Thursday, September 29, 2016

Return Fire

An Arkie's Faith column from the September 28, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

On a recent trip to the Oregon coast, my wife and I visited Fort Stevens State Park. The original fort was completed in 1865. Its purpose was to protect the mouth of the Columbia River from Confederate gunboats and the British Navy during the Civil War. The fort was named after Civil War general and former Washington Territory governor, Isaac Stevens who died in 1862 at the Battle of Chantilly.

Fort Stevens was used for 84 years, closing at the end of World War II. Today, it is a 3,700-acre state park. There is a visitor’s center that tells the history of the fort. We enjoyed the visitors center and the informative film that we saw there.

The fort was Oregon's only coastal defense fort during the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II. Fort Stevens is the only military fort in the United States to be fired upon by an enemy during a time of war since the War of 1812.

On June 21, 1942, a Japanese submarine used a screen of fishing boats to avoid minefields and slip into position eight miles west of Fort Stevens. The submarines immediate objective was to attack a U.S. Navy submarine and destroyer base, which the Japanese believed was located near the mouth of the Columbia River. The Japanese intelligence was wrong; there was no such base.

At 11:30 P.M., the crew of the submarine fired on Fort Stevens. The first of the 16-inch long, 60-pound shells headed toward the coast. In all, 17 shells were fired. At 11:45 PM, the last shell was on its way, and the submarine headed west, on its way to the open sea. The crew of the submarine had no way of knowing where the shells landed, or what effect they had.

The men of Fort Stevens responded quickly after the first shell hit, with soldiers scrambling to get dressed and to their posts. Within a few minutes, the men had the guns at Battery Russell loaded and ready to fire. While waiting for the order to return fire, Captain Wood and his men considered their options. Eventually, a response was received:  “Do not fire – I repeat do not fire.”

Captain Wood’s men were unhappy. Richard Emery, who was a soldier at Fort Stevens that night, said, “We were frustrated. There was a lot of anger. We felt that we should have been able to fire back.” Major Robert Huston, who was the Senior Duty Officer that night, made the decision. It was a tough call. He knew the effect it would have on troop morale.

Fortunately, the shells from the Japanese submarine caused very little damage. One shell damaged the backstop of a baseball diamond within 100 yards of Battery Russell,  and another landed near a beach house but didn’t damage the house. When asked the next day how close the shells had come to the military post, Colonel Doney told reporters, “Too close.”

Why was the decision made not to return fire? Following the attack, there was a good deal of speculation about the decision. One rumor was that the officers decided not to take action because the U.S. Army would have been required to give combat pay to soldiers who returned fire. An official explanation was given by Major Huston and Colonel Doney. The submarine appeared to be out of range, so why give away defense positions to a target that couldn’t be hit? It wasn't in the best interest of the fort or the men in it to return fire.

When we are attacked, the basic human response is to return fire. When we are mistreated or threatened, we want to return hurtful words or harmful actions. We let our natural human emotions dictate our behavior. We feel anger and want to lash out. We feel fear and want to defend or attack. We feel wronged and want to get revenge. But is that how a Christian should handle conflict?

In Proverbs 15:1 (NET) Solomon wrote these words of wisdom, “A gentle response turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” And James wrote in James 1:19,20 (ISV) “You must understand this, my dear brothers. Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. For human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”

I am not suggesting that there is never a time when Christians should defend themselves. But I have noticed that often we as Christians are slow to listen but quick to speak and get angry. My social media feeds are filled with angry Christians. Some answer every perceived attack, or even a difference in opinion by returning fire in an angry way.

Gentle Reader, Ecclesiastes 7:9 (AMP) says, “do not be eager in your heart to be angry, For anger dwells in the heart of fools.” Are you eager in your heart to be angry? Are you quick to return fire? When you are attacked, and you will be, remember that there is no downside to a gentle response. Don’t be eager to be angry, don’t be eager to return fire.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Run Through the Rain

An Arkie's Faith column from the September 21, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

My normal routine on a work day is to go to Wal-Mart when I get off of work. I do my banking there and often pick up a few things for supper. A few days ago as I drove to Wal-Mart, it began to sprinkle. As I walked into the store, there was just the occasional drop of rain. After making my bank deposit, I began shopping. I had quite a few things on my shopping list that evening. While I was selecting produce to put in my buggy, a huge clap of thunder resonated throughout the store. A couple of people nearby visibly jumped.

