Barack Obama’s Thanksgiving Proclamation


Nearly 400 years ago, a small band of Pilgrims fled persecution and violence and came to this land as refugees in search of opportunity and the freedom to practice their faith. Though the journey was rough and their first winter harsh, the friendly embrace of an indigenous people, the Wampanoag — who offered gracious lessons in agriculture and crop production — led to their successful first harvest. The Pilgrims were grateful they could rely on the generosity of the Wampanoag people, without whom they would not have survived their first year in the new land, and together they celebrated this bounty with a festival that lasted for days and prompted the tradition of an annual day of giving thanks.

This history teaches us that the American instinct has never been to seek isolation in opposite corners; it is to find strength in our common creed and forge unity from our great diversity. On that very first thanksgiving celebration, these same ideals brought together people of different backgrounds and beliefs, and every year since, with enduring confidence in the power of faith, love, gratitude, and optimism, this force of unity has sustained us as a people. It has guided us through times of great challenge and change and allowed us to see ourselves in those who come to our shores in search of a safer, better future for themselves and their families.

On this holiday, we count our blessings and renew our commitment to giving back. We give thanks for our troops and our veterans — and their families — who give of themselves to protect the values we cherish; for the first responders, teachers, and engaged Americans who serve their communities; and for the chance to live in a country founded on the belief that all of us are created equal. But on this day of gratitude, we are also reminded that securing these freedoms and opportunities for all our people is an unfinished task. We must reflect on all we have been afforded while continuing the work of ensuring no one is left out or left behind because of who they are or where they come from.

For generations, our Nation’s progress has been carried forward by those who act on the obligations we have to one another. Each year on Thanksgiving, the selflessness and decency of the American people surface in food banks and shelters across our country, in time spent caring for the sick and the stranger, and in efforts to empathize with those with whom we disagree and to recognize that every individual is worthy of compassion and care. As we gather in the company of our friends, families, and communities — just as the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag did centuries ago — let us strive to lift up others, promote tolerance and inclusiveness, and give thanks for the joy and love that surround all of us.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim November 24, 2016, as a National Day of Thanksgiving. I encourage the people of the United States to join together — whether in our homes, places of worship, community centers, or any place of fellowship for friends and neighbors — and give thanks for all we have received in the past year, express appreciation to those whose lives enrich our own, and share our bounty with others.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this
twenty-third day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand sixteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-first.

BARACK OBAMA

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Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation


The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

A. Lincoln

George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation


[New York, 3 October 1789]

By the President of the United States of America. a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor–and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be–That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in thecourse and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions–to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness onto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New-York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington

Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation


abraham_lincolnThe year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

A. Lincoln

The American Creed and the Christian Gospel


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On the Fourth of July, when I have raised the American flag over my house, I will step back, put my hand over my heart, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance aloud. No one will see me do this. No one will join me. It will be a personal expression of love for my country as well as a fervent prayer that “the Republic” will indeed become “one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

My patriotism is part family history, part intellectual conviction. As far as I can tell, my father’s and mother’s ancestors all came to this land prior to the Revolution, settling in the mid-Atlantic and Southern colonies, respectively. At least one ancestor fought in the War for Independence. If my family has a country, it has been America for a very long time.

More than genealogy, however, this nation’s ideals explain my love for it. Our nation, as Abraham Lincoln so memorably put it, was “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” That is why I read the Declaration of Independence every Fourth—to remind myself of the American creed. It is a good creed. Who, after all, could possibly be for slavery and inequality? As a nation, we have not always lived up to those ideals, but the answer to our hypocrisy is to reform our behavior, not necessarily to reformulate our deepest beliefs.

What America Is Not
Given my patriotism, it may surprise you to learn that the only Sunday morning worship service I have ever walked out of in sorrow was a patriotic worship service. The service was conducted with sincerity and excellence. It was a highlight of the year for many of the other church attendees. Members of the community who would not otherwise darken the church’s doorstep came because of this service.

