Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Missouri River - 3/30/2016

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

Recently we made a trip to Ashland, Missouri to visit my sister. My nephew was the lead in his High School play and we were excited to be able to go see him perform. He played the part of Shrek in Shrek the Musical. He and his classmates had worked hard, practicing every school night for weeks. The production was very entertaining and my nephew was incredible as Shrek.

Ashland, Missouri is just a few miles from the Missouri River and is situated halfway between Columbia and Jefferson City. One morning while I was there I got up early to photograph the sunrise. I ended up at the little town of Hartsburg. It is a small town of 100 people situated on the Katy Trail, a 225-mile bike path that stretches across Missouri. I saw a sign that said Missouri River Access. I decided to check it out. The road to the access was called River Road. From Hartsburg Access to Wilton the River Road runs along the banks of the Missouri River. It was a beautiful drive and I enjoyed taking photos along the river. I was impressed by how wide and how swift the river was.

My mind drifted back in time and I imagined steamboats making their way up the river. Recently I had read portions of the book, Old Man River: The Memories of Captain Louis Rosche, Pioneer Steamboatman by Robert A. Hereford. In the book, there was a quote from an old steamboat man that Rosche met on the St. Louis levee in 1866.

“Just because the Mississippi is the biggest river in the country, you mustn't get the idea that she's the best and the boats on her the finest and her boatmen the smartest. That ain't true. Son, real steamboatin' begins where the Missouri and the Mississippi join up. It takes a real man to be a Missouri River pilot, and that's why a good one draws down as high as a thousand dollars a month. If a Mississippi boat makes a good trip to New Orleans and back, its milk-fed crew think they've turned a trick. Bah! That's creek navigatin'. But from St. Louis to Fort Benton and back–close on to five thousand miles, son, with cottonwood snags waitin' to rip a hole in your bottom and the fastest current there ever was on any river darin' your engines at every bend and with Injuns hidin' in the bushes at the woodyard landings ready to rip the scalp off your head–that's a hair-on-your-chest, he-man trip for you!”

Back in the days when steamboats were common, a passenger stood watching the pilot as they went through a tricky spot on the river. The passenger asked the pilot, "How long have you been piloting a boat on this river?"  "About twenty years," was the reply.  The passenger said, "so I suppose you know every rock and shoal and sand bank and all the other dangerous places."  "No, I don't," said the pilot.  "You don't!" exclaimed the passenger in alarm. "Then what do you know?"  The pilot said, "I know where the deep water is."

Many Christians waste a lot of precious time and resources studying error.  They think that to avoid error they must understand all of the ins and outs of it.  Instead of focusing on Jesus they focus on these erroneous ideas and the people who are teaching them. They become conspiracy theory Christians who spend more time focusing on these conspiracy theories than they do on Jesus.

In Philippians 4:8 (NRSV), the Bible tells us, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” That seems to tell me that God wants us to focus on the positive.  There is so much evil and error in the world that we could never hope to understand it no matter how long we studied it. Why would we want to take time away from Jesus to study such things?

I am quite often given materials or sent e-mails and internet links to articles that are meant to expose certain groups or organizations. I don't want to take the time to study things that I already believe to be in error. If we know our Bibles and we know our Savior we will not be deceived.  We don't need to see the evil side of life to be able to seek the good.  Jesus tells us in John 8:31,32 (NCV), "If you continue to obey my teaching, you are truly my followers. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Gentle Reader, we need to know where the deep water is.  We need to travel in the deep water as we negotiate the river of life. Too many lives have been wrecked by the rocks and sandbanks of life as they have strayed from the deep water.  Let's resolve to stay in the deep water of Jesus.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

He's Alive - 3/23/2016

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

During the 1970’s as I listened to Contemporary Christian Music, Don Francisco was one of my favorite artists. Last year for my birthday my daughter gave me an album that had just been released titled, "We Will Stand.” It is a one of a kind live recording that includes 30 CCM artists who performed together on Jan. 21, 2015. Don Francisco was one of those artists and he sang his signature song, "He's Alive.”

Don’s music often tells a story and “He’s Alive” is one of his best. The song tells the story of the resurrection of Jesus from Peter’s point of view. It ends with these words: “Suddenly the air was filled with strange and sweet perfume. Light that came from everywhere; Drove shadows from the room. Jesus stood before me with His arms held open wide. And I fell down on my knees and just clung to Him and cried. He raised me to my feet and as I looked into His eyes. Love was shining out from Him like sunlight from the skies. Guilt in my confusion disappeared in sweet release. And every fear I'd ever had just melted into peace. He's alive, He's alive. He's alive and I'm forgiven. Heaven's gates are open wide. He’s alive."

