Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

Do you have plans for Thanksgiving?  I’m looking forward to visiting my sister Jeannie in Missouri. I hope that you have plans with family and friends.

I learned in school that the first Thanksgiving was held by the Pilgrims in 1621.  I have later found out that it wasn’t quite true.

The Pilgrims did set apart a day to celebrate at Plymouth immediately after their first harvest, in 1621. At the time, this was not regarded as a Thanksgiving observance, but a harvest festival.  Harvest Festivals were existing parts of English and Indian tradition alike.  The English tradition of Harvest Festivals goes back to the Celtic celebration of Samhain which is of pagan origin.  There is evidence it has been important since ancient times.  It was the time when cattle were brought back down from the summer pastures and when livestock were slaughtered for the winter. At Samhain, it was believed that the gods needed to be propitiated to ensure that the people and their livestock survived the winter. Offerings of food and drink were left outside for them. The souls of the dead were also thought to revisit their homes seeking hospitality. Feasts were had, at which the souls of dead kin were beckoned to attend and a place set at the table for them. Other traditions involved people going door-to-door in disguise, often reciting verses in exchange for food.

When Christianity came to England the Christians sanitized the celebration turning it into a Harvest Festival.   Harvest is from the Anglo-Saxon word hærfest, which translates as autumn. It then came to refer to the season for reaping and gathering grain and other grown products. The full moon nearest the autumnal equinox is called the Harvest Moon. In ancient traditions Harvest Festivals were traditionally held on or near the Sunday of the Harvest Moon. This moon is the full moon which falls in the month of September.

One of the traditions was baking loaves of bread from the fresh wheat crop. These were given to the local church as the Communion bread during a special service thanking God for the harvest.  Harvest Festivals are still a part of British culture. Nowadays the festival is held at the end of harvest, which varies in different parts of Britain. Sometimes neighboring churches will set the Harvest Festival on different Sundays so that people can attend each other's festivals. Farmers celebrated the end of the harvest with a big meal called a harvest supper. Many churches and villages in England still have a Harvest Supper.

The celebration that we refer to as the first thanksgiving in the fall of 1621 was actually a harvest festival.  It was a bountiful feast, but the Pilgrims had grossly overestimated their harvest.  The only way they could possibly get through the winter was to cut in half the already meager weekly rations.   They struggled through the winter, but in May 1622, their food supply was completely gone and the harvest was four months away.

In desperation, Edward Winslow was sent 150 miles up the Maine coast to buy, beg or borrow whatever provisions the English ships there could spare.  Hearing the plight of this courageous little group, the captains were extremely generous. By the time Winslow returned, the settlers were literally starving.  The provisions were a godsend, but the long awaited harvest of 1622 was a dismal failure.  The Pilgrims had not yet perfected the art of growing corn; they had been busy building the fort and their lack of food that summer left them too weak and weary to tend the fields properly.  It seemed that they now faced the prospect of another year with little food.

Their hopes rested on a good fall harvest, but the harvest of 1623 was almost wiped out.  A six week drought began in June and the crops turned brown and were slowly withering away.  They turned to the only hope they had – intervention by God, and appointed a solemn day of humiliation and prayer. They assembled one July morning under a hot, clear sky and for nine hours prayed.  Their prayers were answered the next morning, and for the next two weeks said Winslow, "distilled such soft, sweet and moderate showers…as it was hard to say whether our withered corn or drooping affections were most quickened and revived".  Governor Bradford ordered that July 30,1623 be set aside as a day of public thankfulness.  That day of Thanksgiving was not a feast, but a solemn worship service thanking God for the rain.

The pilgrims were not the first Europeans to have a Thanksgiving celebration in America.  The first recorded Thanksgiving ceremony took place on September 8, 1565, when 600 Spanish settlers, under the leadership of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, landed at what is now St. Augustine, Florida, and immediately held a Thanksgiving ceremony for their safe delivery to the New World; there followed a feast and celebration.   As far as we know this was the first Thanksgiving celebration held in America.

Canadians also celebrate Thanksgiving.  The history of Thanksgiving in Canada goes back to an explorer, Martin Frobisher, who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Orient. In the year 1578, he held a formal Thanksgiving ceremony, in what is now the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, to give thanks for surviving the long journey.

This is how a Canadian explained it to me.  We did actually have the FIRST Thanksgiving, a full 43 years before the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, but, in true Canadian fashion, there was something wrong with it. That first North American Thanksgiving would have been "celebrated" in sub-zero temperatures on a barren, windswept moonscape by a muttering, mutinous crowd wondering whether "the chief" had all his marbles.

