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To better understand Thanksgiving Day, we need to understand why the Pilgrims left England in the first place. It all started in 1534 when England broke ties with the Roman Catholic Church, and Protestant Reformers saw this as an opportunity. In time these reformers came to be called Puritans (mainly because they wanted to “purify” the Church of England of Catholic traditions they believed not to be biblical).
After many years of struggling for change, some Puritans felt that little progress had been made; so they decided it was time to separate from the Church of England. This began the distinction between the Puritans and the Separatists. Though they shared the same theological beliefs and values, the Puritans remained part of the Church of England, while the Separatists chose to separate, and the Pilgrims were part of this Separatist group.
Unfortunately, the Church and State were intimately tied, and Separatists were considered treasonous and lived in danger of both persecution and imprisonment. Due to the hostilities, a small group of Separatists sailed to Holland In 1609.
For more than a decade, they enjoyed religious freedom and gathered openly for church. But with this freedom came difficulties. First was economic hardship. As immigrants they were at the bottom of the economic ladder and lived in extreme poverty.
Next, this freedom brought the dilution of their biblical values, especially among the young. Some of the young men and women began to assimilate into the Dutch culture and abandoning their faith.
William Bradford, a passenger on the Mayflower and governor of Plymouth, explained:
“Of all the sorrows most heavy to be borne (in Holland), was that many of the children, influenced by these conditions, and the great licentiousness of the young people of the country, and the many temptations of the city, were led by evil example into dangerous courses.”
With the desire to spread the gospel message the Pilgrims chose to immigrate once again, this time to America, and they were prepared to make tremendous sacrifices for future generations – and the sacrifices proved to be costly.
By the end of their first winter in 1620, half of the passengers who had sailed to America on the Mayflower were dead. Yet, they persevered and remained faithful to God. The next year, with the help of some local Indians they were able to plant crops and have a good harvest.
In spite of their losses they called for a celebration to thank God. God blessed them and America became a bastion of freedom, especially the freedom to worship God without fear from either church or governmental persecution.
And God chose to pour out His blessing upon their descendants and this new country. To use the words of Bradford, these Pilgrims became the “stepping stones” in the formation of what has arguably become the greatest nation on earth.
But America is no longer that beacon on a hill, because it’s no longer “One Nation Under God.” It’s a country where its spiritual life no longer centers upon a commitment to God or His church.
Instead, we are a nation that’s taken the Lord God of the Bible, the Lord God who helped founded this nation, out of every aspect of our nation’s life, where the Bible is being removed from our schools, and the Ten Commandments are being removed from our public buildings, and we are now seeing our businesses, organizations, and our government not only oppose the Bible, but those who hold to its truths.
What we have today is largely the same thing that faced the Separatists back in England and Holland. First, the government is trying to control the church. In 2014, the mayor of Houston tried to subpoena sermons, teachings, and all communications from several pastors to silence them from talking against immorality. The IRS is also trying to take away churches tax-exempt status if they speak against the state.
And more recently we are seeing State and local officials restricting and even prohibiting public worship while giving the green light for violent protest in our streets, and immorality within our schools.
And those who influence our youth are anything but Christian, and are youth are following these social influencer’s rebellion against God and the morals put down in God’s word.
And when it comes to celebrating this Holiday, it’s no longer a celebration of thanksgiving for all that God has blessed us and our country with, but rather it’s become a time of stuffing our faces and watching Thanksgiving specials and sporting events on T.V.
Further, Thanksgiving Day is little more than a launching pad for Christmas. Is it any wonder that the day after Thanksgiving is called “Black Friday,” and that’s because it helps retailers stay out of the red.
It seems like America today is stripping away our ability to thank God for what He has provided. Christian missionary, Elwood McQuaid said, “We are rapidly becoming a nation of ingrates – people for whom too much is never enough.”
And so today we’re leaving God out of our feast that was founded upon His blessings, and replacing Him with idols and gluttony.
Now, I’m not saying this as some herald of doom, but to hopefully allow us to see our error and turn to the Lord before it’s too late.
The Lord said, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV)
To get our nation back on track with God and to once again be prosperous and that beacon of light, there are several things we need to do to get ourselves back on track and to once again give thanks where thanks is due?
The first thing is that we need to have A Thankful Heart
“Thanksgiving” may be on people’s lips, in reality it’s far from their hearts.
The Lord said it like this. “These people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men.” (Isaiah 29:13 NKJV)
Prayer and giving thanks to God has now become more of a tradition at the dining room table than it is from a heart of genuine thankfulness. In other words, while we may bow our heads and say a prayer, the idea of thankfulness for what God has done is basically unknown to many.
It was such a thankless heart that God saw that brought the eventual downfall of the nation of Israel.
The Lord said, “I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me; the ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, My people do not consider.” (Isaiah 1:2-3 NKJV)
But how do we develop a thankful heart towards God? And I think it comes from a truism, that it’s only those who know forgiveness who can truly be thankful.
The next thing we need is An Attitude of Gratitude
George Washington’s 1782 Thanksgiving Proclamation expresses our nation’s dependence on the Lord God by giving credit to Him for every victory and success.
You see, our forefathers and our founding fathers believed the Bible, and they knew its author, God. And so, no matter what they went through, and it was some really tough stuff, they maintained an attitude of gratitude.
Now, tomorrow most of us will be sitting around a table filled with all sorts of good stuff to eat as we celebrate Thanksgiving. But what I find sad is that we only do this once a year. Why am I sad? Well, for one reason I really like Turkey and all the fixings. But the real reason is because we should be thankful all year long.
And so we need to be grateful, not just on this special day, but all year long. To the church in Thessalonica, Paul said, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NKJV)
What I believe is that when we have this attitude of gratitude, God will make our messes into His message of hope, and our tests will become His testimony. And we will no longer see the glass half full or half empty, but rather we’ll see the glass running over.
Speaking about having this water overrunning brings me to our last point, and that is our need to Bring Back the Spirit
It was the Holy Spirit who led the Pilgrims to make this journey to this new land and to start a new work for God, a new work that would form a nation whose foundation would be Jesus Christ, and a nation that would adhere to following God’s word.
And to get us back to what God had originally set forth for us as a nation to be we need to bring back the Holy Spirit. But such a work cannot be legislated, rather it must be enacted within the our lives.
Take a look with me at several elements of the Holy Spirit’s work.
First He Guides Us
The Holy Spirit will guide us. To guide means that He will lead us and show us the way we are to walk in this world.
“When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth. He will not be presenting His own ideas; He will be telling you what He has heard. He will tell you about the future.” (John 16:13 NLT)
Next, He Abides With Us
As believers in Jesus Christ, we are not facing life all alone because Jesus promised that He would not abandon us as orphans. And so He sends to us the Holy Spirit to live and abide within us continually.
“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever.” (John 14:16 NKJV)
And finally, He Encourages Us
If there is anything that we need more of in this world is encouragement. Jesus said that He would not leave us as orphans, and it’s the Holy Spirit that reinforces that in our lives.
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” (Romans 8:16 NKJV)
And so, seeing that the Holy Spirit guides us, abides within us, and encourages us, should we be anything but thankful? And so, as we approach this Thanksgiving and beyond,
• Let’s be filled with Thanksgiving for all that God has done in our lives,
• Let our attitude change into one of profound gratitude,
• And let’s bring back into our lives, into the church, and into our nation the Spirit behind
Thanksgiving, and that is, the Holy Spirit.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study