Wednesday, February 15, 2017

First Love - 2/15/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the February 15, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

A Senior in High School

When I was in high school, I was too shy to talk to girls. I was almost too shy to talk to boys. When I first went to high school, it was at a private school that only went to the tenth grade. When I transferred to another school at the beginning of my junior year, the only people that I would talk to were those whom I knew from my previous school.

Although I was too shy to talk to girls, that didn’t mean that I wasn’t interested. At the beginning of my senior year, there was a girl who stole my heart the first time she walked into Mr. Brost's history class. Because I was so shy, it was almost a year before she had any idea that I was interested. I think that God knew that I needed all of the help I could get, so he made it so that our paths crossed in several ways that year. Mr. Brost selected five students to work together each week producing learning packets for history class. The special girl and I were both in the group. We both worked at the local furniture factory.  I worked on the dresser jig, and she made drawers. I would spend my breaks back with the drawer makers, but she still didn't catch on.

Just before graduation, I lost my job at the furniture factory. I was accused of doing something that I hadn’t done, and the punishment was a two-week suspension. I told management that I was innocent, and if they persisted with the suspension, I would never be back. My sense of justice caused me to lose a good paying summer job. News of my trouble with management quickly made its way around the factory. When I picked up my personal items from the jig that I worked at, there was a soda can with a flower in it. It was from that girl back in the drawer making section. As angry as I was with the situation, I felt warm and tingly inside because it became obvious to me that the girl who had stolen my heart at the beginning of the year cared about me.

When it came time for our high school graduation, I still had never gotten up the nerve to ask her out. Finally, I mustered up every ounce of courage I could find and asked her if she would march with me when we graduated. She told me that she would like to, but she had already told another boy that she would march with him. She said that if I talked to the other boy, she would march with me. Once again summoning up every bit of courage I had I talked to him. He was very gracious and bowed out. I was on cloud nine.

On our very first date away from school, we went to an amusement park. I don’t handle motion well, and easily get carsick and seasick. As we were riding one of the rides, I kept feeling sicker and sicker. This was our first real date, and I felt terrible. I didn’t want her to know that I was too wimpy to ride amusement park rides. I said nothing and hoped that my nausea would pass. It didn’t. I threw up on the ride, all over both of us. She took me to her house and got some of her Dad’s clothes for me to change into while she washed mine. After my clothes had been washed and dried, we went back to the amusement park but didn’t ride anything but the train.

The rest is history. I knew that if our horrific first date didn’t end our relationship; she was as awesome as I had always thought. After a year-long relationship, with five hundred miles separating us, we were finally in the same place at the same time. I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this girl. On June 15, 1975, we married.

I know that usually high school romances do not last forever and that when kids get married in their teens, the marriages aren't supposed to last, but we have proven those things wrong. It is still awesome to go through each day with my first love! I can't wait to see where this journey leads.

Many relationships don’t last. According to the National Vital Statistics System, In the United States, there is one divorce approximately every 36 seconds. For many people, it seems that it isn’t possible to maintain that first love. Many Christians also seem to have a problem maintaining their relationship with God.

Maybe your relationship with God isn’t what it once was. Do you remember when you first gave your life to Jesus? It was exciting to know that your sins had been forgiven. But have things changed? You still pray, sometimes. You still read the Bible, occasionally. You are willing to talk about Jesus, but only if someone asks about your beliefs.

What has happened? Probably the same thing that happened to the church of Ephesus. In Revelation 2:4 (NASB) Jesus told the church at Ephesus, “but I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”

Gentle Reader, are you are beginning to leave your first love? Was there a time when you were closer to God than you are today? God is calling you back to your first love. He wants you to find your happiness in Him. He wants you to experience that first love.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Saving Moses - 2/08/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the February 8, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


Some years ago I came home from work one day and my wife met me at the door. "Do you hear that," my wife asked. “Yes,” I answered, “it sounds like a kitten.” Meow, Meooooow, Meooooooooow. “You better go check it out,” my wife said, “it sounds like a kitten is in trouble.”

We walked down the hill to the creek behind our house. The pitiful cries grew louder and louder. They were coming from a small gray kitten. He was caught in a tangle of roots on the creek bank. The kitten was on the far side of the creek. This meant that I had to walk down the creek to a place narrow enough to cross. I found a place where I could wade across the creek; then I fought my way through a mass of bushes and briars. When I finally reached the drenched kitten, he frantically held on to the roots. I had to pull with all my strength to get him out.

