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“The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe

In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God concerning you.

  • 1 Thessalonians 5:18

I’ve always been thankful for the Thanksgiving holiday.  From its Christian origin in the early history of America to its central message of giving thanks to God for his providential blessings, to the food and family, it serves as an annual and much-needed reminder to God’s people to consider the many blessings he brings to our lives and express our gratitude for them.

In thinking about my own sinful tendency to see the worst in things, I would add that setting apart a day to give thanks to God for his many blessings is of no small importance. 

The verse from 1 Thessalonians quoted above is remarkable for the extent of its application.  Paul didn’t tell the Christians in Thessalonica to give thanks in some things, or to give thanks in many things, or to give thanks when things went well for them.  He told them, “In everything give thanks,” that is, Christians are to give thanks in all circumstances.

Does anyone else find that a bit challenging and convicting? 

Giving thanks can be hard, even when things turn out as we like.  Perhaps we get caught up in the moment and forget the Lord.  Or maybe we, as did Nebuchadnezzar when overlooking the glory of Babylon, want to attribute some great achievement to our own wisdom or goodness or skill rather than to God who is the giver of all good gifts.   

But if it can be a challenge to give thanks when things go well, much more is this the case when events are not to our liking.  Whether it’s illness, or economic loss, or the suffering of some injustice, it can be hard to see the good in any of those things, let alone give thanks. 

To the natural mind, the thought of giving thanks to God for life’s disappointments and tragedies likely seems not only foolish but even madness. 

Yet the plain language of this passage is a command by the Apostle Paul to give thanks in everything, leaving nothing for which we are not to give thanks.

But how is it that Christians can make the case for giving thanks in all things without sounding like madmen? 

The key is understanding God’s sovereign purposes, both for his own glory and for the good of his people.  In Romans 8, Paul provides an explanation of his broad statement “In everything give thanks.”  There, he writes, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

Note here that while Paul speaks of “all things” working together for good, he qualifies “all things” by limiting the scope of this promise “to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” The promise of all things working together for good is true, but it applies only to those who are the called in Christ Jesus.  Those who are outside of Christ have no basis to claim this promise.  Indeed, if all things work together for good – even those things we would call disasters – for those who love God, it follows that nothing ultimately works together for good to those whose minds are enmity against God – even those things we would commonly call blessings.

Whether the events in our lives are blessings or curses depends not on the events themselves but on God who works all things according to his own purpose, for his own glory, and for the good of his people.

Commenting on 1 Thessalonians 5:18, John Calvin noted,

For this is the will of God — that is, according to Chrysostom’s opinion — that we give thanks. As for myself, I am of opinion that a more ample meaning is included under these terms — that God has such a disposition towards us in Christ, that even in our afflictions we have large occasion of thanksgiving. For what is fitter or more suitable for pacifying us, than when we learn that God embraces us in Christ so tenderly, that he turns to our advantage and welfare everything that befalls us? Let us, therefore, bear in mind, that this is a special remedy for correcting our impatience — to turn away our eyes from beholding present evils that torment us, and to direct our views to a consideration of a different nature — how God stands affected towards us in Christ.

Did you catch that?  “For what is fitter or more suitable for pacifying us, than when we learn that God embraces us in Christ so tenderly, that he turns to our advantage and welfare everything that befalls us?”

Many in our own decadent time, some of whom claim to be Christian theologians, will argue that knowledge, if indeed we are able to have knowledge at all, is of little value.  But what could be a greater practical value for dealing with the difficulties that life throws at us than understanding God’s sovereignty and his goodness to his people is such that all things without exception work to their good and not to their harm?

To such a God and Savior how can we, his people, not give thanks? 

Wishing you and your family a happy and blessed Thanksgiving Day 2021,

Steve       

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The Titanic sinks, April 15,1912.

For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the LORD his God, as was the heart of his father David.

  • 1 Kings 11:4

Just yesterday, I watched a video – confession, I binge watched several videos – about the sinking of the Titanic.  It’s remarkable after well over a century – this April will mark the 109th anniversary of the sinking of the great ocean liner – the fame of the ship and of its disastrous end show no sign of abating.  Doubtless, it’s the most famous maritime disaster ever. 

Some years ago, I listened to a classroom lecture by Gordon Clark, dating, if I recall correctly, from sometime in the 1950’s.  Clark, remarking on the youth of his students, commented that they hadn’t even been born at the time the Titanic sank. Clark himself was a few months shy of his 10th birthday when Titanic went down in the icy waters of the north Atlantic on that fateful morning of April 15, 1912.       

Shipwrecks have always had a certain fascination for me.  Were you to press me for why that is, I suppose I would have to answer that it’s not so much the shipwreck itself that I find fascinating, but the reaction of the people involved in it.  Life and death situations have a way of revealing the true character of those on board.  And shipwrecks, because they tend to play out over longer periods of time than some other types of disasters, give greater opportunity for the faith, bravery, good judgment, foolishness, and cowardice of people to show themselves.

