Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Fireworks and Liberty

My 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

My 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?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Odds and Ends

Before he died my Uncle Lloyd Lawry put together a collection of stories and family history. I was blessed to have been given a copy of his collection. These are some sayings by my Grandpa Lawry from that collection.


Odds and Ends 
by Ben Lawry

Seven colors in the dewdrops gleam
When the sun is bright overhead
Violet, indigo, blue and green
Yellow, orange and red.

Even gray and morning gray
Will set the traveler on his way
But evening gray and morning red
Will bring down rain upon his head.

An ounce of keep your mouth shut beats a ton of explanation

It is better to be silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.

He that knows not and knows that he knows not is wise, but he that knows not and knows that he knows is a fool.

Boys flying kites bring in white-winged birds
But you can't do that with when you're flying words
Thoughts unexpressed may come back dead but
God Himself can't kill them when they are said.

As unto the bow the cord is, so unto the man is woman though she bends him. She obeys him though she leads hirn yet she folIows. Useless without the other.

The best way to multiply love is to divide it.

There is so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us, it hardly behooves the part of us to talk about the rest of us.

If you in the morning throw minutes away -
You can't pick them up in the course of the day.
You may hurry and scurry and worry and worry
But you have lost them forever. Forever and aye.

For more of Uncle Lloyd's Scrapbook, click here.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Daddy - by Lloyd Lawry

Before he died my Uncle Lloyd Lawry put together a collection of stories and family history. I was blessed to have been given a copy of his collection. This is the story he wrote about his Daddy.


Daddy
by Lloyd Lawry

My Daddy, Bennie Eugene Lawry, was born February 15, 1895, near Bronson, Kansas. Evidently, he wasn't too fond of the "Bennie." By the time I first knew him he had shortened it to Ben.

When he was small, he must have had two brothers, two sisters, one half-brother and one half-sister living at home. Grandpa Lawry lost his eyesight in 1888, so they had to struggle just to live.

He attended Stony Point School. I believe he completed the eighth grade. He said he farmed the home place the year he was 14. It was done with a plow and a cultivator that he walked behind as the horses pulled them.

He never told me much about his early life. I do have two tales of his experiences during his horse and buggy days. He had a "moon-eyed" horse that ran him into a creek off a low water bridge, and one time he asked a girl if he could drive her home. She replied, "you can if you have any harness that will fit me.”

He married my mother in 1918, and they went to Santa Rita, New Mexico, where he obtained a job carrying samples of the copper ore from the mines. I think one of Grandpa Lawry's daughters by his first marriage lived there and found the opportunity of a job for him.

He told of an incident which made him think his guardian angel was watching over him. He was walking along in the dark when he felt that something had stopped him. He stopped immediately and lit a match. He was standing on the brink of a deep pit. One more step and he would have fallen, probably to his death.

They came back to Kansas after the war, and I was born at my Aunt Cody's (Cora Hixson) farm. It was a few miles northwest of Bronson, Kansas. In 1920, Mama and Daddy were living in Mildred, Kansas. There was a cement plant there, and Daddy worked as day watchman. He broke his leg getting it caught while stepping over a moving belt.

Daddy ran a restaurant in Yates Center, Kansas in 1924. I don’t know how long he had it, but I think he went broke running it. He fed the prisoners in the local jail, and I was in awe of them when I went with Daddy to take their food.

I'm uncertain when Mama and Daddy first separated, but I remember living in Chanute, Kansas when there was just Mama and I. AIso, I remember living in Wichita, Kansas with Daddy and Mama. He worked at the oil refinery. They evidently separated again before I was six, because Mama and I were living by ourselves when I started school.

In March 1926, Daddy was working for a construction company building an addition to a salt plant in Lyons, Kansas. He worked in several places, finally coming to Buffville, Kansas to work in the brickyard. He married Hazel there on September 3, 1927.


His job was shoveling shale into metal carts. I believe they were one-half cubic yard capacity. They dynamited the shale down, and Daddy loaded it with a shovel, picking up big chunks and loading them by hand. He had to push the carts on a narrow gauge railroad track to the bottom of an inclined ramp where they were pulled up to the place where the shale was ground. He got 25 cents for each cart that he loaded and pushed up the ramp.

