You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to
indulge the sinful nature;
rather, serve one another in love.--Galatians 5:13
The history of America has been one of the greatest experiments in freedom the world has ever seen. The Pilgrims landed searching for religious freedom. The American Revolution was fought to cut our ties with European tyranny and create a unified republic of states based on democracy—the voices of our people—and faith in God. Over the years to follow, the voices that went against the common practice refused to be silenced as they expressed their desires that slavery should be ended, women should share in the rights of government, Native Americans should be treated with the same dignity as any foreign government, or any of a number of other issues that called all of us to stand up for the liberty upon which we based our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. The ideals of America still ring strong for all of the world to hear in all of the founding documents and articles of government left behind as guiding lights to our time, and America's first two centuries of history are marked by the continued fight to make those principles of liberty true for all.
Yet at the same time, there is no question that it has been a fight. While the American colonies fought hard for our independence and freedom, it would be over two hundred years before even the most basic rights of that government were extended to all within our borders.
If there is any great song of what America is, it is sung best by the voices of our history. We have always been a place where justice will not be completely silenced. Ours is a history of great men and women of all races, denominations, and backgrounds who have spoken out about freedom as no others have ever found the words, because for many of them their sense of freedom came from knowing true freedom through faith in Jesus. Their calls to liberty were not laced with the eloquence of clever men, but built upon lives lived studying the words of God in the Bible. No human being can truly know freedom who doesn't first know Jesus as Lord and Savior.
And, in a word, that is what this book is about: freedom. In pulling these stories together, we did our best to find the voices that best expressed that song of freedom in both word and deed. They are all just human beings, and some of them had failures of their own, but our desire was not to express their weaknesses, but their triumphs. It was their highest moments we remember them for, and by which we as a nation were forever changed.
Our second desire was to show just how deeply rooted their songs were in the truths of the Bible. To show that, we have also included Bible stories and passages that parallel their stories, as well as a short section discussing what can be learned from each. It is our hope that as you read each chapter, the qualities of these stories will sink into your heart and make you a catalyst for freedom for all, just as the men and women you read about in these pages were in their times. Read it as you would a devotional, one story a day. Read it with a study group to discuss these ideals and how you can live them in your lives and community. Or merely sit and read it to soak in the rich history of America and be changed by getting to know more about the world-changers of our past.
America stands today as one of the greatest nations in history. We still stand before all other nations as a leader and a voice of influence—but what will we have to say in the next generation? Will we be a nation that continues to be a source of wisdom, invention, and democratic self-rule for the rest of the world? What will be the legacy of our generation of Americans?
As George Santayana once said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." As a generation that wants to stand for God in our nation and keep it great by continuing to follow and depend upon Him, we need to look and learn from both the good and bad of our nation's past so that we can take it properly and honestly into the future. Today, America's only hope is that this generation will live under God as no other has before us.
It is to this generation that we dedicate this book. May you learn from the
historical figures, events, ideals, and aspirations recorded here. It is up to
our generation if we are going to become the one nation on earth that truly
stands "under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
Guided by God to Freedom
Let us keep in step with the Spirit. -- Galatians 5:25
The Pilgrims' Landing (November 1620)
"Land ho!" The cry rang out.
Land? Had the Mayflower reached land at last? For seven weeks at sea, through storm after storm, the Pilgrims had waited for this moment. They had reached the New World!
Everyone rushed up to the main deck. Such an overflow of thanksgiving followed as men, women, and children all poured out the gratitude of their hearts toward God, their Protector and Provider. The giving of thanks continued for so long that Captain Christopher Jones finally had to order the Pilgrims back down to the tween-decks so the sailors could maneuver the ship.
The Pilgrims had to content themselves with posting a few watchmen to look out the hatch and report to the others what they saw. As they grew closer, the watchmen saw a land that was already in the first stages of winter. The delays in leaving England had cost them almost two months of mild autumn weather. It would soon be bitterly cold. And how wild it looked. The long sandy beach was covered with dune grass and scrub pine—and not a single trace of humanity.
Where were they? How far had the storms blown them off course?
Finally news came back that they were at a place fishermen called Cape Cod. Amazingly enough, they were only a few hundred miles north of their original destination at the mouth of the Hudson River, the northern-most point of what was then the Virginia colony. Within a week they would arrive at their new home. There was more rejoicing!
They started south but soon encountered dangerous shoals, riptides, and roaring breakers as they tried to pass around the point of the cape. Had they come this far to see the Mayflower broken on the rocks? The farther they went, the more treacherous it became. The Pilgrims began to fervently pray for the safety of their ship.
