Friday, December 30, 2016

Tony the Waiter

An Arkie's Faith column from the December 28, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

During the Christmas season, my wife and I made a trip out of town to do some Christmas shopping. In the early afternoon, we took a break to get something to eat. The lunch rush was over, so the quaint little restaurant was not busy. We were thankful for the peaceful atmosphere.

Our waiter was rather ordinary in appearance and older than the rest of the wait staff. He was not very tall but was neatly dressed in slacks, dress shirt, and tie. He said, “my name is Tony.” As Tony waited on us, we noticed that he was very professional and wanted everything to be perfect. Any squeezed lime, empty sweetener packet, or used napkin were quickly removed from our table. When we commented on how well he was taking care of us, he was pleased.

Tony spoke with an accent, which didn’t surprise us at a restaurant that serves Nuevo Latino cuisine. He asked us if we could understand his English. We smiled and told him we could understand him better than we could understand our Pastor who is from Romania. My wife asked Tony where he was from, expecting a country in Latin America, but Tony said he had moved to Arkansas from France.

Because it was mid-afternoon, the restaurant was not busy. We were Tony’s only patrons. During the meal, whenever Tony was at our table we asked about his story. My wife loves meeting new people and was curious about Tony’s move from France to Arkansas. We learned that in France, Tony had worked in the service industry. He had a long-time job at a hotel. One day he met a lady from the U.S. while he was working. They hit it off immediately. When she returned to America, they stayed in contact.

Tony decided to travel to the U.S. to see his new friend. After a whirlwind romance, they were married in Las Vegas. That was fifteen years ago, and he is still happily married and living in Ft. Smith, Arkansas.  Tony said that he loves Ft. Smith because it is a quiet, peaceful place but big enough to have everything he needs. He was proud of the fact that he has been an American citizen for one year.

As we visited, we found out that although Tony had lived in France for many years, he had never been a French citizen. His parents were citizens of Spain, so even though he wasn’t born in Spain or lived there, He was a Spanish citizen. Tony was born and grew up in Morroco. His sister married a man from France and moved there. Tony moved to France because of his sister and lived there for many years.

I was intrigued by the multinational aspects of Tony’s story. A baby born in Morocco to Spanish parents who spent many years in France; fell in love with an American; moved to the U.S. and became an American citizen. He now lives happily in Arkansas and does a great job taking care of the patrons in a small restaurant.

As I was looking through the restaurant's reviews on Yelp, I came across this one that made me smile. “Is this authentic? Beats me. Is this good? You bet. Big portions. Attentive service (by Tony. He speaks English Spanish and French). Reasonable prices.” We were not the first restaurant patrons to be impressed by this unassuming man and his attention to detail.

As I thought about Tony and the places that he has lived, I was reminded that the Bible says that all Christians are citizens of the Kingdom of God. In Galatians 3:26-28 (NIV) the Bible tells us that, “in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

In God’s Kingdom, there is neither “Jew nor Greek.” That means no race and no nationality. It doesn't matter the color of the skin. It doesn't matter the shape of your face. It doesn't matter who your mother was or who your grandfather was or who your great grandfather was. It's not important.

Unfortunately, in society, those distinctions make a big difference. What neighborhood are you from? Where did you grow up? What color is your father's skin? These things end up separating us. We use race and nationality to decide people’s place in society. But with Jesus, there are no second-class citizens!

In God’s Kingdom, there is neither “male nor female.” Now, that doesn't mean that men and women aren't different. But the Bible says that they are equal under God in every way. Men and women may not be equal in the world, but in Jesus they are!

Gentle Reader, In God’s Kingdom there are no distinctions.  We are all children of God. “The Father has loved us so much that we are called children of God. And we really are his children.” 1 John 3:1 (NCV) All are equally welcome in God’s Kingdom, and all have an equal need of Him. In God’s Kingdom, everyone has equal rights, equal privileges, and equal blessings. Everyone is saved in the same way and entitled to the same privileges.There is no favoritism on account of birth, beauty, or blood. Everyone receives the same privileges as A child of God.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Jesus and the Second Death

The book of Revelation the Bible talks about the second death. Both the first death and the second death are the result of sin, but the first is temporary and occurs by means of physical causes, such as disease or tragedy or old age. We are all too familiar with the first death. The second death does not occur on merely a physical level, but on the psychological level as well, due to the lethal power of one’s guilt. It is complete and final.

Revelation 20:13-15 is very specific about what the second death is, "The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire." Being cast into the lake of fire is the second death.

The lake of fire, or hell, is equivalent to the second death. God will not subject the wicked to eternal torture in the flames of some underworld. They will be resurrected to face the record of their lives in one final reckoning, then they will be eternally annihilated “as though they had never been” (Obadiah 16).

When the Bible says “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), it does not merely mean the first death. When the Bible says of Jesus “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3) and that He went to the cross so that He “might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9), it does not merely mean the first death. 

The wages of sin is the second death. Everyone dies. Even those who have the gift of God, eternal life. It logically follows that Jesus can only save us from what He has endured and conquered for us. If Jesus only experienced the first death, then he can only save us from the first death, and we must still face the second death ourselves. 

However, the good news is that Jesus faced the full, horrific reality of the second death. Come with me to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus and His disciples enter the garden. Something astounding is about to happen. As Jesus and His disciples enter the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is staggering under the weight of some invisible burden. The disciples can see that something is wrong. Jesus explains what’s happening to Him: “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38).

Jesus has suffered no physical abuse and yet He is dying. No blood has yet been spilled from His body by violence and yet He is bleeding. Luke tells us in Luke 22:44, “And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” He is bleeding through His pores due to the intense internal stress the shame of our sin is imposing on Him.

Jesus is staggering under the weight of some invisible burden. The disciples can see that something is wrong. Jesus explains what’s happening to Him: “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.” (Matthew 26:38)  Here Jesus opens to our understanding the nature of His suffering. Notice that He used the same word He had employed earlier to describe the second death as distinct from the first death: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” 

Again, the word here translated “soul” is psyche in the Greek text and that is precisely the word Jesus uses now to communicate what He’s enduring. In Gethsemane, Jesus says He is dying at the psyche level of His being. He is dying from the inside out, under the lethal power of our sin and guilt.

No physical abuse has yet been inflicted upon Him. And yet, He is dying! No blood has yet been drawn from His flesh by violence. And yet, He is bleeding! Luke tells us: “And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44) He is bleeding through His pores due to the intense internal stress our sin is imposing on Him.

Jesus is taken to the cross. Yes, nails were hammered through His hands and feet. Yes, His body was tortured. And yet, He never uttered a word about the physical pain, because His mental suffering was so intense that it nearly eclipsed His physical pain.

For a sustained period of time, as our guilt enveloped His heart in impenetrable emotional darkness, Jesus could not see life for Himself beyond the grave. But here’s the amazing thing: He was not trapped. His back was not up against a wall with no way out. There are two things He said before the cross that indicate that He was not trapped:

John 10:17,18 “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”

Don’t miss what all this means. Jesus faced the prospect of eternal death, and yet, because He loved you and me, He did not pull back. He was willing to die forever to save us. No wonder Paul called what happened at Calvary, “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19). When Jesus gave His life on the cross, He showed that He loves us more than His own existence.

But here's the glorious good news: Jesus didn’t simply experience the second death. He conquered it as He experienced it. Peter declared: “Whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it” (Acts 2:24).

