Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Sophie's Journey

An Arkie's Faith column from the March 29, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


A few weeks ago I self-published my first book. It is titled An Arkie’s Faith and includes over twenty-five articles from this column. After learning the process of self-publishing, I started thinking again about a project that I have been considering for some time. A few years ago my wife started doing some genealogy research. Early on in her research, she ran across the incredible story of her great-great-grandmother, Sophie. The story is compelling and fascinating. It needs to be told.

Sophie 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.

In 1856, the Willie Handcart Company made the thousand-mile journey from Iowa City to Salt Lake City on foot, pulling handcarts. Although Sophie and her children arrived safely in Salt Lake City, over sixty members of the Willie Handcart Company died on the trail.

As these pioneers pulled handcarts across the plains and over the Rocky Mountains, they faced starvation, hypothermia, frozen limbs, and death. Jens Nielsen, who traveled with Sophie in 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.”

I have started researching Sophie’s story and am in the process of writing a book about her experience. As I was researching the early part of Sophie’s story while she was still living in Denmark, I came across information that sent a chill up my spine when I read it. I knew that Sophie was a widow when she made her amazing journey. I was trying to learn more about her husband, and their life together before he died.

I discovered that during the summer of 1853, a cholera epidemic struck Gentofte, the area of Denmark where Sophie and her husband Peter lived. Peter became ill and died on August 8, 1853, leaving Sophie a widow at age twenty-nine with four small children. At the time of Peter's death, Sophie was not aware that she carried her and Peter's last child. Baby Otto was born eight months and eighteen days after Peter died.

Baby Otto was my wife’s great-grandfather. He was conceived just a short while before his father died. That is how close my wife, who is my best friend and soulmate, came to never having a chance to be born.

I’m thankful that all those years ago baby Otto was conceived. I’m sad that he grew up never knowing his father, but I’m thankful that he was born and that as a toddler, he survived the long journey from Denmark to Salt Lake City. I imagine God telling Otto; “I am your Creator. You were in my care even before you were born.” Isaiah 44:2 (CEV)

Otto’s birth was no mistake or accident, and your life isn’t either. Your parents may not have planned you, or your birth may have been part of a carefully thought out plan. But God planned for you. He was not at all surprised by your birth. In fact, he expected it. God says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart for my holy purpose.” Jeremiah 1:5 (NOG)

Before you were conceived by your parents, you were created in the mind of God. It is not by chance or coincidence that you are alive right now. You are alive because God wanted to create you! Not only did God want to create you, but He also had a plan for your life. In Psalms 139:16 (NIV) we read, “your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Knowing that God knew us, and formed us, and gave us life, helps us to make sense of our world. We are all looking for a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. Not only did God know us before we were born, He knows everything about our present situation. He knows everything about you. The Bible says that “the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Matthew 10:30 (NKJV) God cares about your personal journey because he cares about you. No one has ever loved you more or ever will.

Gentle Reader, God wants you to know how much He loves you. He created a plan for your life before you were even born. That is how special you are to God! What a wonderful thought, to know that the God of the universe knew us intimately and set us apart for His purposes even before we were born! Not only did God have a plan for you before you were born, but He also promises to help you fulfill that plan. Won’t you join me in claiming the promise found in Psalms 138:8 (ESV); “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.”






Monday, March 27, 2017

The Little Things


Because of some issues with Amazon and a third party; My book, An Arkie's Faith, will no longer be available. To satisfy Amazon, I have taken most of the stories in An Arkie's Faith and added new material to produce a new book. The title is The Little Things.

I use personal experiences, local events, and national news as a way to bring out spiritual truths in the devotionals included in this book. Many of these devotionals were first published in the hometown newspaper of Mena, Arkansas, The Mena Star. In December 2015, the editor of The Mena Star called me and outlined a plan that she had for the newspaper in the new year. She was planning on a weekly column for the religion page written by a local writer instead of using a syndicated column. She asked him if he would be willing to commit to writing a weekly column. I agreed, and the new column, An Arkie’s Faith, premiered on January 7, 2016.