The leader of the group, Elder William Brewster, called John Carver, William Bradford, and Edward Winslow aside. "Sirs, I am sensing there is more here than meets the eye. What is the Lord saying to you?"
Carver paused a moment and then answered, "The farther we go, the greater the sense of dread I feel. I wonder if God really wants us to go south to Virginia as originally planned."
They looked to Bradford. "When I looked out at the coast near Cape Cod, I felt a strange warming in my heart. I thought it was because I was so grateful to see land again. But now, I too am beginning to see that it was something more."
Brewster added thoughtfully, "In the Scripture, Paul and Silas wanted to preach in Asia, but God hindered them. He prevented them from doing what they had planned and sent them to Macedonia instead. Perhaps we were blown off course because God has something better in mind for us."
Winslow nodded. "What if God had us blown to Cape Cod because He wants us to settle at Cape Cod?"
Just then Captain Jones approached the three leaders. "The wind is very strong this time of year, and when we try to sail south around the cape, it blows mightily against us. It's too dangerous to sail this close to shore. Our only choice is to head back out to sea and wait a day to see if the wind will change."
Brewster spoke up. "Captain, before you head back to sea, permit us an hour to speak with the others."
At length, after much prayer and further discussion, the Pilgrims unanimously decided on their course of action. Brewster instructed Captain Jones to turn back toward Cape Cod. On November 11, they dropped anchor in a natural harbor on the inside of the cape.
What a joyful celebration they had. Bradford wrote in his journal, "They fell upon their knees and blessed the God of heaven, who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element. And no marvel if they were thus joyful ..."
When Abraham was seventy-five years old, God came to him and told him:
At His word, Abraham pulled up his stakes and headed west from Ur.;as He took his family, servants, and animals with him.
Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
When they arrived in Canaan, at the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem, Abraham surveyed the land before him and saw that it was fertile and full of promise. God appeared to him here and said: "To your offspring I will give this land."
To commemorate the event, Abraham built an altar of remembrance to the Lord there in Shechem, so that the generations that followed would remember the promise God had made to them.
Living It!God has called all of us to be people of destiny—people with God-given purposes meant to accomplish great things—praying, planning, and working so that God's "will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). As they sought God through the Scriptures and prayer, the Pilgrims discovered they needed to find a place where they could worship God freely if they were to fulfill their destiny. Abraham was called out of the land of Ur to the land God had prepared for him and his descendents. God has meticulous plans for each of us—an incredible destiny—that He wants us to enter into in the same way.
Finding our God-given destiny is different for everyone. While some seem to literally have a vision when they are young of what God wants them to do for the rest of their lives (somewhat like what Abraham had when God spoke to him), most of us discover our destiny one day at a time, with only enough light from God to take the next few steps while all else seems a dark mystery (somewhat like what the Pilgrims experienced as they headed for the new world). For many of us, we only see God's hand in our lives by looking behind and seeing where He saved us, or led us into something good. Yet the key to it all is our dedication in seeking Him each day and being open to His leading every moment. God cannot lead any of us into His destiny for us if we are not eagerly following Him step by step.
Think for a moment of times when you have really felt God was speaking to you in the past and how He did it. Often God will maintain the same patterns of communicating with us throughout our lives—how does He speak to you? Do you hear Him most often on retreats or solitary times? Do you hear Him best as you journal about Scriptures or thoughts you have had? When you are writing, drawing, composing, or creating something? Or is it in times of praise and worship? Or are there other ways He has gotten His message to you?
While God often communicates to us through our hearts when we pull away and take time to be quiet and listen, He also needs to speak to us in the midst of our busy lives. Do you leave time in your day to just stop and listen to see what He might be trying to say to you? Are you ruled by the outside circumstances around you or by His strength and rock solidness inside of you?
The site of Ur is known today as Tall al Muqayyar, Iraq.
Government by God's Word: Government by God
The moral principles and precepts contained in the Scripture ought to form the basis of all our civil constitutions and laws. All the miseries and evil men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery, and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible.--Noah Webster
The Mayflower Compact
(November 11, 1620)
Because the Mayflower was blown so far off course, there was a further delay before the passengers could go ashore. Since this was unfamiliar territory, they needed to send men to explore the coast and decide on the best place to build their new settlement.
There was also another problem. Since the Pilgrims would be settling outside the boundaries of the Virginia colony, Virginia's charter would not govern them. In fact, they would have no charter at all. Brewster called the leaders together to discuss it. "Brothers, we must pray and ask the Lord what we should do about the government."
