Practical Christianity: Strangers and Pilgrims on this Earth



Note: On this coming Tuesday, December 5, 2017, the US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case about which I have written extensively at Word Foundations. Alliance Defending Freedom is representing Jack Phillips, owner and operator of Masterpiece Cakeshop, in this case. Like the Pilgrims, Jack is risking everything for religious liberty and rights of conscience. The ruling will have profound implications for the First Amendment rights of every American. You can learn more about Jack’s journey and his convictions here and here. Please be in prayer for this case and its outcome. A ruling is expected in the late spring of next year.



The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Believers Who Worked Out Their Salvation with Fear and Trembling
Part 2

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
Hebrews 11:13

 The Pilgrims made up a single local church who, with their pastor, determined to move the church from England to Holland to America. Thus, you could say that America began as a church relocation project.
—D. James Kennedy1

 

Key point: Because they remained true to their God and took necessary steps to honor Him with their resources and their lives, the Pilgrims influenced, and continue to influence, the entire world. Our circumstances aren’t the same as theirs, but like them, we have manifold opportunities to die to self and to use our resources for God’s glory. God can use us, just as He used them!

 

In this two-part series, we’re exploring how the Pilgrims, together, “worked out their salvation with fear and trembling” (see Phil. 2:12) until the time they decided to leave Holland for the New World. This working-out process certainly would continue, and perhaps at some point we can explore how it played out on their voyage across the Atlantic Ocean and in North America. For now, there is a great deal to learn from the experiences they shared up until the time they left Holland in 1620.

In part 1 we examined some of the challenges this Separatist congregation faced in Scrooby in England as they sought to live out their faith in a hostile environment. Weary of being harassed and persecuted and longing for freedom in their religious practices, the group fled England for Holland in 1608. They first resided in Amsterdam, then moved to Leyden a short time later.

17th-century houses still standing in Leyden

The Holland Years

In Holland, the little group of believers enjoyed the freedom that had eluded them in their native land. They lived there for over a decade but in the end were compelled to leave. In addition to the increasing possibility that war would erupt between Holland and Spain, two other factors motivated the congregation to take serious steps to depart for North America—

  • the moral well-being of their children and
  • their desire to spread share the good news of Jesus Christ in distant lands.

The Separatists’ concern for their children was related to the economic pressures they faced in their adopted land. In relocating as they had already, they had exhausted their financial resources. Also, typically, immigrants could not find work that paid well, and a family’s poverty invariably put pressures on both parents and children, who essentially had to mature faster than they would under more ideal circumstances. Some children were being heavily influenced by loose moral values in the culture. According to William Bradford, who later would serve as the governor of Plymouth Colony,

[O]f all sorrows most heavy to be borne, was that many of the children, influenced by these conditions, and the great licentiousness of the young people of the country, and the many temptations of the city, were led by evil example into dangerous courses, getting the reins off their necks and leaving their parents. Some became soldiers, others embarked upon voyages by sea and others upon worse courses tending to dissoluteness and the danger of their souls, to the great grief of the parents and the dishonour of God. So they saw their posterity would be in danger to degenerate and become corrupt.2

Bradford continues,

[T]hey [also] cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations, or at least of making some way towards it, for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the remote parts of the world, even though they should be but stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work.3

Keep the phrase stepping stones in mind, because we will return to it shortly.


The Christians who had fled England for religious freedom and had spent over a decade in Holland now felt compelled to leave Holland for the New World. Chief among their concerns were the moral well-being of their Children and their desire to take the good news of Jesus Christ to, in William Bradford’s words, “the remote parts of the world.”


A Bittersweet Departure

The painting at the top of this page is titled The Embarkation of the Pilgrims. Created by artist Robert Weir, it was commissioned by the United States Congress in 1837 and placed in the Rotunda of the US Capitol in late 1843. The portrait depicts the Separatist congregation’s last service aboard the Speedwell in Delft Haven, Holland, just before the departure of those who were sailing for the New World. More about the painting is available here, but let’s focus in on one of the painting’s central figures for a moment.

The congregation’s pastor, John Robinson, who would remain in Leyden, is kneeling in the foreground with his face turned heavenward. Here is a record of his farewell address to those of his congregation who were about to leave. Robinson also would write this farewell letter to those departing. He hoped he and other members of the congregation soon would be able to join them in North America.


The Pilgrims weren’t simply a group of individual Christians, but a congregation that together drew on God’s strength to live out their faith in the world in which the Lord had placed them.


