Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015 Top 10

2015 is almost over.  Here is a list of the top ten most viewed posts of 2015 on An Arkies Musings.  It is always interesting to me to see what topics other people are interested in.

The most viewed post from 2015 was Caddo Lake.  We spent a weekend in February in Uncertain, Texas on the shores of Caddo Lake.  It was so eerily beautiful and relaxing.  We rented a lovely house on the lake shore called Hoot n Holler.  Caddo Lake is on the border of northeast Texas and northwest Louisiana.  It includes one of the best examples in the southern United States of a mature bald cypress forest, and is one of the largest cypress forests in the world.  The moss-draped cypress groves are beautiful.  You can read the post here.

The second most viewed post was Rebecca Loebe.  In April my wife and I saw Rebecca Loebe in concert at Eureka House Concerts in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.  We first saw Rebecca Loebe in concert at The Blue Door in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  The Eureka Springs concert was in a beautiful old church and there was a potluck before the concert. Rebecca Loebe is an amazing singer-songwriter, but the best thing about her concert was her ability to make you feel like she was just singing to some friends of hers and by the end of the evening you really felt like you knew her. You can read the post here.

He's Alive - a post from April 3, 2015 - was the third most viewed post of the year.  It is a condensed version of a sermon that I gave at the Mena Seventh-Day Adventist Church.  The sermon was inspired by a Don Fransisco song.   Don’s music often tells a story and “He’s Alive” is one of his best. It tells the story of the resurrection of Jesus from Peter’s point of view.  You can read the post here.

As born again Christians, people adopted into the family of God, we are called to form a new kind of community where people show each another the same grace we have received from God. My July 17, 2015 post titled Born Again made it to number 4 for the year.  You can read the post here.

In June of this year, the band Smokey and the Mirror had their album Thin Black Line removed from Spotify because too many of their fans were listening to the album too many times. I was one of those fans. I attended the Album Fundraiser Concert for this album.  My fifth most popular post of the year was the story of Smokey and the Mirror's dealing with Spotify.  You can read the post here.

In Matthew 18:3 Jesus said, "unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven".  My post titled Little Children was the sixth most read post of the year.  You can read the post here.

The seventh most read post of this year was The Effects of Epilepsy.  I had been contacted by Healthline.com and asked if I would share the article with my readers.  They had seen my post on Epilepsy and thought that it would be a great resource for An Arkie's Musings readers.  The article was written by Ann Pietrangelo and medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA
You can read the post here.

My eight year old granddaughter Rebekah loves to take photos.  On our trip to Jefferson, Texas, I let her use my camera one afternoon.  As a proud Papa I was impressed with the photos she took and wrote a blog post titled Young Photographer, sharing some of her photos. It became the eighth most read post of the year.  You can read the post and see her photos here.

Number nine for the year is a post from August 22, 2015 titled Pharisees. It is another condensed version of a sermon that I gave at the Mena Seventh-Day Adventist Church. You can read the post here.

The final post in the top ten of 2015 is from September 11, 2015 and is titled September 11.  Every year when September 11th comes again, emotions of Americans are heightened as we remember September 11, 2001. Most Americans can remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the awful news that airplanes had crashed into the World Trade Center.  But this post is about September 11, 1857 which was the date of one of the worst massacres in American history.  You can read the post here.  

The post Strawberries and Rugs was one of my favorite of the year. The 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.  You can read the post here

I can't wait to see what adventures and experiences 2016 will bring.  I wonder what the top ten posts of 2016 will be.

You can read the Top 10 posts of 2014 here.

You can read the Top 10 posts of 2013 here.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Mother's Christmas Program

While he was at a family reunion, my Dad was given a story written by my cousin, Toni Ehrhardt. The story takes place during the Great Depression and centers around two little girls. Here is a photo of those two little girls.

