Saturday, February 18, 2017

Liberty


When I was in school, I learned that the Pilgrims came to America aboard the Mayflower in search of religious freedom in 1620. The Puritans soon followed, for the same reason. Ever since the Pilgrims arrived millions from around the world have done the same, coming to an America where they found a welcome melting pot in which everyone was free to practice his or her faith.

Unfortunately, this isn’t true.  The arrival of the Pilgrims and Puritans in New England in the early 1600s was indeed a response to persecution that these religious dissenters had experienced in England. But the Puritan fathers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony did not tolerate opposing religious views. Their colony was a dictatorship that allowed no dissent, religious or political.

The most famous dissidents within the Puritan community, Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, were banished following disagreements over theology and policy. From Puritan Boston’s earliest days, Catholics were banned from the colonies, along with other non-Puritans. Four Quakers were hanged in Boston between 1659 and 1661 for standing up for their beliefs.

We remember from school that the Pilgrims came here to escape persecution and practice their beliefs freely. But just because they came here to practice their beliefs, doesn’t mean that they believed others had the same right.

Ministers like John Cotton preached that it was wrong to practice any religion other than Puritanism. Those who did would be helping the devil. They believed they followed the only true religion so everyone should be forced to worship as they did.


It was the desire for liberty of conscience that inspired the Pilgrims to brave the perils of the long journey across the sea, to endure the hardships and dangers of the wilderness, and with God's blessing to lay, on the shores of America, the foundation of a mighty nation.

Honest and God-fearing as they were, the Pilgrims did not comprehend the great principle of religious liberty. The freedom which they sacrificed so much to secure for themselves, they were not equally ready to grant to others.

True religious freedom in America started with the vision of one man, Roger Williams.  He was a trained minister in England and took holy orders in the Church of England.  Because of his Puritan sympathies, he had no chance of a job in the Anglican Church.  After graduating from Cambridge, Williams became the chaplain to a wealthy Puritan family.  In 1631 he traveled to the New World to be with other Puritans.  In Massachusetts, he was at odds with the authorities because of his beliefs that people should be free to follow their convictions in religious matters.  

In October 1635 he was tried by the General Court and convicted of sedition and heresy. He was then ordered to be banished. When the sheriff came to pick him up, he discovered that Williams had slipped away three days before during a blizzard. He walked through the deep snow of a hard winter the 105 miles from Salem to the head of Narragansett Bay where the local Indians offered him shelter and took him to the winter camp of their chief sachem, Massasoit, where he resided for 3 and a half months.


In the spring of 1636, Williams and some his followers from Salem began a settlement.  He called it "Providence" because he felt that God's Providence had brought him there.  He said that his settlement was to be a haven for those "distressed of conscience," and it soon attracted quite a collection of dissenters and otherwise-minded individuals.

Roger Williams believed that any effort by the state to dictate religion or promote any particular religious idea or practice was forced worship. He colorfully declared that "Forced worship stinks in the nostrils of God." He would write that he saw no warrant in the New Testament to use the sword to promote religious belief.  He believed that the moral principles in the Scriptures ought to inform the civil magistrates, but he observed that well-ordered, just, and civil governments existed where Christianity was not present. All governments had to maintain civil order and justice, but none had a warrant to promote any religion.

Most of Williams's contemporaries and critics regarded his ideas as a prescription for chaos and anarchy. The vast majority believed that each nation must have its national church, and that dissenters must be made to conform. Rhode Island was so threatening to its neighbors that they tried for the next hundred years to extinguish the "lively experiment" in religious freedom that began in 1636.

Are our feelings on Religious Liberty like those of Roger Williams, or are they more like the Puritans?  


Liberty of conscience is central to the gospel of Jesus Christ. God is love. John writes in 1 John 4:8-11, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. Here is how God showed his love among us. He sent his one and only Son into the world. He sent him so we could receive life through him. Here is what love is. It is not that we loved God. It is that he loved us and sent his Son to give his life to pay for our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us this much, we should also love one another.

The Bible teaches that we are called to liberty.  Along with this call for liberty, the Bible stresses loving others.  Romans 5:8 says,  “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  God loved us while we were still sinners, and he asks us to love our neighbors as ourselves.  He doesn’t ask us what our neighbors believe. 

