While in town to visit the world’s largest living history museum in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, we popped into the friendly little Colonial church of Christ, where we heard a very thorough and relevant presentation of what the word of God says in contrast to the manmade teachings of Calvinism.
These false ideas are so prevalent that every believer would do well to familiarize him or herself with these teachings in preparation to bring clarity to the dear souls that have been misguided by them. Long story short, how could any Bible student conclude the Calvinistic teaching that children are born depraved and sinful when the scriptures clearly say “God made men upright” (Ecclesiastes 7:29) and instruct us to “be infants in regard to evil” (1 Corinthians 14:20). And why would any believer say that before God created the world, He predestined some souls to be hellbound and others who be heaven-bound, when our just and merciful God “desires all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4-6) and has thus clearly said that any person “who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:34-35). And finally, since God has said through Paul to the Galatians, “...you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4), how then can Calvinists contend that salvation can never be forfeited and that no one can fall from grace? All these good points were made and more, on the Sunday morning we visited.
After our visit, I was interested to see what I’d discover on this congregation’s website and was delighted to learn that they support the kingdom work their preacher does in Tanzania, Africa where he assists preachers there who have been going into maximum security prisons for a number of years to teach the gospel, resulting in a considerable number of souls being born again within those prison walls, whom the preachers now have worship services with every Sunday. What a beautiful way to serve Jesus (Matthew 25:36)!
I also saw on the website sermons on some intriguing topics such as “The Purpose and Meaning of Life”, “Recapturing Wonder”, “Self-Indulgence”, “How Scary Is Death?” and “When My Will Collides With God’s”. In one of these lessons, the speaker noted the contrast between the common mindset of Americans who often view the words written by Thomas Jefferson about the “unalienable rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” as being the end-all-be-all of life that at all costs must be defended. He noted the stark contrast of that mindset to the scriptures, where the children of God are taught to freely give up their personal rights and liberties when necessary in order to live a godly life, and how we are to be ready to sacrifice our temporary happiness in order to obtain holiness so we can experience the true joy that results. The speaker reminded his listeners, of the real possibility, that we may in the near future be called to choose between our life and liberty or our loyalty to God, especially if our freedom to legally and openly speak God’s love and truth is taken from us.
I’d encourage my readers to visit and encourage this faithful little congregation, if the opportunity opens up for you to take in some of the many historic sites around this part of our fruited plain, and would like to use the remainder of this entry to share with you some of the insights we walked away with during our explorations around the more historical parts of the country.
We tour the locations where major American history has taken place mostly because it is good for us. If the Redwood forests of Northern California are the creme brulee of our journey, then the Gettysburg Battlefields are the kale salad. And thus, some of my deepest and most profound realizations of our 77,000-mile journey have occurred to me while visiting these emotionally grueling sites because as I listen and read about the details of our collective history, it is in my nature to compare those details with how we’ve done given the written instructions from our Creator about how to build our lives and our nations. During every historical tour, I get quiet and lag behind because I’m pondering the specific ways in which each generation has benefitted from living out God’s prescribed virtues such as self-sacrifice, courage, diligence, endurance, goodness, and so on, or how previous generations have suffered by disregarding God’s wisdom when choosing instead to indulge in such things as greed, pride, hatred, vice, and rebellion. At Monticello, for example, I had a good, long one-on-one chat with “Thomas Jefferson” (portrayed by actor William Barker) about my concerns regarding the potential chaotic ripple effects of first- generation Americans being encouraged in writing to pursue happiness rather than holiness. After all, as Abraham Joshua Heschel put it, “There are inalienable obligations as well as inalienable rights.” Mr. Jefferson did not disagree, by the way, but explained that he had in mind the slaves whose happiness was not yet being considered to the degree that it should. I concur, and alongside the real Thomas Jefferson “...tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.”