                                  IRENE AND HENRIETTA

Mother's Christmas Program
by Toni Ehrhardt

My mother,Irene Dannels Woolery was born in 1925 on a small farm near Altoona, Kansas. Times weren't easy at the Dannel's Place nor most other places for that matter. I remember my mother telling me that most of the time, the family had a nice Christmas dinner of baked chicken, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, hot rolls and pumpkin pie. Possibly, they had gingerbread, fudge and mady taff. I'm just guessing they had milk, water or home-made cider to drink.

For Christmas, the kids, (my mom and her sisters and brothers), usually got a nickel, an orange, and some gift my grandparents made for them. For example, my grandpa made little tractors out of spools and rubber bands and my grandma made rag dolls or teddy bears and made outfits for them.

The family went to cut down a Christmas tree and decorated their tree with popcorn, little ornaments they made at home, church, or school and possibly with little pieces of ribbon or bits of lace. They went to school and church programs and especially enjoyed those things as well as big family dinners with lots of cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Times, of course, got even rougher in the 1930's. I remember my mother telling me that my Grandma Zenella Reeve Dannels, had one dress and one pair of overalls. Naturally, the girls didn't have many clothes either but somewhere around 1939 when my mom was about 14, my grandma promised the girls (My mom, Irene and my aunt, Henrietta, who were still in school that she would make them both a nice Christmas dress for their Christmas program at Buffville School.

My mother always loved clothes and shoes, so she was in a rush to get home from school that day to see the dresses that my grandmother, an adequate and basic seamstress, had made for her and Etta. So the two girls hurried in on that cold Winter day anxious to see their new dresses.

The girls ran to my grandmother and asked, "Where are the dresses you made for us for the School Program? My grandmother replied, "I'm sorry, girls. I simply didn't have the time to make any dresses for you. You'll just have to do with your best dress this time. I'm sorry."

My Aunt Henrietta didn't get so upset but my mother was absolutely devastated. She had imagined a new red velvet dress and she was practically sick that my grandmother hadn't made dresses for them. She was mad too, because my grandmother had definitely promised the girls new dresses for this event, which was one of the most important programs of the season.

About that time, the girls heard a car coming and a car horn honking, honking, honking. They ran to see who it was because they weren't expecting anybody and they also had to hurry to get washed up and primped for the program. They were a little surprised to see their oldest brother, Walter Dannels, and his cute young wife, Stelline (Hoobler) Dannels, coming in the door carrying boxes.

"Are you two coming to our Christmas program?" my Mom asked.  "Sure are!" Walter said, grinning. "Now you two girls better hurry and get all fixed up so I won't be so embarrassed that you're my little sisters!" "Come on," Stelline told the two younger girls. "Now get in there and I'll help you fix your hair!"

All three of the girls crowded into the girls' bedroom and my Mom asked, "Hey, Stelline, what's in the box?"  "Never you mind. Just get your school clothes off and hang them up. And you need to hurry. I've made some sandwiches and cookies for us to eat".  Then Stelline started opening the boxes. She pulled out two of the prettiest dresses my Mom and Aunt Etta had ever seen.

"Oh, Stelline, Thank you! Thank you! We had no idea you were making us Christmas dresses! Oh, they're so pretty!"  "I just love mine, too. They are so cute and stylish. Thank you!"  "Now stop blubbering and get those dresses on," Walter hollered.

The two girls got the dresses on, and they fit perfectly. Stelline also whipped a comb and brush through their hair and sprayed on a tad of Evening in Paris perfume. "You two girls will be the belles of the ball" she told them smiling at their happy excited faces.

About that time my grandparents came in with some eggs and a milk pail to leave in the cellar. "You two girls sure look nice!" my Grandma said. "Wasn't it nice of Stelline to make your Christmas dresses when I really couldn't find the time."

My Grandpa Earl Dannels said, "You girls look dandy. I'm really going to feel proud tonight!" "Oh Stelline, you've made this the best Christmas Program ever!" the two girls said, smiling widely.


