Monday, November 22, 2021

holiday or holy day?

 Right off the bat, I have to admit that this title is taken directly from Pop yesterday morning at church. I've been wanting to write about Thanksgiving, but I just couldn't quite wrap my mind around how to get started. When he started our discussion yesterday morning, though, the reminder to celebrate holy days while the world is celebrating holidays struck me.

We all know that the holidays have been turned into something they were never intended to be. Christmas has been commercialized to the point that it is barely recognizable. What was intended as the "Mass of Christ" to commemorate and celebrate the birth of Yeshua Hamashiach ("Jesus the Anointed One") has become very little more than a time of getting more stuff. It starts on November 1st, and from that day until the 25th it seems like little more than a competition to show who can make it the biggest and best--the most lights, the most presents, the biggest and jolliest Santa, the most reindeer, the best looking tree, the overflowing stockings, the most elaborate parties.

If the true meaning of Christmas has been hidden, though, Thanksgiving has altogether disappeared for most. It has been pushed out of the picture and is little more than a long weekend, a chance to eat too much, and football games.

What if we took the time to remember the purpose behind Thanksgiving, to see it as a holy day instead of a holiday? I'm not saying it is one of the Holy Days described in the Old Testament--those are specific days God told His people to set aside for Him. In this case, I'm using holy with a small "h" because it is a day we chose to set aside for Him. When the United States was founded, we stood on a foundation firmly planted on the One who is never shaken. The founders knew that we would only succeed as a nation if we remained rooted in Almighty God, and that our country was a result of nothing more or less than His mercy and protection. In 1777, what was then known as the Continental Congress issued the first Thanksgiving Proclamation. In it, they asked the people to "consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor." In 1778, their words read, in part, "together with devout thanksgiving, may be joined a penitent confession of our sins, and humble supplication for pardon, through the merits of our Savior."

In 1789, George Washington issued the first presidential proclamation for Thanksgiving. Like the Continental Congress before him, Washington humbled himself before the God who had shown His favor to a new nation. He began with the words, "Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor." He went on to remind everyone that God "is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be" and that the establishment of our nation was due to His providence and mercy.

In 1798, the tone of the proclamation changed some. John Adams called for everyone to give "fervent thanksgiving to the Bestower of Every Good Gift," but he also called on the people of the United States to fast and pray. He asked everyone to, "with the deepest humility, acknowledge before God the manifold sins and transgressions with which we are justly chargeable as individuals and as a nation, beseeching Him at the same time, of His infinite grace, through the Redeemer of the World, freely to remit all our offenses, and to incline us by His Holy Spirit to that sincere repentance and reformation which may afford us reason to hope for his inestimable favor and heavenly benediction; that it be made the subject of particular and earnest supplication that our country may be protected from all the dangers which threaten it; that our civil and religious privileges may be preserved inviolate and perpetuated to the latest generations; that our public councils and magistrates may be especially enlightened and directed at this critical period; that the American people may be united in those bonds of amity and mutual confidence and inspired with that vigor and fortitude by which they have in times past been so highly distinguished and by which they have obtained such invaluable advantages; that the health of the inhabitants of our land may be preserved, and their agriculture, commerce, fisheries, arts, and manufactures be blessed and prospered; that the principles of genuine piety and sound morality may influence the minds and govern the lives of every description of our citizens and that the blessings of peace, freedom, and pure religion may be speedily extended to all the nations of the earth."

It's a lot to take in, but the basics are the same through all of these proclamations--we, as a people, are here only because of God. His mercy and providence sustain us. He is the "Divine Author of Every Good and Perfect Gift" and "we are indebted for all those privileges and advantages, religious as well as civil, which are so richly enjoyed in this favored land," as stated in James Madison's proclamation in 1815.

Our nation, however, has turned away from Thanksgiving, and it seems to be for one main reason--if we admit we have much for which to be thankful, we have to admit that our thanks is owed to Someone. The few times you here anything about Thanksgiving now, people are careful to mention what they are thankful for but seldom name who they are thankful to.