The Little Things uses plain and simple stories in an easily readable style to illustrate important life lessons. The 105-page book includes 32 stories. Here is an excerpt from the title story.

"There are many simple things we can do that seem little but can accomplish so much. One of the easiest is to put a smile on your face. When you wear a smile, you become approachable, and that can sometimes make all the difference in the world to another person. A kind word is a small thing, but you never know how it will affect someone."

I appreciate all of you who purchased An Arkie's Faith either in paperback or on kindle. I have priced both the paperback and the kindle version of The Little Things as low as Amazon allows; $3.58 for the paperback and $0.99 for the kindle version. If you purchase the paperback, you can download the kindle version for free with the Amazon MatchBook program.

To purchase The Little Things click here.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Dominion, War, and Love


"God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.'" Genesis 1:26 (NKJV)

Dominion is an important biblical concept. As free moral agents made for love, Adam and Eve were given the high privilege of self-governance. The earth would be the material space where their love for God and one another could flourish. Their dominion of the earth was a big responsibility; it was up to them to decide which way it would go.

Since God gave Adam and Eve dominion over the earth, it was theirs to do with as they pleased. God’s intent was that they would use the power of their free will to be fruitful and multiply and build a loving society. Tragically, Adam and Eve surrendered their position of authority over the earth by giving allegiance to Satan.

The Fall of humanity was a moral fall, but it was also a legal fall, as well, because it involved a transfer of power. Adam and Eve lost their dominion because they chose to give it away. Through the exercise of human free will, Satan became the ruler of this world.

Satan’s is not earth’s legitimate ruler. His triumph over humanity was an act of war based on deception. He led Adam and Eve into rebellion by denying the existence of love in God’s heart for them. Questioning God’s love made it hard for them to trust God. The hope of humanity from that day until now is the revelation of God's true character of selfless love.

Once the war began here on earth, God made a promise. Speaking to Satan in the hearing of Adam and Eve, God said, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head, and you will strike His heel." Genesis 3:15 (NIV)

God here announced that a deliverer would be coming to Earth to crush Satan’s head. Just to make it very plain, If your head is crushed you do not survive. The King James version doesn’t say crush but instead, says bruise. So I refer you to Romans 16:20 (KJV) where it says, "the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly."

The promised Deliverer came to this world as a helpless, dependent baby. Jesus came to win back the world by truth and love rather than by deception and violence. Satan recognized Jesus for who He was.

With an arrogance developed by thousands of years of apparent victory, Satan claimed the earth as his domain and offered it to Jesus in exchange for worship. Luke 4:5-7 (NKJV) "Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, 'All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.'"

Jesus refused, of course, knowing that Satan could not possibly see what was coming. Satan had become blind to the character of God; He was incapable of grasping that Jesus was about to defeat his dark empire the power of self-sacrificing love.

With Jesus now living on this earth as a human being, the battle was underway, and a showdown was about to happen. Jesus doesn’t use a weapon. He isn’t commanding a violent army. But there is a war.
Pointing to the sacrifice He is about to make on the cross, Jesus explains the victory He will achieve over Satan in John 12:31,32 (NKJV) "Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself."

At the cross, all of Satan’s lies about God were shown to be false by the revelation of God’s character and His love. Paul explained it like this: "Having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." Colossians 2:15 (NIV)

Love, not force, triumphed over evil. In principle, the Great War between good and evil was won in one supreme act of self-sacrificing love on Calvary. Love conquered all. But even though Jesus was victorious, there are still small battles to be won in individual human hearts, person by person, home by home, town by town, all over the world. And that is where you and I come in.

Even though Jesus won the War so to speak – we know what the outcome will be - there are still battles going on. Some people, including Satan, don’t understand that the war is over and they continue to fight.

On December 24, 1814, Great Britain and the United States signed a treaty in Belgium that ended the War of 1812. The news was slow to cross the Atlantic Ocean, and on January 8, 1815, the two sides met in the Battle of New Orleans. Andrew Jackson and a ragtag group of local militia, frontiersmen, slaves, Indians, and Pirates defeated a superior British force. Although it was a decisive victory for the Americans, the outcome was meaningless because the war was already over.

