Thursday, August 18, 2016

Don't Tell God No

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

Recently the Relay For Life of Polk County held their fifth annual Celebrity Waiter fundraiser. As a member of the planning committee, I spent many hours on the phone asking people if they would like to participate. As I contacted person after person, I started feeling rejected because I wasn’t getting any positive responses.

As I was making calls, an old song from the fifties came to mind. Travis and Bob sang the song “Tell Him No.” The lyrics said, “Tell him no, oh-oh-oh. Tell him no, oh-oh-oh. When he asks for a date, tell him no, oh-oh-oh. Tell him no.” After each call, the song went through my mind. After dozens of calls with no success I started to feel like the story found in the Bible in Luke 14:16-20 (NLT), “Jesus replied with this story: ‘A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, “Come, the banquet is ready.” But they all began making excuses. One said, “I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.” Another said, “I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.” Another said, “I just got married, so I can’t come.”’

I understand that people lead busy lives; I know that I do. I also know that people have many charities and organizations asking for their time and money. As a business owner, I have to say “no” to many people myself. Even though I understand the reasons, it is a bit depressing to hear the word “no” so many times.

I wonder how God feels when we say “no” to Him. Jesus told a parable in Matt 21:28-31 (NLT). “But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go. “Which of the two obeyed his father?” They replied, “The first.”

There could easily have been a third son in this parable: The father says, "Go work in my vineyard." The son says, "No." There's a discussion between father and son and in the end, the son says, "Fine! I'll go and work in your stupid vineyard. Now quit pestering me."

He's the son who gives grudging obedience, half-hearted obedience. The Bible has several examples of this half-hearted obedience. We have all heard the story of Jonah.  He was swallowed by a whale and lived to tell about it.

The Lord called Jonah to Nineveh, but instead, he runs away to Tarshish, a great and wealthy city on the coast of Spain. It is about as far to the west as most Israelites have ever ventured, while Nineveh is about as far to the east as most Israelites have ever gone. Nineveh is a great city and the fiercest enemy of Jonah’s people, so Jonah is afraid and wants to be completely away from this calling and from anyone who may be inclined to go on this ill-fated adventure.

Why did Jonah disobey God and take a voyage to Tarshish?  Jonah was a prophet and received messages directly from God.  You would think that when God said, “Get up, go to the great city of Nineveh,” that Jonah – the prophet – would obey.  So why didn't Jonah go?

Ninevah was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, Israel's direct 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.

Why did Jonah run? Why didn't he obey God? It was because he was guilty of passing judgment. Jonah set himself up as a judge against Assyria. He had a message of warning from God, but he determined that the Ninevites are not worthy of this message. Assyria was not worthy to be saved.

The command that God gave Jonah is the same message that we find in the great commission given by Jesus. In Matthew 28:19,20 (NKJV) Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Jesus has told us to get up and go. Where are you going? Are you on the road to Nineveh or a voyage to Tarshish?  We have 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.”

Gentle Reader, 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. Jesus has told us to, “go make disciples of all nations.” Don’t tell Him “no.”

Friday, August 12, 2016

Stranded - 8/10/2016

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

My wife recently spent a week in Chicago. She traveled to Chicago by train, and while she was there, she relied on public transportation. Being without a car was a new experience for her. There were significant delays on her train trip to Chicago, and she arrived several hours late.

As she waited for her train back home in the downtown Chicago train station, my wife began to worry about getting on the correct train in the crowded and extremely busy terminal. Over the public address system, a service was advertised that gave you access to a lounge with drinks and snacks and a personal escort to your train. Wanting to make sure she got on the correct train, my wife used the service. The train trip back was on time and uneventful.

While my wife had a great trip, not every traveler has that experience. A while ago, I received a phone call shortly after I arrived at work. A caller from Minnesota was asking if I could help a young woman who was stranded in Mena. She had traveled from Lafayette, Louisiana to Minnesota by bus to attend a wedding. On her return trip the bus she was riding on stopped in Mena in the early morning hours. The young woman along with several other women got off the bus to use the restroom. She was last in line, and as soon as she finished and walked outside she saw that the bus was pulling away. She chased the bus waving her arms frantically but the bus drove off.

The young woman didn't know what to do. She was stranded at a gas station in a strange town. Her first call was to Greyhound Bus customer service. They were not helpful at all. It was no concern of theirs that the bus had left her. Since she was not on the bus that her ticket was written for, the ticket was no longer valid. If she wanted to continue her journey by bus she would have to go to a Greyhound terminal and purchase a new ticket. The nearest terminal was nearly 100 miles away, and there was not another bus until the next day. The customer service rep suggested that she take a taxi. There is not a taxi available in Mena.

When I arrived at the gas station, I found the young woman very upset. We talked about her options in between phone calls from friends and family trying to find a solution. After some time we finally worked out a plan to get her home. Her family started driving north from Lafayette and my parents drove her to Texarkana where her family met up with her. She was no longer stranded.