Notice the language here. “It was not possible” for death to hold Jesus. But why? For one simple reason: “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:56)... but Jesus never sinned. Under the fiercest temptations to save Himself, He kept on loving all of us at any cost to Himself.

By love alone, Jesus triumphed over the second death. Therefore, it was impossible for the second death to hold Him. His resurrection is proof of His victory over our sin, our guilt, and our death. How could He love me so deeply, so selflessly? Is this really what God is like? The story of Calvary shows us the true loving character of God.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Best Gift Ever

An Arkie's Faith column from the December 21, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

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

One Christmas when my son was a young boy, we nearly ruined his Christmas with one particular gift.  One of his jobs around the house was sweeping the kitchen floor. That Christmas we bought a stick vacuum cleaner and thought it would be funny to give to him as a gift. The vacuum, wrapped in beautiful paper, was the largest gift under the tree. When my son saw that the largest gift had his name on it, he was very excited. His imagination went wild. What could that present be? His whole Christmas revolved around the largest gift under the tree and speculating on what it could be.

When Christmas morning arrived, all he could think about was that gift. When he opened it, he was so disappointed that the rest of his Christmas presents couldn't make up for the vacuum cleaner fiasco.

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

What is the best gift I ever received? As I think about this question I find it hard to narrow down one particular gift as the best. There is a gift that I received that is very special to me even though the dollar value of the gift is not very high. Let me tell you the story.

In February 2004, my family and I and other members of my church went to San Pedro, Belize to help build a church. While we were there, we made lots of friends. The next year we made plans to go back to San Pedro.

Our return trip to Belize was wonderful. We got reacquainted with friends that we had made the year before, and made many new friends during the ten days that we were there. Many times friends would stop by our room with gifts such as fresh coconut water, papaya, or some small trinket. On the last day that we were in San Pedro, there was a steady stream of visitors to our room. They wanted to tell us goodbye. Most of them brought a small gift.

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

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

Gentle Reader, I know that you are planning on giving good gifts this Christmas season. Jesus knows that too. In Matthew 7:7-11 (NIV) Jesus said,  “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

No matter how awesome the best gift you open this Christmas is, it can’t compare to the gift of Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas. In Romans 6:23 (KJV) the Bible tells us “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” God has given you the best gift ever; what will you give God this Christmas?

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Candy Canes

I recently read about the legend of the candy cane. Legend is an old English word meaning "probably not true." Even so, I enjoyed reading about the legend.

The legend says that in medieval times, there was a town in Europe where any public display of Christianity was forbidden. No crosses or Bibles were allowed. One old man, a candy maker by profession, was very upset by this. He loved God and couldn't stand to not share that love with others. He prayed for God to show him some way to make Christmas gifts for the children which would teach them the story of Jesus.

His answer was the candy cane. The candy cane was in the shape of a shepherd’s staff to show them that Jesus is our Shepherd and we are His flock. Upside down the candy cane was a "J", the first letter of Jesus' name. It was made of hard candy to remind us that Christ is the rock of our salvation. The wide red stripes on the candy cane were to represent the blood He shed on the cross for each one of us so that we can have eternal life through Him. The three narrow red stripes on the candy canes symbolized that by His stripes, or wounds, we are healed.

The flavoring in the candy cane was peppermint, which is similar to hyssop. Hyssop is of the mint family and was used in Old Testament times for purification and sacrifice just as Jesus sacrificed His life for ours. The old candy maker told the children that when we break our candy cane it reminds us that Jesus' body was broken for us. If we share our candy cane and give some to someone else, it represents the love of Jesus. God gave Himself to us when He sent Jesus. He loved us so much He wants us to spend eternity with Him.

This story of the candy cane is just a legend. No one knows for sure exactly how the candy cane was invented, but this legend is an excellent picture of Jesus and His love for you. Think about it the next time you enjoy a candy cane. And who doesn't enjoy a good candy cane?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Genealogy Research

An Arkie's Faith column from the December 14, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

A few years ago my wife started doing some genealogy research. Early on in her research, she ran across the fascinating story of her great-great-grandmother, Sophie. Sophie Cathrine Wilhelmine Klauen Petersen and her children emigrated from Denmark in 1856. She traveled from Denmark to England where she sailed from Liverpool to New York City. From New York, she traveled by train to Iowa City, Iowa where she became a part of the Willie Handcart Company.

1n 1856, over nineteen hundred European immigrants signed up to make the thousand-mile journey from Iowa City to Salt Lake City pulling handcarts. They were organized into companies, with Sophie and her children becoming a part of the Willie Handcart Company. Although Sophie and her children arrived safely in Salt Lake City, over sixty members of the Willie Handcart Company died on the trail.

My wife has been very interested in the details of this story and has done a lot of research. As these pioneers pulled handcarts across the plains and the Rocky Mountains they faced starvation, hypothermia, frozen limbs and death. Jens Nielsen of the Willie Handcart Company wrote, “No person can describe it, nor could it be comprehended or understood by any human living in this life, but those who were called to pass through it.”

While she was researching her family tree, my wife found that some of her ancestors were very interesting historical figures including Alfred the Great and Charlemagne. Along with royalty she also found some less savory ancestors. One relative that she found in her research was John D. Lee. He was infamous because of his involvement in the Mountain Meadows Massacre that took place in Utah on September 11, 1857.  On that day, Native Americans and members of the Mormon church attacked a wagon train and slaughtered 120 people including women and children. The Mormon Church turned John D. Lee over to the Federal authorities as a scapegoat. He was the only person convicted out of the estimated 50 to 70 Mormon participants and was executed for his crimes.

I’m sure that all of us have some bad ancestors. Some people are ashamed of the actions of their ancestors and think that it reflects badly on them. If the thought of unsavory ancestors bothers you, you probably should not attempt genealogy. I do not know of anyone doing genealogy that has not uncovered something from the past they are not proud of. I'm sure glad I'm not responsible for anything my ancestors did.

In Matthew 1:1-17, we find the genealogy of Jesus. Whenever I find genealogies in the Bible, I usually skip over them to read something more interesting. But recently as I was reading the Christmas story I started with Matthew 1 and read from the beginning. I wondered why Matthew started his gospel with a boring genealogy. As I read, I noticed something unusual. Matthew included four women.

If you read all of the other genealogies in the Bible or from any literature from the time, none of them include women. Matthew not only included women in the genealogy but women with poor reputations.

In Matthew 1:3 we find Tamar listed as an ancestor of Jesus. Tamar was a widow who disguised herself as a prostitute to trick her father-in-law into getting her pregnant and bore a child named Perez. A disturbing story introduces an illegitimate Perez into the lineage of Jesus.

In Matthew 1:5, Rahab, a prostitute, is listed in the genealogy. She is not an Israelite, but a heathen Canaanite. She bore a son named Boaz. The wife of Boaz, the Moabite woman Ruth,  is specifically mentioned as an ancestor of Jesus. The fourth woman listed is Bathsheba, with whom King David had an adulterous affair that resulted in the birth of King Solomon.

Matthew decided to open his gospel by saying that Jesus descended from the incest of Tamar, the prostitution of Rahab, the Moabite Ruth, and the adultery of Bathsheba. Why would he begin his book this way? It shows that Jesus was one of us. He was human. John 1:14 (NKJV) tells us that He, “became flesh and dwelt among us.” But all of the moral failures of the ancestors of Jesus did not stop Him from achieving His purpose. Jesus, just like each one of us, had unsavory ancestors. But Hebrews 4:15 (NCV) tells us, “For our High Priest is able to understand our weaknesses. He was tempted in every way that we are, but he did not sin.”

