Friday, December 30, 2016

Tony the Waiter - 12/28/2016

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


During the Christmas season, my wife and I made a trip out of town to do some Christmas shopping. In the early afternoon, we took a break to get something to eat. The lunch rush was over, so the quaint little restaurant was not busy. We were thankful for the peaceful atmosphere.

Our waiter was rather ordinary in appearance and older than the rest of the wait staff. He was not very tall but was neatly dressed in slacks, dress shirt, and tie. He said, “my name is Tony.” As Tony waited on us, we noticed that he was very professional and wanted everything to be perfect. Any squeezed lime, empty sweetener packet, or used napkin were quickly removed from our table. When we commented on how well he was taking care of us, he was pleased.

Tony spoke with an accent, which didn’t surprise us at a restaurant that serves Nuevo Latino cuisine. He asked us if we could understand his English. We smiled and told him we could understand him better than we could understand our Pastor who is from Romania. My wife asked Tony where he was from, expecting a country in Latin America, but Tony said he had moved to Arkansas from France.

Because it was mid-afternoon, the restaurant was not busy. We were Tony’s only patrons. During the meal, whenever Tony was at our table we asked about his story. My wife loves meeting new people and was curious about Tony’s move from France to Arkansas. We learned that in France, Tony had worked in the service industry. He had a long-time job at a hotel. One day he met a lady from the U.S. while he was working. They hit it off immediately. When she returned to America, they stayed in contact.

Tony decided to travel to the U.S. to see his new friend. After a whirlwind romance, they were married in Las Vegas. That was fifteen years ago, and he is still happily married and living in Ft. Smith, Arkansas.  Tony said that he loves Ft. Smith because it is a quiet, peaceful place but big enough to have everything he needs. He was proud of the fact that he has been an American citizen for one year.

As we visited, we found out that although Tony had lived in France for many years, he had never been a French citizen. His parents were citizens of Spain, so even though he wasn’t born in Spain or lived there, He was a Spanish citizen. Tony was born and grew up in Morroco. His sister married a man from France and moved there. Tony moved to France because of his sister and lived there for many years.

I was intrigued by the multinational aspects of Tony’s story. A baby born in Morocco to Spanish parents who spent many years in France; fell in love with an American; moved to the U.S. and became an American citizen. He now lives happily in Arkansas and does a great job taking care of the patrons in a small restaurant.

As I was looking through the restaurant's reviews on Yelp, I came across this one that made me smile. “Is this authentic? Beats me. Is this good? You bet. Big portions. Attentive service (by Tony. He speaks English Spanish and French). Reasonable prices.” We were not the first restaurant patrons to be impressed by this unassuming man and his attention to detail.

As I thought about Tony and the places that he has lived, I was reminded that the Bible says that all Christians are citizens of the Kingdom of God. In Galatians 3:26-28 (NIV) the Bible tells us that, “in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

In God’s Kingdom, there is neither “Jew nor Greek.” That means no race and no nationality. It doesn't matter the color of the skin. It doesn't matter the shape of your face. It doesn't matter who your mother was or who your grandfather was or who your great grandfather was. It's not important.

Unfortunately, in society, those distinctions make a big difference. What neighborhood are you from? Where did you grow up? What color is your father's skin? These things end up separating us. We use race and nationality to decide people’s place in society. But with Jesus, there are no second-class citizens!

In God’s Kingdom, there is neither “male nor female.” Now, that doesn't mean that men and women aren't different. But the Bible says that they are equal under God in every way. Men and women may not be equal in the world, but in Jesus they are!

Gentle Reader, In God’s Kingdom there are no distinctions.  We are all children of God. “The Father has loved us so much that we are called children of God. And we really are his children.” 1 John 3:1 (NCV) All are equally welcome in God’s Kingdom, and all have an equal need of Him. In God’s Kingdom, everyone has equal rights, equal privileges, and equal blessings. Everyone is saved in the same way and entitled to the same privileges.There is no favoritism on account of birth, beauty, or blood. Everyone receives the same privileges as A child of God.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Best Gift Ever - 12/21/2016

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


As Christmas approaches, one of the things that people focus on is giving good gifts. We spend a lot of money and time finding the right gifts for people that are important in our life. Sometimes we fail in our gift giving.

One Christmas when my son was a young boy, we nearly ruined his Christmas with one particular gift.  One of his jobs around the house was sweeping the kitchen floor. That Christmas we bought a stick vacuum cleaner and thought it would be funny to give to him as a gift. The vacuum, wrapped in beautiful paper, was the largest gift under the tree. When my son saw that the largest gift had his name on it, he was very excited. His imagination went wild. What could that present be? His whole Christmas revolved around the largest gift under the tree and speculating on what it could be.

When Christmas morning arrived, all he could think about was that gift. When he opened it, he was so disappointed that the rest of his Christmas presents couldn't make up for the vacuum cleaner fiasco.

Have you ever been disappointed by a gift? Has someone been disappointed by the gift you gave them? What about great gifts? What is the best gift you have ever received? What made it so special? Was it the value of the gift? Was it the person who gave it to you?

What is the best gift I ever received? As I think about this question I find it hard to narrow down one particular gift as the best. There is a gift that I received that is very special to me even though the dollar value of the gift is not very high. Let me tell you the story.

In February 2004, my family and I and other members of my church went to San Pedro, Belize to help build a church. While we were there, we made lots of friends. The next year we made plans to go back to San Pedro.

Our return trip to Belize was wonderful. We got reacquainted with friends that we had made the year before, and made many new friends during the ten days that we were there. Many times friends would stop by our room with gifts such as fresh coconut water, papaya, or some small trinket. On the last day that we were in San Pedro, there was a steady stream of visitors to our room. They wanted to tell us goodbye. Most of them brought a small gift.

