The IF of Thanksgiving

Bible Book: 2 Chronicles  7 : 12-14
Subject: Thanksgiving Day; Thanksgiving; Renewal; America; Revival
Introduction

As we approach Thanksgiving this year, I want to share something very important with you regarding the IF of Thanksgiving. You see, at the rate we are going in America, you may not be allowed to publicly celebrate Thanksgiving Day in the near future. Consider this thought with me today.

America is changing rapidly, or at least it seems that way. Some argue that we have been in decline since the 1950s, and that is partially true. On the other hand, America had some wonderful moments across those years. Billy Graham preached hundreds of revival-crusade services to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people throughout the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and even some in the 1990s. On occasion, as many as 75,000 people or more attended those services on any given night. Multitudes came to Jesus and thousands surrendered to full time service to Christ out of those crusade meetings. As a Southern Baptist, I am aware that we baptized more people in the early 1970s than at any other time before or since! The Jesus movement took place in the 1960s in America and a great number of college students came to Jesus during that decade. So, we can say that not all those years were bad. On the other hand, it is true that evil has slowly but surely eroded the religious faith of our nation.

As we approach Thanksgiving Day this year, we need to remember that those who established this country did so with laws and principles based upon the Word of God. Our major institutions, such as hospitals and universities, were created for the purpose of Christian service. Harvard University was instituted so that people could serve God and know Christ. That idea is mocked and ridiculed by a great number of people in America today.

Someone asked a man why South America, which has resources as great or greater than our own, why they have lived in poverty and the United States of America has lived in so much bounty. The gentleman answered, "People came to South America looking for gold, but people came to the North America looking for God."

We can say without question that for the last 50 years or more America has been changing with regard to religious faith and moral consistency. We have become a nation preoccupied with wealth, entertainment and pleasure.

Just after that attack on the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001, I read something interesting in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. On the front page, and in much of the paper, were huge pictures of New York and Washington with the scenes of the death and devastation. Also, there were articles on the great prayer service held at the National Cathedral, and other prayer services observed all over America. But, then, there was this small article somewhere near the back of the newspaper that caught my eye. Here is what it said, "In a new look at national morality, a Barna poll has found that half or more of American adults say cohabiting...is morally acceptable behavior." The article goes on to say, "Fifty-four percent of mainline Protestants thought both behaviors were morally acceptable...". (AJC, September 15, 2001). Of course that is a look at just one poll related to just moral issue, but it revealing that it appeared in the same newspaper that was filled with the story of the most horrific attack by an enemy on American soil in our history.

That was sixteen years ago, and I expect you will agree that a biblical view of acceptable moral behavior has greatly declined since then. Now I am pointing this out because I think we need to see the problem we are facing in America today. It is my humble opinion that the greatest problem in America in 2017 is not terrorism, but the declining moral standards and religious indifference of our citizens. In fact, our moral standards are directly related to our current national crises.

How do we respond as believers to these difficult times in which we live? Look with me at 2 Chronicles 7:12-14 and note that in this passage God warned the nation of Israel long ago about the danger of sin when it has run its course. Also, we see in this biblical passage the hope that exists for a people who will turn back to God and commit to Him. Future Thanksgiving celebrations in this country may well depend on whether we respond appropriately the God who established our great nation - the United States of America.

I. The When of Disaster

In verse 13 we see the word "when." This word speaks of the disaster that can come upon a people. Note, the word is not "if," disaster comes but "when" disaster comes. Surely we must know from the Bible and history that "to whom much is given, much is required." Judgment follows when people disregard the blessings sent from God's hand.

Even when we are trying to do our best, we will face hardships and trials. We are reminded in 1 Peter that we are not to be surprised "when" the fiery trials come upon us. James speaks of this in chapter 1 of his epistle. He says that we should rejoice "when" we face trials because perseverance through these burdens will develop us into better believers. My point is simply that trials and suffering are not an "if" in life but are a "when" in life. Believers will face our share of hardships and troubles in any and every generation. No generation of God’s people is immune to the hardships and trials that come from the rejection of God by the citizens of that particular time period.

