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If I Could Do It Again...

By Pastor Delbert Young
(video audio page)

Thanksgiving If I could do it Again...

If you could have Thanksgiving again with one person, what would you do differently between that Thanksgiving and the time the person passed away. We posed that question to several people and interestingly nearly each person had one thing they would do differently. However, every person would spend more time. Time is the thrust of holidays. It is to bring us together to spend time together and to stop our preoccupation with the cares of the world, and force us to spend more time with people. Even Jesus went to feasts. He went even though he had so much to accomplish in such a short time (Joh 5:1).

John 5:1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews.

There are many references to Jesus attending different feasts. At this particular feast, Jesus healed the man at the pool of Bethesda. If it were important for Jesus to attend feasts with family and friends, how much more important is it for us?

Deuteronomy 16:13 Celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress.

Deuteronomy 16:14 Be joyful at your Feast - you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns.

Deuteronomy 16:15 For seven days celebrate the Feast to the LORD your God at the place the LORD will choose. For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.

Deuteronomy 16:16 Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles. No man should appear before the LORD empty-handed:

The Lord expects families and friends to get together and feast. Father God so wanted all of his family together on a regular basis that he expressed that desire in his law. Three times a year his family was to come to his house (temple) and feasts. These were the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover), the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), and the Feast of Tabernacles.

We continue today with three major family times every year. We enjoy Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Two of those come from religious and spiritual thrusts - Easter and Christmas. One comes from a different approach - Thanksgiving. There are two points from this passage that I want to talk about for a few minutes.

1. Men Must Appear

It has always been interesting to me that the Lord said ". . . all your men must appear before the Lord your God." I always felt like the reason he said it that way was because the men wouldn't come if it wasn't a command. They would be to busy feeding the camel or laying on the couch watching a football game. I know that I would have avoided most of our family gatherings except my wife told me I "must appear." Do you know that some of us would never get together with our family and friends if it wasn't for events like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and funerals? It is from that position that I want to talk today about Thanksgiving.

Next Thursday is Thanksgiving day. Most of us will gather with family and, once there, we will be thankful. Being thankful for people is the very core of the American Thanksgiving holiday. It was the core in 1621 at what we call the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts. One hundred and two people had sailed from England to the New World. Fifty people remained alive after the first year. Very likely all would have died had it not been for the "Red Man" - the native American. Their assistance provided shelter and food. They taught the pilgrims to hunt, fish, plant American corn, build places for shelter, etc. The first Thanksgiving was fifty pilgrims being thankful for ninety native Americans.

Yet, strangely connected with that first Thanksgiving was the grief over those who had died. Though fifty remained alive, fifty-two had died. It was a strange blend of Thankfulness for the family and friends alive, but hurting grief because of the loved ones that had died. Holidays begin to take on more and more of that flavor as we age. This Thursday our family will get together and experience Thanksgiving. I am so thankful for my family. I will smile and laugh with my wife, children, grandchildren, relatives, and friends. But I will be grieving at the same time because my mom and dad will not be there. In fact, this year the father of my brother-in-law, who has been coming to our Thanksgiving feasts for the passed thirty years, passed away one week before Thanksgiving. I ministered his funeral the Saturday before Thanksgiving. There is a strange link between being thankful and grief. The truth of the matter is that some of us will have dear loved ones to die this year. That's not a happy thought, but it is the truth. This will be the last Thanksgiving for some loved ones. One more thought is that it could be the last Thanksgiving for some of us.

I found myself focusing on this strange component of Thanksgiving this year as I began preparing for this lesson. I began thinking about my loved ones who have passed on. "If I Could Do It Again..." what would I do differently? If I had known that a Thanksgiving was the last Thanksgiving together, what would I have done differently before they passed away?

The year was 1992. Mom and Dad had come to our house for Thanksgiving. I didn't know it would be the last Thanksgiving I would have with mom. Fibrosis had attacked her lungs took her breath and energy. She would give out by simply taking a shower and drying her hair. She tried to help my wife cook, but was unable. She lay on the couch and began crying. I knelt down beside her and talked with her for a long time. Mom had not been faithful to the Lord for many years. She had been injured in church and avoided that pain. Somehow in our conversation, all that came up and I was able to pray with her. I went and bought her and dad a Bible the next day. She read it every day from then until she died.

We began going to the doctors and it appeared she was improving. Then we had the blizzard of 93 in March. I was to go to Trinidad at the end of March and do some ministering. I drove to Miami and then flew to Trinidad. My drive took me close to mom and dad's house. I needed something that I had left there and told mom that I would stop by to pick it up on my way to Miami. I got off one exit before I normally would and went a different route to their home. When I got there, mom and dad were not home. They had driven to the normal exit ramp I would have taken and were there waiting for me. Mom knew my "hurry-up" nature and she was trying to save me some time. I thought that might be the case so I went to that exit and found them. She apologized and explained. I told her that I had planned to visit with them for a few hours, but now I would just go on. In some weird way it was sort of like a punishment to her. I knew the one thing that made mom the happiest was my taking time to visit her. She loved it when I would come and sit and talk and visit. Instead of going back and visiting, I thanked mom and dad for bringing me the item, hugged and kissed them, and got in my car and drove to Miami. That was the last time my mom was able to talk to me. I was in Trinidad a few weeks later when my wife called and told me that mom had been taken to the emergency room and placed on a ventilator. I got there as quickly as I could, but the ventilator would not allow mom to talk to me. She died a few days later.

