Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Childlike - 6/29/2016

An Arkie's Faith column from the June 29, 2016, issue of The Mena Star.

Last week our five-year-old granddaughter spent the week with us. We had a great time together. She really likes to ride in Papa’s old Rambler. Whenever we go for a drive, she wants to go to where the tree is in the middle of the road. She is so much fun to be around. Getting a five-year old's view of life is fascinating. They are full of questions but are willing to let you know how they see things.

One of her favorite activities is pretending to cook and run a restaurant using the play kitchen that Grandma bought. It includes a refrigerator, stove, oven, sink, microwave and cabinet space. Grandma has it stocked with pots, pans, utensils and play food. I find it interesting that children want to play by pretending to do the very things that we as adults find to be drudgery. Kids want to be like us and do the things that we do.

Some years ago my friend Richie Owens spent a year of his life writing and recording an album. I remember his enthusiasm as he would bring me new songs to listen to. Songs just seemed to pour out of him as he focused on this project. One of my favorite songs that he wrote was titled "Like A Child.” Richie ended up choosing the song as the title track of the album. Here are some of the lyrics.

“I remember the story from when I was young, where Jesus was teaching one day. And there were some little ones come to see Him. But the men tried to send then away. Little did they know this gentle young man was the one by whom all things were made. He decided to make an example of them. To explain something He had to say.

Let them come unto Me. For such is the kingdom of God. Come ye also like them. For unless you do you'll be lost. We have to trust fully in Him, not ourselves. Rely on his word before anything else. We can grow great in stature, in wisdom and health, undefiled. But be like a child.”

The other day as I was listening to the album, (it is still one of my favorites), I started thinking about what Jesus actually meant in Matthew 18:2,3 (NLT). "Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.’” That really is a blunt statement. If I don't become as a little child, I will not be saved. It is crucial that I understand what Jesus meant. My salvation depends on it. As I was considering this question, an important characteristic of little children came to mind.

Small children look up to the adults around them, especially parents. They don’t want to be left alone. They feel secure when they are with their parents. That is the way a Christian should feel about God. We should want to be with God.

In our relationship with God, we adults are in the same position as our children, except that we don’t know it. We sometimes behave as if we are running our lives, and that we are in control. We feel capable, and sometimes to such an extent that we feel we don’t really need God.

We need to know, that we are not in control. Just like a child, we should always be looking up to someone for security and for help. We need to remind ourselves that we cannot handle life with our own wisdom or capabilities. In Proverbs 3:5,6 (NLT) the Bible tells us, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”  This childlike quality is illustrated by a story that my daughter told me several years ago about my granddaughter. While she was attending Vacation Bible School, one of the activities that my granddaughter was involved in was making a scroll like people used in Bible times. When she finished her scroll she told her teacher, “This is for Jesus. I'll give it to him when he comes to pick me up.”

Gentle Reader, that is the kind of childlike faith that we all need to have. We are just waiting for Jesus to come pick us up so we can go home, and we have no doubts that he will be here soon.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Trust Your GPS - 6/22/2016

An Arkie's Faith column from the June 22, 2016, issue of The Mena Star.

Recently we had a family outing at Little Missouri Falls. It was a beautiful day for a picnic and playing in the Little Missouri River. The kids had a great time and so did the adults.

Many years ago my son-in-law had visited the Blue Hole, and he wanted to take everyone there. He had gotten directions from the internet and brought them with him. We caravaned down narrow, rough, dusty roads. After traveling down FS99 for awhile, we found that the road had a closed locked gate. We had to turn around and head back. From this point, we weren’t sure of the best way to get back home so we used our GPS. The GPS directed us down a beautiful road that I had never been on before, Long Creek Road. The road repeatedly crossed the creek. There were some beautiful new concrete bridges and some low water crossings. After several miles, the road came to an abrupt stop, and we had to turn around once again.

We knew how to get back to Little Missouri Falls and how to get home from the falls so we headed back. Sometimes exploring a new road can be quite an adventure. When you are traveling a rural Arkansas road, you just don’t know where you will end up. Sometimes even a GPS doesn't help.