Our natural reaction to such things is fourfold.

A. We Question

We want to know why America was attacked on 911 and why we are losing ground all over the world today. Why does God allow this to happen? If He is sovereign, could He not prevent the failures we are facing in our nation today? We are being challenged all over the world by terrorists who call for our destruction, by countries that are seeking to destroy our economy and others who building military might to overtake us. Why is God allowing this?

The answer to the question "why" is not a simple one. Billy Graham said, at the National Memorial service in Washington after the 911 attack, "I have learned that I cannot answer all the questions regarding suffering and sorrow in this world. But I know God is a God of grace and love."

We can ask "why," but we cannot get a full and definitive answer. There is, however, a clear correlation to great national disasters and a rejection of God. That is exactly what God was saying in the verse before us. "When" disaster strikes we need to look first at our moral situation. I would ask you to answer this question for yourself: Has America departed from the Lord in actions and attitudes in the last few years? Certainly your answer is, "Yes."

Almost every movie house in America will present movies this weekend that constantly take God's name in vain. Many of our museums have displayed despicable displays of art profaning God, the cross of Christ and holy things. Our national music has become a profane, pagan, and polluted round of lyrics. In fact, most of us tolerate today things that were anathema to our parents and grandparents.

Looking at our behavior and attitudes today, we can say that it is time for us to wake up before we get another shake up. God has been sending us messages over the last few years, and we must listen or face even more dire circumstances.

B. We Become Angry

Our second reaction to terrorism and the sinful nature of our country is to be angry. I have been troubled by the number of Christian people who are pointing fingers at one sin or another and claiming that is why we are being judged. In many meetings today in the local church, the time is spent complaining about how terrible the world is. It may sound as if I have been doing that in this message, especially in my introduction, but I want you to know that judgment begins at the house of God. If we are not careful, we will become just like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. We who are part of the kingdom are not perfect ourselves. The devil takes pleasure in having Christians point out the world’s evils while denying our own! I am much more concerned about the state of life among Christians than I am the actions of people in the world.

C. We Feel Sadness

The third reaction to the decline and weakness of our nation is sadness. Some people I know have basically given up on country and feel there is no hope for us. Sure, it is easy to look at our circumstances and throw up our hands in defeat, but God is still on the throne, Jesus is still Lord, and the Holy Spirit is still occupying the hearts of God’s people. Revival is possible and surely God desires to send it to America!

C. We Pray

The fourth reaction many of us have when we take a look at modern times in America is prayer - real, heartfelt, old- fashioned prayer. In fact, when 911 took place, even the media used the “p” word (prayer) in their conversations. When we see our soldiers come home in flag draped coffins, we note politicians often standing by with heads bowed. Sadly, however, most do not pray earnestly until tragedy hits home. Those of us who know the Lord must make prayer for our country a daily event! We must pray for our leaders. Always remember, we usually get the leaders we deserve. So we need to pray that we become deserving of the kind of leaders God wants us to have.

What is it we want from these four reactions to crisis? We want to get from the "when" to the "then." What do I mean by this? Look down in the middle of verse 14. You will see the word "then" in our scripture passage today. God speaks of a time of healing and renewal. He speaks of a time of blessing and extravagant harvest. He speaks of a time of reversing our tragedy and turning it into triumph. That is what we want, isn’t it? We want to go from the "When" of disaster to the "Then" of deliverance, but God doesn't work like that. There is a step in between the "Then" and the "When" that we must take.

II. The Then of Deliverance

Our four reactions to disaster all relate to what we want to happen. We want to get from the disaster to the deliverance, and we want that to happen quickly! We don't want to take up much time with this matter. You cannot get from the "When" of disaster to the "Then" of deliverance without the "If" of devotion.

Yes, there is a God in heaven, but He is not a first-aid kit hidden away in some drawer or closet till a hardship comes. He is God. He is Lord. He is Sovereign. We cannot use Him like an ATM machine to simply hit some buttons and get results.

