MESSAGE DELIVERED: NOVEMBER 20, 2016
Thursday is National Thanksgiving Day, just in case you’ve been hiding in a cave the last several months and have lost track of time. This is a SINGLE day, set aside by an official act of Congress, for the express purpose of offering well-deserved THANKS to our Great God and Creator; the very God who first established this nation we all love.
The very SAME nation, I must add, that is now actively trying to remove any TRACE of God, from our society!
But Thanksgiving takes us back some 400 years or more, in America’s history, to an event that the “powers that be” want to pretend NEVER HAPPENED! It’s an event that I was taught about while in a two-room school house in Michigan, but which today is NOT taught in schools, NOR is it mentioned in current history books.
But, just refusing to acknowledge this event, does not change the fact that it occurred. I bring this same message every now and then, about this time of year, and it was actually REQUESTED last week, by some of our young people. So I checked back over my notes and found that it has been TEN years since I last reminded you of this, so it’s time to repeat it.
I firmly believe that events like this one must be re-told often to make sure that they aren’t forgotten, so let me begin by saying that it is no secret that I long for a better place and time…a place that has probably only ever existed in my MIND, but I’ve tried to tell you about it often. Since there is no better name for it, I just refer to it as ‘1958’.
It was a time when I was young, and strong, and indestructible! I had a driver’s license and gas was 19 cents a gallon. The world was at peace and life stretched out ahead of me indefinitely.
Today, in 2016, I pick up a newspaper or turn on the news, and get discouraged and frustrated again. Arabs and Jews are killing each other. Muslims and Christians are killing each other. Thousands are dying of disease or starvation, and there seems to be no end to it.
Plus we have elected officials and federal judges being indicted for NASTY crimes…we have cops being arrested on DRUG charges…teenagers shooting each other over a LOOK! And I hear about these things and I want to SCREAM, or CRY, or SOMETHING!
And then I do what we are supposed to do, when the world starts threatening to destroy our peace…and I go into God’s Word. And I find Paul’s words, here in Philippians…”Rejoice, don’t worry, be gentle, and PRAY!
That seems like so LITTLE, and yet we all know what wonderful things have been accomplished through prayer. And even better than that, there are things that have been accomplished by our prayers that we aren’t even aware of! It’s all those people we see or meet just in passing, and pray for them, and never see them again. But how were those prayers answered?
So I go to my knees and pray. I pray for America. I pray for Arizona. I pray for the WORLD!…and I pray for Amphi Bible Church…ALL of you! As a congregation, and as individuals. And then it begins to happen, just like Paul said it would. That PEACE of GOD, that peace that SURPASSES my ability to UNDERSTAND it…begins to FLOOD through my soul.
And I can finally say: “Lord, this old world is in a terrible mess, but I believe that YOU want it to, in the end. So I pray about those things that I can’t change, and I praise God, just for BEING God.
So as we approach this Thanksgiving Day, I wanted to remind you of some of the wonderful things that God had done for America, to bring us where we are now. And usually when we think of Thanksgiving Day, we think back to 1620, when a brave and dedicated band of people we call ‘pilgrims’, landed at a place we now call Massachusetts.
They had set sail from Plymouth England, and endured a MISERABLE 63 day journey across the North Atlantic. One hundred and two people landed in uncharted wilderness territory. They had left behind everything that was FAMILIAR, and COMFORTABLE, and DEAR to them, just so they could be FREE to WORSHIP GOD the way THEY wanted to, without outside interference. And it is that original REASON for them coming here in the FIRST place that is often ignored!
But, we have to go back even further than that, to really see God’s Hand at work here. When those Pilgrims set sail, England was already an OLD and ESTABLISHED civilization. And those Pilgrims had TRADES, they had SKILLS, but they were a hundred years REMOVED from the FOREST-DWELLING, HUNTER-GATHERERS they would have to BECOME, in order to SURVIVE in this strange and new land.
So, even BEFORE the Pilgrims (who called themselves ‘Separatists’) as they were ‘separating’ themselves from the oppressive restrictions of the ‘OFFICIAL CHURCH’ of England. OUR name for them, PILGRIM, just means one moving from one place to another. A ‘SEPARATIST’ is one moving AWAY from something. But anyway, long before they ever THOUGHT of leaving England, GOD was ALREADY at work, FOR them.
In about 1605, a group of TRAPPERS had landed, very close to the same place those pilgrims would land, some 15 years later. And those trappers CAPTURED a young Indian boy. KIDNAPPED him! And they took him back to England with them, as a CURIOSITY! An ODDITY! They kept him in a CAGE, and took him around to FAIRS and such, where they charged people to LOOK at him, this ‘wild man’ from the New World!
