Archive for November, 2017

Hidden Christmas

November 29, 2017

In his book Hidden Christmas, Tim Keller tells the story of when he was a new young pastor in a small town in Virginia.  There were a number of dilapidated homes and trailers surrounding the church, which were inhabited by people who were poor and who had many social and personal problems.  Occasionally, one person would say to him that it was wrong for their middle-class church to hold its services in the midst of that neighborhood without reaching out to the residents.

One day, Tim and one of the deacons in the church, walked across the church parking lot to visit a woman who lived in a rented house.  She was a single mother whose broken relationships with men had left her impoverished, depressed, and living somewhat in disgrace in that conservative, traditional community, and raising her children with almost no help or support.  They sat with her and had a long talk about the Gospel. She responded with joy to the message of Christ Who was born into our world at Christmas.  She trusted her life to Jesus.

They went back to see her about a week later, but when they sat down with her, she burst into tears.  That week, she had called up her sister to tell her about her new faith in Christ.  Her sister laughed at her.

Her sister said, “Let me get this straight.  This preacher told you that a person like you could do all the foolish, immoral things you have done all your life, and five minutes before you die, you can just repent and trust Jesus and be saved just like that?  He told you that you don’t have to live a really good life to go to heaven?  That’s offensive.  It’s too simple.  It’s too easy.  I’ll never believe that!  And you shouldn’t either.”

Her sister thought that salvation had to be a great feat achieved by noble, moral deeds.  It couldn’t be something you just asked for.  The ordinariness of the Gospel had offended her pride.  They told the crying woman that her assurance and comfort were not unfounded.  They went to the Bible and studied until she saw clearly that Christ came as a baby, in weakness and smallness, not to save the proud, but to save those who admit that they are weak and need a Savior.  Her joy returned.  The ancient tidings of Christmas still make people glad today.

This is what Christmas is all about.  If we could earn our way to heaven, then there would have been no need for Jesus to come.  But, we can’t do that, so Jesus had to come.  He came in grace and mercy and forgiveness.  He didn’t live on earth with lots of money, servants, prestige, and privilege.  He lived an ordinary life among ordinary people like you and me.  We hope that you will experience that this Christmas.  We will hope you will see that Christmas is not about earning your way into God’s good graces.  It’s about admitting you can’t do that, but instead, trusting in Jesus, the Son of God, Who can do that for you.  Accept God’s gift to you this Christmas.  Accept Jesus, believe in Him, and follow Him.  That’s what Christmas is all about.

 

 

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The First Thanksgiving

November 1, 2017

The Pilgrim’s journey to America began in 1608 when they left their native England for Holland. They had decided to leave England because their Puritan religious beliefs were in conflict with those of the Anglican Church. However, by 1620, the Puritan’s experience in Holland had gone sour and they returned to England.  Plan B was to set sail for America.

Problems plagued their departure from the start. Leaving Southampton on August 5 aboard two ships (the Mayflower and the Speedwell) they were forced back when the Speedwell began to leak. A second attempt was thwarted when the Speedwell again began to leak and again the hapless Pilgrims returned to port.  Finally, after abandoning the Speedwell, 102 Pilgrim passengers, plus 30 crew members, departed aboard the Mayflower on September 6.  On the Mayflower, there were only limited sleeping quarters, and no bathroom facilities.  Because the ship was 100% wood, all of the food brought along for the journey was eaten cold, because of the fear that lighting a fire to cook the food might result in the ship burning down.  The intended destination was Virginia where they planned to start a colony. After a journey of 66 days they made landfall at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, more than 600 miles off course.  Two people had died during their journey across the Atlantic Ocean.

Upon arriving in the new world, William Bradford helped to draft the Mayflower Compact:  the first truly independent form of civil government in America. He went on to guide the settlement as governor or assistant governor for upwards of 30 years. The Puritan Ethic of that time, as well as the concepts forged by the Mayflower Compact, and its eventual development into a somewhat democratic form of representative government, laid the foundation for later American government and made an influential impact that can be seen even today.

The Puritans were so named because of their desire to “purify” the Church of England above and beyond the perceived inadequacy of the initial reformation of the sixteenth century.  The Puritans sought a return to the “…ancient purity and simplicity of the church as established by Christ.” Their feeling was that even after the initial reformation of the church, there still existed unacceptable traces of Roman Catholicism.

The focus of the Puritan doctrine was on the sovereignty of God, our human dependence on God for salvation, and the importance of the individual’s personal religious experience through purification of self and society. This is the Puritan Ethic: Strict self-discipline and devotion to God and church, accompanied by contempt for sinful pleasures and luxuries. It is an ethic that lends itself well to a group of settlers about to face some of the harshest living conditions of their lives.

One of the key scripture passages for the Pilgrims was Matthew 5:14, where Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”  They believed they were coming to America to be a city set on a hill.  They had a missionary mindset.  They wanted their world to see the goodness of God.  They wanted to share it with others.  They believed that God was calling them to influence the new world they were settling.

But, their first year in the new world was full of pain, suffering, and hardship.  Almost half of the people in their group died.  They faced a severe winter that they were not prepared for.  They did not know how to survive in the wilderness that was so foreign to them.  If it had not been for Squanto, and the other members of the Wampanoag tribe, more of them would have died.  They gave the Puritans food to eat when they ran out of food they had brought from England.  They taught the Puritans how to fish and how to plant corn.  They taught the Puritans how to survive.

The first Thanksgiving was celebrated at Plymouth Plantation by 53 Pilgrims and about 90 Native Americans in October or November of 1621.  The feast lasted for three days.  They were praying and thanking God for their survival through that first, difficult year.  They were grateful for a successful growing season and for their first harvest.  The feast was cooked by Eleanor Billington, Elizabeth Hopkins, Mary Brewster, and Susanna White, along with their daughters and their servants.

The Thanksgiving holiday was celebrated off and on throughout the early days of our country.  Abraham Lincoln made it an official national holiday during the Civil War.  Each year, it’s a good idea to sit down with family members and loved ones, and take time to remember what we have to be thankful for.  It’s good to take time to pray and thank God for helping us survive another year.  It’s good to develop habits that make us a grateful people who don’t take our lives for granted.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  Happy Thanksgiving.