Posts Tagged ‘planning’

Thanksgiving

November 1, 2016

Every year during the month of November, we pause to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday.  There are certain national stories that are important to our country.  There are certain Biblical stories that are important to our faith.  There is value in telling these stories again every year, to remind us of who we are and how we got here.  They help us reflect on why we do what we do today, and help us get “back on track” when we forget where we came from.

The first major British settlement in America was at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607.  Jamestown was named after King James of England.  The first settlers came for political reasons (to expand the British Empire) and for financial reasons (to look for gold).  13 years later, the Pilgrims settled in Massachusetts, arriving in 1620.  They came for religious reasons.  Thus, we see that our nation originated from different groups who arrived at different times for different purposes – some political, some financial, and some religious.

The Pilgrims set sail from England on the Mayflower on September 6, 1620, with 102 passengers and 30 crew members.  Their goal was to sail to Virginia.  The Atlantic winds blew them off course.  Instead of landing in Virginia, they landed at Cape Cod, Massachusetts on November 11, 1620.  The trip across the Atlantic Ocean was a miserable one, with huge waves constantly crashing against the ship’s topside deck.  The passengers suffered from shortages of food and of other supplies.  There were two deaths on board the Mayflower, and there was one baby born, who was named Oceanus.

After landing at Cape Cod, the Pilgrims wanted to sail south to Virginia to reach their original destination.  But when the weather would not cooperate, they decided to spend the winter in Massachusetts.  To establish legal order and to quell increasing strife within the ranks, the settlers wrote and signed the Mayflower Compact.

On November 27, an exploring expedition was launched under the direction of Capt. Christopher Jones to search for a suitable settlement site. They were obviously not accustomed to, or prepared for, the bitter winter weather they encountered.  The expedition was forced to spend the night on shore in below-freezing temperatures with wet shoes and stockings that became frozen.

The Pilgrims spent the entire winter on board the Mayflower, suffering an outbreak of a contagious disease described as a mixture of scurvy, pneumonia, and tuberculosis.  When it ended, there were only 53 passengers still alive. Half of the Pilgrims had died.  Half of the crew died, as well. In the spring, they built huts on shore, and on March 21, 1621, the surviving passengers finally disembarked from the Mayflower.

The event that Americans commonly call the “First Thanksgiving” was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World in 1621.  This feast lasted three days, and was attended by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims. The New England colonists were accustomed to regularly celebrating “thanksgivings”, which were days of prayer thanking God for blessings such as military victory or the end of a drought.

Squanto, a Pantuxet Native American who resided with the Wampanoag tribe, taught the Pilgrims how to catch eel and grow corn and served as an interpreter for them. Squanto had learned the English language during his enslavement in England. The Wampanoag leader Massasoit had given food to the colonists during the first winter when the supplies brought from England were insufficient.  The feast was cooked by four adult Pilgrim women who survived their first winter in the New World (Eleanor Billington, Elizabeth Hopkins, Mary Brewster, and Susanna White, along with young daughters and male and female servants).

When we read this story, we are reminded of a few key points:

  1. The first Thanksgiving was a time to give thanks to God for their survival. The Pilgrims were not ready for the harsh wintry conditions they encountered.  Half of their group died from disease.  This was a scary time.  The people who survived did not live because they were smarter or more talented or more prepared or because they had more faith.  They survived by the grace of God Who kept them alive.  They set aside three days to thank God for saving their lives.
  2. The first Thanksgiving was a time to give thanks for the grace and the hospitality extended to the Pilgrims by the Native Americans. The Pilgrims would not have survived without them.  God saved them through the Native people.  They had knowledge of the winter, the land, the crops that could grow, and how to survive, which the Pilgrims needed.  Thanksgiving was a time to thank the Native Americans for coming to their rescue.
  3. The Pilgrims were an adventurous people. They were willing to take a huge risk to leave England and journey thousands of miles to America, knowing that they might not ever see their loved ones again, and might not survive.  They were probably driven by a mixture of fear and hope, desperation and faith, uncertainty and adventure.  They were entrepreneurs.  They were willing to make huge sacrifices to find a better life.  They had a deep faith in Jesus and were moved to pray and thank God for saving their lives.

Their first year in America probably did not go as they had hoped or planned.  They had to adapt.  They had to learn lots of new things.  They had to adjust their lives to fit the new world they were now living in, while remaining grounded in their faith in Jesus, rooted in the scriptures, and interdependent on one another.  These are good lessons for us to remember today.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this month, what are we thankful for?  Are we still willing to make great sacrifices today?  Are we willing to set out on great adventures, stretching our faith, and willing to face new situations, like our Pilgrim forebears before us?  Do we realize that we need each other?  Thanksgiving is a story of people from different countries, different continents, different races, and different sexes working together.  Thanksgiving is a story of immigration where the first Americans welcomed some of the first Europeans with grace, generosity, and hospitality.  Thanksgiving is a story of success.