Note from Toni Ehrhardt: My Aunt Stelline (Hoobler) Dannels passed away in 1968, much too young. She had a special talent of looking at a dress and the person who wanted it and sewing it up in no time. Everything she made looked like it came from Vogue. She also was a very good cook. I remember especially that she made wonderful Turkey Pie. She is sadly missed by her children and family.

Stelline Elizabeth Hoobler was born November 30, 1916 in Jasper, Alabama and died May 13, 1968. She was buried in Evergreen Cemetery, El Centro, California . She married Walter Louis Dannels December 4, 1935 in Erie, Kansas. He was born April 24, 1914 in Altoona, Kansas and died August 19, 1998. He was buried in Evergreen Cemetery, El Centro, California.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Most Popular - Christmas Gifts

This is a repost of my most viewed blog post with over 10,000 views.  I hope you enjoy it.


As Christmas approaches one of the things that most people focus on is gift giving.  We spend a lot of money and time finding the right gifts for people that are important in our life.  Sometimes we fail in our gift giving.

One Christmas when my son was a young boy, we nearly ruined his Christmas with one particular gift.  One of the jobs that he was given around the house was sweeping the kitchen floor.  That Christmas we bought a stick vacuum cleaner and thought it would be funny to give to him as a gift.  When it was wrapped, the vacuum was the largest gift under the tree.  When my son saw that the largest gift had his name on it he was very excited.  His imagination went wild.  What could that present be?  His whole Christmas revolved around the largest gift under the tree.  When Christmas morning arrived, all he could think about was that gift.  When he opened it, he was so disappointed that the rest of his Christmas presents couldn't make up for the vacuum cleaner fiasco.

Have you ever been disappointed by a gift?  Has someone been disappointed by the gift you gave them?  What about great gifts?  What is the best gift you have ever received? What made it so special? Was it the value of the gift? Was it the person who gave it to you? Was it because it was so unexpected?

As I think about this question I find it hard to narrow down one particular gift as the best. There is one gift that I received that was very special for a number of reasons. One of the reasons this particular gift was special is that I still don’t know who gave me the gift. Let me tell you the story.

In February 2004, 17 members of my church raised 20,000 dollars and went to San Pedro, Belize in Central America to build a church. While we were there we made lots of friends. We were only in San Pedro for a short time, but by the time we left the walls of the church were finished. During the following months, the church members in San Pedro finished the church building. Plans were made for a church dedication service to be held in February 2005. I was invited to come to the dedication service. I really wanted to go. This church building project had been very important to me, and I had made many friends in San Pedro that I wanted to see again. There was just one problem. I couldn’t afford the trip.

Woman In Red

One day I received a letter in the mail from Fare Finders Travel. Why were they sending me a letter? When I opened the letter I was surprised by what it said. Please come in to Fare Finders to make arrangements for a round trip ticket to Belize. Someone has paid for the ticket, but they want to remain anonymous. I couldn’t believe it. My wife immediately tried to figure out who the anonymous donor was. She still hasn’t cracked the case. It is still an unsolved mystery. The mysterious ticket has to be one of the best gifts I have ever received.

We made plans to go back to San Pedro. As we packed and attended to all the details of the trip, the mystery giver was in our thoughts. Who was this person who had given such a meaningful and valuable gift? How could we thank the giver?

Our trip to Belize was wonderful. It was very special to me to see the completed church building. The dedication service was beautiful and moving with people from several different countries participating. We got reacquainted with friends that we had made the year before, and made many new friends the 10 days that we were there. Many times friends would stop by our room with gifts such as fresh coconut water, papaya, or some small trinket. On the last day we were in San Pedro, there was a steady stream of visitors at our room. They wanted to tell us goodbye. Most of them brought a gift.

