Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Gentle God

Many Christian writers and speakers spend a lot of time focusing on the wrath of God and how He will torture sinners. I recently read an article by John Burton titled, "Is it Time for Hell Fire Preaching Again?" In the article he stated, "we need hell fire preachers to emerge and announce to the church and the world the reality of their situation and the measure of God's wrath and judgment that is coming. Contrary to popular belief a very real revelation of hell, of torment, is needed to draw people to the Lover of their souls."

I can't agree with the idea that a very real revelation of hell, of torment, is needed to draw people to God. Instead of I want to lift up a gentle God. In Matthew 11:29 Jesus describes himself this way. “Accept my teachings and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives.” And in John 14:9  he says, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

Why would Jesus describe himself as gentle? I think we find the key in 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”

Jesus doesn’t want us to fear Him. God doesn’t want us to fear Him. Jesus wants to be our friend. He said in John 15:15, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.”  A servant is afraid of his master, but a real friendship should not involve fear. Jesus wants to be our friend and to dispel our fears. He wants to cast out fear.

I’m not saying that there are no consequences. There is a judgment. Galatians 6:7-8, tells us, "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life."

There will be those who are afraid of God. We read in Revelation 6:14-16, "Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place. And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks. 'Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!'" Even though there will be people who are afraid of God it is not what he wants.

2 Peter 3:9 tells us that God “is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." Does God use fear as a tactic to lead us to repent? Many Christian preachers and writers use fear. Fear spills over into our outreach efforts. We feel that we have to warn the world of the judgement, the Second Coming, and hell. Shouldn’t it rather be our privilege to announce to the world the Good News that Jesus is almost here? That we can all be ready for that because of what He’s already done before we were even born. That if we daily choose Him, we have nothing to fear from the judgement and hell.

There is no doubt that the world, and we ourselves in the church, need to come to repentance, But does God use fear as a way to motivate us? The Bible says in Romans 2:4, "Do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?" What leads us to repentance?  What brings us to confess?  Is it fear?  Is it to avoid hell?  Is it to gain the rewards of heaven?  None of those are good reasons to repent.

We are led to repentance in the Bible sense by the kindness of God. When we experience God’s kindness and feel his love, grace, mercy and forgiveness, it makes us want to love him.  When we love God we want to please him; we want Him to live in us and work through us.

Seeing his kindness towards us makes us sorry for the things we have done to hurt him.  It leads us to repentance.  Seeing God’s kindness towards us makes us want to be like him and show compassion to our fellow human beings.

God is the God of peace, God is the God of love. God is not the God of fear. Fear and love are at war with one another.

I will illustrate this with a story. One night a house caught fire, and a young boy was forced to go to the roof. A fireman stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to the boy, "Jump! I'll catch you." He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see was flames, smoke, and blackness.  He was afraid to leave the roof. The fireman kept yelling: "Jump! I will catch you." But the boy protested, “I can't see you." The fireman replied, "But I can see you, and that's all that matters."

In life, each one of us finds ourselves in the same situation as the young boy on the roof. We will be destroyed unless we do something. If we stay in our current situation, we will be destroyed by fire.

Let me ask you a question. Was the boy in the story afraid? Yes, of course, he was afraid. What was he afraid of? The fire. Was he afraid of the fireman? No. He had to put his trust in the fireman. He couldn’t have put his trust in the fireman if he had been afraid of him.

What about you? Are you afraid? You should be. Not all fear is bad. There is a healthy fear. Fear makes us cautious in the presence of danger such as crossing a busy highway, working with High voltage electricity, or dangerous equipment. But don’t be afraid of the fireman, who is Jesus. He is your only hope, your only chance of being rescued. You need to trust him, not be afraid of him.

"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. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." John 3:16,17

God doesn’t want you to fear Him, he wants to save you. Let’s do some soul searching today. Do you see God as a harsh, demanding God or a loving God? Do you serve a God who is a friend or do you view Him as a taskmaster just waiting for you to fail so He can torture you?

