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Thanksgiving and Our National Purpose

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Do you live in a nation whose people appreciate what God has done for them? Do your neighbors even recognize God's hand in their destiny? God's word shows us that thankfulness is a vital ingredient for national—and individual—success.

On Thanksgiving Day, millions gather with their families and friends to enjoy good food and fellowship, and the blessings of living in a prosperous nation. They enjoy the blessings of freedom and opportunity. But do they thank God for their blessings? Do they understand why their nation has been blessed? In particular, do we who live in the United States and British-descended nations understand why we have received blessings unparalleled in the history of mankind?

Whether it is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November as in the U.S., or the second Monday of October as in Canada, Thanksgiving Day is a time when people are supposed to count their blessings. We who live in these nations have received blessings unprecedented in the history of mankind. In the 20th century, the U.S. and British Commonwealth became the richest and most powerful nation and group of nations in the world. But that national power and prestige has greatly declined. The U.S. was once an economic powerhouse, and nations around the world eagerly bought its exports. Today, however, the U.S. is the world's largest debtor, with a national deficit of more than $8.5 trillion—more than $28,000 for each American man, woman and child.

How did the U.S. and other English-speaking nations gain so many blessings? Recall the development of the North American continent. There were the pioneering settlements by the British in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607; the Dutch established what is now Albany, N.Y. around 1614; the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. After a severe and disastrous winter, they gave thanks to God for their harvest in 1621, in what historians label as the first Thanksgiving!

In exactly 70 years, from 1783 to 1853, after the thirteen colonies became the United States, the young nation acquired land to extend its continental reach "from sea to shining sea." The greatest land expansion took place in 1803, under President Thomas Jefferson, when France sold the Louisiana Territory to the United States for only $15 million dollars—just five cents per acre! French emperor Napoleon is said to have remarked, "This accession of territory affirms forever the power of the United States."

The U.S. continued to develop economically and militarily over the years. After the conclusion of World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, speaking before the House of Commons, commented on the status of the U.S., "I must turn to the United States, with whom our fortunes and interests are intertwined… The Americans… have become today the greatest state and power in the world, speaking our own language, cherishing our common law, and pursuing… the same ideals" (October 28, 1947).

Why Such Blessings?

Is there a biblical and historical reason for this power? What really is the source of these national blessings? The answer reveals our national purpose—and you may be surprised to learn that the answer begins with the history of the patriarch Abraham. God made a covenant with Abraham, and it is because of Abraham's faith that we have been blessed.

God tested Abraham, telling him to sacrifice Isaac, his son. Abraham in faith obeyed, and God preserved Isaac's life! What did God say to Abraham as a result? "By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son; blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice" (Genesis 22:16–18).

Notice that Abraham's descendants were to control the "gate of their enemies." Throughout much of the 20th century, America and Britain actually controlled most of the world's sea gates. However, because of our national sins, God has begun to take that control away.

What does that ancient covenant have to do with us today? God renewed His covenant with Abraham's son, Isaac, and later with Isaac's son Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel). Israel had twelve sons, including Judah and Joseph. Joseph had two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.

Scripture records Jacob passing this blessing to his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh: "The Angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; let my name [Israel] be named upon them [Ephraim and Manasseh], and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth" (Genesis 48:16).

These blessings are called the birthright promises. These prophetic promises, which included wealth, abundance, military power, and international dominance, were to be fulfilled in the descendants of Joseph. It may be surprising to many of you, but those divine blessings given to Manasseh and Ephraim have been fulfilled in the U.S. and British-descended nations. Long-time readers of this magazine are already familiar with this amazing biblical truth. If you have not already proved this truth to yourself, please write for your free copy of our informative booklet, The United States and Great Britain in Prophecy, or read it online at www.tomorrowsworld.org.

A Good Land

Consider your nation's blessings in relation to this divine promise: "For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper" (Deuteronomy 8:7–9).

America's national heritage includes great natural beauty, fertile agricultural soil and rich mineral deposits for industrial development. But have we recognized—and honored—the source of those blessings? Will our Western nations last much longer? Consider God's warning: "When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today" (Deuteronomy 8:10–11).

Have we heeded that warning, individually and nationally? National sins produce national penalties, as President Abraham Lincoln recognized. Proclaiming a National Fast Day for April 30, 1863, Lincoln stated: "It is the duty of nations, as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God… and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord."