We received one gift that was very special to me. My wife made a special friendship with a little two-year-old boy who spoke only Spanish. Whenever he would see her, his face would light up. He didn’t understand English, but he understood the language of love. The day we were leaving he and his four-year-old sister came to our door with a gift. They gave us a well worn 1941 Walking Liberty half-dollar. I have no idea how this little family had come into possession of this coin, or why they gave it to me. Even though the monetary value of the coin is only a few dollars, it is one of the most precious gifts I have ever received.

I learned an important spiritual lesson on my trip to Belize. I learned it from the people that I met. They had such a desire to do something for us. Even though they had only meager possessions, they had such a desire to please. They wanted to see us before we left. They wanted to bring us a gift. It was very important to them. I saw a great object lesson in the way they treated me.  It showed me how I should relate to God. I should come to God and say, “I don’t have much, but I want to give you something.” “God let me know what I can do to please you.” “God, I want to be with you.”

Gentle Reader, I know that you are planning on giving good gifts this Christmas season. Jesus knows that too. In Matthew 7:7-11 (NIV) Jesus said,  “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

No matter how awesome the best gift you open this Christmas is, it can’t compare to the gift of Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas. In Romans 6:23 (KJV) the Bible tells us “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” God has given you the best gift ever; what will you give God this Christmas?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Genealogy Research - 12/14/2016

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


A few years ago my wife started doing some genealogy research. Early on in her research, she ran across the fascinating story of her great-great-grandmother, Sophie. Sophie Cathrine Wilhelmine Klauen Petersen 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.

1n 1856, over nineteen hundred European immigrants signed up to make the thousand-mile journey from Iowa City to Salt Lake City pulling handcarts. They were organized into companies, with Sophie and her children becoming a part of the Willie Handcart Company. Although Sophie and her children arrived safely in Salt Lake City, over sixty members of the Willie Handcart Company died on the trail.

My wife has been very interested in the details of this story and has done a lot of research. As these pioneers pulled handcarts across the plains and the Rocky Mountains they faced starvation, hypothermia, frozen limbs and death. Jens Nielsen of 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.”

While she was researching her family tree, my wife found that some of her ancestors were very interesting historical figures including Alfred the Great and Charlemagne. Along with royalty she also found some less savory ancestors. One relative that she found in her research was John D. Lee. He was infamous because of his involvement in the Mountain Meadows Massacre that took place in Utah on September 11, 1857.  On that day, Native Americans and members of the Mormon church attacked a wagon train and slaughtered 120 people including women and children. The Mormon Church turned John D. Lee over to the Federal authorities as a scapegoat. He was the only person convicted out of the estimated 50 to 70 Mormon participants and was executed for his crimes.

I’m sure that all of us have some bad ancestors. Some people are ashamed of the actions of their ancestors and think that it reflects badly on them. If the thought of unsavory ancestors bothers you, you probably should not attempt genealogy. I do not know of anyone doing genealogy that has not uncovered something from the past they are not proud of. I'm sure glad I'm not responsible for anything my ancestors did.

In Matthew 1:1-17, we find the genealogy of Jesus. Whenever I find genealogies in the Bible, I usually skip over them to read something more interesting. But recently as I was reading the Christmas story I started with Matthew 1 and read from the beginning. I wondered why Matthew started his gospel with a boring genealogy. As I read, I noticed something unusual. Matthew included four women.

If you read all of the other genealogies in the Bible or from any literature from the time, none of them include women. Matthew not only included women in the genealogy but women with poor reputations.

In Matthew 1:3 we find Tamar listed as an ancestor of Jesus. Tamar was a widow who disguised herself as a prostitute to trick her father-in-law into getting her pregnant and bore a child named Perez. A disturbing story introduces an illegitimate Perez into the lineage of Jesus.

In Matthew 1:5, Rahab, a prostitute, is listed in the genealogy. She is not an Israelite, but a heathen Canaanite. She bore a son named Boaz. The wife of Boaz, the Moabite woman Ruth,  is specifically mentioned as an ancestor of Jesus. The fourth woman listed is Bathsheba, with whom King David had an adulterous affair that resulted in the birth of King Solomon.

Matthew decided to open his gospel by saying that Jesus descended from the incest of Tamar, the prostitution of Rahab, the Moabite Ruth, and the adultery of Bathsheba. Why would he begin his book this way? It shows that Jesus was one of us. He was human. John 1:14 (NKJV) tells us that He, “became flesh and dwelt among us.” But all of the moral failures of the ancestors of Jesus did not stop Him from achieving His purpose. Jesus, just like each one of us, had unsavory ancestors. But Hebrews 4:15 (NCV) tells us, “For our High Priest is able to understand our weaknesses. He was tempted in every way that we are, but he did not sin.”

Gentle Reader, the message of Christmas is that God is love. “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.” John 3:16 (NKJV) No matter what is in your past, no one is beyond redemption. Matthew 1:21 (NKJV) gives us the focal point of the Christmas story; “she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus did not give up on the world but chose to enter into this turbulent human experience as a baby in order to reconcile the world to himself. That is what Christmas is all about, and that is good news.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Learning to Drive - 12/07/2016

An Arkie's Faith column from the December 7, 2016, issue of The Mena Star


This Thanksgiving holiday weekend we had a wonderful time with family and friends. There were seventeen at our traditional Thanksgiving meal that included a smoked turkey, dressing and homemade cranberry relish, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, creamed corn, vegetarian turkey loaf, Christmas salad and five varieties of pie. For parts of the weekend, we had twenty-five people in our home.

Just before Thanksgiving, I purchased a fire pit for the backyard. My granddaughters and my sister’s granddaughter enjoyed “camping” around the fire and playing with it as much as the adults would let them. They roasted lots of marshmallows and even ate a few.

