Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Atticus Finch - 2/24/16

An Arkie's Faith column from the February 24, 2016 issue of The Mena Star.

As I sit at my computer to write this week’s column, there is a news story that has pushed politics from the top spot on my news feed. The New York Times headline told the story, “Harper Lee, Author of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ Dies at 89.”

In a statement, Lee's family said, “The family of Nelle Harper Lee, of Monroeville, Alabama, announced today, with great sadness, that Ms. Lee passed away in her sleep early this morning. Her passing was unexpected. . . . This is a sad day for our family. America and the world knew Harper Lee as one of the last century's most beloved authors. We knew her as Nelle Harper Lee, a loving member of our family, a devoted friend to the many good people who touched her life, and a generous soul in our community and our state. We will miss her dearly.”

Her novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, portrays childhood in a small Southern town and the crisis of conscience that shook it. Despite her editors' warnings that the book might not sell well because of the subject material, it became both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. The morality tale of a Southern lawyer who stands firm against racism struck a chord with Americans, many of them becoming aware of the civil rights movement for the first time. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and in 1962 an Academy Award–winning film version of the novel, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, was released.

The book remains a staple of high school and college reading lists, and is loved by millions of readers for its portrayal of childhood innocence, its condemnation of racial prejudice, and its assertion that human goodness can withstand the assault of evil. It was number one on a list developed by librarians in 2006 who answered the question, "What novel should every adult read before they die?”

I love reading, but somehow I went most of my life without reading “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It was never on my reading list in high school and I just never got around to reading it. For some reason less than a year ago I decided that I should read it. Scout Finch’s coming-of-age tale drew me in, as it had done many before me, and I loved Atticus Finch. After reading the book I watched the movie. I now understand why the book made such an impact on America. I can only imagine its impact in the turbulent times of the early 1960’s civil rights movement.

To me Atticus Finch was an ideal example of justice. He defended a black man from a crime he did not commit, withstood racial slurs and threats of physical violence, maintained his dignity in a town full of detractors, and did it all while being a wonderful father to his children. When Scout asks Atticus why he’s defending a black man, his response is: “If I didn't, I couldn’t hold up my head in town, I couldn’t represent this county in the legislature, I couldn’t even tell you or Jem not to do something again.”

Atticus Finch’s virtue stands as an example in our divided society. Ultimately, Atticus Finch’s fight for justice is incomplete. He is a fictional character. There is still racism and injustice in the world. But fortunately there is the example of Jesus. While one fictional lawyer took a stand for one individual who the town saw as wretched and guilty, Jesus died on the cross for a wretch like me. 1 Peter 3:18 (NLT) tells us, “Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.”

Not only did Jesus die on the cross so that whoever believes in him will be saved, He is also our advocate. In 1 John 2:1 (NLT) the disciple John says, “My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous.”

Atticus Finch is one of my all-time favorite fictional characters. But my all-time favorite non fictional character is Jesus Christ. Gentle Reader, remember that we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. If we ask Jesus to be our advocate we can’t lose because He never loses a case. I want Jesus on my case and by my side. I hope that you do too.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Was Jonah Right?

We have all heard the story of Jonah. He was swallowed by a whale and lived to tell about it. The story is a favorite of children.

God called Jonah to Nineveh, but instead he runs away to Tarshish on the coast of Spain. It is about as far away as most Israelites have ever ventured. So why didn't Jonah go to Ninevah?

Ninevah was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, Israel's enemy. If there was one nationality that Israel hated and wanted to wipe off the face of the Earth, it was the Assyrians. The Assyrians were powerful, destructive, and ruthless with any nation getting in their way. God saw their wickedness and it must end. So he calls Jonah to go to them to proclaim their doom. Jonah should have been excited right? I mean after all, this was Israel's enemy, so why not go and proclaim that God is going to destroy them.  Wipe them out once and for all!

Instead of heading towards Ninevah, he heads the exact opposite direction.  The voyage from Joppa to Tarshish was about 2,500 miles. Jonah was attempting to run as far away as he could. Why did Jonah run?  Why didn't he obey God? Because he is guilty of what many if not all of us have done, or continue to do; pass judgment.

Jonah isn’t the only one Jesus has told to get up and go.  He has given us a job to do.  He says to go everywhere in the world preaching the good news. Where are you going? Are you on the road to Nineveh or on a voyage to Tarshish?

The message of God’s salvation is to be taken to everyone; every nation, every tongue, every Republican and Democrat, every minority and every Muslim, even the extremists who are out to destroy us just like the Assyrians were out to destroy Israel.

We have been given a message to spread around the world, but we have failed. We have passed judgment on many of those around us. We say "they don't deserve the Love of God, they don't deserve my time, because they are no good."

When we decide that certain people groups aren’t worthy of our time, aren’t worthy of the good news of salvation, we are boarding a boat for Tarshish. When we hate any people groups we are saying that they aren’t worthy of God’s love or his salvation.

