The Pilgrims: Faith in the Face of Skepticism

 

Betsy Ross didn’t sew the first flag. Jesus wasn’t really born on December 25. Columbus didn’t discover America. We hear these statements all the time, for we live in an era where the foundational stories that define our national identity and bind us together as a people are being constantly deconstructed. We are told that the heroic stories of the founding of Christianity and the founding of our great republic are mere myths, factually inaccurate, and no more important or meaningful than the fanciful fairy tales told to amuse children.

We live in a skeptical age. Even the most optimistic and far-sighted among us must at times trudge blindly through a disorienting swirl of attacks on our faith, our families, and our country. While there is no sure tonic to ease the nauseous vertigo that often accompanies this struggle, there is a salve to be found in the tales we have been taught and in the truth and moral enrichment to be found therein. Whether for our own retrenchment or for that of our children, we can, we must, turn again to the record of our noble and brave ancestors to remind ourselves of the otherwise insurmountable odds they overcame to bequeath us with such a rich legacy of liberty.

One of the most impressive stories from our history is that of the small band of brethren who fled their homes seeking a place where they could worship freely. This courageous congregation is known as the Pilgrims.

Poor Wayfaring Strangers

The congregation of pious Christians known to history as Pilgrims was in their own time called Separatists for their schism with the greater Church of England. Dissension from the Church of England was illegal during the reign of King James the First, and the king was determined to brook no effrontery to his royal highness. He would sooner purge his country of disloyal subjects than allow those subjects to effect a purge of the state religion of which the king was the titular head. To enforce his egotistical and tyrannical will, James sent agents far and wide into the country to round up those Separatists reportedly meeting in secret in small groups to avoid detection by the king’s sycophantic spies.

Fearing imprisonment or worse at the hands of the royal agents, 400 English Separatists fled their beloved England. They sailed surreptitiously to Holland (leaving England without permission was a crime), where the atmosphere was more accommodating to those given to alternative (read: unofficial) interpretations of the word of God. The Dutch were historically more tolerant of religious dissidents and would permit, within limits, pilgrims of many religious creeds to assemble without fear of reprisal or persecution.

Although the Pilgrims found a welcoming harbor in Holland, it proved to be a brief respite, as political situations altered as crucial peace treaties with Spain and France expired, leaving Holland politically unallied and therefore exposed to the avarice of other less-progressive states. As the climate in Holland became decreasingly hospitable, the Pilgrims met to formulate a new plan and consider the options open to them. It was decided that, despite the possible implications, they would return to England, and they immediately set about acquiring investors to fund their ultimate journey: to America. The Pilgrim pastors believed unwaveringly that God’s will was manifest in their wanderings and privations, just as it had been with the Children of Israel in Egypt. After 40 years, the Israelites crossed over the Jordan and entered into the Holy Land, a land promised to them by their God and his prophets. Like the chosen people of the Old Testament, the Pilgrims had faith that they would be led to a land of milk and honey on the western shore of their own River Jordan — the Atlantic Ocean.

Plymouth Rock

The Pilgrims passed through trials of turbulent seas, uncharted courses, scurvy, and vile sickness that decimated their already small community, as well as intrigue, treason, and treachery. As a reward God delivered His faithful flock to the promised land, a land where they would at last be absolutely free from religious persecution and would live under laws framed and executed fairly and justly.

Upon reaching the shores of their new home, the Pilgrims dropped to their knees with an outpouring of gratitude toward the Almighty. Rising from their knees, the Pilgrims would have noticed an enormous rock. Yes, Plymouth Rock. We’ll never know whether or not any of our Pilgrim Fathers stepped foot on it or climbed over it before going farther inland. What is known is that this small band of believers, bound together by sacred covenant and civil compact, overcame insuperable odds that would scuttle most other, less devout and determined settlers. These Pilgrims, for so they were, were a stout albeit peripatetic lot that had nowhere left to go and therefore carved, literally, a new home, a New England, for themselves. Separated by thousands of miles from the religious intolerance and oppression of King James, these Separatists were now free to worship as they chose. The Pilgrims, looking up at a rock that history would call Plymouth Rock in their honor, recalled that their Lord commanded them to build upon such a strong immovable foundation, and thus they were wanderers no more.

