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Thanks be to God for His provision and abundance

This Thursday marks the 150th anniversary of the “official” day of Thanksgiving. Although America’s Thanksgiving celebrations are rooted in English traditions dating from the Protestant Reformation, the modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition is commonly, but not universally, traced to a 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. But it was 150 years ago that President Abraham Lincoln made a proclamation celebrating Thanksgiving on the same date, the final Thursday of November, by all states in our nation torn by the Civil War.

Traditionally, Thanksgiving is a holiday to give thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year. Much like Christmas, the historical roots of Thanksgiving are in religious traditions where we are literally giving thanks to God for His provision and abundance.

In an increasingly secular culture, Thanksgiving has become a day of feasting, football, and family. These are, without question, worthy reasons to celebrate, but inevitably one begins to wonder, To whom are we giving thanks? If there’s no belief in God, do we give thanks for our food, football, and family gatherings to each other? To the government? To the grocery store and farmers who provided the food? To our family, even though we can list ten reasons why we wish we didn’t have to get together with…all of them?

The same thing applies to Christmas. If all we’re doing at Christmas is buying presents, having parties, and getting together with…that same family, do we still have to call it “Christ”mas? Maybe we should change the name of Thanksgiving to “Holiday-fest” and Christmas to “Happy Holidays.” Oh, wait, we’ve already done that.

I find it sad that in a secular culture, we are bound to a new tradition void of our religious roots and heritage. We have become fearful of reminding people that some of our nation’s first pilgrims gathered to thank GOD for His provisions. We’re not forcing people to do the same by writing and speaking about this element of our American history. If we remind people that the origin of Christmas is the celebration of God becoming flesh in Jesus Christ, we’re not telling people that they have to worship Jesus nor that we want a Christian theocracy. Do we gut the historical, religious roots of Hanukkah next? How would people feel if those who celebrate Kwanzaa were told that this holiday is no longer centered around the African-American heritage?

Even though the textbooks of our schools may strip away the historical origins of Thanksgiving and Christmas in order to fit the prevailing “tolerance” of our age, Christians of all denominations have an opportunity this holiday season to keep telling the story. And more importantly to keep living the story through humility, love, and servanthood.

I will be taking time off from the blog later this week to give thanks to GOD for family, food and football (and you should too). Until next week, Happy Thanksgiving—and thanks be to the God of creation for His provision and abundance.

Houston we have a problem…it’s time to face the brutal facts!

In Jim Collins' book, Good to Great, he writes, "All good-to-great companies began the process of finding a path to greatness by confronting the brutal facts of their current reality. . . . It is impossible to make good decisions without infusing the entire process with an honest confrontation of the brutal facts." This statement is not only good advice for companies, but it's also good advice for marriages, parenting, and churches.

In marriage, spouses can very easily slip into the "neutral zone" where everything looks neutral: it's not really bad, but it's not good, either. There's no color, no spark, and no joy. Everything is a dull gray as the husband and wife rarely speak to one another, take time for each other, and basically live separate lives under one roof. How do we splash color on our marriages and create a spark once again? Only when we confront the brutal fact that our current reality is not healthy. When we're honest about our condition, we're far more likely to search for the remedy.

In parenting, moms and dads can find themselves being a taxi service and calendar scheduler more than a discipler and nurturer. I've been traveling a lot the past four weeks, and I realized I hadn't had a meaningful conversation with my daughter during that entire time. So, yesterday I picked her up from school and took her out on a date. I wouldn't have done that, though, if I didn't confront the brutal fact that I've been an absentee dad over the past month.  

The same thing applies to the state of the church in America today. Many churchgoers are content with the drabness of their faith and church experience. Much like the frog in the kettle, many churchgoers aren't even aware there's a problem. But there is. Every year more than 4,000 churches close their doors compared to approximately 1,000 new churches that start. There are just over 350,000 churches in the U.S. today. I'm no expert in math, but when we have a net loss of 3,000 churches a year, that means we would be almost "churchless" in roughly 100 years. Churchgoers are also getting older, on average, than the general population. The younger the generation, the higher the percentage that reports they are unaffiliated with a church. Every year 2.7 million church members fall into inactivity. From 1990 to 2000, the combined membership of all Protestant denominations in the U.S. declined by almost 5 million members (9.5%) while the U.S. population increased by 24 million (11%).

Houston, we have a problem.

It's time to confront the brutal facts, not so that we wring our hands in despair, but so that we get on our knees in prayer. In marriage, parenting, and churches, we need to be honest about our current reality in order to wake up to the Spirit's leading for repentance and renewal. To repent means to change your mind and go in a different direction. We change our minds by acknowledging that where we are is not good in order to begin moving to a better place--to a healthier marriage, family, and church. We repent of letting the weeds grow in our hearts and homes, and then we renew our commitment to kill the weeds and grow healthy once again.

Jesus said to the church in Ephesus, "But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place, unless you repent" (Revelation 2:4-5, ESV). Confront the brutal facts. Have you abandoned the love you once held for your spouse, your children, your Lord? Has your heart grown cold? Are you in the "neutral zone" of your marriage? Is your church just going through the motions? If so, it's time to repent and do the works you did at first. Return to the love you once had. "Keep yourselves in the love of God" (Jude 21), and "the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you" (1Peter 5:10). And praise God that He will. 

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