Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Final Exam

An Arkie's Faith column from the June 28, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

Most people don't like to take tests. It makes them nervous. Some occupations such as nursing, law, civil service jobs, and many others, require passing a test before you can be licensed to work. Tests can create a lot of anxiety in people. Waiting to find out if you passed is very stressful.

I remember taking my driving test. I was driving a 1962 Chrysler. For the turn signals to work, you had to hold the turn signal lever in position because it wouldn’t stay if you didn’t. When I had to turn corners during the test, I had to hold the turn signal lever in position with one hand while I steered with the other. When the test was over, the driving examiner took off points because when I turned a corner, I didn’t keep both hands on the wheel. He didn’t notice that I was holding the turn signal lever in position with the other hand. I was afraid that I wouldn't pass the exam, but after a lecture on the importance of keeping both hands on the wheel, he gave me a passing grade.

When I was in high school, I had a teacher who told us that if we had an A in the class, we wouldn’t have to take the final exam.  I didn’t like to take finals, so I worked hard at making an A. The Monday of finals week the teacher posted the grades. I looked at the bulletin board and saw that I had an A-.  I was relieved; I wouldn’t have to take the final exam. Then the teacher told me that I would have to take the final exam because only those who had an A were exempt and I had an A-. I argued that an A- was still an A but it didn’t do me any good. I still had to take the final exam. I was not happy.

Many Christians go through life like they are in school. They are always worried about their grades. They are concerned about making a passing grade. They spend their lives in anxiety about the outcome. They have the belief that they cannot know if they are saved or lost! Many don't have that assurance of salvation.

The Bible has a lot to say on this topic. You can have the assurance of salvation. Jesus Himself gives assurance to those who believe in Him. In John 10:27,28 (NRSV) Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

While I was speaking to a group of people on the topic of assurance, I asked the question, “How many here are married? If you are, raise your hand.” Most of the hands in the audience went up. Then I asked a follow-up question, “How many of you don't know if you're married or not?” Not a single hand went up. Then I asked, “How do you know that you are married?”

Just about everyone knows if they are married or not. There might be the rare issue in the legal system that makes someone unsure of their marital status, but most people know whether or not they are married.

We can be sure of our marital status, but can we know if we are saved? Surely we can know. In Philippians 4:7 (VOICE) Paul tells us that we can, “know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus.” If we are wondering every moment of every day what our score is on our final exam, we do not have peace. But God has promised his children peace. When Jesus was about to leave this earth, he told His disciples, “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” John 14:27 (NLT)

We can be sure of our marital status, but can we be sure of what our marital status will be ten years from now? Now that’s a different question, isn’t it? In 2 Peter 1:10 (NLT) the Apostle Peter wrote, “Dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away.”

We can know that we are saved today, but only God knows the future. Only He knows whether or not we will fall away. But we can know in our heart whether or not we are in a saved condition right now. We need to know that.

Works-oriented Christians know that they don’t measure up. They know that Romans 6:23 (NKJV) tells us, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” They have a hard time believing that eternal life is actually a gift of God. They feel that to achieve eternal life; they must score high on the final exam.

If we think perfect obedience is the test, every time we make a mistake we feel that God can’t save us. That doubt is intensified by the accusations made by Satan against us. Satan delights in making us doubt our salvation. On the other hand, we can delude ourselves by looking at our works with an overblown view of our own goodness, seeing righteousness in ourselves when there is none.

Gentle Reader, Jesus wants you to be saved. 2 Peter 3:9 (NCV) says, “God is being patient with you. He does not want anyone to be lost, but he wants all people to change their hearts and lives.” When you believe in Him and change your heart and life, Jesus wants you to know that you are saved. In John 6:47 (NKJV) Jesus says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.”

Friday, June 23, 2017

A Big Lie

Has anyone ever told a lie about you – how did you feel?  It doesn’t feel good.  A few years ago I spent quite a little time on a local internet forum.  I enjoyed being a part of conversations on a variety of topics.  The forum was supposed to be anonymous, and it was against the rules to use people’s real names.  One of the participants posted lies about me and my business on the forum.  I never knew who posted the lies.  I have no idea how many people believed them. Recently I have experienced similar things in my church.