Psalms 86:15 says, “But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.”  Do you see God as a gentle God, a compassionate God, a gracious God? I hope so!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Waiting For Sunrise

An Arkie's Faith column from the May 25, 2016, issue of The Mena Star.

For the last ten years, I have participated in the Relay For Life of Polk County. This year’s event was held May,13-14 at Janssen Park. The past two years, rain has kept us from having Relay For Life in the park, but the weather was beautiful for this year's event.

The Relay began at 6:00 pm when cancer survivors and caregivers kicked off the event by walking the first laps. After the special laps, Relay became one big party with each team having a site with food, games, activities, and items to purchase. There were lots of interesting characters taking laps around the track and some crazy activities going on.

A luminaria ceremony at 9:00 pm illuminated the entire track as participants lit luminaria candles in memory of those who’ve lost the battle to cancer and in support for those still fighting the disease. Everyone maintained a respectful silence as the names on the luminaria were read. People circled the track looking for those special luminaria that had meaning for them.

After the luminaria ceremony, the mood lifted as we prepared to stay all night. Karaoke, line dancing, Zumba, and three on three basketball kept us awake and motivated during the night.

Why do we Relay all night long and stay overnight? Because the Relay For Life event is designed to symbolize the journey of a cancer survivor. Relay For Life starts at dusk and ends the next morning. The light and darkness of the day and night parallel the physical effects, emotion, and mental state of a cancer patient while undergoing treatment.

As survivors start their cancer treatment, it’s hard and taxing, just like when the light of day fades into darkness. As midnight comes, teams continue to walk the track, but it gets harder as the walking continues into the early morning hours.

This time represents when a cancer patient becomes exhausted, sick, maybe not wanting to go on, possibly wanting to give up. As Relay participants, we feel much the same way. We are tired, want to sleep, and may even want to go home, but we don't stop or give up.

The time just before daybreak symbolizes the coming of the end of treatment for the cancer patient. Things are beginning to look brighter, just like the break of dawn. A sense of hope emerges. The morning light brings on a new day full of life and new beginnings.

The Psalmist understood this concept when he wrote, “His anger lasts only a moment, but his kindness lasts for a lifetime. Crying may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Psalms 30:5 (NCV) God knows the tough times you have been going through, but He wants you to know that better times are coming.

The Bible tells us that God collects your tears. He knows every tear you have shed. He knows every problem you face. “You have seen me tossing and turning through the night. You have collected all my tears and preserved them in your bottle! You have recorded every one in your book.” Psalms 56:8 (TLB)

There is an old English proverb that says,” the darkest hour is just before the dawn.” The English theologian and historian Thomas Fuller used the phrase in a book he published in 1650. The phrase has become a part of our culture.

Many people are going through the darkest hour. Our family has recently been going through a difficult situation. Whatever situation is making your life dark, sunrise is coming.

A sunrise is a beautiful thing to watch. But it doesn’t happen all at once. It starts with a gradual lightening of the sky, an almost imperceptible change from inky black to promising gray. Then the gray gradually gives way to beautiful shades of lavender and orange, and you catch a glimpse of the sun just below the horizon. Just when you think you can’t wait another minute – there it is, bursting forth in glorious radiance, shining just for you and promising a new beginning. Once the sun breaks over the horizon, it doesn’t take long to rise, warming the earth and lighting the darkness.

Bluegrass artist, Ralph Stanley, wrote in the song, “Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn,” the following words. "Like a shepherd out on the mountain. A-watchin' the sheep down below. He's coming back to claim us. Will you be ready to go? The darkest hour is just before dawn. The narrow way leads home. Lay down your soul. Let Jesus in. The darkest hour is just before dawn."

