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Traditionally, Thanksgiving is a time to count our blessings and thank God for them. For the early pilgrims, these blessings were simple and few. The first thanksgiving celebrated at Plymouth was for a bountiful harvest following a year the colonists suffered great loss from hunger and disease.

In the years that followed, days of thanksgiving were solemn yet joyful occasions. Hard work was a fact of life but no guarantee that a family would have the necessities needed to survive. Our ancestors understood that they could plant and plow, but only God could make things grow.

This was a time when those with plenty willingly shared their provisions with the less fortunate, ever mindful of God’s admonition, “If you shut your ears to the cries of the poor; you, too, will cry out and not be heard.”

In the early years of our country, nothing was taken for granted, and the fittest and bravest were not ashamed to bow the knee.

Today, thankfulness has been replaced by a sense of entitlement, and the Thanksgiving holiday has become little more than an excuse to overindulge. We prepare the traditional turkey and pies. We may volunteer for a few hours to serve free meals, but this is largely to satisfy our own needs, not to meet a real need in the community.

Robert Rector, the poverty expert at the Heritage Foundation, pointed out to me that much of what is done today in the name of Christian charity isn’t even Christian. A handout without a hand up is meaningless, even harmful. In fact, the Bible says, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”

Ironically, the biggest health problem we have among those classified as “poor” in this country is obesity. We give people in this category free food. Meanwhile, the “poor” with school-age children can’t be bothered to get off their couches and pack lunches for them. Why should they? We turn around and give their children free breakfasts and lunches and, in many areas, dinner.

While listening to a local talk show, I heard an Iraqi immigrant express his frustration with what has become the new “American way.” This young man had become a citizen, worked, saved and started a small trucking company. He works long hours to provide for his family but nets about $40,000 a year and has a hard time making ends meet. He complained that his brother-in-law refused to work a 40-hour week in order to qualify for free health care, food stamps, free preschool for his kids and a host of other goodies that this small-business owner works to provide. This man’s frustration was that his deadbeat brother-in-law lives better than he does with no worries.

Is this an isolated situation? Hardly! Recently, Rector and Rachel Sheffield produced a study on the state of poverty in America. The average “poor” household in the U.S. has a car or two, lives in a house or apartment in good repair with more square footage than that of the average European. These homes have all the modern conveniences, including air conditioning and cable TV. In fact, the average poor family has two color televisions, a DVD player and VCR. If there are children in the home, most have a gaming system as well.

These are hard times. Many otherwise responsible, hardworking citizens have lost their jobs, their homes and their hope as a result of a government that is sucking the very life’s blood out of the economy to take over the responsibilities once left to individuals and charities.

Many have been forced into the welfare system they once shunned. If left there long enough, they, too, will lose their skills, their initiative and their pride.

It is little wonder that, with many, an attitude of gratitude has been replaced by an attitude of entitlement. It is little wonder that a willingness to share part of what we have with those less fortunate has be replaced by a feeling of resentment.

This is unfortunate because there are many Christian charities that still offer a hand up. The good ones take no government money. They are truly doing the Lord’s work, but struggle to survive.

There are those who are hopelessly lost in a sea of despair, whose lives will never be restored by a government handout or program.

We need to remind ourselves why this holiday was created and, with an attitude of gratitude, thank God for the blessings only He can provide.

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