The point here is that these believers weren’t simply a group of individual Christians, but a congregation that together drew on God’s strength to live out their faith in the world in which the Lord had placed them. They also drew strength from one another, but now the realities of life dictated that some of them separate from others in the group. Their good-byes were bittersweet—difficult, yet encouraging for both those leaving and those who felt they needed, at least for now, to remain. We cannot discount the underlying, yet real, influence of the ones remaining on those departing. Because they were a part of this congregation that had endured so much together, the ones staying in Leyden left their mark on the New World as well. God would be with and would guide both groups in the years ahead.

Let’s return now to William Bradford’s account. Having stated the primary reasons the group felt they must leave, Bradford went on to add,

These, and some other similar reasons, moved them to resolve upon their removal, which they afterwards prosecuted in the face of great difficulties, as will appear. The place they fixed their thoughts upon was somewhere in those vast and unpeopled countries of America….4

A Working-Out Process

Their difficulties in Leyden and the struggles they would have in preparing for and making their transatlantic journey notwithstanding, the time the Pilgrims spent in Holland would prove to be extremely beneficial for them and for future generations of North Americans. Robert A. Peterson writes,

[P]erhaps… [the] greatest contribution [the Dutch people made] to America was the 11 years of freedom they gave the Pilgrims—crucial years that helped America’s founding fathers work out their philosophy of freedom and prepare for self-government in the New World.

Free men. For the Pilgrims, this was a new idea. Just what did it mean to be free? With the external pressure of persecution lifted, would the Pilgrims remain true to their original calling? Or would they turn liberty into license and lose their distinctive identity? Time would show that the Pilgrims took seriously their responsibilities of self-government. Indeed, the Dutch experience would prove to be an excellent half-way house to the freedom the Pilgrims would find in the New World. For the next 11 years, the Pilgrims took advantage of all the opportunities that Dutch society offered.…

The 11 years the Pilgrims spent in Holland saw them grow in responsibility, adaptability, and self- government. As Bradford Smith put it in his biography of William Bradford, “The libertarian tradition at Plymouth, with its profound influence on American life, is not primarily English. It is Dutch. Simple justice demands that we acknowledge this…. Thus, during their Leyden years, were the Pilgrims perfecting themselves for the undreamed of work of founding a new nation. In religion, they grew milder and more tolerant. In business and craftsmanship they learned a great deal from the thrifty, ambitious and highly capable Hollanders. Too, the Dutch flair for efficient government and record keeping, the spirit of republicanism and civic responsibility were to bear unsuspected fruit in a distant land.”5

Working out one’s salvation with fear and trembling (see Phil. 2:12) has implications for every area of life. We see this so clearly in the Pilgrims’ journey. Most noteworthy, these believers consistently took the long view, just as did the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11. They made the most of their opportunities in the present, even as they were mindful of how they might influence the future for God’s glory. Both of the factors that compelled the Separatist congregation to push forward to travel to the New World were centered, not in the present, but in the future.

Investing in Future Generations—and Eternity

We see the Pilgrims’ passion for evangelism later reflected in the text of the Mayflower Compact, which speaks of the signers’ having come to America “for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country….” You can read the entire text of the Mayflower Compact here, and you can read about the document here and here.

Accordingly, Bradford, as we already have noted, wrote that his party wanted to carry the good news of Christ to “the remote parts of the world, even though they should be but stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work.”6

Lightstock

Our children, it has been said, are our links to the future. Moreover, the spread of the gospel is not primarily about building a better world here and now, even though that is a side benefit. It is about eternity!

The Pilgrims would, in their efforts to secure religious freedom for themselves, to spread the gospel to “remote parts of the world,” and to guide their children to live lives of purity and integrity before God, change the course of history and sew the seeds that eventually would become the United States of America.

Their contributions to the betterment of civilized life continue in America to this day. This isn’t just in the ideals they upheld, but in people. The descendants of those who came over on the Mayflower number in the tens of millions! It’s readily understood that not all of these are Christians; in fact, a great many are not. But others are.

Daniel Brewster and his family

I am honored to have in my circle of friends one Daniel Brewster, a direct, thirteenth-generation descendant of the Plymouth Colony’s Elder William Brewster, through his son Jonathan Brewster. Dan is a devout believer who is active in his church, often operating the sound system for its services and special events. When he lived in Ohio, Dan was involved in vocational ministry through Child Evangelism Fellowship. Currently he works in ministry at the distribution center of LifeWay Christian Resources, one of the world’s largest providers of Bible study materials and Christian services.

