Saturday, July 22, 2017

Table of Contents




A Gentle God
Waiting For Sunrise
Mother's Day
All You Need Is Love - 5/11/2016
What is Truth?
Newborns
Serenity
Tornado Remembered
Opening Day
Urethane Stains
Unselfish Christianity
Now!
The Missouri River
He's Alive - 3/23/2016
Second Death
My Little Rambler
Theology in the Raw
Kermit the Snake
The Blustery Day - 3/02/16
Atticus Finch - 2/24/16
Was Jonah Right?
Algebra Concepts - 2/17/16
Grandkids - 2/10/16
George the Sea Lion - 2/03/16
I'm Sorry - 1/27/16
Open My Eyes - 1/20/16
Tornado Warnings - 1/13/16
Love = God
One Little Candle - 1/07/16
Do You Know?
Confess, Ask, Believe, Receive
A Time For Rest
Lessons From Little League
Pharisees
Don't Be Dissapointed
Born Again
Little Children
I'm Sorry
Rejoice With Me
He's Alive
I Think I Can
You Did It To Me
You Did It To Me - Part 2
The Golden Rule
Nicolas N. Scott Eulogy
Grace Happens all Around Us
Overflowing Grace
Passion
Bears
Stranded
A Picture of God
Plato's Soul
Unforgivable
How Much Are You Worth?
Failure To Thrive
Voyage to Tarshish
Tolerance
Jump
Liberty
Power
Memorial
Criticize or Encourage
The First Lie
Reunion
Reflections On Our Flooding
Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone
My Jewels
Marching To Zion
Deep Water
The Seventh- Day Adventist Church
Your GPS
Back Roads
Road Of Death
What Did Jesus Do?
Who Do You Think You Are
Let Them Eat Cake
Belief Or Trust
Speeding Tickets
Dirty Hands
Even Our Adversaries
Love And Hate 
The Roman Road
All You Need Is Love
Shepherds
Thanksgiving Proclamations
I Can't Get No Satisfaction
For Want of a Nail
Walking With Papa
Identity Theft
Christmas Gifts
Thank God for Grace
The Verdict
Higher and Higher
Let Me Count the Ways
Body Armor
Orphans
Your Kindness
The Bridegroom
Unforgiven
Character Assasination
Like a Child
God's Will
Walking a Tightrope
Lasik
The List
Jesus Wept
Mowing
What a Friend
Spice
Are You Experienced?
Comfort Zone
Old Friends
My Resolution
Imagination
The Wisdom of Teeth
Taste and See
The Legend of the Candy Cane
Doom and Gloom
Any Road
Five Kernels of Corn
A Little Thanksgiving History
Justice Mercy Grace
The Hammered Dulcimer
Halloween Grace
Moses
Stop to Think
The Best Gift
Sludge
Rebekah's First Steps
Why?
What Matters Most

Passionate Christians


One of my favorite places to visit is Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Over the years we have visited there many times. Eureka Springs was founded in 1879. Judge J.B. Saunders claimed that his crippling disease was cured by the spring waters. Saunders started promoting Eureka Springs to friends and family members across the State and created a boom town. Within a period of little more than one year, the city grew from a rural village to a major city of 5,000 people. By 1889 it was the second largest city in Arkansas. With bath house cures falling out of favor, and the depression that hit the nation being particularly bad in Arkansas, Eureka Springs fell into decline during the 30's.

With the end of World War II, the era of the family car trip began. Businesses and services moved to the highway, rustic tourist courts and air-conditioned motels were built alongside diners and gift shops. Sights that had been horseback adventure were now attractions to the motoring tourist. The motoring public could turn-off Hwy 62 down 62B into the valley, follow the loop through the historic little Victorian city, and come back out on the highway.

When controversial far-right politician Gerald Smith retired in the 1960s, he and his wife bought a historic house in Eureka Springs and made the city one of their homes. He imagined building a magnificent statue of Christ, high above the city. He bought land east of the historic downtown and made plans to build the statue. He raised more than one million dollars from his friends and political contacts.

The Christ of the Ozarks statue was dedicated on June 25, 1966. The white mortar figure of Jesus Christ is seven stories tall and weighs almost two million pounds. The face itself is fifteen feet long, and the arms spread out sixty-five feet from fingertip to fingertip.