Mayflower Compact

Before being allowed to debark, the leaders of the Pilgrim colony required all male members to enter into an agreement setting out the metes and bounds of rights and responsibilities in the new world. Normally, these sorts of issues would be predetermined within the patent granted by the crown. In the Pilgrims’ case, however, they had dropped anchor in a land outside the region assigned them in the patent. They were essentially operating outside of the law, so they needed new guidelines to direct both the Pilgrims and the others who accompanied them to America (over half of the passengers on board the Mayflower were not Pilgrims). Before leaving Holland, one of the Pilgrims’ pastors who was to stay behind and prepare the second wave of travelers, John Robinson, instructed his followers to form a secular civil government, so to begin the colony in the manner in which they intended to go on, that is to say, in an orderly and tolerant fashion. As he rightly reckoned, making a secular compact with the nonbelievers demonstrated good faith and sound reason on the part of those whom many believe to be overzealous religious reactionaries.

The document signed by 41 of the 50 male adults on board the Mayflower (the other nine were either too ill or were headed straight back to England) has been described as an example of “crystalline brevity.” The text is worthy of repetition in its entirety.

We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland king, defender of the faith, ect., having undertaken, for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in the Northern Parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together into a Civil Body Politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini 1620.

Although in many ways unremarkable and certainly not revolutionary, this brief contract is one of our Republic’s foundational documents and was an example of Puritan pragmatism. These men and women, faced with a silent coast with nothing to anticipate but hardship and fresh despair, bound themselves together into a community of far-flung Englishmen committed to prospering and preserving their natural-born right of self-determination.

The First Thanksgiving

Now for the part of the story familiar to second graders with paper belted hats and multi-colored feather headbands and all those who have attended the annual plays acted out in gyms and cultural halls throughout the country. The Pilgrims had much to be thankful for and they knew it. The steadying Hand of Providence led them safely across the ocean, and they had been blessed with strength to build houses and common buildings (the first was erected on Christmas Day, 1620). Next, they had to plant crops so that they might fulfill the measure of their divine commission and perpetuate their colony here in the New Canaan. This forested land with abundant flora and fauna was promised, indeed, but the soil was strange and successful horticulture was a conundrum. Enter the Indians.

It is true, as we all remember from lessons that were once taught in school, that the Pilgrims and the Indians sat down together and partook of the fruits of their labors, ate turkey and venison, and benefited from mutual instruction and genuine fellowship. This assembly was remarkable for many reasons; chief among them, perhaps, was the sensational account of Indian atrocities told to the Pilgrims while they tarried in Holland. The Indians, they were told, “delight to torment men in the most bloody manner that may be; flaying some alive with the shells of fishes, cutting off the members and joints of others by piecemeal and broiling on the coals.” With this image seared into the front of their minds, as soon as they arrived in America the Pilgrims were quick to erect barricades and post sentries to protect them from the natives they believed to be bloodthirsty savages.

In truth, in the beginning the Pilgrims and Indians did clash, sometimes violently. The fault, however, was never one-sided and the peace was always quickly restored. By the time of the harvest of 1621, several peaceful months had passed since the Pilgrims had any scrapes with the native inhabitants of the land, and they were feeling safe and secure and had redirected their minds and efforts toward harvesting their crops and building all the necessary infrastructure to support the thriving colony they designed and were determined to establish.