After checking out, I headed toward the doors and saw that it was pouring outside. The rain was coming down in buckets, a real toad strangler. By the time I put the groceries in my little Rambler, I was completely drenched; soaked through to the skin. By the time I had carried the groceries into the house, I looked like a drowned rat.

I felt much better after I took a shower and put on dry clothes. In a bit of irony, that very evening a friend of mine sent me a YouTube video about a heavy rainfall. The description of the short film on YouTube reads as follows. “This film was based on a true story (written by Bob Perks) and the premise of it is very simple. We are reminded of the need to avoid becoming weighed down by the trivial hindrances that soak our paths on a daily basis. There are always people in worse situations with real troubles, and that should put our small daily problems into perspective. Perhaps things aren’t as bad as they first seem.”

In the film, a group of people can be seen standing under a shelter, because of the heavy rain. A young girl asks her mother why they can’t just run through the rain, and her mother tells her that they would get soaked. But that’s when the young girl reminds her mother of something she had said that very morning. Talking about her husband’s battle with cancer she had said, “If we can get through this we can get through anything.” After thinking about her daughter’s question, the mother decides to run through the rain.

The young girl’s attitude reminds us that we can’t let such trivial things as rain hold us back. How we look at the problems we face in life is all a matter of perspective. Things may not be as bad as you think, and we have to remember that there are always people with far greater problems. It’s a simple but important life lesson, told so beautifully in this short film!

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a very personal poem titled, “The Rainy Day.” The first lines of the poem read, “The day is cold, and dark, and dreary; It rains, and the wind is never weary.” He personalizes his thoughts in the second stanza, “My life is cold, and dark, and dreary; It rains, and the wind is never weary; My thoughts still cling to the moldering Past, But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast, And the days are dark and dreary.” But Longfellow doesn’t leave us in his dark place. The final stanza says, “Be still, sad heart! And cease repining; Behind the clouds is the sun still shining; Thy fate is the common fate of all, Into each life some rain must fall, Some days must be dark and dreary.”

Into every life, a little rain must fall. It’s what we do with the rain that makes the difference. Rain can be a force that destroys our lives and washes away hope, or it can become a tool God uses to bring healing, growth and new life to our hearts.

What are we afraid of when the rains of this life come our way? Are we afraid of getting wet? Nowhere in the Bible does God tell us that we won’t get wet. Pain in all its forms is the common universal human denominator we all share. Your pain and difficulties are different than mine, but we all have them.

We see this concept in Matthew 5:45 (GW) where it says, “He makes his sun rise on people whether they are good or evil. He lets rain fall on them whether they are just or unjust.” God doesn’t tell us that His children won’t have rainy days. He just says, “run through the rain, anyway. I will be there for you. You may get wet, but it will be OK.”

Gentle Reader, God wants you to trust Him. Don't feel down when the rains come. Instead, we should remember that God only has plans for us that are good. Jeremiah29:11 (NLT) helps us remember, “’For I know the plans I have for you," says the LORD. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’” When it rains, we do not need to be disappointed and feel alone. We can have hope!

“I pray that the God who gives hope will fill you with much joy and peace while you trust in him. Then your hope will overflow by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 (ICB)


This is the short film that inspired this column.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Peter Iredale

An Arkie's Faith column from the September 14, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

After attending a wedding in the Portland, Oregon area, my wife and I took a couple of extra days to visit the Oregon Coast. We visited Cannon Beach with its iconic Haystack Rock and then traveled up to Seaside, Oregon where we spent the night.