One of the Titanic videos I watched was titled “Titanic History/What caused the Titanic to Break Up?” Years ago, when I first heard about the Titanic, no one talked about the ship splitting in two.  Maybe this was something known to those who studied the disaster closely, I don’t know.  But for decades, it was not generally known to the public that, before sinking, the ship split in two. . 

One of the points that the presenter made in the video was that, although the breakup came suddenly and visibly, there was a lot happening to the structure of the ship on the inside as it went down.  It was these unseen stresses on the ship’s structure ultimately resulted in the breakup, even if the forces at work were not obvious to onlookers before it happened. 

In reflecting on this idea – the notion that powerful, unseen forces can be at work for some time before producing very visible results – it’s easy to see how it can have a wider application.  In this case, I’m thinking how unseen, yet powerful forces can put stresses on the structure of a nation for years, decades, maybe even longer, prior to their resulting in a major and visible catastrophe of some sort.

Take the nation of Israel, for example.  The kingdom hit its peak under the Solomon.  But even while Israel was at the height of its wealth and power, forces were at work which would split the nation shortly after Solomon’s death. 

Solomon’s policy of forced labor and heavy taxation to pay for his public works projects was very much resented by the people.  He also split the nation into administrative districts that paid little heed to traditional tribal boundaries.  There was the longstanding north-south rivalry that, while remaining subdued during the reigns of David and Solomon, nevertheless was present and which would reassert itself under Solomon’s successor Rehoboam.

There was a fourth, and most important, factor in the breakup of Israel after the reign of Solomon: idolatry.  In 1 Kings 11 we read,

But King Solomon loved many foreign women, as well as the daughter of Pharaoh: women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites – from the nations of whom the LORD had said to the children of Israel, “You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you.  Surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods.”  Solomon clung to these in love.  And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart.  For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the LORD his God, as was the heart of his father David.

As a result of Solomon’s sin, his lack of faith in the Lord and his turning to idols, God told him that he would tear the kingdom from him.   

Scripture doesn’t record for us what the Israelite public thought of Solomon’s idolatry.  If I were forced to conjecture what the public’s attitude was toward Solomon as his idolatry become more and more obvious, it seems to me that most people probably paid it little heed.  There was no public outcry against it that I am aware of noted in Scripture.  This is not surprising.  After all, Israel’s prospects had never looked brighter in the 500 or so years since Joshua had led them into the promised land.  The nation was numerous, economically prosperous, and militarily powerful.  It must has looked to most Israelites as if the future was even brighter.  And if there was a little idolatry going on in high places, well, no one is perfect. 

Let’s fast forward to our own time.  Do any of the lessons from Titanic or Israel – hidden forces at work for a period of time which result in big, visible breakups – apply to America? The answer, I think, is yes.

Our nation traces its roots to Puritan settlers from England in the 17th century.  Although at the time of the American Revolution, the colonists were remarkably homogenous – 98% of the population was Protestant – there were still significant divisions present.  The most obvious of these was – in an interesting recapitulation of the fault lines found in ancient Israel – the north/south split over slavery. 

In the 19th century, the homogeneity of the nation began to change as waves of Roman Catholic, Eastern European and Jewish immigrants brought large numbers of people to America that did not share the history, religion or political and economic beliefs with the old-stock American’s descended from the nation’s founders.  The 20th and 21st century have seen the growth in the Muslim population in America.  As was the case with the Catholic and Jewish immigration in the 19th century, Muslim immigrants brought with them a religion with a philosophy of politics and economics that was at odds with a free constitutional republic.  It’s not that Roman Catholics, Jews Muslims – and, to be fair, one must add Orthodoxists – are inferior people, but their ideas are inferior and incompatible with republican government.  

In today’s world where diversity is become the pearl of great price and more to be prized that all other virtues, any suggestion that diversity may not automatically be a strength, but can, in fact, prove to be a weakness, is dismissed as unacceptable.  But look at Solomon’s wives.  They were a diverse lot, but they were not a source of strength, but rather one of weakness.  His Moabite, Hittite, Edomite and Egyptian wives “turned his heart after other gods,” the major factor in the breakup of the United Kingdom.    

At the same time waves of non-Protestant immigration was taking place, American Protestantism itself was succumbing to the forces of irrationalism, liberalism and feminism.  Had American Protestants remained true to the faith of their forefathers, perhaps they could have served as counterbalance to the increasing religious and ethnic diversity in American and kept the nation on an even keel. 

But just as Solomon’s unfaithfulness allowed once hidden divisions within Israel to rise to the surface after his death, so too has the faithlessness of American Protestants led the collapse of any basis for national unity in the United States. We’re no longer so much a nation with a shared history and set of beliefs as we are a warring mob of people that happen to live in the same geographical vicinity to one another.  In the Year of Our Lord 2021, it appears to this observer that the rule of law in America is, if not fully dead, very nearly so and that there is nothing to stop its ultimate demise. If and when that day comes, can America be long for this world?  Jesus said that a kingdom divided against itself will not stand.  If true, and it is, how can America survive?