Do not misunderstand. A believer does not have to be involved in vocational ministry to serve God through his or her work; he or she can honor Him in any reputable job—and reputable jobs are available in all kinds of work. I’m simply relating ways Dan Brewster has served the Lord through his career.

Dan and his wife Tammi have four sons, and they are effectively passing the baton of their Christian faith on to them, just as the Pilgrims sought faithfully to pass along their faith to their own children.

Building a Heritage and Leaving a Legacy

You may not have a Christian family heritage stretching back through the years. If you don’t have such a heritage, start one! The past is the past. It is done—but from this point forward, you can build a Christ-centered legacy to bequeath to future generations. If you already have this kind of heritage, make sure you are faithful to keep it alive and healthy on the watch the Lord has entrusted to you.

The lessons the Pilgrims offer 21st century believers truly are manifold. Of course, the Pilgrims were imperfect people who did not get everything right. Even so, they got enough right and were willing, with God’s help, to lay everything on the line for treasures of eternal worth.

They even were ready to become “stepping stones” to further God’s work.

May we, relying on divine help as well, also do the same!

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

top image: The Embarkation of the Pilgrims by Robert Weir, 1837

Notes:

1Jerry Newcombe, compiler, The Wit and Wisdom of D. James Kennedy, (Fort Lauderdale, FL: Truth in Action Ministries, 2013), 150.

2William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, Harold Padget, ed., (Kindle Locations 588-593). Portcullis Books. Kindle Edition. Original print release, 1920; Kindle edition, 2016.

3William Bradford, Kindle Locations 593-595.

4William Bradford, Kindle Locations 595-598.

5Bradford Smith, Bradford of Plymauth, (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1951), 78, 93.

6William Bradford, Kindle Locations 594-595.

 

 

Practical Christianity: A Holy Nation

The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Believers Who Worked Out Their Salvation with Fear and Trembling
Part 1

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
1 Peter 2:9

The Pilgrims comprised one of the most remarkable congregations that has ever existed on the face of this earth.
—D. James Kennedy1

Key point: Members of the Separatist congregation in Scrooby, England in the 1600s — believers who later became known as “Pilgrims” — serve as examples not only of how to “do Christianity,” but also of how to “do church.”

Last time we explored the importance of taking salvation seriously, of “working out one’s salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). It’s fascinating to note both individual and corporate manifestations of this process. Not only must individual Christians work out their own salvation, churches and other Christian groups frequently must do the same. In the Pilgrims—believers who fled England for Holland, then Holland for the New World during the early 1600s and established the Plymouth Colony in what is now Massachusetts—we see evidence of the “working out process” at a congregational level. In this two-part series, I’d like to consider how this process was manifested in the Pilgrims’ decisions and actions up until the time they resolved to leave Holland for North America.

The Church in England

King Henry VIII

The Protestant Reformation is considered to have officially begun in 1517 when Martin Luther, a German monk, released his 95 Theses, a document in which he pointed out and objected to numerous abuses by and within the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformation soon became a movement that spread throughout Europe, wielding its influence in numerous countries beyond Germany.

King Henry VIII, who ruled in England from 1509 to 1547, officially pulled his country away from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534. In that year he declared himself sovereign over a new national church, which, not surprisingly, he called the Church of England. His actions weren’t theologically motivated, but we can’t fully consider that part of the story at this point. Suffice it to say that the move was a very big deal. King Henry, and eventually his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled from 1558 to 1603, instituted a number of changes that made England’s new national church distinct from the Church headquartered in Rome. Even so, some of Henry’s subjects didn’t believe enough had been changed. These Christians wanted to see and experience forms of worship that were simpler and less elaborate. Appealing to the Book of Acts, they called for a return to the worship practices of the early Christians. These men and women became known as Puritans, because they advocated purifying the church in this way.

William Bradford, years after he was involved in the Separatist congregation in Scrooby

Another group of believers went further. Seeing the Church of England as beyond reforming, they sought to break away from the national church and form congregations of their own. In a day when church and state were intertwined, departure from the national church would be deemed treasonous. Thus, these men and women were risking a great deal, both individually and as a group of believers.