Gentle Reader, have you been waiting for the sunrise? Have you spent far too long in the dark? Jesus wants to light the way for you. He wants to be your sunrise. Whatever you have been going through do not give up hope. “Brothers and sisters, be patient until the Lord comes again. A farmer patiently waits for his valuable crop to grow from the earth and for it to receive the autumn and spring rains. You, too, must be patient. Do not give up hope, because the Lord is coming soon.” James 5:7,8 (NCV)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Mother's Day

An Arkie's Faith column from the May 18, 2016, issue of The Mena Star.

Have you ever wondered about the origins of Mother’s Day? It seems like something that has just always existed, but it has only been in existence for a little over 100 years.

Our family had a lovely Mother’s Day weekend. My wife prepared an excellent meal on Saturday, and we spent the day with my Mom and Dad along with friends. We got together on Mother’s Day with my Mom and Dad, and my sister and her daughter. After a tasty lunch at Papa’s Mexican Cafe, we took my Dad’s 1933 Plymouth to Janssen Park for a family photo shoot. It was a pretty day, and we enjoyed our time together.

I hope that you had a good Mother’s Day. I know that what was most important to my Mom and my wife was hearing from their kids. According to the major phone carriers, there are more phone calls made on Mother’s Day than on any other day of the year. Over 2 billion dollars were spent on flowers for Mom this year and more than four times as many people go out to eat on Mother’s Day compared to an average Sunday.

Just how did Mother’s Day get started, and become the economic force that it is today? According to the website, Statistic Brain, Americans spent over 20 billion dollars this year to celebrate Mother’s Day.

Anna Jarvis is considered the founder of Mother’s Day. She spent many years working for a national day for mothers because she felt they didn’t get enough recognition. Anna’s mother was a social activist. Before the Civil War, she organized Mothers' Day Work Clubs in West Virginia to improve health and sanitary conditions for women. During the war, she cared for the wounded on both sides. She also tried to orchestrate peace between Union and Confederate mothers by organized a Mothers' Friendship Day at the courthouse in Pruntytown, West Virginia to bring together neighbors from both sides. Mothers' Friendship Day was an annual event for several years.

When her mother died in 1905, Anna began a crusade to create a holiday to honor mothers. Because of her zealous letter writing and promotional campaigns across the country, Mother’s Day became an official U.S. holiday when Congress passed a bill authorizing it in 1914.

Within a few years, Mother’s Day became a very commercialized holiday. Jarvis became so upset by this that she eventually denounced the holiday and campaigned against it. She referred to the florists, greeting card manufacturers and the confectionery industry as “charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations.”

In one of her last appearances in public, Anna went door-to-door in Philadelphia, asking for signatures on a petition to rescind Mother’s Day. She died in 1948 — blind, emaciated, broke, and surrounded by strangers. She had spent many years of her life advocating for a Mother’s Day to honor mothers; then spent her last 30 years fighting against the commercialization that overwhelmed her original message.

As I was researching the story of Anna Jarvis, her situation reminded me of a passage in the Bible. We find the story in Matthew 15:1-3 (NIV) “Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, ‘Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!’ Jesus replied, ‘And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?’” He then went on to quote the prophet, Isaiah, when he told them, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’” Matthew 15:8,9 (NIV)

Just like Anna Jarvis was not pleased with the way Mother’s Day came to be celebrated, I’m quite sure that Jesus isn’t always happy with the way modern Christians worship Him. In the book of Revelation, the concept of worship is discussed over 20 times. It appears that worship will be a major topic at the end of this earth’s history. The first angel of Revelation chapter 14 has a message for the world, and it has to do with worship. “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.’” Revelation 14:6,7 (NKJV) The message of this angel is simple. Worship the Creator God.

Gentle Reader, just like Anna Jarvis was displeased with the commercialization of Mother’s Day, God asks us to make sure that our worship of Him is in line with the information he has provided in the Bible. Let’s make sure that Jesus won’t say about us, “these people show honor to me with words, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is worthless. The things they teach are nothing but human rules.” Matthew 15:8,9 (NCV)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

All You Need Is Love - 5/11/2016

An Arkie's Faith column from the May 11, 2016 issue of The Mena Star.