The battles that are going on right now in the Great War are not battles of territory. The real war is over the minds of human beings. God wants our “foreheads.” Revelation 14:1 (NKJV) says, "Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father’s name written on their foreheads." God wants His name, his character, written on our forehead. In other words, He wants our mental and emotional center.

Satan also wants to leave his mark on our foreheads. Revelation 13:16 (NKJV) reads, "He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads."

God and Satan are engaged in a battle over your mind. The Bible often refers to your mental and emotional center as your heart. Philippians 4:7 (NKJV) equates your heart with your mind; "The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." The war we are fighting occurs in our mind, where thoughts and feelings are formed, and where we store knowledge.

Satan is waging his battle against us by filling our minds with arguments that are designed to slander the character of God. When we are going through trials, Satan whispers in our ear, "God doesn’t care what happens to you. He doesn’t hear you. He doesn’t love you. He will not answer your prayers. If God loved you, he would deliver you from this trial." These arguments are much more effective on the minds of God’s people than false doctrine.

Our mission as Christians is to fight against Satan by telling people about God's beautiful character of love as revealed in Jesus Christ. Satan is filling their minds with false perceptions of God. Our mission is to counteract Satan’s propaganda by presenting the true character of God. Too often I am afraid that we are ourselves misrepresenting the character of God and by doing so are on the wrong side of the war. Think about how you witness. Is your witness about God's beautiful character of love as revealed in Jesus Christ? If it is not, maybe you need to change your battle plan.

Our mission is to use our talents, our energies, and our resources for the one task of reclaiming individual minds for Jesus. In the minds and hearts of men and women, Jesus has laid claim to the territory stolen by Satan. We are to do the same. By forgiveness, compassion, feeding and clothing the poor, and always by loving people the way Jesus loved them, we are on the front lines of the Great War.

Today the Great War is nearing its close. The Holy Spirit and heavenly angels are working to help people choose God's side by showing His loving character. We are asked to be soldiers in this war for the minds of the people. I’m afraid that we are fighting many battles that we haven’t been asked to fight. Our mission isn’t to fight, but to represent the loving character of God. By showing the world the love of God, we counteract Satan’s propaganda. When we show our selfish carnal natures, especially when we claim to be followers of God, we strengthen Satan’s propaganda

In the end, the Bible assures us that there will be a complete victory for God and vindication of His character. Love will win out. But until then, good and evil will continue. The Great War is still being fought. "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." Ephesians 6:12 (NKJV)  Let’s resolve to be mighty soldiers in God’s defense. When was the last time you told someone about God’s beautiful, loving character?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Snowbound

My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 22, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.



A year ago my oldest granddaughter was diagnosed with scoliosis. My son-in-law did extensive research on scoliosis treatments and braces. He was impressed with the success of Dr. Marc Moramarco in Boston. He made the decision for the family to travel to Boston last summer so that my granddaughter could see Dr. Moramarco, and be fitted with a Gensingen Brace®

In his research, my son-in-law found that the Gensingen Brace® is unique in that, for adolescents it offers potential improvement of the Cobb angle, a measure of the curvature of the spine, rather than just halting the progression. According to Dr. Moramarco, the brace’s asymmetric design focuses on overcorrection. It is the highest standard in scoliosis bracing and successfully addresses most curve magnitudes.

After she returned home from Boston and began wearing the new brace, my granddaughter showed improvement in the curvature of her spine. This winter she has been growing rapidly. She is three inches taller than when she was fitted for the brace last summer. Curves progress rapidly during growth spurts, so she needed to return to Boston to be fitted with a new brace.

Her paternal grandparents took her to Boston to see Dr. Moramarco. After she had been measured, photographed and x-rayed, the technicians built her custom brace. The night before she was to fly home from Boston, winter storm Stella moved into the northeast. The storm grounded over 6,000 flights including the one that was to fly my granddaughter home.

According to the Weather Channel, winter storm Stella dumped from three to four feet of snow in some areas, paralyzed several major cities including Boston, and knocked out power out to over half a million people. Several places in Massachusetts reported winds of 70 to 80 miles per hour. The Bolton Valley Ski Area in the Green Mountains of northern Vermont reported a storm total of 58 inches of snow.