What a powerful message the song delivers. This is the gospel; the good news that Jesus is alive. Let’s take a look at the story as it is recorded in Mark 16:9-16 (NIV) “When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either. Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.’”

Jesus gave his disciples the job of going to the entire world and preaching the gospel. Most Christians realize that Jesus didn't just tell his disciples to preach the gospel, he asks all of his followers preach the gospel. But just what is the gospel? The gospel is the good news that Jesus is alive. He has achieved victory over death. He wants to give us eternal life.

Paul explained it very clearly to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 (NIV) “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

The gospel is very simple. 1-Jesus died for our sins. 2-He was buried. 3-He rose again.

I once heard a preacher who stated that whatever topic he was preaching on he always included John 3:16 (NKJV)  "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16 is the gospel. Whatever we as Christians are teaching needs to have the gospel at its center. Jesus, his death and resurrection, should be the center of any doctrine, teaching or belief. Too much of what Christians are focused on is not gospel oriented.

Gentle Reader, the most important part of the story of the cross is that He’s alive!  We read in Acts 1:11 (NIV) “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” Christians are looking forward to the second coming of Jesus because He’s alive!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

My Little Rambler - 3/16/2016

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

A few weeks ago I purchased a 1960 Rambler American. I have always loved these little cars. They are very simple with a small flathead six cylinder engine that produces 90 horsepower. If you are old enough you may remember the song, “Beep Beep.” “While riding in my Cadillac, what to my surprise. A little Nash Rambler was following me, about one third my size. The guy must have wanted to pass me up as he kept on tooting his horn. I'll show him that a Cadillac is not a car to scorn. Beep beep, beep beep, his horn went beep beep beep.” The song, popularized by The Playmates, featured a Rambler like mine.

When I bought the car the previous owner told me he had cleaned out the gas tank and rebuilt the carburetor. He assured me that it was drivable. The first time I drove the little Rambler it quit running. I was able to pull over to the side of the road. Just as I got out of the car to see what was wrong, a friend of mine stopped to see if I needed help. He pushed me back to my shop with his 1961 Pontiac. I can only imagine what the passers by thought seeing an old Pontiac pushing the little Rambler down the road.

Since the gas gauge didn’t work I thought that it might just be out of gas. I put several gallons in the tank and the little Rambler started right up. That night I was driving it home and once again the little Rambler quit running. With the help of some other motorists I was able to push it to the side of the road. I was able to get the engine started again and headed to the gas station. After filling the tank I started out again but the little Rambler just didn’t want to run. I had to call my Dad and have him help me pull the car back to my shop. When I told my wife about the days experience she told me, “You need to get rid of that car.”

The next morning I determined that the fuel pump wasn’t working. After replacing the pump the little Rambler fired up and ran smoothly. I was ready for another drive. This time it ran perfectly, but when I returned to my shop I noticed a stream of coolant running out from under the front end of the car. After checking out the leak I found that I needed a new water pump. I had also noticed that the steering was loose. When I had replaced the water pump and a tie rod end, the little Rambler was ready to drive.

Did I still love the little Rambler? She had given me a lot of trouble. I had yet to take a drive in her that didn’t end badly. I didn’t get upset with the little car when things went wrong. I knew it wasn’t a new car when I bought it. My first drive after the repairs was to Cossatot River State Park, which is eighty miles round trip. The little Rambler rambled right along without any trouble. There were rattles, creaks and groans, but the engine ran fine. It was a beautiful afternoon and I loved driving the little Rambler.

The Bible tells us in Romans 5:8(NLT) that, “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” God loves us in our broken down imperfect state. Sometimes we feel that we have to become good before God can love us. But we learn in Isaiah 64:6 (AMPC) that, “our best deeds of rightness and justice are like filthy rags or a polluted garment.” We can never become good enough to deserve God’s love. Just like I loved my little Rambler even when she wasn’t running, God loves us in our sinful condition. The Apostle Paul said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the worst of those sinners.” 1 Timothy 1:15 (ICB)

Because God loves us He wants better things for us. Peter explains the process in 2 Peter 1:5-7 (NCV), “Because you have these blessings, do your best to add these things to your lives: to your faith, add goodness; and to your goodness, add knowledge; and to your knowledge, add self-control; and to your self-control, add patience; and to your patience, add service for God; and to your service for God, add kindness for your brothers and sisters in Christ; and to this kindness, add love.”

