Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The BMW - 4/19/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the April 19, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.



Jim, a friend of mine, used to work as a used car manager at one of the first Lexus dealerships in the United States. One of the responsibilities of a used car manager is to appraise cars. When a customer is considering trading in their car, someone has to look at the car and complete an evaluation in a matter of minutes. It is even a bigger challenge when dealing with luxury cars. Most of the trade-ins at the Lexus dealership were big European cars such as Mercedes Benz, BMWs, and Jaguars. On these expensive cars, making a mistake on the appraisal could be costly.

People who buy high-end luxury cars do not go to a local body shop for repairs; even when there is only a minor door ding. They go to a luxury car specialty shop that repairs cars at a level that it is virtually undetectable to the untrained eye. Having a body repair done on a luxury car causes the car’s value to plummet much more than a repair to an entry level car. That makes it even more important for the used car manager not to miss repaired body panels on a luxury car when he is appraising the vehicle.

Jim told me a story about appraising a BMW 700 series sedan. He said that when he first looked it over, it looked very nice. But to make sure that he didn’t miss anything, he carefully inspected the car; opening each door, the trunk, the hood, and even the gas filler door looking for tape lines, overspray, and checking body panel gaps.

The car looked great, but Jim still felt uneasy. He looked even closer, and couldn’t find so much as a scratch or a paint chip. He still wasn’t able to shake the feeling that he had missed something. As Jim walked inside to his office to write up the appraisal, the longtime used car manager from the neighboring Porsche dealership was waiting for him. He was taking in trade a Toyota Supra and wanted Jim to look at it to see if he was interested in buying it.

He had been watching as Jim inspected the BMW. He asked Jim why he took so much time looking at it and wanted to know what he had been inspecting so closely. Jim told him that he just had a feeling about the car and was concerned that he had missed something. The old experienced used car manager told him, “you did miss something.”

Jim asked him how he could be so sure when he was inside the building over one hundred feet away from the car? He answered, “you spent most of your time looking for hidden damage or inferior paintwork, which was good, but you failed to step back and look at the car as a whole.”

As Jim had walked up to the car, he saw the whole thing, but his mind was already in detail mode. His focus was on thoroughly inspecting each panel up close, not missing a single detail. It was about noon on a bright day. That kind of sunlight hides all sorts of paint issues. But the old veteran used car manager was looking at the car from inside the building over one hundred feet away and out of the bright noon sunshine.

He said to Jim, “now look at it from here and tell me what you see.” Sure enough, they both could see the slight difference in the right front fender which had mismatched paint. He told Jim that on all cars, but especially high-end luxury cars, he should inspect them up close but make sure to step back and take one final look at a distance; removing yourself from bright lights or midday sunshine. Details are important, but after studying the detail, stepping back and taking one more look at the whole is equally important.

Christians tend to focus on the small details of their life. I know that I do. My family has been going through some difficult times. I have thoughts like, “I cannot believe this is happening to me.” “Things like this are not supposed to happen to good people.” “Why is God allowing this to happen?” I’m sure that you have had similar thoughts when you were going through difficult times. If you have, like me you probably focused on the details of your setbacks. When you go over those details, life can seem devastating. But when you face difficult situations, what should you do?

I don’t have the answers, but I think that it is important to step back and take a look at the whole picture. In Proverbs 3:5 (NIRV) Solomon tells us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do not depend on your own understanding.” Difficult times call for complete trust in God. It is in these times that Satan will try and get you to focus on the details of your problem. When we do, Satan can plant seeds of doubt. Don’t let this happen. Trust God, and He will get you through.

Gentle Reader, when we are going through difficult times, we must remember to step back and take a look at the whole picture. God knows what we are going through. In Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) He tells us, “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.” God sees our entire life, start to finish, from beginning to end. He sees the whole picture, and He asks us to trust Him even if we can only see the little details of our current situation. “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28 (NKJV)


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

April Fool's - 4/12/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the April 12, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.



This year, April 1st passed by without much notice on my part. There was an announcement that a local man was running for governor, but other than that no one I knew tried to play any April Fools pranks. I have never been much of a prankster, but last year I did fool a lot of people.

On April 1, 2016, I posted the following on my blog, An Arkie’s Musings, under the title Brilliance in Blogging Award. “I was shocked and surprised to receive the Spring 2016 Brilliance in Blogging Award. Over 150,000 blogs were nominated this year, so it is a huge achievement that An Arkie's Musings won this prestigious award. The award celebrates great writing, great photography and great commitment to storytelling.