And yet, I walked out, wondering whether my fellow Christians and I had worshiped country instead of God that day. We had celebrated America, saluted the flat, sung patriotic hymns, and honored the Divine Being whom the Declaration names as “Nature’s God” and “Creator.” We had not talked about “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:3), however—who judges sin, offers salvation, and calls on people to repent and believe. We had heard, in short, the American creed but not the Christian gospel.

That troubled me deeply. For while I love my country, I love Jesus more. I know that the American Way is not the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Our country is not God’s kingdom, our Declaration is not the Bible, our flag is not Christ’s cross, and Washington DC is not the New Jerusalem. (Thank God!) Worship services that blur the self-evident differences between the goodness of America and the grace of God neither honor God nor help sinners.

Humanity’s deepest problem, after all, is not “taxation without representation,” but “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Therefore, the solution most needed is not a declaration of independence but a confession of utter dependence on the mercy of the Savior (Eph. 2:8–9). If a worship service fails to include the proclamation of the gospel and an invitation to repentance and faith, then whatever else it has done, it has not worshiped God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

Maintaining the Tension
This does not mean that the American creed and the Christian gospel necessarily contradict one another. It does mean that they exist in tension, however. Let me explain why with reference to the opening chapters of Genesis.

When God created the heavens and the earth and everything within them, He looked upon the work of His hands and declared it “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Unfortunately, within a short time, human beings—the “image of God” (1:27)!—disobeyed God, and their sin infected every aspect of creation (3:14–19). After the Fall, then, the resident goodness of God’s creation exists in tension with the sinful distortion of who we are and what we do. Consequently, we can offer neither an unqualified affirmation nor an unqualified critique of anything in Creation. Instead, we can only say, “Yes, but…”

So, yes, the American creed is good, true, and beautiful. But, no, it too has been distorted by the world, the flesh, and the devil. America can be loved, then, but not without critique and not without remainder. Love of country must be subordinated to a higher ideal. When displaying the American flag, etiquette demands that it be placed higher and more prominently than any other national flag. For the Christian, however, even the flag must bow to the Cross—and I’m not just talking about platform displays. I’m talking about the space the Cross occupies in our heads, hearts, and hands.

The gospel of Jesus Christ—and the gospel alone—shines with undiminished spiritual and moral luminosity. (There is not “Yes, but…” when it comes to the gospel.) It is the standard against which all other allegiances, beliefs, and commitments must be judged. To the extent that the American creed conforms to gospel priorities, it can be affirmed. To the extent that in contradicts gospel priorities, it must be critiqued.

In times past, American Christians have not always been aware of the extent to which American values contradict the gospel. One thinks especially—and with great sorrow—of white evangelical Christians’ weak support for if not outright opposition to the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-twentieth century. By contrast, one marvels at how Martin Luther King Jr. and other black ministers were able to touch what Lincoln called “the mystic chords of memory” and to awaken “the better angels of our nature” through explicit appeals to the gospel and the highest ideals of the American creed.

The gospel demands not that we choose either flag or Cross, but that we subordinate the former to the latter—always and in every way. By doing so, the spiritual and moral purity of the gospel acts as an antidote on our sin-infected love of God’s good creation, including our sin-infected nation.

So, What Should We Do?
Richard John Neuhaus often said, “Politics is chiefly a function of culture, at the heart of culture is morality, and at the heart of morality is religion.” For a long time, American Christians have thought of their country as a Christian nation. Whether that was the case historically is arguable. What is not arguable is that it is no longer the case today. To a significant extent, our politics and culture do not reflect the Christian religion. The temptation that must be avoided is to focus on changing our politics and culture without changing our religious commitments. Doing so puts “works” before “faith” and muddies the message of God’s grace. If Christians want to see true, lasting change in America, the place to begin seeking it is the altar rail, not the voting booth.