Because of the storm, it was several days before my granddaughter was able to fly home. She was snowbound in Boston. I don’t know what her grandparents thought about being stranded, but my granddaughter was ecstatic. Being from Louisiana, she has only seen small amounts of snow. When I talked to her, she excitedly told me, “Papa, the snow was up to my knees!” As I talked with her, I was thankful that it wasn’t me stranded in a snowstorm in Boston.

I have never liked the cold. The last few days have been unseasonably cold for March, and I have been miserable and just a bit whiney. But as I talked with a bubbly, vivacious, excited girl who was experiencing a real winter snowstorm for the first time in her life, something else crossed my mind. There isn't anything quite like a big snowfall that leaves the ground a fluffy pure white, without any dirt or debris.

A fresh snowfall makes any landscape beautiful. What lies underneath the snow might be ugly, but the snow hides any blemishes and makes everything pure and white. God does the same thing with each of us. We may have a sordid past. We may not be currently living as we should. But God longs for us to ask for forgiveness so that he can cover our sins. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Isaiah 1:18 (KJV)

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised when you woke up and looked out your window to see snow covering the landscape? A dull and dreary day unexpectedly transformed into a beautiful day blanketed with snow. Bare and seemingly lifeless trees turned into marvelous works of art. In the same way, God is pleased when we allow him to cover our sins.

Because of His great love for us, God doesn’t abandon us in our sins. Instead, by His grace, He wants to change and transform us. “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Col. 1:13,14 (NRSV)

Have you ever noticed how quiet it seems after a heavy snowfall? As snowflakes pile up, there is space left between them. With all that space, sound is unable to bounce off snow as easily as it would off water, dirt, or grass. As a result, the sound gets absorbed.

When God takes our sins and makes them white as snow, it cuts down on the noise of the world around us. The world becomes just a bit quieter and more peaceful. We can more easily hear God as he communicates with us.

Gentle Reader, we all have sin in our life that makes us dirty and separates us from God. But God has provided a way for us to be clean again. Through Jesus, we can all be as white as snow. “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 (KJV)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Together Forever



In Ezekiel 16 God tells us a very graphic and emotional story. Starting in verse 4 we read, “When you were born, no one cut your umbilical cord. No one took care of you: you were not washed with water and purified, nor were you rubbed with salt and wrapped for warmth. No one felt sorry for you or had compassion on you or did anything to help you. Instead, your parents abandoned you, tossed you out into an open field. For on the day you were born, people looked upon you with deep contempt.

Then I passed by and saw you squirming around in your blood. As you lay there in your own blood, I said to you, “Live!” Again, I insisted, “Live!” And that’s exactly what you did. I helped you flourish like plants in the field. In time you grew, became a tall, beautiful young woman: your breasts developed and your hair grew thick and long. But you were still naked and bare. I passed by you again and saw you were old enough to love and to be loved, so I offered Myself to you in marriage. I wrapped my garment over you to cover your nakedness. Then I gave you My divine promise to always be your Beloved, and I entered the sacred covenant of marriage with you. I wed you, and you became Mine.”

What a graphic and revealing description the terrible predicament of humanity. God knows that we are lost and He knows we need to be loved. Every person longs for someone to love them. God knows that His love alone can save us. He explains it in Ezekiel 16:6 Then I passed by and saw you squirming around in your blood. As you lay there in your own blood, I said to you, “Live!” Again, I insisted, “Live!”

We were dying in our sins, but God came along and took us up into His arms—the abandoned baby that nobody loved—and He speaks to us saying, “Live! Live!” Then, under His nurturing care, the baby thrives and grows up into a beautiful woman.


Don’t miss the heart of God here. As He looks upon us, He’s looking for something specific and special. He longs for us to grow up spiritually to the point where we fall in love with Him in response to His love for us.

When God sees that we are ready for love, He says, “I wrapped my garment over you to cover your nakedness. Then I gave you My divine promise to always be your Beloved, and I entered the sacred covenant of marriage with you. I wed you, and you became Mine.”