The next day we made some stops along the way to Astoria. As we visited various sites, I remembered a trip that we took to the same area in 1975. I enjoyed visiting the same places over 40 years later and remembering times long ago.

One place that we revisited was the shipwreck of the Peter Iredale. On the beach at Fort Stevens State Park are the remains of the Peter Iredale. At low tide, you can walk out to the shipwreck and climb on it. The beach and the shipwreck are a popular tourist destination.

On September 26, 1906, the Peter Iredale left Salina Cruz, Mexico, for Portland, Oregon, where it was to pick up a cargo of wheat. Despite heavy fog, the crew managed to safely reach the mouth of the Columbia River early in the morning of October 25. The captain of the ship, H. Lawrence, later recalled that, as they waited for a pilot, “a heavy southeast wind blew, and a strong current prevailed. Before the vessel could change course, she was in the breakers, and all efforts to keep her off were unavailing.” The Peter Iredale ran aground at Clatsop Beach, hitting so hard that three of her masts snapped from the impact. Fortunately, none of the crew were seriously injured. Captain Lawrence ordered everyone to abandon ship.

All twenty-seven crewmen made it safely to the shore. Captain Lawrence stood at attention, saluted his ship, and said, “May God bless you and may your bones bleach in these sands.”

The shipwreck became an immediate tourist attraction. The day after the ship ran ashore the Oregon Journal reported that the wreck “proved a strong attraction and in spite of the gale that was raging scores flocked to the scene of the disaster.” They noted that the Astoria & Columbia River Railroad was already planning to run excursion trains to the site. Back home in England, Captain Lawrence had to appear before the British Naval Court because of the loss of the ship.

The ship has been broken up by wind, waves, and sand over the years. It looks significantly different than it did when I first saw it over 40 years ago. Even though the shipwreck happened 110 years ago, the wreck of the Peter Iredale continues to be a popular tourist attraction.

As I walked out to the shipwreck site and took photos, I was thinking that people have been coming here to see the results of the mistakes of Captain Lawrence and the crew of the Peter Iredale for over 100 years. I'm thankful that my mistakes are not on public display as a tourist attraction.

In Isaiah 43:25 (NKJV) God says, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.” What a powerful idea. God has promised that when He forgives you of your sin, He will not remember it ever again. The Bible regularly uses language about the depth of God’s forgiveness for our sins. He forgets them; He removes them as far from us as the east is from the west.

Psalms 103:10-13 (NCV) tells us that, “He has not punished us as our sins should be punished; He has not repaid us for the evil we have done. As high as the sky is above the earth, so great is his love for those who respect him. He has taken our sins away from us as far as the east is from the west. The Lord has mercy on those who respect him, as a father has mercy on his children."

Do you worry that there are certain sins you’ll be punished for someday? Are you afraid that God just can't forgive that terrible thing that you did? Listen to the promise that the Bible gives us in 1 John 1:9 (NKJV) “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  God is faithful and just to forgive our sins. We just need to confess our sins, and He has promised to forgive. God wants to forgive sinners! But in the minds of many people, this thought seems too good to be true.

Gentle Reader, because Jesus died for all our sins, God promises to forgive us and never bring up our sin again. He says, “I will be merciful when they fail, and I will erase their sins and wicked acts out of My memory as though they had never existed.” Hebrews 8:12 (VOICE) I’m thankful that my mistakes are forgiven and forgotten instead of being on public display like the wreck of the Peter Iredale.

Why, Lord?

Today is the 15th anniversary of 9/11. Most Americans can remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the awful news that airplanes had crashed into the World Trade Center. I was at work when my wife called me to tell me what she saw on TV. I turned my radio on and listened all day as the news reports came in. I think that most people wonder why God allowed something so terrible to happen.

This year the news has been filled with the horrible atrocities carried out by ISIS. The truck killings in Nice, France killed over 80 people. 2016 saw the deadliest mass shooting in American history in carried out in Orlando, Florida. There are many places around the world where terrible things are happening. Yesterday in church we heard from missionaries who had been working in Venezuela for the past 11 years. The situation is currently so bad that they had to leave the country.