"If I Could Do It Again . . ." I would have gone back to her house from that exit ramp - forget Miami, Trinidad, and everything else. I would have stayed those few hours. I would have taken time and done the one thing that made my mom happy. Had I known the Thanksgiving of 92 would be her last Thanksgiving, I would have been a little more thankful for her. How about you? "If You Could Do It Again . . ." what would you do?

My dad came to live with us a few years after my mom died. His health was deteriorating. His blood sugar would go up and down. We kept a watch on his blood pressure. He had a slight tremor in his right hand from Parkinson's disease, but that never seemed to be that disabling. We were told by his Neurologist that he needed to exercise - walk, button his shirts etc. Those simple tasks became very difficult to get my dad to do. He wanted to sit in his chair and watch TV all day. So, I would bring him to work with me and he would make laps in our sanctuary pushing his walker around. Sunday mornings were always a ritual. He had gotten to where he couldn't get his T-shirt over his head, or button his shirt. I would make him fight with his clothing thinking I was helping him. I remember once he got hung-up with his T-shirt over his head and another time when he lay on his back on the bed for an hour attempting to button his shirt. He kept telling me he couldn't help it and I kept telling him that he could if he would practice as the doctor had said. I would express frustration by impatiently buttoning his shirt and poking his shirttail into his pants and buckling his belt. He needed a Neurologist closer to us. We changed doctors. It was then that I found that dad actually had Dementia which is a mental deterioration of the ability to physically function. Dementia will actually cause people to forget how to use their fingers or walk or think. Eventually it can cause a person to forget how to swallow or the heart to forget to beat. That is what it did with my dad. My dad was one of the gentlest patient people I have ever known. He and I were opposites in that regard. He was so patient with my mom. There are so many funny stories of my dad and his patience with my mom. All dad ever asked of me was to have patience with him. I didn't do very well.

My last Thanksgiving with my dad was in 1998. We had gone to the home of one of my wife's sisters. I remember fixing dad's plate and drink. He ate chicken and dumplings. He loved chicken and dumplings. He had a good time. He loved being around people and talking. It was after that Thanksgiving that we found dad had Dementia and there were no more Thanksgivings with him. "If I Could Do It Again . . ." I would be gentle with him. I would be patient with him. That was all he ever asked me to do for him.

Most likely we all have someone with whom we wish we could do something differently. The sad thing is we can't. I wish I could go back to my mom's house and spend those few hours sitting at her table and talking and listening to her voice. I wish I could gently button my dad's shirt and patiently buckle his belt for him, but I can't go back and do it again. However, what I can do is be thankful for the time I am given now. I can enjoy the Feast of Thanksgiving with people I love. I can discover the one thing they need from me and do it. I can do better at that and be a better person. The scripture said, ". . . Three times a year all your men must appear . . . " Instead of making it a thing that we are forced to do, why not do it from our hearts? Why not do it for the people we love and that love us?

2. Be Joyful

Deuteronomy 16:14 Be joyful at your Feast - you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns.

Isn't it sad that God has to tell us to be joyful at feasts?

The scriptures give us a list of people with whom we should be joyful. It speaks about family - your sons and daughters, people we work with - menservants and maidservants, - our pastors and ministers - Levites, those "aliens" that we all have in our families and "aliens" that seem to come (I don't know about your family, but we have aliens in our family), and those who have lost parents and spouses - fatherless and the widows. Sometimes it is difficult to be joyful with these people. Sometimes it's not fun being around some of those heathens. But that too should be joyful to the believer. It is a perfect place to allow our lights to shine. It is a perfect place to penetrate the gates of hell. Our families should be beacons at these events and that should bring us joy.

There is another reason that it's not easy to be joyful. It's difficult to be joyful if we have recently lost a loved one. It will be difficult for my brother-in-law to be joyful this year. It will be difficult for some of you to be joyful because of the grief you recently experienced. However, that grief should be a part of the joy. What I mean is that we can talk and reminisce about those days when those we are grieving over were here. We can laugh at funny memories. We can cry at sad and precious memories. But we can be thankful for all the times we had and all the memories we have of them.

I want to close with one more story. I try to cast the vision for Life Gate the second Sunday of every year. I want everyone to know where we are wanting to go and what we are wanting to accomplish for the year. This year we planned, for the first time, to have a grandparents' Sunday on Grandparents' Day. A lady in our church thought that was a great idea especially since she was not certain about her grandmother's spiritual condition. She called her grandmother the next week and invited her to Grandparents' Sunday that we would be having that September. The grandmother said she would come, but a few weeks later a spot was discovered on one of her lungs. Her grandmother died not long after that. We buried her this year. The skit that we did today was birthed from that event. A sister of the lady in our church called looking for a recipe for a dish that their grandmama always brought to Thanksgiving. My point is that we should plan as if our loved ones will always be here, but we should know they may not be here next Thanksgiving. What is the one thing they would like for you to do for them? If you will do that one thing, you will have no regrets. When asked, "If I Could Do It Again . . ." you will be able to say, "I would change nothing. I did it well. I went because I wanted to and I was joyful.

Here is the way I would like to close our time together today. We have our candle altar. If you would like to light a candle in memory of a loved one that has died and will not be at your Thanksgiving feast this year, please do. Take a moment and be thankful for that life. At the same time make a commitment to find the one thing that a person you love needs from you and do it.


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