I was afraid that the kitten would fight like a little tiger because of how fiercely he had struggled; however, when I held him close, he melted into my chest. Almost immediately I heard a soft, gentle purring. “Hello, Moses,” I said, “your name will have to be Moses because I drew you out of the water.”

What were we going to do with a kitten? Our family had never owned a cat. We had always been dog people. Our dogs have always been pampered pets. Some people have even said that our dogs were the masters of the house. Now we had a tiny helpless kitten. What should we do with it? I guess it was ours.

We carried Moses to our back porch. My wife brought towels and an old pet taxi. We dried him off and made him a soft bed in the pet taxi. I put Moses down, and he immediately climbed my leg, perched on my shoulder, and purred in my ear.

Our back porch became the kitten’s home. He was firmly attached to it. The world beyond the back porch was a strange and scary place and he would not venture into that world. He refused to leave the back porch. If I carried him into the front yard, he would begin desperately clawing, fighting, and freaking out. He wanted down so that he could run back to the safety of the back porch.

When I remember how Moses came into our lives, it reminds me of how my relationship with God developed. I remember being in the creek. In Psalms 69:1-3 (NLT) David wrote about his experience in the creek. " Save me, O God, for the floodwaters are up to my neck. Deeper and deeper I sink into the mire; I can’t find a foothold. I am in deep water, and the floods overwhelm me. I am exhausted from crying for help; my throat is parched. My eyes are swollen with weeping, waiting for my God to help me.”

When Moses the kitten cried out someone came to rescue him. God has made a promise to us. "Call to Me, and I will answer you." Jeremiah 33:3 (NKJV)  When God answers our call, he will bring us to a place of safety.

Moses found a place of peace and safety on the back porch. He knew that as long as he was on the back porch, nothing bad was going to happen to him. God has provided a place of peace and safety for us. "Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing causes them to stumble." Psalms 119:165 (NKJV) We need to look at God's law the way that Moses looked at the back porch. He realized that the back porch was his place of peace and safety and he wanted to be there. When he was anyplace else, it made him very uncomfortable.

Many times we look at God's law as a jail. We feel that it creates uncomfortable restrictions. We need to ask God to give us a love for his commandments, to instill in us a desire for the peace and safety of His law. No one forced Moses to stay on our back porch; he stayed because he loved the feeling of security. That is how we should view God's law. "Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome.” 1 John 5:3 (NLT)

Just like Moses the kitty found that the front yard was a scary place, many people find the world frightening. It seems like the foundations of our society are crumbling beneath our feet because we are no longer a society that distinguishes right from wrong. God’s commandments are no longer the determination of what is right and wrong. “Christian morality is being ushered out of American social structures and off the cultural main stage, leaving a vacuum in its place — and the broader culture is attempting to fill the void,” reads a recent report by the Barna Group.

Gentle Reader, God’s commandments are like an umbrella. When you stay under the umbrella of God’s commandments, it protects you from many consequences. If you step out from under its protective cover, you suffer the consequences. Be like Moses the kitty and stay in the safety of God’s law. If you do, God promises in Leviticus 25:18 (NIV), “follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land.”

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Finishing the Job - 2/01/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the February 1, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


A couple of years ago I received a phone call from a customer in Alexandria, Louisiana. He had a 1965 Chevrolet pickup, and he wanted to get it painted. I gave him a price for painting a pickup and didn’t think much more about it. Why would someone from Alexandria have a vehicle painted in Mena?  A few weeks later he called back and said that he was planning to drive the pickup to Mena to drop it off to be painted.

The day that he was supposed to drop off the vehicle, he called and said that he was running late. He had been having some mechanical problems. After several calls with updates on his problems he let me know that he would be in town around 10:00 p.m. We made arrangements to meet at my shop. It was a dark rainy night, but even in those conditions I could see that the pickup was in very rough shape. I considered telling my customer that the condition of his truck was so bad that I didn’t want the job, but he had just driven all day and had so many problems that I couldn’t tell him no. I did tell him that the pickup was in much worse shape than he had described it and that I would take the job with the understanding that I would only work on it when I had no other better-paying jobs in my shop.

