Most of us know we ought to be more thankful than we are. And it’s for this reason Thanksgiving Day is a particularly uplifting holiday. It gives us an occasion to notice our tendency toward ingratitude and — for at least one day – give thanks for the many blessings we enjoy in this life.
But as much as this occasion is appreciated, the Thanksgiving experience of many is incomplete. Oh, sure, there is plenty of food, family, and football. And there may even be some discussion about what we’re thankful for. There might even be a prayer. But there’s still something missing.
What’s missing is a clear conception of the recipient of our thanks. Or, put another way, we need an object for our thanks. As any English teacher will tell you, if you have a subject telling you who is doing the action, and if you have a verb telling you what the action is, you also need a direct object to show you who is the recipient of the action.
The observance of Thanksgiving is no different. We have a subject – the “we” who are participating in the holiday. We have a supposed action – giving thanks. But what is the object of our thanks? To whom is our thanks given?
Lately, I’ve noticed this object has been missing. I’ve read and heard lots of exhortations to give thanks. But the object of thanks is never stated. It’s as if we are to simply experience some vague notion of indebtedness, without anyone in particular that we are indebted to.
But being obliged to give thanks – as we surely are – necessarily calls us to identify the proper recipient of our thanks. Simply emoting feelings of thankfulness is insufficient, and leaves our Thanksgiving incomplete.
This, of course, raises the question, “To whom shall we give thanks?” Shall we thank mom and the rest of the ladies for the meal and all their hard work? Shall we thank dad for his provision and care? Shall we thank all the other people in our lives that show us much good? Of course we should!
But at the same time we know that our thanks must go further. We know deep in our hearts that the blessings we receive come from a source far beyond us. We know that they come from the goodness and power of God. And because every blessing is derived from Him, He is the rightful object of our thanks.
Giving thanks is a wonderful activity because it forces us to realize that we do not have sufficiency in ourselves. Giving thanks to God is a necessary activity because it gives due honor to the One through whom all blessings flow.
“Bless the LORD, O my soul;
And all that is within me,
Bless His holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities;
Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from
Who crowns you with lovingkindness
Who satisfies your years with good
So that your youth is renewed like
the eagle” (Psalm 103:1-5).
Augustine wrote The City of God in the early 400s, at the time of the late and undeniable collapse of the Roman Empire, which had been considered a Christian Empire for nearly 200 years. Augustine wrote something that defines empire and clearly labels the hypocrisy that is its undoing. Many of you have probably heard or read this before, but it is worth repeating here:
Without justice, what are kingdoms but great robber bands? What are robber bands but small kingdoms? The band is itself made up of men, is ruled by the command of a leader, and is held together by a social pact. Plunder is divided in accordance with an agreed upon law. If this evil increases by the inclusion of dissolute men to the extent that it takes over territory, establishes headquarters, occupies cities, and subdues peoples, it publicly assumes the title of kingdom!
A fitting and true response was once given to Alexander the Great by an apprehended pirate. When asked by the king what he thought he was doing by infesting the sea, he replied with noble insolence, “What do you think you are doing by infesting the whole world? Because I do it with one puny boat, I am called a pirate; because you do it with a great fleet, you are called an emperor.”
The American empire is collapsing – and as with the natural collapse of other empires, people in and out of the empire’s grasp simply stop believing some decades and generations before the physical end. This is where we are today – and unlike all previous empires in collapse, we live in an age of rapid communication, and instant access to history, research, commentary and imagery available for the asking. Tradition and habit can keep an empire on life support for centuries, at least it worked this way centuries before now. Today, change can come as quickly as ideas can travel, guide and inform individual choices and actions.
“. . . first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Mt.7:5).
Some passages in the Bible are noteworthy for their vivid imagery, such as the one above. How easy – and humorous – it is to envision a man anxiously seeking to remove a tiny speck from another’s eye all while he has a large plank sticking out of his own.
Scriptures like these do more than present clear mental images. They provide challenges that lie close to the heart.