While he was inspecting the progress of the statue, Smith noticed the natural amphitheater nearby and imagined a passion-play-type outdoor drama, similar to the world-famous Passion Play in Germany. Construction began during the summer of 1967.

Bulldozers carved a 4,000-seat amphitheater out of the mountain, overlooking a 500-foot-wide “stage.” The set area depicts a street in Jerusalem and includes houses, stores, the temple, Pontius Pilate’s porch, King Herod’s porch, and a marketplace. Behind the city and up the hill are the Tomb, The Garden of Gethsemane, Calvary, and the house in Emmaus.

The Great Passion Play is performed several times a week each year, beginning in May and ending in October. Over the years I have attended the Passion Play numerous times. Have you ever wondered why we refer to a play about the final week in the life of Jesus as a passion play? You may have never thought about it, but I have a curious mind, and I needed to know.

I looked the word passion up in the dictionary and found the following meanings.
1.  Extreme compelling emotion a) great anger or rage  b) enthusiasm or fondness  c) strong love or affection  d)  lust
2.  Object of any strong desire or fondness
3.  Any one of the emotions: hate, grief, love, fear, joy
4.  Suffering or agony
5.  The suffering of Jesus

I studied the origin of the word passion and found out that in approximately 1175 this word was adopted from Old French to Old English and meant the sufferings of Christ on the Cross.
The word passion once adopted from Old French only took fifty years to expand its range of meanings. By 1225, passion had not only extended to mean the sufferings of martyrs but was used as the word to describe suffering in general.

By the late 14th century passion extended its meaning to describe strong emotion or desire.  During the 16th-century, passion was used to describe a fit or outburst of anger or rage. Around this time, a literary composition that showed strong emotion was known as a “passion.”

The word passion picked up romantic connotations in the late Middle English period and was first used as meaning “romantic love” in 1588. By the mid 17th century passion had expanded its meaning again by describing anything that was pursued with very strong enthusiasm. The original meaning of passion, as the sufferings of Jesus, fell out of common usage in the 1600’s.

I studied the word passion in my bible concordance. In the King James Version, the word passion, meaning the suffering of Jesus, is found only in one verse. Acts 1:3 “To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”

The Greek word used in this verse is Pascho. It is used 41 times in the King James Version, translated 38 times as suffer, one time as vexed, one time as felt, and in Acts 1:3 as passion.

Do you know anyone who has a passion for something? Last year we had an election in this country, and I found that many people were very passionate about their candidate or political party.

I have met many Christians who are passionate about their beliefs. Often they focus on just a few hot button topics. I find it sad that I seldom meet someone who is passionate about Jesus and what He has done for us. And it is even rarer to find a Christian who is passionate about the sinners that Jesus came to seek and save.

My question for you today is, do you have a passion for Jesus? Are you passionate about the world, not willing that any should perish? What is at the top of the list of your priorities? Matt 22:35-40 (NKJV) “Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Whatever you are passionate about is meaningless if you do not have a passion for God and for the well being of your neighbors.

Matt 23:23,24 (NKJV) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”

Jesus didn’t say that we shouldn’t follow the fine points of the law, but He wants us to focus on the weightier matters. How do you think Jesus feels when we lose our passion for Him and replace it with a mechanical, formal orthodoxy.

Revelation 2:4 (NKJV) “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” Does Jesus have something against you, have you lost your first love. Are you passionate about Jesus? When you have a passion, others know it.

Passion is more than mere formality and habit. It is enthusiasm; it is strong love and affection. To have a passionate church full of love for one another and love for everyone in our community, we must each one personally become passionate about Jesus.

I am writing to myself. In a small church sometimes we get so involved in the operation of the church we lose sight of the reason for church. When others look at me, do they see a passion for Jesus? When others look at you, do they see a passion for Jesus? When you are passionate about something, others know it. Many Christians are passionate about condemning others. What passions do others see in us?

2017 is recognized as the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. in 1517 Martin Luther wrote a document attacking the Medival Church’s corrupt practice of selling indulgences to absolve sin. His “95 Theses,” had two central beliefs. One - that the Bible is the central religious authority; and two - that salvation is only by faith in Jesus, and not by works. These ideas called Sola Scriptura – by Scripture alone, and Solo Christo – through Christ alone, were the catalyst for the Protestant Reformation.

