A few months ago, a dear friend from Tennessee and sister in Christ, Betty Newman , mentioned a book she had read many years ago and was re-reading: The Light and the Glory. She gave such shining praise of the book, a Christian history of America from 1492-1793, that I decided I needed to read it. I am so glad I did! I learned things I never learned in school, but things I wish I had know all along -- mostly about the Christian commitment of those who first came to America and struggled to make a life here to the glory of God. Christ was undeniably the center of their lives. They relied upon Him for every aspect of life and for life itself.
With Thanksgiving around the corner, I wanted to share with you what I learned about the first two Thanksgiving dinners celebrated in America. The Light and the Glory takes us into the hearts of those first settlers and shows how their Christian beliefs affected their lives and the history of the United States of America.
Plymouth colony was founded in December, 1620 by about 100 Puritan Separatist Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower. The first winter, as they struggled to build their settlement, over one half of them died from disease and exposure to the harsh winter weather. By October 1621, only 53 pilgrims were alive to celebrate the first Thanksgiving which they shared with the Indians from the Wampanoag tribe who had befriended them and helped immeasurably in teaching them how to fend for themselves in the new land. The survivors were filled with gratitude to God knowing that, in spite of all their loss and suffering, He had provided for and sustained them.
About a month after their Thanksgiving celebration, a ship from England arrived in Plymouth harbor carrying 35 more colonists but, unfortunately, no provisions or equipment. The extra mouths to feed would put a huge strain on food supplies over the winter. In fact, with the extra people to feed, rations were ultimately reduced to just five kernels of corn a day per person. The authors of The Light and the Glory wrote, “It is almost inconceivable that life could be supported on this [five kernels of corn a day]. And as always, [the Pilgrims] had a choice: either to give in to bitterness and despair or go deeper into Christ. They chose Christ. And incredibly,….not one of them died of starvation.” They made it through to spring and summer when they could plant vegetables, go fishing, and hunt for game.
By April, 1623, the Pilgrims were well settled into their homes in Plymouth colony and the decision had been made to have an additional planting of corn over the summer to make sure they would not again experience the hunger of the past two winters. They were enjoying the comforts of home and were eager to work to provide a surplus for their needs. God had seen them through two winters and now they would make sure they had enough for the third. But a dry spell began as the first crop of corn began to mature and it turned into a severe drought by the second planting. Deeply distressed, the Pilgrims examined their hearts and humbled themselves, turning to God with fasting and prayer. They turned from their desire for self-sufficiency and put their total trust and reliance upon God -- and He sent plentiful rain.
That fall there was so much corn, they even had enough to trade with the Indians. A second day of Thanksgiving was planned, and on that day the first course served was an empty plate with just five kernels of corn for each person. The Pilgrims remembered from where they had fallen and had repented (Revelation 2:5), and God had abundantly blessed them.
Perhaps this year we should begin our Thanksgiving celebrations with an empty plate containing just five kernels of corn; not just in remembering the hardships and humility of the Pilgrims, but to turn our hearts to God, as theirs were, in pure trust, obedience, and gratitude.
In reading The Light and the Glory, I came to see how far I have fallen and how far my country has fallen from the faith and commitment of the Pilgrims. God was the center of their lives and they were not embarrassed, too proud, or too greedy to humble themselves and remove all things in their lives that were keeping them from the best God had for them. He was the center of their lives and the center of their government.
Perhaps it is time for us to take a look at the place from which we, and our society, have fallen so we can humbly repent and give God pleasure to work miracles in our lives and in our land.
My heart aches for my country. We seem to be encouraging ourselves in self-centeredness, greed, complaints, immorality, and our lack of love for God and our fellow man. Someone has told me that my strong feelings are just a reflection of my growing older (smile). If that is so, then I am glad to be growing older. Will you bow the knee with me this Thanksgiving Day? Will you thank God from your heart for all the blessings He has bestowed on you and on your country? And will you pray with me that we may remember and return to our Creator and Savior who is the source of every blessing?
May He receive our prayer and give us pure hearts to love Him and honor Him above all else. May He grant us a miracle and heal our land.