The next morning when I inspected the truck in the daylight, my heart sank. It was much worse than I had thought it was the night before. It seemed like every square inch of the body was damaged. Every panel had major dents, and there were large rusted out areas on both doors and both bedsides. This was going to be a very time-consuming project. I contacted the customer and told him all of the problems that I had found but that I would keep my word and paint his truck for the agreed upon price. Because of the terrible condition of the vehicle, I said that I could make no promises about how long it would take. He understood that it would be a fill in project and that I would only work on when I had absolutely nothing else to do.

That was two years ago, and the project still isn’t completed, although I am now close to finishing it. Over the past two years, I have done anything possible to avoid working on this vehicle. My distaste for working on the 65 Chevy has become a standing joke to friends and regular customers who have been watching my “progress” on the project.

I have a job to do, and I have not been diligent about getting it done. I have gone out of my way to do anything else besides working on it. Finishing the job hasn’t been a priority for me.

Jesus has given us a job to do. In Mark 16:15 (NET) Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Our job is to preach the gospel. We need to take our job seriously. Jesus knew what his job was. In Luke 4:42,43 (NET) we read, “the next morning Jesus departed and went to a deserted place. Yet the crowds were seeking him, and they came to him and tried to keep him from leaving them. But Jesus said to them, ‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns too, for that is what I was sent to do.’”

Jesus knew that his job was to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God and He has passed the job on to those who follow Him. I’m afraid that too often I treat the job Jesus has given me just like I treat the job I have to paint the 1965 Chevrolet Pickup. I have done anything to avoid working on the pickup, and I avoid doing the job Jesus has given me.

We have an obligation to let people know that the kingdom of God is near. “Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near.” Joel 2:1 (RSV)

From my experience, it seems that the majority of us are not blowing the trumpet. We aren’t doing our job. Why do you think that is? We are to make the message plain. We are to blow the trumpet clear. 1 Corinthians 14:7,8 (NKJV) tells us that, “Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played?  For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?”

I think that a big part of it is that we don’t know what sound the trumpet is to make. And when we do blow the trumpet, it is the trumpet of politics – or social change – or lifestyle, but not the gospel. We blow a trumpet with an uncertain sound.

Gentle Reader, let’s finish the job that we have been given to do; proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. Our job isn’t to straighten out the political beliefs of others. Our job isn’t to point out the faults of others. Our job isn’t to prove other religions false. And our job isn't to hate those we disagree with. Our job is to give people the good news found in John 3:16 (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.” Don’t get sidetracked, let’s focus on finishing the job.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

In the Fog - 1/25/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the January 25, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.




This winter there have been quite a few foggy days. I like a little bit of fog. I like the ethereal, otherworldly way the countryside looks in the fog. Too much fog is another story. One morning on my way to work the fog was so thick that I couldn’t see things that were right beside the road. That wasn’t fun. It can be unnerving to drive in that kind of fog.

One foggy drive that I made was quite memorable. Back in 2000, my wife and I made a trip to Nova Scotia to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We flew into Boston where we met my son-in-law’s uncle who took us on a whirlwind tour of the area including the Old North Church, the USS Constitution, and Buckman Tavern in Lexington. He had recently traveled to Nova Scotia and told us that we needed to be sure and visit Cape Breton Island. He told us that he had enjoyed driving the Cabot Trail and visiting the Fortress of Louisbourg. He told us to make sure that the day we drove the Cabot Trail wasn’t a foggy day.

In spite of his instructions, the day that we scheduled to drive the Cabot Trail turned out to be an extremely foggy day. I had seen pictures of the Cabot Trail, and it’s incredible views. It is one of the most scenic drives on the planet. I was looking forward to this amazing drive. We saw none of the spectacular scenery; we saw only dense fog. When we arrived at Louisbourg, we attended the Louisbourg Playhouse. In a bit if irony one of the songs they played was “In The Fog.”

I enjoy a bit of fog; it turns the world into a surreal landscape. But driving in a heavy fog can be frightening. It makes you slow down and be very alert. Faith is similar to driving in the fog. As we go through life, we don’t always see what’s right in front of us. Like a drive on a foggy day, life is revealed to us little by little. We can’t see into the future. God wants us to slow down and to make each action carefully and deliberately. He doesn’t want us to get in a hurry. That’s when accidents happen. We have to trust that we will get to where God wants us when His timing is right.