I am thrilled to win the award. I'm still in shock that my blog has been recognized for its brilliance. It feels like a dream come true. Who knew that a little blog from Mena, Arkansas was being noticed? This is a big deal for me. Winning this award has confirmed that what I am doing is important. All those late nights busily tapping away at the keyboard were not wasted. I'm just a bit worried about the date of the award, April 1, but any day is a good day for an award.”

Many people congratulated me and told me how much I deserved the award and how happy they were for me. Not one person who talked to me or contacted me caught on to the prank. I intended the post to be tongue in cheek and thought that most people would understand that it was an April Fool’s post. I felt that I had to respond to all of the nice things people were saying to me, so in the evening I posted the following comment on the Brilliance in Blogging Award post. “It's been a great April Fool's Day, but tomorrow I have to go back to being a blogger who has never won an award.”

Over the years there have been many April Fool’s Day hoaxes perpetrated by the media. The tradition goes back a very long time. The earliest known instance that I could find of an April Fool's Day hoax reported by the media was in the London paper, Dawk’s News-Letter in 1698. On April 2 of that year, they reported, “several persons were sent to the Tower Ditch to see the Lions washed.” There were no lions being washed in the moat of the Tower of London. For more than one hundred years after this, getting people to go to the Tower of London to see the "washing of the lions" was a favorite April Fool's Day joke. In the mid-nineteenth century, official-looking tickets were distributed around London on April 1st, promising admittance to the annual lion-washing ceremony.

In modern times, newspapers, radio, television, and internet media outlets have used April Fool’s Day to report stories that have fooled their audiences. On April 1, 1957, the British Broadcasting Corporation broadcast a segment on Swiss farmers and their record spaghetti crop. The segment showed footage of the farmers harvesting spaghetti from trees. The BBC seems to enjoy April Fools Day hoaxes. On April 1, 2008, they announced that the camera crew of the nature show, Miracles of Evolution had photographed Adélie penguins flying through the air. It even offered a video clip of these flying penguins, which quickly became one of the most viewed videos on the internet. Presenter Terry Jones concluded that “instead of huddling together to endure the Antarctic winter, these penguins took to the air and flew thousands of miles to the rainforests of South America where they spend the winter basking in the tropical sun."

Other media hoaxes include the Sports Illustrated article from the April 1985 issue about a New York Mets pitching prospect named Sidd Finch who could throw a baseball at 168 mph. Supposedly Finch had never played baseball but had learned to throw in a Tibetan monastery. On April 1, 1996, a full-page ad appeared in major newspapers announcing that Taco Bell had bought the Liberty Bell and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. BMW has a long history of April Fool’s Day hoaxes. In 2004, ads touted the new "Retina-evaluating sensory technology" (R.E.S.T.) option available in its cars. This system scanned the eyes of the driver to detect sleep. When sleep was detected, the system took control of the car, allowing the driver to sleep peacefully. "Lose consciousness, not control," was the ad tagline.

There are always people who are trying to deceive you. The Apostle John wrote to the believers in the first century, “these things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you.” 1 John 2:26 (NKJV) God has given us the Bible to keep us from being deceived. In Colossians 2:4 (NLT) Paul wrote, “I am telling you this so no one will deceive you with well-crafted arguments.” Christians need to be on the lookout for those who would deceive them. Things haven’t improved since the first century. In his letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.” 2 Timothy 3:13 (NKJV)

Gentle Reader, Satan is the great deceiver. He wants you to believe lies about God and his character. In John 8:44 (NLT) Jesus is referring to Satan when he said, “he has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” In the Garden of Eden, God asked Eve, “What is this you have done?” She answered, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” Genesis 3:13 (NKJV) Humanity has known from the beginning that Satan is a deceiver and yet we consistently fall for his deceptions. Don’t be fooled by Satan. April Fool’s Day comes just once a year, but when we fall for Satan’s hoax, it is for eternity.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Wall - 4/05/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the April 5, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.



While The Wall That Heals was in town at the high school stadium, my wife and I stopped by to see the exhibit. The traveling memorial wall is a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Since 1996, the mobile wall has visited more than 400 communities throughout the United States. According to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the sponsors of The Wall That Heals, “bringing The Wall to communities across the country spreads its healing legacy to millions.” This year The Wall will be displayed in over forty communities. I feel very fortunate that I was able to visit the exhibit and help honor the over 58,000 Americans who gave their lives for their country in Vietnam.