William Brewster, an imaginary likeness

In the town of Scrooby in Nottinghamshire, England, between 1586 and 1605, a Separatist congregation was formed that included William Brewster (1568-1644) and a young man by the name of William Bradford, who had been born around 1590. Brewster previously had served as a diplomatic assistant to the Netherlands. Because of the congregation’s convictions about the need to separate from the national church, the group faced ridicule, harassment, and in some cases, arrest and imprisonment.

Costly Convictions

William Bradford later would describe the situation by saying members of the congregation

were hunted and persecuted on every side, until their former afflictions were but as flea-bitings in comparison. Some were clapped into prison; others had their houses watched night and day, and escaped with difficulty; and most were obliged to fly, and leave their homes and means of livelihood. Yet these and many other even severer trials which afterwards befell them, being only what they expected, they were able to bear by the assistance of God’s grace and spirit. However, being thus molested, and seeing that there was no hope of their remaining there, they resolved by consent to go into the Low Countries, where they heard there was freedom of religion for all; and it was said that many from London and other parts of the country, who had been exiled and persecuted for the same cause, had gone to live at Amsterdam and elsewhere in the Netherlands. So after about a year, having kept their meeting for the worship of God every Sabbath in one place or another, notwithstanding the diligence and malice of their adversaries, seeing that they could no longer continue under such circumstances, they resolved to get over to Holland as soon as they could….2

Weary of the persecution and longing for freedom in their religious practices, the group fled England for Holland in 1608. They first resided in Amsterdam, then moved to Leyden a short time later.

Lessons from Godly Ancestors

The Separatist congregation stayed in Holland for over 10 years. We’ll consider those years next time, but for now, let’s reflect on the Pilgrims’ journey up until the time they made their decision to leave England. Several observations are in order.

First, these believers knew what it was like to face ridicule and persecution because of their faith, yet they refused to compromise. Their consciences were beholden to their God. Today, we need more believers like that. Persecution was just one aspect of the price they paid.


The Pilgrims’ consciences were beholden to their God.


Second, the Pilgrims apparently didn’t expect their Christianity to bring them ease and comfort. I list this as a separate item because the hardships they endured strengthened rather than derailed them. It’s never fun to endure persecution, but when we expect resistance from the world, we do not become disillusioned. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Third, they took their relationship with God so seriously that they even were willing to relocate to another country in order to worship Him as they believed they should. How precious to you is your relationship with the Lord? How important to you is your worship of Him?

Fourth, they acted, not individually, but as a church. This not only served to encourage them as individuals and families; it also increased the impact of their strategic actions. In Acts, we do not see an emphasis on accepting Christ as one’s personal Lord and Savior to the extent we hear that emphasis today. Certainly accepting Christ into one’s life is legitimate; in fact, it is absolutely necessary. Yet in Acts, there was a corporate element that we seem to have lost.


Believers today need to rediscover the importance of corporate Christianity.


Jesus was and is Lord of the church. This theme permeated Charles Colson’s classic book, The Body. The Body later was revised, updated, and retitled Being the BodyWe need to rediscover and reapply the corporate Christianity the Pilgrims practiced and Colson upheld. This is biblical Christianity. The Pilgrims knew God had called them out as “a holy nation” (see 1 Pet. 2:9). They lived out the principle set forth in 1 Peter 1:22: “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.” Wouldn’t this perspective, if it fully were applied in our churches today, bring God’s people together in ways that profoundly would change both the church and the world? 

The Pilgrims would continue to desperately need their God and one another. Holland would offer them the religious freedom they sought, but also a variety of daunting challenges.

Next time, we’ll explore some of those challenges and how the Pilgrims responded. Their example will inspire and encourage. I promise.

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

top image: birthplace of William Bradford in Austerfield, South Yorkshire, England

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Notes:

1Jerry Newcombe, compiler, The Wit and Wisdom of D. James Kennedy, (Fort Lauderdale, FL: Truth in Action Ministries, 2013), 150.

2William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, Harold Padget, ed., (Kindle Locations 425-432). Portcullis Books. Kindle Edition. Original print release, 1920; Kindle edition, 2016.

Thanksgiving in America 101, Part 2

 Thanksgiving and Religious Liberty

Government is instituted to protect property of every sort…. Conscience is the most sacred of all property.1

A man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them.2

—Founding Father James Madison—

James Madison played a vital role in the founding of the United States, serving the new nation in a variety of important position during its earliest years. He was

  • influential in drafting the Virginia constitution,
  • a member of the Virginia House of Delegates (1776-1777; 1784-1786),
  • a member of the Continental Congress (1780-1783; 1786-1788),
  • a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, representing Virginia,
  • a member of the US House of Representatives from the 5th district of Virginia (1789-1793)
  • a member of the US House of Representatives from the 15th district of Virginia (1793-1797),
  • Secretary of State under President Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809), and
  • the 4th President of the United States (1809-1817).