Gentle Reader, the message of Christmas is that God is love. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16 (NKJV) No matter what is in your past, no one is beyond redemption. Matthew 1:21 (NKJV) gives us the focal point of the Christmas story; “she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus did not give up on the world but chose to enter into this turbulent human experience as a baby in order to reconcile the world to himself. That is what Christmas is all about, and that is good news.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Merry Xmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Xmas every one - pronounced properly of course.  :)

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Learning to Drive

An Arkie's Faith column from the December 7, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

This Thanksgiving holiday weekend we had a wonderful time with family and friends. There were seventeen at our traditional Thanksgiving meal that included a smoked turkey, dressing and homemade cranberry relish, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, creamed corn, vegetarian turkey loaf, Christmas salad and five varieties of pie. For parts of the weekend, we had twenty-five people in our home.

Just before Thanksgiving, I purchased a fire pit for the backyard. My granddaughters and my sister’s granddaughter enjoyed “camping” around the fire and playing with it as much as the adults would let them. They roasted lots of marshmallows and even ate a few.

My Dad brought his Model A roadster, and everyone enjoyed taking turns going for a ride. The rumble seat was especially popular. My granddaughters and their cousin also liked riding in my little 1960 Rambler American. The wanted to know if they could steer the car as we drove on our street.

Because the Rambler is small, and not because my stomach is too large, they were not able to sit in front of me and steer while I operated the pedals. We developed a method that had me sitting tight against the driver's door and one of the girls sitting next to me behind the steering wheel. From this position, I was able to operate the clutch while the driver could operate the gas, brake, and steering wheel. Since I was in control of the clutch, I was in control of the power. I was in a position to operate the brake if I needed to, but it was never necessary. They quickly learned to give the car enough gas so I could smoothly let out the clutch. They enjoyed driving up and down the street and even mastered driving into a driveway, putting it in reverse and backing out.

Teaching them to drive the Rambler brought back memories of learning to drive when I was a kid. We lived in the country, and when I was ten years old, I learned to drive a tractor and move vehicles around on our ten-acre “farm.” When I was twelve, I would ask my Mama to let me drive on the dirt roads near our house. One day a policeman in an unmarked car saw us change drivers when we reached the dirt road, and he followed us home. He gave Mama a ticket for letting me drive. It was a long time before I was able to talk her into letting me drive again.

I remember when my kids learned to drive. Teaching them to drive was a bit of a bumpy ride. My son had driven a bit when I purchased a car for him to drive. His first time in the car he drove a few minutes and then we returned home. As he drove into the driveway, he didn’t slow down and ran right through the garage door. After learning to drive an automatic, my daughter was having trouble with the finer points of a manual transmission. Her boyfriend thought that it would be a good idea to teach her to drive a standard using her Mom’s car. While he was “teaching” her on the Talimena Drive, she drove off of the road seriously damaging the car. I’m sure many parents have stories to tell about teaching their children to drive.

In the eighties, there was a popular bumper sticker that read, “God is my co-pilot.” I understood what it was trying to say, but I wondered if that was right. Then one day I saw a new bumper sticker that read: “If God is your co-pilot, switch seats.”

Inspirational author and speaker BJ Gallagher writes, “my dad was an Air Force pilot. He taught me the difference between a pilot and a co-pilot. The pilot calls the shots; the co-pilot is the number two guy (or gal). The pilot is in charge; the co-pilot assists him – supporting, helping, and providing an extra pair of eyes, ears, and hands. The co-pilot’s job is important, but he never forgets who’s in charge.”

When we say that “God is my co-pilot,” we are saying, “I drive and God is my helper. I call the shots and God does my bidding.” Proverbs 14:12 (NKJV) tells us, “there is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”

Gentle Reader, when life isn’t going the way we would like it to, it’s easy to try and take the wheel from God, and try and force Him to do things our way. But doing so shows our lack of faith and trust in God. Psalm 46:10 (NASB) says, “Cease striving and know that I am God.” Trying to be in control and trusting God at the same time just doesn’t work. When we let God drive our lives and trust that He knows best, we can rest and stop striving, which means that we will ultimately experience peace. Jesus came to earth “to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:79 (NKJV) Let Him be your pilot.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

I Want To Be A Shepherd

I want to be a shepherd. No, I don’t want to live alone with a herd of sheep, but I want to experience what the shepherds in the Christmas story felt. God could have chosen to announce the arrival of Jesus on planet earth to anyone. But instead of asking angels to visit some of the most important people on earth, God sent the angels to speak to humble shepherds.

The shepherds were watching their flocks while the sheep rested or grazed on grass from the hillsides. They were prepared to deal with any danger that threatened their animals, but they were frightened by the angels' appearance. That’s why the angels told them, “don’t be afraid.”

The fields around Bethlehem would have been very dark. Suddenly a bright light filled the darkness, as the sky above Bethlehem filled with a multitude of angels. The angels calmly reassured the frightened shepherds that they had good news for them.

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

The Bible tells the story in Luke 2:15-18: "When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” They rushed into town and found the baby. When they had seen baby Jesus, they told everyone they could about the baby and what the angels had told them. Everyone they talked to was amazed by the story that the shepherds told them.

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

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

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Goodbye, Lou

An Arkie's Faith column from the November 30, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

My friend, Lou, passed away early Monday morning, November 14. We attended the same church together for over 25 years. We both had a passion for missions. My favorite memories of Lou are from a mission trip that we made to Belize.

In 2003 Don and Minnie Johnson moved to Cove, Arkansas and started attending our church. They had spent a year living in Belize. They were passionate about the people of Belize and suggested that our church get involved there.

The members of the church liked the idea and after much planning, money-raising and preparation, it culminated in a mission trip to Belize in early 2004 and the building of a church in San Pedro. My wife and I, my son, my parents, and Lou were among the seventeen members of our church that made the trip to Belize.

After one week, our group had to return home, but we left with the walls of the new church in San Pedro completed. We left the building project in the hands of the local congregation, but we wondered if the church would ever be completed.

During the following months, the church members in San Pedro did finish the church building. Plans were made for a church dedication service to be held in February 2005. I was invited to come to the dedication service. I wanted to go. The church building project had been very important to me, and I had made many friends in San Pedro that I wanted to see again. There was just one problem. I couldn’t afford the trip.

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

Lou and his son made the trip with us back to Belize. Lou’s son is a diver, and San Pedro Belize is a great place to dive the Belize Barrier Reef, the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere. We had a great time vacationing together. We rented bicycles to get around the island. Lou was in his eighties, but I was amazed by his stamina as we rode our bikes everywhere we needed to go. At the end of the trip, Lou said, “he never wanted to ride a bike again!”

It is hard to say goodbye to friends and family. But I am sure that one day before long Lou and I will be reunited. He passionately believed that Jesus was returning soon. It was the focus of his life.  I find comfort in the words that Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NKJV), “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

I’m comforted by the fact that Lou has fallen asleep. He is resting peacefully. He is no longer fighting the daily battles of life. Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 4:7 (NLT) could be Lou’s words. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.” I’m comforted by the fact that God has promised that if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, we can be sure that those who sleep in Jesus will live again. When the Lord Himself descends from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God, the dead in Christ will rise again.

