they surrender, so they send messengers throughout Israel, hoping that someone will come to their aid.

When Saul hears the news, he becomes angry and promises to deliver the town in 1 Samuel 11.9,11:

“They said to the messengers who had come, “Thus you shall say to the men of Jabesh-gilead, ‘Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you will have deliverance.’” So the messengers went and told the men of Jabesh; and they were glad.

The next morning Saul put the people in three companies; and they came into the midst of the camp at the morning watch and struck down the Ammonites until the heat of the day. Those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.”

Saul’s rescuing of the town of Jabesh-Gilead serves to cement himself as the King of Israel, but if you were to stop reading there, you would be unaware of the debt of gratitude that the men of Jabesh apparently felt toward him.

In fact, you have to go many years into the future, to the very end of Saul’s reign, before Jabesh-Gilead is mentioned again.

This time, Saul has gone to war against the Philistines, and the fighting has gone very badly for the Israelites: three of Saul’s sons are killed, and Saul takes his own life after being badly wounded by an archer.

When the Philistines come upon the body of Saul, they cut off his head and take his weapons. The weapons end up in a temple to a false god, and Saul’s body is hung as a war trophy on the wall of the town of Beth-Shan.

It is at this point, many years after Saul had rescued them from the Ammonites that the men of Jabesh-Gilead make their appearance in 1 Samuel 31.11-13:

“Now when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men rose and walked all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. They took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.”

When the men of Jabesh-Gilead hear what has happened to Saul, they remember the debt of gratitude they owe him, walk all night into enemy territory, retrieve his body, and bury it honorably.

This act of gratitude is even more impressive when you realize that this is a debt that they have been waiting to pay for 40 years—the entire length of Saul’s reign. It seems likely that some of the valiant men who made the journey that night weren’t even born yet when Saul had saved their town, and yet they are still willing to risk their lives to protect his honor.

Gratitude compels people to act.

As a Christian, I believe that Jesus sacrificed Himself to cleanse me of sin and to make reconciliation with God possible.
I very much appreciate that sacrifice, but more than that, I am grateful for it—I wish there was something I could do to repay the debt of gratitude that I feel.
But there isn’t. The best I can do is to try to live each day for Jesus, to live as He Himself did.
I fail often, and sometimes I fail miserably, but I am still compelled to try. Gratitude will permit nothing less.

Seeing Our Problems As Blessings

Something that I realized once in a rare moment of clarity was how, as Americans, we are so incredibly blessed that even most of our “problems”—the things we worry and complain about—are really just outgrowths of our blessings.
Let me give a few examples…
(1) The main complaints you hear from college students center on (a) how expensive college is and (b) how difficult and stressful college coursework is (I have been guilty of both of these complaints in my life). But from another perspective, it’s easy to see how fortunate we are to live in a country where the government provides a great deal of assistance in paying for college and basically gives students as much time as they need to pay it back. Furthermore, whatever temporary stresses and hardships college work can bring on someone is more than made up for by the opportunities a college education affords. Having the opportunity to go to college is a great blessing!
(2) You hear people complain all the time about their cars (I especially hear this from teenagers!)—about how they are too small, or too old, or not cool enough, or get poor gas mileage, etc.—when the idea of owning a car is literally unimaginable to most people in the world. Owning a car is a great blessing!
(3) People complain about their jobs—about low pay, or how boring it is, or how mean their bosses are, or how annoying their coworkers are—when there are people all over the world who are unemployed and in desperate need of work. Having a job is a great blessing!
(4) Parents often spend a great deal of time worrying about their children. They worry about how their kids do in school, if they have the right kind of friends, if they have enough friends, getting them to every sports practice on time so the coach will give them playing time and they can grow up to become the next superstar in their sport. Some parents have children with health concerns, and worry about the uncertainty associated with that (this one strikes home with me). But all of these worries are only made possible by the fact that parents have children in the first place, and children are truly one of the great, great blessings of life!
(5) And finally, from a spiritual standpoint, I hear Christians complain all the time about problems that exist in the church of which they are a part—people they don’t like, bad sermons, unfriendliness, lack of programs—when there are millions of people throughout the world who have never even heard of Christ, or even if they have heard and decided to follow Him, have no local congregation of the church to be a part of. You wouldn’t be able to complain about your church if you didn’t have one; having a church family is a great blessing!
Obviously, I am speaking in generalizations here, and each of us has trials and issues that we have to face in our own lives. But on the whole, we are so incredibly blessed…I don’t know what we’d do if we had to deal with real problems on a daily basis.

Using Our Blessings To Bless Others

As Americans, how blessed are we?

Here’s a staggering statistic: each year, Americans spend roughly $20 billion on ice cream. That sounds like a lot of money (because it is), but it’s such a big number that it’s hard to understand or quantify. So what could you do with $20 billion, the amount that Americans spend each year on ice cream?

