Friday, November 15, 2013

The Biggest Obstacle to Pilgrim Success

       The Pilgrim congregation began the process of deciding who would go and who would stay.  John Robinson, their pastor, would stay for now with the group in Leyden.  The others sailed for England, then waited in Southampton in anticipation of the longer leg of their journey.  A letter arrived from their pastor with final words of encouragement.  The topic was community.  The biggest threat to the success of their venture would be unresolved conflicts between them.  Here was his advice:
  1. "First, as we ought daily to renew our repentance with our God, especially for our sins known, and generally for our unknown trespasses."  Keeping short accounts with God and experiencing His forgiveness ought to make it easier to overlook the infirmities of others.
  2. "We must be watchful that we ourselves neither give, nor easily take, offense."  This small group would depend on each other for survival.  Dissension could spell their doom.  The answer would come in "brotherly forbearance."
  3. When choosing leaders, choose the ones who will entirely love and promote the common good.  Then, yield to them with all due honor and obedience.
Robinson closes his letter with a benediction:  "He who made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all the rivers of waters, and Whose providence is over all His works, especially over all His dear children for good, would so guide and guard you in all your ways, as inwardly by His spirit, so outwardly by the hand of His power, that both you and we also may praise His name all the days of our lives.  Fare you well in Him in whom you trust, and in whom I trust.  An unfeigned well-willer of your happy success in this hopeful voyage.  John Robinson."

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Take God into Account

       The pilgrims had listed their reasons for going and they were good and noble goals.  They had also developed a list of reasons to stay, a combination of real dangers and imaginary fears.  As each day passed, the fears grew.  Would the group ever have the courage to set sail?  How would you decide?

       Here's how Bradford records the answers to their objections.
  1. "All great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and must be met and overcome with answerable courage.  the dangers were great, but not desperate; the difficulties were many, but not invincible."  Every great task has risks that must be met with an equal amount of courage.
  2. "Many of the things feared might never befall."  The pilgrims realized that a fearful imagination can get the best of you.
  3. All the fears "through the help of God, by fortitude and patience, might either be borne or overcome."  The pilgrims list their reasons and their fears and then they let God walk into the room.
  4. They believed they might expect the blessing of God because their ends were good and honorable.  What a clue to help us in our own decision-making processes.
Bradford ends his discussion of their decision with a statement of courage in the face of fear:  "Though they should lose their lives in this action, yet might they have the comfort of knowing that their endeavor was worthy."  God bless those pilgrim-adventurers.  May their tribe increase!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Reasons to Stay Put

       In every group of pilgrim decision-makers, there are always people who believe the proposed scheme will never work.  It is important to deal squarely with the objections.  Which are real possibilities and which are imaginary fears?

       Bradford lists the reasons that the pilgrims gave for staying put in Leyden.  Under the banner of "inconceivable toils and dangers," they feared:
  • The length of the voyage was too long- the weak among them would never survive.
  • The primitive conditions would prove too miserable to endure- famine, nakedness, and want were surely in their future.
  • The change of air and diet and water would provide ample opportunity for sickness and infection
       The fourth fear deserves some attention.  They would run into savages "who were cruel, barbarous and treacherous, furious in their rage, and merciless when they get the upper hand- not content to kill, they delight in tormenting people in the most bloody way possible; flaying some alive with the shells of fishes, cutting off the members and joints of others piecemeal, broiling them on the coals, and eating collops of their flesh in their sight whilst they live, with other cruelties too horrible to be related."
       Fear has the ear of these pilgrims now.  Whose has been telling them stories?  Sailors?  Other adventurers abroad?  What could they imagine would be worse than what they had already described?  This was certainly not their experience.  Not with Squanto.  Not with Massasoit.  Not with the inhabitants of the "praying villages" established in New England over the next 50 years.
       Fear takes on a life of its own.  The longer the pilgrims considered the decision, the more they put it off, the worse their imaginations became.    The courage to risk was compromised.  How do you rationally answer imaginary objections?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Adventure in the Kingdom of God

       William Bradford had a name for his group of pilgrims, men and women who left everything behind in Europe to build a new life in a new world: "adventurers." Big dreams and a big God held the minds of these adventurers captive. I am amazed by the process of decision-making the pilgrims used because it is so normal. They made a list of the reasons for moving, the reasons for staying, and then tried to answer the objections they had uncovered. The decision they came to shaped the history of a continent. What a pedantic way to reach such a climactic decision!
       Here are the reasons for moving that Bradford listed in "Of Plymouth Plantation:"
  1.  Their current status in Holland was tenuous. Their training as farmers won them no favor in Leyden and the menial work that was available did not pay what was needed to support their families. The hard work would not attract new families and some who were currently suffering might not persevere.
  2.  They had left England in 1608 and their energetic and committed leadership was beginning to age. More than a decade had passed and the window of opportunity was beginning to close. They felt a decision must soon be made if it was going to be made at all. 
  3.  Holland was no place to raise a pilgrim. The parents began to notice that their hardship and poverty was beginning to take a toll on their children. The children worked long hours next to them and were beginning to show similar signs of wear. The children were also tempted, when they saw their peers in Leyden live in licentiousness and yet prosperity. It was enough to make a teen envious. 
  4.  The pilgrims wanted to make a difference in the new world for the Kingdom of God. They wanted to be an outpost for missions. Others would follow their lead and from their beachhead in the New World travel to even more remote regions for the sake of the gospel cause.   
       These adventurers had the right priorities: Provide for and protect their families and get the gospel to the world. They would risk everything in the service of these ends. Pilgrims yes, but adventurers in the Kingdom of God!