In Luke 6:27 Jesus takes it even further. “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”  

We are to love one another. We are to love our neighbors. We are to love our enemies. Who else is left?   If God loved us so much that he gave us liberty, we should love others – even our enemies – enough to give them liberty. 

I think that it is important to realize that allowing someone the liberty to think and live as they want is not the same as condoning their actions.  Whether or not I agree with their point of view has nothing to do with my willingness to grant them the right to have that point of view.


I want to revisit the question; Are our feelings on religious liberty like those of Roger Williams, or are they more like the Puritans? The Puritans believed in religious liberty.  They just didn’t believe in it for others. If you haven’t thought much about religious liberty – and we seldom do if our liberties aren’t being taken from us – spend some time today thinking about it.  

Do I believe in religious liberty for people even if I disagree with them? What about other Christian denominations with different practices? What about the Muslim, the Buddhist, the Hindu or the Wiccan. What about the agnostic or the atheist. Do I believe in Religious Liberty for them? 

If we believe in religious liberty for all, we will not make disparaging or hateful remarks about anyone. John Wesley said, “Condemn no man for not thinking as you think. Let everyone enjoy the full and free liberty of thinking for himself. Let every man use his own judgment since every man must give an account of himself to God.” 



Wednesday, February 15, 2017

First Love

My An Arkie's Faith column from the February 15, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

A Senior in High School

When I was in high school, I was too shy to talk to girls. I was almost too shy to talk to boys. When I first went to high school, it was at a private school that only went to the tenth grade. When I transferred to another school at the beginning of my junior year, the only people that I would talk to were those whom I knew from my previous school.

Although I was too shy to talk to girls, that didn’t mean that I wasn’t interested. At the beginning of my senior year, there was a girl who stole my heart the first time she walked into Mr. Brost's history class. Because I was so shy, it was almost a year before she had any idea that I was interested. I think that God knew that I needed all of the help I could get, so he made it so that our paths crossed in several ways that year. Mr. Brost selected five students to work together each week producing learning packets for history class. The special girl and I were both in the group. We both worked at the local furniture factory.  I worked on the dresser jig, and she made drawers. I would spend my breaks back with the drawer makers, but she still didn't catch on.


Just before graduation, I lost my job at the furniture factory. I was accused of doing something that I hadn’t done, and the punishment was a two-week suspension. I told management that I was innocent, and if they persisted with the suspension, I would never be back. My sense of justice caused me to lose a good paying summer job. News of my trouble with management quickly made its way around the factory. When I picked up my personal items from the jig that I worked at, there was a soda can with a flower in it. It was from that girl back in the drawer making section. As angry as I was with the situation, I felt warm and tingly inside because it became obvious to me that the girl who had stolen my heart at the beginning of the year cared about me.

When it came time for our high school graduation, I still had never gotten up the nerve to ask her out. Finally, I mustered up every ounce of courage I could find and asked her if she would march with me when we graduated. She told me that she would like to, but she had already told another boy that she would march with him. She said that if I talked to the other boy, she would march with me. Once again summoning up every bit of courage I had I talked to him. He was very gracious and bowed out. I was on cloud nine.


On our very first date away from school, we went to an amusement park. I don’t handle motion well, and easily get carsick and seasick. As we were riding one of the rides, I kept feeling sicker and sicker. This was our first real date, and I felt terrible. I didn’t want her to know that I was too wimpy to ride amusement park rides. I said nothing and hoped that my nausea would pass. It didn’t. I threw up on the ride, all over both of us. She took me to her house and got some of her Dad’s clothes for me to change into while she washed mine. After my clothes had been washed and dried, we went back to the amusement park but didn’t ride anything but the train.

The rest is history. I knew that if our horrific first date didn’t end our relationship; she was as awesome as I had always thought. After a year-long relationship, with five hundred miles separating us, we were finally in the same place at the same time. I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this girl. On June 15, 1975, we married.

1975

I know that usually high school romances do not last forever and that when kids get married in their teens, the marriages aren't supposed to last, but we have proven those things wrong. It is still awesome to go through each day with my first love! I can't wait to see where this journey leads.

Many relationships don’t last. According to the National Vital Statistics System, In the United States, there is one divorce approximately every 36 seconds. For many people, it seems that it isn’t possible to maintain that first love. Many Christians also seem to have a problem maintaining their relationship with God.