We need to be reminded that America is a country founded on Biblical principles. When we leave those principles, as we have done over the last few years, we leave our foundation. The collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City is symbolic of the collapse of our moral and religious foundations in America. The loss of our standing in the world today is but a symptom of our lost standing before God.

Jesus wept over Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago because He saw the impending doom that lay before the great city. He looked over Jerusalem that day and saw into the future. What He saw was destruction, death and the coming storm of oppression. He wept and spoke these words, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how many times have I sought to bring you unto myself, the way a mother hen would bring her chicks under her wing, but you would not come to me."

God cares about America more than you and I care. In fact, we probably complain more than we pray or weep for our nation. Until we come to a spiritual sorrow for our own sins and for those of our citizens, we are unlikely to see anything in our future but a greater decline and more devastating news regarding our prospects. Things may get much worse for us, unless we discover God’s way of getting from the “when” to the “then!”

III. The If of Devotion

God told the people what they were to do "when" disaster struck - when the sinfulness and disregard for Him was rampant in the nation and resulted in greater power being given to their enemies.

A. Pride was to be Removed

Our haughtiness must be replaced with humility. Dear Christian friends, let us never become self-righteous and pharisaic in our attitude toward others. We must resist blaming everyone else and humble ourselves before God. Isaiah confessed his own sins, as well as that of his nation, when he volunteered to be God’s messenger. Nehemiah confessed his own sins, and those of his countrymen, when he prayed for God to restore Jerusalem. We must take a look at our own hearts and become humble before God on a personal level if we expect a revival to come to our nation.

B. Prayer was to be Offered

Our prayers are not to be spasms of emotion that last for just a day or two, but rather they must be a way of life for us. Someone has well said that prayer will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from prayer. God knows that sincere prayer will help keep us close to Him. We must establish a pattern of prayer that is sincere and steadfast.

The Hebrew word for prayer in this passage speaks of interceding. This word means to stand between judgment and the judged. Proper praying stands as a shield.

Also, this word means to meditate. It means to do more than ask favors and hurry away. We must take time to pray. We need to spend some time with God, meditating on His Word and on His nature. Loving God is an absolute necessity for prayer to be genuine.

C. Priorities were to be Changed

God says we must seek HIS face! Why? One can pray for something without ever talking to God. Prayer can be nothing more than going to a divine wishing well. God means that our prayer life must be a sincere seeking of HIS presence. We must have a priority that is based on longing to be with God and live for God, and not just prayer designed to get things from God! When God says we are to seek His face, He is saying that we must seek more than His handouts.

D. Purity was to be Established

We are to turn from our wicked ways. We must confess our sins. We must acknowledge our transgressions and seek God's cleansing.

The "when" of disaster cannot be changed into the "then" of deliverance, unless we come to the "if" of devotion to God. "If" we come to God, as we should, He will hear, He will answer and He will heal our land. That is His promise, and unlike man, God never breaks a promise!

Conclusion

I expect that every Christian in this room today is thankful for many things. You are likely very thankful that you are an American and that those brave forbearers came to this New Land long ago. I also expect that you are a bit worried this year – worried about the future of your children and grandchildren in America. Do you want their lives to be better and not worse than those who have occupied this country for many years? I am sure you do. Well, there is something we can do.

Let us come today and confess to God our own failures. Let there be no finger pointing at the evil around us but rather a brokenness for the sin that is within us. Some of you will likely find this a bit odd. You surely will say, “Preacher, I am not wicked or evil.” Do you know why you feel that way? You feel that way because you are comparing yourself to what you see in the world around you. That is not our standard. Our standard is Jesus! When I stand beside Him, my heart breaks for my own shortcomings.

Yes, let us thank God for all He has done for us, especially for the heaven that is prepared for us - a home for eternity. Our citizenship is a dual one – we are citizens of our nation and citizens of the Kingdom of God. We have a home far away.

If we want those coming behind us to continue to celebrate Thanksgiving in America, we must get the “if” in the passage today in the right place. God is ready to deliver the blessing of the “then,” when we humble ourselves, pray properly and turn from our wicked ways. Now is the time to respond. Don’t look around to see what others may do – respond according to what God is saying to your own heart today!