The past couple of months have been hard ones for our family. We don't understand why this is happening. Why does God allow these things to happen?  I think that is one of the biggest questions in Christianity.

There are many events that cause people to ask, "why". I don't have the answers as to why so many tragedies happen. I do know that ever since sin came into this world through Satan there have been terrible tragedies. I suppose that Adam and Eve asked "why" when Cain killed his brother Abel.

The only promise that a Christian has in this life is that there will be trouble. Our trouble free existence will be in Heaven where God will wipe away all tears.

When a tragedy happens, God says to ask your questions, but don't stop there. God has given a much greater opportunity. God challenges us to turn to Him for answers. God challenges us to argue with Him. God challenges us to trust Him explicitly.

Bad things happen in this world, to good people, and to bad people, although it seems like the good people get the worst. Why do bad things happen to good people? More specifically, why do bad things happen to me? God rarely answers that question. He would pour out only goodness on us all the time if He could, but because we live in a sinful world, He can't. Men have free will, and God will not override it.

Why do bad things happen to good people? It is because we live in a sinful world. I know that's not the kind of answer we like, but there is no better answer available.

Once you have learned this and deepened your faith that God has everything under control, then maybe there is a better way to approach the bad things that happen. Don't ask "Why Me, Lord?" when something bad happens. Ask God how He wants you to respond, and then leave the consequences in His hands.

It is all in our response. God can always bring good out of bad, but He needs us to cooperate with Him to bring out the greatest good. This is why Paul can say "Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice." Rejoice when good things happen, rejoice when bad things happen because we can trust God to do what is for our eternal best.

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Wedding

Recently I had the honor of officiating at my niece’s wedding. It was a lovely ceremony, and we had a wonderful time visiting with family. It was especially nice to see two people so excited and happy to be getting married.

My niece and her fiancé had planned events over a four-day period. With friends and family traveling long distances, they wanted to have time to spend visiting with people. The wedding venue was a beautiful southern style mansion built in 1851 by Captain John C. Ainsworth, in the first capital of the Oregon Territory. The ceremony was held under the spreading branches of an impressive Ponderosa Pine that is over two hundred years old.

Weddings are wonderful, joyous events. There is a lot of time and expense involved in preparing for a wedding because it is such an important symbol of a loving relationship. Marriage is the most intimate of all relationships. When God wanted to express the love He has for His people; He could not have chosen a more powerful image than the church as His bride.

In Ephesians 5:25 (NKJV) the Bible tells us, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.” When a bride and groom are in love, they can think of nothing else but each other. That is the kind of love God has for His church, His people.

The symbol of marriage between God and his people also occurs in the Old Testament.  In Isaiah 62:5 (NLT) it says, “God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.”

In the New Testament, the symbol of the bridegroom is used in a story found in Matthew 25, where it says that God’s kingdom is like ten young women who took oil lamps and went out to greet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were smart. The foolish women took lamps, but no extra oil. The smart women took jars of oil to refill their lamps.

The bridegroom didn’t show up when they expected him, and they all fell asleep. In the middle of the night, someone yelled out, “He’s here!” All ten women got up and got their lamps ready. The foolish women said to the smart ones, “our lamps are going out; lend us some of your oil.” They answered, “there might not be enough to go around; go buy your own.” While they were out buying oil, the bridegroom arrived. When everyone who was there to greet him had gone into the wedding feast, the door was locked.

Who does the bridegroom represent in this story? Jesus is the bridegroom, and the parable refers to his second coming. Jesus wanted us to know that He will return at an unexpected time. The bridesmaids knew the wedding was near; they could read the signs, but five of them were unprepared. When the bridegroom came, they weren’t ready.