It's human nature not to want to want to acknowledge that we owe everything to God. Every breath is a gift, but to admit that means to admit that we owe a debt we are incapable of repaying. Here in the United States, despite the course of recent events, we have lived quite a blessed life. We have lived in safety, comfort, and peace. A huge part of that is due to the men and women who have been willing to stand "between their loved home and the war's desolation" (from the 4th stanza of The Star-Spangled Banner). Their willingness to sacrifice everything, though, would be worthless without the ultimate guidance and protection of God. We claimed His protection when our country was founded, but in claiming that protection I fully believe that we also took on the requirements of a covenant with Him. If we continue down the path we're on, we will soon see what it means to break a covenant with God.

This week, I hope we will all take the time to truly be thankful. I hope, like those who came before us, we will acknowledge that we didn't get to where we are on our own. Everything I have is a gift I don't deserve--my family, my health, my home, my finances. It is only through the goodness and mercy of God that I am where I am. It is easy to get caught up in the bustle of the holiday and forget that we should take time to make Thanksgiving a holy day--one set apart for us to focus on the One who gave us everything. To Him alone do we owe all our thanks.

Friday, November 5, 2021

...for such a time as this

So often, we look around the world and what's happening today and get overwhelmed. It's easy to see the bad things happening and feel powerless. Especially right now, when it seems like anyone speaking the truth is silenced. There's something every day that makes me shake my head and ask, "How can this be happening? How can people be so blind?"

We are told that as Christians we shouldn't make waves. As Voddie Baucham has said, we act like the 11th commandment is "Thou Shalt Be Nice" and we focus on it while ignoring the 10. We are encouraged to stay quiet in an effort to keep the peace. According to many, we should just keep quiet when we don't agree. We should make every effort not to rock the boat.

I'll admit, that life is much easier. It's a lot easier to decide to sit quietly in the background. It's a lot easier to decide to go with the flow. It's a lot easier to fly under the radar.

The thing is, we aren't called to a life of ease. In fact, Jesus promised exactly the opposite. He lived exactly the opposite. Jesus didn't fly under the radar. He didn't temper His words so that He wouldn't offend people. Honestly, people either loved Him or hated Him. We are called to follow Him, even when it's hard. We are called to live a life where nothing matters more than Him--a life we are willing to give up, if need be.

The early followers of Christ were seen as rebels and troublemakers. When Paul and Silas were preaching in Thessalonica, the accusation the mob threw at them was, "These people—they’re political agitators turning the world upside down!" (Acts 17:6) As tradition holds, all the disciples except John were killed for their faith. Hebrews 11, what we call the "Faith Hall of Fame," has a few verses that we usually overlook:
"35 I could speak of faith bringing women their loved ones back from death and how the faithful accepted torture instead of earthly deliverance because they believed they would obtain a better life in the resurrection. 36 Others suffered mockery and whippings; they were placed in chains and in prisons. 37 The faithful were stoned, sawn in two, killed by the sword, clothed only in sheepskins and goatskins; they were penniless, afflicted, and tormented. 38 The world was not worthy of these saints. They wandered across deserts, crossed mountains, and lived in the caves, cracks, and crevasses of the earth."

If you are alive today, reading this right now, you are right where and when God intended you to be. We're told in Deuteronomy and again in Acts that God determined when and where each of us should live. He chose you for this time and place so that you would fulfill His purpose--the things He planned long ago for you to do. He knew the darkness you would be facing today, and He created you as someone who would reflect His light in the midst of it. Like Mordecai reminded Esther, perhaps you are where you are

Don't be silenced. Don't give in to the temptation to fade into the darkness around you just because it's easier than standing up. Don't back down because you don't want to offend someone or hurt their feelings. "Be nice" isn't a commandment. Instead, we are told to speak the truth because when people know the truth of God, they are set free from the chains of sin. We are told to stand up for what is right, to speak up for those who can't speak for themselves. Instead of being told not to rock the boat, we're told to step out of the boat into the storm and to know that the Savior will hold onto us.

Parents, step up

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