Well, after about 5 years, the NOVELTY wore off, and this ‘wild man’ became an EXPENSE, instead of a PROFIT, so they simply TURNED him LOOSE. Just OPENED his cage, and LET him GO!
This young Indian boy’s name was SQUANTO, and he somehow made his way to a MONASTARY, where a group of Friars took him in, and fed him, and cared for him. They taught him their language, and the ways of the WHITE man. And most importantly, they introduced him to the ONE TRUE GOD!
Well, after living with the Friars for several years, and several years before the Pilgrims set sail, Squanto convinced the Friars that he needed to go BACK to his ORIGINAL home. So they arranged passage for him, on a trading vessel, bound for the New World.
OK, when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, they spent the next 3 months building a large ‘common house’, and a handful of thatch-roofed cabins, where they would spend their first WINTER in the new land.
But, England is BALMY, compared to Massachusetts winters. They were completely unaware and unprepared for what was coming. All their supplies and their shelters were woefully inadequate for freezing days and deep snow.
By the end of that first brutal winter, fully HALF of the original settlers were DEAD! And only SEVEN were healthy enough to try to CARE for the SURVIVORS!
Meanwhile, the crew of the MAYFLOWER, the ship that had BROUGHT them here, rode out the winter in relative COMFORT, on their sturdy ship, as compared to those on the shore. The sailors were USED to harsh conditions and meager rations.
With the eventual arrival of Spring, the Mayflower prepared to LEAVE, and return to England. Back to NORMALCY. Back to SAFETY. Back to warm houses and adequate food. The 50 survivors could very easily have gotten BACK on board, and ABANDONED the Plymouth Colony as a BAD idea!
They COULD have DONE that! But they didn’t. EVERY single survivor put their desire for religious freedom ABOVE their desire for COMFORT! So when the Mayflower returned to England, only the crew of sailors was on board. ALL of the survivors, who had EXHAUSTED their SUPPLIES in their attempt to endure that horrible winter…every on stayed behind and faced an uncertain future, while trust God to direct them.
AND GOD HONORED THAT COMMITMENT!
That first Spring, while the 50 survivors were huddled together and trying to decide what they should do…an Indian man stepped out of the forest to confront them. He was dressed in buckskin and feathers, beads and moccasins. And he spoke to them in PERFECT ENGLISH!
It was SQUANTO, and he was the PERFECT BRIDGE between the OLD world, and the NEW one. He understood the ways and the languages of the WHITES, and he knew the ways and the languages of the INDIANS! And more important, he knew how to SURVIVE, and THRIVE, in the FORESTS!
Squanto was the PERFECT BRIDGE between the two cultures, and he had been PREPARED, and PUT in PLACE, long BEFORE the need FOR such a bridge, even EXISTED! And if you can’t see the Hand of GOD at work in the story of Squanto and the Pilgrims, you ain’t even TRYING! If you can hear the story of Squanto and the Pilgrims, a story that those in AUTHORITY must not WANT you to hear!…But if you can hear this story and STILL try to say that Almighty God had no PART in establishing this country in the FIRST place, then brother or sister, there must be something SERIOUSLY WRONG with your thinking!
Squanto undertook the EDUCATION of those European settlers. He taught them how to HUNT in the forest…how to fish in the bays and rivers…where to find clams, and the eggs of ducks and geese.
He taught them how to plant crops; corn, beans and squash, and he taught them to use a small piece of fish with each seed, to ensure a good crop. The Indians even supplied the seeds, and introduced them to ‘MAIZE’.
By the time their first harvest season rolled around, those Pilgrims could only LOOK at their BUMPER CROP…the BOUNTY and ABUNDANCE that God had BLESSED them with, and stare with humble amazement.
And they remembered the previous winter, where their ENTIRE day’s ration was FIVE SMALL KERNELS OF CORN! And in prayer, they acknowledged that this BOUNTY had come to them, SOLELY by the GRACE of GOD! And they proclaimed the FIRST THANKSGIVING day.
Long before the NEED even EXISTED, God put in place the SOLUTION, and this little colony ACKNOWLEDGED that…and they invited their new INDIAN friends to JOIN them, to SHARE the FEAST! And ON that first Thanksgiving, beside every plate, they placed 5 small kernels of corn, to REMIND them of how FAR God had brought them. And many people IN New England STILL do that TODAY! Still use 5 small kernels of cornet each plate, to remind themselves of the BOUNTIFUL way the Lord has blessed them.
And I think that is a great idea, and I want to borrow an idea from the Catholics for just a bit. They use a device they call a Rosary to help them in their prayers, where each bead stands for a different person or request.
If we were to use those 5 kernels of corn for the same purpose, what would each individual kernel stand for? I’m going to give you five suggestions, and let you come up with your own.