Here we see God essentially saying, “I love you so much I want you to be My wife.” God gives us life—or salvation—by loving us into a condition of thriving. Then He asks for our hand in marriage with the hope that we will say “Yes” and love Him back. That’s the real goal of the plan of salvation.

The prophet Hosea helps us to understand how much God is willing to do to make this marriage happen. He describes the fallen human condition as promiscuity. In Hosea 2:13: God describes the lost this way. “‘She decked herself with her earrings and jewelry, and went after her lovers, but Me she forgot,’ says the Lord.” Every sinner is pursuing illicit love affairs with things that keep God from the center of our affections and passions. So what is God going to do? How is He going to save us? By forcing us? By manipulating us? No.

Force and manipulation are contrary to the ways of love and therefore contrary to the character of God since “God is love” (1 John 4:8). So He has a different plan. God describes His course of action in Hosea 2:14: “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her.” God the allurer! I wasn’t sure allurer was a word, but I found it in the dictionary. It means, one who allures. Some versions of the Bible use the word entice or attract. This isn’t the picture most people have of God! That doesn’t sound harsh now does it? God intends to save us by alluring us, enticing us, attracting us. This concept reminds me of the words of Jesus. Not long before he was crucified, he foreshadowed the event when He said in John 12:32: “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” This sounds like Jesus is alluring, attracting and enticing us.

On the cross, Jesus gave the ultimate revelation of His love for us. And that love, if we look upon it, will draw us to Him. It will generate attraction in our hearts toward Him and allure us to His heart.
Now let’s go back to Hosea 2:16: “And it shall be, in that day, says the Lord, that you will call Me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer call Me ‘My Master.” What an incredible God! This is the most powerful being in the universe and yet He refuses to overpower us. He does not want a master-servant relationship with us, but rather a husband-wife relationship. He wants voluntary love to be the motivating power that defines our relationship with Him.

In verses Hosea 2:19,20 God pledges Himself to be our faithful spiritual husband: “I will take you for my wife forever; I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will take you for my wife in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord.”

Jesus came to our world to fulfill this prophecy. Standing before us with the promise of unwavering faithfulness, He offers Himself to us for an eternal union that will never be broken, which just happens to be what His second coming is all about.

John 14:1-3, one of the most famous passages about the second coming. “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”

I want us to think about this passage with the understanding that Jesus uses the language of a marriage relationship to describe our relationship with Him. What Jesus says here in John 14 about His second coming makes perfect sense. Jesus foretold His second coming by employing the language of the marriage customs of His time.

First, there was the wooing phase. If a man loved a woman, he would interact with her in such a way as to draw her to himself. Once drawn to him, the couple would enter into the courtship phase, getting to know one another and growing in their love. Then the man would propose. If her answer was yes, the man would then depart from his bride-to-be with a promise to return for her. The reason for his departure was practical. He would go away so that he could prepare a place for her in his father’s house.

In other words, Jesus did not merely promise to return; He promised to return for His bride. He is coming back to Earth for one reason: because He deeply, passionately, longingly loves us and wants to spend eternity in intimate fellowship with us. Don’t miss the fact that He says, “I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” Later, just before He was to die on the cross, Jesus again expressed His heart in John 17:24: “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am.”

That’s what Jesus wants. He wants you to simply be “with” Him. Think of someone you like to be with, someone whose presence you desire and enjoy—your spouse, your mom or dad, your sibling, your best friend. The point is simple: we like to be with those we love.

Jesus longs for our presence, for our friendship, for the enjoyment of our love. When Paul talks about marriage, he uses it to describe the love of Christ for His people. Let’s read Ephesians 5:25. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.”
Paul is saying that the marriage relationship holds before us a deep, secret truth regarding our relationship with Jesus as His eternal bride. God has something in mind for us beyond our wildest dreams.

Presently, we are in the courtship phase of the relationship. He is wooing and winning us, revealing to our minds the beauty of His character so that we can mature in our love for Him. The total reality of our identity as the bride of Christ will not dawn upon us until the wedding itself. The time will come in the history of salvation when God’s people will spiritually “ready” to enter the marriage with her Lord. The whole universe will witness our readiness and make the wedding announcement.

