Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Squanto: God's Provision to the Pilgrims

We’ve all heard the story of how the Pilgrims, landing in Massachusetts on the Mayflower in 1620, were ill equipped to survive the harsh winters of the New World. Most of us know the story of the first Thanksgiving; at least, we know the Pilgrim version. But how many of us know the Indian viewpoint? No, I’m not talking about some revisionist, politically correct version of history. I’m talking about the amazing story of the way God used an Indian named Squanto as a special instrument of His providence.

Historical accounts of Squanto’s life vary, but historians believe that around 1608; more than a decade before the Pilgrims landed in the New World; a group of English traders, led by a Captain Hunt, sailed to what is today Plymouth, Massachusetts. When the trusting Wampanoag Indians came out to trade, Hunt took them prisoner, transported them to Malaga, Spain, and sold them into slavery. But God had an amazing plan for one of the captured Indians; a twelve year old boy named Squanto.

Squanto was bought by a well-meaning Spanish monk, who treated him with kindness and taught him the Christian faith.  We assume his friar  friend granted him freedom because Squanto eventually made his way to England and worked in the stable of a man named John Slaney, who sympathized with Squanto’s desire to return home, and promised to put the Indian on the first vessel bound for America.

After another long five years, in approximately 1619--ten years after Squanto was first kidnapped--a merchant ship was located that was going back to the New World. Eventually, the ship sailed down the Maine coast and took Squanto to where his Patuxet village had been. But Squanto discovered that everyone in the village had died, probably from a smallpox epidemic  brought by the earlier English colonists. For a time Squanto lived with a neighboring tribe, but he eventually went to live in the woods by himself. 

We can only imagine what must have gone through Squanto’s mind. Why had God allowed him to return home, against all odds, only to find his loved ones dead? A year later, the answer came. A shipload of English families arrived and settled on the very land once occupied by Squanto’s people. Squanto went to meet them, greeting the startled Pilgrims in English!

From the perspective of the Pilgrims who arrived at what they called Plymouth in 1620, we need to remember that their first year had been a devastating nightmare. Half of their members had died from sickness and starvation, they were thousands of miles away from home, and they were surely questioning God. Suddenly, out of the woods walks an Indian speaking the King's English. Because Squanto had grown up there, he could teach them the best places to find lobsters, how to plant corn by burying kernels along with a fish for fertilizer, and how to find and catch eels in the muddy streams. Truly, Squanto was a godsend to the Pilgrims.

According to the diary of Pilgrim Governor William Bradford, Squanto “became a special instrument sent of God for our good . . . He showed us how to plant corn, where to take fish and to procure other commodities . . . and was also our pilot to bring us to unknown places for our profit, and never left us till he died.”

Governor Bradford compared Squanto to Joseph in the Bible. Joseph had been taken from his home and sold as a slave, but God had a plan. Through Joseph, God was able to save many people from starvation. What man had intended for evil God intended for good.
In the autumn of 1621, the Pilgrims decided to set aside a time to thank God for His merciful blessings. They invited Squanto and other braves from Samoset's tribe who showed up carrying deer, wild turkeys, and many vegetables. Truly God had miraculously woven together the wandering lives of a lonely Patuxet brave and struggling band of English Pilgrims in such a way that would bless the whole world for centuries to come.
The moment that stood out the most in the Pilgrims' memories of that first Thanksgiving was William Brewster's prayer as they began the festival. They had so much for which to thank God: for providing all their needs-and His provision of Squanto, their teacher, guide, and friend that was to see them through those critical early winters.

By the end of the 19th century, Thanksgiving Day had become an institution throughout New England. It was officially proclaimed as a national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Traditionally celebrated on the last Thursday in November, it was changed by an act of Congress in 1941 to the fourth Thursday of that month.

In 1622, as Squanto lay mortally ill with fever, the Pilgrim leader William Bradford knelt at his bedside. According to Bradford’s diary, Squanto asked him to “pray for him, that he might go to the Englishmen’s God in heaven.” Squanto died November 1622, having bequeathed his possessions to the Pilgrims “as remembrances of his love.”

Who but God could so miraculously weave together the lives of a lonely Indian and a struggling band of Englishmen? Squanto’s life story is remarkable, and we ought to make sure our children and grandchildren learn about it. While you’re enjoying turkey and pumpkin pie this season, share with your kids the Indian side of the Thanksgiving story.Tell them about Squanto, the “special instrument sent of God”, who changed the course of American history.


