I love the Thanksgiving holiday.  Even the word makes me smile.  It combines two of my favorite words. As the father of three little girls (age 8, 5 and 3) I certainly prefer “thank you,” but “thanks” will do.  And giving is my favorite financial term. There are three basic things you can do with money. You can spend it, save it, or give it away. Of those three choices, giving wins hands down as far as providing long lasting joy.

The Pilgrims left Plymouth, England, on September 6, 1620. Their destination? The New World. Although filled with uncertainty and peril, it offered both civil and religious liberty.

For over two months, the 102 passengers braved the harsh elements of a vast storm-tossed sea. Finally, with firm purpose and a reliance on Divine Providence, the cry of "Land!" was heard.

Arriving in Massachusetts in late November, the Pilgrims sought a suitable landing place. On December 11, just before disembarking at Plymouth Rock, they signed the "Mayflower Compact" -- America's first document of civil government and the first to introduce self-government.

After a prayer service, the Pilgrims began building hasty shelters. However, unprepared for the starvation and sickness of a harsh New England winter, nearly half died before spring. Yet, persevering in prayer, and assisted by helpful Indians, they reaped a bountiful harvest the following summer.

The grateful Pilgrims then declared a three-day feast, starting on December 13, 1621, to thank God and to celebrate with their Indian friends. While this was not the first Thanksgiving in America (Thanksgiving services were held in Virginia as early as 1607), it was America's first Thanksgiving Festival.1

Put yourself in the shoes of a pilgrim who survived. You would have had to feel God’s mercy. In a similar fashion, when the apostle Paul wrote his epistle to the church at Rome, he urged Christians living there to offer themselves to God in view of God’s mercy. In fact, Paul spent the first 11 chapters of this letter explaining how great God’s mercy had been, not only for the Jews whom he had liberated from slavery in Egypt and given his law but also for all mankind, whom he had freed from bondage to sin and misery.

Only after explaining that God himself  “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32) did Paul make his sweeping appeal for sacrificial obedience through the many commands that begin with Romans 12:1: “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice -- the kind he will accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask?”

The fundamental thrust of Paul’s commands is that we should love God and our neighbor unconditionally. He goes on to describe a number of particular ways in which we are to practice sacrifice and stewardship in view of God’s mercy. In the context of the early Roman church, this especially included learning to practice God’s love in cross-cultural relationships (between Jews and Gentiles, Greeks and Latins, etc.).

Additionally, our obligations within the Christian community call us to think of ourselves with “sober judgment” (Romans 12:3), humbly using the gifts we have been given “according to the grace given us” (Romans 12:6). Whatever our particular gift may be, we must be diligent in the way that we use it.

As Paul said, “If your gift is that of serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, do a good job of teaching. If your gift is to encourage others, do it! If you have money, share it generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly” (Romans 12:7-8). Regardless of what our particular gifts may be, we are to use them “in view of God’s mercy” because all that we have is ours only because of  “the grace given us.”