As Protestants, we want to make Jesus the center of our all, and we want all of Jesus to be at the center. For it is only Jesus – in His completeness – that is really worth having at our center. Jesus really must be our passion. We shouldn’t be passionate about just a small portion of the gospel of Jesus; we should be passionate about the completeness of Jesus. His life, His message, His sacrifice, His love.

What do I mean by this? When we focus our passion on certain aspects of the truth instead of the completeness of Jesus, we shortchange ourselves and those around us.

Paul addressed this concept in 1 Corinthians 2:1,2 (NLV) "Christian brothers, when I came to you, I did not preach the secrets of God with big sounding words or make it sound as if I were so wise. I made up my mind that while I was with you, I would speak of nothing except Jesus Christ and His death on the cross."

I find it interesting that Paul was determined to speak of nothing except Jesus Christ and His death on the cross. Why did he focus on the death of Jesus on the cross? Why would he focus on something so tragic? Why not focus on the glory of the resurrection? Why not focus on his great teachings? Why did Paul focus on the cross? It was because everything changed when Jesus died on the cross. Before the cross, we were all dead. It was what Christ did on the cross that made all the difference. He paid the price for our sins when He died on that cross. And that was what Paul was focusing on. He refused to enter into philosophical discussions that would only produce strife and division. He simply preached the cross. He preached a crucified Savior that died for the sins of the world. He preached the good news of salvation made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus.

We say, "Christ alone!" in our doctrine of salvation, but in actual practice, much of our teaching and preaching is focused on our understanding of the proper works needed to be saved. When we believe that we understand what works are needed for salvation, we are passionate about telling others about those particular works. We are particularly passionate about pointing out the shortcomings of others.

Do you have passion today? What are you passionate about? Are you passionate about Jesus? He is passionate about you.

1 John 4:9-12 (NIV)  “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

Jesus died as an atonement for your sins. He endured passion - that is suffering - for you. He is still passionate in his love for you. Are you passionate about Jesus or are your passions in other areas. Let’s decide today to be passionate about Jesus.

I want to close with Jude 1:21 (NJV)  “keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.”

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Fireworks and Liberty

An Arkie's Faith column from the July 19, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


On the 4th of July, my wife and I were invited to a cookout at my cousin’s place. They recently purchased a house and acreage that sits on the top of a high hill. The property has commanding views of the Ouachita Mountains to the south and the Kiamichi Mountains to the west along with the broad valley below.

After watching a beautiful sunset and being entertained by our own private fireworks show, we sat on the deck and watched fireworks from one end of the valley to the other. There were so many fireworks that we didn’t know where to look next. It was truly a spectacular sight.

As I watched the fireworks and thought about what the 4th of July celebrations meant, I wondered why we shoot off fireworks to celebrate Independence Day. Since I have a small personal computer, aka a smart phone, with me at all times, I looked up the history of fireworks and the 4th. I found out that fireworks were set off on July 4, 1777, to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence one year earlier. The Pennsylvania Evening Post wrote that “The evening was closed with the ring of bells, and at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks (which began and concluded with thirteen rockets) on the Commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated.”

When, we as Americans, think about the Fourth of July, we think about liberty. On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence. One of the most remembered lines is, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." I have been noticing that although Americans want liberty, they are becoming less likely to want to extend liberty to others.

When I was in school, I was taught 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 place where everyone was free to practice his faith.

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

People who disagreed with the official theology of the colony were banished. Catholics and other non-Puritans were banned. Four Quakers were hanged in Boston between 1659 and 1661 for standing up for their beliefs. The Puritans did not understand the 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. Governor Bradford of Massachusetts wrote that Williams fell "into some strange opinions which caused some controversy between the church and him." In October 1635 Williams was tried by the General Court and convicted of sedition and heresy. He was then ordered to be banished. In the spring of 1636, Williams and a number of 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.”

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."

Are your 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 you believe in religious liberty for those with whom you disagree? 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 you believe in religious liberty for them?

If you do believe in religious liberty for all, you 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."

It is a good thing to do what we can to stand up to those governments that are trampling on the liberties of Christians around the world, but will we be as vocal when the liberties of others religions are taken from them.  If we truly believe in religious liberty, we must be advocates for anyone whose liberties are threatened.