If you have had lies told about you; I’m sure you didn’t like it.  Imagine how God feels when lies are told about him.  From the very beginning, Satan’s plan has been to tell lies about God.  Speaking about Satan in John 8:44, Jesus said, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.”

Let’s look at the story in Genesis 3: 1-4, “Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, ‘Has God indeed said, “You shall not eat of every tree of the garden”?’

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’ Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.”

The very first lie that Satan told was, “You won’t die.”  Interestingly, even though God has made it very clear, many people today believe this first lie.  We know that Satan says “You won’t die.”  Let’s see what God has to say.

Romans 6:23 – “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Proverbs 11:19 – “As righteousness leads to life, So he who pursues evil pursues it to his own death.”

Proverbs 19:16 – “He who keeps the commandment keeps his soul, But he who is careless of his ways will die.”

Romans 8:6 – “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”

James 1:15 – “Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”

Revelation 21:8 – “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

God says that sin leads to death, but many Christians say something very different.

Southern Baptists recently reaffirmed that hell is an "eternal, conscious punishment" for those who do not accept Jesus.

The teaching of the Roman Catholic Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death, the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire.”

The Methodist Church teaches that following the resurrection and the final judgment before God, unbelievers and the followers of Lucifer will be cast forever into the Lake of Fire. There they will exist forever without being consumed.

Pentecostals believe that those who die in their sins without seeking God's forgiveness through Jesus Christ will spend eternity in a literal hell. Pentecostals believe that people's souls consciously exist eternally, whether in the bliss of heaven or the punishment of hell.

But God says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Many Christians say that the wicked will live forever. What did Satan tell Eve?  Even if you disobey God, You will not die.

Paul was concerned that just as Eve believed Satan’s lie, so would Christians.

He wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:3, “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” Don’t be led astray by Satan’s craftiness. Does the Bible really teach that God will keep people alive forever in hell just to suffer torment that never ends? If that is not what the Bible teaches, then it is a slander against God.

The character of God is maligned when we say he tortures and burns people forever. Today that first recorded lie in the Bible is being repeated by well-meaning pastors who use hellfire sermons to try to scare unconverted sinners into repentance.

I recently read an article that stated, “we need a fresh wave of great awakeners—those who will unapologetically preach hell fire in today's dire end times.” The author went on to say, “we need hell fire preachers to emerge and announce to the church and the world the reality of their situation and the measure of God's wrath and judgment that is coming. Contrary to popular belief a very real revelation of hell, of torment, of God's holiness and of our desperation and wickedness is needed to draw people to the Lover of their souls!”

Is this kind of thinking in line with what the Bible teaches? Is it a proper representation of God’s character?

Let’s take a look at God’s character. Psalms 89:14 says, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Mercy and truth go before Your face.”

Deuteronomy 32:4 – “He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He.”

In Job 4:17 the question is asked, “Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can a man be more pure than his Maker?”

Mainstream Christianity asks us to believe that our Heavenly Father hates unrepentant sinners so much that He tortures them in flames through ceaseless ages when sinful humans wouldn’t even submit a dog to that kind of suffering?  What kind of justice is that?

C.H. Pinnock, a Christian theologian, once wrote that if hellfire really tortures sinners forever, for all eternity, "It would make Hitler a third-degree saint, and the concentration camps picnic grounds.  Everlasting torture is intolerable from a moral point of view because it pictures God acting like a bloodthirsty monster who maintains an everlasting Auschwitz for His enemies whom He does not even allow to die."

What kind of a person would burn someone alive and deliberately prolong the process? And enjoy it, savor it?

Many sincere people are saying, "If the Bible teaches that God tortures sinners in hell forever, then I reject the Bible. And I reject that kind of God."

In Romans 2:5,6, the apostle Paul speaks of the “righteous judgment of God, who “will render to each one according to his deeds.”

Surely it would be all out of proportion to torture the wicked for eternity for the sins of a brief lifetime. God has never been a vengeful tyrant, and He won’t become a vengeful tyrant when the time arrives to punish the wicked.

The doctrine of eternal conscious torment is in error because it is contrary to the biblical teaching that there is life only in Christ. 1 John 5:12 says, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

A person burning in hell would not have a pleasant life, but he would have life. According to the Bible, the wages of sin is death, not eternal torment.