The Light and the Glory was written by Peter Marshall and David Manuel
And check out Betty Newman's blog at Prayerlogue.wordpress.com
Quite a number of years ago, I flew across the Pacific Ocean and half the United States, almost four thousand miles, to attend a training program to become an administrator and teacher for a Bible study class I had become involved in and grown to love. I traveled alone and did not know anyone who would be there. Of course this was true of most of us who attended the training (and some traveled from much further away than I did), but that did not make it any easier. As my flight circled over Houston airport, my heart was pounding. I was nervous. I had been told someone would be sent to pick me up, but I had no idea who it might be.
As I disembarked from the plane, I anxiously scanned the people waiting at the gate (in those days there was no security and people gathered at the gate to meet arriving passengers). My eyes lit upon a tall woman with a kind smile and eyes that sparkled with something that made her stand out from the crowd. I headed in her direction, praying, “Lord, please let it be her.” That was the first time I met Pearl Hamilton, who, many years later, founded Disciplers Bible Studies.
I saw much more of Pearl during the week of training. I learned from her and grew to admire and respect her. I came to know Pearl as a dedicated Bible student, an excellent teacher, and a humble (though often humorous) disciple of Christ. Her words and example were an inspiration to all of us, but especially to me. I wanted to emulate Pearl, and I knew I had a long way to go.
On the last night of training, a dinner was held for all trainees, instructors, hosts, and hostesses. At the place of each one who had come for training was a card with a Bible verse. Mine was Numbers 18:20, words which had been spoken to Aaron, the brother of Moses and priest of Israel, You shall have no inheritance in their land, nor shall you have any portion among them; I am your inheritance among the children of Israel. For many years I thought that a strange verse to be given. I wondered how it fit into my life - how it applied. Several years later, my family had moved to California and Pearl was called to be the Director of Women’s Ministries at the church we attended. It was in renewing my association with Pearl that I began to have better insight into that verse from Numbers.
Pearl started Disciplers Bible Studies at our church and I sat under her teaching for nearly six years, until the Lord (prematurely, it seemed to us) took her home. During those years I learned from Pearl about the Bible and how to live as a Christian. From her example, I learned that contentment does not come from earthly possessions, pleasures, and the approval of people. True contentment is found only in the Lord. As a Christian, He is my inheritance, He is my love, He is my life.
I was reminded of that this past week as I worked on editing Pearl’s study of Joshua and preparing it for digital download. In chapters 13 and 14, Joshua describes the land allotted to each of the twelve tribes of Israel as their inheritance. I want to share with you Pearl’s comment on Joshua 14:3, But to the Levites he had given no inheritance among them.
“Levi received special mention because that tribe had received no territorial inheritance from Moses nor would they from Joshua. The LORD God of Israel was their inheritance, as He had told them (Numbers 18:20). What better inheritance than to have the LORD himself? Of course, God was with the other tribes too, but He promised to be with Levi in a special way. As followers of Christ, we may have to be willing to take less, to deny ourselves, to lose our lives for Christ’s sake in order to receive the special presence and power of God. Sometimes the LORD says, ‘You cannot have what others have, but you can have Me.’ Which would you rather have?”
Reading that made me reevaluate my desires and my priorities (yet again). It is something I find myself needing to do often. What is more important to me, the riches of this world or the riches of Christ? Where do I find my joy? How do I spend the best of my energy and my time? I believe my answers to those questions show the sincerity of my answer to Pearl’s question. I also believe these are questions I need to ask myself often and answer honestly. The ways of this secular and sinful world are so much with us and they want to invade our lives and drive out our desire for Christ. Will you ask yourself these questions today? We live in a world that is easily shaken (Hebrews 12:27) and destined for destruction (Isaiah 34:4; 54:10; 65:17). But in Christ we have an inheritance that is incorruptible, imperishable, and undefiled (1 Peter 1:4). Pearl would ask you, “Which would you rather have?” Are you willing to take less of the world for Christ’s sake? Are you willing to lose your life for Him?
With love and in loving memory of Pearl,
I have been involved in Disciplers since 1987, as a discussion leader, teacher, writer, and now as director. I am profoundly committed to the stewardship of this ministry which God has entrusted to me for a time. God’s word is the chief joy of my life. I cherish my personal time in the word, and I am filled with gratitude to be able to share His word with you, my fellow disciples in Christ.