(Excerpt from a letter)
Mama says, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” With all the negativity going on in the world around us it is clear to me that people don’t listen to their mamas! From the president on down shouting rude, derogatory, inflammatory rhetoric has become the norm. From two-bit, tin pot dictators shouting “Death!” to their enemies to hate groups of every color and creed preaching doctrines based on imagined superiority or persecution to self-justify their acts of terror, the world has reached the brink of a new age. An age where civility and reason no longer have the power to persuade, and arguments are won by the person with the loudest voice. A world were lone gunmen strike without warning after posting diatribes on the internet; police kill unarmed suspects simply because they perceive every response as hostile; teachers are trained to carry guns and shoot to kill, even if the attacker is their own student; and candlelight vigils end in further tragedy.
This week we celebrate Thanksgiving. A day of remembrance for an intrepid group who fled religious persecution in Europe to start a new life in the new world. While we tend to focus on the feast, it was what led up to it that was important. The Pilgrims were a religious sect of Christians that held different beliefs than the state sponsored church in England. They spoke kindly when faced with insults. They acted with dignity when faced with angry mobs. They lived lives of simplicity in a complex society. They were the victims of hate crimes, state sponsored terrorism, and socio-economic discrimination just because they wanted to live free in peace to worship God in their own way. So, the Pilgrims chose to go to a land which few people had seen and of which little was known. They were entering a new age.
An earlier attempt to carve out an outpost in the new world at Jamestown by others had mysteriously ended in failure, so they were heading into the great unknown. The journey was difficult, and some did not survive. All that was waiting for them was hard-work, deprivation, and unimaginable suffering. The land was full of dangers and the process of building a community in the wilderness was difficult. If it wasn’t for the fact that they made friends with the natives of the area they wouldn’t have survived. Through it all they held strongly to their faith in God. They trusted Him for their provisions and did not curse Him when another person died. After their first successful harvest they chose to give thanks to God. They didn’t claim victory in God’s name. They didn’t pat themselves on the back and congratulate each other for a job well done. They humbly acknowledged that God was faithful and had supplied what they needed to live.
As Christians living in this era, we don’t have a new world that we can travel to so we can start over. Until Christ returns to lead us home, we must live in this world. In his high priestly prayer Jesus prayed:
“My Prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be sanctified. My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”John 15:15-21
The writer of Hebrews said our focus in this world must be to run the race of life with patient endurance, to keep our eyes on the prize (Hebrews 12:1). The Apostle Paul described the importance of having self-discipline in order to win and not be disqualified (2 Timothy 4, 1 Corinthians 9). The Apostle Peter wrote to the members of the early church encouraging them to be like-minded, sympathetic; to love one another; to be compassionate and humble; to not repay evil for evil or insult with insult, instead repaying evil with blessings (1 Peter 3). To be a “peculiar people” using the old King James version of 1 Peter 2:9. As Christians we are called to be the modern-day Pilgrims living a lifestyle that distinguishes us from the society around us. We are to be strangers living in a strange land.
Our speech is one area where we can distinguish ourselves from the world. James the brother of Jesus cautioned about the power of the tongue, noting that praises to God and curses to man can’t both come out of our mouths (James 3). We must speak the truth in love to everyone and use words to build up not tear down others. Ephesians 5:19-20 says that we are to “speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We are to create a soundtrack of praise to accompany our lives.
During Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem the Pharisees asked Jesus to silence his disciples and the others who were shouting “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” But Jesus replied, “if they keep quiet even the rocks will cry out” (Luke 19:37-40). As Christians it is our role, our responsibility, our mission in life to give praise to God the Father and Jesus Christ his son. We need to acknowledge that everything comes from God, even in the midst of our darkest circumstances. Sitting in jail Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns at midnight, and then God moved in a mighty way not only saving them from their situation but also saved the souls of the jailer and his entire family (Acts 16:25-34). It was because of experiences like this that Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” You never know who might be listening to your testimony of praise and the effect it will have on them.
In Psalms 106:1 it says, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, and his love endures forever.” This is what the Pilgrims did that first Thanksgiving. They declared a day to acknowledge what God had done for them, giving thanks for the harvest, their religious freedom, and their lives. Here we are 378 years later commemorating that first Thanksgiving and adding our voices to theirs, praising God for what He has done for us.
You are in my thoughts and prayers. You are not forgotten. Your Brother in Christ.