Gentle Reader, if you have experienced the loss of a friend or family member, remember that God does not want you to be ignorant “concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NKJV) God has said that they are blessed. We read in Revelation 14:13 (NIV), “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”’ I’m confident that my friend Lou could repeat the words of the Psalmist found in Psalms 17:15 (NASB) “As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.” I’m looking forward to the day that Jesus returns and Lou will awake and look into the face of Jesus, his Savior.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Love Yourself

In Matthew 22:37-39 Jesus said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’”  What He meant is that a person’s love ought to reach in three directions—upward to God, outward to others, and inward to self.

Most Christians agree that loving God and others is important, but is it important to love yourself? Self-love or self-esteem isn't considered a Christian attribute.  It’s often associated with pride and self-centeredness—and there are plenty of both in our world. However, that’s not what Jesus meant. He was saying we should recognize and appreciate our worth. God created us in His image so we could have a relationship with Him. Jesus died for us so we could be forgiven and reconciled to the Father.

Since God values us so highly, shouldn't we love ourselves? I’m not talking about a boastful attitude, but a quiet peace that comes from knowing we’re deeply loved by our heavenly Father.

A healthy self-love is essential. If it is missing or in some way incomplete, we can’t really love God or others as we should. A sense of unworthiness leaves us empty and prevents us from looking up to God in devotion and reaching out to others with affection.  God does not want us to have low self-esteem.

The Bible actually has many passages that tell us what God has to say about our worth and our value in His eyes. Genesis 1:27 says that “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." You were made in the image of God.

Psalm 139:13-14 says “You made my whole being; you formed me in my mother’s body. I praise you because you made me in an amazing and wonderful way." You were made by God in an amazing and wonderful way.

Ephesians 1:4 says that “God chose us before the world was made so that we would be his holy people—people without blame before him." God chose you even before the world was made.

In Romans 5:8, the Bible tells us that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Jesus died for you not because you were good enough, but because he loved you.

If we focus on how much God loves us and the price He paid to redeem us, we’ll come to see ourselves as God sees us, and that will help us understand just how much we’re really worth as children of God.

Our self-worth is too often based on what other people tell us about ourselves. Jesus is the true authority on our self-worth.  Since He gave His own life up for us by dying on a cross, that should tell us just how valuable we really are.

When we fully accept God’s love for us, we’ll have a healthy appreciation for ourselves, an ever-growing passion for Him, and the ability to care for others.

How much are you and I truly worth? And what value should we place upon each other?  Often we'll look at the work someone is doing, and if they're doing a poor job, making mistakes, then we view that person as of little value.  But is this the correct way of seeing value in someone?

Think about it, if we truly saw the value of people as God does, would we still treat each other the way we do?  Mathew 25:45 tells us, "I tell you the truth, anything you refused to do for even the least of my people here, you refused to do for me."

The key to seeing and understanding the value of you and me and all other people in the world is to see our value in light of what Jesus did to save us! Are there people in our sphere of influence who are failing to thrive because we are not showing them the love that they need?

There’s no question that Christians should want to be loved and to love others. But it’s not enough to tell others that you love them – you must SHOW you love others! Love is not an abstract idea. Love must be manifested. True love is not just something you feel – it’s something you demonstrate!

We all need to grow in this area because everybody needs to know they are loved. You especially need to know how to show love if you are a follower of Jesus because He said, "All people will know that you are my followers if you love each other." John 13:35

In 1 John 3:17-18 the Bible says, “What if a person has enough money to live on and sees his brother in need of food and clothing? If he does not help him, how can the love of God be in him? My children, let us not love with words or in talk only. Let us love by what we do and in truth".

We show our love through our actions.  God has asked us to love others to help them thrive.  There are so many people in this world who are failing to thrive.  Are there those that we know who are failing to thrive because we are not loving them – by what we do?

Let’s remember how much we are of value in God's eyes! All of us! And remember to be kind and loving to all the people in this world because of what Jesus has done for us, and the great worth He has placed on each of his children.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


An Arkie's Faith column from the November 23, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

My son-in-law is an avid backpacker. In 2001 he spent six months hiking the Appalachian Trail, a 2,190-mile trail that traverses fourteen states from Mount Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia. The Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world. Only about one in four who attempt to hike the entire trail are successful.

In 2007, My daughter and son-in-law vacationed in Olympic National Park in Washington state. They backpacked 27 miles of the most remote wilderness beach in America. My daughter was seven months pregnant at the time, and my two-year-old granddaughter rode on her Daddy’s shoulders. Talking about the trip, my son-in-law said, “I carried Autumn, and Cynda carried Rebekah, and the Lord carried all of us!”

As a family, they have continued backpacking. My six-year-old granddaughter has a couple of trail names. She is called Louisiana Lightning, because of her steady but slow pace, and Trail Tripper because she has a tendency to fall down on the trail. As they hike along, they sing, “She is a trail tripper, a Sunday hiker yeah, It took her so long to hike out, she hiked out.”

Recently my son-in-law organized a weekend backpacking trip for more than thirty people, including 15 kids ranging from six to fifteen years old. They backpacked  15 miles along the Eagle Rock Loop Trail, from Winding Stairs to Little Missouri Falls, spending two nights on the trail.

It is a lot of work organizing a backpacking trip with such a large group, especially with so many kids. My son-in-law spent many weeks preparing for the trip and demonstrated good backpacking practices to the kids and their families. He taught classes and presented a list of things to bring. At the top of the list of items to bring on the trip he wrote the following words, “If you think we have forgotten something, we haven't. You simply don't need anything more than this. If you only bring these items, we guarantee a fun trip. Anything extra will void our guarantee. More stuff equals more pain, NOT more comfort.”

The number one rule of backpacking is, “pack light.” Every ounce that you take has to be carried on your back. The lighter the load on your back, the fewer blisters, aches, and pains you will have. The key is to balance comfort in camp with comfort on the trail. A lighter backpack can help you hike better for a longer period and help you enjoy the hike more.

The Globotreks website offers the following advice, “pack everything you think you will need, then get rid of half of it.” The website goes on to say, “don’t carry things just because you think they can come in handy. From experience, most of the time those ‘handy’ items are never used; but you end up carrying them all the way.”

Backpacking can be an allegory for the trip that each one of us is making as we go through life. Many times the Bible uses the concept of a path to describe our lives. In Psalms 16:11 (NET) the Psalmist states, “You lead me in the path of life; I experience absolute joy in your presence; you always give me sheer delight.” And in Psalms 18:36 (NOG) he says, “You make a wide path for me to walk on so that my feet do not slip.” Psalms 119:105 (NKJV) tells us that God has provided us with a way to light our path, “Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.”

As we backpack through life, remember that many people have gone before you on the path. Listen to the wisdom of those who have walked through life before you, and think about the lessons they have learned that could help you in your walk. We don’t have to learn for ourselves things that others have already learned from experience.

Make sure to plan your route. Planning is an important step whether you're mapping out a hiking destination or seeking God's will about decisions in your life. Remember that God promises to be with you, guiding your steps. “A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9 (NKJV)

Check regularly to make sure you're on course. If you've left the right trail or made a wrong decision, you can always find your way back with God's help. If you're weighed down by carrying too heavy a load, lighten your burden. In Psalms 38:4 (NKJV) the Bible talks about a heavy burden; “For my iniquities have gone over my head; Like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.”

One of the most common mistakes that first-time backpackers make is trying to carry too much weight. They feel that they really must have that battery operated fan/light, those cans of beans and a frying pan. In this life, God knows that we are carrying a heavy burden and He wants to lighten the load for us.

