by Rick Shrader
It is a strange time in which to be living—in these last days. The Christian has known that such a time would come, but talking about it or predicting it and living it are different things. I know the coming of the Lord may be years away (or it may be momentary) but the Scripture teaches that the world will get worse and not better as we get closer to His coming. 2 Timothy 3:1-2 is enough as it describes “perilous times” and the fact that men will be “lovers of themselves” and therefore are “unthankful” and “unholy.” And there are many more passages that describe the days in which we live in such terms.
Still, it has been our great privilege as believers to live in this blessed country. Since Thanksgiving is an American tradition, as a believer I can join with all its citizens and be thankful for God’s blessings. I only wish that all citizens truly were thankful to their Creator for what He has done in this land of ours. King David, centuries ago, left us a universal principle that has been applied many times in various circumstances,
Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying, let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the LORD shall have them in derision. (Psalm 2:1-4) This principle, that has been repeated through the ages, will ultimately be fulfilled when the Lord returns and sets up His millennial reign, as the following verses reveal, Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure. Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou are my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost part of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. (Psalm 2:5-9)
The kings of the earth are working hard at casting away God’s hold on them. Yet in the midst of such anarchy toward the Creator, believers in the Lord have both reason to be saddened and to rejoice. The throwing away of our heritage is sad, but the blessings of God in the past, in the present, and certainly in the future, all cause us to enter into his gates with thanksgiving and into his courts with praise. (Psalm 100:4)
Thankful for a safe country
I was born in 1950. I doubt there has ever been 67 years with more change than this generation has seen. Though I grew up in the country in Ohio, I visited my grandparents in Springfield, MO every summer along with my brothers and sister. Can you imagine today doing what we as kids did all alone in those days? My older brother rode the bus from Ohio to Springfield all by himself when he was about 12 years old. In the city we would take the bus downtown, walk around, and then come home on the same bus. We weren’t delinquent; our parents knew where we were going and what we were doing. Sometimes we were with neighborhood kids yet there was no smoking, drinking, drugs, or even foul language. We were just having fun. Policemen were our friends and we would stop and talk to them every chance we got. I really don’t think anyone I knew ever considered vandalizing someone’s property or even being disrespectful.
I’m not just walking down memory lane, I’m describing a country with security. We went to church on Sunday and Christian camp every summer. We would go to the county fair grounds for the summer tent revival and sit on wooden chairs set up over sawdust on the ground. Some of the older kids would sing in the volunteer choir. Because there wasn’t a lot else for kids to do, these things were our activities, along with kick-the-can, hide-and-seek, and various other evening neighborhood games.
Our country today is less safe. I have traveled to a number of unsafe countries around the world mostly while working with missionaries. Coming and going in those countries was a struggle for an American who is so used to common, everyday freedoms. I remember being stuck in the Moscow airport in 1992 and having to wait hours and hours for a flight out. Finally, as the plane was going down the runway and the tires lifted off the tarmac, the entire plane broke out into cheering! America has to guard its borders because of those who would come in; most other countries guard their borders because of those who would go out.
Thankful for a Christian country
Some would think me an alarmist if I said that we are seeing the Christian part of our country disappearing, but I am sure I am right. I can’t understand how anyone can read just a few books of America’s beginning, or read speeches by the first American presidents, or walk the halls and monuments of Washington, and not understand our Christian founding. I am not saying that all of those early patriots and politicians were born again, but only that they realized that our country has a uniquely Christian foundation. Sure, there has been freedom for anyone of another religion who can abide by our laws and love our religious freedom, but America was born a Christian nation.
Religious freedom has its price. The first is the price of those who suffered to give us true religious freedom and not some nationalistic religion. The government cannot intrude upon my or your freedom to worship by our own conscience. The second price has been paid by sons and daughters of our citizens who have defended this country both home and abroad, from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli. I mean both military personnel and law enforcement agents. As I write, a terrorist has just driven a truck over innocent citizens in New York City. Though the mayor and governor of that state have often criticized their own law enforcement officers, I now see them surrounded by those very officers in such a time of danger and alarm.
A third price is paid by Christian Americans who have faithfully spread the gospel of Jesus Christ here and around the world. There is no better citizen of any country than a born again citizen. You’ll never see them driving trucks over people, or shooting them from a hotel window, or disrespecting the “higher powers” that God has ordained. America has spent her money, sent her children, and offered her prayers to send the gospel around the world. This has to be the biggest reason God is still patient with us.
However, we will all pay a price if we lose our Christian basis for being a country. Freedom for true religion also means freedom for false religion. Freedom for law-abiding citizens also means freedom for would-be terrorists. Freedom for good also means freedom for bad. Christianity understands and teaches the fallen nature of mankind and therefore the need for rule of law, for moral education, for religious instruction. We cannot continue to outlaw the very thing that gave us our freedom, while allowing false religions and anti-religious types to have carte blanche in our schools, governments, and entertainments. Our uncivil society is witness to its results.
Thankful for a free country
A free country is a place where families can live. I married a girl, Ann, whose father grew up in Ukraine under the Soviet Union. He was not free to do these things I took for granted as a boy. In fact, his family had to flee to S. America as WWII began. When they all finally arrived in the U.S., they loved this country and never criticized its founding, its freedoms, or its flag. I remember “dad” one time stopping at a rest area along the interstate highway and as he returned to the car saying, “what a great country!” We are so guilty of taking our freedoms for granted that we don’t even think of such things.