If the doctrine of eternal conscious torment is true, then there are several Bible writers that owe the world an apology:

1)  David said:  "But the wicked shall perish; And the enemies of the Lord, Like the splendor of the meadows, shall vanish. Into smoke they shall vanish away." (Psalm 37:20)

2)  Jesus said:  "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28)

3)  Paul wrote: "For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction.”

4)  The Lord of hosts said by Malachi: "For behold, the day is coming, Burning like an oven, And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up, Says the Lord of hosts, That will leave them neither root nor branch.” (Malachi 4:1)

Another dilemma for those who believe in eternal conscious torment is the measure of what it cost the Son of God to ransom the sinner. Jesus gave His life to redeem us. Sin is a capital offense. The penalty for the unrepentant sinner must match the penalty Christ paid for sin, his life, not eternal life in hellfire.

If the wicked live eternally in the fire, then they have the same thing as the righteous except in a different place. Who could give them eternal life but Jesus? John 3:16 settles this issue so clearly and simply.  I like the way it reads in the new version The Voice.  “For God expressed His love for the world in this way: He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not face everlasting destruction, but will have everlasting life.”

Those who do not believe in Jesus will perish. They will die. They will face everlasting destruction. They will die the second death; an eternal death from which they will never be raised. That death will never end. It is everlasting destruction, an endless, eternal punishment because it is an endless, eternal death.

And what about those who believe in Jesus and receive everlasting life? John described their future home in these words, “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4.

Can you find any room in those wonderful words for any suffering on the part of anybody in the whole recreated universe? God said crying and pain would be no more. Would someone in eternal torment cry? Would they be in pain? If you knew that your loved ones were being subjected to the most horrible painful torture how would you feel? Would you cry? Do you believe God’s Word or do you choose to believe man's teaching?

I’m thankful that there is no eternally burning hell. Unfortunately, it’s a myth, or should I say fortunately? It’s fortunate that it’s not true. But it’s unfortunate that so many people have been told it is true.

The most wonderful news is that nobody needs to be lost or burned in any hell at all. All of us can have everlasting life through Jesus Christ, through simple faith in Him. I hope you’ll choose to have faith in Jesus. That is Good News I can believe in.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Lonely Boy

An Arkie's Faith column from the June 21, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

Once upon a time, in a land far far away, there lived a lonely boy. In that same land, there lived a girl with beautiful golden hair. One day as the lonely boy walked into history class, he looked across the room and saw the girl with beautiful golden hair. His heart jumped, and he was sure that this was love at first sight. He knew that he had to get up the courage to talk to this vision of loveliness with the beautiful golden curls.

The lonely boy was too shy to talk to girls, so it was almost a year before the girl with the beautiful golden hair had any idea that the lonely boy was interested. The good Lord knew that the lonely boy needed all of the help he could get; so the Lord made it so that the lonely boy and the girl with the beautiful golden hair crossed paths in several ways that year.

The history teacher selected five students to work together each week producing learning packets for history class. The girl with the beautiful golden hair and the lonely boy were both in the group that met in the library each week to produce the history learning packets. They both worked at the furniture factory. The lonely boy worked on the dresser jig, and the girl with the beautiful golden hair made drawers. The lonely boy would spend his break time with the drawer makers, but the girl with the beautiful golden hair still didn't catch on.

It came time for their high school graduation, and the lonely boy still had never gotten up the nerve to ask the girl with the beautiful golden hair out on a date. Finally, the lonely boy mustered up every ounce of courage he could find and asked the girl with the beautiful golden hair if she would march with him at the graduation. She told him that she would like to, but that she had already told another boy that she would march with him. If the lonely boy talked to the other boy and it was okay with him, she would march with the lonely boy. Once again the lonely boy summoned up every bit of courage he had and spoke to the other boy, who was very gracious and bowed out. The lonely boy was on cloud nine. The girl with the beautiful golden hair would be walking down the aisle beside him when they graduated.

This fairytale had a very happy ending. After a year of a long distance relationship, with five hundred miles separating them, the lonely boy and the girl with the beautiful golden hair were finally in the same place at the same time. Then the lonely boy knew that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with the girl with the beautiful golden hair. On a marvelous June day, they were married in a fairytale wedding.

