Wednesday, January 27, 2016

I'm Sorry - 1/27/16

My An Arkie's Faith column from the January 27, 2016 issue of The Mena Star.

I remember as a child being told to tell my sister that I was sorry. I’m sure that every parent has used this technique. Tell your sister you’re sorry. “I’m sorry.” Did that make me sorry? No, it was more likely to make me plan my revenge. Being sorry seldom brings about change. We are usually just sorry we got caught.

In 1970 the number one movie in the U.S. was “Love Story.”  The movie is the story of Oliver and Jenny.  Oliver comes from an upper class family and is heir to a fortune. At college he meets Jenny, a working-class student. They quickly fall in love.

Jenny reveals her plans for the future, which include studying in Paris. Oliver is upset that he does not figure in the plans. He wants to marry Jenny and proposes. She accepts, and Oliver reassures her that their differences will not matter. Oliver's father tells him that he will cut him off financially if he marries Jenny. They decide to get married against the wishes of Oliver's father, who cuts his son out of his life.

Without his father's support, they struggle to pay Oliver's way through Law School. Jenny gets a job as a school teacher. Oliver graduates third in his class and takes a position in a New York law firm. They are ready to start a family, but when they fail to conceive they go to the doctor. After many tests they find out that Jenny is terminally ill. She begins costly treatment, and soon Oliver feels that he has to seek financial relief from his father. Jenny's last wish is made when she asks Oliver to embrace her tightly before she dies.

The catch phrase from the film is "Love means never having to say you're sorry.” The line is spoken twice in the film: once in the middle of the film, by Jenny, when Oliver is about to apologize to her for his anger, and as the last line of the film, by Oliver, when his father says "I'm sorry" after learning of Jennifer's death.

The line has been repeated in various contexts since. It seems to imply that when you love someone you always behave so that you'll never hurt their feelings and thus you'll never have to apologize. I think we all realize that in real life true love means that we must say I’m sorry.

What is there about a loving relationship that makes us want to say I’m sorry when we have hurt the other person? What about our relationship with God? Do we tell Him, “I’m sorry?  If we do, is it because we are afraid of Him?

God doesn’t want us to say I’m sorry because we are afraid of the consequences.  He wants us to say that we are sorry because we love him. In Romans 2:4 (NASB) the Bible says, “Do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”

What leads us to repentance? Is it anger? Is it fear? Is it God’s law? No, the Bible says it is the kindness of God. Paul puts in another way in 2 Corinthians 7:10 (NKJV). “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation.” I like the way God inspired Paul to put that. Not just sorrow, but godly sorrow.

My favorite verse of scripture is 1 John 1:9 (NKJV).  It says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

What does it mean to confess? The dictionary says: to admit or state that one has committed a crime or is at fault in some way. To truly say I’m sorry we have to admit we are wrong. The term repent or repentance takes this idea a step further. The dictionary says that to repent is to feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one's wrongdoing or sin.

What leads us to repentance? What leads 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 say I’m sorry.

We are led to repentance 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.

Gentle Reader, I hope that you will spend some time each day reflecting on the kindness that God has shown you and tell Him that you are sorry for the things you have done to hurt Him. God has promised that if we confess our sins, if we tell Him that we are sorry, He will forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Open My Eyes - 1/20/16

An Arkie's Faith column, from the January 20, 2016 issue of The Mena Star.

Just before Christmas I was at Subway and ordered a sandwich for lunch. As I was standing in line I was visiting with a customer of mine who was in line just ahead of me. When my customer payed for his lunch, he pointed to me and said, “I’m paying for his sandwich too”.

I was blown away. That had never happened to me before. I thanked him and he said, “Merry Christmas”. His kindness really made my day. It had been a rough morning at work, but after experiencing this unexpected thoughtfulness my spirits were lifted.

As I was eating my lunch and appreciating the gift that had been given to me a couple of thoughts came to mind. The first was how much we can impact the lives of others by even small kindnesses and thoughtfulness. The other was how much the experience had made an impression on me, but that God showed me kindness and thoughtfulness every day and I hardly even noticed.

There is a story in the Bible about the prophet Elisha that shows that I am not alone in being unaware of what God is doing for me. You can find the story in 2 Kings Chapter 6. The King of Aram is at war with Israel.  Somehow the King of Israel is aware of every move he makes. The King of Aram thinks he must have a traitor in his ranks passing information to the Israelites. His men tell him that it’s not one of his own men, but it is Elisha, the prophet from Israel. They said, “Elisha even knows what you say in the privacy of your bedroom”. The king sent horses, chariots, and many troops to Dothan to capture Elisha. They arrived at night and surrounded the city.