My Dad brought his Model A roadster, and everyone enjoyed taking turns going for a ride. The rumble seat was especially popular. My granddaughters and their cousin also liked riding in my little 1960 Rambler American. The wanted to know if they could steer the car as we drove on our street.

Because the Rambler is small, and not because my stomach is too large, they were not able to sit in front of me and steer while I operated the pedals. We developed a method that had me sitting tight against the driver's door and one of the girls sitting next to me behind the steering wheel. From this position, I was able to operate the clutch while the driver could operate the gas, brake, and steering wheel. Since I was in control of the clutch, I was in control of the power. I was in a position to operate the brake if I needed to, but it was never necessary. They quickly learned to give the car enough gas so I could smoothly let out the clutch. They enjoyed driving up and down the street and even mastered driving into a driveway, putting it in reverse and backing out.

Teaching them to drive the Rambler brought back memories of learning to drive when I was a kid. We lived in the country, and when I was ten years old, I learned to drive a tractor and move vehicles around on our ten-acre “farm.” When I was twelve, I would ask my Mama to let me drive on the dirt roads near our house. One day a policeman in an unmarked car saw us change drivers when we reached the dirt road, and he followed us home. He gave Mama a ticket for letting me drive. It was a long time before I was able to talk her into letting me drive again.

I remember when my kids learned to drive. Teaching them to drive was a bit of a bumpy ride. My son had driven a bit when I purchased a car for him to drive. His first time in the car he drove a few minutes and then we returned home. As he drove into the driveway, he didn’t slow down and ran right through the garage door. After learning to drive an automatic, my daughter was having trouble with the finer points of a manual transmission. Her boyfriend thought that it would be a good idea to teach her to drive a standard using her Mom’s car. While he was “teaching” her on the Talimena Drive, she drove off of the road seriously damaging the car. I’m sure many parents have stories to tell about teaching their children to drive.

In the eighties, there was a popular bumper sticker that read, “God is my co-pilot.” I understood what it was trying to say, but I wondered if that was right. Then one day I saw a new bumper sticker that read: “If God is your co-pilot, switch seats.”

Inspirational author and speaker BJ Gallagher writes, “my dad was an Air Force pilot. He taught me the difference between a pilot and a co-pilot. The pilot calls the shots; the co-pilot is the number two guy (or gal). The pilot is in charge; the co-pilot assists him – supporting, helping, and providing an extra pair of eyes, ears, and hands. The co-pilot’s job is important, but he never forgets who’s in charge.”

When we say that “God is my co-pilot,” we are saying, “I drive and God is my helper. I call the shots and God does my bidding.” Proverbs 14:12 (NKJV) tells us, “there is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”

Gentle Reader, when life isn’t going the way we would like it to, it’s easy to try and take the wheel from God, and try and force Him to do things our way. But doing so shows our lack of faith and trust in God. Psalm 46:10 (NASB) says, “Cease striving and know that I am God.” Trying to be in control and trusting God at the same time just doesn’t work. When we let God drive our lives and trust that He knows best, we can rest and stop striving, which means that we will ultimately experience peace. Jesus came to earth “to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:79 (NKJV) Let Him be your pilot.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Goodbye, Lou - 11/30/2016

An Arkie's Faith column from the November 30, 2016, issue of The Mena Star


My friend, Lou, passed away early Monday morning, November 14. We attended the same church together for over 25 years. We both had a passion for missions. My favorite memories of Lou are from a mission trip that we made to Belize.

In 2003 Don and Minnie Johnson moved to Cove, Arkansas and started attending our church. They had spent a year living in Belize. They were passionate about the people of Belize and suggested that our church get involved there.

The members of the church liked the idea and after much planning, money-raising and preparation, it culminated in a mission trip to Belize in early 2004 and the building of a church in San Pedro. My wife and I, my son, my parents, and Lou were among the seventeen members of our church that made the trip to Belize.

After one week, our group had to return home, but we left with the walls of the new church in San Pedro completed. We left the building project in the hands of the local congregation, but we wondered if the church would ever be completed.

During the following months, the church members in San Pedro did finish the church building. Plans were made for a church dedication service to be held in February 2005. I was invited to come to the dedication service. I wanted to go. The church building project had been very important to me, and I had made many friends in San Pedro that I wanted to see again. There was just one problem. I couldn’t afford the trip.

One day I received a letter in the mail from Fare Finders Travel. Why were they sending me a letter? When I opened the letter, I was surprised by what it said. Please come to Fare Finders to make arrangements for a round trip ticket to Belize. Someone has paid for the ticket, but they want to remain anonymous. I couldn’t believe it. My wife immediately tried to figure out who the anonymous donor was. She still hasn’t cracked the case. It is still a mystery. The mysterious ticket has to be one of the best gifts I have ever received.

Lou and his son made the trip with us back to Belize. Lou’s son is a diver, and San Pedro Belize is a great place to dive the Belize Barrier Reef, the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere. We had a great time vacationing together. We rented bicycles to get around the island. Lou was in his eighties, but I was amazed by his stamina as we rode our bikes everywhere we needed to go. At the end of the trip, Lou said, “he never wanted to ride a bike again!”

It is hard to say goodbye to friends and family. But I am sure that one day before long Lou and I will be reunited. He passionately believed that Jesus was returning soon. It was the focus of his life.  I find comfort in the words that Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NKJV), “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.”

I’m comforted by the fact that Lou has fallen asleep. He is resting peacefully. He is no longer fighting the daily battles of life. Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 4:7 (NLT) could be Lou’s words. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.” I’m comforted by the fact that God has promised that if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, we can be sure that those who sleep in Jesus will live again. When the Lord Himself descends from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God, the dead in Christ will rise again.