As my wife and I viewed the mobile Education Center that is part of the exhibit we were carried back to our childhoods. The exhibits told the story of the Vietnam War, The Wall, and the American experience in Vietnam in a historical and cultural context. Both my wife and I were in school during the Vietnam Era. Although neither one of us had any close family members that were casualties of the Vietnam War, anyone who lived through that period knew people who were affected. Every Vietnam veteran that I have met has been profoundly changed by their Vietnam experience.

While we were viewing The Wall, there were people of all ages at the site including a busload of senior citizens from an assisted living retirement community and families with children and teenagers. Everyone viewed The Wall quietly and respectfully. Many of the people there were looking for specific names. I overheard parents talking to their children about friends and loved ones who had died in Vietnam.

The local VFW Post hosted the exhibit, and many of the volunteers on site were veterans. I could see how meaningful the memorial was to them and how much they appreciated those who were respectfully viewing The Wall. The exhibit has an impact on those who visit it. Many people find the visit a healing experience. To be able to honor someone, to be able to reach out and touch their name is cathartic. Just knowing that these names will never be forgotten because they are permanently etched in stone is important to those who remember them.

As I experienced The Wall, I was reminded of a traveling spiritual memorial that anyone can visit. Just a few hours before Jesus was captured, tortured, and sentenced to die by the humiliating and painful method of crucifixion, He established a memorial for our benefit. He sat down for the Passover meal with His closest friends. “While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it, He broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’” Matthew 26:26 (NRSV) And then the Bible says that “He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” Matthew 26:27,28 (NRSV)

We are told the purpose of this memorial service in 1 Corinthians 11:26 (NKJV) where we read, “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” Just like many who visited The Wall, those who partake of this spiritual memorial service are remembering someone who sacrificed their life.

Christians have several different names for this memorial service such as The Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, Breaking of Bread, Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and The Eucharist. The Lord’s Supper is a ceremony in which we remember what Jesus has done for us through His grace, and give thanks. Eucharist comes from the Greek word eucharistia which is translated in the English Bible as thanksgiving. The root word in eucharistia is charis. The most common translation of the word charis is grace. Whenever Christians celebrate The Lord’s Supper, they are thankfully accepting the grace made possible by Jesus.

The Lord’s Supper is the most important memorial ever established. Its beauty is its simplicity.  It doesn’t cost thousands of dollars to transport across the country. It doesn’t involve an elaborate ceremony reserved for just the elite. It can be celebrated inexpensively and easily by anyone. You can participate anywhere.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin took communion on the moon. In his book Magnificent Desolation, he recalls the message he radioed to NASA just before he and Neil Armstrong were to step out onto the surface of the moon. "I would like to request a few moments of silence … and to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way." Then he ate the bread and drank the wine.

In an article in Guideposts magazine, Aldrin wrote, "I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup. It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements."

Gentle Reader, The Lord’s Supper is the most effective memorial ever created. I hope that you find it meaningful. Jesus said, “do this in remembrance of Me.” Luke 22:19 (NKJV) The next time you participate in The Lord’s Supper, remember what Jesus has done for you through His grace, and give thanks.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Sophie's Journey - 3/29/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the March 29, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


A few weeks ago I self-published my first book. It is titled An Arkie’s Faith and includes over twenty-five articles from this column. After learning the process of self-publishing, I started thinking again about a project that I have been considering for some time. A few years ago my wife started doing some genealogy research. Early on in her research, she ran across the incredible story of her great-great-grandmother, Sophie. The story is compelling and fascinating. It needs to be told.

Sophie and her children emigrated from Denmark in 1856. She traveled from Denmark to England where she sailed from Liverpool to New York City. From New York, she traveled by train to Iowa City, Iowa where she became a part of the Willie Handcart Company.

In 1856, the Willie Handcart Company made the thousand-mile journey from Iowa City to Salt Lake City on foot, pulling handcarts. Although Sophie and her children arrived safely in Salt Lake City, over sixty members of the Willie Handcart Company died on the trail.

As these pioneers pulled handcarts across the plains and over the Rocky Mountains, they faced starvation, hypothermia, frozen limbs, and death. Jens Nielsen, who traveled with Sophie in the Willie Handcart Company wrote, “No person can describe it, nor could it be comprehended or understood by any human living in this life, but those who were called to pass through it.”

I have started researching Sophie’s story and am in the process of writing a book about her experience. As I was researching the early part of Sophie’s story while she was still living in Denmark, I came across information that sent a chill up my spine when I read it. I knew that Sophie was a widow when she made her amazing journey. I was trying to learn more about her husband, and their life together before he died.