Maybe your relationship with God isn’t what it once was. Do you remember when you first gave your life to Jesus? It was exciting to know that your sins had been forgiven. But have things changed? You still pray, sometimes. You still read the Bible, occasionally. You are willing to talk about Jesus, but only if someone asks about your beliefs.


What has happened? Probably the same thing that happened to the church of Ephesus. In Revelation 2:4 (NASB) Jesus told the church at Ephesus, “but I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”

Gentle Reader, are you are beginning to leave your first love? Was there a time when you were closer to God than you are today? God is calling you back to your first love. He wants you to find your happiness in Him. He wants you to experience that first love.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Saint Valentine and Valentine's Day



I love history and learning.  Many things we learn about history are a bit uncertain, but it is always a little frustrating when you can't find out with any certainty the history of someone or something. The origin of St. Valentine and Valentine's Day is one of those topics.

Who was Saint Valentine?  According to the website Catholic Online, The origin of St. Valentine, and how many St. Valentines there were, remains a mystery. One opinion is that he was a Roman martyred for refusing to give up his Christian faith. Other historians hold that St. Valentine was a temple priest jailed for defiance during the reign of Claudius. Whoever he was, Valentine really existed because archaeologists have unearthed a Roman catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to Saint Valentine. In 496 AD Pope Gelasius marked February 14th as a celebration in honor of his martyrdom.


It is unclear how the modern idea of celebrating Valentine's Day by giving gifts to your romantic partner started and evolved into the commercialized holiday that it is today.  According to market research, Valentine's Day sales reached $17.6 billion last year; this year's sales are expected to total $18.6 billion.

The first time Valentine's Day is associated with romantic love is in the poem titled Parlement of Foules, written in 1382 by Geoffrey Chaucer. Chaucer wrote: "For this was on St. Valentine's Day, when every bird comes there to choose his mate."  This poem was written to honor the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia. When they were married they were each only 15 years old.

Valentine's Day is mentioned by William Shakespeare in the play, Hamlet:
To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.


It became very popular for young men to write verses of poetry on a card and give them to their lovers.  As early as 1800, companies began mass-producing cards for those who had poor poetry skills.  In the United States, the first mass-produced valentines of embossed paper lace were produced in 1847.  The U.S. Greeting Card Association says that 190 million valentines are sent each year in the US. When you include the valentine cards exchanged by school children, the figure goes up to 1 billion.

I hope you have a great Valentine's Day.

Here is an awesome song written by my friend Paul to My Valentine.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Folk Mountain Music



Don and Donna Mohl, performing as Folk Mountain Gospel, will be in concert at the Mena Seventh-day Adventist Church on Fairgrounds Road on Saturday, February 11th at 11:00 A.M. Don and Donna have been traveling around the country since 1988, sharing the love of Jesus through song. Their music is a blend of “mountain” style and folk style gospel. They travel about 25 weekends of the year, which allows them to continue their "day jobs" during the week. They have held concerts in Mena many times over the last 20 years.


Their unique style of music blends biblical and traditional instruments such as the hammered dulcimer, bowed psaltery, zither, mountain dulcimer, mandolin, and guitar with their voices to provide a down-home, family oriented message of the love and grace of Jesus. Don and Donna sing the good old hymns of faith, more recent gospel songs and some songs that they have written related to family values, the grace of Jesus, and the love of God.  Don Mohl hand builds and sells, bowed psalteries, zithers, mountain dulcimers, and hammered dulcimers.

Everyone in the community is invited to attend this free concert. A love offering will be received. For more information about Don and Donna Mohl visit their website at www.folkmountaingospel.com 




Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Saving Moses

My An Arkie's Faith column from the February 8, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


Some years ago I came home from work one day and my wife met me at the door. "Do you hear that," my wife asked. “Yes,” I answered, “it sounds like a kitten.” Meow, Meooooow, Meooooooooow. “You better go check it out,” my wife said, “it sounds like a kitten is in trouble.”