Lincoln acknowledged that God is the true source of blessings, nationally and individually. Our national purpose must include acknowledgment of our Creator! Does your nation acknowledge the sovereignty of God? Or is it so secular and unthankful that it has turned its back on God? Do you personally thank Almighty God for all the benefits we so often take for granted? Notice what the Apostle James wrote: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning" (James 1:17). Whatever you enjoy in life that is genuinely good comes from God, the giver of every good and perfect gift. Abraham Lincoln reminded the American people to recognize that fact as a nation!

Political Rhetoric or Vital Truth?

What happens when a country lacks a national purpose? In the U.S., politicians often speak of the importance of national purpose. During his first Presidential campaign in 2000, Senator John McCain often talked about national purpose. Speaking at the Republican National Convention that year, he warned, "Unless we restore the people's sovereignty over government, renew their pride in public service, reform our public institutions to meet the challenges of a new day and reinvigorate our national purpose, then America's best days will be behind us." This is not just a Republican theme; supporters of Democratic candidate Barack Obama have echoed it, as did New Mexico governor Bill Richardson last March 21, when he told Oregon Democrats, "Barack knows that the safety and future of every American child requires that we restore our shared sense of national purpose, so that we can then set about the hard work of rebuilding our alliances and rehabilitating our image in a dangerous world."

Forty-seven years ago, Senator James Fulbright observed that America was losing its direction. He warned, "Bigger cars, bigger parking lots, bigger corporate structures, bigger farms, bigger drug stores, bigger supermarkets, bigger motion-picture screens. The tangible and the functional expand, while the intangible and the beautiful shrink. Left to wither is the national purpose… The national dialogue is gradually being lost in a froth of misleading self-congratulation and cliché. National needs and interests are slowly being submerged by the national preoccupation with the irrelevant."

Nearly a half-century after Fulbright, with this year's Presidential candidates' rhetoric fresh in our ears, we should ask ourselves: Have we reinvigorated or restored our national purpose, or have we allowed it to wither? Do we even understand what that purpose is? Is it our national purpose to be the world's most powerful and prosperous nation? We have already seen that the U.S. is the world's greatest debtor nation. Is it our national purpose to extend freedom and democracy to every nation on earth? We need to understand that all nations can experience genuine freedom when they obey the Truth of the Bible. Jesus said, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). Referring to the Creator of all nations, Jesus prayed, "Your word is truth" (John 17:17). Have we let our light shine by living that Truth? Are we doing our part in making that Truth available to the world?

Is your nation preoccupied with the irrelevant, or does it acknowledge the Source of our purpose—and of our many blessings? As we observe Thanksgiving, we need to ask the question, "To whom do we give thanks?" To Almighty God and Jesus Christ? Or do we worship the dollar, the pound, the euro, the peso or the yen? U.S. coins and currency declare, "In God We Trust." If our nation fails to live up to that motto, it will not prevail. But you and I must exemplify that motto and that biblical precept, in our own lives!

The Western nations have a reputation for materialism. Consumer spending drives our economies. In the U.S., the day after Thanksgiving is one of the busiest shopping days of the year, given the nickname "Black Friday," when millions flock to shopping malls in search of bargains on consumer goods. The National Retail Federation has even coined a term, "Cyber Monday," for the Monday after Thanksgiving, said to be the time when online purchases reach a peak.

Yes, our nations are known for their materialism and focus on money. The Apostle Paul foretold that these characteristics—and others we will recognize—would be prominent at the end of this present age: "For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!" (2 Timothy 3:2–5).

Vanity, pride, and ingratitude are sins that will destroy any culture or civilization. Decades ago, when reporters asked Indian nationalist Mohandas Gandhi his opinion of Western civilization, he replied, "I think it would be a good idea." He saw the vanity of much of our Western world. Any godly civilization should promote the true values of life, not the false values of materialism, vanity and pride.

God warns us against trusting in our prosperity and possessions. Rather than think that we have gained our wealth by our own efforts, we should understand that it is God who gives the power to gain wealth (Deuteronomy 8:17–18). He warns us: "Then it shall be, if you by any means forget the Lord your God, and follow other gods, and serve them and worship them, I testify against you this day that you shall surely perish. As the nations which the Lord destroys before you, so you shall perish, because you would not be obedient to the voice of the Lord your God" (vv. 19–20).