In a letter he wrote on October 28, 1928, he said: "there were two days that I made $6.90 a day each.” In the same letter, he told of paying $240 to pay off his model A Ford. When he was thinking of buying it, the salesman came out where he was working and helped him load shale all day to clinch the sale. Daddy didn't teII him until the end of the day that he had decided to buy the car before the salesman came out!

In October 1929, the brickyard closed, never to reopen. Sometime after that, we moved to a farm east of Buffville where we rented a house with garden Space and pasture for a cow. We lived there for several years. Our house burned down when I was in the eighth grade, and we moved back to Buffville until the owner of the farm bought an old house and moved it to the farm. Then we moved back to the farm again.

Later we lived on similar farms north of Altoona, south of Altoona, and east of Altoona. We also lived in Buffville again part of my senior year in high school.


Daddy didn't want to go on WPA but finally did when our cash income one month was only $5. He went to broom corn harvest and followed the wheat harvest to North Dakota one year before finally giving up and going on WPA.

While he and Grandpa Reeve were working in the Dakotas, the old German farmer's wife where they were working had twin babies during the morning and yet got up and prepared their noon meal!

When we were living east of Altoona in 1940, Daddy decided to move to Missouri, so we loaded our possessions on a trailer behind the old Model A Ford and drove it most of the way to Poplar Bluff, Missouri. We lived with Jessie and John Borton in a three room house. Ten people in 3 rooms.

Daddy and Uncle John worked for a man who owned a greenhouse for 10 cents an hour. I couldn't find any work so left home in early 1941, and hitchhiked to Texas.

One year while they lived in Missouri, Daddy took the family to Michigan to pick fruit. The family moved back to Kansas and bought 80 acres of farmland with an old house on it. They lived there for several years.

Daddy worked for the W. J. Small Company in Neodesha for 15 years. It was an alfalfa dehydrating plant. Daddy was in his late 40's and his 50's during these years. He sewed sacks and stacked bags of alfalfa meaI. The filled sacks weighed 100 pounds, and it was terribly hard work.

The farm had several miles of mud roads between it and town, so these years of arduous labor were plagued by fighting bad roads and a car which often refused to start until it was pulled by their team of horses. Hazel and Delbert did much of the farm work while Daddy worked in town.

Daddy and Hazel went to Oregon to pick fruit and vegetables one year. They stayed all winter after picking was over. Hazel got a job and daddy loafed all winter and read a lot of books.


In the 1960's, Daddy and Hazel bought a farm and a few acres east of Altoona. They had a truck farm and raised tomatoes and strawberries as well as other vegetables.

After Bob's family moved to Mena, Arkansas, Daddy and Hazel also moved there. Daddy was happy with his chickens and his garden. He would say, “tell the people you have been to Paradise," when we would leave to go back to Irving. He puttered around the garden patch on the day he died. He died on December 2, 1981, of heart complications.

He was a kind, gentle, hard working, loving man. I have my Lord’s assurance that at some point in eternity I will again see him in heaven, as he used to sing, “where they ring those golden belIs for you and me.”


For more of Uncle Lloyd's Scrapbook, click here.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Empty Cupboards

My 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." 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

We Are Gathered Here

Yesterday, I had the honor of officiating at my niece Clarissa's wedding. She and Johnny are two of my favorite people, and I was so happy to be a part of their wedding day. This is the text of my wedding talk. 




Dearly beloved, we are gathered here before God to join this man and this woman in holy matrimony. I think that we all understood why we were coming here this evening. Did anyone just get up this morning and decide that you would get dressed up and go down and see if anything was happening at the chapel?

No, I'm sure that every one of you came here expecting to see Johnny and Clarissa dressed up and standing on this stage. But when you think about it the whole thing is a bit weird. What made Johnny and Clarissa decide to come here to this chapel and stand on this stage looking fancy and being stared at and commented on by you. I know that you have been whispering to each other, “look at Johnny in that tux,” “I never thought I would see him dressed up like that.” And, “Isn’t Clarissa beautiful in that dress,” “Her hair sure turned out great.”