Sir Martin Frobisher set out to find the Spice Islands through the Northwest Passage. He landed instead on Baffin Island. The complete absence of trees and a pitiless terrain of unrelieved rock and permafrost barely dampened his determination to establish the first English settlement in North America. Ever the optimist, he spent two years mining "gold ore". When it was shipped back to England, it was found to be iron pyrite. Fool's Gold.

Throughout the history of the U.S. and Canada, Thanksgiving has been observed.  In the U.S. there has been an annual Thanksgiving observed since 1863.  In that year with the county involved in a horrific Civil War, President Lincoln issued the following proclamation declaring a day of Thanksgiving.

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

One of the traditions of Thanksgiving is talking about the things we are thankful for.  There are many things, but I am truly thankful for my family, my friends, my country, my community, and especially for Jesus Christ and the grace that he shows me.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?  Happy Thanksgiving y'all!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Thank God For Grace

We are looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving with my sister. We will be leaving next Wednesday and heading for Ashland, Missouri.  The purpose of Thanksgiving is eating until we are stuffed... and giving thanks.  I appreciate the reminder to give thanks for our blessings, but realize that we should be giving thanks 365 days of the year. 

In the U.S. there has been an annual Thanksgiving observed since 1863.  In that year, with the county involved in a horrific Civil War, President Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring a day of Thanksgiving. 

One of the traditions of Thanksgiving is talking about the things we are thankful for.  There are many things, but I am truly thankful for my family, my country, my community, nature, and especially for Jesus Christ and the grace that he shows me.

The Greek word translated in the Bible as thanksgiving is eucharistia.  The English spelling is Eucharist.  My dictionary gives the following definitions.   1.  The sacrament of Holy Communion; the sacrifice of the Mass; the Lord's Supper.  2.  The giving of thanks; thanksgiving.

The word that most people use to describe the Lord’s Supper means thanksgiving.  What a great thought.  The Lord’s Supper is a ceremony in which we give thanks for what Jesus has done for us.  The root word in Eucharist is charis.  Charis is normally translated as grace.  That makes sense.  Think with me for a moment.  What happens at the beginning of your Thanksgiving meal?  Someone says “grace”.  Why do we say that they say grace?  Saying grace is giving thanks. 

At a British conference on religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room.  “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

After some discussion, the conferees had to agree. The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, is singularly Christian.  Of all the world’s religions, only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.

In 2 Timothy 1:9, the Bible says, “He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began”.

Before you were born there was grace for you.  Thank God for grace!  As wonderful as it is, grace is not well understood and often not really believed. We use the word a lot but rarely think about what it means. It's probably true that most of us think infrequently about God's grace. 

Part of our problem is in the nature of grace itself. Grace is scandalous. It’s hard to accept. It’s hard to believe. It’s hard to receive. We are skeptical when a telemarketer tells us, "I'm not trying to sell you anything. I just want to offer you a free trip to Hawaii." Automatically we wonder, "What's the catch?" because we have all been taught that "there's no free lunch."

Grace shocks us in what it offers. It frightens us with what it does for sinners. Grace teaches us that God does for others what we would never do for them. We would save the not-so-bad. God starts with prostitutes and then works downward from there. Grace is a gift that costs everything to the giver and nothing to the receiver. It is given to those who don't deserve it, barely recognize it, and hardly appreciate it.

Grace means that no one is too bad to be saved. The Bible is full of examples; Liars, cheaters, murderers, adulterers, prostitutes.  God specializes in saving really bad people.

Grace also means that some people may be too good to be saved. That is, they may have such a high opinion of themselves that they think they don't need God's grace. They may admit they are sinners but they don't admit they are spiritually dead.

This view of grace is hard for good people to accept because it means we must give up our "goodness" in order to be saved. We must admit that nothing we have done matters in the least when it comes to being forgiven by God. God has designed our salvation so that he alone gets the glory!

Ephesians 2:8,9 tells us,  “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast”.

Imagine what heaven would be like if you had to earn your way there. "I was a preacher." "I built churches across the world." "I gave a million dollars to world missions." "I had hundreds of baptisms at my meetings." "I volunteered at the hospital." “I baked cookies for the school kids.” As good as those things are they will not help forgive even one sin. They will not save you or help save you. 

