Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Surprise Party - 7/27/2016

An Arkie's Faith column from the July 27, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

Recently I had the privilege of attending a birthday party for a dear friend. Her daughter planned a surprise birthday party and invited a large group of people. My wife helped decorate the large hall where the party was held. To get my friend to her “surprise” party, she was asked to attend an anniversary party for a friend.

When she drove up to the hall where the party was held, she commented, “look at all of these cars. I’m glad that so many people came to the anniversary party.” When she came through the door and ninety people yelled, “surprise,” and started singing Happy Birthday, the look on her face was priceless.

It’s not easy to pull off a surprise party with ninety people, but this party was very successful. Everyone loves a good party. Even the Bible loves a party. One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is Luke 15. I like to call it the party chapter. It is Luke’s account of three parables, each one describing a lost item that is found, and each one describing a party that was held to share the joy and happiness of finding the lost item.

The audience for these stories was the Pharisees who were complaining about Jesus' lifestyle and his welcoming of tax collectors and sinners. For the Pharisees, the term "sinners" was used for a class of people who lived immoral lives or had questionable occupations; people that no respectable Jew would ever be seen with. Another example would be people with certain diseases or disabilities that were considered a sign of some great sin.

These people, the social and religious outcasts, were coming to Jesus, and he was receiving them and eating with them. In Luke 5:30-32 (NIV), the Bible says, “But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’”

The Pharisees didn't like Jesus’ association with sinners.  The Pharisees found no joy in repentance of sinners at all. Why were they so upset that Jesus associated with sinners and enjoyed their company? Why were the Pharisees unwilling to seek to save sinners and unable to rejoice at their repentance? Why were they unwilling to associate with them?

We find the answer in the story of the older brother found in Luke 15. In this parable, the older brother represents the Pharisees, who grumbled at Jesus’ reception of sinners. In the story, the older brother is out in the fields working, when his younger brother, “the sinner," returns. The older brother does not know of his younger brother’s return until he hears the sounds of a party coming from the house. He became very angry and refused to join the party. When the father came out to ask him to join in, the older son refused.

We find the story in Luke 15:29 (MEV), “But he answered his father, ‘Look! These many years have I served you. Nor have I ever transgressed your commands, yet never have you given me a goat, so that I might be merry with my friends.’” The older brother was at work in the field when his younger brother, “the sinner,” returned home. He thought that the basis for obtaining his father’s love was his works. He didn't need to work to win his father’s approval or blessing; he only needed to be a son. This emphasis on works was the error of the Pharisees. They were “hard at work,” keeping the law, as they interpreted it, thinking that it would win God’s approval and blessing.

The older brother continues complaining to his father in Luke 15:30 (MEV), “But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed the fattened calf for him.” This complaint is the flip side of the first complaint. The older brother expected to be rewarded because his works, so he expected his younger brother to be disowned because of his lack of works.

The father answered in Luke 15:31-32 (MEV) “He said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. But it was fitting to be merry and be glad, for this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” The father was not celebrating because of the younger brother’s sins, but because of his repentance and return. The older brother not only failed to comprehend grace, but he resented it. The problem of the older brother is self-righteousness. His self-righteousness is such that he expects, even demands, God’s approval and blessings.  His self-righteousness is so strong that he resents the grace of God and refuses to rejoice in it.

Gentle Reader, don’t be an older brother. Don’t resent the grace that God so freely offers to sinners. I challenge you today to see “sinners” the way that Jesus sees them, people to associate with and to love. Remember that Jesus throws a party whenever one of his lost sheep comes home, and he wants you to join the party.


You can listen to a seminar that I gave on this topic here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Two Ramblers - 7/20/2016

An Arkie's Faith column from the July 20, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

Six months ago I purchased a 1960 Rambler American. It has been quite a project as I have worked on it to make it a dependable daily driver. I have replaced the fuel pump, water pump, gas tank, spark plugs, shock absorbers, clutch linkage, and brake lines. I have rebuilt the front end and had it aligned. I enjoy driving the little Rambler with its small, underpowered flathead six cylinder motor.

From the time that I first got the Rambler, my granddaughters have loved riding in it. They always want to ride with Papa in the little Rambler. They love to sing the Beep Beep song about the little Nash Rambler passing a Cadillac, as loud as they can, over and over again. But what they seem to love the most on hot summer days are the vent windows. When I showed them how to open the vent window and direct a stream of air to their face, they loved it. Even on a hot summer day they still want to ride in the Rambler even though it has no air conditioner. Who needs air conditioning when you can have the vent window blowing air on you, and you can control where it goes?