Some of the historic sites we visited were prehistoric. Among the Ocmulgee Mounds in Macon, Georgia we’ve trekked up the windy Great Temple Mound, and the little Adena Mound in Dayton, Ohio, as well as the caves and dwellings of other prehistoric civilizations from Tsankawi, to Bandelier to Montezuma’s Castle in Mesa Verda, Arizona, and the Tuzigoot National Monument in Cottonwood, Arizona. I could barely pull my eyes away from the petroglyphs drawn on rocks by ancient peoples in the Petrified Forest and Newspaper Rock in Canyonlands National Park, among others. In all these places I was reminded that though every soul is created with a natural inclination toward a desire to worship, sadly, these cultures were steeped in idolatry and thus, rather than an idyllic life, many of them were as cruel and unjust in their warring with one another as the wars that would follow in American history. Cultures that practice human sacrifice and other moral darkness eventually self-implode, and for that reason, I contend that without exception, authentic, virtuous, lived-out Christianity was, and will always be, the best thing that ever happens to any civilization. Period. Case closed.
When we visited St. Augustine, where in 1513-1565 Ponce de Leon’s search for gold and Spanish expansion failed, as I sipped the waters of the “Fountain of Youth” there, just to play along, I wondered if his more greedy motive had anything to do with the hand of God not blessing his quest. The same question surfaced when we visited Roanoke Island — what was the primary motive of Elizabeth I, who sent Sir Walter Raleigh and the settlers he brought to these lands in 1585, whose second attempt also failed when they so mysteriously disappeared? It’s impossible to say, though some of our research indicated perhaps a desire to share God’s truth with the native peoples was just beginning to grow.
As we explored Jamestown, however, there was no doubt the spiritual focus of their mission, for in 1606, when James I issued his royal charter to his “adventurers” to “make habitation, plantation, and to deduce a colony of sundry of our people into that part of America commonly called Virginia”, the king's charter gave instructions, concluding with this jaw-dropping statement I read with my own eyes, still engraved on the Jamestown Tercentenary Monument in Jamestown, Virginia, stating: "Let's pray that our country returns to serving and fearing God with one mind, that we may retain His favor.” I have to tell you, I stood there alone and read those engraved words over and over again, and still couldn’t believe my eyes. Here I was 417 years later, and it was as if this King of England had plagiarized my diary. And you can guess how I felt when we walked into the place of worship at Jamestown, and on the wall was hanging a large, wood-framed piece of art with calligraphy writing stating, “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sinnes [sic], and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost’” (Acts 2:38). Well, there ya go. Some things never change.
I know that historians in recent years seem to be much more interested in normalizing today’s hedonism by trying to dig up real and imagined sins of previous generations than they are in learning what kinds of behaviors precede the destruction of various civilizations so that we can use that information to encourage the steering of ourselves in an entirely different direction. To that, I’d like to say that obviously the pilgrims, colonists, and those that followed had among them those walking in darkness, but here’s the thing: There was a common understanding that we are missing today of what was truly good and what was truly evil, and those who indulged in gross immorality (Jude 7) were at least appropriately ashamed enough to find the most hidden place they could to engage in it. That being said, when we visited the Plymouth Plantation where the first permanent English Colony was settled, many of the separatist pilgrims were primarily motivated to make that exceptionally harsh journey across the sea because they wanted to serve God in the way they were reading of in the scriptures, rather than the unscriptural practices that were being imposed on them by the Church of England. Although they struggled greatly to survive, these motivations seem to have helped them find some favor from the Lord and the success that comes with that blessing.
At Colonial Williamsburg, I mostly walked around wishing for the lovely innocence that America once enjoyed when little girls, mothers, and grandmothers dressed in layered floor-length dresses and bonnets, and teased one another with clean and clever humor as I witnessed when one young woman said to her fellow shop worker, “Don’t trip dear; I have the monopoly on stumbling. Don't impede!” I enjoyed another lighter moment when I bumped into “Patrick Henry” who upon my request that he share a bit of his famous speech, offered me his arm, looked toward Mark’s camera, and confidently began shouting his speech into the air, concluding with his most famous line, “Give me liberty or give me death!” Ah, yes, Liberty. That most sacred trust that Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, Peter Marshall has reminded us is “... not the right to do as you please, but the liberty to do as you ought.”