How often we can be like the man in the picture – quick to critique others, but loathe to evaluate ourselves. We put the motives and actions of others in the worst possible light, while assuming our motives and actions are always pure and justified. We get preoccupied with others faults, and forget about our own.
Of course, the point that Jesus was making as he presented this picture is that this is folly. We each have our own issues to deal with. And they are often bigger than those we feel compelled to address in the lives of others. So, wisdom dictates we must learn to fix ourselves first.
Fixing ourselves first, though, is not something we’re all that keen to pursue. Picking at the faults of others comes easier than wrestling with our own flaws. But dealing with ourselves first is what we must do if we are going to see all that we need to improve our lives.
And what are we likely to see if we examine ourselves and are willing to make necessary changes?
First, we’ll see how much of the trouble we face in our lives is self-inflicted. When you work on fixing yourself first, you stop blaming others for your problems, and you realize much of your pain is brought on yourself.
Along with this, we’ll also see some hope for a new life. Our hearts are capable of great self-deception. But when we look at ourselves as we really are, we are also able to see what our lives could be.
Finally, we can see clearly in order to offer others genuine help. If we insert ourselves to help others without attending to our own issues, our efforts will always be tainted by our own agenda. But as we see ourselves in an honest light, we are positioned to see others as people as well and help them accordingly.
So, what would happen if you got serious about fixing yourself first and removed a little ocular lumber?
Initially, you’d probably not like what you see. You might feel some shame and embarrassment. You might need to ask forgiveness. And you’ll most definitely see areas that need change.
But that’s good news. Because seeing your need to change is the first step to change coming about. The next step is to seek the One who faithfully shows us our need and gives us the grace to address our problems.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my anxious thoughts. And see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Ps.139:23,24).
Each month I lead a “Business and the Bible” lunch at a local restaurant. This month we considered our society’s move toward statism. Since we are clearly moving in a direction that involves more state intervention in all areas of life — whether it be personal, social, economic, or religious — it is prudent to know how to respond. The notes to my address are below. . .
How do we respond to the increasingly statist direction of our society?
1. Get informed
Statism not new; it’s an idol that’s been around for long time
What’s troubling is how many are embracing it; Hos.4:6
Need to have understanding; so not partake of evil, but expose it, Eph.5:11
2. Don’t Fear
One of Jesus’ more common phrases: “fear not”; He knew the Father had all under control
Though men resist God, He has installed His king, and He sits in the heavens and laughs, Ps.2
God is bringing judgment/fear to a world that has rejected Him; we need not fear if we don’t compromise
3. Remember Kingdom of God
Kingdoms of men rise/fall, but God’s kingdom abides; tho nations shaken, kingdom of God unshakeable
We helped to remember this as remember history
Most of biblical record given in statist environment: Joseph, Daniel, NT under Roman Empire
Augustine at end of Roman Empire: it not the end, but end of beginning
4. Know what you believe
The pressures and changes taking place are sifting many lives
Need to come to terms with what you believe/who you will serve; Joshua 24:15
Likelihood of being tested on increase; will we obey God or men (Acts 5:29)?
5. Build Christian community
American Christianity for last generation been very individualistic; church community optional
This is changing: collapse of welfare state; believers seeing need for others in body of Christ
Need to build strong church communities; be devoted in brotherly love, Rom.12:10; Heb.10:25
6. Seek to do good
Temptation to become cynical, bitter, selfish, negative
But we are called to do good; Rom.12:21; Ps.37:3,4; Eph.2:10
Be lights in midst of crooked and perverse generation
7. Trust the Lord’s provision
Be faithful, no matter what you are dealt; Mt.25
Lord able to provide for his own, even in dry times; Ps.1
Lord knows who are His, and how to do right for His elect; Lk18:7
We live in a time of great change and uncertainty
The times certainly try us
But God is in the midst of our troubles; He will not be moved.
We must have faith toward Him at all times; He is a refuge for us, Ps.62:8
Worship may seem like an irrelevant aspect of our present-day problems, but it’s really at the very heart of them. And once we come to realize the central place that worship possesses, we are able to see that faithful worship is essential to bringing us the real hope and change we need.