Belizean Friends

We received one gift that was very special to me. My wife made a special friendship with a little 2 year old boy who spoke only Spanish. Whenever he would see her his face would light up. He didn’t understand English, but he understood the language of love. The day we were leaving he and his 4 year old sister came to our door with a gift. They gave us a well worn 1941 Walking Liberty half dollar. I have no idea how this little family had come into possession of this coin, or why they gave it to me. Even though the monetary value of the coin is only a few dollars it is one of the most precious gifts I have ever received.

San Pedro Angel

I learned an important spiritual lesson on my trip to Belize. I learned it from the people that I met. They had such a desire to do something for us. Even though they had only meager possessions, they had such a desire to please. They wanted to see us before we left. They had to bring us a gift. It was very important to them. To me that showed how I should relate to God. God, I don’t have anything but I want to give you something. God let me know what I can do to please you. God I want to be with you.

He's Alive

In Romans 6:23 the Bible tells us “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord”. God has given you the best gift ever, what will you give God this Christmas?

Monday, December 7, 2015


I must admit that I have never liked Xmas as an abbreviation for Christmas.  It just seems a bit flippant and unnecessary. In today's culture where many Christians perceive a war against Christmas, they see the use of Xmas as an attempt to secularize the season by taking Christ out of Christmas.

I must admit that I agreed with those sentiments until I actually looked into the history of the use of Xmas.  Originally, Xmas was an abbreviation where the X represents the Greek letter chi, which is the first letter of Christ's name in Greek, ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ. However, because of the modern interpretations of the letter X, many people are unaware of this and assume that this abbreviation is meant to drop Christ from Christmas.

According to R. C. Sproul in his book, Now That's a Good Question, the idea of X as an abbreviation for the name of Christ came into use in our culture with no intent to show any disrespect for Jesus. The church has used the symbol of the fish historically because it is an acronym. Fish in Greek (ichthus) involved the use of the first letters for the Greek phrase “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” So the early Christians would take the first letter of those words and put those letters together to spell the Greek word for fish. That’s how the symbol of the fish became the universal symbol of Christendom. There’s a long and sacred history of the use of X to symbolize the name of Christ, and from its origin, it has meant no disrespect.

The Greek letter Χ, or Chi, was a common abbreviation for "Christ" in past religious writings. Its usage can be traced as far back as the 4th century in Rome, and to 1021 AD in historic Anglo-Saxon manuscripts. Xmas began to be used in English starting in the 1500′s. Webster’s dictionary acknowledges that the abbreviation Xmas was in common use by the middle of the sixteenth century.

In an article on the subject of Xmas written by Dennis Bratcher, he states, "Xmas is not a modern invention to try to convert Christmas into a secular day, nor is it a device to promote the commercialism of the holiday season.  Its origin is thoroughly rooted in the heritage of the Church.  It is simply another way to say Christmas, drawing on a long history of symbolic abbreviations used in the church. In fact, as with other abbreviations used in common speech or writing (such as Mr. or etc.), the abbreviation "Xmas" should be pronounced "Christmas" just as if the word were written out in full, rather than saying "exmas."

Even though we know from history that it isn't offensive to use “Merry Xmas,” do be aware that some still find it so, so use good judgment when using the abbreviation “Xmas.”

Merry Xmas every one from An Arkie's Musings - pronounced properly of course.  :)

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Do You Know?

Most people don't like to take tests.  It makes them nervous. Some occupations require passing a test before you can be licensed to work, such as Nursing, Law, Civil Service jobs and many others.  This can create a lot of anxiety in people.  Waiting to find out if you passed is very stressful.

When I was in high school I had a teacher who told us that if we had an A in the class we wouldn’t have to take the final exam.  I didn’t like to take finals, so I worked hard at making an A.  The Monday of finals week the teacher posted the grades.  I looked and I had an A-.  I was relieved; I wouldn’t have to take the final exam.  Then the teacher told me that I would have to take the final exam because only those who had an A were exempt and I had an A-.  I argued that an A- was still an A but it didn’t do me any good.  I had to take the final exam.