That amount of money would be enough to provide everyone in the world with food and clean water for a year.1

Wow. That blows me away (and makes me feel a little sick to my stomach).

Recently, I read Crazy Love by Francis Chan—you may have heard of it because it’s a super trendy Christian book at the moment. Honestly, I wasn’t all that impressed (which is my general reaction to super trendy Christian books), but Chan did have some good things to say, and this quotation alone may have been worth the price of the whole book:

“Remember the story where Jesus fed thousands of people with one boy’s lunch? In that story, according to Mathew, Jesus gave the loaves to His disciples and then the disciples passed them out to the crowd. Imagine if the disciples had simply held onto the food Jesus gave them, continually thanking Him for providing lunch for them. That would’ve been stupid when there was enough food to feed the thousands who were gathered and hungry.

But that is exactly what we do when we fail to give freely and joyfully. We are loaded down with too many good things, more than we could ever need, while others are desperate for a small loaf. The good things we cling to are more than money; we hoard our resources, our gifts, our time, our families, our friends. As we begin to practice regular giving, we see how ludicrous it is to hold on to the abundance God has given us and merely repeat the words thank you.”2

As Christians, we’re pretty good about being thankful for what we have, but probably not as good as we should be at sharing what we have with others—and it should be pretty obvious that just saying “thank you” falls short of the standard that Jesus sets for His followers when there are others around us in desperate need (see James 2.14-17).

As Rob Bell puts it:

“The best question isn’t, ‘What can I get?’ To take the way of Jesus seriously, is to realize that the best question is, ‘What can I give?’ Because all of us can give something—here, now, today, and then tomorrow and then the next day. What can you do to be more generous? What is the next step for you? You have been blessed. What can you give? Who are you going to bless?”3

It is imperative that we as Christians learn to move beyond saying “thank you” to getting to the point where we consciously and intentionally think about how we can use what we have to bless others.


• • •

1Rob Bell, “Rich,” NOOMA 13 (2006).
2Francis Chan, Crazy Love (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2008), 120-21.

3Bell, “Rich.”

Gratitude: The Men of Jabesh-Gilead

Last time we talked about the difference between the concepts of gratitude and appreciation, and that basically, gratitude combines a feeling of appreciation with a sense of debt and a desire to act.

One of my favorite Old Testament stories illustrates gratitude very well, and focuses on the men of Jabesh-Gilead.

Just after Saul has been anointed as the first king of Israel, the Ammonites come and besiege the town of Jabesh-Gilead.

The elders of Jabesh know that they can’t withstand the Ammonites, and they also know that they will be treated harshly if they surrender, so they send messengers throughout Israel, hoping that someone will come to their aid.

When Saul hears the news, he becomes angry and promises to deliver the town in 1 Samuel 11.9,11:

“They said to the messengers who had come, “Thus you shall say to the men of Jabesh-gilead, ‘Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you will have deliverance.’” So the messengers went and told the men of Jabesh; and they were glad.

The next morning Saul put the people in three companies; and they came into the midst of the camp at the morning watch and struck down the Ammonites until the heat of the day. Those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.”

Saul’s rescuing of the town of Jabesh-Gilead serves to cement himself as the King of Israel, but if you were to stop reading there, you would be unaware of the debt of gratitude that the men of Jabesh apparently felt toward him.

In fact, you have to go many years into the future, to the very end of Saul’s reign, before Jabesh-Gilead is mentioned again.

This time, Saul has gone to war against the Philistines, and the fighting has gone very badly for the Israelites: three of Saul’s sons are killed, and Saul takes his own life after being badly wounded by an archer.

When the Philistines come upon the body of Saul, they cut off his head and take his weapons. The weapons end up in a temple to a false god, and Saul’s body is hung as a war trophy to the wall of the town of Beth-Shan.

It is at this point, many years after Saul had rescued them from the Ammonites that the men of Jabesh-Gilead make their appearance in 1 Samuel 31.11-13:

“Now when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men rose and walked all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. They took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.”

When the men of Jabesh-Gilead hear what has happened to Saul, they remember the debt of gratitude they owe him, walk all night into enemy territory, retrieve his body, and bury it honorably.

This act of gratitude is even more impressive when you realize that this is a debt that they have been waiting to pay for 40 years—the entire length of Saul’s reign. It seems likely that some of the valiant men who made the journey that night weren’t even born yet when Saul had saved their town, and yet they are still willing to risk their lives to protect his honor.

Gratitude compels people to act.

• • •

As a Christian, I believe that Jesus sacrificed Himself to cleanse me of sin and to make reconciliation with God possible.

I very much appreciate that sacrifice, but more than that, I am grateful for it—I wish there was something I could do to repay the debt of gratitude that I feel.

But there isn’t. The best I can do is to try to live each day for Jesus, to live as He Himself did.

I fail often, and sometimes I fail miserably, but I am still compelled to try. Gratitude will allow nothing less.

Older posts

© 2017 The Doc File

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