We pick up the story in 2 Kings 6:15-17(NCV),  “Elisha’s servant got up early, and when he went out, he saw an army with horses and chariots all around the city. The servant said to Elisha, “Oh, my master, what can we do?” Elisha said, “Don’t be afraid. The army that fights for us is larger than the one against us.” Then Elisha prayed, “Lord, open my servant’s eyes, and let him see.” The Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw that the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

We are often totally unaware of how God is protecting us. When things aren’t going well for us we are very aware, but when things are going smoothly we don’t stop to think about God and how He is blessing us.

Grace often pops up in places that I never expect it. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that boldly stated "Grace Happens". It is true. Grace happens. It happens all around us. Often we are too busy to notice. I never thought that that someone would pay for my sandwich.

I think that is a key to understanding grace. Christians focus on the fact that grace is undeserved. That is true, it is undeserved. If you deserved it, it wouldn't be grace. But not only is it undeserved, it is unexpected.

That is what Paul is trying to get us to see when he wrote in Ephesians 3:8(NKJV), "to me, who am less than the least deserving of all the saints, this grace was given". He seems to be almost unable to believe that grace was offered to him. It was unexpected. Maybe that is why he talks about grace more than any other Bible writer.

Gentle Reader, look for the unexpected today. Ask God to open your eyes. Look for grace in unexpected places. I know that you will find it. Paul tells us in 1Timothy 1:14(NKJV), "the grace of our Lord is exceedingly abundant".

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Tornado Warnings - 1/13/16

An Arkie's Faith column, from the January 13, 2016 issue of The Mena Star.

This past Christmas was a special one for our family. My son and daughter and their families spent several days with us. The house was filled with the happy sounds of four little girls. Christmas morning with its traditional breakfast and presents under the tree was blissful chaos. The weather was warm and beautiful and the girls spent the afternoon playing down by the creek.

Early Sunday morning we were awakened by tornado warnings. We got everyone up and crowded into our safest place, the downstairs hall. The little girls weren't happy to have to get up and go downstairs. They were frightened by the possibility of a tornado. The five year old said that Grandma’s house wouldn’t be fun to come to if the tornado took the roof off. After a half hour of listening to the scanner and tracking the storm on the radar, the warning expired and we all went back to bed.

The next morning after a good breakfast everyone was making plans to head out; my son and his family to Texas and my daughter and her family to Louisiana. While my son was loading up his car, our phones alerted us to another tornado warning.  We headed back to the hall. Our nerves were on edge as we again tracked the storm. The tornado warning passed but the heavy rains continued. We were concerned as my son and his family headed off into the storm.

As the heavy rain fell the creek behind our house flooded and covered the road. Our daughter and her family waited for the heavy rains to lessen before they started for home. When they got to DeQueen, there was a tornado warning for the area. The radar showed that as they turned east they would be traveling away from the storm so they kept going. As they neared Texarkana they were once again under a tornado warning. The only place with any safety they could find was under an overpass where they waited out the warning. Our son and his family also spent time under an overpass, and then found a safe place to wait out a storm in Mount Pleasant, Texas. When all of our family finally arrived at their destinations we were very relieved.

As I thought about how concerned we had been about the storms and how much we wanted safe travels for our children and their families, I was reminded of how much God cares about each one of us. 1 Peter 5:7 (NLT) tells us to, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you”. And in Isaiah 49:15 (NKJV) God says to us, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you”.

As much as we love our families and want what is best for them, as much as we are concerned about them and their safety, God loves us and wants what is best for us even more. No one cares more about your life than God. Anything that concerns you, concerns God. Anything that you're worried about, anything that you're afraid of, anything that keeps you up at night, anything that gets your attention gets God's attention. Remember, God cares about you.

God loves you, and not because of what you do. He loves you for who you are; His creation.  You might not think of yourself as anything special, but you are. You are an original. God made you on purpose. You were not an accident of fate or chance. The Bible says that when God created man and woman He “saw everything that He had made, indeed it was very good.” Genesis 1:31(NKJV) You are a creation of God and He is interested in the details of your life.

It’s an amazing fact. The same God who created the stars, the planets, the entire universe, created you. You are His masterpiece and He loves you.

As a parent and grandparent I realize that my relationship with my family and how I feel about them in a small way lets me know how God feels about me. At Christmas one of the ways that we show our love is by giving gifts. Jesus said in Matthew 7:11 (NLT), “If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him”.

Remember, Gentle Reader, that as much as you care for your family, as much as you want to give them good gifts, God cares for you even more and offers you even better gifts. The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23 (NKJV)

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Love = God

In church today, Pastor Liga had us do an exercise that made an impact on me. It is a short easy exercise. I would like to share it with you. We know that the Bible says God is love.  1 John 4:7,9 (NLT) "Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love."