Look at Revelation 19:6-8: And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.”

The entire story of the Bible points forward to a single point of climax: Jesus returning to earth to receive the church as His eternal bride.

The Song of Solomon is a prophetic love song that offers a unique window into the love of Christ for His church. In it we get a penetrating glimpse into God’s matrimonial love for His people and where it ultimately leads. Chapter by chapter, verse by verse, expressions of devotion are exchanged between the man and the woman. They describe one another’s virtues. They complement one another with exuberance. They want to with each other.

Have you ever wondered why the Song of Solomon is in the Bible? To some people, it seems unnecessary. I think that if we look closely, The Song of Solomon is more than just a silly love song.

 The climactic point of the song has the woman saying something very profound to her lover: “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised.”(Song of Solomon 8:6, 7; ESV)

Suddenly, we are led to realize that the deepest love that is known to human beings - the love between a bride and her groom - tells us of God’s love for His church, and His hope that we love Him back. Dying on the cross, Jesus did, indeed, reveal to us a quality of love that is stronger than death, a love that no force in the world can quench.

Salvation is the plan by which Jesus allures our hearts back to Him and establishes a love relationship between Himself and us. And the second coming of Jesus is when the lover of our souls comes back to get us so we can be with Him forever. Now that’s good news! Jesus looks at us longingly even though we are a mess. He wants to be with us. He wants to be together forever. That’s why He’s coming back. The question is… do we want to be with Him?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Scavenger Hunt

An Arkie's Faith column from the March 15, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


Last week my wife and I along with my cousins and their grandson, visited Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The Gardens were the dream of Verna Cook Garvan. In 1956 Mrs. Garvan began to develop it as a garden. When she died in 1993, Mrs. Garvan gave the property to the University of Arkansas Foundation.

Garvan Woodland Gardens is the largest undeveloped tract of land on Lake Hamilton. There are over three miles of recreational trails. This time of year over 150,000 tulips line the walkways.  Every year that we can we visit the gardens during the tulip extravaganza. The peak tulip viewing times at the gardens are in March. The gardens are beautiful any time of the year, but I think that the tulip season is the best.

We had a very enjoyable afternoon. The temperatures were warm, and the flowers were beautiful. My cousin’s grandson had a great time. He especially enjoyed nature bingo. Each young visitor to the gardens is given a bingo card with each square listing an item to find as they walk the trails. Items on the card included such things as a cave, a fish, a pine cone, a butterfly or moth, a waterfall, a crawling bug, and a rock bigger than you. If they made a bingo, they received a gift as they left the gardens.

My cousin’s grandson wasn’t satisfied when he made his first bingo. He wanted to fill every square on his card. Instead of bingo, he treated his card as a scavenger hunt. By the time we left the gardens, he had completed the entire card.

As I watched him scamper from place to place looking for each item on the bingo card, I thought about the treasures found in the Bible. It seems that few Christians are excited about searching the Bible. King David loved to search the Bible. He said, “How sweet your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey. Your commandments give me understanding; no wonder I hate every false way of life. Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” Psalms 119:103-105 (NLT)

King David searched God’s Word for wisdom and found it sweeter than honey! He depended on God’s promises and was personally guided by God’s words. Even though David was one of the earth’s richest men, God’s Word was his greatest treasure.

I want to have the passion David describes in Psalms 119. I am convinced that if I make plans and set aside time to read God’s Word, I will find promises and insights that are trustworthy. Instead of reading my Bible because I feel that I must, I want to search through it each day like someone on a scavenger hunt.

One of the ways that I have found to get excited about the Bible is to study by topic. When I study the Bible by chapter, I sometimes get stuck and spend too long in one place. That isn’t a bad thing, but topical studies can leave you wanting more, hungry to know about the topic and what the Bible says about it.

Talking about those who follow God, Psalms 1:2 (NLT) says, “they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night.” Meditating on God’s Word requires study, not just skimming over a few verses.