“Faith assures us of things we expect and convinces us of the existence of things we cannot see.” Hebrews 11:1 (NOG) When you have to drive in a heavy fog at night, it is so thick that your headlights can only light a few feet in front of the car. It creates tension and fear. What if there’s something I can’t see? What if the road turns and I miss it? High beams that help you to see far when it’s clear, only make the situation worse. You have to drive slow to feel safe. You have to take your time in getting to your destination. True faith is finding certainty in uncertain times. It is learning to trust God in the patches of fog that happen in everyone’s life.

Faith is believing that God is with you, whatever your circumstances are. Whether life is going smoothly, or you are experiencing the foggiest night of your life. When the foggy night comes, we are not alone. In Psalms 32:8  (NIRV) God makes this promise to you; “I will guide you and teach you the way you should go. I will give you good advice and watch over you with love.”

But why does God allow the fog in our lives? My daughter and her family are planning a trip to California this summer. On of the places they want to visit while they are there is Sequoia National Park. The park is famous for its giant sequoia trees. The Giant Forest in the park contains five out of the ten largest trees in the world.

These trees require fog to survive. The area has very little rain but often has dense fog. When fog hits, water drips off the tree needles, which point down to the ground. The fog is necessary for them to survive.

Gentle Reader, In our lives we need to stay constantly connected to God to survive. If we put our faith in God, we will be okay. The confusion of a foggy night may come, but we can trust that God will guide us through. Don’t panic because you can’t see into the future. Don’t let fear of the unknown unnerve you. God knows your future. He sees through the fog and has promised to guide you. “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) Trust God to guide you through the foggy moments to get you where you’re going right on time. “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.” Psalms 119:105 (NAB)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Thriving - 1/18/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the January 18, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


Recently my niece came to visit us for a few days. We enjoyed the visit even if the weather was snowy and cold. What we enjoyed the most was getting to know her little boy. He is just over a year old and a very busy little guy. During his visit more and more things kept getting put up out of his reach. He accepted the challenge and would find more things to get in to. He might be the busiest one-year-old I have ever seen.

Although he is very active, the thing that made the biggest impression on me is how personable he is. He wants to interact with everyone. He is a bubbly outgoing little boy who loves to laugh. He liked to take his great grandma’s hand and walk her around the house. He didn’t want her to stop but kept on walking with her. She said that she was going to get her steps in while he was here.

After potluck at church, his great grandpa was vacuuming the floor. He wanted to help, and even though his little legs were short, he held on to the vacuum and “helped” sweep the entire room. It may have taken quite a bit longer to finish the task, but great grandpa and little boy did a great job and were very cute while doing it.

A cute toddler with a big smile and a sunny disposition makes a lot of friends. Even strangers stop and comment when they meet this beautiful boy with dark hair and bright blue eyes. The few days that I got to spend with him brought to mind a Ty Gibson video that I watched recently titled, “Frederick’s Experiment.”

Frederick II was a man of extraordinary culture, energy, and ability. He was king of Sicily and Germany during the first half of the 13th century. He was crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1220. Frederick is considered by modern historians to be the most gifted, vivid and extraordinary of the medieval Holy Roman Emperors.

Frederick’s court blended Norman, Arabic, and Jewish elements. He spoke six different languages, Latin, Sicilian, German, French, Greek and Arabic. He encouraged scholarship, poetry and mathematics, and original thinking in all areas, and was friendly with Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars.

Frederick’s openness to ideas made him unpopular with church leadership. His demands that the church renounce its wealth and return to apostolic poverty and simplicity did not sit well with the papacy and its supporters, who branded him as Antichrist. He was excommunicated not once but four times.

Frederick was an avid patron of science and the arts. He had an unlimited thirst for knowledge and learning and considered himself to be an equal of the scientific minds of his times. In the pursuit of scientific knowledge, he carried out cruel experiments on people. The purpose of one experiment was to discover what language children would naturally speak if they were never spoken to.

King Frederick took babies from their mothers at birth and placed them in the care of nurses who were forbidden to speak in the babies hearing. Along with the prohibition on speaking, the nurses were not allowed to touch the infants other than to clean or feed them. To his great dismay, Frederick’s experiment was cut short without finding out what language the babies would speak. The babies grew up to speak no language at all because they died. In the year 1248, an Italian historian named Salimbene di Adam recorded, “They could not live without petting.” The babies died for want of touch.