God wants all to come to repentance and be saved, but He will not force us to come to him. Free will to obey or disobey is not only biblical but essential to man's relationship to God.  He wants us to love, obey, serve, and worship Him and to do so by choice. God allows us to choose Him or to chose not to follow Him. Joshua told the Children of Israel, “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:14,15 (NRSV)

Gentle Reader, God doesn’t want any obedience, worship, or love that doesn't come willingly from the heart. He wants you to willingly choose to serve Him. If God so freely gives liberty – even to do what is wrong – we should be willing to give religious liberty to all.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Dearly Beloved

An Arkie's Faith column from the July 12, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


Last week I had the honor of officiating at my niece’s wedding. It was a lovely ceremony, and we had a wonderful time visiting with family.

In my wedding talk I asked the question, why are we here? Why do we spend lots of money on dresses, tuxedos, flowers and a special venue? When you think about it, the whole thing is a bit weird. Why do we have the wedding traditions that we do? Why do we have a wedding party, a veil, special flowers, dresses, and cake? What made my niece decide to come to a chapel and stand on the stage looking fancy; to be stared at by friends and family?

The marriage ceremony has been important to nearly every society, religion and culture for thousands of years. Throughout our lives we have many important moments, but why is marriage so important that we mark it with a special ceremony and want to share the ceremony with our friends and family?

It is because of love. No matter what you believe, love is the great unifier. Love is the universal truth. In the Christian tradition, we know that the Bible says that, “God is love.” 1 John 4:8 (KJV) It also tells us that, “Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NLT)

The week before the wedding, my niece wrote, “I often get caught up in the busyness of life, and it is easy to focus on all the wrong things; But if you focus on love, your whole perspective changes!”

Weddings are wonderful, joyous events. There is a lot of time and expense involved in preparing for a wedding because it is such an important symbol of a loving relationship. Marriage is the most intimate of all relationships. When God wanted to express the love He has for His people; He could not have chosen a more powerful image than the church as His bride.

In Ephesians 5:25 (NKJV) the Bible tells us, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.” When a bride and groom are in love, they can think of nothing else but each other. That is the kind of love God has for His church, His people.

The symbol of marriage between God and his people also occurs in the Old Testament.  In Isaiah 62:5 (NLT) it says, “God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.”

In the New Testament, the symbol of the bridegroom is used in a story found in Matthew 25, where it says that God’s kingdom is like ten young women who took oil lamps and went out to greet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were smart. The foolish women took lamps, but no extra oil. The smart women took jars of oil to refill their lamps.

The bridegroom didn’t show up when they expected him, and they all fell asleep. In the middle of the night, someone yelled out, “He’s here!” All ten women got up and got their lamps ready. The foolish women said to the smart ones, “our lamps are going out; lend us some of your oil.” They answered, “there might not be enough to go around; go buy your own.” While they were out buying oil, the bridegroom arrived. When everyone who was there to greet him had gone into the wedding feast, the door was locked.

Who does the bridegroom represent in this story? Jesus is the bridegroom, and the parable refers to his second coming. Jesus wanted us to know that He will return at an unexpected time. The bridesmaids knew the wedding was near; they could read the signs, but five of them were unprepared. When the bridegroom came, they weren’t ready.

Revelation 19:7,8 (NLT) says, “Let us be glad and rejoice, and let us give honor to Him. For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and His bride has prepared herself. She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear. For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God’s holy people.” No earthly honeymoon can be even remotely close to what Jesus has in store for his bride. In 1 Corinthians 2:9 (NLT) we learn that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”

During the time that Jesus lived here on the earth, a man would never consider getting married unless he had a house ready for his new bride. Jesus has promised us that he will prepare a place for his bride.  We can find His promise in John 14:2,3 (NKJV) where it says, “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”

Gentle Reader, Jesus has promised to prepare a place for you. It will be more awesome than anything you have ever imagined. The most beautiful places on Earth will be nothing compared to what Jesus is preparing for you. When a bride and groom are passionately in love, they can think of nothing else but each other; it is an obsession! God has passionate love for His bride, and He desires us to have passionate love for Him. Today Jesus is asking for your hand in marriage.  What will your answer be?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Empty Cupboards

An Arkie's Faith column from the July 5, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

No one likes to go to their cupboard and find it bare. When I was a child, I loved to listen to records. I still remember a record of nursery rhyme songs that I listened to over and over. One of the songs was ”Old Mother Hubbard.” The song began, “Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard, to give the poor dog a bone; When she came there, the cupboard was bare, and so the poor dog had none.” I always felt sorry for the poor dog. I don’t know why I didn’t feel sorry for Mother Hubbard.