The prophet Jeremiah said, "when I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart’s delight.” Jeremiah 15:16 (NLT) Don't let anyone devour your spiritual food for you. Insist on doing it for yourself. Anyone can be a student if he makes up his mind. Study the various topics in the Bible, one by one, going through the Bible and finding what it has to say on these subjects. It is alright to study what the great theologians have to say on important subjects, but it is far more important to know what God has to say.

Many people know a part of what God has to say. Usually, it is the part that someone has taught them, so their ideas are imperfect and one-sided. If they knew all God had to say on the subject, it would be much better. The only way to know all God has to say on any subject is to go through the entire Bible.

My favorite way to study a topic is to use a concordance to focus on keywords. Strong’s concordance is an excellent resource, but I usually use one of the many excellent Bible programs on the internet. Bible Gateway is my favorite.

Using your favorite method of searching the Bible, compile a list of words related to the topic you want to study. Collect all references relating to each word, then consider each reference individually. Only after studying each verse with an open mind should you come to a conclusion.

In Acts 17:11 (NOG) the Bible shows us how we should study; “The people of Berea were more open-minded than the people of Thessalonica. They were very willing to receive God’s message, and every day they carefully examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true.” Gentle Reader, will you resolve with me to carefully examine the Bible to see if what you have been taught is true? “Whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” Romans 15:4 (NKJV)


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Free Gift

An Arkie's Faith column from the March 8, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


Recently my wife and I traveled to Louisiana to see my granddaughter compete in the Pathfinder Bible Bowl. Pathfinders are a worldwide organization of young people sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, though young people of any religion, or none at all, are welcome and encouraged to join the organization. Pathfinders offer a wide range of activities including camping, community service projects, and training in a variety of recreational, artistic, nature, conservation, and vocational areas. In the Bible Bowl, Pathfinder teams made up of kids from Arkansas and Louisiana aged 10 – 16 competed by answering one hundred questions on a predetermined Bible topic. My granddaughter's team was pleased with their second place finish.

The day after the Bible Bowl, we attended the Krewe of Highland parade in Shreveport. A co-worker of my daughter’s had invited our family to watch the parade from her house. The co-worker’s house is on the parade route where the parade starts and ends. It was a fantastic location to see the family-friendly parade.

Over one hundred floats passed by with participants throwing free gifts out into the crowd. Over 11,000 people lined the streets waving their hands in the air and yelling, “throw me something.” Participants on the floats threw the traditional Mardi Gras throws such as beads, doubloons and plastic cups. The Krewe of Highland is famous for unusual throws. This year there were lots of ramen noodles, moon pies, and hot dogs among the throws. Because it is a family-friendly parade throws also included candy, frisbees, mini-footballs, super balls, and a wide assortment of stuffed animals.

Since the first Highland parade over twenty years ago, the parade has continued to be a family parade sticking to its original mission, a family-friendly Mardi Gras parade in the Highland Historical District of Shreveport. This year’s event was witnessed by the largest crowd ever to see a daytime parade in Northern Louisiana.

It is amazing to see how excited people get about the possibility of catching some plastic beads or other trinkets. Everyone is swept up in the idea of being the one to get that special item. Everywhere you look there are kids on their parent's shoulders, giving them a chance to catch some of the free items. Participants on the floats often single out kids in the crowd to give them a special gift.

As I put a large bag of “treasures” in the car when the parade was over, I thought about how everyone at the parade clamored for these plastic items that had no actual value. I thought about how I wished people were that excited about the free gift of God’s grace. Romans 3:24 (NIRV) tells us, “the free gift of God’s grace makes us right with him. Christ Jesus paid the price to set us free.”

The Bible is clear that God’s grace is a free gift. Why don’t more people accept the free gift? If you were to ask one hundred random people, “how do you get to heaven?” you would hear a lot of different answers. You would hear things like, “try to be good and do your best” or “work hard at being a good moral person” or “do more good things in life than you do bad things.” All of these ideas are based on our abilities and actions. They are not based on the idea of a free gift. People that don’t feel the need of the gift see no need to accept the free gift of God’s grace. Many religious people fall into this way of thinking. They feel that they can do it themselves and that they don’t need some free gift.