Have you taken any wrong turns in your life? Have you been on any bad roads? How do you know which route to take? In Psalms 25:4 (NLT) the Bible says, "Show me the right path, O Lord; point out the road for me to follow.”

That sounds like a GPS doesn't it. God will point out the right road for us to follow. You can trust him.  You might not always be able to trust your GPS, but you can always trust God. No matter how knowledgeable you are, you aren't the best choice as navigator. Proverbs 14:12 (NKJV) tells us that, "there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death."

The whole point of being a Christian is to have a knowledgeable navigator to guide us through this life to our eternal destination. Why would we decide not to listen to the best guide there is and use our own judgment instead? Solomon explained it very well in Proverbs 20:24 (ISV) “A man’s steps are directed by the Lord; how then can anyone understand his own way?” The only reliable GPS for our spiritual life is God’s word. The Bible gives us direction. So many Christians I meet seem to want more than the Bible.  The Bible isn't enough for them, and they want something new. Psalms 119:105 (NKJV) states, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."  If David and Solomon understood that it was God’s Word that directs our steps why should we feel that there is not enough information in the Bible and feel the need to supplement it?

One of the last songs that George Harrison recorded was a song titled “Any Road”. The chorus of the song says “If you don't know where you're going any road will take you there.” His words are very true. They describe the kind of roads that I like to explore. I like to drive on them because I don’t know where I’m going. I like to just take off and explore new roads. When I see a road, I always wonder where it goes. Sometimes I have been completely lost, but eventually, I made it home. It can be fun not knowing where you are going.

While it can be fun to explore unknown roads on a Sunday afternoon drive, it’s not a good plan in our spiritual lives. We should know where we are going. We should all have the same destination in mind.

Gentle Reader, I hope that you know where you are going. Jesus told us that not just any road would take us there. Have you found the road that leads to life? Have you studied the map? Do you have your spiritual GPS? Do you use it? I hope that you and I will be able to say what David said in Psalms 73:23-26 (NCV) “But I am always with you; you have held my hand. You guide me with your advice, and later you will receive me in honor. I have no one in heaven but you; I want nothing on earth besides you. My body and my mind may become weak, but God is my strength. He is mine forever.”

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

No Fear - 6/15/2016

An Arkie's Faith column from the June 15, 2016, issue of The Mena Star.  

Recently while I was driving down the road, I saw a man beating and kicking a dog. I cringed as I witnessed the dog being treated so cruelly. The dog cowered, and I could see the fear in its eyes. I love dogs and seeing this animal being abused broke my heart.

Many people see God as someone who will treat anyone who is against Him with terrible cruelty. Some Christian writers and speakers spend a lot of time focusing on the wrath of God and how He will torture sinners. I recently read an article by John Burton titled, "Is it Time for Hell Fire Preaching Again?" In the article, he stated, "we need hell fire preachers to emerge and announce to the church and the world the reality of their situation and the measure of God's wrath and judgment that is coming. Contrary to popular belief a very real revelation of hell, of torment, is needed to draw people to the Lover of their souls."

I can't agree with the idea that a very real revelation of hell, of torment, is needed to draw people to God. Instead, I want to lift up a gentle God. In Matthew 11:29 (NCV) Jesus describes himself this way, “Accept my teachings and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives.” Why would Jesus describe himself as gentle? I think we find the key in 1 John 4:18 (NKJV), “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.”

I’m not saying that there are no consequences. There is a judgment. Galatians 6:7-8 (NIV), tells us, "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life." But 2 Peter 3:9 (NKJV) tells us that God “is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." Does God use fear as a tactic to lead us to repent? Many Christian preachers and writers use fear. Fear spills over into our outreach efforts. We feel that we have to warn the world of the judgement, the Second Coming, and hell. Shouldn’t it rather be our privilege to announce to the world the Good News that Jesus is almost here? That we can all be ready for that because of what He’s already done before we were even born. That if we daily choose Him, we have nothing to fear from the judgement and hell.