Gentle Reader, you can hike more comfortably when you pack less, and you can walk more comfortably on the paths of life when you give your burdens to God. “Since God cares for you, let Him carry all your burdens and worries.” 1 Peter 5:8 (VOICE) Jesus asks you to, “take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”


An Arkie's Faith column from the November 16, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

As we go through life, one of the constants seems to be criticism.  I'm sure that everyone has been the recipient of criticism and has more than likely been critical of others. I have been criticized on many occasions and have myself been critical of others, but recently I have had some experiences that made me stop and think about the impact of criticism, and it’s opposites, affirmation, approval, and encouragement.

As I was installing a windshield, I received a phone call from an acquaintance whom I hadn’t spoken to for quite some time. “I just wanted to call,” he said, “and tell you how much I appreciated this week’s column. I enjoyed the story,” he continued, “and I get the message.” The call lifted my spirits. As a writer, it’s nice to know that someone read my article and it was meaningful to them.

A few days later I met someone in Wal-Mart. She said, “I have appreciated the columns you have been writing recently. I like the personal stories.” I think that we are so used to criticism and negativity that when someone gives us some affirmation and encouragement, it takes us by surprise. Most of us aren’t accustomed to hearing encouraging words. We are more used to hearing criticism.

Today, while I was at James Super Save Foods, a customer came up to me and told me how happy they were with the windshield repair I had done on their convertible. I was surprised. That is not the kind of thing that normally happens. Anyone in business is aware that a satisfied customer seldom lets you know that he is satisfied, but a dissatisfied customer will tell you that he is unhappy.

Research has shown that to neutralize the emotional impact of criticism; one must affirm five times. According to Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, writing in the Harvard Business Review, “even the most well-intentioned criticism can rupture relationships and undermine self-confidence and initiative. It can change behavior, certainly, but it doesn’t cause people to put forth their best efforts. Only positive feedback can motivate people to continue doing what they’re doing well, and do it with more vigor, determination, and creativity. Perhaps that’s why we have found with the vast majority of the leaders; positive feedback is what motivates them to continue improvement.”

Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV), "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” Elizabeth Harrison, a pioneer in early childhood education in America stated, "Those who are lifting the world upward and onward are those who encourage more than criticize.” Are you encouraging those around you or are you criticizing?

When I was in grade school, I often heard the childhood rhyme, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." That statement is not true. In fact, words may not break our bones, but they certainly can damage our spirits. In Proverbs 12:18 (CEV) the Bible tells us, “Sharp words cut like a sword, but words of wisdom heal.”

Ephesians 4:29 (NOG) says, "Don’t say anything that would hurt another person. Instead, speak only what is good so that you can give help wherever it is needed. That way, what you say will help those who hear you.” If we want to help someone we need to encourage them, not criticize them.

I recently ran across a story written by Kathy Schultz. She wrote, "pink is my granddaughter's favorite color. She had been telling me this since she first discovered colors. The other night as she chatted away, she added that yellow was another one of her favorite colors."

Kathy went on to explain why her granddaughter had added yellow as a favorite color. She said that when she asked about the new favorite color, her granddaughter began by telling her that when she went to music class, Mrs. Cooke, the music teacher told her she was a bright yellow crayon, bright as the sun.

Kathy wrote, "this is a wonderful description of my grandchild! The teacher was right. She is a bubbly, cheerful, child. Truly, she is a bright ray of sunshine." She concluded by saying, "words have such power. A small statement made by her teacher had truly inspired my granddaughter. It made her even list yellow as her favorite color. I doubt she will ever forget the teacher's kind remarks. This made me think of the words I say. Do I say kind, encouraging, inspiring words to others?"

Gentle Reader, the choice is yours. Either you can criticize, or you can encourage. I hope that your choice will be to encourage others. If you do, God will encourage you! When we encourage and help others, we are showing God’s love. Show someone how much you value them for who they are. Encouragement can drastically change a person’s life!

Colossians 3:12 (ISV) tells us, “Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” If we clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, we will be perfectly equipped to be an encouragement to others. We will not have a critical spirit.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge

An Arkie's Faith column from the November 9, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

On Hacksaw Ridge, soldiers lay dead or dying. Over the noise of gunfire and artillery voices could be heard yelling, "Medic!" The enemy had caught them by surprise. Mortar rounds were exploding, and bullets were flying. The order came, “retreat!” While soldiers scrambled away from danger, one soldier ran toward the enemy, looking for wounded soldiers left on the battlefield.

Many hours later, after rescuing countless injured soldiers, he refused to stop even though he was at the point of exhaustion. His motto was, “as long as there is life there is hope.” He was determined to find every fallen soldier who was still breathing.

For hours, without any help, he had been carrying injured soldiers through enemy fire, lowering each man on a rope-supported litter he had devised. He used double bowline knots he had learned as a young boy, tying the makeshift litter to a tree stump serving as an anchor. Lowering each wounded man to a safe spot 40 feet below the ridge, he saved the lives of at least 75 soldiers.

At the beginning of the day, his company had launched the assault of Hacksaw Ridge with 155 men. After the vicious enemy attack, less than one-third were able to retreat down the escarpment to relative safety. The rest lay wounded across enemy controlled ground. One lone soldier charged back into the firefight to rescue as many men as he could, knowing that he would probably die that day. The soldier had a strong faith in God and his prayer after each rescue was, “please Lord, help me get one more.”

The soldier in this story was Desmond Doss. Because of his bravery during the American assault on Okinawa in May 1945, Desmond was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Truman on October 12, 1945. As he shook the hand of Corporal Desmond Doss, President Truman said, “I’m proud of you. You really deserve this. I consider this a greater honor than being President.”

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” John 15:13 (NKJV) Desmond Doss is a great example of this biblical principal. The feature film, Hacksaw Ridge, based on his life was released on November 4, 2016. Mel Gibson directs it with Andrew Garfield playing the role of Desmond Doss.

I have known the story of Desmond Doss for many years. When I was a young boy, I read the book The Unlikeliest Hero by Booton Herndon. The book is an in-depth look at the life of Desmond Doss. The story depicted in the film Hacksaw Ridge is an incredible story, but there is so much more to Desmond’s war experience and the rest of his life.

One story that I recall happened three weeks after Hacksaw Ridge. In a night attack, he remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover. A grenade blast seriously wounded his legs. Rather than call another aid man from cover, he cared for his injuries and waited five hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to safety. When Desmond saw a more critically wounded man nearby, he crawled off the litter and directed the litter bearers to take care of the other man.

While he was waiting for the litter bearers to return, he was again struck, this time suffering a compound fracture of one arm. In extreme pain, he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards over rough terrain to the aid station.

In 1999 I had the honor of meeting Desmond Doss. I had taken a group of young boys, ages 10 to 14, to hear him speak. After his talk, my boys wanted to meet him. We waited for a chance to talk to him. Desmond stayed until everyone who wanted to meet him had a chance. He took the time to visit with each one of the boys personally after he talked. The boys loved him and were very impressed. They said to me, "we got to meet a real American hero."