Revelation 19:7,8 (NLT) says, “Let us be glad and rejoice, and let us give honor to Him. For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and His bride has prepared herself. She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear. For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God’s holy people.” No earthly honeymoon can be even remotely close to what Jesus has in store for his bride. In 1 Corinthians 2:9 (NLT) we learn that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”

During the time that Jesus lived here on the earth, a man would never consider getting married unless he had a house ready for his new bride. Jesus has promised us that he will prepare a place for his bride.  We can find His promise in John 14:2,3 (NKJV) where it says, “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.”

Gentle Reader, Jesus has promised to prepare a place for you. It will be more awesome than anything you have ever imagined. The most beautiful places on Earth will be nothing compared to what Jesus is preparing for you. When a bride and groom are passionately in love, they can think of nothing else but each other; it is an obsession! God has passionate love for His bride, and He desires us to have passionate love for Him. Today Jesus is asking for your hand in marriage.  What will your answer be?

Luke and Stacey

I was honored to be asked to officiate my niece Stacey's wedding. I love Luke and Stacey. They have such a zest for life. This is their story as I told it during the wedding ceremony.

Once upon a time in a land not so very far away lived a girl with beautiful golden hair. One day a friend of the golden-haired girl suggested a date with the prince of the great land to the north. Although the golden-haired girl wasn’t really looking for a prince, she agreed to a group date. The prince thought a visit to a land not so far away might be nice, but when a mutual friend said the girl with the golden hair would be perfect for the prince, he saw warning flags waving.

The prince arrived fashionably late to the group date at Kennedy School. The golden-haired girl along with some mutual friends socialized late into the night. As the evening was coming to a close, the prince, knowing that he had a long ride home, excused himself to visit the chamber pot. When he returned, he asked, “where did the golden haired girl go?” She had gone without saying goodbye. The prince felt bad that the golden-haired girl had treated him this way.

The very next day, the prince used his alphanumeric communication device to convey his thoughts to the golden-haired girl. The prince suggested a one on one brunch date and the golden haired girl agreed. The prince was gallant and a complete gentleman. It had been a long time since the golden-haired girl had been on a date. She thought about all of the topics of conversation that she should avoid. She wanted to be on her best behavior, but she was so nervous that those topics were all she could think of to talk about.

Although the prince procured the finest brunch in the land at the cost of 47 pieces of silver, the golden haired girl failed to say thank you. The prince valued politeness, and her failure to even say thank you lowered his opinion of her. The golden-haired girl became known as “no thank you girl” to the prince’s friends and family.

Neither the prince or the golden-haired girl felt that there was a future for them. Neither one of them planned on seeing the other one again. But the Creator had different plans. He saw something that neither of them had seen. Their story wasn’t finished; it was only beginning.

Here is where the story takes a magical twist. Somehow one of the messages sent by the prince’s alphanumeric communication device the night before his date with “no thank you girl” got lost for a couple of days in the series of tubes that make up the interwebs. After it had seemed like there was no hope for romance between the prince of the great land to the north and the girl with beautiful golden hair, the Creator directed the lost message to the golden-haired girl’s alphanumeric communication device. 

She was puzzled by the message because she felt that she would never hear from the prince again. She felt that the proper protocol would be to reply to the prince using her alphanumeric communication device. 

When the prince received her message he thought it was a bit strange but he felt that the polite thing to do would be to answer. Messages were sent back and forth, but the prince was not regular or consistent with his messages. The golden-haired girl began to refer to him as “radio silence guy” to her friends and family.

We are all gathered here today because of the story of “Radio Silence Guy” and “No Thank You Girl.” After a “lukewarm” face to face meeting in the great land to the north. (Sorry about the pun, I couldn’t help myself). And what seemed like another false start, “No Thank You Girl” was finally able to get “Radio Silence Guy” to communicate with her by voice transmission devices.  Once they started communicating in this way, they found that they were connecting and that they enjoyed this form of communication. 

There were weeks that “No Thank You Girl” would spend more time communicating with “Radio Silence Guy” by voice transmission device than she spent sleeping. She began to realize that the prince might not have been her prince in shining armor – although when the sun was directly overhead, there was a certain glint of the top of his head – she was feeling something. Was it love? It hadn’t been love at first sight, but there was something about this “Radio Silence Guy.”