I’m afraid that the reason we don’t want to travel to Nineveh and give the good news is that we are afraid that God might actually save the people we don’t like. That was apparently a factor in Jonah’s decision to take a voyage to Tarshish.

In Jonah 4:2 Jonah shows his true feelings as he talks to God.  “When I was still in my own country this is what I said would happen, and that is why I quickly ran away to Tarshish. I knew that you are a God who is kind and shows mercy. You don’t become angry quickly, and you have great love. I knew you would choose not to cause harm”.

Are we afraid that God is so full of grace and compassion, and that His love is so great that he might extend salvation to those we don’t want to associate with? My question is, was Jonah right?  I think he was. Jonah had an awful time with God. At first he ran from God. Then reluctantly he held an evangelistic crusade and the entire community was converted. Then he got real depressed. Why? Because of his knowledge of God. He knew that God would embarrass him. Folks would call Jonah a false prophet.

He knew that God was soft. He knew that God was a push-over. Do you know that about God? How do you view our heavenly Father? Do you view Him as some harsh dictator, some tyrant up in heaven making it difficult for everybody to be saved? Or do you understand God like Jonah did?

Was Jonah right about God? Is God a softie? Is God a God of second chances? Is He so anxious to justify us and save us that He just forgives us at the drop of a hat? I believe He is.

Was Jonah right?  Jonah 4:2, “When I was still in my own country this is what I said would happen, and that is why I quickly ran away to Tarshish. I knew that you are a God who is kind and shows mercy. You don’t become angry quickly, and you have great love. I knew you would choose not to cause harm."

Yes, I’m sure that Jonah was right!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Algebra Concepts - 2/17/16

An Arkie's Faith column from the February 17, 2016 issue of The Mena Star.

I spent my first two years of high school at a small private school in Boulder, Colorado. I still remember the teachers there and the impact they made on my life. There was Principal Stafford who drove a Volkswagen Bus. Ms. Shirley Nightingale was fresh out of college and we boys enjoyed embarrassing her. I think we were just a bit disappointed when she became Mrs. Cole. Mrs. Carlisle was the band director and taught me to play the trumpet. She is still teaching music at the same school.

My most unforgettable teacher was Elder Siebenlist. He was older and had spent his life as an educator. He had been the principal of several high schools both public and private. He was the principal of the Solusi Training School in what is now Zimbabwe, Africa from 1946- 1954. In 1994 the Solusi school became a university, the first private university in Zimbabwe. I loved hearing Elder Siebenlist tell stories about his time in Africa. When he told stories about encounters with lions and traveling in Africa I was spellbound. I had grown up reading books and stories about missionaries and now I had a teacher who was a real life missionary.

When I started high school my hardest class was algebra. My grade school math classes had not given me even the basics of algebra. I was confused and did very poorly for the first quarter. But then all of a sudden it seemed to make sense. There were rules and if you followed the rules you could get the right answer even if you didn’t understand why. One of the first rules of algebra that I learned was the rule of symmetry: If a = b, then b = a.

I was reminded of this rule recently while listening to a sermon by my pastor. He asked us to do an exercise that made an impact on me. It is a short easy exercise. I would like to share it with you.

The Bible calls John, “the disciple that Jesus loved”. Jesus had a best friend.  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”. From this statement we can safely deduce that the following equation is true: God = Love.

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

In the exercise my pastor had us turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 13 and read verses 4-7 (NLT).   "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. We can say that God is love, but what does that mean? Through this use of an algebraic axiom we can get a clearer understanding of God. We can see that many of the ways that men have portrayed God simply don’t measure up to the picture of God shown by this simple exercise.

Gentle Reader, I hope that your life will be blessed by this concept of God. Maybe you haven't looked at God this way before. Remember that 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.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Grandkids - 2/20/16

An Arkie's Faith column from the February 10, 2016 issue of The Mena Star.

When my daughter was a little girl she loved it when the family got together. My parents, siblings, both sets of grandparents and aunts and uncles lived nearby. My daughter wanted the whole family to be together all the time. When we got together, she didn’t want anyone to leave.

Now that she is grown with a family of her own, she still loves it when we all get together. At least once a year, either at Thanksgiving or Christmas, we are all together here at Grandma’s house. Her three daughters have followed her tradition of loving family get-togethers. They look forward to spending time at Grandma’s house.

As I have gotten older and become a grandparent my grandkids have become a very important part of my life. I am constantly looking forward to the next time I will be able to be with them. Helen Garner, one of Australia's most respected writers, said, “The best thing that's ever happened to me, bar none, is having grandchildren and being part of their lives.”  I have to agree with her.

Last weekend my wife and I spent the weekend with my son and his family. We had a great time with our 16 month old granddaughter. Because of the 400 miles separating us we don’t get to see her as often as we would like. In the past she has been a bit shy around us. This visit she had a great time with her Grandma and Papa. She wanted to spend time with us and in the process wrapped our hearts around her little finger. Even though it’s only been a short time since I have seen her I am longing to see her again.