We walked down the hill to the creek behind our house. The pitiful cries grew louder and louder. They were coming from a small gray kitten. He was caught in a tangle of roots on the creek bank. The kitten was on the far side of the creek. This meant that I had to walk down the creek to a place narrow enough to cross. I found a place where I could wade across the creek; then I fought my way through a mass of bushes and briars. When I finally reached the drenched kitten, he frantically held on to the roots. I had to pull with all my strength to get him out.

I was afraid that the kitten would fight like a little tiger because of how fiercely he had struggled; however, when I held him close, he melted into my chest. Almost immediately I heard a soft, gentle purring. “Hello, Moses,” I said, “your name will have to be Moses because I drew you out of the water.”


What were we going to do with a kitten? Our family had never owned a cat. We had always been dog people. Our dogs have always been pampered pets. Some people have even said that our dogs were the masters of the house. Now we had a tiny helpless kitten. What should we do with it? I guess it was ours.

We carried Moses to our back porch. My wife brought towels and an old pet taxi. We dried him off and made him a soft bed in the pet taxi. I put Moses down, and he immediately climbed my leg, perched on my shoulder, and purred in my ear.

Our back porch became the kitten’s home. He was firmly attached to it. The world beyond the back porch was a strange and scary place and he would not venture into that world. He refused to leave the back porch. If I carried him into the front yard, he would begin desperately clawing, fighting, and freaking out. He wanted down so that he could run back to the safety of the back porch.


When I remember how Moses came into our lives, it reminds me of how my relationship with God developed. I remember being in the creek. In Psalms 69:1-3 (NLT) David wrote about his experience in the creek. " Save me, O God, for the floodwaters are up to my neck. Deeper and deeper I sink into the mire; I can’t find a foothold. I am in deep water, and the floods overwhelm me. I am exhausted from crying for help; my throat is parched. My eyes are swollen with weeping, waiting for my God to help me.”

When Moses the kitten cried out someone came to rescue him. God has made a promise to us. "Call to Me, and I will answer you." Jeremiah 33:3 (NKJV)  When God answers our call, he will bring us to a place of safety.

Moses found a place of peace and safety on the back porch. He knew that as long as he was on the back porch, nothing bad was going to happen to him. God has provided a place of peace and safety for us. "Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing causes them to stumble." Psalms 119:165 (NKJV) We need to look at God's law the way that Moses looked at the back porch. He realized that the back porch was his place of peace and safety and he wanted to be there. When he was anyplace else, it made him very uncomfortable.


Many times we look at God's law as a jail. We feel that it creates uncomfortable restrictions. We need to ask God to give us a love for his commandments, to instill in us a desire for the peace and safety of His law. No one forced Moses to stay on our back porch; he stayed because he loved the feeling of security. That is how we should view God's law. "Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome.” 1 John 5:3 (NLT)

Just like Moses the kitty found that the front yard was a scary place, many people find the world frightening. It seems like the foundations of our society are crumbling beneath our feet because we are no longer a society that distinguishes right from wrong. God’s commandments are no longer the determination of what is right and wrong. “Christian morality is being ushered out of American social structures and off the cultural main stage, leaving a vacuum in its place — and the broader culture is attempting to fill the void,” reads a recent report by the Barna Group.


Gentle Reader, God’s commandments are like an umbrella. When you stay under the umbrella of God’s commandments, it protects you from many consequences. If you step out from under its protective cover, you suffer the consequences. Be like Moses the kitty and stay in the safety of God’s law. If you do, God promises in Leviticus 25:18 (NIV), “follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land.”

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Edge of Light


My favorite band is Smokey and the Mirror. I have seen them in concert many times. The most recent concert that I attended was last month at South on Main in downtown Little Rock. Because I am so familiar with their music, I always find it interesting to hear a new song for the first time. The South on Main concert was the first time I heard the song, The Edge of Night. I really like the new song.  It was one of several songs that I videoed that night.



Recently Bryan Hembree of Smokey and the Mirror posted a story about the song, The Edge of Night on social media. The story filled the song with new meaning and understanding for me. I contacted Bryan and asked him for permission to share his story on An Arkie's Musings. He graciously agreed. This is his story.

"Last May, Bayard Blain and I got caught on the road in the middle of a tornado on the road to the Kerrville Folk Festival. I was terrified. There I was with my good buddy, in the Sprinter van. Bayard had been a co-pilot and travel partner for at least 50,000 miles in that same van and I had never felt so sure that it might be the last mile. I had visions of 12 beautiful guitars in shards strewn out across the Oklahoma prairie." (Bayard is an amazing luthier who builds beautiful one of a kind custom instruments.)