Can you just imagine someone putting his arm around Jesus and saying, "You and me, Jesus, we did it: You died on the cross and I baked the cookies”? I am so thankful that it's not like that. When Jesus died on the cross, he paid the full price for your salvation. Jesus paid the price all by himself.

Grace is never cheap.  Grace costs the ultimate.  It is just that you and I aren’t the ones paying.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life”.  John 3:16

Thank God for grace!   Look for grace in unexpected places. I know that you will find it. Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 1:14, "the grace of our Lord is exceedingly abundant".

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Pathfinders Conduct "Serve Others" Camporee

My article from the October 1, 2015 issue of The Mena Star

Pathfinders Conduct "Serve Others" Camporee
by Richie Lawry

Last weekend, over 160 young people from the Arkansas-Louisiana Pathfinder organization came from communities all over Arkansas and Louisiana to the Mena area to conduct a "Serve Others” Camporee. They camped at the Christian Motorcycle Association Iron Mountain Campground.  On Friday, September 25th, the Pathfinders performed various "Serving Others" activities in the Mena area.  On Saturday afternoon, September 26th, the young people went door to door throughout Mena collecting over 1500 items of canned food to assist the Soup Kitchen sponsored by the Mena Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The Arkansas-Louisiana Pathfinders are part of a worldwide program of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. They offer a wide range of learning experiences for young people 10 to 15 years of age.  Pathfinders are similar in many respects to Scouting but have an added spiritual emphasis.

Each year the Pathfinder organization holds a camporee.  The Arkansas- Louisiana Pathfinder leaders chose the Christian Motorcycle Association Campground as the location for this year’s event.  Clubs from the communities of Benton, Bonnerdale, Conway, Fort Smith, Gentry, Hot Springs, Huntsville, Little Rock, Springdale, and Texarkana in Arkansas and Marthaville, Minden and Shreveport in Louisiana camped at CMA from September 24 through 27.  The theme of this year’s camporee was “Serve Others”.  All across Mena the Pathfinders took part in projects in which they served others.

The projects included picking up trash and cleaning up at the Polk County Fairgrounds, clearing several miles of trails for the National Forest Service, working on flower beds at The Oaks, making and serving sack lunches at the Mena Seventh-day Adventist Church Soup Kitchen, taking down trees and cleaning up brush at the PCDC Adult Education & Wellness Center, doing needed clean-up for a local widow, and collecting cans of food to be given out by the Mena Soup Kitchen.

Arkansas-Louisiana Pathfinder Director, Lloyd Clapp, said, “We really appreciate the Christian Motorcycle Association staff and facilities. We were honored to be able to serve the community of Mena in a small way”.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Memories of Hazel

This story of my Grandmother was written by my Uncle Lloyd Lawry and included in a collection of family stories and writings that he put together.  I was blessed to have been given a copy of his collection

by Lloyd Lawry

My relationship with Hazel got off to a poor start. Daddy had brought her to Wichita where I lived with my mother and step-father. Daddy said, "this is your new Mama," which of course, was the wrong thing to say to a little boy who loved his mother as much as I did.

The other thing I remember about their visit didn't mean much to me at the time, but it certainly touches my heart today. I can still see in my memory Hazel sitting at my mother's bedside crying
because they both knew that mama was on her deathbed. I'm sure mama must have known Hazel would be good to me, because in a letter to Grandma Lawry in January 1928 she said, "of course I want to stay with Lloyd, but if I can't I know his Daddy will care for him and that makes it not so hard."

Daddy brought me to Buffville in June of 1928 to visit with him and Hazel. Of course they knew my mother would die soon. I enjoyed my visit as there were lots of things for little boys to enjoy in Buffville. On July 11,1928 Hazel wrote Grandma Lawry that Leslie and I "put in a lot of time fishing and swimming." For some time Hazel would clean the little fish I caught, but when she tired of cleaning them and told me I must clean my own, I quit bringing home so many!

Mother died July 19,1928, and I came to live with Hazel and Daddy. I was grief-stricken and resentful of Hazel, and I wasn't very nice to her. In spite of my attitude she was very patient with me. However, I remember her switching me twice - once when she left me to watch Opal on a blanket in the front yard and I ran off and left her sitting alone, and once when I ran off and avoided going to Sabbath School.

After the brickyard closed in 1929 we moved to a farm east of Buffville where we rented a house with a garden and pasture for our cow. I was lonesome and Hazel tried to find something to relieve my boredom. She had me scrub my own overalls sometimes, and had me work in the garden. I felt abused, but I thought it was all right for her to scrub the clothes!