When I think of my grandkids, four granddaughters and another granddaughter on the way, I realize how much I want to be with them. I look forward to the next time that I will be able to see them. It reminds me of one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible. In John 14:1-3 (NKJV) Jesus said, “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.”

Jesus tells us that he will come again because he wants us to be where He is. I like the way that John 14:3 is translated in The Voice, a dynamic equivalent translation that reads like a story, “I will be there to greet you personally and welcome you home, where we will be together.”

Just like my daughter loves for the family to be together, Jesus wants His family to be together with Him. His prayer to His Father on the evening He was betrayed and arrested is recorded in John chapter 17. “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one… Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am.” John 17:20,21,24 (NLT)  Once again Jesus tells us that he wants us to be with Him.

Knowing that Jesus wants us to be with Him should make us feel special.  When grandkids know that you love them and want to be with them it makes them feel special; it makes them want to be with you. Jesus makes it very clear that he wants to be with you.  Do you want to be with Him? As much as Jesus wants to be with you it is still your choice. Jesus says, “I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and eat with you, and you will eat with me.” Revelation 3:20 (NCV)

Gentle Reader, Jesus wants to be with you. He wants you to be where He is. He knocks at your door.  Will you open the door? If you do He has promised to come again and take you home with Him. “God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” Revelation 21:3,4 (NLT)

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

George the Sea Lion - 2/03/16

An Arkie's Faith column from the February 3, 2016 issue of The Mena Star.

Recently my wife and I traveled to the Oregon coast for a family reunion. My brother and sister-in-law provided the family with beautiful condos right on the ocean. I had a great time walking along the beach and watching the waves come crashing in.

One day while we were there we visited Newport. We spent our time in the Historic Bayfront district. Bayfront is a working waterfront that services Yaquina Bay, a busy harbor that is home to the largest commercial fishing fleet in Oregon. The turn of the century historic buildings of Bayfront house shops, art galleries, chowder houses, restaurants, and tourist attractions. I enjoyed the feeling of taking a step back in time and trying to imagine this bustling port in times past.

My favorite activity of the day was watching the sea lions. The winter sea lion population in Newport has increased tremendously in the last five years. The sea lions haul out on docks, rocks and anyplace accessible in the water. The wooden sea lion docks on Newport’s Bayfront have provided a haul-out for sea lions for over 18 years. I enjoyed observing these amusing and interesting animals close up.

Because of the large numbers of sea lions in Newport this winter, they completely covered every dock. Many of the sea lions spend their time trying to sleep while others are barking to show their dominance. While I was watching I noticed a smaller juvenile that was swimming in the water near the docks. He kept trying to find a place to haul out of the water onto the docks but every time he would be kept from getting on the docks by larger males. He kept my attention as I watched him try to find a place on the docks. I became attached to this sea lion and his mission and named him George.

I watched for 15 minutes as George kept trying and trying only to be rebuffed at every turn.  Finally he was able to haul himself up onto a cable that was attached between two floating docks.  Once he was on the cable he kept slowly and carefully inching his way onto the attached dock.  After a while George was able to get his front flippers onto the dock.  By carefully maneuvering he was able to get most of his body onto a corner of the dock. I cheered him on; “Atta boy, George.” As he was trying to get enough room to actually be able to lie down he drew the ire of a couple of occupants of the dock who slowly moved closer to the edge and forced George back into the water.

I felt sorry for poor George.  The rest of the time I spent watching the sea lions he was never able to find a place to haul out of the water. No one would make room for George.

Watching the sea lions and their interactions with George reminded me of the way I have seen a lot of people act. Many people feel shut out from society. They don’t seem to be able to get a seat at the table. Sometimes Christians remind me of the sea lions who had a place on the docks. They want to keep certain groups of people from joining them. They won’t associate with them.

In Luke chapter 15 Jesus tells three stories; the story of the lost sheep, the story of the lost coin and the story of the prodigal son.  If we read the first three verses of the chapter it tells us why Jesus told the stories. “The tax collectors and sinners all came to listen to Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to complain: ‘Look, this man welcomes sinners and even eats with them.’ Then Jesus told them this story.” Luke 15:1-3 (NCV)

In each story Jesus wants us to understand that he loves and cares for everyone. He demonstrated that all people are welcome at the table of God’s kingdom.

In Jesus, the outcasts of society have hope. Those that the religious community marginalize can find Him extending a hand, inviting them back into the community with dignity and affection. When you study the life of Jesus you see that no one ever opened a wider door of hope and love to the human race.

“Come to me,” Jesus said, “all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT) No invitation could be more inclusive, more welcoming. Those who customarily feel shut out are told that all are welcome to come to Jesus.

The love of God is inclusive. God’s salvation is offered to everyone no matter what their background is or what they have done in the past. His grace gives everyone the same options: to believe or not to believe, to trust or not to trust.

Gentle Reader, if you study the teaching and example of Jesus you will see that he was a champion of the oppressed.  His example was one of unconditional love and He was against all exclusionary practices. Let’s resolve to follow his example.