I could empathize with the stranded young woman. On a trip that we took back in 2008, we ended up stranded three times. We were on our way to Belize. We had boarded our plane at DFW when the announcement was made that we had to wait in line for our plane to be de-iced. After three hours on the plane, it was announced that due to snow all flights were grounded. We were stranded in the airport along with thousands of other passengers.

We spent a very uncomfortable night in the airport, and it was the next afternoon before we were able to fly to Belize. When we got to the airport in Belize, our small plane wasn't able to fly to San Pedro because of a thunderstorm. We were once again stranded. On our way home we were once again stranded. Because of bad weather in Dallas the airline flew us to Miami instead. When we arrived in Miami, we found that flights there were canceled due to the weather. We had to wait until the next day to get a flight out of Miami.

As nice as the DFW or the Miami airports are, I don’t want to live there. I don’t mind passing through the airport on my way to my destination, but I don’t want to be there full time.
Jesus told us in John 15:19 (GNT), “If you belonged to the world, then the world would love you as its own. But I chose you from this world, and you do not belong to it; that is why the world hates you.”

Gentle Reader, we as Christians are stranded here on this earth, but we don't belong to it. It is not our home. Jesus tells us about the home He has for us in John 14:2,3 (NKJV), "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.” We are stranded. This world is not our home, but Jesus has prepared a home for us and wants us to be there with Him.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Let Them Eat Cake

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

Recently my wife celebrated her birthday. A friend of hers baked her a cake and decorated it beautifully in my wife’s favorite color. There was quite a bit of the cake left over after the birthday meal celebration. My wife and I have been trying to limit our sugar intake, but this cake and the frosting were so good that I wasn’t able to resist. I did limit myself to a small piece of cake each evening until I had finished all of the leftover cake.

As I was eating cake, an old proverb came to mind that I’m sure you have heard, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” The use of this proverb goes back hundreds of years. A 1546 collection of proverbs by John Heywood has the entry, “Would ye both eat your cake, and have your cake?” In his Yale Book of Quotations, Fred Shapiro included a John Davies quote from 1611: “A man cannot eat his cake and have it still.”

“Let them eat cake” is another well known saying that came to my mind while I was enjoying the cake. Even if you know very little about French history, you have probably heard that when the peasants of France were starving from lack of bread, Queen Marie Antoinette proclaimed, "let them eat cake."

Actually, Marie Antoinette never said it. She was an intelligent woman who donated generously to charitable causes and, even though she led a lavish lifestyle, displayed sensitivity towards the poor population of France. There are records of her taking care of a peasant who'd been gored by a wild animal as well as taking in an orphaned boy.

The “Let them eat cake” story had been around for years before Marie Antoinette became Queen of France. The story was first told in a slightly different form about Marie-Thérèse, the Spanish princess who married King Louis XIV in 1660. Over the next century, several other 18th-century royals were also said to have made the remark. The philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau included the story in his book, Confessions, that was first published when Marie Antoinette was ten years old under her mother's care in Austria.

The expression isn't as harsh as it sounds. What Rousseau wrote is "qu'ils mangent de la brioche," which doesn't mean "let them eat cake," it means "let them eat egg based bread." Brioche, egg-based bread, was a more expensive bread than the typical flour and water bread of the French peasants. A French law required bakers to sell their brioche at the same price as their inexpensive bread if they ran out. What has been translated as "let them eat cake" actually meant, "if they have no inexpensive bread, let them eat the more expensive brioche.

In the late 18th century, much of the French population was living in desperate poverty, while the upper classes were living a life of decadence. As a result, dissatisfaction quickly spread throughout the city of Paris. Why should people go hungry when the King and Queen had enough to feed everyone? Why should people live in abject poverty, when those inside the palace had more than they could consume in a thousand lifetimes? The contrasts between the palace and the streets were so strong that it led to widespread anger. The people knew from experience that the current government was not a solution to their problems.

The person who drew the most criticism was Marie Antoinette. Her foreign birth and extravagant lifestyle made her an easy target for public anger. It was easy to fabricate stories about her extravagances. Very likely, someone attributed the words to her, and the story seemed true enough.

Here in the 21st century we still see these same feelings.  Frustrated people through the centuries have felt there has got to be better government. Is there any hope for something better, or do we just have to learn to live with unjust human government? Maybe if we just had new leadership things would be better. There is a longing for a system we can trust.

The good news is that there is something better.  There is a kingdom coming that is entirely free from corruption. We can't expect honest human government, but God gives us this promise in the Bible, “In the days when these kings of iron and clay reign, the God of heaven will set up another kingdom, a kingdom that can never be destroyed, a kingdom that will never be ruled by others. It will crush all the other kingdoms and bring them to an end. This kingdom will last forever.” Daniel 2:44 (VOICE)

Jesus said in John 18:36 (CEV), “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” Hebrews 12:28 (NCV) says, “let us be thankful, because we have a kingdom that cannot be shaken.”

Gentle Reader, I'm ready for a change in government. I'm ready for a kingdom that can't be shaken. The Bible ends with these words, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.” Revelation 22:20,21 (NIV) I am looking forward to the return of Jesus and His kingdom. Are you?