Bryan continued, "ultimately, we made it through. An answered prayer. The next day I started noodling on a new song. Johann Wagner and I stole away and in an hour we had finished it. Bernice and I just started playing in at our last few shows."

He concluded his post by saying, "may we all find our way out of the darkness. I believe in you. I believe in the human spirit." To that, I add a hearty Amen!




If you enjoy meaningful singer-songwriter music you can listen to Smokey and the Mirror's latest album, Thin Black Line, by clicking here.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Finishing the Job

My An Arkie's Faith column from the February 1, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


A couple of years ago I received a phone call from a customer in Alexandria, Louisiana. He had a 1965 Chevrolet pickup, and he wanted to get it painted. I gave him a price for painting a pickup and didn’t think much more about it. Why would someone from Alexandria have a vehicle painted in Mena?  A few weeks later he called back and said that he was planning to drive the pickup to Mena to drop it off to be painted.

The day that he was supposed to drop off the vehicle, he called and said that he was running late. He had been having some mechanical problems. After several calls with updates on his problems he let me know that he would be in town around 10:00 p.m. We made arrangements to meet at my shop. It was a dark rainy night, but even in those conditions I could see that the pickup was in very rough shape. I considered telling my customer that the condition of his truck was so bad that I didn’t want the job, but he had just driven all day and had so many problems that I couldn’t tell him no. I did tell him that the pickup was in much worse shape than he had described it and that I would take the job with the understanding that I would only work on it when I had no other better-paying jobs in my shop.

The next morning when I inspected the truck in the daylight, my heart sank. It was much worse than I had thought it was the night before. It seemed like every square inch of the body was damaged. Every panel had major dents, and there were large rusted out areas on both doors and both bedsides. This was going to be a very time-consuming project. I contacted the customer and told him all of the problems that I had found but that I would keep my word and paint his truck for the agreed upon price. Because of the terrible condition of the vehicle, I said that I could make no promises about how long it would take. He understood that it would be a fill in project and that I would only work on when I had absolutely nothing else to do.


That was two years ago, and the project still isn’t completed, although I am now close to finishing it. Over the past two years, I have done anything possible to avoid working on this vehicle. My distaste for working on the 65 Chevy has become a standing joke to friends and regular customers who have been watching my “progress” on the project.

I have a job to do, and I have not been diligent about getting it done. I have gone out of my way to do anything else besides working on it. Finishing the job hasn’t been a priority for me.

Jesus has given us a job to do. In Mark 16:15 (NET) Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Our job is to preach the gospel. We need to take our job seriously. Jesus knew what his job was. In Luke 4:42,43 (NET) we read, “the next morning Jesus departed and went to a deserted place. Yet the crowds were seeking him, and they came to him and tried to keep him from leaving them. But Jesus said to them, ‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns too, for that is what I was sent to do.’”

Jesus knew that his job was to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God and He has passed the job on to those who follow Him. I’m afraid that too often I treat the job Jesus has given me just like I treat the job I have to paint the 1965 Chevrolet Pickup. I have done anything to avoid working on the pickup, and I avoid doing the job Jesus has given me.

We have an obligation to let people know that the kingdom of God is near. “Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near.” Joel 2:1 (RSV)


From my experience, it seems that the majority of us are not blowing the trumpet. We aren’t doing our job. Why do you think that is? We are to make the message plain. We are to blow the trumpet clear. 1 Corinthians 14:7,8 (NKJV) tells us that, “Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played?  For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?”

I think that a big part of it is that we don’t know what sound the trumpet is to make. And when we do blow the trumpet, it is the trumpet of politics – or social change – or lifestyle, but not the gospel. We blow a trumpet with an uncertain sound.


Gentle Reader, let’s finish the job that we have been given to do; proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. Our job isn’t to straighten out the political beliefs of others. Our job isn’t to point out the faults of others. Our job isn’t to prove other religions false. And our job isn't to hate those we disagree with. Our job is to give people the good news found in John 3:16 (NKJV) “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.” Don’t get sidetracked, let’s focus on finishing the job.