Most fairy tales are not true stories, but I can assure you that this one is true. I was that lonely boy. If you ask me if I believe in love at first sight, I will tell you that I do. I also know that God believes in love at first sight.

The Bible tells us that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 (NKJV) And in 1 John 4:19 (NCV) we read, “we love because God first loved us.”

God created you as an object of his love. David understood this when he wrote, “You made my whole being. You formed me in my mother’s body.” Psalms 139:13 (ICB) He made you so that He could love you and so you could love him. God’s love for you is the reason you are alive.

God has loved you longer than you can even imagine. Ephesians 1:4 (NLV) tells that “even before the world was made, God chose us for Himself because of His love.” It wasn’t just love at first sight; it was love before you were even born.

Just like a marriage relationship has its good days and its bad days, so does our relationship with God. Some days our hearts are full of love for God. Some days we are rebellious and angry with Him. But the good news is that God loves you on your bad days as much as he loves you on your good days. He loves you when you can feel his love, and he loves you when you aren’t sure that He even exists. He loves you whether or not you think you deserve his love.

There is nothing you can do that will make God stop loving you. In Romans 8:38,39 (NCV) Paul wrote, “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.”

Gentle Reader, are you lonely and looking for love? God has already chosen you. He loved you before you were even born. If you will just love Him back, He has promised you a happily ever after. In John 14:2,3 (NKJV) Jesus tells us, “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.”

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Funeral Sermon for Aunt Kathy

When I was growing up, I attended a small church with my family. The small church shared a pastor with another church. Sometimes when the pastor wasn’t there for the mid-week prayer service, those in attendance would recite a favorite text. Being somewhat of a smart alec, I thought it was amusing to say that my favorite verse was the shortest verse in the Bible, John 11:35 – “Jesus wept.”

As an adult, it has become a favorite verse of mine. I believe the simple words, “Jesus wept,” may reveal as much about Jesus as any other words ever said about him.

I’m sure that you remember the story of Lazarus. When he became ill, his sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, the one you love is very sick.” Jesus chose to wait until Lazarus had died before he came. We read the story in John 11:33-35. “When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, he was moved with indignation and was deeply troubled. “Where have you put him?” he asked them. They told him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.”

Let me ask you a question? Why did Jesus weep? Was it because of his love for Lazarus? He knew Lazarus would be alive in a few minutes. Jesus was crying because of the grief of his friends. Their sorrow moved him. Jesus is painfully aware of your suffering. He knows why we are here today. He knows that we are saying goodbye to someone we love. When we cry, He is aware. Psalms 56:8 tells us, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”

I want you to know that it is appropriate to grieve. Jesus understands our grief, and I believe that just as He cried at the tomb of Lazarus, He cries with us here today. But even as He grieves with us, Jesus holds out hope. When Martha confronted Jesus, telling Him that if He had been there, her brother would not have died; Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered Jesus, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus holds out the same hope to us today.

Paul wrote some of the most comforting words found in the Bible in Romans 8:37-39. “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I want you to know for sure today that nothing can separate you from the love of God. Nothing can keep God from loving you. Nothing can keep God from loving Kathy. I want to read that scripture again and personalize it for Kathy.

Kathy is more than a conqueror through Him who loved her. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate Kathy from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Kathy lived her life as a Christian. She was a believer. Jesus said in Mark 9:23, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” John 3:16 is probably the best-known verse in the Bible. “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.” And in verse 18 Jesus restates the importance of belief this way, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

But Kathy wasn’t just a believer; she was a doer. James 1:22 tells us to, “be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” Kathy lived her life as a doer. She had many friends and considered it a ministry to send them all encouraging Christian themed cards and sharing books with them.  She led a Bible study for older ladies at Oak Hill Baptist Church in Irving, Texas. She took her children to church every week, and when she had grandchildren, she took those who lived close to her to church.
She befriended several older women in Irving and Mena and ran errands and showed Christ's love by spending time with them and taking them to appointments. She took care of her husband, Lloyd in their home through his battle with COPD until his death.  A few years later she cared for her elderly mother until she died of cancer.

