Have you ever considered the practical applications of your faith? Many think religion is superfluous – excessive, burdensome, un-needed; impractical to everyday living. Others see it as mystical, beyond our grasp – intriguing, even inspiring, yet it’s true meaning and purpose unattainable. The Bible’s authors, however, expended much time and effort to reveal how practical our faith in Christ can and must be for it to be effective personally and productive relationally. (See Matthew 5-6-7 and Romans 12.)
Whether we see our faith as practical and applicable in the world determines our attitudes and responses to the world. We are instructed to mirror Christ’s self-sacrificing attitude, to share in his mind-set (Philippians 2:1-8) when dealing with people and making decisions concerning life. For our attitudes influence not only our personal expectations of what life will bring us but our willingness to give something in return for that life; it modifies our desire for gain with an ability to give, to sacrifice, to work for something beyond ourselves. The principles we develop as a result of this outlook on life will directly influence the decisions we make on the most basic levels, either serving us well or leading us to ruin. And believe it or not, these contrasting moral ideals and their practical application can be vividly seen in the earliest settlement efforts of America; Jamestown and Plymouth.
Jamestown evokes memories of Capt. John Smith, Pocahontas, and death. Settled on May 14,1607, Jamestown became a magnet for street urchins, the jobless and the gentleman adventurer, all seeking a form of freedom and its benefits. The enterprise was poorly planned, poorly laid out and its policies poorly executed; the site was built on marshland, provisions were in short supply, knowledge of the surrounding terrain was virtually non-existent and the Indians quickly angered by the colonists constant demand for food and gold. They planted little, living mostly hand to mouth as they looked to get rich quick and go back home to live in luxury. Weakness and fever brought on by the long sea voyage, malaria from the mosquito infested swamp, starvation due to their lack of crop raising, skirmishes with the Indians and death as a result of the extreme Northeast coast winters took an incredible toll.
A particularly bad winter, catching the colonists unprepared and un-provisioned and desperately waiting for a ship from England while hoping – for the most part in vain – to convince the Indians to help, resulted in what has come to be called the “starving time.” They dug up roots, ate leather, boiled book covers and finally, some ate the flesh of the newly dead. May of 1610 brought two ships – ironically christened Deliverance and Patience – to Jamestown’s dock to find only sixty souls alive, the town a shambles, the graveyard over-flowing. This was all that was left of the investment of 480 settlers of the previous August. Re-supplied and re-settled – the dying continued.
For example, 1200 people went to Virginia in 1619, only 200 were still living in 1620. With more boats delivering people ashore the enterprise carried on its ghastly record. A census taken in 1622 recorded 1240 people in and around Jamestown. Encouraging? Hardly! 1580 new people had embarked on the great adventure to Jamestown. There had been 843 living colonists there in 1621, the additional 397 noted in the census of 1622 had come from this group of 1580. 1183 had died en-route or soon after arriving in Virginia. In this same year the Indians rose up in anger and wiped out a third of the remaining colonists in a bloody massacre. With effort and results like this, it’s a wonder America was ever successfully settled.
In contrast, the Plymouth Colony was founded by the Pilgrims a few months after their departure from England on Sept. 16,1620; the founding of this colony being one of the more memorable events in the early history of America. Their ship, financed by investors in exchange for most of the produce of the colonists first six years, was the Mayflower. The immigrant Puritans were on board with others taken on to fill the ship and left from Plymouth, England for the New World; new opportunities, new freedoms, and new responsibilities. They wrote and signed the Mayflower Compact, the first constitutional political policy statement in America. Seen by some as a first step toward democratic rule, it signified not only a desire to make a living but the desire to live well, to live free, to live as God and man should – in partnership.
Settlement was difficult. After a long and hazardous sea voyage of several months and its usual attendant illnesses, the colonists had to build shelter, plant crops, adjust to the new climate and surroundings, hunt, fish, explore and make peace with the neighboring Indian tribes. The first winter was bad. Already weak and sickened by the voyage, lack of food and exposure to the elements, many died; only the strong survived. But once gotten through, the opportunity to live and live well began to present itself. And these people knew where their success came from. Hard work? Yes! Attention to detail? Absolutely! A willingness to sacrifice? Always! (As from them and their descendants arose the so-called Protestant work-ethic, grounded in the admonition of Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might,...”) But they knew without God all was for naught. As a result, they achieved what many thought was improbable if not impossible, because they had learned – and lived – the reality of scripture that assures us that, “…nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:37 & Matthew 17:21
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