I discovered that during the summer of 1853, a cholera epidemic struck Gentofte, the area of Denmark where Sophie and her husband Peter lived. Peter became ill and died on August 8, 1853, leaving Sophie a widow at age twenty-nine with four small children. At the time of Peter's death, Sophie was not aware that she carried her and Peter's last child. Baby Otto was born eight months and eighteen days after Peter died.

Baby Otto was my wife’s great-grandfather. He was conceived just a short while before his father died. That is how close my wife, who is my best friend and soulmate, came to never having a chance to be born.

I’m thankful that all those years ago baby Otto was conceived. I’m sad that he grew up never knowing his father, but I’m thankful that he was born and that as a toddler, he survived the long journey from Denmark to Salt Lake City. I imagine God telling Otto; “I am your Creator. You were in my care even before you were born.” Isaiah 44:2 (CEV)

Otto’s birth was no mistake or accident, and your life isn’t either. Your parents may not have planned you, or your birth may have been part of a carefully thought out plan. But God planned for you. He was not at all surprised by your birth. In fact, he expected it. God says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart for my holy purpose.” Jeremiah 1:5 (NOG)

Before you were conceived by your parents, you were created in the mind of God. It is not by chance or coincidence that you are alive right now. You are alive because God wanted to create you! Not only did God want to create you, but He also had a plan for your life. In Psalms 139:16 (NIV) we read, “your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Knowing that God knew us, and formed us, and gave us life, helps us to make sense of our world. We are all looking for a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. Not only did God know us before we were born, He knows everything about our present situation. He knows everything about you. The Bible says that “the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Matthew 10:30 (NKJV) God cares about your personal journey because he cares about you. No one has ever loved you more or ever will.

Gentle Reader, God wants you to know how much He loves you. He created a plan for your life before you were even born. That is how special you are to God! What a wonderful thought, to know that the God of the universe knew us intimately and set us apart for His purposes even before we were born! Not only did God have a plan for you before you were born, but He also promises to help you fulfill that plan. Won’t you join me in claiming the promise found in Psalms 138:8 (ESV); “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.”






Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Snowbound - 3/22/2017

My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 22, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.



A year ago my oldest granddaughter was diagnosed with scoliosis. My son-in-law did extensive research on scoliosis treatments and braces. He was impressed with the success of Dr. Marc Moramarco in Boston. He made the decision for the family to travel to Boston last summer so that my granddaughter could see Dr. Moramarco, and be fitted with a Gensingen Brace®

In his research, my son-in-law found that the Gensingen Brace® is unique in that, for adolescents it offers potential improvement of the Cobb angle, a measure of the curvature of the spine, rather than just halting the progression. According to Dr. Moramarco, the brace’s asymmetric design focuses on overcorrection. It is the highest standard in scoliosis bracing and successfully addresses most curve magnitudes.

After she returned home from Boston and began wearing the new brace, my granddaughter showed improvement in the curvature of her spine. This winter she has been growing rapidly. She is three inches taller than when she was fitted for the brace last summer. Curves progress rapidly during growth spurts, so she needed to return to Boston to be fitted with a new brace.

Her paternal grandparents took her to Boston to see Dr. Moramarco. After she had been measured, photographed and x-rayed, the technicians built her custom brace. The night before she was to fly home from Boston, winter storm Stella moved into the northeast. The storm grounded over 6,000 flights including the one that was to fly my granddaughter home.

According to the Weather Channel, winter storm Stella dumped from three to four feet of snow in some areas, paralyzed several major cities including Boston, and knocked out power out to over half a million people. Several places in Massachusetts reported winds of 70 to 80 miles per hour. The Bolton Valley Ski Area in the Green Mountains of northern Vermont reported a storm total of 58 inches of snow.

Because of the storm, it was several days before my granddaughter was able to fly home. She was snowbound in Boston. I don’t know what her grandparents thought about being stranded, but my granddaughter was ecstatic. Being from Louisiana, she has only seen small amounts of snow. When I talked to her, she excitedly told me, “Papa, the snow was up to my knees!” As I talked with her, I was thankful that it wasn’t me stranded in a snowstorm in Boston.

I have never liked the cold. The last few days have been unseasonably cold for March, and I have been miserable and just a bit whiney. But as I talked with a bubbly, vivacious, excited girl who was experiencing a real winter snowstorm for the first time in her life, something else crossed my mind. There isn't anything quite like a big snowfall that leaves the ground a fluffy pure white, without any dirt or debris.