Gentle Reader, if you have experienced the loss of a friend or family member, remember that God does not want you to be ignorant “concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NKJV) God has said that they are blessed. We read in Revelation 14:13 (NIV), “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”’ I’m confident that my friend Lou could repeat the words of the Psalmist found in Psalms 17:15 (NASB) “As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.” I’m looking forward to the day that Jesus returns and Lou will awake and look into the face of Jesus, his Savior.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Backpacking - 11/23/2016

An Arkie's Faith column from the November 23, 2016, issue of The Mena Star



My son-in-law is an avid backpacker. In 2001 he spent six months hiking the Appalachian Trail, a 2,190-mile trail that traverses fourteen states from Mount Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia. The Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world. Only about one in four who attempt to hike the entire trail are successful.

In 2007, My daughter and son-in-law vacationed in Olympic National Park in Washington state. They backpacked 27 miles of the most remote wilderness beach in America. My daughter was seven months pregnant at the time, and my two-year-old granddaughter rode on her Daddy’s shoulders. Talking about the trip, my son-in-law said, “I carried Autumn, and Cynda carried Rebekah, and the Lord carried all of us!”

As a family, they have continued backpacking. My six-year-old granddaughter has a couple of trail names. She is called Louisiana Lightning, because of her steady but slow pace, and Trail Tripper because she has a tendency to fall down on the trail. As they hike along, they sing, “She is a trail tripper, a Sunday hiker yeah, It took her so long to hike out, she hiked out.”

Recently my son-in-law organized a weekend backpacking trip for more than thirty people, including 15 kids ranging from six to fifteen years old. They backpacked  15 miles along the Eagle Rock Loop Trail, from Winding Stairs to Little Missouri Falls, spending two nights on the trail.

It is a lot of work organizing a backpacking trip with such a large group, especially with so many kids. My son-in-law spent many weeks preparing for the trip and demonstrated good backpacking practices to the kids and their families. He taught classes and presented a list of things to bring. At the top of the list of items to bring on the trip he wrote the following words, “If you think we have forgotten something, we haven't. You simply don't need anything more than this. If you only bring these items, we guarantee a fun trip. Anything extra will void our guarantee. More stuff equals more pain, NOT more comfort.”

The number one rule of backpacking is, “pack light.” Every ounce that you take has to be carried on your back. The lighter the load on your back, the fewer blisters, aches, and pains you will have. The key is to balance comfort in camp with comfort on the trail. A lighter backpack can help you hike better for a longer period and help you enjoy the hike more.

The Globotreks website offers the following advice, “pack everything you think you will need, then get rid of half of it.” The website goes on to say, “don’t carry things just because you think they can come in handy. From experience, most of the time those ‘handy’ items are never used; but you end up carrying them all the way.”

Backpacking can be an allegory for the trip that each one of us is making as we go through life. Many times the Bible uses the concept of a path to describe our lives. In Psalms 16:11 (NET) the Psalmist states, “You lead me in the path of life; I experience absolute joy in your presence; you always give me sheer delight.” And in Psalms 18:36 (NOG) he says, “You make a wide path for me to walk on so that my feet do not slip.” Psalms 119:105 (NKJV) tells us that God has provided us with a way to light our path, “Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.”

As we backpack through life, remember that many people have gone before you on the path. Listen to the wisdom of those who have walked through life before you, and think about the lessons they have learned that could help you in your walk. We don’t have to learn for ourselves things that others have already learned from experience.

Make sure to plan your route. Planning is an important step whether you're mapping out a hiking destination or seeking God's will about decisions in your life. Remember that God promises to be with you, guiding your steps. “A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9 (NKJV)

Check regularly to make sure you're on course. If you've left the right trail or made a wrong decision, you can always find your way back with God's help. If you're weighed down by carrying too heavy a load, lighten your burden. In Psalms 38:4 (NKJV) the Bible talks about a heavy burden; “For my iniquities have gone over my head; Like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.”

One of the most common mistakes that first-time backpackers make is trying to carry too much weight. They feel that they really must have that battery operated fan/light, those cans of beans and a frying pan. In this life, God knows that we are carrying a heavy burden and He wants to lighten the load for us.

Gentle Reader, you can hike more comfortably when you pack less, and you can walk more comfortably on the paths of life when you give your burdens to God. “Since God cares for you, let Him carry all your burdens and worries.” 1 Peter 5:8 (VOICE) Jesus asks you to, “take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Encouragement - 11/16/2016

An Arkie's Faith column from the November 16, 2016, issue of The Mena Star


As we go through life, one of the constants seems to be criticism.  I'm sure that everyone has been the recipient of criticism and has more than likely been critical of others. I have been criticized on many occasions and have myself been critical of others, but recently I have had some experiences that made me stop and think about the impact of criticism, and it’s opposites, affirmation, approval, and encouragement.

As I was installing a windshield, I received a phone call from an acquaintance whom I hadn’t spoken to for quite some time. “I just wanted to call,” he said, “and tell you how much I appreciated this week’s column. I enjoyed the story,” he continued, “and I get the message.” The call lifted my spirits. As a writer, it’s nice to know that someone read my article and it was meaningful to them.

A few days later I met someone in Wal-Mart. She said, “I have appreciated the columns you have been writing recently. I like the personal stories.” I think that we are so used to criticism and negativity that when someone gives us some affirmation and encouragement, it takes us by surprise. Most of us aren’t accustomed to hearing encouraging words. We are more used to hearing criticism.

Today, while I was at James Super Save Foods, a customer came up to me and told me how happy they were with the windshield repair I had done on their convertible. I was surprised. That is not the kind of thing that normally happens. Anyone in business is aware that a satisfied customer seldom lets you know that he is satisfied, but a dissatisfied customer will tell you that he is unhappy.