That is a very sobering warning about the future of any country that has been blessed by God. At Thanksgiving, we give thanks to God for the beauty and abundance with which He has blessed our countries. But at the same time we should be deeply concerned as our national character becomes more and more blemished with immorality. Will our Western nations continue to disobey the Ten Commandments and increasingly reject the biblical truths that once led to their prosperity—and that lead to true life, liberty and happiness?

Are We Thankful?

Most of us who will be observing a Thanksgiving Day this year are among the most materially blessed people on planet Earth. Even the poorest Americans and Canadians enjoy comfort and convenience most of the world's population can barely imagine. Yet we still find much to complain about.

What is the antidote for such complaining? The antidote for complaining is thanksgiving! Are you thankful that you live in a relatively prosperous nation? That you have the freedom to worship according to your conscience? That you have many opportunities to grow in education and human potential? That you have family, friends and perhaps a good job? We should even be thankful for the sunshine and fresh air around us, and for the food and beverages we are able to enjoy.

For Christians, however, the greatest benefits are spiritual! We thank God for the sacrifice of His Son to pay for our sins. We are thankful for God's forgiveness and grace. Remember, Jesus taught us to pray, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" (Matthew 6:12). We are thankful for the gift of the Holy Spirit after repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38). We are thankful not only for the sacrifice of Christ, but that He is alive as our High Priest, Savior and Intercessor! "He always lives to make intercession for [us]" (Hebrews 7:25). We are thankful that Jesus Christ is alive! Notice this amazing truth: "For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (Romans 5:10). He is our living Savior, and our great High Priest, as the book of Hebrews emphasizes! And He is coming as King of kings and Lord of lords!

Today's Christians are also thankful for the promised future. We are thankful for the true Gospel—the message Jesus preached about the coming Kingdom of God on earth, when all nations will learn the way to peace. We know that the world will not end in a nuclear holocaust or be snuffed out by a biological pandemic—because Jesus Christ promised that for the elect's sake He would return, just in time to prevent us from destroying ourselves (Matthew 24:22)!

The world needs the Kingdom of God on earth. Do you realize how much you are blessed compared to many countries around the world? As of October 2008, the United Nations labeled as "Least Developed Countries" the 49 nations with annual per capita gross national incomes below $750. Many of those countries have annual per person incomes below $400! Can you imagine living in such poverty? How thankful are you? As Jesus said, "To whom much is given, from him much will be required!" (Luke 12:48). We must be faithful stewards of our blessings, and we must be willing, nationally and individually, to give to others. We especially need to be giving the good news of the Gospel to the rest of the world! Our national purpose should be to live God's way of life—and to share that way of life with the rest of the world! God's ways should be our nation's ways. Notice these words of Moses: "Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people'" (Deuteronomy 4:5–6).

Yes, God will bless those nations who recognize that their national purpose is to grow in godly character—to exemplify biblical values as shining lights in a dark world, to live by God's own Ten Commandments, and by His statutes and judgments, and to proclaim the good news of God's soon-coming Kingdom, ruled by the King of kings, Jesus Christ!

Will we fulfill our national purpose as a thankful people? As we observe Thanksgiving, we need to remember: Any unthankful nation that refuses to submit to its Creator is sowing the seeds of its own destruction. But God is patient! He is giving us a little more time to change our lives individually and nationally. God is "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).

Yes, there is good news for the future. Most people who celebrate Thanksgiving Day do not know that the Bible tells of a future time when the whole world will celebrate a biblical Thanksgiving—called the Feast of Tabernacles. All nations will go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles under the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ! Scripture describes a future world at peace under the rulership of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, when He returns to Jerusalem, the future world capital. "And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, from east to west, making a very large valley; half of the mountain shall move toward the north and half of it toward the south" (Zechariah 14:4). And who will rule the earth after Jesus' return? "And the Lord shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be—the Lord is one, and His name one" (v. 9).

Yes, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, will unify all the nations under His rulership. He will bring representatives from nations to Jerusalem to worship during the annual festival called the Feast of Tabernacles. There is coming a time when all nations will worship the King of kings with thanksgiving (v. 16). Until then, God has given His Church the commission of sharing with all nations a vision of that future, and calling all nations and peoples to repent (Acts 17:30).

May we all be filled with thanksgiving for God's will, and for the love of God and Jesus Christ. May we seek to love, obey and serve the source of all our personal and national blessings. As the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:57, "But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

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