A fresh snowfall makes any landscape beautiful. What lies underneath the snow might be ugly, but the snow hides any blemishes and makes everything pure and white. God does the same thing with each of us. We may have a sordid past. We may not be currently living as we should. But God longs for us to ask for forgiveness so that he can cover our sins. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Isaiah 1:18 (KJV)

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised when you woke up and looked out your window to see snow covering the landscape? A dull and dreary day unexpectedly transformed into a beautiful day blanketed with snow. Bare and seemingly lifeless trees turned into marvelous works of art. In the same way, God is pleased when we allow him to cover our sins.

Because of His great love for us, God doesn’t abandon us in our sins. Instead, by His grace, He wants to change and transform us. “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Col. 1:13,14 (NRSV)

Have you ever noticed how quiet it seems after a heavy snowfall? As snowflakes pile up, there is space left between them. With all that space, sound is unable to bounce off snow as easily as it would off water, dirt, or grass. As a result, the sound gets absorbed.

When God takes our sins and makes them white as snow, it cuts down on the noise of the world around us. The world becomes just a bit quieter and more peaceful. We can more easily hear God as he communicates with us.

Gentle Reader, we all have sin in our life that makes us dirty and separates us from God. But God has provided a way for us to be clean again. Through Jesus, we can all be as white as snow. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 (KJV)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Scavenger Hunt - 3/15/2017

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


Last week my wife and I along with my cousins and their grandson, visited Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The Gardens were the dream of Verna Cook Garvan. In 1956 Mrs. Garvan began to develop it as a garden. When she died in 1993, Mrs. Garvan gave the property to the University of Arkansas Foundation.

Garvan Woodland Gardens is the largest undeveloped tract of land on Lake Hamilton. There are over three miles of recreational trails. This time of year over 150,000 tulips line the walkways.  Every year that we can we visit the gardens during the tulip extravaganza. The peak tulip viewing times at the gardens are in March. The gardens are beautiful any time of the year, but I think that the tulip season is the best.

We had a very enjoyable afternoon. The temperatures were warm, and the flowers were beautiful. My cousin’s grandson had a great time. He especially enjoyed nature bingo. Each young visitor to the gardens is given a bingo card with each square listing an item to find as they walk the trails. Items on the card included such things as a cave, a fish, a pine cone, a butterfly or moth, a waterfall, a crawling bug, and a rock bigger than you. If they made a bingo, they received a gift as they left the gardens.

My cousin’s grandson wasn’t satisfied when he made his first bingo. He wanted to fill every square on his card. Instead of bingo, he treated his card as a scavenger hunt. By the time we left the gardens, he had completed the entire card.

As I watched him scamper from place to place looking for each item on the bingo card, I thought about the treasures found in the Bible. It seems that few Christians are excited about searching the Bible. King David loved to search the Bible. He said, “How sweet your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey. Your commandments give me understanding; no wonder I hate every false way of life. Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” Psalms 119:103-105 (NLT)

King David searched God’s Word for wisdom and found it sweeter than honey! He depended on God’s promises and was personally guided by God’s words. Even though David was one of the earth’s richest men, God’s Word was his greatest treasure.

I want to have the passion David describes in Psalms 119. I am convinced that if I make plans and set aside time to read God’s Word, I will find promises and insights that are trustworthy. Instead of reading my Bible because I feel that I must, I want to search through it each day like someone on a scavenger hunt.

One of the ways that I have found to get excited about the Bible is to study by topic. When I study the Bible by chapter, I sometimes get stuck and spend too long in one place. That isn’t a bad thing, but topical studies can leave you wanting more, hungry to know about the topic and what the Bible says about it.

Talking about those who follow God, Psalms 1:2 (NLT) says, “they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night.” Meditating on God’s Word requires study, not just skimming over a few verses.

The prophet Jeremiah said, "when I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart’s delight.” Jeremiah 15:16 (NLT) Don't let anyone devour your spiritual food for you. Insist on doing it for yourself. Anyone can be a student if he makes up his mind. Study the various topics in the Bible, one by one, going through the Bible and finding what it has to say on these subjects. It is alright to study what the great theologians have to say on important subjects, but it is far more important to know what God has to say.

Many people know a part of what God has to say. Usually, it is the part that someone has taught them, so their ideas are imperfect and one-sided. If they knew all God had to say on the subject, it would be much better. The only way to know all God has to say on any subject is to go through the entire Bible.