It was in this atmosphere of progress, peace, and planned prosperity that made possible one of the momentous greetings in American history. One Friday afternoon, a Pokanoket Indian calling himself Samoset walked up to a Pilgrim and announced, “Welcome, Englishmen!” Hardly the senseless savagery described in such vivid, gory detail by teachers in Dutch schools. As a matter of fact, the Indians genuinely welcomed the newcomers and demonstrated their goodwill by teaching the eager though ignorant European farmers a little something about American agriculture.

Samoset taught the Pilgrims that because of the unique chemical composition of the local Massachusetts soil, it was essential that the ground be fertilized to balance the soil and make it more nourishing to the corn and other crops planted by the Pilgrims. The fertilizer preferred by the Indians after years of experimenting was dead herring. The Pilgrims trusted the advice of Samoset, and the autumn of 1621 saw a bumper crop of corn, squash, beans, barley, and peas. It was a harvest worthy of giving thanks — thanks to God and thanks to the Indians who shared valuable information.

The precise date was not recorded, but sometime in late October or early November, about 100 Indians walked into the Pilgrim settlement (now occupied by several common buildings and log homes) carrying deer hunted specially for this harvest feast. The Pilgrims, about 50 in number, provided turkey (turkey from the New World was being eaten in England for about 40 years and was already a staple of English Christmas dinner), other fowl, deer, and beer. The meat was cooked on spits over open fires. The weather that season was crisp, but not cold, and the Pilgrims no doubt were fascinated by the bright fall foliage, a palette of colors not seen in England because of the perpetual dampness and lack of sunlight.

The congregation, Indians and Pilgrims, sat down in small groups on the ground and around small round tables and ate their dinner. The scene would not seem so foreign to us, their descendants, except for the fact that there were no forks (not in use in Massachusetts for another 70 years), no cranberry sauce, and no pumpkin pie. The food that was eaten was washed down with beer, the beverage of choice for saint and sinner in England because of the notoriously contaminated water available throughout the country. Thankfully, the bountiful barley crop in their new home made brewing easy.

Lessons Our Fathers Learned

As the foregoing demonstrates, there is much truth in the stories we have been taught regarding our Pilgrim Fathers and the First Thanksgiving they celebrated with the Indians that shared that small plot of earth with them. The fact that the Pilgrims succeeded where so many other erstwhile colonists had failed was due in large measure to the kindness, generosity, and trust shown to the Pilgrims by Massasoit and his small tribe. These men and women, believed to be savages but proven to be “very trustworthy, quick with apprehension, ripe witted, and just,” reached out to their neighbors and extended a hand of fellowship. So often, this hand was slapped away by frightened Europeans. The Pilgrims, themselves frequent victims of treachery and sabotage, took the hand of the Indians and shook it. They sat together, ate together, and grew together.

Even in light of the timely and invaluable aid proffered by the Indians, more than any other consideration it was the tireless and firm faith of our Pilgrim Fathers that kept them alive and animated their steadfast resolve to bloom where the Hand of the Almighty God had planted them, no matter how rocky, unknown, and hostile the soil.

This article was originally posted online on November 23, 2009.

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https://www.thenewamerican.com/culture/history/item/4762-the-pilgrims-faith-in-the-face-of-skepticism

Is God in Everything?

Genesis 50:15-21

The Old Testament story of Joseph is one of the best-known examples of the Lord blessing someone’s life through harsh experiences. In today’s passage, the slave-turned-prisoner-turned-national leader stands before his brothers who sold him into servitude. He speaks kindly to them, saying, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen. 50:19-20).

One individual’s sin or failure oftentimes affects another person’s life—something we tend to deem unfair. But our ways are different than God’s ways (Isa. 55:8-9). From Scripture, we can glean that Joseph desired to serve the Lord (Gen. 39:9; Gen. 40:8; Gen. 41:16). Yet his brothers were permitted to sell him as a slave. And Potiphar’s wife wasn’t prevented from making false accusations, which landed the young man in prison. The Bible promises, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them” (Psalm 34:7). In other words, hardship and trial could touch Joseph—or any of the faithful—only because God purposefully allowed it.