The act of worship is inescapable. Every one of us places our honor, devotion, and trust in one direction or another. The question is, “What will be the object of our worship?”
The answer to that question is critical, because everything flows from worship. Whom we exalt as the object of our worship brings definite consequences. Let’s draw this out a bit.
The first object of worship that people are inclined to choose is the self. In this case, pleasing and following the passions of oneself becomes all consuming. Feelings and their gratification becomes ultimate.
This may seem like an instinctive – if not American – position to take, but watch out. The Bible warns us not to put the creature above the Creator. It tells us, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Pr.14:12). Doing what’s right in one’s own eyes has a long record of failure.
The second object of worship that people gravitate toward is the state. When people recognize their own limitations, they hope that other, perhaps smarter and more capable, human beings will deliver them. This desire is manifest in the expectation that the state will sustain and secure us from cradle to grave.
But here too we must take notice. God never intended the state to be a savior, but a minister of justice (Rom.13). When the state goes beyond its God-given role, it is sure to fail and afflict hardship on the people. The state cannot manage what is best for the people, even with good intent, because it does not know all the variables that affect the future. When it attempts to bring increased control anyway, it only leads to tyranny.
This leaves us with only one more option, and that is to worship the triune God Himself. And as God, He alone is worthy of our devotion and trust. He is the omniscient, sovereign ruler over all things. He has given His Word to guide us in the way of blessing. And He has sent His Son, Jesus Christ, that we would be restored to Him.
To worship the Lord above all else is not the way to stifling oppression that is often assumed. It’s just the opposite. When a people sincerely worship the Lord in spirit and in truth, it’s the way to life and liberty.
Jesus put the paradox best when He said, “Whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it” (Mt.16:25).
At the root of our problems is the matter of worship. A nation that idolizes the self and state will find no deliverance. It must return to the Lord and worship Him.
With the passing of the last several elections, the voting (and non-voting) public keeps growing more cynical and disillusioned. Not only is there widespread disappointment with the candidates offered, but there’s also exasperation with their performance once in office.
I submit to you that the reason for this state of affairs is fairly simple: we have placed an undo emphasis on the good that the civil government can bring about, and have diminished the necessity of a strong family and church for a thriving society.
Each election cycle politicians give us their promises of hope and change. But what hope and change can they bring us when those we elect are a reflection of ourselves? If the people have covetousness in their hearts, they will vote accordingly, and to their own ruin. Maybe with a monarchy you might find quick positive change through the installation of a new king, but in a democracy we get the leaders we deserve.
Where does that leave us? Hopeless? No, but we must recover our focus. We must realize that if we really want a society that is good, merciful, just, prosperous, and all that, it must be cultivated within the home and church. It will not come to us from the state.
The family is the primary institution of society. It is here that characters are shaped and its members learn how to apply grace and truth in a way they can take it to a world in need. When the family is in a shambles, we cannot expect society to pick up the slack if that society is comprised of families that are a wreck. Real change and hope can only come as families are renewed and embrace responsibility. As it’s been said, “as goes the family, so goes society.”
The church is referred to in the Bible as “the salt of the earth.” This is because the church is to have a preservative influence on the society in which it exists. Sadly, the cultural decay that surrounds us testifies to the failure of the church. Regrettably, the compromise and corruption so characteristic of our culture stems from unbelief in the pulpit and pew. Consequently, the hope of restoration in our land lies in the reformation of the church.
Looking at the condition of the family and church in our day can be just as grim an exercise as looking at the state of our civil government. But it is to the family and church we must look, because it is here that real change must first take place. And it is also here that we find hope, because it is within the home and church that we can actually do something constructive.
So, don’t grumble about the election. Get on your knees and repent. Present yourself to God as a living sacrifice. Do what’s necessary to strengthen your family. Those who are near you need you. Get back in church and seek its reform. It’s the worship of God alone that keeps us from the idols of our age.
Have faith in God. He remains faithful.