This doesn’t mean the voting booth—or, increasingly, the judge’s bench—is unimportant. Voting for candidates, supporting legislation, advocating for specific causes are important, but not all important or even of the utmost importance. Government can enforce outward conformity to the law, after all; it cannot generate inward commitment to the highest moral ideals. The heart of the matter, from a political and cultural perspective, is the human heart, and only God can change it.

Thus, our houses of worship should be places where the gospel—and it alone—is continually preached. As E. E. Hewitt’s wonderful hymn puts it, “Sing the wondrous love of Jesus, / Sing His mercy and His grace.” Keep the focus on Him as the solution to humanity’s pressing need. Ask people to come to faith in Him right then and there. Invite them to receive the Holy Spirit into their lives as God’s sanctifying and empowering Presence.

Moreover, the local church should be the place where the gospel is first lived out socially. This is not only because Jesus Christ established a church, not a state, but also because Christians have no business telling others how to live if we are not living that way ourselves. “You hypocrite,” Jesus said to us; “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:6). A gospel-centered integrity is beautiful and attracts others.

And finally, pray. If patriotic songs are sung in church, they should be chosen not because they celebrate America, but because they glorify our Truine God. Most vital, however, is that churches spend time in concentrated prayer for America on patriotic holiday weekends. As Paul writes:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions and prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:1–4).

This Fourth of July, may God grant our nation peace and quiet, godliness and holiness, through His Son, the Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ!

—–

P.S. This article originally appeared at VitalMagazine.com on July 3, 2015, as “The American Creed and the Christian Gospel: July 4th reflections on an authentically Christian patriotism.”

 

Marriage and the Constitution: What the Court Said and Why It Got It Wrong


This is the best article-length critique of the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision I have read.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges is a significant setback for all Americans who believe in the Constitution, the rule of law, democratic self-government, and marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The ruling is as clear an example of judicial activism as we’ve had in a generation. Nothing in the Constitution justified the redefinition of marriage by judges. The Court simply imposed its judgment about a policy matter that the Constitution left to the American people and their elected representatives. In doing so, it got marriage and the Constitution wrong, just as it had gotten abortion and the Constitution wrong in Roe v. Wade.

The question before the Supreme Court in Obergefell was not whether a male-female marriage policy is the best or whether government-recognized same-sex marriage is better, but only whether anything in the Constitution specifically took away the power of the people to choose their marriage policy. Yet the Court spoke almost exclusively about its “new insights” into marriage, and was virtually silent on the Constitution. That’s because it had no choice. Our Constitution is itself silent on what marriage is; We the People retain the authority to make marriage policy.

Marriage and the Constitution: What the Court Said and Why It Got It Wrong.

The Art of Dadliness: What my foster daughters taught me about being a father


On Dec. 13, 2013, Greene County Children’s Division woke my wife and me out of our lazy, Saturday-morning slumber and asked if we would like to provide foster care for two children.

For months, we had prepared for this very moment—attending intensive training, completing multipage questionnaires, getting fingerprinted and finally receiving our foster care license. Our 5-year-old son was excited too. As an only child, he could not wait to meet his live-in playmates. We had even purchased a bunk bed for his room, expecting that we would be providing care for a similarly aged boy.

Greene County offered us two girls. Sisters. Ages 19 months and 2 months.

Like any sensible, middle-aged man—I was 44 at the time—looking at the prospect of diapers, bottles and princess dresses, I told the social worker no, hung up the phone and started to go back to sleep.

Then the voice of God, which sounded suspiciously like the voice of my wife, suggested that perhaps I should call back and say yes. Obedient servant that I am, I did. Several hours later, we found ourselves in a Sam’s Club parking lot buckling someone else’s daughters into the backseat of my car as snow fell to the ground.

Fast forward 18 months. The sun is shining, the air is warm and muggy, and I am weeks away from buckling “my” girls into the backseat of my car for the very last time. Their parents have completed their treatment plans and shown Children’s Division they can provide care for their daughters. I am proud of the incredible progress the parents have made. Even though they have expressed a desire to keep in touch with us, I know that reunification will change my relationship to my little princesses forever.