Many Christians go through life like they are in school, always wondering how they are doing in their grades, and are they making a passing grade.  They spend their lives in anxiety about the outcome.
They have the belief that they cannot know if they are saved or lost! Many don't have that assurance of salvation.

The Bible has a lot to say on this topic. You can have assurance that you are saved.

How many people here are married? How many of you don't know if you're married or not? How do you know that you are married?  You can know if your married or not. Well can you know if you are saved? Surely you can know. How many know that you are going to be married 10 years from now for sure? Now that’s a different question isn’t it?

We can know if we are saved today, but only God knows the future. But let us not be bashful about knowing in our heart whether or not we are in a saved condition right now. We need to know that. Philippians 4:7 tells us that, "God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus".

The devil doesn't want you to know if we are saved or not!  He is your accuser.  Revelation 12:10 tells us , “Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.

Satan wants you to believe that God has made impossible demands on you and that you cannot measure up to what God want’s from you.  Too often Christians not only believe his lies but spread them to others.

Works oriented Christians know they don’t measure up.  They know that the wages of sin is death.  They have a hard time believing that eternal life is actually a gift of God. Jesus wants you to know in your heart that you are saved. In John 6:47 Jesus says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life”.

He who believes on Jesus has everlasting life. If you believe, you have it. Is there a doubt there? There is no doubt. Do you believe that verse? Many Christians do not believe that verse, or John 3:16 where Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”.

That's clear, isn't it? It's very simple. So, how do you know if you're saved or not? If you believe in Jesus, if you trust in Jesus, if you have faith in Jesus, you have eternal life. It's that simple.

Let’s look at John 20:31, "But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." How do you get that life? By believing. Isn't that beautiful? By believing you have life.

If you believe, you have it. You are saved, if you believe.

You can read my blog post on the four steps to salvation here.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Confess, Ask, Believe, Receive

Confess, ask, believe, receive:  These are four steps to the assurance that you have been saved.

1. CONFESS - The Bible tells us in I John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness".

If I flip the light switch, the light will shine.  If I turn the key, the car will start. If I confess my sins, God will forgive my sins.  It all depends on me. I have to confess.

Remember that God has promised to forgive.  Isaiah 43:25 tells us that, " I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins".  And Micah 7:19 says, "You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea".

Don't try to do God's work for Him. This is where our doubt of our salvation comes in, because we're basing our salvation on our works. We need to base our salvation on Jesus Christ and His works, His righteousness. That's where we get assurance from. To confess means to admit your sins in sorrow, and let Jesus give you the victory.

2. ASK  -  In Luke 11:9, we are taught that we should ask and God will answer. It's up to us to do the asking. Eternal life is a gift.  The Bible tells us in Romans 6:23 that "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord". Can you earn a gift? At Christmas time, can you earn your gifts? At birthday times, can you earn a gift? You can't do it. And salvation is a gift. It's not a wage. We cannot earn it or any part of it. We cannot save ourselves.

If you ask Jesus to save you, he will save you because He has promised to be your Savior. If we receive Christ and His salvation, we are saved, and we're saved right now. I John 5:12 say,s "He who has the Son has life"! It's that simple. If you have Jesus you have eternal life.

3. BELIEVE - John 6:40 says, "For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." Believe! You need to believe. Not like a person believes in skydiving. I believe in skydiving, but I avoid it.

Blondin, who is considered to be one of the greatest tightrope-walkers of all time, became famous for crossing Niagra Falls on a tightrope. In 1860 a Royal party from Britain that included the Prince of Wales saw Blondin cross the tightrope on stilts, and again blindfolded. After that he stopped halfway across and cooked and ate an omelet. Next he wheeled a wheelbarrow from one side to the other, and returned with a sack of potatoes in it.  Then Blondin approached the Royal party. He asked the Prince of Wales, "Do you believe I could take a man across the tightrope in this wheelbarrow?"  "Yes, I do", said the Prince.  "Hop in, then", replied Blondin.  Well, the Prince declined Blondin's challenge. He might have believed Blondin could do it, but he wasn't about to trust him with his life.