Winslow was puzzled. "What government? There is no government here! No kings, no bishops, no sheriffs—"
"Exactly," Brewster replied. "No laws—and no one to enforce them if there were. And we know how corrupt human beings are. I am not worried about our Pilgrim families. But the "strangers" outnumber us. I heard one boast about what he planned to do once he got to shore. With nothing to limit their behavior, we could soon have serious problems."
"I see what you mean," Bradford replied. "If we don't establish a civil government with a firm Christian base before leaving the ship, we will soon have mutiny and anarchy. We must pray!"
The leaders raised their voices in one accord and began to seek the Lord for wisdom.
Before long Bradford spoke up. "Brothers, I know why God wanted us to return to this bay. He didn't want us to settle in Virginia because he doesn't want us to be governed by Virginia's charter. He wants to do a new thing—He wants all men to see what He can do with a people who totally rely on Him for everything—including their government."
Brewster caught Bradford's excitement. "Just like Jesus said: ‘Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid'" (Matthew 5:14 kjv).
"Yes!" Bradford said.
"Listen—God has prepared us for this!" Brewster exclaimed. "Remember when we were still in Holland, how Pastor Robinson studied the Bible to discover God's pattern for church government?"
Bradford smiled. "How could we ever forget? I can hear him now: ‘The self-governing Christians of the New Testament churches are the perfect model for church government. The Lord Jesus is King of His Church and holds all power in heaven and earth. Christ the Lord gives each Christian the power of self-government. Christians then elect representatives, or elders, from among themselves to serve them and be examples to them.'"
"So we take what we've learned about church government and use it to write a covenant for civil government," Bradford added. "The scriptural model is the same."
The Pilgrims knew the value of becoming one body, of submitting to one another in love. Pastor Robinson had warned them that the very survival of their little settlement would depend upon the depth of their covenant relationship with one another.
In signing the Mayflower Compact, the members of the Plymouth Colony chose to relinquish their individual independence, and as a covenanted people, "to enact ... just and equal laws ... from time to time ... for the general good of the colony. Unto which we promise all due submission and obedience." The Mayflower Compact became one of the pillars of American constitutional government. It marked the first time in recorded history that free and equal men had voluntarily covenanted together to create their own new civil government.
Romans 13:1–10 nlt
There were a lot of questions in the early church as to what responsibilities they had to the Roman government. How were they to behave toward a system of laws that basically persecuted them and demanded their allegiance? Paul's response was simple—follow God's law first, and then they would not violate any of men's laws. Paul said it this way:
Obey the government, for God is the one who put it there. All governments have been placed in power by God. So those who refuse to obey the laws of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow. For the authorities do not frighten people who are doing right, but they frighten those who do wrong. So do what they say, and you will get along well. The authorities are sent by God to help you. But if you are doing something wrong, of course you should be afraid, for you will be punished. The authorities are established by God for that very purpose, to punish those who do wrong. So you must obey the government for two reasons: to keep from being punished and to keep a clear conscience.
Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid so they can keep on doing the work God intended them to do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and import duties, and give respect and honor to all to whom it is due.
Pay all your debts, except the debt of love for others. You can never finish paying that! If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill all the requirements of God's law. For the commandments against adultery and murder and stealing and coveting—and any other commandment—are all summed up in this one commandment: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to anyone, so love satisfies all of God's requirements.
Living It!God set up a system of checks and balances in how we are to govern our lives: He has given us His Word in the Bible and His Holy Spirit in our hearts. These two will never contradict each other. While some make mistakes because they are following a whim from within, they can correct themselves by seeing what the Bible really has to say on the subject. While others get into strange interpretations of Scripture, they can be corrected by checking their hearts and seeing if what they are teaching lines up with the law of love or not. In this way, through God's Spirit and His Word, we can know His will in all matters.
Through the Mayflower Compact, the Pilgrims sought to develop a system of government that would leave each person free to follow the Word of God and the Spirit of God for themselves; however, what about those who didn't know God or did not submit to His will? For this the Pilgrims needed the right to create laws and enforce them for the common good. God's law would be first, their laws would be beneath them to govern those who would not properly govern themselves, and all the laws they made would be based upon the Scriptures.
How does God's Word relate to struggles in our government today? Jesus gave
us only two commandments to follow upon which He said that all the laws and the
prophets hang: (1) to love God with all our heart and soul and mind, and (2) to
love our neighbors as ourselves (see Matthew 22:36–40). How should we apply
these rules in our daily dealings with those who don't know God and those who
openly defy Him and deny He exists?