I am a volunteer at a local food pantry. The food pantry purchases a lot of the food that they distribute from an out of town food bank. Once a month the food bank brings our order on a truck. The food bank changed our delivery time from the first Wednesday of the month to the fourth Wednesday. Because of the change, the food pantry was open for almost two months without being restocked. The cupboards were almost bare. Today the food pantry received a shipment, and it felt good to help restock the shelves. The next time the food pantry is open, there will be plenty of food to distribute to those who need it.

The Bible has several empty cupboard stories. I like the one that we find in 2 Kings chapter 4; the story of a widow with empty cupboards. The widow came to the prophet Elisha and said, “my husband, is dead. You know he honored the Lord. But now the man he owes money to is coming to take my two boys as his slaves!” Elisha answered, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?” The woman said, “I don’t have anything there except a pot of oil.” Then Elisha said, “Go and get empty jars from all your neighbors. Don’t ask for just a few.” 2 Kings 4:1-3 (NCV)

I find it interesting that Elisha didn’t tell the widow to ask her neighbors for food or money. Instead, she was to ask for containers. Imagine with me what her neighbors were thinking. “What in the world is she going to do with all these containers?” I imagine that the widow was wondering the same thing herself. But she believed in God, and she trusted God’s prophet, Elisha. She could have said, “that’s crazy, my boys and I are starving, and my creditors are going to take my boys as slaves, and your solution is for me to borrow containers from my neighbors. How can that possibly help our situation?”

God gives us what we have, and then tells us that if we use what He has given us, no matter how seemingly little or small in our eyes, we have what we need. He has given each one of us talents and gifts and strengths and abilities. The story of the widow teaches us that we have to make them available to God; and even though they seem small and insignificant, He can do great things for us.

Once they gathered the containers, Elisha told the widow, “go into your house and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and set the full ones aside.” So she left Elisha and shut the door behind her and her sons. As they brought the jars to her, she poured out the oil. When the jars were all full, she said to her son, “Bring me another jar.” But he said, “There are no more jars.” Then the oil stopped flowing. She went and told Elisha. And the prophet said to her, “Go, sell the oil and pay what you owe. You and your sons can live on what is left.” 2 Kings 4:3-7 (NCV)

God will use what little we have in a great way if we will let Him. But first, have to be willing to give God all of the little we possess! If we put what little we have in Gods hands, it’s not limited by our capabilities anymore; it is only limited by how much we think God can do. It is limited by how many containers we have rounded up. In the story of the widow, when there were no more jars, the oil stopped flowing.

In Luke 18:27 (NKJV) Jesus says, “the things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” The widow and her sons were in an impossible situation. Their cupboards were empty. But God had a way to take care of their impossible situation. The only thing that limited them was the number of jars that they had borrowed.

In Mark 9 there is another story of a family in an impossible situation. Their son couldn’t speak, and he would foam at the mouth, grind his teeth, and become rigid. Since he was a baby, he had a spirit that would often throw him into the fire and sometimes into the water, trying to destroy him. The father came to Jesus and said, “I have run out of options; I have tried everything. But if there’s anything You can do, please, have pity on us and help us.” Mark 9:22 (VOICE) Then Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Mark 9:23 (NKJV)

Gentle Reader, all things are possible when you place them in God’s hands. If your cupboards are empty, put the empty cupboards in God’s hands. Ask Him to take care of your impossible situation. God doesn’t need what we have to produce more for us, but what He is looking for is for us to trust Him with what we do have. “Taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” Psalms 34:8 (NKJV)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness



When we as Americans think about the Fourth of July we think about liberty. On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence which is now considered the nation's most cherished symbol of liberty. One of the most remembered lines is, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." I have been noticing that although Americans want liberty, they are becoming less likely to want to extend liberty to others.

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 place where everyone was free to practice his or her own faith.