1. Chuck Missler, "The First Thanksgiving," Koinonia House, November 1997 

2. Charles Colson, "The Story of Squanto," Christian Worldview Journal, 29 October 2009 

3. Eric Metaxas, Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1999).

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Victims of Prosperity

Franklin and Phileda Nelson went to Burma as missionaries in the 1940s. They served there eight and a half years before the government closed the country to further missionary work. They returned to the United States where Franklin served several churches in various pastoral roles. While in Burma they worked among remote tribes, and Franklin found his sense of gratitude for God's providence rekindled. When reflecting on his missions work he wrote:

“In the Burmese hill country, the only way to get to remote villages was by walking. It was not at all uncommon for me to walk twenty miles a day in the dry season. When I got back to the States and worked as a pastor and church leader, I rarely walked a mile a day; the telephone and car made walking unnecessary. In Burma, if one of us got sick, the nearest hospital was ten days away. In the States, medical care is minutes away. Indoor plumbing and electricity were considered luxuries to the Burmese, but basic necessities in the States. In Burma, we'd go months without bread. Once we asked our daughter Karen to say grace before a meal, and she said, "Why do I have to pray for my daily bread when I don't ever get any?" It's hard to have that sense of helplessness and humility so vital to prayer when you sit down to your daily bread and don't even think about how you got it. I don't in any way blame people here for not knowing what God can do. We're victims of our prosperity. But I sometimes wish we had a few more hard times so people could experience firsthand how wonderful it is to be totally dependent on God.”1 

Being truly thankful for the blessings of God is difficult here in America. The reason is because we have no reference point for real poverty or dependence upon God. We live in the wealthiest, most prosperous nation in the history of humanity and our riches have become our God and source of security. A 2006 study done by the United Nations reported that 2% of the human population (mostly Americans and Europeans) holds over 51% percent of the world’s entire wealth.2

Recently, I logged on to a website, globalrichlist.com, that calculates how you fit into the worldwide distribution of wealth. The results were staggering. According to the calculations of this website my middle-class salary puts me among the top 0.31% of the world’s wealthiest. It would take the average day laborer in the third-world 67 years to earn what I make in one year.

What is even more socking is that Christians in North America will only give 2.5% of their income to their church. Out of that 2.5% the churches in North America will only give 2% of their budgets to missions overseas. In other words, for every $100 dollars a North American Christian earns, he will give 5 cents through the church to a world with urgent physical and spiritual needs.3 

God has blessed the people of this nation like none other, however it has come with a cost. As Franklin Nelson pointed out we have become “victims of our prosperity.” This is why faith in the American church is a mile wide an inch deep. Why depend on God when we have Wal-Mart, wi-fi and 900 channels of entertainment?  

I am reminded of what Jesus said to the church at Laodicea, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17).” If our wealth is not used for honoring God and building His Kingdom then it has become a curse to our souls and a bulwark to our spiritual growth. As you bow your head this week to give thanks for your blessings, consider how God might turn your gratitude into generosity. How can you use what you have to help someone in need?

1. Terry Muck, "Thankful in a Thankless World," Deepening Your Ministry Through Prayer and Personal Growth, 19 May 2004. 

2. David Jeremiah, The Coming Economic Armageddon (New York: Faith Words, 2010), 168. 

3. David Platt, Radical Together (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 2011), 16.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Sacrifice: Giving Up to Go Up

During the winter of 1777-1778 George Washington and his beleaguered troops encamped at Valley Forge were in dire straits. The soldiers were short of food, clothing, shelter and ammunition. General Washington sent a plea to the leadership of Pennsylvania asking for money saying, “Unless aid comes, our affairs must soon become desperate beyond the possibility of recovery. The Army must disband or starve.” 

One man responded to that plea. He was a wealthy merchant, Jacob DeHaven, who supported and believed in the revolutionary cause. Mr. DeHaven loaned the struggling government $50,000 in gold and what historians estimate to be another $400,000 in supplies. The Continental Army survived the harsh winter at Valley Forge and the rest is history. 

Ironically, DeHaven—the man who saved America—died penniless, giving everything he had for the freedom of the country. To this day, the DeHaven family has never been repaid by the U.S. government. The descendants of Jacob DeHaven claim that with interest added off the 1778 loan the government owes $141.6 billion.1 

Ultimately, there is no price tag that could ever be placed on Jacob DeHaven’s sacrifice, for without his investment the dreams of the Founding Fathers would have frozen to death that terrible winter so long ago. 

That story reminds me a principle that John Maxwell calls “the law of sacrifice,” which says “You have to give up in order to go up.”2 In other words, things that are worth something of great value will always come at great cost. Moreover, the higher you want to go, the more it’s going to cost. 

This is a principle that the Church needs to hear today. We want the best of everything—new buildings, state-of-the-art media, dynamic teaching, pastoral care, children and youth ministry and exciting worship. Many Christians desire these things, yet they are unwilling to tithe, volunteer, or serve in a way that might challenge their plans. This is the epitome of cheap worship. You cannot build a great church unless people are willing to sacrifice their best for the kingdom of God. 

The principle of sacrifice is laid out clearly throughout the Bible. When Abel offered his sacrifice to God, he brought out “the firstborn of his flock” (Gen. 4:4). When Abraham was tested by God on Mt. Moriah God demanded that he lay his beloved son Isaac on the altar (Gen. 22:2). Years later, when David desired to build a house for God he was offered a plot of ground for free, but David refused to accept the gift. He replied, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing” (2 Sam. 24:24). 

The only way the church will be great is if the people are willing to sacrifice their best for God. As one old preacher said, “You can’t run the church on pocket change and spare time.”  

1. Lisa Belkin, "213 Years After Loan, Uncle Sam Is Dunned," The New York Times, 27 May 1990 <http://www.nytimes.com/1990/05/27/us/213-years-after-loan-uncle-sam-is-dunned.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm>.

2. John Maxwell, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 183-192.