At 67 years old, I’m not so worried about my own freedom in the years to come. I’m worried for my kids and grandkids, and their children. What a shame it would be if my own grandkids never knew an America like I knew growing up. Already they cannot do many of the things I took for granted as a boy. They cannot walk alone in the city, they cannot wait for their grandfather at the flight gate at the airport, they cannot attend public school without warning of multiple dangers. Now, they cannot use amazing electronic devices without warnings that no child should have to be exposed to.
America has been sheltered from world wars and most terrorism by God and the ocean borders He gave us. But now we see terrorism coming to our own shores. The event of 9-11-01 changed our country. We don’t have the freedom or the security we once had. Now individual terrorist attacks, the great majority of which come from a political movement claiming to be a religion, have made us all live with a fear our forefathers did not need to know. And in the midst of it, a free country must allow ungrateful citizens to protest against the very things that brought about their freedom to protest.
We have a Korean Marine veteran in our church who has a purple heart and who led over 40 combat missions during that war. When the “conflict” ended, he stood with other fellow marines and soldiers, watching the trucks go by loaded with the bodies of dead Americans. The man next to him turned and said, “Freedom isn’t free, is it?” No, and we must always be thankful for those who paid such a price.
Thankful for a failing country
How can I be thankful for a country that is faltering and failing in such ways? I can for the best of reasons. True, I am not thankful for ungrateful people who disdain our country and who work tirelessly to fundamentally change it. I am not thankful for those who exploit freedom with pornography, drug addiction, nakedness, and atheism. But I know why they do it. The reason is called sin. And when I think of a country that is failing because of sin, I rejoice that there is a cure called the righteousness of Christ in salvation.
Individual freedom. I do not know if God will grant America a revival of its lost faith. But I know that any individual can find peace and rest in this life through Jesus Christ, and then eternally as well. Christians have lived in every situation imaginable for the last 2000 years. The reason is that faith in Christ is offered to you individually, not to a country wholesale. Those believers could endure anything because of their faith. Jesus Christ came first to His own people the Jews. John records, He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name (John 1:10-12).
National freedom. A country can enjoy God’s blessings if it will honor Him. It may not be the millennial kingdom or the new Jerusalem, but America once knew the blessing of giving such honor and reverence to God. Daniel the prophet prepared his heart to speak before king Nebuchadnezzar in behalf of his captive people. He said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: and he changeth the times and seasons: he removeth kings and he setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom to the wise and knowledge to them that hath understanding: he revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him (Daniel 2:20-22). America is not a chosen people as Israel was and is, but king Solomon said, righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people (Prov. 14:34).
God has worked out His will in every nation, sometimes to blessing and sometimes to judgment. God used the ungodly nations of Assyria and Babylon to punish Israel that they might turn back to Him. He even called Babylon the “sword of the Lord” (Isa. 34:6, Jer. 12:12) because He can use a nation in any way He wishes. Yet He eventually blessed Israel and punished Babylon for their sins. In the last days, in which we seem to be living, God will also use unbelieving nations to punish other sinful nations. The nations aligned with Antichrist will be used of God to bring judgment on end-time Babyon, For God hath put in their hearts to fulfill his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled (Rev. 17:17).
Eternal freedom. I can be thankful for whatever comes my way in this life because I know that eternal life with Jesus Christ in the presence of God the Father will last for eternity. Christianity is only partly for this life, though it makes our joy full. Christianity is for eternity because there is a heaven and a hell just as sure as there is a devil and a true God. Heaven is the home of the saint. His life may be one of toil and persecution, but his reward awaits in heaven. Paul confessed, If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable (1 Cor. 15:19). Though he was the greatest missionary and Christian in history, his was a life of trouble, yet he looked for a different country.
The kingdoms of this world will continue to fail until Jesus returns and sets up His own kingdom for a thousand years on the earth, ruling from Jerusalem with Israel restored around Him in their own land. This thousand year reign (Rev. 20:1-7) of Christ will be partly populated by the ransomed church of God, the Lamb’s wife, resurrected, married, and ascended to the earth with Him. As John says, and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful (Rev. 17:14). Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready (Rev. 19:7). And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean (Rev. 19:14). And they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years (Rev. 20:4).
I can be thankful for that! I would also like to see my own beloved U.S.A. turn again to God and be ready for His coming, and I pray that it will. But until then I will be thankful, even in a failing country, because I know a sovereign God is in control of the past, the present, and the future.
And so . . .
Thankful? Yes! Paul said, In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Thes. 5:18). I have often said that Christmas and Easter are the church’s holidays though the world has left them alone or changed them into something they never were. But I think that Thanksgiving should be the church’s holiday as well. It is right of us to thank God for the free and safe country in which we live. It is right to remember the price that was paid for us to have these blessings. But in the end it is God Who has given us all things and Jesus Christ Who upholds all things by the Word of His power.
My children and grandchildren are scattered all over the country, but they are all serving God. There is no safer and freer place to be than in God’s will. That transcends terrorist attacks, immoral leaders, apostate religions, and pain and suffering.
For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself (Phil. 4:20-21).
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