Thursday, November 28, 2013

Remembering the “Yearning to Breathe Free”

“Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean.”   -- William Bradford

Bowing to worship and give thanks to their Creator was a fitting beginning for the Pilgrim Fathers when they arrived on the shores of North America on November 11, 1607.  These Puritans, so named for their separatist life, had suffered much from religious intolerance in Europe.  Now, they hoped that their perilous 65-day voyage across the Atlantic to North America would satisfy their “yearning to breathe free” to worship and serve the God to Whom they had entrusted their lives.

"The Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor" - W.F. Halsall
Throughout world history, many various people groups have embarked on perilous trips much like the Puritans, some across rugged mountains and others across arid deserts or stormy seas in hopes of finding freedom and opportunity in a new land.  The descendents of Abraham migrated to Egypt to escape drought and famine (Genesis 47).  Two centuries later, numbering approximately 2 million, Abraham’s descendents were miraculously led by God and His humble servant, Moses, through the Red Sea and arid desert to escape slavery of Egypt and to establish a new nation under God.

Today, one can read news reports of the migration of refugees on many continents. For example, in Asia as a result of the war in Syria, an estimated 100,000 have died and more than 2,000,000 Christians and Muslims have fled.  Many Syrian refugees have migrated into the same region through which Abraham once migrated on his way from present day Iraq to modern day Israel. 

This Thanksgiving, I am reflecting on the manner in which God led our Pilgrim Fathers to come to America and establish civil laws that would eventually grow into our Constitution.  My reflection on American history has ushered in a time to reevaluate the freedoms I often take so lightly and which are being eroded by decisions made daily in Washington, DC.  Contemplating people groups now living under tyranny, and considering the prospect of an America in which our Constitution is being ignored or displaced makes me all the more thankful for a God Who will not be thwarted in His purposes by any human actions.  But I am also thankful for those among our leaders who stand up to honor God by humble and unselfish service to our country in both military and civilian roles. 

And so, on this Thanksgiving perhaps you would join me in thanking God for His many provisions if you live in America or another nation in which the basic freedoms are granted.   We can pray also for wisdom for world leaders, both in our country and abroad.   The decisions that they have made and are making will determine the trajectory of the future of our lives, and whether we will continue to have at least some of the freedoms for which Americans have fought and died in the past 250 years.

Source:  WORLD Magazine, Nov. 16, 2013
Perhaps you would also agree to join me in learning more about the Syrian refugees, or another group of displaced people, to pray for them, and to learn of ways to help those who are directly involved in providing assistance.   WORLD Magazine reports that numerous NGO’s, including World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse, are ministering to the needs of refugees not only in practical material ways but also in order to meet the deeper yearning for freedom within their souls.

This Thanksgiving, being thankful to God for our country and asking Him to direct us in ways that provide appropriate assistance to people groups in deep need can cause us to be renewed and refocused toward things that really matter.   We can be directed from our own selfish tendencies and the tendency to relax in our comfort zones, and instead to reflect on the great cost of freedom that was paid by our forefathers, many of whom yearned to breathe free to worship the One Who had purchased true freedom for them on Calvary’s cross. 

Estimated Number of Syrian Refugees
 (UN High Commission for Refugees)

As I reflect on past generations who have made great sacrifices because they yearned for both spiritual and political freedom, I wonder if our yearning today has turned from God Who alone can meet our greatest needs to the federal government which offers to satisfy our needs.  But, as we remember the assassination of President Kennedy this month, we ought to remember one of his famous challenges:  “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.”  Every invitation from government to take over responsibilities formerly handled by individuals, families, and communities is an invitation that comes at the price of a loss of freedom. 

A case in point is the Affordable Care Act (ACA) which promised health insurance coverage for all Americans, but at the cost of a loss of individual control over patient-doctor relationships and choice of a policy that best fits one’s needs.  Furthermore, the ACA will legalize the collection of extensive personal information to be stored in huge government databases.   Perhaps most unsettling is the numbing effect that expanding government services can have on the people of a nation, particularly if the services are not intended to provide temporary help coupled with a help toward gainful employment and financial independence. 

The toxic effects of prolonged welfare and other government programs on individual freedom and personal initiative can be inferred in the case of Greece which is experiencing dramatic increases in HIV transmission and infections associated with increases in prostitution and intravenous drug use.  The report, based on a World Health Organization study in 2011 includes mention of a number of deliberate self-infections with HIV “to obtain access to benefits of €700 per month and faster admission onto drug substitution programmes."  It is worth reflecting on regretful ways in which people seek to meet the yearning within to “breath” what only Heaven can supply.

In conclusion, the “yearning to breathe free” of our Puritan Fathers which eventually brought “a new birth of freedom” in the founding of our great nation is a cause for much reflection on this Thanksgiving Day, 2013.  May our reflections lead us to offer thanks and praise to God for His provision of political and spiritual freedom in Christ, and to renew our commitment to be a testimony in words and in actions on behalf of these freedoms.  Our testimony is especially important in today’s world in which America’s freedoms are being threatened.  Her beacon of liberty which had once shone brightly, even if imperfectly, is growing dimmer toward the multitudes across the world who look to her for hope.  The call of God recorded in II Chronicles 7: 14 outlines our only true path to breathing free:

And My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

As a historical example of how Americans once applied the spirit of this call to humility and confession, I close with an excerpt from President George Washington’s “Thanksgiving Proclamation” presented on October 3, 1789:

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor-- and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be-- That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks…

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