No one can say for sure why bad things happen. But we can draw comfort from the fact that God knows: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29). Our part is to learn from the example of men like Joseph, who trusted the Lord and followed His commands.

Called Before Birth

“But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him.” (Galatians 1:15-16)

There is great mystery here. Paul was the human writer of much of the New Testament, yet he also claimed divine inspiration. “I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12).

It was only a short time before, however, that Paul had been bitterly opposing that gospel. “Beyond measure,” he said, “I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it” (Galatians 1:13). Eventually, he was converted and began to preach “the faith which once he destroyed” (Galatians 1:23). Yet, during all his years of fighting God’s truth, he had already been separated unto God and called by His grace even before he was born, as our text reveals. His teachers in the synagogue, his studies under Gamaliel, and even his anti-Christian crusades were all being orchestrated by God to develop Paul into the unique person he would be, the great Christian whom God could use to write much of His own written Word. Paul’s epistles were thus truly his epistles, derived from his own experience, research, study, reasoning, and concerns. At the same time, they came out as God’s Word, inspired by the Holy Spirit, free from error and perfectly conveyed from God to man, because God had Himself ordained and planned all Paul’s experiences and abilities and had implanted all these concerns in his heart.

And so it was with all the human writers of the Bible. God’s Word (like Christ Himself) is both human and divine, yet meeting all our needs. This is mysterious indeed, but well within the capabilities of our omnipotent and gracious Creator. HMM

What concord hath Christ with Belial

 

1 Kings 22:1-9, 13, 14, 28, 30-35, 37, 38

1 Kings 22:1

This seems to be noted as a remarkably long season of rest. To what a wretched state must the poor but sinful people have been reduced by perpetual war. Scarcely a family could have escaped either plunder or the loss of its father and sons.

1 Kings 22:4

Alas, that a good man should so readily make a league with an idolator.

1 Kings 22:6

False prophets are always plentiful, for the business pays.

1 Kings 22:8

This was far too mild a rebuke, but evil communications lower the tone of the best men.

1 Kings 22:9, 13

This was a base attempt to pervert the prophet, but he was a true disciple of Elijah, and could not be turned aside.

1 Kings 22:14, 28

He spake like a man of God, and called on all around to bear him witness.

1 Kings 22:30

Thus in a dastardly manner he exposed his friend to screen himself. Bad companions will not hesitate to compass our ruin if it will answer their purpose.

1 Kings 22:32, 33

This was a special deliverance, for we are told in the Chronicles that God moved them to depart from him. His great peril must have made him feel the evil of his association with Ahab.

1 Kings 22:34, 35, 37, 38

That chance arrow was guided by divine vengeance, and every syllable of Elijah’s threatening proved true. Who would not fear thee, thou just and holy God!

 

Do Good, Be Rich in Good Works, Be Ready To Distribute, Be Willing To Communicate

1 Timothy 6:17, 18

I am so thankful that my wife and I personally know many godly wealthy people who are mission-minded and who generously give to see the Gospel go to the ends of the earth. Although they could selfishly use their money merely for the sake of self-embellishment, they have learned that God gave them money for a purpose: so they could empower preachers of the Gospel to take the message of Jesus Christ to people who need to hear it. Therefore, in addition to personally enjoying their wealth as they should, they have also learned to do a great deal of good with their finances.

I’ll never forget the time we sat down with a particular family who fits this description. They invited us to dinner; then while we were at dinner with them, they told me and my wife that they had decided to invest into our ministry. We sat in shock as they told us how they had looked into our finances and checked us out as thoroughly as they possibly could. Then they said they were so blessed with what they had discovered, they decided to channel some of their money into our ministry for the advancement of the Gospel! After researching our ministry, they felt confident the finances would be used properly. So from that day onward, these precious people began to regularly sow into the work God has given us to do.