So, on my plate with 5 kernels on it, the FIRST kernel will stand for NATURE…the BEAUTY and the GLORY of this world God has created and given to us.
God had made provisions for those faithful pilgrims, long before Squanto was even born! Way back at the DAWN of TIME, God created this land we call America, and he BLESSED this land, above all the OTHER lands on Earth. He gave it rich forests, and abundant plains, sparkling rivers and crystal clear lakes.
He provided majestic mountains and fruitful plains. He gave it warm tropics and cool northern climates. He caused its shores to be washed by two different oceans. And He filled the land with natural resources; oil and coal, gas and wood, stone for building. He stocked the land with deer, elk, moose, turkeys, partridges and ducks. He filled the plains with huge herds of buffalo and antelope. He filled the lakes and rivers with fish.
When the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, they found beauty and riches beyond measure. Enough to last forever, if used wisely.
And that’s the rub. That first kernel has to remind us how those riches have been squandered and wasted, in the name of greed and progress! Remind us how the AIR has been DIRTIED and the RIVERS POLLUTED. The vast herds of animals KILLED, just for FUN! And the forests cut down and covered over with concrete.
Let this first kernel remind you of all the brave men and women who have gone before us, and paved the way for US to be here today. From that small band of Pilgrims who gave up EVERYTHING for the chance to worship God freely!…to the hearty men and women who took up ARMS, to throw off the yoke of TYRANNY in the Revolutionary War…to those who explored and settled the vast continent…and those who have since then FOUGHT, to KEEP it free, so that you and I can live where we want, go where we please, and worship as we WISH!
And never forget that, to maintain that right, requires constant vigilance and also sacrifice. The very roots of our freedom has been fed with the blood of brave!
And we come to the 3rd kernel, and let’s give thanks for our HEALTH; not dwelling on what we may have LOST, through age, or illness, or accident! Every one of us here today was able to get up out of our beds, and come here today, and that means that we have blessings that thousands of others would LOVE to have. Most can SEE…and HEAR, to some degree. We can talk, and understand each other. Most of us can walk, and we can breathe unaided. We have the use of our hands and arms. These are all blessings that we all too often take for granted, while w WORRY about those abilities we no longer have.
Think instead of those who DON’T have those abilities…who CAN’T perform the simplest task for themselves…and praise God for what you still CAN do!
Then the 4th kernel will stand for family. And I thank God that I have TWO! I have natural family, my beautiful wife and two precious daughters. And I thank God for each of them, daily! I thank Him for all the LOVE they give, and the deep PRIDE I have for each of them! They have made me rich beyond counting, and I thank God for them.
And then I have a CHURCH family, here at Amphi, a whole SANCTUARY full of wonderful, God-fearing folks who love ME! And who SUPPORT me, and ENCOURAGE me! I am truly blessed, and I KNOW it!
And then there’s the last kernel…but certainly not the least, because THIS kernel must stand for Almighty GOD Himself! God Who, because of His great LOVE for us, to PAY our SIN-DEBT to God, a debt that WE could NEVER have paid, but HE paid it, FOR us!
One of my favorite Gospel songs has the line; “when I stood condemned to death, HE took my place”. And now we have the ASSURANCE of eternal life, in heaven with God, Who hung the moon and stars in space, Who then created this great land FOR us, and Who caused this church to be here!
GOD!…Who is bigger than the whole universe, and still able to live within the hearts of each of us!
So as we look forward to this national day of Thanksgiving, let me ask you this morning, does He live in YOUR heart? Do you know this AWESOME God I’ve been talking about? The God who has done all this FOR us, and who knows our needs, before we can even ASK Him!? Before the need even ARISES, He knows it…and He wants YOU to come TO Him, and become a SAVED and REDEEMED SOUL.
ALL He asks is that you COME TO Him, and ASK, and He will GIVE you FORGIVENESS…no matter WHAT you may have done, He WILL forgive you, and make you His own, if only you’ll ask. So, have you?
I’ll also invite you, if your heart is burdened, to come and GIVE that burden TO Him, and let HIM bear it FOR you! We are told in His Word to “cast all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you”. (1 Peter 5:7)
And I often forget to mention that the doors to membership to the church are ALWAYS open to those who seek to unite themselves with a Bible-believing, loving group of Christians. Membership is not necessary to worship together, but it is always available to those who wish to take a stand with us; against those who are trying to REMOVE the TRUTH of our nation’s founding! We are here because JEHOVAH GOD HIMSELF prepared this land, and made it available for us.
So this time of invitation is YOURS, and as the Spirit of God speaks to your heart, you come and DO whatever He tells you!
Invitation hymn #625, what we usually call the DOXOLOGY, but which is a BURST of PRAISE to Almighty God, for all He has given us. And as we sing, you come to Him!