God = Love

In algebra we have the rule of symmetry: If  a  =  b,  then  b  =  a. So if God = Love, then Love = God.

In the exercise Pastor Liga had us turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 13 and read verses 4-7.   "Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance."

Now since Love = God, we were to replace love in the passage with God.  It read like this.

God is patient and kind. God is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. He does not demand His own way. He is not irritable, and He keeps no record of being wronged. God does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. God never gives up, He never loses faith, He is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

What a beautiful picture of God.  I hope that it makes an impact on you like it did me.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

One Little Candle - 1/07/16

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

The beginning of a new year is a time when many people start new things in their life. This year I’m starting something new, a weekly newspaper column. The Mena Star has graciously given me the opportunity to share some thoughts with you each week.

Let me introduce myself. I am a long time resident of Mena. My wife and I moved to Mena from Colorado in 1981. I love the people of Mena and the friendly easy going way of life here. I have owned and operated my own business since moving here. I enjoy the natural beauty of this part of Arkansas and being out of doors. In 2008 I started writing a blog. A friend was visiting in our home and she showed me her daughter's blog. Because she lived far away from her daughter, she kept up with her through the blog. I had heard the word "blog", but really had no idea what it was all about.

As I was reading the blog, I noticed at the top of the page that it had a link that said create blog. I had to see what it was all about, so I clicked it. One of the first things that had to be filled in was the title. I spent about thirty seconds thinking, and typed An Arkies Musings. Arkie is slang word for someone who lives in Arkansas.

We used to be officially called Arkansawyers, but now the term is Arkansan. During the Great Depression of the 1930's, Arkansas and Oklahoma were some of the hardest hit states. Many people moved to California trying to get jobs. The terms Arkie and Okie were disparaging terms used by the Californians for people from Oklahoma and Arkansas. Now the term Arkie is most often used to describe a native Arkansan and is often still a bit disparaging. It seems to indicate that someone is unlearned and backward. I have lived here for over 30 years. Though I'm not a native, I am proud to be an Arkansan or even an Arkie. You have to admit that An Arkansan's Musings just doesn't roll off the tongue.

Just like that I had my own blog, and I enjoyed writing and posting pictures to it. I had written a little before starting the blog, but definitely not regularly. I had never had a "reason" to write before. Because being a Christian is a big part of my life, many of my blog posts were on religious topics.  I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you.

My resolution is to write in a plain, simple, easily understood style. I hope that I will do a better job with this resolution than I have done with resolutions I have made in the past.

My favorite comic when I was a kid was Peanuts with Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Snoopy and the gang. I still remember one comic strip I read then. It is January 1st, and Charlie Brown tells anyone who will listen, “The best way to keep New Year’s Resolutions is in a sealed envelope in a bottom desk drawer”.  Charlie Brown knew what you already know if you have made resolutions.  Making and keeping resolutions is difficult, usually ending in failure.

How has making resolutions worked out for you? I don't even want to talk about mine. If you have made and broken resolutions on many previous New Year's days, you may feel that you might as well seal them in a bottom desk drawer and forget them.

If you ask most people about the resolutions they made for the New Year, they will tell you that they are going to cut down on their eating, they are going to exercise more, stop doing unhealthy things, etc. While these are good goals, they focus on self and rely on self. Self-improvement for most people means making themselves more attractive, healthier and happier. They depend on willpower to bring about the changes.

Notice how different our typical resolutions are from the words of Paul in Colossians 3:12-14(NLT) “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony”.

Paul’s words are focused on others. If we are to use resolutions wisely, we need to turn our attention away from ourselves and toward others. We need to get the focus off of ourselves.  What kind of resolutions should we make?

The Bible calls John, “the disciple that Jesus loved”. Jesus had a best friend. I want my resolution to be the words that the best friend of Jesus wrote in 1 John 4:7,8 (NCV) “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”.

I don’t know of a better resolution that you could make. If we would all make a resolution to love others, imagine how different the world would be.

My wife's cousin, Jerry Patton, spent 37 years as the second tenor of The King's Heralds Quartet, the oldest continuous gospel quartet in America.  One of my favorite songs that he sang was titled One Little Candle. The lyrics, written by George Mysels and J. Maloy Roach, are great.

“It's better to light just one little candle, than to stumble in the dark. Better far that you light just one little candle, all you need's a tiny spark.  If we'd all say a prayer that the world would be free. The wonderful dawn of a new day we'll see. And if everyone lit just one little candle what a bright world this would be".

My resolution for the New Year is to focus on loving others.  Gentle Reader, will you join me in resolving to love others?  If we would all light just one little candle what a bright world this would be.