The truth is, I never visit a historic site simply because I find it interesting, but rather to take in what I learn there as I would a sermon, deeply reflecting upon any flaws in my own character that need to be addressed. What am I supposed to take away from this? How do I interpret the events at these sites in light of today’s headlines? What would the people involved in these events think and say to my generation regarding what we have done with the freedoms their sacrifices opened up for us, and with whatever measure of influence I have, how am I supposed to use both their barbaric cruelties or their selfless acts of valor to inspire my own generation toward the principles that would lead to both personal and national stability? Given my train of thought, I confess it was hard not to sob, especially when the large group of young fife and drum players passed by with the invigorating rhythm and unique musical sounds that would have accompanied the brave young soldiers during Revolutionary War times. How could I not think about all our country has fought for, only to see before my eyes the current generation causing such division by destroying everything with their moral debauchery and beg for God’s divine intervention?
My prayer is that my readers will educate their children about the past, so they can better understand the present and do great things with the opportunities God opens up for them to help change the trajectory of our nation’s future before it is too late, and am reminded of the salutation the George Washington reenactor at Colonial Williamsburg offered as he parted from us that day: “God save you all!”
A few days later, when we visited George Washington’s home in Mt. Vernon, I learned something encouraging that had been reported by one of his slaves. He said that the president would humbly ask permission from the slave each time he would borrow his little boat. That said a lot to me about how our first president respected, to some degree, his humanity, which would seem to be congruent with many of his other Christian virtues. I believe what made George Washington useful to God and to us was his humble heart that so reluctantly took hold of the reins of our new nation, refusing to be crowned the king. He was a man of faith and once said, “It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible” and also “It is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.” Given these kinds of quotes from him, I was especially surprised (and suspicious, frankly) that the only mention of God I could find presently at Mt. Vernon was a scripture reference on the wall of his grave, above his white marble casket, taken from John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” I’ll always remember sliding my hand up the original banister the president also used as I walked up his stairs to look into his bedroom and see his bed made up in all-white linens, where he spoke his last words, “It is well” before he died between 10-11pm on December 14, 1799.
My biggest takeaway from everything that I read and heard during our tour of Mt. Vernon was that we must stay unified or we’ll not have what it takes to defend ourselves from our very real enemies just waiting to sweep in and take everything from us. This reality especially took over my heart and mind when we visited sites related to the Revolutionary War such as the Boston Harbor, the site of the Boston Massacre, Concord, the Battle of Bunker Hill, Valley Forge, Saratoga, and Yorktown where the British finally surrendered. Truly, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not survive” (Matthew 12:25).
With regard to the lessons learned among the special places we’ve visited related to the Civil War era, when we visited the home of Mark Twain, we happened to stumble upon the home of a writer I respect far more, who lived right next door to him, and though this delayed discovery prevented us from touring her home, it felt special to simply stand outside the home of Harriott Beecher Stowe who wrote perhaps the most moving novel ever: Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Many attribute this book to so stir the hearts of courageous and conscientious 19th-century Americans, that they found themselves no longer able to tolerate the “sin of slavery”, as Lincoln put it, and the emancipation of those oppressed souls would be by the blood of their own sacrificial generation. Freedom is one of the most costly blessings one can be gifted, and is obtained at much too high a price to be squandered.