There is no doubt that the world needs to come to repentance, but does God use fear as a way to motivate us? The Bible says in Romans 2:4(NASB), "Do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?" What leads us to repentance?  Is it fear?  No, we are led to repentance by the kindness of God. When we experience God’s kindness and feel his love, grace, mercy and forgiveness, it makes us want to love him.  When we love God we want to please him; we want Him to live in us and work through us.

Seeing God’s kindness towards us makes us sorry for the things we have done to hurt him.  It leads us to repentance.  It doesn’t lead us to fear Him. God doesn’t want us to fear Him.

I will illustrate this with a story. One night a house caught fire, and a young boy was forced to go to the roof. A fireman stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to the boy, "Jump! I'll catch you." He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see was flames, smoke, and blackness.  He was afraid to leave the roof. The fireman kept yelling: "Jump! I will catch you." But the boy protested, “I can't see you." The fireman replied, "But I can see you, and that's all that matters."

In life, each one of us finds ourselves in the same situation as the young boy on the roof. We will be destroyed unless we do something. If we stay in our current situation, we will be destroyed by fire.
Let me ask you a question. Was the boy in the story afraid? Yes, of course, he was afraid. What was he afraid of? He was afraid of the fire. Was he afraid of the fireman? No. He had to put his trust in the fireman. He couldn’t have put his trust in the fireman if he had been afraid of him.

Gentle Reader, God doesn’t want you to fear Him, he wants to save you. Do you see God as a harsh, demanding, cruel God or a loving God? Psalms 86:15 (NKJV) says, “But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.”  Do you see God as a gentle God, a compassionate God, and a gracious God? A God, who wants to save you. I hope so!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Local Hero - 6/08/2016

An Arkie's Faith column from the June 8, 2016, issue of The Mena Star.

As I write this week’s column, it is Memorial Day. My wife and I are spending a quiet day at home catching up on some work that needs to be done around the house.

Memorial Day is a day for remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. I have been fortunate enough to not have any close family members who perished in the service of their country.  But as I think about how wartime affected some family members who served and how sad their lives ended, I have come to realize what they sacrificed to serve their country.

A local hero that we remember on Memorial Day is Herbert A. Littleton. He was a United States Marine, who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for saving his fellow soldiers by falling on a grenade during the Korean War.

He was born on July 1, 1930, in Mena, Arkansas. He enlisting in the Marine Corps Reserve on July 29, 1948, for a one-year term. After the outbreak of the Korean War, Littleton reenlisted in the Marine Corps. He went to Korea with the 3rd Replacement Draft, fighting in South and Central Korean operations from December 17, 1950, until his death.

Littleton earned the nation's highest award for valor on April 22, 1951, at Chungehon. At the time, he was serving as a Radio Operator with the First Marine Division. Littleton was standing watch when a large well-concealed enemy force launched a night attack from nearby positions against his company. PFC Littleton quickly alerted the forward observation team and immediately moved into position to assist in calling down artillery fire on the enemy force. When an enemy hand grenade was thrown into his vantage point shortly after the arrival of the remainder of the team, he threw himself on the grenade, absorbing its full impact with his own body. By his prompt action, he saved the other members of his team from serious injury or death and enabled them to repulse the enemy attack. For his valor in the face of certain death, Herbert A. Littleton was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. gave a speech on Memorial Day in 1884. He ended his address with the words, “Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death.” I believe that Holmes’ proposition to “think of life, not death” honors the fallen soldiers such as Herbert A. Littleton. Their sacrifice follows the example of Jesus, who gave His life for our freedom. The sacrifice that Littleton made for his comrades in arms and the sacrifice that Jesus made for you and I both show a selfless love for others by sacrificing their lives so that others could live.

The Bible describes this type of real love in John 15: 13 (NKJV) “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” And also in 1 John 3:16 (NLT), "We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.” Herbert Littleton demonstrated this kind of love.