Gentle Reader, I'm proud to have been able to meet this humble man. His story made an impression on me when I was a boy. When I met him, I was impressed by his humility. Even though everyone in the audience wanted to hear about his Medal of Honor, he was uncomfortable talking about his actions. He focused more on being prepared and being willing to help others. He stressed the importance of standing up for your convictions. The world needs more people like Desmond Doss.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Hanging Judge

An Arkie's Faith column from the November 2, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

Recently I spent the afternoon at the Fort Smith National Historic Site. The site includes the remains of two frontier forts and the Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas. The original fort was built in 1817 to maintain peace between the Osage and Cherokee Indians. As the frontier moved west, Fort Smith became an important supply point for the U.S. Army.

During the Civil War, Fort Smith was held first by the Confederacy but was seized by the Union army in 1863 and held by Federal troops for the duration of the war. After the Civil War, outlaws made their way into the Indian Nations bordering Fort Smith. They terrorized the Indians and overwhelmed the capabilities of area law enforcement. By 1875, Indian Territory had become known as a very bad place, where outlaws thought the laws did not apply to them and terror reigned.  On March 18, 1875, President Grant nominated Isaac Parker as judge for the Western District of Arkansas.

Judge Parker arrived in Fort Smith on May 4, 1875. During the summer of 1875, eighteen people came before Judge Parker charged with murder and 15 were convicted. Eight of them were sentenced to die on the gallows on September 3, 1875. However, only six would be executed as one was killed trying to escape and a second had his sentence commuted to life in prison because of his youth.
Parker's critics dubbed him the "Hanging Judge."  In 21 years on the bench, he sentenced more people to hang than any other judge in American history. In that time, he tried 344 capital crimes and sentenced 160 men to death by hanging, though only 79 of them had the sentence carried out. Judge Parker was hard on killers and rapists, but he was also a fair man. He occasionally granted retrials that sometimes resulted in acquittals or reduced sentences.

Judge Parker was against capital punishment. In an 1896 interview, he stated, “I favor the abolition of capital punishment, too. Provided that there is a certainty of punishment, whatever that punishment may be. In the uncertainty of punishment following crime lies the weakness of our ‘halting crime.’” He added, “I have ever had the single aim of justice in view. ‘Do equal and exact justice,’ is my motto, and I have often said to the grand jury, ‘Permit no innocent man to be punished, but let no guilty man escape.'” He went on to say, “I never hung a man. It is the law.”

Just like the U.S. has laws and penalties, so does the Kingdom of God. In 1 John 3:4 (GNT) the Bible says, “Whoever sins is guilty of breaking God's law, because sin is a breaking of the law.” And in Romans 3:23 (NKJV) we read, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All of us have broken God’s law. The Bible makes it clear that the penalty for breaking the law is death. Romans 6:23 (NKJV) tells us that, “the wages of sin is death.”

The sobering truth is that it takes only one sin for the death penalty to be imposed.  God warned Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before they ever sinned, "you must not eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you do, you will certainly die.” Genesis 2:17 (NIRV) The death penalty falls immediately on anyone who sins. This is bad news, because “all have sinned.” Does this make God a “hanging judge?”

The Bible makes it clear that God doesn’t want us to suffer the penalty for our sin. In 2 Peter 3:9 (NASB) we read, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” And we read in John 3:16 (KJV), probably the most famous verse in the Bible, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Gentle Reader, although it is true that the wages of sin is death, Romans 6:23(NKJV) gives us the rest of the story, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God isn’t the hanging judge. He sent his son to be our Savior. In Romans 10:9 (NLT) we read this beautiful promise, “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” There is no reason to fear the hanging judge. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 (NKJV)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Check Up

Arkie's Faith column from the October 26, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

Recently I went to see my family doctor for my yearly check up. Well, maybe I was eight or nine months late. And maybe I went because my wife made an appointment for me. But what is important is that I went for my check up.

Why was I so reluctant to see my doctor? I can give you a list of excuses, but none of them are more important than my health. Maybe I don’t really want to know if there is a problem with my health. Fortunately, I received a clean bill of health. I don’t need to go to the doctor for a check up for another year.

I know that routine checkups are important because they can find problems that if undiscovered could grow to be serious health issues. I know that giving my doctor permission to find hidden health problems is best for my long-term health.

King David realized that spiritual check-ups were important. Asking God to search for hidden sin, he prayed, “Examine me, O God, and know my mind; test me, and discover my thoughts. Find out if there is any evil in me and guide me in the everlasting way. Psalms 139:23,24 (GNT) He realized that giving God the opportunity for a full and unconditional inspection of his mind and thoughts would keep him spiritually healthy.

King David knew that even if you are feeling good about yourself, it is time for a checkup! Only God knows the true condition of our heart, and only He can forgive, heal, and lead us to a righteous life and productive future. In Psalms 26:2,3 (GNT) we read, “Examine me and test me, Lord; judge my desires and thoughts. Your constant love is my guide; your faithfulness always leads me.” God knows us better than we know ourselves.

Do you go in for a checkup with the doctor every year? Does your doctor listen to your heart, update your immunizations, check your lungs and your weight? Checkups are good. They can stop little things from developing into bigger things. Given a choice, I’d probably not voluntarily visit my doctor for a physical exam. Over the years I haven’t regularly had check ups. I’m inclined to assume that everything is okay and not bother my doctor about it. But since my wife made the appointment for me I reluctantly went to the doctor. Given a choice, many of us are a little afraid of spiritual checkups as well. After all, if we check too closely, we might find that we need to make some changes in our life.

I know how to make an appointment and see my family doctor, but how do I go about getting a spiritual checkup? A good place to start is found in Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV) where Jesus answered the question, “which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

When I went to the doctor for my check-up, he asked a lot of questions. The first question we need to ask ourselves in a spiritual check-up is, do I love God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind? How do I know if I love God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind? Jesus gives us the answer in John 14:15 (NKJV) when he said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” That is clear enough. God’s commandments are a guide to let us know how we are doing spiritually.

For your spiritual check-up, turn to Exodus 20 in your Bible and read God’s words that he spoke from the top of Mount Sinai. Christians today refer to these words as the Ten Commandments. There is no better place to start a spiritual check-up than to read these commandments and look into your heart and see if you are following them the way God spoke them.

Gentle Reader, we all need a spiritual checkup once in a while; a time to look at our walk with the Lord and ask ourselves, “Am I on the right path?  Am I doing what the Lord wants for me?“ If your spiritual checkup finds you in need of some fine tuning, remember that the Great Physician has promised to help you accomplish it. Pray like King David did when he failed his spiritual check-up, “Create in me a pure heart, God, and make my spirit right again.” Psalms 51:10 (NCV)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Do Unto Others

An Arkie's Faith column from the October 19, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

Recently I had one of those experiences at work that you just never want to have. After working on a customer’s vehicle, I moved it from my work area to our parking lot. I was in a hurry to start the next job. As I was working, I heard a thud! I looked up and saw that the vehicle I had recently moved had rolled back against another car.

I ran over to see what had happened. The left front fender of the vehicle was damaged where it had run into the rear bumper of another car. When I had shifted the vehicle into park, it didn’t stay, and when the transmission slipped out of park, the vehicle rolled back. My heart sank as I looked at the damage. I wasn’t looking forward to telling the customer that I had damaged his truck.

When the customer arrived at my shop, I immediately told him that I had something I needed to show him. I showed him the damage and told him that we would do whatever he wanted us to do to take care of the issue. He looked at the damage to his fender and said, “that doesn’t look too bad, and my truck is old, don’t worry about it.” He continued, “It was an accident, and I wouldn’t want that to have happened to me.” I told him that I wasn’t comfortable with doing nothing. We agreed on a monetary amount to pay for the damage. I told him that I appreciated how understanding he was about the incident. He told me that he wanted to treat me the same way he would want to be treated if it had happened to him.