We climbed a steep hill to touch the rock Jefferson sat on at Harper’s Ferry, where later John Brown, whose raid in an effort to destroy the institution of slavery failed, and who, just before he was hanged two months later, was spot on when he spoke the haunting words just 16 months before the Civil War broke out: “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.” He was right. Though about 24,000 Americans had lost their lives in the Revolutionary War, approximately 620,000 died in the Civil War, a cause that never would have occurred if Americans had initially obeyed God’s command against such things as kidnapping, greed, and a failure to treat others the way one would want to be treated, all of which were not always (as in the case of the “Freeland”, the last master of Fredrick Douglasses whom he loved) but often committed in the course of enslaving others. Thus, it was with deep reverence and solemnity, that we walked alongside story-telling rangers and stood to read the plaques in the battlefields of Shiloh, Gettysburg, and Fort Morgan.
Most moving for me was the walk we took in Manassas where in July of 1861 at the Battle of Bull Run, my favorite soldier, Sullivan Ballou, was mortally wounded on Matthew’s Hill near the cannons I hiked to the top of the hill to touch. Sullivan Ballou, whose grave I’ve visited in Providence, Rhode Island, has reminded me more than any other historic figure, through the most beautiful love letter he wrote to his wife the night before he was mortally wounded, that each and every soldier was every bit as real as you and I, and thus loved and were loved just as deeply.
We very much needed the measure of closure we were bestowed during our visit to Appomattox Courthouse where Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, thus ending the American Civil War. I hope my dear readers will pause and pray from time to time that we, as a country, will again acknowledge the existence of God and live to His glory, returning with all our hearts toward goodness so that we never again experience another war like this one.
We’ve been inside the home where Lincoln died, just across the street from Ford’s Theater where he was assassinated, and these scenes came along with me as I walked the grounds of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, and they aided me to ponder with fresh eyes Lincoln’s address spoken there, spurring us all on toward “...the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
This has been a long and heavy entry. Thanks for sticking with it. You too “ate your kale salad”, and I hope it will feel beneficial to have done so. For dessert, I’m including as an addendum for those who are interested in taking in what I believe to be the single most beautiful love letter on the planet —the sweet words the aforementioned 32-year-old Union Army officer wrote his 24-year-old wife, who, though she lived to be 80 years old, never remarried. There is much to learn from this unforgettable love letter, including how to never take a single moment with our loved ones for granted:
Headquarters, Camp Clark
Washington, D.C., July 14, 1861
My Very Dear Wife:
Indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days, perhaps to-morrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write a few lines, that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.
Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine, O God be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battle-field for any country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American civilization now leans upon the triumph of government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution, and I am willing, perfectly willing to lay down all my joys in this life to help maintain this government, and to pay that debt.
But, my dear wife, when I know, that with my own joys, I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with care and sorrows, when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it, as their only sustenance, to my dear little children, is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country.
I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death, and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country and thee.
I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in this hazarding the happiness of those I loved, and I could not find one. A pure love of my country, and of the principles I have often advocated before the people, and "the name of honor, that I love more than I fear death," have called upon me, and I have obeyed.
Sarah, my love for you is deathless. It seems to bind me with mighty cables, that nothing but Omnipotence can break; and yet, my love of country comes over me like a strong wind, and bears me irresistibly on with all those chains, to the battlefield. The memories of all the blissful moments I have spent with you come crowding over me, and I feel most deeply grateful to God and you, that I have enjoyed them so long. And how hard it is for me to give them up, and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our boys grow up to honorable manhood around us.
I know I have but few claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me, perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar, that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, nor that, when my last breath escapes me on the battle-field, it will whisper your name.
Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless, how foolish I have oftentimes been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears, every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot, I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.
But, O Sarah, if the dead can come back to this earth, and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you in the garish day, and the darkest night amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours always, always, and, if the soft breeze fans your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air cools your throbbing temples, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah, do not mourn me dear; think I am gone, and wait for me, for we shall meet again.
As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father's love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue-eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care, and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers, I call God's blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.
- Sullivan”Colonial Church of Christ
820 Merrimac Trail, Suite B
Williamsburg, VA 23185