Significantly, Madison has been called the Father of the US Constitution and the Father of the Bill of Rights (also go here). His work in getting the Constitution ratified was vital on many levels, including his role in addressing the states’ demand that the Constitution include a bill of rights.

Running against James Monroe for one of Virginia’s seats in the newly created House of Representatives, Madison promised to work diligently to add a bill of rights (also go here). He was elected and kept his promise. In the 12 articles that made up the proposed bill of rights sent to the states for ratification on September 25, 1789, “several of Madison’s concepts, if not his exact wording,” appeared. On December 15, 1791, 10 of the 12 were ratified by the required three-fourths of state legislatures, and they have stood through the years as America’s official Bill of Rights.3 These amendments wisely were enacted to restrain the federal government from encroaching on the liberties of America’s citizens—and again, James Madison had no small part in the process. Author and historian William J. Bennett writes that “no figure of antiquity—no Greek like Pericles or Solon, no Roman like Cicero or Cincinnatus—can claim an equal standing with Madison as lawgiver and champion of liberty.”

bill_of_rights_pg1of1_ac

Understanding Madison’s contribution to American liberty will help us appreciate the importance of a special part of his proclamation for a day of prayer and thanksgiving. On July 23, 1813, President Madison issued a proclamation setting aside Thursday, September 9 of that same year for prayer, and to render unto God “thanks for the many blessings He has bestowed on the people of the United States.”

At the time, the United States was involved in the War of 1812, a conflict that had begun the previous year and that would not end until 1815. James “Madison had not seriously prepared for war and lacked a strategy or good generals. The war began poorly, as Americans suffered defeat after defeat by smaller forces.”

battle_of_queenston_heights_artist_unknown

In October of 1812, US Forces were defeated at the Battle of Queenston Heights in Canada.

October of 1813, however, witnessed a turning point for America, and by the war’s end in 1815, a renewed spirit of patriotism spread throughout the nation. Let us not overlook the fact that the president called the nation to prayer just weeks before the tide began to turn for the United States.


Let us not overlook the fact that the president called the nation to prayer just weeks before the tide began to turn for the United States.


In his proclamation, which you can read here, America’s chief executive highlighted several examples of God’s favor on America, including the fact

that He has blessed the United States with a political Constitution rounded on the will and authority of the whole people and guaranteeing to each individual security, not only of his person and his property, but of those sacred rights of conscience so essential to his present happiness and so dear to his future hopes.

This clause reflects some of Madison’s priorities as he worked on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. He, as much or more than all the other men who deliberated over the details of both, keenly understood that to maintain a free society, religious liberty and rights of conscience had to be protected.


Only when religious liberty and rights of conscience are protected can the people of a nation remain free.


In his proclamation, Madison also referred directly to the war that was at hand and the challenges it had brought upon the young nation. Accordingly, he underscored the need for calling out to God. The needs were great, so the occasion would be a serious one. September 9 was to be “a day of public humiliation and prayer.”

Having issued the call and set forth the rationale for observing the special day, President James Madison went out of his way to emphasize that no one would be forced to participate. Hear these words from the past and realize their import for the present.

If the public homage of a people can ever be worthy the favorable regard of the Holy and Omniscient Being to whom it is addressed, it must be that in which those who join in it are guided only by their free choice, by the impulse of their hearts and the dictates of their consciences; and such a spectacle must be interesting to all Christian nations as proving that religion, that gift of Heaven for the good of man, freed from all coercive edicts, from that unhallowed connection with the powers of this world which corrupts religion into an instrument or an usurper of the policy of the state, and making no appeal but to reason, to the heart, and to the conscience, can spread its benign influence everywhere and can attract to the divine altar those freewill offerings of humble supplication, thanksgiving, and praise which alone can be acceptable to Him whom no hypocrisy can deceive and no forced sacrifices propitiate.

Last week we observed Thanksgiving and highlighted the history of the holiday in America, even before it became an annual observance.