Earlier I mentioned that what I find most compelling about shipwrecks is that they provide opportunity for people to reveal their true character.  On Titanic there were heroes and cowards.  Not often mentioned were the brave stokers and engineers who stayed at their posts in the bowels of the ship long after it was obvious that Titanic was going down.  Their actions helped keep the ship’s power on and wireless going to the very end. There were cowards, too.  One man dressed as a woman to secure a place on lifeboat he otherwise would not have been able to board.       

Faith was found among Titanic’s passengers as well. Well known is the account of the ship’s orchestra playing “Nearer My God to Thee.”  Then there’s the less well-known but very compelling account of Scottish evangelist John Harper, who preached the Gospel to his final convert just before drowning in the Atlantic’s icy waters.   

The metaphor “ship of state” dates all the way back to Plato’s Republic, and is certainly an apt turn of phrase for this post. Just as ships are large and powerful objects that require a steady hand to steer them, so to do states.  After a large disaster in either case, there can be a lot of second guessing of the people in charge.  You can play the “what if” game with Titanic just as you can with America. 

What if Titanic’s designers had extended the watertight compartments a deck or two higher?, what if the ship wasn’t traveling at top speed?, what if the lookouts had spotted the iceberg 30 seconds sooner?, what if the iceberg hadn’t just nicked the six and final compartment? 

What if slavery had never been established in the colonies?, what if American Protestants had not abandoned the Calvinism of their colonial forefathers?, what if America had a wiser immigration policy in the 19th and 20th centuries?

We can play “what if” all we want, but obviously none of that is going to change either the fate of the Titanic or the present reality of our nation. 

As did Titanic, America is taking on water, and fast.  As Christians, how do we respond?  Do we ignore what’s going on around us and seek to rearrange the deck chairs?  Do we panic?  Do we play the coward hoping to survive through dishonest means?  No to all that.  What we do is what we’re called to do, to walk in our present circumstances in a manner worthy of the Lord.  And what does that look like?  Read what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.”

That’s our job. Yours and mine.      

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colin_kaepernick_unthanksgiving_festival

Colin Kaepernick exudes joy while celebrating Unthanksgiving on Alcatraz Island, 11/23/2017.

Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy.

    – H. L. Menken

Is any group more hated than the Puritans, or any holiday more than Thanksgiving?

In this very PC age of tolerance, the only unpardonable sin is to lack it.  Speak ill, even in the most hushed tones, of most any people or creed and the cultural Marxists will hew your intolerant self to pieces.  But their fury is selective.

In truth, while they preach universal tolerance, their application of it is quite particular. Same-sex marriage? That’s in. And shame on anyone who speaks ill of it. Or ask yourself, when was the last time you saw any mainstream news outlet take issue with any facet of Islam? It’s the religion of peace, is it not? At least, that’s the official line.

But when it comes to Christianity, that’s another story entirely. Even considered in a broad sense, Christianity certainly finds itself unwelcomed in the halls of power and influence in our post-Christian society.

But if you want to see some real fireworks, bring up the Puritans. We’re told by homosexual movie director and fashion designer Tom Ford they were “uptight.” Noted libertine Hugh Hefner found them to be ” persecuting.”

“Puritanical” has long been a sort of swear word used to denigrate anyone or anything the speaker finds prudish.

(more…)

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Harvey Weinstein_AP

Harvey Weinstein, AP

 

Their foot shall slide in due time. Deuteronomy 32:35

It’s been quite a tumultuous week plus for famed Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Here’s a man who went from king of the movie world to fired by the board of directors of his own company in the space of just a few days. To add insult to injury, just a few days later he became only the second person to be kicked out of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the organization’s 90 year history. The official statement of the board read,

We do so not simply to separate ourselves from someone who does not merit the respect of his colleague but also to send a message that the era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment in our industry is over.

I confess to being fairly ignorant of Hollywood generally. As is the case with most people, I watch movies from time to time, but I can’t say I’m a huge fan. Concerning the name Harvey Weinstein, it’s a name that until the past few days was barely known to me. I can’t say that I ever gave it more than a moment’s thought. And yet, here I am writing a blog post on the subject.

So what prompted me to do this? Well, as reports of Weinstein’s behavior dribbled out in the media, and the consequences of it started to come home to roost, it called tom mind, of all people, the great Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards and his famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.

Edwards’ sermon is apropos Weinstein’s situation in a number of ways. First, is the context of Deuteronomy 32:35. the verse on which Edwards based his sermon. This verse speaks of God’s judgment upon his enemies, how he will take vengeance upon them and do so suddenly. As Edwards observed, this passage, “implies that they were always exposed to sudden unexpected destruction.. As he that walks in slippery places is every moment liable to fall, he cannot foresee one moment whether he shall stand or fall the next, and when he does fall, he falls at once without warning. Which is also expresed in ‘Surely thou didst set them in slippery places, thou castedst them down into destruction: How are they brought into desolation as in a moment? (Psalm 73:18-19)’ ”

And so it was with Weinstein. The predator, after years – decades one supposes – is now very suddenly the prey.

(more…)

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