Modern medicine calls this phenomenon, “failure to thrive.” For some reason, we humans flourish under the influence of love and we gradually die without it. As I think about my great nephew and how much he thrives on the love of his family I can’t imagine what would have happened to him if he had been a part of Frederick’s experiment.

Dr. Dean Ornish in his national best seller, Love and Survival, presents study after study demonstrating that love is a chief influence for mental, emotional, and even physical health. He says, “The scientific evidence leaves little doubt that love and intimacy are powerful determinants of our health and survival. Why they have such an impact remains somewhat a mystery.”

The problem for many scientists is that they are trying to understand the human need for love within the context of Darwinian evolution. Evolution begins with a survival-of-the-fittest premise. It says that self-preservation is the highest law and the main factor in our survival. Love is self-giving rather than self-preserving. Therefore, love makes no sense in the evolutionary context. And yet, here we are; creatures who thrive on love and are utterly dependent on it. Every human has a desire to love and be loved.

Gentle Reader, why do we so desperately long for love? In 1 John 4:16 (NIV) the Bible tells us that “we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” Genesis 1:27 (NLT) states that “God created human beings in his own image.” Scientists may feel that the reason that love and intimacy have such an effect on our health and survival is a mystery, but I don’t. God made us to love and to be loved.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Resolutions - 1/11/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the January 11, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


How successful have you been so far in keeping your New Year’s resolutions? I have a track record of failed resolutions. I always resolve to get more organized and to keep better records, but I am not good at organization. I resolve to get more exercise, but January is not a good time of the year to try to be more active.

New Year's resolutions have a long history. Over 2,500 years ago in Babylon, people would make promises to their gods at the beginning of each year. Popular promises were things such as paying debts and returning borrowed items. It is fitting that we now make resolutions on January 1st because January is named for the Roman god Janus. The Romans traditionally made annual promises to Janus.

What about the God that you serve? Does He want you to make promises to Him? Is there a right and wrong way to make resolutions?

There is a story in the Bible about a very ambitious spiritual resolution. When God spoke the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai, the Children of Israel were frightened. The Bible story tells us that “when the people heard the thunder and the trumpet, and when they saw the lightning and the smoke rising from the mountain, they shook with fear and stood far away from the mountain. Then they said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself, and we will listen. But don’t let God speak to us, or we will die.’” Exodus 20:18,19 (NCV)

Moses then talked to God, and God gave him many additional rules and laws for living. In Exodus 24:7 (NKJV) the Bible tells us that Moses “took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient.’”

That is quite an amazing resolution, but in just a short time these same people were dancing around a golden calf, breaking the first two commandments that God spoke to them from the mountain.

A friend recently posted his New Year’s resolutions on social media. They were -  1. Study my Bible. 2. Do what it says. It reminded me of the resolution made at Mt. Sinai, “all that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient.” I agree that his resolutions are excellent and that we should all make those resolutions, but I hope that he will be able to keep his resolutions better than I have.

Have you ever broken a promise you very much wanted to keep? I know that I have. I’ll bet that you have too. Why do we do this? I recently came across a phrase that seems to explain it. In the book Steps to Christ, author Ellen White writes that “resolutions are like ropes of sand.”

It seems like New Year’s resolutions are hopeless. In the comic strip Peanuts, Charlie Brown says, “The best way to keep New Year’s Resolutions is in a sealed envelope in a bottom desk drawer.”

If we are so bad at keeping our resolutions, how can we ever expect to better ourselves? How can we hope to grow, and become the person Jesus wants us to be? I think that I have found an answer in the life of King David.

David was a very busy guy. He was the leader of a nation with the workload and responsibility that comes with the position of king. He had many personal and political goals. But he took these goals and made one simple resolution: “I’m asking the Lord for only one thing. Here is what I want. I want to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. I want to look at the beauty of the Lord. I want to worship him in his temple.” Psalm 27:4 (NIRV)

David knew that there was only one thing that could make him truly successful; time spent in the presence of God, looking at the beauty of God’s character. Why is it so important to spend time looking at the beauty of God’s character? Is it to make God love you more or earn spiritual brownie points. No, but quiet time spent with God and looking at the beauty of His character connects you with God.