Research has shown that to neutralize the emotional impact of criticism; one must affirm five times. According to Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, writing in the Harvard Business Review, “even the most well-intentioned criticism can rupture relationships and undermine self-confidence and initiative. It can change behavior, certainly, but it doesn’t cause people to put forth their best efforts. Only positive feedback can motivate people to continue doing what they’re doing well, and do it with more vigor, determination, and creativity. Perhaps that’s why we have found with the vast majority of the leaders; positive feedback is what motivates them to continue improvement.”

Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV), "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” Elizabeth Harrison, a pioneer in early childhood education in America stated, "Those who are lifting the world upward and onward are those who encourage more than criticize.” Are you encouraging those around you or are you criticizing?

When I was in grade school, I often heard the childhood rhyme, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." That statement is not true. In fact, words may not break our bones, but they certainly can damage our spirits. In Proverbs 12:18 (CEV) the Bible tells us, “Sharp words cut like a sword, but words of wisdom heal.”

Ephesians 4:29 (NOG) says, "Don’t say anything that would hurt another person. Instead, speak only what is good so that you can give help wherever it is needed. That way, what you say will help those who hear you.” If we want to help someone we need to encourage them, not criticize them.

I recently ran across a story written by Kathy Schultz. She wrote, "pink is my granddaughter's favorite color. She had been telling me this since she first discovered colors. The other night as she chatted away, she added that yellow was another one of her favorite colors."

Kathy went on to explain why her granddaughter had added yellow as a favorite color. She said that when she asked about the new favorite color, her granddaughter began by telling her that when she went to music class, Mrs. Cooke, the music teacher told her she was a bright yellow crayon, bright as the sun.

Kathy wrote, "this is a wonderful description of my grandchild! The teacher was right. She is a bubbly, cheerful, child. Truly, she is a bright ray of sunshine." She concluded by saying, "words have such power. A small statement made by her teacher had truly inspired my granddaughter. It made her even list yellow as her favorite color. I doubt she will ever forget the teacher's kind remarks. This made me think of the words I say. Do I say kind, encouraging, inspiring words to others?"

Gentle Reader, the choice is yours. Either you can criticize, or you can encourage. I hope that your choice will be to encourage others. If you do, God will encourage you! When we encourage and help others, we are showing God’s love. Show someone how much you value them for who they are. Encouragement can drastically change a person’s life!

Colossians 3:12 (ISV) tells us, “Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” If we clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, we will be perfectly equipped to be an encouragement to others. We will not have a critical spirit.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge - 11/09/2016

An Arkie's Faith column from the November 9, 2016, issue of The Mena Star


On Hacksaw Ridge, soldiers lay dead or dying. Over the noise of gunfire and artillery voices could be heard yelling, "Medic!" The enemy had caught them by surprise. Mortar rounds were exploding, and bullets were flying. The order came, “retreat!” While soldiers scrambled away from danger, one soldier ran toward the enemy, looking for wounded soldiers left on the battlefield.

Many hours later, after rescuing countless injured soldiers, he refused to stop even though he was at the point of exhaustion. His motto was, “as long as there is life there is hope.” He was determined to find every fallen soldier who was still breathing.

For hours, without any help, he had been carrying injured soldiers through enemy fire, lowering each man on a rope-supported litter he had devised. He used double bowline knots he had learned as a young boy, tying the makeshift litter to a tree stump serving as an anchor. Lowering each wounded man to a safe spot 40 feet below the ridge, he saved the lives of at least 75 soldiers.

At the beginning of the day, his company had launched the assault of Hacksaw Ridge with 155 men. After the vicious enemy attack, less than one-third were able to retreat down the escarpment to relative safety. The rest lay wounded across enemy controlled ground. One lone soldier charged back into the firefight to rescue as many men as he could, knowing that he would probably die that day. The soldier had a strong faith in God and his prayer after each rescue was, “please Lord, help me get one more.”

The soldier in this story was Desmond Doss. Because of his bravery during the American assault on Okinawa in May 1945, Desmond was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Truman on October 12, 1945. As he shook the hand of Corporal Desmond Doss, President Truman said, “I’m proud of you. You really deserve this. I consider this a greater honor than being President.”

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” John 15:13 (NKJV) Desmond Doss is a great example of this biblical principal. The feature film, Hacksaw Ridge, based on his life was released on November 4, 2016. Mel Gibson directs it with Andrew Garfield playing the role of Desmond Doss.

I have known the story of Desmond Doss for many years. When I was a young boy, I read the book The Unlikeliest Hero by Booton Herndon. The book is an in-depth look at the life of Desmond Doss. The story depicted in the film Hacksaw Ridge is an incredible story, but there is so much more to Desmond’s war experience and the rest of his life.

One story that I recall happened three weeks after Hacksaw Ridge. In a night attack, he remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover. A grenade blast seriously wounded his legs. Rather than call another aid man from cover, he cared for his injuries and waited five hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to safety. When Desmond saw a more critically wounded man nearby, he crawled off the litter and directed the litter bearers to take care of the other man.

While he was waiting for the litter bearers to return, he was again struck, this time suffering a compound fracture of one arm. In extreme pain, he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards over rough terrain to the aid station.

In 1999 I had the honor of meeting Desmond Doss. I had taken a group of young boys, ages 10 to 14, to hear him speak. After his talk, my boys wanted to meet him. We waited for a chance to talk to him. Desmond stayed until everyone who wanted to meet him had a chance. He took the time to visit with each one of the boys personally after he talked. The boys loved him and were very impressed. They said to me, "we got to meet a real American hero."

