Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Road to Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is Thanskgiving. Today is a day of preparation for it and I knmow you are likely busy today. I will be brief - I would like to take an unusual look at Thanksgiving by noting that - by modern standards - the Pilgirms had nothing to be thankful for at all and should have (a man might say) abandoned the faith and collapsed to atheism and despair.

The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621, when an exceptionally good harvest (aided largely by a kidnapped American Indian who was taken to Europe for study and befriended the colonists because his entire village was dead of disease when he returned) gave them the ability to hold a three day feast. Certainly then, we can see these religious dissenters (opposed to the Church of England's excess and lack of focus on personal holiness) thanking God for a bountiful harvest. 

If we were to do so, however, we would be zooming in on one small event after a year of trouble. The Pilgrims left for America because in England they were not allowed to practice their religion and in Holland, their children were abandoning their cultural identity. It had been hoped that when James (of the [in]famous King James Version) ascended to the throne that he would bring religious peace to England and lift the bans on freedom of worship (at least for Christians). This did not occur. While they were not 'persecuted,' per se, they were the subject of scorn, fines and the general displeasure of the Crown. For these and other political reasons (more subtle), on September 16, 1620. It was a foolish time to leave to found a new colony in such a cold region as New England. When they finally landed on November 13, winter was rapidly setting in. there were no warm homes to hide in (just a few abandoned Native buildings) and no Home Depots to gather supplies. From nothing, they needed to protect themselves from the bitter winter. So desparate was their lot, that they dug up graves and took out food which was to be for the Natives in their afterlife. From a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables on the trip, many suffered from scurvy and malnutrition. Over the winter of 1620-1621, 47% of the colonists died in this strange, untamed land. Imagine that in every family of 4, only 2 are left to see spring. The landing was, to say the least, not what they had hoped for.

Yet, the following November, they were able to look on their lot and thank God for what He had given them.  My point for this Thanksgiving Eve is that the Christian's thankfulness need not be bound by his circumstances. As Paul wrote:

But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.

(Php 4:10-12)
Paul writes that he has learned how to live in poverty and how to live with wealth. It is something he did not know naturally and it is not something we know naturally, but we must choose to learn. Sometimes we have so much tht we must have the strength to have money without money having us. Sometimes we have so little that we must have the strength to resist envy of those with better stakes. Every lot has its own challenges - but in verse 12 Paul claims he knows a secret to deal with them all. In verse 13, Paul tells us what this secret is:

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

(Php 4:13)
And that is something to be thankful for. If, like the Pilgrims, we have little and have suffered much, we may thank God He has pulled us through. If we, like so many today, have a great deal, we may thank God for each thing He has given us. But I feel like the time for that variety of Thankgiving comes tomorrow. Today, let us contemplate how God has brought us through adversity.

[1] What is something in your life which should have crippled you, but God meant for good?
[2] What is something in your life in the past year which you could not have handled without Paul's little secret?
There will be another brief devotional tomorrow, automatically posted at midnight. I hope you have the time to look at it as you celebrate your Thanksgiving.

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