The Last Pilgrims

Written by Jeff Carlson on .

Pilgrims Plymouth RockThe original Thanksgiving holiday we are celebrating this Thursday had its roots with 90 Indians and 53 Pilgrims at a meal in the fall of 1621 on the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts. This thanking of the Lord for His many blessings was continued by Presidents Washington and Lincoln in national proclamations after great battles that helped to keep the Nation free. Eventually, the idea of a national thanksgiving was fixed on the calendar to the last Thursday of November by President Lincoln on October 3, 1863.

Many today have lost sight of who the Pilgrims were and what their lives were all about. The Pilgrims stood for much more than saying grace at a big meal. The Pilgrims were a group of people that believed their lives totally belonged to the Lord. They were a group of people that were willing to make any sacrifice for their faith. No price was too big to pay, including crossing an ocean and starting over. The Pilgrims never had any idea of living the good life, remodeling their kitchen or enjoying the American Dream. The Pilgrims were not looking for anything this world had to offer. Deep down inside of them was a desire for the Lord and the great future that the Lord alone would give them one day. As the writer of Hebrews said,

"Instead, they were longing for a better country-a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." Hebrews 11:16

The Pilgrims were on a journey to the Promised Land. And like the Lord's people throughout history, they knew the Lord has saved the best for last. Heaven was not something that was going to be fully realized in this life. The real joy and meaning of life was yet to come in a heavenly City, the New Jerusalem.
As we pause and reflect on our lives, nation and future this Thanksgiving, we need to see the Lord's call on our lives as much deeper than we often think. It is very easy to take the consumer approach to our Faith that makes our Christian lives something that asks little from us. A Faith that doesn't really ask much from us is not a Faith that ultimately will give us much either. America is awash in "cultural Christianity" that fulfills the prophetic warnings of the Bible (II Timothy3:1-5). Serious sacrifice and commitment for our Lord seems to be in short supply. Few seem to be attracted to the Lord in any meaningful way that is changing lives.

During the past 30 years here in Grand Rapids, Michigan the spiritual condition of the Lord's Church has been downward, along with the nation. We have moved from being known as a City of Churches to the Beer City. Not one single benchmark of spirituality has gone up. Most of the churches in the City have cancelled their evening services. Few churches have prayer meetings anymore, and the stewardship of time, treasure and talents by many has declined. It is a rare church that challenges members to do much of anything anymore that might seem hard. People are almost never asked to give up anything for the Lord or do something that goes against the culture of the day, lest they leave and attend the comfortable church down the street that gets them out on time.

The greatest revelation that anyone can have is that this life is not the focus of our lives. We are living in a preschool for eternity that is missed by most. Life is not about us and our American ideas of a good life. Life is all about the Lord and His purposes for us. How sad that people try to focus on jamming as much life as possible into 70 or 80 years and totally forget eternity.  People seem to live with that "Bucket List" of stuff to do before they die. The Pilgrims never had a "Bucket List." For them, every day belonged to the Lord and their goal was to walk with the Lord each day and leave the results to Him. They knew if they suffered hardships or had pain and trials during their journey in this life, the Lord would make it great in the end.

If every Christian in America this Thanksgiving could see themselves connected to the spirit of the Pilgrims our nation would change overnight. People would start to value the Lord in new ways that people would see right away.... and we don't have to cross an ocean. The things we do, the ways we spend our money and time would be different. People would start adding evening services, prayer meetings would flourish, Bible studies would multiply, and budgets for mission would explode. Most of all, people would begin to see the Lord Jesus through the Church's witness as something we value above all things. Our faith in the Lord would not just be a quiet belief we exercise when we have some leftover time. The Lord would be our life, our all in all.

The Pilgrims valued the Lord Jesus Christ in ways that helped to shape the destiny of the greatest nation in world history. There is no possible way to explain America without the Lord and the witness of His people from the beginning. As spiritual descendants of the first Pilgrims, the Lord is calling us to be the last Pilgrims. We are the last generation to live before we enter the Promised Land at our Lord's return. We have the awesome privilege to live at a time when we will see with our own eyes what the Pilgrims only saw in the distance. We have the joy of knowing that one day we will leave our homes for a distant shore we have never seen, but have longed for in our heart.  In that Day, we will find the home and Land we knew was there all along, but were not sure how to reach.  That new Land, new Country and new City was what the Pilgrims thought about when they boarded the Mayflower to leave home for America.  Ultimately, that is the same spiritual journey that should excite and thrill every believer tonight.

May each of us give thanks to the Lord for His amazing love and plan for our lives. That is the real Thanksgiving of life and it can be experienced every day.