As military conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan continues to claim American lives, I am mindful that many in our great nation will observe the holidays in a much more somber spirit because of the sacrifices they and their families have made in the interest of our nation. Perhaps at no other time of the year is their loss sensed as deeply as it is during the holiday season. I am forever indebted to those who have risked and given much so that my life might be lived with a greater degree of peace and tranquility.
In 1621, our political and spiritual forefathers, the Pilgrims, celebrated the first Thanksgiving in America. It was late in 1620 when they arrived in the New World in search of religious liberty. That first winter, nearly half of the Pilgrims perished as a result of disease and deprivation. Haunted by the specter of such immense loss, the Pilgrims chose to give the Lord thanks for the plenty of a bountiful harvest season. Not one of the Pilgrims had escaped the pangs of agonizing loss, of family and friends, and yet they are remembered not for a spirit of lament and bitterness, but for resilient thanksgiving.
The more mature I become, the more I realize my need to be deliberate in my cultivation of a spirit of thanksgiving for the sacrifices of others. Without the sacrifices of the Pilgrims, the character of America would very likely be very different than what it is today. Without the sacrifices of our soldiers and their families, American freedom birthed by evangelical Christianity will soon perish. I have come to realize that the individual who matures without a sense of gratitude for the sacrifices which others have made in their interest lives a tragic existence.
As I survey the history of the Christian Church, I find there enormous sacrifice. For a number of months, I have been plodding through an autobiography of Henry Boehm, an early American Methodist. He was the traveling companion of Bishop Francis Asbury for five years. Though he is relatively unknown to most of us today, Bishop Asbury was more widely known during his life time in early America than was the Father of Our Nation, George Washington. Upon reading Boehm’s account of the life of Bishop Asbury, my gratitude for the sacrifices of this remarkable man was greatly elevated. Perhaps the following excerpt will demonstrate my point. Boehm writes,
For five years I not only traveled with the venerable Asbury, but slept with him. I traveled forty thousand miles with Bishop Asbury, and since I entered the itinerancy I have traveled on horseback over one hundred thousand miles, more than four times the circumference of the earth. When he was quite ill I would wrap myself in my blanket and lie down on the floor beside the bed and watch till I heard him call “Henry,” and then I would rise and minister to his wants. Being so feeble he needed a great deal of attention. Many times have I taken him from his horse and carried him in my arms into private houses and meeting-houses, where he would sit down, and expound the word of life to the astonishment of all who heard him. I also carried him from the houses and placed him upon his horse. He often preached sitting down, not so much in imitation of his Lord, but because he was unable to stand up. Bishop Asbury possessed more deadness to the world, more of a self-sacrificing spirit, more of the spirit of prayer, of Christian enterprise, of labor, and of benevolence, than any other man I ever knew. He was literally a man of prayer. He prayed much in secret, and this accounts for his power in prayer in public. He was in the habit of presenting each conference and the preachers by name before the Lord. He was the most unselfish being I was ever acquainted with. Bishop Whatcoat I loved, Bishop M’Kendree I admired, Bishop Asbury I venerated. (Boehm, Reminiscences, Historical and Biographical, 458-459).
May God help us to appreciate the sacrifices which others have made on your behalf–choosing to give thanks! But may we never lose sight of the greatest sacrifice of them all — our Lord Jesus Christ!
America deserves to know its true heritage.
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