This wealthy family is diligent to fulfill God’s command to the rich as presented in First Timothy 6:17, 18. In these verses, Paul gives Timothy instructions for those who were rich in the younger minister’s church. Paul tells Timothy to charge the rich that they “… do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate.” Today I want us to delve deeply into this verse to see exactly what God’s expectation is for those who are financially blessed in His Kingdom.

When Paul instructed the rich to “do good,” he used the word agathoergeo, which is a compound of agathos and ergos. The word agathos means good or beneficial, and the word ergos is the most common word in the New Testament for work, presenting the idea of someone who is very active. When they are compounded together, the new word means to do works that are good, beneficial, excellent, profitable, or helpful to others.

These are deeds that leave people in a better condition than they were before the deeds were performed. But because the word ergos is used, it pictures one who really works at doing good, not one who lazily or thoughtlessly performs these actions. The rich are therefore instructed to be thoughtful, serious, and fervent about their giving, like the family I mentioned earlier who blessed our ministry. They should work hard at giving to the right people and to the right places.

Paul goes on to say that the rich are to “be rich in good works.” The word “rich” is the word plousios, describing incredible abundance, extreme wealth, and enormous affluence. The word “works” is ergos, the Greek word for work. It tells the rich that they should be constantly working to use their wealth to benefit other people. Their giving should be something they do seriously and with focused attention.

To describe the level of works they are to perform, Paul uses the word “good.” This is the word kalos, and it pictures something that is sound, healthy, fine, or excellent. These are excellent works. You could say that these are works that are done soundly and that leave the recipient in a healthy position.

Paul then tells the rich that they must be “ready to distribute.” The words “ready to distribute” come from the Greek word eumetadotos. It is a triple compound word of the words eu, meta, and didomi. The word eu describes a feeling of elation and ecstasy. It is what a person feels when he is simply thrilled about something. It is where we get the word euphoria. The second part of the word is meta, and it can be translated a variety of ways, depending on the particular grammar being used in the sentence. In this verse, it means with or about. The third part of the word is from the word didomi, which simply means to give. Once these three words are compounded together, the new word literally means that those who possess a lot of material resources should be elated, thrilled, and euphoric about every opportunity they have to give.

Next, Paul tells the rich that they must be “willing to communicate.” This phrase comes from the single Greek word koinonikos. This word is taken from the word koinonia, which expresses the idea of anything that is shared in common. But when the word koinonia becomes the word koinonikos, as it is in this verse, it pictures a person who is a champion at sharing what he owns. This person doesn’t begrudgingly share what he owns; he liberally, generously, and joyfully shares it! He is big-hearted and open-handed—just the opposite of one who is tightfisted and stingy. This is a heroic giver. Therefore, when Paul tells the rich to be “willing to communicate,” he is teaching them that they should be champion givers!

 

When we put all these Greek words together, we see that Paul is urging the rich to:

“Work diligently at richly performing good deeds with the resources God has given you. Put your whole heart into using those resources to leave people in better shape then they were before you acted on their behalf. You should be elated, thrilled, and euphoric about every opportunity you have to give. You should be excited about every chance that presents itself for you to be generous!”

God requires everyone to be a giver, but when a person is especially blessed financially more than others, God expects that richly blessed person to do more than others can do because he has more.

So if God has financially blessed you, He is calling you to use your wealth to become rich in good works! God expects you to go above and beyond what others do because you have the ability to do more. And God expects you to be excited about it!

So I want to ask you—when you are confronted with an opportunity to give of your finances, do you get excited about it, or do you begrudge every gift you give? Do you feel like you’re losing something when you give of your finances, or do you see your gift as a welcome opportunity to help enrich someone else’s life? Do you receive joy from giving, or does it break your heart when you see your money pass from your hands into someone else’s hands?

Today I urge you to go before the Lord and allow His Spirit to speak to your heart about your giving. Rather than just thoughtlessly drop money into an offering plate or into some project, begin to give serious prayer and thought to the question of how and when you should give. Study those to whom you wish to give. Make sure you are giving to the right people and to the right places. And when you are confident that you’ve found a place that will handle your finances responsibly, begin to sow your finances with joy!

