Nathaniel Philbrick, in Mayflower, his acclaimed history of the Pilgrims,November 25th, 2008
Nathaniel Philbrick, in Mayflower, his acclaimed history of the Pilgrims, recounts how William Bradford, the intrepid leader of that courageous band of Puritans, years later described “that first morning in America.” Recalling with wonder their landing on the salty, windswept shores of Cape Cod Bay on November 15, 1620, Bradford wrote: “But here I cannot stay and make a pause and stand half amazed at this poor people’s present condition. . . . [T]hey had now no friends to welcome them nor inns to entertain or refresh their weatherbeaten bodies; no houses or much less towns to repair to, to seek for succor. What could sustain them but the spirit of God and His Grace? May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: ‘Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and He heard their voice and looked on their adversity’” (46).
His words are appropriate, not only because we celebrate the nearly four century tradition of the Pilgrims’ thanksgiving this week. But in Bradford’s description—“they cried unto the Lord, and He heard their voice and looked on their adversity”—perhaps we also hear the faint hint of a day of adversity yet coming upon this land of the Pilgrims. Could the breath-taking speed with which this nation’s hourly economic headlines are unfolding or unraveling these last few weeks be a portent of what is yet to come? Could this land of the free have already seen her best days?
Scribbled on the page of Revelation 13 in my Bible are these words written a century ago: “The Lord has done more for the United States than for any other country upon which the sun shines” (Ms 17, 1906). Hardly a prideful claim of superiority or grounds for national arrogance, this quiet observation simply declares a common truth that this country has enjoyed the uncommon blessings of Providence. And in the sunlight how easy is the spirit of thanksgiving. But should the days turn dark and the supernal blessings wither away, what shall we be grateful for then?
A year after their landing, the Pilgrims gathered for that first thanksgiving—half of their band already buried beneath the Massachusetts sod. Yet they gave thanks to God. And so must we. No matter the uncertain voyage that spreads before us, nationally or personally. The Almighty is still that. And in the darkest storm his mercy will yet triumph. Just look at Calvary. “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For his mercy endures forever” (Psalm 136:1).
What’s a Michigan Thanksgiving?November 20th, 2008
What’s a Michigan Thanksgiving? Just ask the chief executives of the Big Three auto makers, who with hat in hand this week begged Congress for $25 billion of bailout loans. While it’s hard to sympathize with 8-figure compensated corporate executives, the plight of 175,000 Michigan auto industry workers is concerning. If GM, Ford or Chrysler were to go bankrupt, siren voices are predicting “a nuclear winter” and “an economic tsunami” for our home state. Who knows? A chart in the South Bend Tribune on Wednesday shows a cluster of 29 auto industry facilities right here in Berrien County that would be affected. Michigan already owns the dubious distinction of leading the nation for two years in unemployment, and we are among the top ten states for home foreclosures.
For what then shall we be grateful this season of thanksgiving? “I complained I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.” Even in this season of troubling economic downturn, our lists of reasons to be thankful are indeed still long, are they not? No wonder the apostle, whose meager life belongings consisted of a change of clothing, a walking staff and a pair of sandals, could pen the admonition: “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thessalonians 5:13).
“In everything”? In everything. For apparently there is no downturn that God cannot upturn for the good of his friends (see Romans 8:28). Which is why a grateful soul is such a contagious witness. For God. In Michigan. And to the ends of the earth.
We have lost a gifted leader and a dear friend.November 12th, 2008
We have lost a gifted leader and a dear friend. The death of Jere Patzer, 61, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Pacific Northwest, is not only the death of a personal friend—I’ve known Jere for thirty years since ministry days together in Oregon. But it is also the loss of an uncommonly gifted church administrator in our community of faith. Jere’s passion for God and his church, his energetic vision and buoyant leadership style, his personal commitment to mission lived out in his own evangelistic preaching on nearly every continent (all the while serving as an administrator), his loving devotion to family (his wife Sue and sons Darin and Troy and daughter Carissa and their four young grandchildren) and friends—it isn’t hyperbole to recognize that men like Jere are a rare gift. And I shall miss him.
I was thinking of Jere as I wrote and preached last week’s teaching on theodicy, “Is God to Blame?” Jere waged a two and a half year battle against non-Hodgkins lymphoma. His emails through that dark and difficult passage of his life, however, are not only the candid admission of suffering and pain—they are also the brave and confident testimony of a disciple of Christ, who not unlike Job, declared, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).
In 2003 Jere wrote one of his four books, The Road Ahead: A Vision for Spiritual Leadership in the 21st Century. His autographed copy is one I now treasure. In a chapter dealing with the adversity that all leaders face, he noted that “sacrifice has always been part of leadership” (117). As an example, he cites a letter William Miller, one of the progenitors of our community of faith, wrote on May 3, 1843: “My health is on the gain, as my folks would say. I have now only twenty-two boils from the bigness of a grape to a walnut, on my shoulder, side, back, and arms. I am truly afflicted like Job. And about as many comforters—only they do not come to see me as did Job’s, and their arguments are not near so rational” (118). Touché!
Jere never embraced the evil that cut him down. Nor did Job. Nor did Jesus. But woven through the final chapter of his life was the shared testimony: “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (II Timothy 1:12).
Jere lived and led with the radical hope of Jesus’ return, as does his family, as must we all. For in a world as unsettled as ours and a life just as uncertain as his, trusting in the only One who can save us is the most rational hope of all.
In the election of Barack Obama, as our nation’s first black president, we all made history together.November 6th, 2008
In the election of Barack Obama, as our nation’s first black president, we all made history together. Irrespective of our political convictions or party loyalties, we collectively share this historic moment. And while the painful story of slavery is permanently woven into the tapestry of our country’s four hundred year history, the decision of American voters in this election provides us all—black and white, young and old, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, believer and non-believer—the unprecedented opportunity to now write a new story of racial reconciliation. For that is the will of Christ. “‘So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples’” (John 13:34, 35 NLT).
And it also is the will of God that we join hands in fervent prayers for our new president-elect. On the morning after the election, Peter Baker wrote in the New York Times: “No president since before Barack Obama was born has ascended to the Oval Office confronted by the accumulation of seismic challenges awaiting him. Historians grasping for parallels point to Abraham Lincoln taking office as the nation was collapsing into Civil War, or Franklin D. Roosevelt arriving in Washington in the throes of the Great Depression” (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/05/us/politics/05ahead.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin). Surely our new leader, young and untested, desires the fervent intercessions and prayers of churches and synagogues and mosques across this land. The Bible commands this moral duty: “Pray this way for kings and all others who are in authority, so that we can live in peace and quietness, in godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, for he wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth” (I Timothy 2:2-4 NLT).
Note carefully the apostle’s rationale for our prayers—not for the cause of political success, but rather we are to pray for the sake of the divine mission to save lost humanity in this generation! For this is the “primetime generation.” In this election, you who are young have shown us the political influence you can wield. Now I earnestly appeal to you to show us the spiritual impact you can have, not on a single nation, but on an entire planet! You were born for this hour—which is why, more than the government, the church needs you. Lead us in a radical following after Jesus “into all the world”—and I promise you, the church will follow in your steps. For as history will show, you are the greatest leaders to emerge from this election.