In Christianity, we refer to this concept as “The Golden Rule.”  If you ask someone to repeat ”The Golden Rule,” they will usually say, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” There is no place in the Bible that uses exactly this phrase, but in Matthew 7:12 (NKJV), Jesus said, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” And in Luke 6:31 (NKJV) we read, “and just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.”

Most Christians truly believe this. But there’s one area of life where it seems that Christians forget the golden rule, and that’s politics. I’m amazed by how many Christians become completely uncivil when it comes to discussing politics. In everything else they are polite but once they start talking about politics or politicians they become vicious. It seems that they forget that the Bible says in Romans 12:10 (NLT), “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.”

Many devout Christians become mean, critical, and bitter when they talk about politics. Insults, name-calling, bitterness, and slander are the order of the day. They don’t seem to remember that the Jesus they claim to worship said to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Luke 6:27,28 (NIV)

I think that social media is partly to blame. People post things they might never say. I don’t believe that Christians shouldn't have opinions on politics or that they shouldn't express them. I’m very grateful that I live in a country where free speech is a basic human right. I’m happy that there are Christians who care about their country and involve themselves in the political process.

But does it have to be so full of hate? It is all right for a Christian to express an opinion on politics such as, “I think X is a poor President, Senator, Congresswoman, Candidate.” But we have all seen some Christians cross the line from opinion to attack, insult, and slander. Much of it is hateful and malicious.

When I look at the Facebook posts of some Christians, I ask myself if they have ever read Colossians 4:6 (NKJV) “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.”

In Matthew 12:34 (ICB) Jesus said, “The mouth speaks the things that are in the heart.” We as Christians can’t escape the reality that our words, or social media posts, reveal our true character.   In Matthew 12:37 (NLT) Jesus said, “the words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.” I have never read in the Bible where Jesus said, “But when it comes to politics and politicians, feel free to be as mean, vile and ugly as you want.”

When Christians say ugly words or post thoughts or pictures about people they disagree with to support their political position, they are talking about people that Jesus loves and died for. There is a real person behind those words. They are saying that about real people, not just ideologies, not just platforms, not just issues, not just politicians.

Gentle Reader, I’m sure that there is a way for Christians to engage in the political process and political discussions while still manifesting the Spirit of Jesus. If Christians consistently showed the Spirit of Jesus in their political discussions instead of being mean or harsh, it would be a powerful witness. Before you talk or post on social media, ask yourself if you would want to be talked about that way. Remember the golden rule.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Jump Start

An Arkie's Faith column from the October 12, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

A few days ago I received a call from a friend. “We are at Wal-Mart,” she said, “and our battery is dead. Are you busy right now? Can you come and give us a jump start?” I grabbed my jumper cables, put them in my little Rambler, and headed for Wal-Mart.

My friend had left the headlights on, and the battery had run down. It didn’t have enough power to start the vehicle. When I arrived, I ran the jumper cables from the battery in my little Rambler to the battery in my friend’s vehicle and in just a few seconds the engine came to life.

A couple of months ago I had a similar experience in my wife’s car. While my wife and daughter were shopping, I stayed in the car with my granddaughter who was not feeling well. While we were in the car, my granddaughter wanted to listen to her favorite podcast, Tales from the South. The podcast features true stories told by the Southerners who lived them, in front of a live audience. I plugged my phone into the car’s stereo system, and we enjoyed listening to some great stories. When my wife and daughter came back to the car and were ready to go, the battery was dead, and the car wouldn’t start.

When we first purchased the car I had placed a set of battery cables in the compartment under the rear floor. We had never needed to use the cables before, but I was glad that we had them with us. With the cables, we were able to jump start the car and be on our way again.

Electrical power is one of those things that we don't think about very often. We usually only think about the power when it isn’t there. When we turn the key in our car, we expect the engine to start. When we flip the switch, we expect the lights to go on. When we come home from work on a hot day, we expect the house to be cool and comfortable. When we open the refrigerator, we expect the milk to be cold.

When the power isn’t working, it suddenly becomes very important. Anyone who was living in Polk County during December 2000 remembers being without power. That year a major ice storm developed Christmas Day and continued through the early morning hours of December 27th. Much of western Arkansas was coated by a layer of ice up to 3 inches thick. The effects were devastating. 300,000 Arkansans were without power for many days. The 2000 ice storm is believed to be the worst natural disaster in Arkansas history. We were without power for six days and had friends in South Polk County who were without power for 23 days.

Even though our house still had all of its electrical wiring, outlets, and switches nothing worked. Habits are hard to break, and even after days without power I still found myself trying to turn on the lights. Even though everything looked fine, there was no power.

Just like a house without power or a car with a dead battery, we have no power in ourselves to follow Jesus. We have no energy to serve Him. We have no power to change ourselves. I’m sure that your experience verifies the fact that sheer will power cannot conquer sin. On our own, living like Christ is not difficult; it’s impossible. Jesus explains this in John 15:5 (NLT) “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”

Jumper cables have no power in themselves. Their only job is to connect the dead battery to a battery that works. When the car starts, no one says, “Wow, what powerful jumper cables you have!” It doesn’t matter if the jumper cables are new and shiny, or if they are old and rusty and dirty and tied in knots. All that matters is that they connect the dead battery to a battery with a full charge. The power is in the fully charged battery. The cables are just a conduit; the working battery does all the work of bringing life to the dead car.

Our only job in this life is to be connected. We need to be connected to the Source of power and be willing to reach out and touch anyone who is broken down. Do you know someone who is broken down, hurting, in need of power in their life? Do you feel unable to help them? Remember, the burden to be the battery, to bring energy to them, is not yours. Your job is to be the cables that connect them to Jesus through love.

Gentle Reader, just like we take our electrical power for granted, we also often take God's power for granted. We expect Him to love us. We expect Him to be there for us, but how often do we think about His power? I want to say with King David, "I will sing about your power. Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love. For you have been my refuge, a place of safety when I am in distress.” Psalms 59:16 (NLT)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Astoria Column

An Arkie's Faith column from the October 5, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

On a recent trip to the Oregon coast, my wife and I visited the Astoria Column. The city of Astoria, Oregon is located at the mouth of the Columbia River and has a population of about 10,000 people. The Astoria Column is one of the most visited parks in the state of Oregon and is the city’s most popular attraction with more than 400,000 visitors each year.

The Astoria Column is part of a series of 12 historical monuments that Ralph Budd, president of the Great Northern Railroad, erected in the early 1900’s between St. Paul, Minnesota and Astoria, Oregon. In 1925, he announced that he wanted a memorial in Astoria that would, “properly salute Astoria’s explorers and early settlers for their critical role in the United States’ stretch to the Pacific Coast.”

The final design for the monument was modeled after the Trajan Column, a Roman triumphal column in Rome, Italy, which commemorates Roman emperor Trajan's victory in the Dacian Wars. The Trajan Column tells the story of two military campaigns fought between the Roman Empire and Dacia, modern day Romania, between AD 101-106.

The Astoria Column, as the monument was called, featured a hand-painted spiral around the column that would stretch more than 500 feet if unwound. The artwork commemorated the historical events that transpired at the mouth of the Columbia River. Scenes depicted on the column include events such as the discovery of the Columbia River by Captain Robert Gray; the wintering of the Lewis and Clark Expedition; the arrival of the ship Tonquin, and the completion of the railroad. Work on the monument began in March 1926, and it was dedicated on July 22, 1926.