My favorite way to study a topic is to use a concordance to focus on keywords. Strong’s concordance is an excellent resource, but I usually use one of the many excellent Bible programs on the internet. Bible Gateway is my favorite.

Using your favorite method of searching the Bible, compile a list of words related to the topic you want to study. Collect all references relating to each word, then consider each reference individually. Only after studying each verse with an open mind should you come to a conclusion.

In Acts 17:11 (NOG) the Bible shows us how we should study; “The people of Berea were more open-minded than the people of Thessalonica. They were very willing to receive God’s message, and every day they carefully examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true.” Gentle Reader, will you resolve with me to carefully examine the Bible to see if what you have been taught is true? “Whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” Romans 15:4 (NKJV)


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Free Gift - 3/08/2017

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


Recently my wife and I traveled to Louisiana to see my granddaughter compete in the Pathfinder Bible Bowl. Pathfinders are a worldwide organization of young people sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, though young people of any religion, or none at all, are welcome and encouraged to join the organization. Pathfinders offer a wide range of activities including camping, community service projects, and training in a variety of recreational, artistic, nature, conservation, and vocational areas. In the Bible Bowl, Pathfinder teams made up of kids from Arkansas and Louisiana aged 10 – 16 competed by answering one hundred questions on a predetermined Bible topic. My granddaughter's team was pleased with their second place finish.

The day after the Bible Bowl, we attended the Krewe of Highland parade in Shreveport. A co-worker of my daughter’s had invited our family to watch the parade from her house. The co-worker’s house is on the parade route where the parade starts and ends. It was a fantastic location to see the family-friendly parade.

Over one hundred floats passed by with participants throwing free gifts out into the crowd. Over 11,000 people lined the streets waving their hands in the air and yelling, “throw me something.” Participants on the floats threw the traditional Mardi Gras throws such as beads, doubloons and plastic cups. The Krewe of Highland is famous for unusual throws. This year there were lots of ramen noodles, moon pies, and hot dogs among the throws. Because it is a family-friendly parade throws also included candy, frisbees, mini-footballs, super balls, and a wide assortment of stuffed animals.

Since the first Highland parade over twenty years ago, the parade has continued to be a family parade sticking to its original mission, a family-friendly Mardi Gras parade in the Highland Historical District of Shreveport. This year’s event was witnessed by the largest crowd ever to see a daytime parade in Northern Louisiana.

It is amazing to see how excited people get about the possibility of catching some plastic beads or other trinkets. Everyone is swept up in the idea of being the one to get that special item. Everywhere you look there are kids on their parent's shoulders, giving them a chance to catch some of the free items. Participants on the floats often single out kids in the crowd to give them a special gift.

As I put a large bag of “treasures” in the car when the parade was over, I thought about how everyone at the parade clamored for these plastic items that had no actual value. I thought about how I wished people were that excited about the free gift of God’s grace. Romans 3:24 (NIRV) tells us, “the free gift of God’s grace makes us right with him. Christ Jesus paid the price to set us free.”

The Bible is clear that God’s grace is a free gift. Why don’t more people accept the free gift? If you were to ask one hundred random people, “how do you get to heaven?” you would hear a lot of different answers. You would hear things like, “try to be good and do your best” or “work hard at being a good moral person” or “do more good things in life than you do bad things.” All of these ideas are based on our abilities and actions. They are not based on the idea of a free gift. People that don’t feel the need of the gift see no need to accept the free gift of God’s grace. Many religious people fall into this way of thinking. They feel that they can do it themselves and that they don’t need some free gift.

The Bible is very plain in Romans 5:16 (NLT) “And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins.” Our efforts lead only to condemnation. Isaiah 64:6 (NIV) tells us that,  “all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” It is important for us to understand that we don’t have the ability to be righteous apart from the free gift of God.

Not only do we not have the ability to be righteous, but we are also under a heavy penalty. Romans 3:23 (KJV) says, “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” And Romans 6:23 (KJV) adds, “for the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Every person on the earth is under the penalty of death. But thankfully there is hope, because of Jesus Christ. The book of Acts tells the story of the Philippian jailer. When the jailer asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” Acts 16:30,31 (NKJV)

Gentle Reader, we all need the gift of grace. We all need to have the penalty paid for our sins. We need the gift of God, eternal life. Don’t be too proud to accept the gift. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”  Ephesians 2:8 (NRSV)