The prince of the great land to the north wondered why it had taken him so long to realize that “No Thank You Girl” was the fairest of all the young maidens in the realm. He discerned that the words of the Creator were true where it was written in the Scroll of Ecclesiastes chapter four, “Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor. For If they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up.”

And he continued to read the scroll, “If two lie down together, they will keep warm; But how can one be warm alone?"

As he pondered these things, he crafted a plan.  He asked the girl with the beautiful golden hair to accompany him to a tropical island paradise that lay far across the Western Sea. While they were enjoying the enchantment of the island, “Radio Silence Guy” asked “No Thank You Girl” if she would marry him. 

Since they are standing in front of you today, I think you know what her answer was. 

Luke and Stacey, I am not here today to give you marriage advice, but I thought it would be OK to mention some advice from the poet Ogden Nash.
To keep your marriage brimming
With love in the loving cup
If you’re ever wrong – admit it
If you’re ever right – shut up

I want to leave you with one more nugget of wisdom from Ecclesiastes 4, “Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him.”  The beauty of marriage is that you can look to each other for support and encouragement. You can strengthen and sustain each other. You can uphold and defend each other. 

Don’t ever forget or neglect your friendship with each other. Continue to share in each other's lives. Spend time talking to and with each other. You are no longer “No Thank You Girl” and “Radio Silence Guy.” You are the awesome and formidable team of Luke and Stacey. I can’t wait for new chapters in your story.

Love Letters

An Arkie's Faith column from the August 31, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

When I was in high school, my least favorite class was English. I just couldn’t get into the poetry we were studying. Even though I didn’t enjoy the class, I still remember a few of the poems we studied.

I was recently reading an article that brought a poem from that class back to my mind. The most romantic poem, according to a survey of the magazine’s readers, was a poem from 1850. I remembered the poem from my high school English class.

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach." Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote these famous words. She began writing poetry when she was eight years old. When she was 15, Elizabeth injured her spine as a result of a fall. Because of the accident, she became an invalid. She passed the time writing poetry. In 1844, Robert Browning wrote to Elizabeth admiring her poems. He continued to write to her, and they were engaged in 1845.

Elizabeth's father disapproved of Robert. In 1846, Elizabeth and Robert were secretly wed and moved to Italy. In 1850, Elizabeth's published her best-known book of poems, titled “Sonnets from the Portuguese.” The book contains 44 sonnets of love for Robert. He often called her "my little Portuguese" because of her dark complexion. The most famous sonnet is number 43, which begins "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways." Even if you do not appreciate 19th-century poetry, you can tell that these are poems from the heart.

Even though it topped a magazine survey, I don’t think it is the greatest love poem of all time. The greatest love poem can be found in the Bible in John 3:16,17 (NKJV) “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

What beautiful words. Notice that it is the whole world that God loves, not a single nation, not a single race. Not just the “good” people, not just the people who love God back. “God so loved the world.” He loves the lovable and the unlovable; The popular, and the unpopular; Those who love God, and those who never think of God.

Some people find it hard to accept the fact that God freely gives His love and grace. They want to place limits on God’s love. They prefer to think that God only loves the same people they love and that God despises the same people they despise.

To put it bluntly, these people are wrong. God loves the world, and that includes both those who are just like us and those who are totally different from us. If Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn people, why should we? Jesus came to lift up, not to put down. Jesus didn’t come to condemn us; Jesus came to offer us eternal life. We should follow His example.

God has written us a love letter. I was never much of a letter writer, but when my wife and I were dating, five hundred miles separated us. I became a letter writer. Every day when I got home from work I wrote her a letter. Imagine how I would have felt if she didn’t read my letters. Imagine how God feels when we neglect to read the love letter he has written to us.