I can still remember the summer of 1967. It became known as the Summer of Love, and the song All You Need Is Love by The Beatles was the anthem. Just like other kids from around the world I loved The Beatles. Recently when Paul McCartney made his first concert appearance in Arkansas, I was able to be there. Verizon Arena was filled with people like me reliving their past as they listened to Paul.

Is there any truth to the catch phrase “all you need is love?”  I believe that it is the truth.  “All You Need Is Love – Love is all you need.”

In 1 John 4:7,8 (NCV)  the Bible tells us, “Dear friends, we should love each other, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has become God’s child and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

Love should be the basis for everything we do.  In Matthew 22:36-40(NLT), Jesus was asked, “what is the most important commandment in the law?” Jesus answered, “’You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. ’The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.’”

The entire law and all the demands of the prophets – The entire Bible is summed up in these words. “’You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind… Love your neighbor as yourself.” When you distill it down that much, it seems so simple. It really is true – All You Need Is Love.

In the love letter God wrote to you called the Bible it says, “I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!” Romans 8:38,39 (CEV)

How would you feel if you wrote these beautiful words to the love of your life and they were ignored? God says to us, “there is nothing that can separate you from My love for you in Christ Jesus.” We will never know all the ways he shows his love to us.

God's Word is His love letter to us. The love of Jesus waits in each page! Don’t leave your love letters unopened and unread. God loves you, and he wants to tell you just how much. Open his love letter to you and listen to what he has to say to you.

The greatest love poem found in the Bible is in John 3:16,17 (NKJV). “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

What beautiful words. We need to keep in mind that it is the world that God loves, not a single nation, not a single race. Not just the “good” people, not just the people who love God back. “God so loved the world.” This includes the lovable and the unlovable; those who are popular, and those who have no one else to love them; the ones who love God, and the ones who never think of God.

In 1 Corinthians 13 (NLT) Paul expresses the importance of love to the Christian, “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing…. Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless....All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”

Gentle Reader, remember that God loves the world - the entire world. He has told us that no matter what we do for Him if we don’t have love it is nothing. You see, it really is true. “All You Need Is Love” – God’s love!

Friday, May 6, 2016

What is Truth?

What is truth? The dictionary states that truth is “the quality or state of being true.” But as I looked at another definition that listed in the dictionary I read, “A fact or belief that is accepted as true.”

When you ask a Christian what is the truth you will get some different answers but most of the time there will be something like this; "My church teaches the truth."

To answer the question, what is truth, I’m afraid that I have to tell you that no denominational doctrines individually, nor all of them collectively, constitute the truth. Did you hear me? None of them constitute the truth… unless they are centered in, informed by, and presented with the love of Christ.

In Ephesians 4:21,22 (NCV) Paul wrote, "I know that you heard about Him, and you are in Him, so you were taught the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught to leave your old self—to stop living the evil way you lived before."

I want us to go back to the dictionary definition. The one that I actually think most of us mean when we use the word truth. Truth is a fact or belief that is accepted as true. All humans believe in the truth….as long as we used that definition. Paul added a layer of meaning when he wrote, “you were taught the truth that is in Jesus.”

We as Christians should believe and teach the truth. Not the truth that is a fact or belief that is accepted as true, but the truth that is in Jesus. What exactly does that mean?

You may remember that Jesus once said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8:32 (NCV) Then a little later in John 14:6 (NCV) He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. The only way to the Father is through me."

I hope that you see that truth isn’t just a bunch of abstract factual information to memorize, quote, and argue about. Truth is a person, and His name is Jesus. So what is the “truth” like when it is preached outside of Jesus? For one thing, truth apart from Jesus is merely raw data void of personality and character. It doesn’t have a face, a heart, or a personal desire for you. Secondly, truth apart from Jesus is emotionally brutal because all it can do is impose guilt and arouse fear. It cannot save, heal, or transform the heart.