You need to believe in salvation with all your heart. We have to trust Jesus. If you can have that relationship with Jesus, you have eternal life.  Romans 10:9 says, "if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved".

So, we confess our sins to Him, we ask Him for salvation, and we believe that He does save us. And then...

4. RECEIVE -  You must receive it. At Christmas you're never going to enjoy what's inside that package unless you receive it and open it, are you? It won't happen. Salvation must be received. You can't believe that it is yours and not take it or use it. You must receive it.

Here is an illustration to answer the question, how do I know I am saved?  What is the difference between a hog and a sheep? If they both happen to come up to a mud puddle and fall in the mud puddle, one difference is the hog enjoys it. He's down in it making the most of it. He's in hog heaven, a mud hole.

What happens to the sheep when he falls in the mud hole? Does he like it? No! He wants to get out of there.  And when he gets out, is he happy with the mud that's on his wool? No! He says, "Please wash me. Make me white again." Do you see the difference between a hog and a sheep? They both end up in the mud puddle occasionally by accident, but the sheep hates it. He can't stand it. That's how you know the difference between a hog and a sheep.

If you sin, and you think, "that was kind of enjoyable. I'd like to do that again." You may be a hog. But, if you get in that mudhole, if you sin, and you hate it, and when you get out of it you say to God, "please forgive me. Please cleanse me." That's a mark of a true Christian.

Do you know that you're saved? Every morning Jesus renews His love with you, He's there. He's real. Believe and trust in Jesus and you're going to be with Him in heaven.  Remember: Confess, Ask, Believe and Receive.  Jesus wants you to have the peace that comes from knowing that he has saved you.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


I've always wanted to be a shepherd.  No I haven’t really wanted to live alone with a herd of sheep; I have always coveted the experience of the shepherds on that first Christmas night.

God could have chosen to reveal this most important announcement to anyone on earth.  But instead of assigning the angels to visit some of the most important people on earth, God sent the angels to speak to humble shepherds, who most people didn't consider important.

The shepherds would have been watching over their flocks while the sheep and lambs rested or grazed on grass from the hillsides. While the shepherds were prepared to deal with any danger that threatened their animals, they were shocked and scared by witnessing the angels' appearance. That’s why the angels told them, “don’t be afraid”.

The angels reassured the terrified shepherds that they had good news for them. Since the shepherds raised the lambs that were sacrificed to atone for people's sins each spring on Passover, the shepherds would have well understood the importance of the Messiah's arrival to save the world from sin. Many historians believe that Jesus Christ was  born in the spring around Passover.  In John 1:29, the Bible refers to Jesus as the "lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world".

Long before electric lights were invented, the fields around Bethlehem would have been very dark. Suddenly a bright light broke into the black night, as the sky above Bethlehem filled with a multitude of angels.

The announcement of the birth of Jesus was marked by the light of many angels appearing in all of their heavenly glory.  As amazing as the experience must have been, seeing angels appearing in the night sky, that’s not the part of the experience that intrigues me the most. It is what happened next.

The Bible tells the story in Luke 2:15-18: "When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them."

Imagine what it must have been like to be one of the first people to see the baby Jesus!  I can just feel the excitement these humble shepherds felt.  The just had to tell people of their experiences.  Can you imagine being a part of those conversations! Even in the days before media such as television and the internet, word traveled fast that something amazing was happening.

Even though I will never be a shepherd or experience the things that the humble shepherds of Bethlehem experienced on that first Christmas, I can follow their example.  I can spread the word about the baby Jesus.  I can be excited about Jesus and what he means to this world.  That is what Christmas is all about.  Let’s all be shepherds!

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".