When you find good soil to sow your financial seed, you should be euphoric! And you should also rejoice in the fact that you have the ability to make a huge difference in other people’s lives!

MY PRAYER FOR TODAY

Lord, I ask You to help me see exactly where I should sow my finances. Please help me to see those people and organizations that will wisely handle the money I sow; then give me the ability to sow into those places with elation and joy! I want to be excited about my giving! I want to give, knowing that my gift is truly going to make a huge difference. And as I give to benefit others, I ask You to honor Your Word and multiply it back to me again so I can continue to give and be a blessing to the Christian community.

I pray this in Jesus’ name!

MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY

I confess that God’s Spirit speaks to me and helps me know exactly where I am supposed to sow my finances. I am serious about my giving; therefore, I sow carefully and thoughtfully. My money is not to be spent selfishly only on myself, for God has richly blessed me so I can be a rich blessing to others for the sake of the Gospel. I therefore use my resources to do good works that will leave people in better condition than they were before I gave. I am excited about living my life as a liberal, generous, open-handed giver. Therefore, God continues to richly bless me, for He knows I will be a channel through which His blessings can keep flowing out to those who need it.

I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!

QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER

  1. How should you respond to what you have read in today’s Sparkling Gem? What new truths did you learn about the attitude you should have in your giving?
  2. Would you describe yourself as a champion giver, or would you have to honestly say that you need to increase in your giving? Do you live to give, or do you give only when you feel like the Spirit of God is twisting your arm to do it?
  3. When you do finally decide to give to a church, ministry, or organization, do you give regularly and faithfully so you can help make that organization more sound and healthy?

 

Sally Ann

Yesterday I attended Sally Ann’s memorial service. She was 98 years young.

 

Noticeably missing from the service was the traditional black mourning garb. Rather, the gathering proved to be a joyful time of commemorating a woman who had celebrated life at every turn. Old friends spontaneously stood up and reflected upon experience after experience with this remarkable woman who had so impacted their lives.

 

Years ago Sally Ann invested her life into a 19 year old lad who had recently been discharged from the U. S. Marine Corps. At that time she was a 54 year old widow on the tail end of raising two boys without a father. Somehow, amidst an already demanding life, she felt led of God to invite this young, uncut, ex-Marine to live in her guest house while he attended the university. Her intention was to build Christlike character into his life. And build she did:

 

“Gentlemen open doors for ladies.”

 

“The correct fork to use with the salad is… ”

 

“The girl you are dating would be a poor choice for a life partner.”

 

“God has an important work for you to do.”

 

Amidst her sometimes daunting challenges, Sally Ann communicated an unwavering belief in that young lad as she chiseled away at his life. That is, she cared enough to confront and challenge him on important life issues, ploddingly building in polish, perseverance, and a Biblical perspective. Her infectious love for Christ spilled over onto him as she arose early, morning after morning to prayerfully ponder over the Scriptures.

 

Was Sally Ann’s input into this lad’s life merely a nice thing to do? Or was it in response to the Divine mandate Christ gave to his followers to “go make disciples of all nations“? (Matthew 28:19a)

 

Consider:

 

This is to my Fathers glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciplesYou did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last… ” (John 15:8, 16a) (See Mark 16:15, 16; Luke 24:47-49; John 20:21; Acts 1:8)

 

QUESTION: Just how seriously are you taking Christ’s Great Commission to “go make disciples“? Are you currently investing your life into that of another, with the view that they in turn will disciple others? Or are you just muddling along by allowing life’s pressures, and your preferences to determine your priorities? If you are not taking His command seriously, what do you plan to say to Him when you meet Him on the other side, as He calls you to account?

 

And yes, if you were wondering about the identity of that young ex-Marine? It was I!