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

Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson were banished following disagreements over theology and policy. From Puritan Boston’s earliest days, Catholics were banned, along with other non-Puritans. Four Quakers were hanged in Boston between 1659 and 1661 for standing up for their beliefs. 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. The Puritans did not understand the 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. 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 belief that people should be free to follow their own 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. In the spring of 1636, Williams and a number of 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”.  

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."

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 your feelings on religious liberty like those of Roger Williams, or are they more like the Puritans?  The Puritans definitely 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 you really believe in religious liberty for those whom you disagree with? 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 you believe in religious liberty for them?  

If you do believe in religious liberty for all, you 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." 

It is a good thing to do what we can to stand up to those governments that are trampling on the liberties of Christians around the world, but will we be as vocal when the liberties of others religions are taken from them.  If we truly believe in religious liberty we must be advocates for anyone whose liberties are threatened.

In the end, it is all about the God we serve. The God I serve never forces the will or conscience. He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."

God wants all to come to repentance, but he only wants the willing. He will not force us to come to him. Free will to obey or disobey, love or hate, submit or rebel, is not only biblical but essential to man's relationship to God.  He wants us to love, obey, serve, and worship Him and to do so by choice: "Choose you this day whom ye will serve”, Joshua 24:15. God isn't glorified in any obedience, worship, or love that doesn't come willingly from the heart.

If God so freely gives liberty – even to do what is wrong – we should be willing to give religious liberty to all. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Final Exam

An Arkie's Faith column from the June 28, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


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

I remember taking my driving test. I was driving a 1962 Chrysler. For the turn signals to work, you had to hold the turn signal lever in position because it wouldn’t stay if you didn’t. When I had to turn corners during the test, I had to hold the turn signal lever in position with one hand while I steered with the other. When the test was over, the driving examiner took off points because when I turned a corner, I didn’t keep both hands on the wheel. He didn’t notice that I was holding the turn signal lever in position with the other hand. I was afraid that I wouldn't pass the exam, but after a lecture on the importance of keeping both hands on the wheel, he gave me a passing grade.

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 at the bulletin board and saw that 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 still had to take the final exam. I was not happy.

Many Christians go through life like they are in school. They are always worried about their grades. They are concerned about 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 the assurance of salvation. Jesus Himself gives assurance to those who believe in Him. In John 10:27,28 (NRSV) Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

While I was speaking to a group of people on the topic of assurance, I asked the question, “How many here are married? If you are, raise your hand.” Most of the hands in the audience went up. Then I asked a follow-up question, “How many of you don't know if you're married or not?” Not a single hand went up. Then I asked, “How do you know that you are married?”

Just about everyone knows if they are married or not. There might be the rare issue in the legal system that makes someone unsure of their marital status, but most people know whether or not they are married.

We can be sure of our marital status, but can we know if we are saved? Surely we can know. In Philippians 4:7 (VOICE) Paul tells us that we can, “know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus.” If we are wondering every moment of every day what our score is on our final exam, we do not have peace. But God has promised his children peace. When Jesus was about to leave this earth, he told His disciples, “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” John 14:27 (NLT)

We can be sure of our marital status, but can we be sure of what our marital status will be ten years from now? Now that’s a different question, isn’t it? In 2 Peter 1:10 (NLT) the Apostle Peter wrote, “Dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away.”

We can know that we are saved today, but only God knows the future. Only He knows whether or not we will fall away. But we can know in our heart whether or not we are in a saved condition right now. We need to know that.

Works-oriented Christians know that they don’t measure up. They know that Romans 6:23 (NKJV) tells us, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” They have a hard time believing that eternal life is actually a gift of God. They feel that to achieve eternal life; they must score high on the final exam.

If we think perfect obedience is the test, every time we make a mistake we feel that God can’t save us. That doubt is intensified by the accusations made by Satan against us. Satan delights in making us doubt our salvation. On the other hand, we can delude ourselves by looking at our works with an overblown view of our own goodness, seeing righteousness in ourselves when there is none.

Gentle Reader, Jesus wants you to be saved. 2 Peter 3:9 (NCV) says, “God is being patient with you. He does not want anyone to be lost, but he wants all people to change their hearts and lives.” When you believe in Him and change your heart and life, Jesus wants you to know that you are saved. In John 6:47 (NKJV) Jesus says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.”