So, as we sit down to our Thanksgiving meals this year, we are reminded to be thankful to God, to be thankful for those around us who have helped us, and to take risks of faith and to make sacrifices for Jesus.  We are building on the story that began almost 400 years ago.  Jesus saves us to do something.  God rescues us to go somewhere.  The Holy Spirit is preparing us for something special.  Where will God lead us to go this year?

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The God Who Surprises Us

February 2, 2015

Some people don’t like surprises. Some people like to know everything that is going to happen before it happens. Some people like to be in control. Some people think that there are only bad surprises. Some people are planners and work long, hard hours to try to predict the future and guarantee events that have not happened yet.

Some churches don’t like surprises. They spend endless hours in talking and meeting and planning and don’t seem to ever get around to the doing part, but at least they don’t ever get surprised. One of the consequences of this is that some churches feel stuck. The only things that happen are the same things that have been happening for the last 20 years. People go to church every Sunday without any expectation of meeting God, that something new could occur, or that God might show up. Some churches have drawn down their bank accounts of hope so low, that they get back a message every Sunday of insufficient funds. Without realizing it or being conscious of it, they have developed a culture of hopelessness. Their recent experience has persuaded them their church life will not get better, will not improve, and that they will continue to live a life of quiet desperation.

For whatever reason, some churches have forgotten that the God of the Bible is the God who surprises us. God shows up in the most unexpected places. Miracles happen that could not have been predicted. Outcomes are altered that could not have been guessed. Things that look like they are dead or dying amazingly come back to life. Who would have guessed?

In Scott Sundquist’s book Understanding Christian Mission, he writes:

“No one predicted the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Few people imagined that the violent apartheid social system in South Africa would end without great violence or even civil war. No one imagined that China would become the most competitive free market in the world, while remaining a communist country. No one (at least no one in the ecumenical movement) dreamed that Christianity and other religions would remain so vital into the twenty-first century. No one dreamed that the twentieth century would be the century of both ecumenism and Pentecostalism. Finally, no one predicted that Christianity would recenter outside of the West within one generation: between 1965 and 1990. The global developments (and many more) came about suddenly, quietly, and with little warning. Christianity, in the midst of these global transformations, was showing a new strength, resiliency, and adaptability.”

The God of the Bible is the God who surprises us. Who would have guessed that Abraham and Sarah could conceive and have a child when they were 100 and 90 years old? Who would have guessed that Moses, after murdering a man and having to flee his country to save his life, could return 40 years later as one of Israel’s greatest leader? Who would have guessed that David could defeat Goliath? Who would have guessed that an old woman like Elizabeth could give birth to John the Baptist or that Jesus would be born out of the scandal of a young woman named Mary who became pregnant before she was married? How many in Israel guessed that Jesus would not come as a military or political leader? How many would have guessed that Paul would do a 180 and go from persecuting the church to leading its first great missionary expansion? Who saw these things coming? I don’t think there were many, if any.

The church in North America today needs to remember that the God of the Bible is the God who surprises us. Our ways are not God’s ways. We walk by faith and not by sight. God shows up in the most God-forsaken places. The Holy Spirit falls on people we would not normally imagine. What is holding the church back is not the lack of power of God. Often, we are held back by our lack of missional imagination. We have lost our ability to have visions and dream dreams. We complain that our culture or our denomination is holding us back, but in fact, we are often the ones holding ourselves back. It is our own mental maps, our own lack of imagination, our own fear of failure, or our own church culture, that prevents us from discovering and participating in the exciting mission of God going on in the world today.

As financial advisors regularly tell us, past financial success is no guarantee of future financial performance. The same is true in the church. Past ministry experience is no guarantee of future ministry performance. God is on the move. Jesus Christ is alive and well in our world today. The Holy Spirit is at work in people’s lives and in the communities around us. Sometimes, it just takes getting out of buildings, and getting off of our campuses, and moving back into our neighborhoods, to discover what God is already doing there. Sometimes we have to take off our blinders, read scripture with a new pair of glasses, and start looking at our world with a new set of lenses. God is doing something new. God is inviting us to join in the new things He is doing in our world. Can we learn to see it? Can we learn to hear it? Can we take some wise risks and take a chance to participate in a way of doing ministry for the new culture we live in today.

I believe that great things are ahead for the Church of Jesus Christ. I think the future is full of ministry opportunities that we have not even begun to imagine yet. I believe God’s Holy Spirit is actively at work to redeem people and communities with the good news of Jesus Christ. I believe God is inviting us to be a part of this exciting mission of God. I hope we don’t miss it. The God of the Bible is the God Who surprises us.