Gentle Reader, I'm proud to have been able to meet this humble man. His story made an impression on me when I was a boy. When I met him, I was impressed by his humility. Even though everyone in the audience wanted to hear about his Medal of Honor, he was uncomfortable talking about his actions. He focused more on being prepared and being willing to help others. He stressed the importance of standing up for your convictions. The world needs more people like Desmond Doss.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Hanging Judge - 11/02/2016

An Arkie's Faith column from the November 2, 2016, issue of The Mena Star



Recently I spent the afternoon at the Fort Smith National Historic Site. The site includes the remains of two frontier forts and the Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas. The original fort was built in 1817 to maintain peace between the Osage and Cherokee Indians. As the frontier moved west, Fort Smith became an important supply point for the U.S. Army.

During the Civil War, Fort Smith was held first by the Confederacy but was seized by the Union army in 1863 and held by Federal troops for the duration of the war. After the Civil War, outlaws made their way into the Indian Nations bordering Fort Smith. They terrorized the Indians and overwhelmed the capabilities of area law enforcement. By 1875, Indian Territory had become known as a very bad place, where outlaws thought the laws did not apply to them and terror reigned.  On March 18, 1875, President Grant nominated Isaac Parker as judge for the Western District of Arkansas.

Judge Parker arrived in Fort Smith on May 4, 1875. During the summer of 1875, eighteen people came before Judge Parker charged with murder and 15 were convicted. Eight of them were sentenced to die on the gallows on September 3, 1875. However, only six would be executed as one was killed trying to escape and a second had his sentence commuted to life in prison because of his youth.
Parker's critics dubbed him the "Hanging Judge."  In 21 years on the bench, he sentenced more people to hang than any other judge in American history. In that time, he tried 344 capital crimes and sentenced 160 men to death by hanging, though only 79 of them had the sentence carried out. Judge Parker was hard on killers and rapists, but he was also a fair man. He occasionally granted retrials that sometimes resulted in acquittals or reduced sentences.

Judge Parker was against capital punishment. In an 1896 interview, he stated, “I favor the abolition of capital punishment, too. Provided that there is a certainty of punishment, whatever that punishment may be. In the uncertainty of punishment following crime lies the weakness of our ‘halting crime.’” He added, “I have ever had the single aim of justice in view. ‘Do equal and exact justice,’ is my motto, and I have often said to the grand jury, ‘Permit no innocent man to be punished, but let no guilty man escape.'” He went on to say, “I never hung a man. It is the law.”

Just like the U.S. has laws and penalties, so does the Kingdom of God. In 1 John 3:4 (GNT) the Bible says, “Whoever sins is guilty of breaking God's law, because sin is a breaking of the law.” And in Romans 3:23 (NKJV) we read, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All of us have broken God’s law. The Bible makes it clear that the penalty for breaking the law is death. Romans 6:23 (NKJV) tells us that, “the wages of sin is death.”

The sobering truth is that it takes only one sin for the death penalty to be imposed.  God warned Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before they ever sinned, "you must not eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you do, you will certainly die.” Genesis 2:17 (NIRV) The death penalty falls immediately on anyone who sins. This is bad news, because “all have sinned.” Does this make God a “hanging judge?”

The Bible makes it clear that God doesn’t want us to suffer the penalty for our sin. In 2 Peter 3:9 (NASB) we read, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” And we read in John 3:16 (KJV), probably the most famous verse in the Bible, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Gentle Reader, although it is true that the wages of sin is death, Romans 6:23(NKJV) gives us the rest of the story, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God isn’t the hanging judge. He sent his son to be our Savior. In Romans 10:9 (NLT) we read this beautiful promise, “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” There is no reason to fear the hanging judge. “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 (NKJV)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Check Up - 10/26/2016

An Arkie's Faith column from the October 26, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

Recently I went to see my family doctor for my yearly check up. Well, maybe I was eight or nine months late. And maybe I went because my wife made an appointment for me. But what is important is that I went for my check up.

Why was I so reluctant to see my doctor? I can give you a list of excuses, but none of them are more important than my health. Maybe I don’t really want to know if there is a problem with my health. Fortunately, I received a clean bill of health. I don’t need to go to the doctor for a check up for another year.

I know that routine checkups are important because they can find problems that if undiscovered could grow to be serious health issues. I know that giving my doctor permission to find hidden health problems is best for my long-term health.

King David realized that spiritual check-ups were important. Asking God to search for hidden sin, he prayed, “Examine me, O God, and know my mind; test me, and discover my thoughts. Find out if there is any evil in me and guide me in the everlasting way. Psalms 139:23,24 (GNT) He realized that giving God the opportunity for a full and unconditional inspection of his mind and thoughts would keep him spiritually healthy.

King David knew that even if you are feeling good about yourself, it is time for a checkup! Only God knows the true condition of our heart, and only He can forgive, heal, and lead us to a righteous life and productive future. In Psalms 26:2,3 (GNT) we read, “Examine me and test me, Lord; judge my desires and thoughts. Your constant love is my guide; your faithfulness always leads me.” God knows us better than we know ourselves.

Do you go in for a checkup with the doctor every year? Does your doctor listen to your heart, update your immunizations, check your lungs and your weight? Checkups are good. They can stop little things from developing into bigger things. Given a choice, I’d probably not voluntarily visit my doctor for a physical exam. Over the years I haven’t regularly had check ups. I’m inclined to assume that everything is okay and not bother my doctor about it. But since my wife made the appointment for me I reluctantly went to the doctor. Given a choice, many of us are a little afraid of spiritual checkups as well. After all, if we check too closely, we might find that we need to make some changes in our life.

I know how to make an appointment and see my family doctor, but how do I go about getting a spiritual checkup? A good place to start is found in Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV) where Jesus answered the question, “which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

When I went to the doctor for my check-up, he asked a lot of questions. The first question we need to ask ourselves in a spiritual check-up is, do I love God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind? How do I know if I love God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind? Jesus gives us the answer in John 14:15 (NKJV) when he said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” That is clear enough. God’s commandments are a guide to let us know how we are doing spiritually.