Have you ever wondered why brides wear a white wedding dress? In the past, most brides didn’t have a special dress for the wedding. They would get married in the best dress that they already owned. The tradition was for the dress to be brightly colored. When Queen Victoria was married in 1840, she broke with tradition and wore a white satin dress with lots of lace. It was very controversial because at the time white was the color of mourning. Queen Victoria was very popular, and white wedding dresses quickly became the fashion among wealthy brides.


What about the veil? Why do brides wear a veil? Many years ago, most weddings were arranged, and often the bride and groom hadn’t met before the wedding day. The veil was used to keep the groom from backing out before the ceremony was completed. 

Why is there a best man and a wedding party standing up with Johnny and Clarissa? The best man was chosen for his swordsmanship, and he was security and bodyguard along with the rest of the wedding party. Apparently, some weddings were quite contentious.

Although photography hasn't always been around, recording the wedding ceremony has a long tradition. Wedding portraits have been common for thousands of years. Since I have the best spot in the house, if you don’t mind, I’m going to take the opportunity to get a few shots.


Some of our traditions seem a bit strange, but I think that Clarissa should be thankful that she didn’t grow up in China’s Yugur culture. There the groom shoots the bride 3 times with a bow and arrow. Thankfully the arrows are blunted but it is still quite painful. After shooting the bride, the groom takes the arrows and breaks them in half.

And Johnny can be thankful that this isn't a traditional Korean wedding. He would have to endure having the bottoms of his bare feet beaten with a cane and dead fish.

In Scotland, there is a tradition of pelting the bride and the groom with trash, particularly rotten eggs, and fish. The grosser and smellier the better, for it signifies that the new couple can withstand anything. 

Those of you who are related to Clarissa can be glad that you aren't in French Polynesia. There, the relatives of the bride lay down side by side in the dirt, and the bride and groom walk across their backs.

I think we are all thankful that these things aren’t part of our wedding traditions. But you don't even have to have a ceremony with a wedding dress, tuxes and flowers to get married. So why are we doing this today? 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.” It also tells us that, “Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.”

So why are we here? We are here because one night, on Clarissa’s birthday, she was visiting some friends. There was this guy there. Clarissa didn’t think too much about it, but when she was looking at the photos of the party the next day she thought, “that guy was nice, and he was so easy going and easy to talk to.” For the guy, the evening was a bit more remarkable. When remembering that evening he said that when he saw Clarissa, he had “goosebumps and butterflies.”

After a couple of weeks, they exchanged phone numbers and seemed to spend more time hanging out together. After some time the guy asked, “is it just us?” “Are we boyfriend and girlfriend,” and she answered, “I think we are.”

Sometime later, Johnny was on a business trip in Atlanta. He realized that he was lonely being away from Clarissa, and he called her. He told her, “I love you.” And that, in a nutshell, is why we are here today.


Saying, “I love you,” is a powerful thing. The ability to love is the very best part of our humanity. All of us here have our own love stories. Some are short, some are long, and some haven’t been written yet. 

Clarissa recently 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!”

So, why are we here? We are here because we want to be a part of Johnny and Clarissa’s love story. We are here to love them, support them, be proud of them, and to hope with them. 

Johnny and Clarissa, this isn’t the last chapter of the love story. There are big moments in a love story, like saying “I love you” for the first time, or standing up before God, and in front of friends and family, and committing yourselves to each other; but in reality, your love story is mostly a million little moments that come between the big milestones. It is those little moments that make a love story successful.

What makes a marriage successful, isn’t actually what happens today, it’s about what happens tomorrow, next week, next month and next year. It’s those little moments that make up a relationship. 

The Bible tells us in Ecclesiastes chapter four, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up.”  The passage goes on to say, “If two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone?”

What a beautiful description of a marriage. We are here today because Johnny and Clarissa understand that two are better than one. If one of them falls they have someone to help them up. They are ready to announce to the world that together they are a formidable force. 

They invited you here today because they want you to know that they are a team. They want you to know that this isn’t just another love story, but that it is a forever love story. I don’t know about you, but I can't wait for the next chapters of this love story.