As I look back on our time together, I realize my girls have taught me a lot about the art of dadliness—the mindset and skillset of being a father. As Father’s Day approaches, let me share what I have learned.

Time Flies. Make the Most of It.
Our last day with the girls is scheduled for July 27. If my calculations are correct, on that date, they will have been with us for 590 days. That amounts to 14,160 hours, which is equal to 849,600 minutes, which divides up into 50,976,000 seconds. Those are big numbers, but they represent fleeting opportunities. And they fly quickly.

Even though our son will stay with us a lot longer, time with him is short too. Eighteen months with them is a compressed version of 18 years with him. When he takes the car out for his first drive alone, or heads off to college, or moves to another city for a job, or marries and starts a family of his own—will I look back on our time together with satisfaction at moments captured or with regret over opportunities lost? There’s only one way to find out: Carpe diem, “Seize the day!”—every minute and second of it.

Memories Matter. Make the Best of Them.
During their time with us, the girls have celebrated two Christmases and two birthdays. They have received numerous gifts of toys and clothes, WubbaNubbas and blankets. Those are not the things they will remember. Toys break. Children outgrow them. What matters are the memories we made together.

As a father, it is tempting—and easy—to substitute presents for presence. That temptation should be avoided. What kids want most is you, not the stuff you can give them. They want your undivided attention, the feeling that they matter to you, whatever you happen to be doing together. So put down that smart phone! Turn off the TV! Go outside and play! Read them a book! Give them a hug! Tell them, “I love you.” Then, do it again.

Admittedly, this can be difficult. Having kids means you often have to sacrifice your wants for their needs. But here is the key thing to remember: What you want changes. As you make memories with your kids, you begin to want memories more than stuff.

Mothers Matter. Love Them More.
Someone said, “The greatest gift a father gives his children is to love their mother.”

One night, I came home from work. As I walked through the door, with dogs barking and kids screaming, my wife took one look at me and said, “Your turn.” And it was. She had worked hard all day, even though she was sick and the kids were crazy. She deserved a break. Dads, your wife needs your help.

More than help, however, she needs your love. Long after our foster girls have left the home, long after our son has started his own family, my wife and I will still be together. The relationship you build in the parenting years will make or break the empty-nest years. It is easy to put off romance when you start multiplying kids in the home. Dads, don’t let that happen. As I like to young men getting married, “A happy wife is a happy life.”

God Loves. Share His Story Often.
Finally, make sure to put God’s love at the center of your dadliness. It is not for nothing that Jesus describes God as Father (Luke 11:11-13, NIV).  He is not an abusive or absentee dad, of course—two kinds of fathers that are far too prevalent in our society. He is the loving Father whose good news story your children need to hear early, often, and most of all.

Since my son was little, I have prayed the same prayer for him every night. I pray a similar prayer for my girls—though with a bit more urgency since their time with me is short. It goes like this: “Heavenly Father, thank you for my son! Thank you that he is a happy, healthy boy. I pray that you would help him have a good night’s sleep with no bad dreams so that he can be rested and ready to have a good day tomorrow. Thank you that I get to be his daddy! And I pray that he would learn to love and follow Jesus from an early age.”

More than praying this prayer, more than reading the Bible and taking them to church, I try to live a godly life for my son, daughters and wife to see, hear and experience. In a real way, I am their first Gospel. Make sure your dadliness is a story they want to read!

Not long ago, I was sitting in the play area at the local mall watching my son and the girls scamper about, when I overheard another father tell his wife that the noise of children playing bothered him so badly that he needed to walk away for time by himself. I wanted to stand up, grab the man’s T-shirt, and yell, “Man up, Dad!” God created you for this, and He has given you every skill you need to get it done. So, do it. Just do it!

 

_____

This article originally appeared at VitalMagazine.com

 

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