For your spiritual check-up, turn to Exodus 20 in your Bible and read God’s words that he spoke from the top of Mount Sinai. Christians today refer to these words as the Ten Commandments. There is no better place to start a spiritual check-up than to read these commandments and look into your heart and see if you are following them the way God spoke them.

Gentle Reader, we all need a spiritual checkup once in a while; a time to look at our walk with the Lord and ask ourselves, “Am I on the right path?  Am I doing what the Lord wants for me?“ If your spiritual checkup finds you in need of some fine tuning, remember that the Great Physician has promised to help you accomplish it. Pray like King David did when he failed his spiritual check-up, “Create in me a pure heart, God, and make my spirit right again.” Psalms 51:10 (NCV)


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Do Unto Others - 10/19/2016

An Arkie's Faith column from the October 19, 2016, issue of The Mena Star



Recently I had one of those experiences at work that you just never want to have. After working on a customer’s vehicle, I moved it from my work area to our parking lot. I was in a hurry to start the next job. As I was working, I heard a thud! I looked up and saw that the vehicle I had recently moved had rolled back against another car.

I ran over to see what had happened. The left front fender of the vehicle was damaged where it had run into the rear bumper of another car. When I had shifted the vehicle into park, it didn’t stay, and when the transmission slipped out of park, the vehicle rolled back. My heart sank as I looked at the damage. I wasn’t looking forward to telling the customer that I had damaged his truck.

When the customer arrived at my shop, I immediately told him that I had something I needed to show him. I showed him the damage and told him that we would do whatever he wanted us to do to take care of the issue. He looked at the damage to his fender and said, “that doesn’t look too bad, and my truck is old, don’t worry about it.” He continued, “It was an accident, and I wouldn’t want that to have happened to me.” I told him that I wasn’t comfortable with doing nothing. We agreed on a monetary amount to pay for the damage. I told him that I appreciated how understanding he was about the incident. He told me that he wanted to treat me the same way he would want to be treated if it had happened to him.

In Christianity, we refer to this concept as “The Golden Rule.”  If you ask someone to repeat ”The Golden Rule,” they will usually say, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” There is no place in the Bible that uses exactly this phrase, but in Matthew 7:12 (NKJV), Jesus said, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” And in Luke 6:31 (NKJV) we read, “and just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.”

Most Christians truly believe this. But there’s one area of life where it seems that Christians forget the golden rule, and that’s politics. I’m amazed by how many Christians become completely uncivil when it comes to discussing politics. In everything else they are polite but once they start talking about politics or politicians they become vicious. It seems that they forget that the Bible says in Romans 12:10 (NLT), “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.”

Many devout Christians become mean, critical, and bitter when they talk about politics. Insults, name-calling, bitterness, and slander are the order of the day. They don’t seem to remember that the Jesus they claim to worship said to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Luke 6:27,28 (NIV)

I think that social media is partly to blame. People post things they might never say. I don’t believe that Christians shouldn't have opinions on politics or that they shouldn't express them. I’m very grateful that I live in a country where free speech is a basic human right. I’m happy that there are Christians who care about their country and involve themselves in the political process.

But does it have to be so full of hate? It is all right for a Christian to express an opinion on politics such as, “I think X is a poor President, Senator, Congresswoman, Candidate.” But we have all seen some Christians cross the line from opinion to attack, insult, and slander. Much of it is hateful and malicious.

When I look at the Facebook posts of some Christians, I ask myself if they have ever read Colossians 4:6 (NKJV) “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.”

In Matthew 12:34 (ICB) Jesus said, “The mouth speaks the things that are in the heart.” We as Christians can’t escape the reality that our words, or social media posts, reveal our true character.   In Matthew 12:37 (NLT) Jesus said, “the words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.” I have never read in the Bible where Jesus said, “But when it comes to politics and politicians, feel free to be as mean, vile and ugly as you want.”

When Christians say ugly words or post thoughts or pictures about people they disagree with to support their political position, they are talking about people that Jesus loves and died for. There is a real person behind those words. They are saying that about real people, not just ideologies, not just platforms, not just issues, not just politicians.

Gentle Reader, I’m sure that there is a way for Christians to engage in the political process and political discussions while still manifesting the Spirit of Jesus. If Christians consistently showed the Spirit of Jesus in their political discussions instead of being mean or harsh, it would be a powerful witness. Before you talk or post on social media, ask yourself if you would want to be talked about that way. Remember the golden rule.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Jump Start - 10/12/2016

An Arkie's Faith column from the October 12, 2016, issue of The Mena Star


A few days ago I received a call from a friend. “We are at Wal-Mart,” she said, “and our battery is dead. Are you busy right now? Can you come and give us a jump start?” I grabbed my jumper cables, put them in my little Rambler, and headed for Wal-Mart.

My friend had left the headlights on, and the battery had run down. It didn’t have enough power to start the vehicle. When I arrived, I ran the jumper cables from the battery in my little Rambler to the battery in my friend’s vehicle and in just a few seconds the engine came to life.

A couple of months ago I had a similar experience in my wife’s car. While my wife and daughter were shopping, I stayed in the car with my granddaughter who was not feeling well. While we were in the car, my granddaughter wanted to listen to her favorite podcast, Tales from the South. The podcast features true stories told by the Southerners who lived them, in front of a live audience. I plugged my phone into the car’s stereo system, and we enjoyed listening to some great stories. When my wife and daughter came back to the car and were ready to go, the battery was dead, and the car wouldn’t start.

When we first purchased the car I had placed a set of battery cables in the compartment under the rear floor. We had never needed to use the cables before, but I was glad that we had them with us. With the cables, we were able to jump start the car and be on our way again.