The Bible is very plain in Romans 5:16 (NLT) “And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins.” Our efforts lead only to condemnation. Isaiah 64:6 (NIV) tells us that,  “all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” It is important for us to understand that we don’t have the ability to be righteous apart from the free gift of God.

Not only do we not have the ability to be righteous, but we are also under a heavy penalty. Romans 3:23 (KJV) says, “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” And Romans 6:23 (KJV) adds, “for the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Every person on the earth is under the penalty of death. But thankfully there is hope, because of Jesus Christ. The book of Acts tells the story of the Philippian jailer. When the jailer asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” Acts 16:30,31 (NKJV)

Gentle Reader, we all need the gift of grace. We all need to have the penalty paid for our sins. We need the gift of God, eternal life. Don’t be too proud to accept the gift. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”  Ephesians 2:8 (NRSV)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Sick and Tired

An Arkie's Faith column from the March 1, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

Recently a customer of mine remarked, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” I know how he feels. I have been feeling poorly for almost three weeks, and I am tired of it. Many of my friends, customers, and acquaintances are fighting colds, the flu, and other illnesses this time of the year.

When I first started feeling bad, I just thought I was coming down with a cold. I started taking over the counter cold medication. After a week, I thought that I was getting over the cold, but a couple of days later I was much worse. After listening to my wife for several days telling me that I needed to see the doctor, I finally called and made an appointment.

Why was I so reluctant to see my doctor? I can give you a list of excuses for not wanting to make the appointment. I didn’t want to take the time or spend the money. I was sure it was a virus, and I would eventually wear it out. The reason that I finally went to the doctor was that I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.

The doctor told me that I had a sinus infection and put me on antibiotics. I also had raspy lungs and a bad cough. The doctor told me that if my cough wasn’t better in four days to come back in for a visit.

Four days later, my cough was still bad. I returned to the doctor and was given a steroid shot. Within a few hours, I was covered in a rash that was very uncomfortable. Once again I just wanted to deal with the rash and not go back to the doctor, but my wife made me an appointment.

In Matthew 9:12 (NCV) Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Christian music artist, Michael Card wrote a song titled, “Gentle Healer.” It is a favorite of mine. I love the way that it refers to Jesus as the Gentle Healer. “The Gentle Healer came into our town today. He touched blind eyes and the darkness left to stay. But more than the blindness, He took their sins away. The Gentle Healer came into our town today.”

Jesus would come into a town and heal those who were sick. He also forgave their sins. There was something else that Jesus did before he left town. Luke 24:45 (NIV) tells us that Jesus, “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”

Just like a doctor gives us a prescription to help us get well, Jesus has given us a prescription to help heal us spiritually. We need to take our spiritual prescription so that we can get and stay healthy. The prescription is "The Holy Bible."  We need to take it every day. It is safe and effective.

I have never seen anyone whose spiritual growth has been hindered by reading the Bible. It improves us and makes us healthy in the Lord. Everything in the Bible is there for us to study and learn about God. “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing people what is wrong in their lives, for correcting faults, and for teaching how to live right.” 2 Timothy 3:16 (NCV) Religious books, commentaries, and devotionals are helpful, but if you just read them and not the Bible, you'll miss the active ingredient in the prescription. We need to read and study the Bible on our own.

When I read in the Bible of the healing that Jesus did, I notice the compassion that Jesus had as He interacted with the people. He cared for their needs. Matthew 14:14 (NKJV) tells us that, “when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick.”

I'm so glad I have that same Gentle Healer as my doctor. Whenever Jesus sees that I am sick and in pain; He has compassion on me. I can speak to Him anytime about how I'm feeling and what's going on in my life. I don’t have to make an appointment. He even makes house calls.

Not only does Jesus want to heal you and forgive you, but he also wants to give you rest. He knows that you are tired, sick and tired. In Matthew 11:28,29 (NCV) Jesus says, “Come to me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Accept my teachings and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives.”

Gentle Reader, are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? Come to Jesus, and He will give you rest. Don’t put off going to the doctor. You can’t get well on your own. No matter what it is that you are facing right now in your life, Jesus understands. Jesus knows what you are going through. He says, “come to me.” We don’t need to come to Jesus timidly or in fear. “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16 (NKJV)