Holidays have a way of bringing out the worst in us.
Take Christmas for example. For a few Christmas shopping seasons, I worked in a mall. It was always crowded, not with happy shoppers looking for a gift that expresses how they feel for their loved ones but mostly with irritable people who grew more irritable as they dealt with other irritable people. We see it every year. The practicalities of the holiday have a way of blinding us from seeing what the holiday is really all about.
Christmas is probably the best example.
But Independence Day is close behind.
There is a lot wrong with our country. People who care about liberty have a lot of work to do and the odds do not seem to be in our favor. If we’re not careful, we can end up no different than those shoppers who celebrate Jesus’ birthday by yelling at each other, fighting over parking spaces and cursing our kids while we wait in some line at Wal-Mart for whatever it is they want that year.
To keep this from happening to us on Independence Day, we have to do a better job of paying attention. We have to pay attention to our tendencies to only look at the negative. More importantly, we have to pay attention to the ways that God, in spite of our best efforts to ignore him, continues to bless us.
Here are a few of those blessings. Some of them are enjoyed in other countries. Many are not. Some may be slowly eroding. But for today at least, they are ours to enjoy. Some may seem silly while others are much more significant. But they are all important. I hope that these reminders help to keep us from becoming American Scrooges.
1. Three times a week I get up in front of a group of people and talk about Jesus. Not once have I been asked to have my sermon reviewed by some special government task force before it was time to preach. Not once have armed government agents entered our building to tell us to cut it out. I am thankful for the God-given freedom of religion that we enjoy in this country.
2. Almost every day of the summer, I devote some time to the eating of a watermelon. There is no candy on earth that can compete with this taste. I am thankful for God’s invention of the watermelon.
3. I enjoy watching our country compete against other nations in sporting events like the Olympics and the World Cup. I love to see the American fans shout our national anthem. I love how the American team, in almost any sport that we play, looks like a box of crayons. Players on teams from Japan, Costa Rica and Germany tend to all have the same color of skin. Not so with the United States. I am thankful to live in a diverse nation.
4. My kids go to a really good school. One where they are taught the importance of hard work, excellence and strong leadership. I am thankful for the opportunities we have in this country to educate ourselves and our children.
5. There are people in my church who have managed their money with wisdom. But they’re not content to shove it under their mattresses while they wait for Jesus to come back. They know that all of the money in their bank accounts, not just the ten percent they put in some offering plate, belongs to God. Throughout the year, these folks come to me in private and ask me if I know of anyone who needs help. Willful generosity for the glory of God is the best form of wealth distribution. I’m thankful to live in a country where people can earn a good living and I’m thankful to belong to a church full of people who know that their money exists for the glory of God and the good of others.
6. I’m thankful for backyard summer nights spent playing around a sprinkler, catching lightning bugs and jumping on the trampoline. Some times I even let my kids join in on the fun with me.
7. I’m thankful for the smell of a piece of meat cooking on a grill.
8. Several months ago my two sons helped me to empty a truckload of dirt in our backyard. A few weeks after that, they helped me dig holes and fill those holes with plants. Now, almost every day, they help me to pick vegetables off of those plants. I’m thankful for the privilege of showing my sons that food, the good kind at least, isn’t made in a factory. It comes from a Sovereign Lord who provides us with our daily bread.
9. I have strong opinions on a lot of things. They are opinions that people don’t always agree with. Sometimes, those disagreements cause me to reconsider my own opinions. Sometimes they make me more certain of what I believe. I am thankful to live in a country where people with differing opinions can share their beliefs in a civil manner.
10. I love well-written songs, finely crafted movies and books that are hard to put down. There is a lot of garbage out there but we live in a country that has produced some very good art. I’m thankful for that.
11. I’m thankful for the joy of marriage. My wife’s laughter drowns out all other noise and the smile on her face lights up the whole room.
12. I’m thankful for random text messages from friends reminding me that they’re praying for me.
13. I’m thankful for the example of men and women who aren’t afraid to make a stand, even when it looks like the whole world is standing against them.
14. I’m thankful for the opportunity to write something almost everyday as well as the likes, shares, feedback and new friends that come along with that. Thank you.
15. I’m thankful for the sight of an old married couple, slowly walking hand in hand through a store.
16. I’m thankful for that look on a person’s face right before I get to baptize them.
17. I’m thankful that I have never come in first place in any race or weight-lifting competition. It is a subtle reminder that just to be in the competition and not in a hospital is a blessing.
18. I named my two sons after Turk Holt and Gerald Fowler. My boys have some excellent examples to follow. We live in a country where our excellent examples don’t just come from history books. They also walk among us today and I am thankful for that.
19. There are a bunch of kids in my church who are serving in the military. I’m thankful for them as well as for those who served before them.
20. In June of 1981 I had nothing to offer God. I was just a five-year-old kid. But God gave me everything when he gave me freedom from my sins. He saved me. He is still saving me. And when my time here is done, I can be certain that I will be saved. I’m thankful that God, in his grace, put me in a country that was so impacted by the gospel message that I heard it and surrendered to it before my sixth birthday.
Our system is broken. It is the victim of years and years of citizens looking for handouts and leaders grasping for more power. There is a lot that needs to be fixed and Christians should be leading the way in standing up and speaking out.
But we should also lead the way in giving thanks.
So this year, be sure to stop to enjoy the sights of colored lights in the sky, the sound of a child’s laughter and the smell of burgers on the grill. They are all gifts from a loving and gracious God.
Don’t be an Independence Day Scrooge.