This summer each one of my three oldest granddaughters got to spend their own special week at Grandma’s house. The first to stay with us was our five-year-old. She had a great time swimming, going to work with Grandma, and watching her favorite show about mermaids. Every day she wanted to ride with Papa in his Rambler. While she was here, I purchased another Rambler, a 1962 model. The 1962 had been repainted with newly upholstered seats and a rebuilt engine. It rode and drove better than the little 1960 model. My five-year-old announced that she liked the “new” Rambler the best, and she always wanted to ride in it.

The next week my eight-year-old granddaughter stayed with us. When she rode in the “new” Rambler, she was very vocal about liking the “old” Rambler the best. I was surprised by the strong opinions expressed by both girls about the Ramblers. I guess that I shouldn’t have been surprised because my granddaughters definitely think for themselves and have their own opinions. I just never thought that the two Ramblers would be the cause of such strong opinions.

As I see how people are responding to current events in our country, I see strong opinions. The rhetoric is much stronger than my granddaughters discussing which Rambler they like the best. I have become weary of the ugliness that fills my social media feeds.

Many devout Christians become mean, critical, and bitter when they talk about politics and current events. Insults, name-calling, 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."

I think that social media is partly to blame. People post things on the internet they might never say. I believe that Christians should have opinions on politics and that they have the right to express them. I’m very grateful that I live in a country where free speech is a fundamental human right. I’m happy that there are Christians who care about their country, and involve themselves in the political process.

But when I talk with or read the social media posts of some Christians, I ask myself if it’s possible they've ever read Colossians 4:6 (NKJV) “Let your speech always be with grace.” In Matthew 12:34 (NLT) Jesus said, “whatever is in your heart determines what you say.” We as Christians can’t escape the reality that our words, or our social media posts, reveal our real character.

“For by your words,” Jesus said, “you will be justified, and by your words, you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:37 (NKJV)  I have never read in the Bible where Jesus said, “But when it comes to current events or politics, feel free to be as mean, vile and ugly as you want.”

When Christians say or post or share mean words, thoughts or pictures about people on the other side to support their political position they are talking about people that Jesus loves, people that He died for. There is a real person behind those words. I’m sure that there is a way for Christians to engage in the political process and discussions in the spirit of Jesus. If Christians consistently showed the spirit of Jesus in their political debates instead of being mean or harsh, it would be a powerful witness.

Gentle Reader, Christians should be the most loving, accepting, uncritical people on the face of the earth. Temper your words with the knowledge that, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant.” 1 Corinthians 13:4 (ESV) Love is patient with people’s differences. Love waits for people to change. Love is long-tempered. Love doesn’t arrogantly assume its perspective is right. Love is simply, refreshingly kind.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Power of One - 7/13/2016

An Arkie's Faith column from the July 13, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

Awhile ago I came across a quote by the American author, historian, and Unitarian minister, Edward Everett Hale. He said, “I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” It is a good motto to live by.

Most people don’t feel that they can really make a difference. What can just one person do? Recently I found out what one person can do. A friend of mine was upset about a situation and through his actions made a big difference even though he was an ocean away. This is his story.

The story started back in 1916. The Battle of the Somme was one of the biggest battles of the First World War. Fought near the Somme River in France, it was also one of the deadliest battles in history. On the first day, July 1, 19,240 British soldiers lost their lives. It was the bloodiest day in the history of the British army.

July 1, 2016, marked the 100th Anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme. As a tribute to these soldiers, the British Royal Legion issued 19,240 hand crafted solid brass limited edition golden poppy lapel pins, one for each British soldier that lost his life on that day. Each pin came with a certificate featuring details of the individual soldier it commemorated.

The intricate golden pins were made from the brass of melted down shell fuses found on the Somme battlefields and feature a prominent red center, the paint for which has been mixed with soil from the same fields.

The British Royal Legion sold the pins for £39.99 with all proceeds being used to provide care and support for members of the British Armed Forces and their families. Unsurprisingly the poppies sold out within hours.

My friend, whose grandfather fought during World War I, tried to purchase one but was unsuccessful. He looked on the British Legion site, but they had all sold out very quickly. He thought, “I bet someone is trying to profit off that,” so he looked on eBay and found that there was already one on there selling for nearly £400.