When she lived in Mena, my wife Gina and I spent a lot of time with her and her husband, Lloyd. We enjoyed spending the day with them and traveling to Jefferson, Texas to go antiquing and looking for old jars. We loved to play dominoes with them and spent many enjoyable evenings playing 42. Uncle Lloyd was a deep student of the Bible. He and I spent a lot of time in Bible discussions, and Kathy would join in with her thoughts and insights. She had strong beliefs and opinions and knew her Bible well.

I believe that in the final chapter of her life, Kathy could say with the Apostle Paul, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:6-8

And I’m sure that just like Job she could say, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, And my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” Job 19:25-27

Regardless of how deep our faith in God is, the death of a loved one makes each one of us feel the personal loss keenly. There is an aching void as we think of the one that we loved who is gone. We miss the companionship of our loved ones, and our grief is deeply personal. But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave us the following promise. “Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4  And in Romans 15:4 we find one of the sources of comfort. “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”

During the sad times in our lives, like this occasion, we know that we can find hope and comfort in the Bible. Jesus knows that you are going through a difficult time. When your heart aches, so does His. But He wants you to know that even in times of sorrow, there is hope.

In Thessalonians 4: 13-18 The Bible tells us;  "But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.  For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

Crossing the Bridge

An Arkie's Faith column from the June 14, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

AGGR is the only magazine devoted exclusively to the Auto Glass Repair/Replacement industry. In the May/June issue, I read a story by columnist Lyle R. Hill. He told of a personal experience while he was walking in the Fullersburg Woods along Salt Creek in Oak Brook, Illinois. He had been walking for some time and hadn’t seen anyone. He was enjoying the scenery and the solitude when he heard voices in the distance.

Lyle came upon a thirty-something dad talking with his son who appeared to be about six years old. The boy asked, “Dad, look at this bridge. Isn’t it cool?” “Yes,” replied the dad, “It is pretty cool. I’m going take a picture to show to Mom.” After the dad had taken several photos, the little boy asked, “Do you think we could walk across the bridge?” “Oh,” the dad replied, “I don’t think that would be a good idea.” “Why can’t we go across the bridge,” the boy asked. “We can’t go across the bridge because we don’t really know what’s on the other side.” replied the dad.

In his column, Mr. Hill went on to use the illustration as it pertains to the business world. He states, “the overly adventurous are often prone to recklessness, while the overly timid can often miss out on a lot of what life has to offer.”

Many Christians live their lives like the dad in the story. They don’t want to explore because they don’t know what they will find. They feel insecure and apprehensive. Christians have leaders telling us many things: how to pray, how to study the Bible, how we should vote, whom we should hate, and how we should live.

There is a message aimed at the average Christian that tells us we need to listen to and follow these leaders. We are told to buy their books, listen to their radio programs, attend their events, and follow their teaching because they have greater wisdom and learning than we do. Most of us are followers instead of explorers. Instead of searching the Bible for truth, we want a pastor or theologian to tell us what to believe. We don’t want to cross the bridge and find out for ourselves what is on the other side.

In their trip from Egypt to the promised land of Canaan, the Children of Israel came to a bridge in their experience. God had already promised to give them the land on the other side of the bridge. Genesis 12:7 (NKJV) says, “Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.”’ God made a promise to Abraham long before the trip; victory was promised before they even left Egypt and headed to the promised land of Canaan. God said, “I will bring you to the land I promised to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I lifted up my hand and promised it to them. The land will belong to you. I am the Lord.” Exodus 6:8 (NIRV)

As the Children of Israel prepared to go into Canaan, God told them to, “send men to explore the land of Canaan, which I will give to the Israelites. Send one leader from each tribe.” Numbers 13:2 (NCV) When the twelve leaders returned, they reported to Moses, “we went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit.” “But,” they continued, “the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.” Numbers 13:27,28 (NIV)

These leaders were saying, “God promised us this land, but the people who live there are powerful. God promised us this land, but the cities are fortified and very large.”  After hearing the report of the leaders, “all the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, ‘If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?’ So they said to one another, ‘Let us select a leader and return to Egypt.’”

God could have easily given up on the Israelites. He could have said, “what is wrong with you people? The land I promised to give you is only ten days away, and you want to go back to Egypt.” But He didn’t give up on His promise. It just took forty years instead of ten days.