In early September of 1931 Daddy and Grandpa Reeve left home to hunt for work. They found it in Campo, Colorado harvesting broom corn. They got 10 cents an hour and had to provide their own board and lodging.

While they were gone Grandma Reeve lived with us. The rural ice man came by twice a week and we could buy 12 1/2 pounds of ice for a dime. We would make a gallon of ice cream and the three of
us would eat it all before the evening was over. Small wonder that Delbert weighed 11 3/4 pounds when he was born on September 27!

The night he was born I had to walk about 1 1/2 miles to have a neighbor phone for the doctor. I was 12 years old, but still little boy enough to be scared. I stayed with the neighbor all night and they told me in the morning I had a baby brother.

Hazel wanted me to be able to manage for myself when I left home so she taught me how to sew on buttons and mend my clothes and a little bit of about cooking.

Ruth has a small cedar chest I made when I was in the 6th grade. Hazel sold some old hens to get the two dollars to pay for the lumber.

Hazel's care for me was echoed throughput the whole Reeve clan. All of her sisters and brothers as well as Grandma and Grandpa Reeve accepted me as their own. Grandpa Reeve told me many times
that I was as dear to him as his own grandchildren

I was completely grief stricken at Hazel's funeral. Losing her after the loss of the other relatives and friends in the past two years was just, the breaking point. When I told Dr. Beltz before the funeral he said that no human could comfort me€, but God could.

God is slowly easing the pain and He has given me assurance that I will see Hazel after this life - as I remember her singing in the "Land of Unclouded Day."

Written by Lloyd Lawry 1/11/95

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Strawberries and Rugs

This story was written by my daughter Cynda when she was in high school.  My Uncle Lloyd Lawry saved the story and included it in a collection of family stories and writings of his own.

Strawberries and Rugs
by Cynda Lawry

When I go to the back of my mind I can only remember two things about Great-Grandma Lawry. Her strawberries are my most pleasant memory about her. They were mashed and full of sugar. She had to satisfy the Lawry sweet tooth.

Dad tells a story about Grandma Lawry and one of her sisters. They were bickering over whose strawberries were the best. He would always laugh and say that mixing a pint of each would make the best strawberries ever.

My second memory of Grandma Lawy endears me to her even though I hardly knew her. She was dying. I didn't know that then. She had been admitted into St. Joseph Hospital in Fort Smith. Her condition was absolutely hopeless. The doctor said she was going to die and might as well die at home rather than in a lonely hospital room. My parents, Grandma Pat, and Aunt Opal took me when they went to get her.

When we entered the hospital it was new and intimidating. The hospital seemed humongous and overwhelming. Nothing in the small town I lived in could compare to this. Pale statues glared
at me critiquing my every move. I carefully contemplated each step because I didn't want to be convicted of some terrible crime.I gazed curiously at some funny looking ladies in bizarre clothes. They wore plain black dresses that came to about the middle of their calves. Long black fabric was draped over their heads.

Grandma's room was upstairs so we took the elevator. In front of it their was a brass plaque in the shape of a tree. Light reflected off of it scattering the colors of the rainbow everywhere. Each leaf was an individual plaque thanking some hospital supporter.

Riding the elevator was extremely exciting because I hardly ever rode in elevators. The First National Bank was the only building in Mena (the town where I lived) that had an elevator

"Ding", the elevator stopped. I exited quickly because I was afraid the doors would close on
me. Even today I'm afraid of being squeezed to death by those doors.

To the left of the elevator was a gift shop. Its walls were made of glass. Through them you could see all the neat but useless trinkets that attracted the eye.

Aunt Opal took me inside. She bought me a little Christmas ornament. It was a green stuffed cat. The cat laid with its head up and it tail hanging slightly curved. I still have that ornament, Every Christmas when I see it on the tree I think about Aunt Opal and Grandma Lawry.

When we went into Grandma Lawry's room I didn't care about my dying grandmother. I was captivated by the Rudolph special that was playing on the small television in the corner of the room. The only good spot to see television was from Grandma's bed. So I immediately began to crawl into it. Daddy jumped to stop me, but Grandma objected. She wanted me up me up there with her.

That is all I remember about my Grandma.  My parents thought I was too young to go to her funeral.  Even though I only have a few tidbits of information about her, I love her.  I know she loved me too.