It really upset him to see opportunists making huge profits off something that had such meaning. He said, “one of the sellers I contacted first was so mean and arrogant it just got me angry. My Grandfather was in the Cavalry in the great war. The slaughter was incredible as humans fought the first real mechanized war. Its was supposed to be the ‘War that ended Wars.’ Sadly, as we know this was a forlorn dream.”

He decided to contact the press in Great Britain. He was nervous when he called the papers, but the British newspaper Mirror published an article about the reselling of the golden poppy lapel pins mentioning him. He was very pleased when the BBC also reported on it, and soon the golden poppy lapel pins were removed from eBay.

One man made a difference. Jude 1:22 (NKJV) says, “And on some have compassion, making a difference.” You can make a difference. You can have compassion. You may not contribute to making a change an ocean away, but you can make a difference to someone. John F. Kennedy said, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”

In Zechariah 7:9 (GW), God tells us to, “be compassionate and kind to each other.” Imagine what a difference you could make by simply being kind to others. Several years ago my young granddaughter walked up to a woman at church and gave her a big hug. This woman lived alone and had a prickly personality. She kept people at a distance. All day long she kept telling people, “that child hugged me. No child has ever done that before.” A simple hug made a difference in her life.

Gentle Reader, small acts of kindness have changed the hearts and minds of others. You can make a difference. You may be only one, but the power of one can be significant. You can't do everything, but you can do something. Look for opportunities to serve others and find opportunities to thank those that are of service to you. Your gratitude is an act of kindness toward others and can have a profound impact. The power of one can change the world!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Little Things - 7/06/2016

An Arkie's Faith column from the July 6, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

Last week while my granddaughter was staying with us, a friend invited us to go watch him fly his remote control airplane. It was a beautiful evening and was comfortable even though the day had been hot. We set up camping chairs as my friend prepared his plane for flight. After he had installed the battery pack, it was time to fly the aircraft. Because of the tall grass where he was going to fly the plane, he used a technique called hand launching. Just like it sounds, hand launching is where the RC operator throws the airplane, preferably into the wind, and then takes control with the remote.

We were all watching as my friend launched the plane into the air. It traveled a few feet and then nose dived into the ground. When we inspected the aircraft, we found the motor was working, but the prop wasn’t spinning. On closer inspection, my friend noticed that the small nut that held the prop on the shaft was loose. Because we didn’t have any tools with us, we had no way of tightening the nut.  We were not able to fly the plane. We had to postpone until a later date.

A few days later we were able to enjoy watching the little plane fly through the air doing loops and tricks. My granddaughter had a great time and wanted the plane to land right beside her. Tightening one small nut on the propeller shaft had made all the difference in the world. Little things can be critical.

In Luke 16:10 (GNT) Jesus says, “Whoever is faithful in small matters will be faithful in large ones; whoever is dishonest in small matters will be dishonest in large ones.” God cares about the littlest details of our lives, the very hairs on our head because He knows they add up to the big things when we handle them the right way. Our small decisions, mindsets, habits and prayers add up to make a positive life.

Think about the simple ordinary things we use in our daily life that are small things, but they have big jobs. Look at the paperclip or staple. They keep us organized and from losing important papers. What about those buttons and fasteners? They have the job of keeping us dressed. These little things are important to us.

Have you ever heard that expression, "It's all in the details?’ The details are those little things that combined altogether make up the big things. Emperor Constantine built the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Constantinople.There is a legend that the praise for building the cathedral was not given to Emperor Constantine but to Euphrasia, a poor widow. The legend states that she took from her mattress a handful of straw and gave it to the oxen that were pulling the wagons bringing the marble from the ships. That was all, she did nothing more. But for this small kindness, she became a folk hero.

There are many simple things we can do that seem little, but can accomplish so much. One of the easiest is to put a smile on your face. When you wear a smile, you become approachable, and that can sometimes make all the difference in the world to another person. A kind word is a small thing, but you never know how it will affect someone.

Everything we do in life is not always fun or exciting. Sometimes those small things are tedious but need to be done. You might have one of those "dirty jobs" Mike Rowe talks about. Maybe you have a job that people don’t think is important, but God needs someone in that role.

Song of Solomon 2:15 (NIV) says, “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.” Gentle Reader, what little things need attention in your life today? What little habits and thought processes are holding you back from stepping into the fullness of life that God has for you? Make the little changes today that will set you up to live a big life with God! You can do it!