As a matter of fact, preaching a list of doctrinal truths and behavioral standards while failing to preach Jesus as the Truth actually kills. I know that is a bold statement but I have seen it happen. In 2 Corinthians 3:6 (NIV) we read, "He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."

Paul is telling us that the bare facts of the truth, preached without Jesus as the living, loving, compassionate center, have the effect of killing people on a spiritual, emotional, and relational level. Truth that does not magnify Jesus can only drive people away from God in despair or produce in them a spirit of condemnatory Pharisaism.

We read in John 1:14 (NCV), “The Word became a human and lived among us. We saw his glory—the glory that belongs to the only Son of the Father—and he was full of grace and truth." Grace and truth! Why is that combination so important? Truth without grace can only heap shame upon sinners, but grace combined with truth brings healing.

We don’t merely need truth—the bare bones of doctrinal facts -- we need the truth as it is in Jesus—the living example of God’s love and grace.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


An Arkie's Faith column from the May 4, 2016 issue of The Mena Star.

Last weekend I made a trip to the Houston area to meet my newest granddaughter. I wasn’t able to be there for her birth, but I was anxious to see her.  She was everything I expected: sweet, delicate, and beautiful. As I held this new life in my arms, I wished joy, happiness, and success for her. I had hopes and dreams for her just as I have had for all of my grandchildren.

A newborn is a blank canvas for God to paint. It’s all there for the new parents and grandparents to see: the dreams, the hopes, the possibilities, the potential, the beauty, the love, the innocence. Think back to the day you first looked into the face of your child or grandchild. Do you remember what it was like to look into the face of a newborn? Do you remember how watching the baby and seeing that sweet face touched you?

I have two children and five grandchildren, and I have vivid memories of each one of them as newborns. Each time my heart was filled with love as I thought about their future. I imagined the potential and possibilities in their tiny little hands. I imagined the life I wanted them to have.

Psalms 127:3 (NCV) tells us that, “Children are a gift from the Lord; babies are a reward.” It’s about more than being a parent or grandparent. It’s about more than cuteness and sentimentality. It’s about more than just the newborn baby. It is a gift from God.

While you are holding a newborn, you can’t help but be amazed by the miracle of life. Looking down at a baby softly breathing in your arms fills your heart with emotions so powerful that you can fall in love in an instant. And just when you think your heart is going to burst because of the miracle in your arms, suddenly their new little lungs are exercised as they cry and you can’t help but take notice.

There is nothing quite as urgent as the cry of a newborn baby. The cry of a newborn sends people scurrying to restore the calm. The amount of chaos that these tiny little humans have the power to create is incredible. Before they arrive, there is anticipation, expectation, and joy. But once a newborn arrives on the scene, nothing is ever the same.

It is interesting that God has chosen birth as a symbol of the relationship he wants with us. When Nicodemus came to see Jesus at night the first thing that Jesus said to him was, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3 (NKJV) Nicodemus was puzzled. He asked Jesus, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” John 3:4 (NKJV)

Jesus told Nicodemus, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:7,8 (NKJV)

Why would Jesus use this imagery of a newborn to explain what happens when a person has a relationship with God? The idea of a new birth is a way to talk about the newness that comes from a relationship with God. It is a way to describe God’s transformation of a person.

As I held my newborn granddaughter, I thought about her future. I imagined the potential and possibilities in her tiny little hands. I imagined the life I wanted her to have. I believe that is the way that God views His children. When we are “born again” God looks at us and sees the potential and possibilities in our life.

In 2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV) Paul tells us that, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” When we start a relationship with Jesus, we become a new creature. We have a new life. Jesus looks at us in the same way that we look at a newborn. He sees us as a miraculous new life with lots of potential. He doesn’t look at our past; He looks at our future with Him.

Gentle Reader, the next time you have the opportunity to hold a newborn baby in your arms, remember that God looks at you the same way you look at the new little life you are cuddling. He wants you to be a newborn; to be “born again.”