Jesus knows you’re busy and cares about the many things you have to do. So He makes a promise to you that time in His presence will actually make you more productive: “But seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33 (ESV)

Gentle Reader, New Year's resolutions aren’t worthless. In fact, people who set goals are ten times more likely to succeed than those who don’t. Everything that we accomplish in life is because we resolved to do it. There is no need to be discouraged if you’ve failed before. We all will fail at some point in our life. Failing is a learning experience so we can do better next time. “A righteous person may fall seven times, but he gets up again.” Proverbs 24:16 (GW) This year, instead of focusing on personal performance, how about focusing on a relationship with God. Make a resolution to put your relationship with God first.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Traditions - 1/04/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the January 4, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

As I sit at my computer to write this week’s column, it is only a couple of days until the New Year. I remember my first New Year’s Day in Arkansas, thirty-five years ago. A few days before New Year’s, someone from the auto parts store that I traded with stopped by my shop and gave me a specially labeled can of black-eyed peas. I took the can home to my wife who was puzzled by the strange gift from the auto parts store. 

I asked another bodyman if the auto parts store had given him a can of black-eyed peas. He said, “yes, why do you ask?” I told him that I thought it was a bit strange. He explained that it was a long-standing tradition to eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. The only New Year’s tradition that I had heard of was making New Year’s resolutions.

Southern Living magazine says, “according to folklore, this auspicious New Year’s Day tradition dates back to the Civil War, when Union troops pillaged the land, leaving behind only black-eyed peas and greens as animal fodder. Rich in nutrients, these were the humble foods that enabled Southerners to survive.” Like most traditions, this one has many variations. Some say you should eat exactly 365 peas on New Year's Day. If you eat any less, you'll only be lucky for that many days. Others say you should leave one pea on your plate, to share your luck with someone else. I have also heard that if you don't eat every pea on your plate, your luck will be bad.

Traditions are a part of life no matter where you live. Traditions vary from place to place and from one family to another. Our family has many Christmas traditions. Christmas morning my wife has made the same breakfast for many years. The interesting thing about this special meal of egg, cream and sausage casserole and Christmas Coffee Cake is that we don’t eat those foods any other day of the year.

My daughter takes the Christmas traditions very seriously. This year we bought new living room furniture that didn’t leave enough room for the Christmas tree to be where it has been for over 20 years. I wasn’t sure my daughter was going to be able to handle the tree being in a different location. On our first Christmas together my wife bought a Disney paint by number ornament kit. She painstakingly painted the wood cutouts of Disney characters. They have hung on our tree for over 40 years. When my kids were teenagers, they wanted to know why we had to put those ugly old ornaments on the tree. They didn’t think they were attractive. Now it is traditional for my daughter to complain, tongue-in-cheek, about those old ornaments.

I think that we may have started a new tradition this year with my granddaughters, aged eleven, nine, and six. They were very curious about how their grandparents celebrated Christmas years ago. They were especially intrigued with my wife’s story of the artificial aluminum Christmas tree lit with a color wheel that was her Dad’s favorite. They had heard about making popcorn garland and wanted to try. We popped some corn and the girls spent the evening stringing popcorn and decorating Grandma’s tree. Everyone loved the way it looked on the tree. It was a special Christmas memory for the girls, and I’m sure that they will want to string popcorn again next year.

When two people get married, they have to blend the traditions of their families, or they have to create new traditions. My wife’s family always opened their gifts on Christmas morning. I grew up opening gifts on Christmas Eve. We compromised by opening our gifts on Christmas morning. My wife believes very strongly that Christmas morning is the proper time to open gifts.

I have noticed that many Christians believe very strongly in their traditions. Traditions are not inherently good or bad, right or wrong. Some people defend traditions because the church has practiced it that way for years. Other people dislike tradition and want change just for the sake of change. Invariably those people begin new practices, which soon become their new traditions.

Christians should be neither "traditional" nor "non-traditional.” They should neither accept nor oppose a practice simply because it is a tradition. It doesn’t matter how long we have practiced something or when it began. What’s important is what God’s word says about it. If God's word requires it, then we must do it. If God's word forbids it, then we must oppose it even if it is a tradition. If God’s word is silent, then there is no problem with tradition, but I can’t expect all Christians to follow just because it is my tradition.

In Jesus' day, tradition was a big part of religion. One day some Pharisees demanded that Jesus tell them why his disciples did not follow their tradition. Jesus answered them, “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” Matthew 15:7-9 (NKJV)

Gentle Reader, are you following the tradition of God, or are you following human traditions and doctrines that differ from His word? “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” Colossians 2:8 (NKJV)