Freedom_from_Want

Two weeks ago, we considered florist Barronelle Stutzman’s appearance before the Supreme Court in Washington state. Refusing to violate her conscience, Mrs. Stutzman turned down the opportunity to arrange flowers for the same-sex wedding of a longtime friend. She subsequently was sued, and she may lose everything for taking this stand.

barronelle-stuzman-courtsey-adf

It is against this backdrop that we consider President Madison’s centuries-old proclamation, one of the early calls for prayer and thanksgiving issued in America. Recognizing both Madison’s roles in the founding of our nation as well as the fact the 1813 prayer observance occurred within a few years of the ratification of the Constitution, we need to make sure we take to heart our fourth president’s clear statements about religious liberty.

If under the Constitution no one could be forced to violate his or her conscience to participate in a solemn day of thanksgiving and prayer, then, under the same Constitution, neither can anyone ever be required to violate his or her conscience regarding the definition of marriage. James Madison is in a position to speak authoritatively on the matter, and while he didn’t specifically address Barronelle’s situation, he’s told us enough to eliminate every doubt about where he would stand—and where the Constitution stands. It’s crystal clear where James Madison would stand on same-sex marriage, but even apart from that, it’s also abundantly evident that he would say the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, upholds Barronelle Stutzman’s rights of conscience.

Read carefully again, if you have not already, the two quotes from James Madison at the top of this post. Significantly, our 4th president also said, “Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power.”


Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power.
403px-james_madison_sig-svg


James Madison’s insights could not be more relevant for America today, 203 years later, near the close of 2016. Let us fight to preserve the principles for which he labored tirelessly more than two centuries ago.

 

Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Notes:

1http://www.heritage.org/initiatives/first-principles/primary-sources/madison-on-property

2https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/jamesmadis398100.html

3The special program “We Hold These Truths” by Norman Corwin commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Bill of Rights on December 15, 1941.

 

The Need for Thanksgiving

We are blessed in the United States to have a special holiday set aside for thanking God, but today the media and popular culture emphasize Black Friday to a greater extent than Thanksgiving. As grateful people, we will stand out in such a culture, and God will use our gratitude to Him for His glory. We learn a great deal about the importance of thanksgiving (not the holiday, but the act of giving thanks) in Luke 17:11-19.

11 Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. 12 Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. 13 And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

14 So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed.

15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.

17 So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? 18 Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”

This event reflects, and consequently reminds us of, several realities.

  • First, while all should be thankful, gratitude is a rare commodity. In this incident, just one out of ten returned to Jesus to give thanks. Jesus asked, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?”
  • Second, while certainly all ten men must have been relieved to have been healed, there’s a big difference between being relieved and being grateful. Quite often, once a crisis has passed, we forget our indebtedness to God. This apparently was true for nine of the ten who were healed.
  • Third, it is the nature of a grateful heart to express thanks. Unexpressed thanks isn’t really thanks at all. If you genuinely are thankful, you’ll find ways to express your gratitude. Luke tells us that the grateful man “returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks.”
  • Fourth, expressions of gratitude may surprise us. Luke tells us that the one returning “was a Samaritan.” After He observed that just one out of ten returned to Him, Jesus said, “Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” Let’s make sure that we’re consistently thankful, thereby at times surprising others with our expressions of thanks.
  • When the ten lepers asked Jesus for mercy and thus for healing, Jesus responded by telling them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” They obeyed, and “as they went, they were cleansed.” It is significant that in order to return and offer thanks, the healed Samaritan postponed his obedience. We assume he followed through after thanking Jesus, but the postponement to offer thanks was appropriate and necessary. Accordingly, our fifth observation is that, like the nine other healed men, we can get caught up in doing something good and right but fail to fulfill our greater responsibility of expressing gratitude. Jesus didn’t say to the man who returned, “Didn’t I tell you to go to the priest?” Rather, He commended him for returning and praising God.
  • Sixth, gratitude has tremendous benefits for the grateful person. Jesus told the healed Samaritan, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”
  • Seventh, gratitude to God and faith are intertwined. While Jesus didn’t tell the healed Samaritan his gratitude had made him well, He commended him for praising God—something he wouldn’t have done had he not been grateful. Then Jesus told him his faith had made him well. It takes faith in God to express thanks to Him. Keep in mind that we can’t please God without faith (see Heb. 11:6).

Thanksgiving, you see, is essential for the believer. May we be people who are grateful for the blessings we have, and may we always express gratitude to the God who is the source of those blessings.

Copyright © 2015 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.