In the Bible and in military service, the willingness to sacrifice one’s life is not dependent on the worthiness of the people who are saved by the act of supreme love. "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 (NKJV)

In a perfect world, everyone who lived in freedom would be worthy of such a sacrifice and be thankful. But that’s not the way it is. So many people have sacrificed their lives so that I can live in freedom, but how often do I think about what they have done for me. I might think about it for a few minutes on Memorial Day, but they are not in my thoughts on most days. How often do I reflect on the sacrifice that Jesus made for me? Many Christians only think about what Jesus has done for them at times like Easter and Christmas.

Jesus said in Luke 9:23 (NKJV) “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” We need to thank God for the sacrifice of Jesus every day, not just once or twice a year or even once a week. “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise.” Hebrews 13:15 (NIV)

Gentle Reader, we are blessed to be living in a free country. We should honor our soldiers for the liberty we have. We should also give thanks to Almighty God for the freedom we have to spend eternity with Him because of His gift of forgiveness through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Piano Recital - 6/01/2016

An Arkie's Faith column from the June 1, 2016, issue of The Mena Star.

Recently my wife and I spent a wonderful weekend with our daughter and her family. We were celebrating the end of another school year. We had a great time with many activities, but the highlight for me was witnessing my granddaughter’s baptism. It is heart-warming to see a child make the decision to follow God.

For our end of the school year party, we rented a suite at a hotel, and our granddaughters had a great time at the pool with friends. After going out for pizza they spent the evening watching a movie. The next afternoon my two oldest granddaughters were playing in a piano recital. We were able to attend before we had to drive home. Both girls performed beautifully. I asked them if they were nervous but they said they weren’t.

As I listened to them and to the other piano students, I remembered growing up and taking music lessons. I played the trumpet and was in the band. I didn’t mind practicing and could always learn to play my pieces correctly but when it was a performance my nerves would get the best of me. I have terrible memories of botched performances. Once I was scheduled to play a solo before a church area youth conference. On the way to the town where the meeting was being held our car broke down. By the time repairs were made, we were late arriving, and I was scheduled to play immediately. I was so unnerved that I could hardly make a sound with my trumpet.

Have you ever found that something that you can do, have done, and have practiced many times, fails you when you are under pressure? For me, that was my trumpet. No matter how hard I practiced, I would often mess up when I was playing for my music teacher or in front of an audience. In our small school band, I played third chair trumpet. The first chair trumpet player thought it would be a good idea if on one of our pieces I would switch with him and play the first trumpet part. I practiced and practiced until I had the part perfect. We did the switch several times in practice, and the band director didn’t notice. When the night came for our public performance, I played the part quite poorly. The band director was not happy!

My junior year of high school I transferred to a larger school and was too intimidated to try out for the band. I eventually stopped taking lessons, telling my parents that the pressure was too much. My trumpet sits forlornly in the garage. Now I can barely make a sound.

When they are under pressure, many people experience a loss of the ability to do what they can usually do. Why is that? When we are under pressure, our focus shifts from execution to the outcome.

I recently heard a story that I’m quite sure never actually happened, but I liked the application so I will share it with you. We will call it a parable.

A famous concert pianist was preparing for a show when a group of admirers came to the concert hall. A little boy was there with his mother. He wandered away from her and found himself on a stage with a grand piano.

Suddenly the curtains parted, and a spotlight lit the grand piano. The mother looked around for her son and saw him on stage sitting at the piano. He started playing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” The concert pianist walked up to the boy, put his arms around him and began playing a counter medley as he whispered, “keep playing, you're doing great.” The audience was mesmerized as he played alongside the boy. When they finished, the audience rose in applause.

What we do for God in our own strength is a lot like playing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” in a concert hall all by ourselves. For us to accomplish anything worthwhile for God, it is going to have to be with Him. Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13 (NKJV), “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Gentle Reader, in the piano recital of life, God will sit down beside you and turn your music into something beautiful that will bring glory to Him. It is together with God, and only with God, that beautiful music is created.  Jesus tells us in John 15:4 (NCV), “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch cannot produce fruit alone but must remain in the vine. In the same way, you cannot produce fruit alone but must remain in me.”