This week, in America, we celebrate Thanksgiving. Our friends to the north in Canada celebrated this in October. I do not know the basis of the Canadian celebration, but being a native New Englander who can trace his roots back to the early 1600s in Connecticut, I am quite familiar with the pre-American tradition that has become a national holiday.
I learned about the pilgrims when I was in elementary school. I visited Plymouth Rock and the Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts in the 6th grade. I was taught in school about their escape from England through Holland because of religious persecution. I learned that many of them that sailed to the new world died during the first winter. And, I learned how the local Native Americans helped the pilgrims to live and to farm in the rocky coastal soil of New England and actually harvest food. This is what I want to focus on.
It is interesting that the pilgrims fled Europe because of religious persecution. They wanted to worship their creator, God, in a way that was different than what was accepted by the organized church at the time. They were not rebelling against God or discounting the existence of God. They merely wanted to love and adore him as the Holy Spirit led them, not within the traditions of the existing church at the time.
These pilgrims accepted help and learned from the local tribes how to survive. They acknowledged that the help they received from the local Native Americans was an answer to prayer from God. What’s interesting is they did not turn down the help because the locals didn’t agree with them spiritually. They didn’t refuse help until the locals decided to accept God and change their lives. They accepted the help and the friendship in a way I believe God wants us all to; with open arms and sincere thanks.
We can learn from this, church. We can learn that God provides for us sometimes in the least likely of places. We can learn sometimes it is the best thing to do to walk away, or sometimes run, when the established organization around you becomes more controlling than liberating. We can also learn that whomever God places in our path is someone to love, have mercy on, and show grace to regardless of where they are or what they are doing.
Please don’t think that I am against organized churches or denominations for that matter. I am not. Cell Life Church is an organized non-denominational church that meets in cell sites across the world. What I am against is using organized churches and denominations to control people or to teach doctrine over the coming together of God’s people to celebrate God, his son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit and what they mean to us and how they can minister to the world through us. In other words, I am against organized churches and denominations that make their own doctrine and traditions more important than the message and mission of Jesus Christ.
I encourage you to take a play from the Pilgrim’s playbook. Embrace your neighbors, coworkers, and others in your sphere of influence. Become a part of their lives. You do not have to agree with all of what they stand for to respect them and show them Christ’s love, grace, and mercy. Most of all, be thankful for the opportunity to celebrate with them, even if you are merely thankful to God for the opportunity to celebrate with them.