* * *
Government by God's Word
Priorities Greed v. God
No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot
serve both God and Money.-- Luke 16:13
In stark contrast to the Pilgrims' constant reliance upon God's guidance was the settlement of Jamestown, Virginia, which was established some fourteen years before the Pilgrims landed and to which they were originally headed.
With the tragedy of the lost colony of Roanoke (which had disappeared without a trace when a supply ship returned to it in 1590) less than a generation behind them, British enthusiasm for New World adventures was still significantly dampened. But the promise of wealth was enough for some, and the Virginia Company was formed. When the partners had difficulty finding investors to fund a new expedition, some of them presented it as an evangelistic outreach to the Indians. Soon clergy were endorsing the endeavor—and investors were lining up. Even the Company's charter stated its purpose as "propagating [the] Christian religion to such people as yet live in darkness and miserable ignorance of the true knowledge and worship of God."
What was so nobly pledged in word, however, was only halfheartedly carried out in deed. Among the 144 men enlisted for the first expedition, only one, Robert Hunt, was a minister. And upon arrival, despite Hunt's efforts, there was little interest in seeking God's will for the colony.
A pattern of taking the "easy way" began with the very location of Jamestown. They had landed on a small, low-lying peninsula that was heavily wooded, had no fresh water, and was surrounded by fetid swamps. But rather than find a more suitable spot, the men chose to settle where they were.
During their first year, they survived only on the corn they could buy, beg, or steal from the Indians. The following spring, a gift of corn presented an easy excuse to delay the planting of their own crops. Deaths among the colonists, from a multitude of diseases and ailments, soared and seemed obviously attributable to their horrible location, but the settlers decided that moving and starting over seemed infinitely more difficult than simply rebuilding. They even maintained their codes of conduct forbidding a gentleman from any sort of manual labor, even when faced with his own death. Chopping wood for warmth, digging a well for fresh water—it was all beneath them. Many died rather than be dishonored.
Word began to return to England about the terrible state of the settlement, but rather than admit the truth and request help, the Company tried to whitewash the truth. Sermons lauding the work being done were published and more investors were duped by the release of John Smith's True Relations. Others were not so easily fooled, however, and in the wake of mounting criticism, the Company turned on the last surviving member of the original ruling Council. John Smith was removed from leadership, the Council was dissolved, and a governor, Thomas Gates, was appointed by the king—bringing with him an enlarged charter for the colony.
Their goal was still to return the investment of all their partners in England. Their first plan was to mine the region's deep veins of gold—which turned out to be iron pyrite, or fool's gold. Later, the colony turned its eye to the fortune that could be made harvesting tobacco. Large tracts of land were parceled out to the non-indentured men, and the crop soon became a harvest of cash. And in choosing this path, Virginia also chose a darker path, because by 1619 the first African slaves arrived. No single family could tend such large fields; thus slavery became a tenable solution. So it would come to pass that almost 250 years later—with the outbreak of the Civil War—the country would be torn apart by the bitter fruit sown in places like Jamestown.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said the following about money:
Don't hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it's safe from moth and rust and burglars. It's obvious, isn't it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.
Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!
You can't worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you'll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can't worship God and Money both.
If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion....
Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.
Living It!Jesus taught that we would serve either God or Money. Later, Paul taught that "the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6:10). What is your priority? What are you passionate about? What do you think about—serving God or amassing a whole bunch of stuff here on earth that will never see the light of heaven?
The Jamestown colony lived totally for profit and laziness, and in their wake they left a legacy of corruption and slavery that would last more than two and a half centuries. The Pilgrims, for the most part, lived for God, industriousness, and freedom and left a heritage that would lead to the abolition of slavery and the will to fight to hold our nation together.
Money is not evil. It is the love of money that leads to all kinds of evil. We all need money to live, and money allows us to do things to help change our world. What the Bible says instead is "Whom are you serving?" What do you desire? Are you serving money all the time, thinking about the next thing you will buy so you can build your own kingdom that the world desires? Or are you living for God by using your money wisely and serving others to help build God's kingdom here on earth?
Maybe you don't have a lot of money to give, but you do have something even more valuable to invest: your time and your talents. How are you using them to build up your treasure in heaven?
Make a list of what you feel your priorities are in your life, and then take a week and track your activities. What did you do every half hour you were awake during the week? Now add all those half hours up. What did you spend the most time doing? How does your list of what you did compare with your list of priorities? What are you going to do with this information?