In that love letter, we find these beautiful words, “But in all these things we are completely victorious through God who showed his love for us. Yes, I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor ruling spirits, nothing now, nothing in the future, no powers, nothing above us, nothing below us, nor anything else in the whole world will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:37-39 (NCV)

There is a sad but poignant story from the life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Her father disapproved of her courtship with Robert Browning. When they became engaged, her father refused to allow Elizabeth to marry. When she secretly married Robert her father disowned her, but that didn’t stop her from keeping in touch. Almost weekly she wrote him a letter. Not once did he reply. After ten years she received a large box in the mail. Inside she found all of her letters. Every one of them was unopened! Today those letters are among the most beautiful in classical English literature, yet her father never read a single one of them.

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

A Helping Hand

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

I have always enjoyed watching the Olympics. I have passed on my Olympic passion to my daughter. When she was five years old, her hero was Olympic hurdles gold medalist, Edwin Moses. She would set things up in the hallway and practice jumping over them.

This year is the first time that I haven’t been spending every evening watching the Olympics. Earlier this year we made the decision to do away with our satellite television. I’m still interested in the Olympics, but now I keep up with it by reading articles on the internet. Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky, Simone Biles, and Usain Bolt are top performers in these games, and there have been lots of articles about their medal winning performances.

As I was reading Olympic news, a story grabbed my attention. It didn’t involve any well-known names. It wasn’t about an American medal winner. It was a story about lending a helping hand.

During a qualifying heat of the women’s 5,000 meters, Abbey D'Agostino, a 24-year-old from Topsfield, Massachusetts, was involved in a chain-reaction wreck with New Zealand's Nikki Hamblin, and they both went down with about 2,000 meters to go. Hamblin fell on her right shoulder. D’Agostino got up, but instead of running in pursuit of the others, D’Agostino leaned down and put her hand on the New Zealander’s shoulder. Hamblin was just lying there. She appeared to be crying. D’Agostino helped her up and urged her not to quit. Hamblin said, “Yup, yup, you’re right. This is the Olympics Games. We have to finish this.”

As they started to run again, D’Agostino soon realized she’d hurt her ankle in the fall. Even though she was in a lot of pain, she refused to give up, running nearly half the race with the injury. Hamblin did what she could, hanging back with D’Agostino for a while to offer encouragement. “She helped me first. I tried to help her. She was pretty bad,” Hamblin said. She eventually had to leave D’Agostino behind and was certain that the American would have to stop. But she didn’t.

“I didn’t even realize she was still running. When I turned around at the finish line and she’s still running, I was like, wow,” Hamblin said. She waited for D’Agostino to cross the line and they hugged. This time, it was D’Agostino who was in tears. As she was about to be taken away in a wheelchair, D’Agostino offered her right hand to Hamblin, and the two runners gripped each other’s forearms for a few moments.

In an Olympics that has seen a number of unsportsmanlike incidents, Hamblin and D’Agostino provided a memory that captured the Olympic spirit. “I’m never going to forget that moment,” Hamblin said. “When someone asks me what happened in Rio in 20 years’ time, that’s my story ... That girl, shaking my shoulder, saying ‘come on, get up.'” Abbey D'Agostino was quoted saying, "Although my actions were instinctual at that moment, the only way I can and have rationalized it is that God prepared my heart to respond that way. This whole time here, He's made clear to me that my experience in Rio was going to be about more than my race performance — and as soon as Nikki got up, I knew that was it."

Abbey D'Agostino can say with the apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7 (NKJV)

Most people spend their lives worrying about their own plans and aren’t looking out for the interests of others. Most people don’t focus on how someone else is doing. Most people are concerned with their own problems. And most people are unhappy with their lives.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians explaining the role that Christians should have when those around them have trouble. “He comforts us every time we have trouble, so when others have trouble, we can comfort them with the same comfort God gives us.” 2 Corinthians 1:4 (NCV) When people that you know have trouble, are you a comfort to them? Or are you too busy worrying about your own plans?

“Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.”  Philippians 2:4 (MSG)

Gentle Reader, look to the example of Abbey D'Agostino who instead of focusing on herself, first gave a helping hand to another. There is happiness in serving God through serving others.