Electrical power is one of those things that we don't think about very often. We usually only think about the power when it isn’t there. When we turn the key in our car, we expect the engine to start. When we flip the switch, we expect the lights to go on. When we come home from work on a hot day, we expect the house to be cool and comfortable. When we open the refrigerator, we expect the milk to be cold.

When the power isn’t working, it suddenly becomes very important. Anyone who was living in Polk County during December 2000 remembers being without power. That year a major ice storm developed Christmas Day and continued through the early morning hours of December 27th. Much of western Arkansas was coated by a layer of ice up to 3 inches thick. The effects were devastating. 300,000 Arkansans were without power for many days. The 2000 ice storm is believed to be the worst natural disaster in Arkansas history. We were without power for six days and had friends in South Polk County who were without power for 23 days.

Even though our house still had all of its electrical wiring, outlets, and switches nothing worked. Habits are hard to break, and even after days without power I still found myself trying to turn on the lights. Even though everything looked fine, there was no power.

Just like a house without power or a car with a dead battery, we have no power in ourselves to follow Jesus. We have no energy to serve Him. We have no power to change ourselves. I’m sure that your experience verifies the fact that sheer will power cannot conquer sin. On our own, living like Christ is not difficult; it’s impossible. Jesus explains this in John 15:5 (NLT) “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”

Jumper cables have no power in themselves. Their only job is to connect the dead battery to a battery that works. When the car starts, no one says, “Wow, what powerful jumper cables you have!” It doesn’t matter if the jumper cables are new and shiny, or if they are old and rusty and dirty and tied in knots. All that matters is that they connect the dead battery to a battery with a full charge. The power is in the fully charged battery. The cables are just a conduit; the working battery does all the work of bringing life to the dead car.

Our only job in this life is to be connected. We need to be connected to the Source of power and be willing to reach out and touch anyone who is broken down. Do you know someone who is broken down, hurting, in need of power in their life? Do you feel unable to help them? Remember, the burden to be the battery, to bring energy to them, is not yours. Your job is to be the cables that connect them to Jesus through love.

Gentle Reader, just like we take our electrical power for granted, we also often take God's power for granted. We expect Him to love us. We expect Him to be there for us, but how often do we think about His power? I want to say with King David, "I will sing about your power. Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love. For you have been my refuge, a place of safety when I am in distress.” Psalms 59:16 (NLT)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Astoria Column - 10/05/2016

An Arkie's Faith column from the October 5, 2016, issue of The Mena Star


On a recent trip to the Oregon coast, my wife and I visited the Astoria Column. The city of Astoria, Oregon is located at the mouth of the Columbia River and has a population of about 10,000 people. The Astoria Column is one of the most visited parks in the state of Oregon and is the city’s most popular attraction with more than 400,000 visitors each year.

The Astoria Column is part of a series of 12 historical monuments that Ralph Budd, president of the Great Northern Railroad, erected in the early 1900’s between St. Paul, Minnesota and Astoria, Oregon. In 1925, he announced that he wanted a memorial in Astoria that would, “properly salute Astoria’s explorers and early settlers for their critical role in the United States’ stretch to the Pacific Coast.”

The final design for the monument was modeled after the Trajan Column, a Roman triumphal column in Rome, Italy, which commemorates Roman emperor Trajan's victory in the Dacian Wars. The Trajan Column tells the story of two military campaigns fought between the Roman Empire and Dacia, modern day Romania, between AD 101-106.

The Astoria Column, as the monument was called, featured a hand-painted spiral around the column that would stretch more than 500 feet if unwound. The artwork commemorated the historical events that transpired at the mouth of the Columbia River. Scenes depicted on the column include events such as the discovery of the Columbia River by Captain Robert Gray; the wintering of the Lewis and Clark Expedition; the arrival of the ship Tonquin, and the completion of the railroad. Work on the monument began in March 1926, and it was dedicated on July 22, 1926.

Towering above Astoria, the Column sits on top of Coxcomb Hill, 600 feet above sea level. From this vantage point, the 125-foot tall column provides an incredible view of Young’s Bay, the Coast Range, the mighty Columbia River, and in the distance, the Pacific Ocean.

As I visited The Astoria Column, I was amazed by the beautiful views. I enjoyed taking photographs and immersing myself in the scenery. I was also quite interested in the history that the column depicts. Before visiting the site, I hadn’t realized that the column was intended to be a memorial.

A memorial is something that serves as a focus to help remember an event.  Are there memorials in the Bible? There is a memorial right in the Ten Commandments.  Exodus 20:8-11 (NKJV) says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”

What are we to remember when we keep the Sabbath holy? That God created the heavens and the earth. When did God set up this memorial?  Genesis 2:1-3 (NKJV) tells us, “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”

One of the main topics of the book of Revelation is worship. In Revelation 14:6,7 (NKJV) it says, “Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth—to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people—saying with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.’” God wants people who will worship Him as the Creator.

Hebrews 11:3 (NCV) tells us that, “By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.” Faith is important to the Christian, and by faith, we understand that God created the universe. By faith, we realize that because God is our Creator, He deserves our worship.

Gentle Reader, creation is important; It is the reason we worship God as our Creator, and the seventh day has stood as a memorial to God’s creative power from creation week until today.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Return Fire - 9/28/2016

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Run Through the Rain - 9/21/2016

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This is the short film that inspired this column.
 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Peter Iredale - 9/14/2016

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wedding - 9/07/2016

My An Arkie's Faith column from the September 7, 2016, issue of The Mena Star


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

During the time that Jesus lived here on the earth, a man would never consider getting married unless he had a house ready for his new bride. Jesus has promised us that he will prepare a place for his bride.  We can find His promise in John 14:2,3 (NKJV) where it says, “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”

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


Friday, September 2, 2016

Love Letters - 8/31/2016

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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