Towering above Astoria, the Column sits on top of Coxcomb Hill, 600 feet above sea level. From this vantage point, the 125-foot tall column provides an incredible view of Young’s Bay, the Coast Range, the mighty Columbia River, and in the distance, the Pacific Ocean.

As I visited The Astoria Column, I was amazed by the beautiful views. I enjoyed taking photographs and immersing myself in the scenery. I was also quite interested in the history that the column depicts. Before visiting the site, I hadn’t realized that the column was intended to be a memorial.

A memorial is something that serves as a focus to help remember an event.  Are there memorials in the Bible? There is a memorial right in the Ten Commandments.  Exodus 20:8-11 (NKJV) says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”

What are we to remember when we keep the Sabbath holy? That God created the heavens and the earth. When did God set up this memorial?  Genesis 2:1-3 (NKJV) tells us, “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”

One of the main topics of the book of Revelation is worship. In Revelation 14:6,7 (NKJV) it says, “Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth—to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people—saying with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.’” God wants people who will worship Him as the Creator.

Hebrews 11:3 (NCV) tells us that, “By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.” Faith is important to the Christian, and by faith, we understand that God created the universe. By faith, we realize that because God is our Creator, He deserves our worship.

Gentle Reader, creation is important; It is the reason we worship God as our Creator, and the seventh day has stood as a memorial to God’s creative power from creation week until today.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Sabbath Truth

In Genesis chapters 1 and 2, we read the story of creation. During the week of creation God created material spaces on the first three days, and then on the next three days He filled those spaces with life.

On day one God formed the heavens and the earth and separated the light from the darkness, and then on day four He filled that space with the sun, the moon and the stars. On day two God formed the spaces of water and sky, and then on day five He filled those spaces with fish and birds. On day three God formed the space of the dry land, and then on day six God filled the land with animals and man. On the seventh day, God created the Sabbath and filled it with Himself. The seventh day is a unique space because it’s not a material space, but rather a space of time, and it is not filled with material things, but with God’s presence.

Genesis 2:1-3 reads, ‘Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

God did not need to rest because of physical exhaustion, but rested in the sense of satisfaction. God wasn’t tired, He was happy, He was pleased, He was fulfilled. He had been giving, giving, giving; pouring out His energy to create. Now He had completed the task and was experiencing the pleasure of His creation.

His plan for us is that we would be “blessed” first by receiving from Him rest and then that we would be energized to give of ourselves back to Him.

So God “sanctified” the seventh day. The word means set apart; that is unique or distinct. God gave us the Sabbath as a unique space in time for the enjoyment of fellowship between Himself and us, as a constant recurring reminder that the nature of our relationship with Him is one of fellowship and reciprocal love.

Human beings were created during the latter half of the sixth day, after all of God’s “work” of creation was already “finished.” Therefore, they did not participate in the work of Creation, nor did they even witness God engaging in the act of creating. Imagine the scene. Adam awakes to life, and the first thing that he sees is the face of his Creator. They make eye contact. What a moment! God says something like, Hello! Welcome to existence! I’m your Creator, and I made all this beauty for you.

Adam senses that he is loved. God then creates Eve. But he doesn’t turn to Adam and say, “Watch this,” and poof, she is created in Adam’s sight. No. He puts Adam to sleep, and then He creates Eve. She, like Adam, awakes to live by faith and Adam opens his eyes a second time to trust His Maker’s word that this most beautiful of all creatures standing before him came forth from God’s creative power.

There they stood, the man and the woman, in a beautiful garden receiving by faith, as a gift, all that surrounded them. And think about this, Sabbath was their first full day of life. They rested first, contemplating the reality of their utter dependence on their Creator, and then, energized by His love, they went to work tending the garden on the first day of the week.

The story of the Creation shows us that we human beings are creatures of rest before we are creatures of work. We are mentally and emotionally designed for receiving from God before we are able to give back to God and others. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love Him because He first loved us.”  That’s the nature of the Creator-creature relationship.

Love is the fundamental principle of the character of God. It is how His kingdom operates. Through the prophet Jeremiah God declared both His heart toward us and His method of saving us: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you” (Jeremiah 31:3).

Because God loves us, He draws us to Himself by the attractive influence of His loving-kindness, rather than to force us by His superior power or manipulate us by His superior wisdom. God’s only goal is to attract and empower us.

You and I are free to say no to God. So He has taken up the delicate task of saving us from sin while leaving our free will unmolested, intact, and operable.

Grace is the form God’s love takes in relating to sinners. The genius of grace is that it simultaneously frees me and captivates me. I realize there is absolutely nothing I can do to earn God’s favor. I am free to say No to Him and yet I want to say Yes. But if I believe, intellectually or even emotionally, any form of the salvation-by-works lie, I am morally crippled, and defeated. I labor toward God under feelings of guilt, and guilt weakens rather than strengthens my will.

There is a wonderful peace and security in knowing that my salvation is His work and not mine. That is the Sabbath rest Jesus offers. But it’s more than just rest He offers, because with rest comes energy! When I rest in Christ alone for my salvation, His grace energizes me and motivates me with the powerful motive of love as the only true basis for obedience.

Religion says: If I obey, then God will love and accept me.
The Gospel of the Sabbath says: I’m loved and accepted. Therefore I wish to obey.

On the seventh day, the day that God set apart as unique at creation, I find myself face-to-face, heart-to-heart with a God who already loves me, already favors me, already accepts me, not because I’ve done anything to deserve it, but simply because He’s good. Knowing this makes me want to please Him. And right here, right now, realizing how much God loves me and wants to save me, I rest. This is what the Sabbath truth is all about.

A few years ago my friend Richie Owens spent a year of his life writing and recording an album. I remember his enthusiasm as he would bring me new songs to listen to. Songs just seemed to pour out of him as he focused on this project. One of my favorite songs that he wrote was titled "Day of Rest." The song talks about the same themes as this blog post.

Day of Rest
Richie Owens

The three of them walked in the garden
Three figures beaming with light
One had created the others
And in His presence there could be no night

He had given them many instructions
He had shown them the things they must do
In my mind I imagined He hugged them
And said I've made one more thing for you

This is My world, and now it's yours too
And your job is taking care of these things
That I've made pure and true
Six days I've labored, the seventh I've blessed
This will always be our day of rest.

A slave driver went before Pharaoh
Fearing he's soon breathe his last
He had been given an order
But he's failed to bring it to task

He said, "Sir I have beaten them senseless
Still I can't make them work on this day
They don't seem to care that I'll kill them"
And then Pharaoh asked, "what do they say"

They say it's God's will
what He's asked them to do
Seems Moses and Aaron have told them things
They say their fathers once knew
Six days they'll labor, the seventh is blessed
They say it's their God's day of rest

Remember the Lord of the Sabbath
Remember the price that He paid
The same God that rested in Eden
Rested that day in the grave

In this world of turmoil and confusion
God has offered a haven but yet
The one day that God says remember
Is the one that the world would forget

But all the redeemed in the garden
All of the beaming with light
In the midst of them is their Creator
And for them there will be no more night

This is their world, God's made it anew
And their job is taking good care of these things
He has made, sin is through
The conflict is over, and all things are blessed
And they still keep the Sabbath
Cause Sabbath is God's day of rest