Gentle Reader, If you, like the dad in our story, are either uninterested or too afraid of the unknown to cross the bridge into the life God wants for you, I want you to know that God has a promised land in store for every one of His children. Only God knows what is in store for you if you cross the bridge. He wants to see you through to the Promised Land! Don’t spend forty years wandering in the wilderness afraid to cross the bridge. God wants you to walk across the bridge into your promised land today!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Wisdom Teeth

An Arkie's Faith column from the June 7, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

A customer stopped by my business to get an appointment for replacing his windshield. He said he was taking care of some things because he had taken the day from work. He spoke with a slur and looked a bit rugged. I asked him what had happened to him, and he replied that he had had wisdom teeth pulled that morning. I told him that I could empathize with him because I had gone through the same thing.

A few years ago, I had a very painful toothache for several weeks. I finally made an appointment and went to the dentist. After taking x-rays, my dentist told me that second molar on the lower left was in bad shape. One of the reasons that it had deteriorated was because it was up against my wisdom tooth. He recommended that I have both teeth pulled. I was in a lot of pain, so he made time to pull the teeth the very next day.

Having the teeth pulled was quite an ordeal. The wisdom tooth was laying sideways, and the root had a hook that was in the bone. The procedure wasn't that painful, but the pulling, pushing, cutting, tugging and prying made it very uncomfortable. When the anesthetic wore off, I was in a lot of pain.

While I was at home nursing a very sore mouth, I started wondering why the third molars are called wisdom teeth. I found out that they are called wisdom teeth because they usually come in when a person is between the ages of 17 and 21. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term wisdom tooth is used because they appear so late – much later than the other teeth, at an age where people are presumably "wiser" than as a child when the other teeth come in. Wisdom teeth are the third and final set of molars, and come in when a person is old enough to have supposedly gained some "wisdom."

Sometimes these teeth can be a valuable asset to the mouth when healthy and properly aligned, but more often they are misaligned and cause trouble. Wisdom teeth have been known to cause dental issues for centuries. In the 4th century BC, Aristotle wrote about wisdom teeth “causing great pain in their coming.”

I found the explanation of the term "wisdom teeth" to be somewhat amusing. 17 to 21-year-olds aren't the first age group that I think of when I think of wisdom. Wisdom comes with experience. The Oxford English Dictionary definition of wisdom is " the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment.”

Often we aren't sure of the difference between wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. There is some overlapping of the definitions. Wisdom is knowledge with understanding. Anyone can get knowledge, but understanding is another thing. The Bible tells us in Proverbs 3:13 (NIRV), "Blessed is the one who finds wisdom. Blessed is the one who gains understanding.”

Intelligence or knowledge or even understanding isn’t necessarily wisdom. Wisdom is using knowledge, understanding, and intelligence in a common sense way, making choices that are beneficial and productive. You can get knowledge out of a textbook, but not wisdom. Experience is valuable in gaining wisdom.

I crave knowledge. I am curious about so many different things and want to learn about them. It is interesting to me to see all the different "facts" that you can find on a given topic. Sorting through the "facts" can make understanding an almost impossible task. But according to the Bible, there is a way to obtain wisdom.

In Proverbs 9:10 (CEV) we read, “Respect and obey the Lord! This is the beginning of wisdom. To have understanding, you must know the Holy God. True wisdom comes from God.” According to a quote that has been attributed to Cicero, a Roman statesman and philosopher, “the function of wisdom is to discriminate between good and evil." Cicero is widely considered to be one of Rome's greatest orators. I think he had a good grasp on the meaning of wisdom. Wisdom begins with reverence for God, and respect for Him and His Word, The Bible. Where there is no respect of God, there can never be any true wisdom. Earthly knowledge isn’t the same as the wisdom that comes from God.

1 Corinthians 1:19-20 (NLT) tells us "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent. So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish.”

Gentle Reader, I want to make sure that in my quest for knowledge, I look to God for understanding and wisdom. He has promised to give us wisdom if we ask for it. James 1:5 (NKJV) tells us that, “if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” Won’t you ask God for wisdom today – and every day? He has promised to give it to you.