Even though I didn’t get rid of the little Rambler when it seemed that I would never be able to drive it without a break down, I did want to improve it. Gentle Reader, God is the same way with us. He tells us that “nothing can ever separate us from His love” Romans 8:38 (NLT), but Jesus came to “save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21 (ESV) He wants a relationship with us. He wants to improve us.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Kermit the Snake - 3/09/2016

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

Recently my wife and I along with friends spent the afternoon at Cossatot River State Park. The park stretches for 12 miles along the scenic Cossatot River. The visitor information center is located on U.S. 278 east of Wickes where the highway crosses the Cossatot River. The center is beautiful and features an exhibit gallery, a lovely sitting room with a wildlife viewing area, and a gift shop.

One of the park interpreters is a longtime friend. She grew up in the area and loves the outdoors. We were able to spend some time with her during our visit to the park. One of her duties is to care for the reptiles that are onsite at the visitor’s center. While we were there she removed the resident rough green snake from its enclosure. Rough snakes are docile and nonvenomous. They live in grassy fields and forests, preferably close to water sources. The rough green snake has a bright green back and a yellow underbelly, with rough scales covering its very thin body. They can grow to be between three and four feet long.

The park interpreter introduced the snake to us and told us its name was Kermit. She offered to let my wife hold Kermit. She was hesitant at first but we encouraged her. She was instructed to hold her hands out palms up. Kermit was placed in her hands and after smelling the air and investigating a bit, he wrapped himself around her arm and settled in.  The snake appeared to be very comfortable. The park interpreter explained that the snake likes the warmth of a person’s skin. Kermit and my wife became very comfortable with each other.

When a friend that was with us was given the opportunity to hold Kermit, her response was a forceful no! She said that just like the Bible stated, she had a lot of enmity for snakes. Is there a biblical reason that so many people have a fear of snakes? I’m sure you remember the story of Eve’s encounter with the serpent in the Garden of Eden. The serpent convinced Eve to disregard God’s command and eat fruit from the one tree that was forbidden. Because of her and her husband Adam’s decision to disregard God’s command everything changed.

When God came to walk in the garden in the cool of the day, He asked Eve, “Did you eat fruit from the tree from which I commanded you not to eat?” She answered, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” So the Lord God said to the serpent: “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed.” Genesis 3:13-15 (NKJV)

As I read this passage in different versions I found these variants; “I will make you and the woman enemies” (NCV), “I will cause hostility between you and the woman” (NLT), “I’m declaring war between you and the woman” (MSG), “I will put animosity between you and the woman” (TLV), and “I will make you and the woman hate each other.”(NLV) Even if we no longer commonly use the word enmity, I think that we get the idea that there is a problem between the snake and the woman.

The Bible tells us that the snake is Satan. Revelation 12:9 (NCV) says, “The giant dragon was thrown down out of heaven. He is that old snake called the devil or Satan, who tricks the whole world.” I hope that you have enmity with Satan. Even though God placed hostility towards Satan in humans, not everyone feels that way. The Bible tells us in James 4:4 (NKJV), “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

Too often Christians become comfortable with the snake. Just like my wife at first was hesitant about holding Kermit the snake but after a while became comfortable, as we put ourselves in compromising situations we lose our enmity towards Satan. How do we keep that from happening? 1 John 2:15,16 (NLT) says, “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.”

Sometimes the things that the world offers us seem so enticing just like the fruit of the forbidden tree did to Eve. Gentle Reader, don’t let the love of this world make you an enemy of God. Your enemy is Satan. “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8 (NLT)

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Blustery Day - 3/02/2016

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

When they were young my children enjoyed the Winnie the Pooh movies. I’m pretty sure that they still do. One of their favorites was Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day.

The movie begins with Winnie the Pooh on his way to his thoughtful spot. It is a very windy day. While Pooh is thinking, Gopher shows up and tells Pooh that he needs to leave because it is "Winds-day.” Pooh, doesn’t understand the warning, but goes through the Hundred Acre Wood wishing everyone a happy Winds-day. Pooh first visits his friend Piglet who lives in a beech tree. Piglet had gone outside to rake leaves but the wind was too strong. Piglet is almost blown away but Pooh grabs on to him by his scarf, like a kite on a string. Pooh hangs on to the scarf as Piglet is blown away. They go past Kanga and Roo, and Pooh wishes them both a happy Winds-day. Pooh ends up destroying Eeyore’s house as he struggles to hang on to Piglet in the heavy wind and is drug through the house. When the wind carries Piglet over Rabbit’s garden, Pooh inadvertently harvests the carrots as he is drug by.

The howling wind finally blows Pooh and Piglet over to Owl's tree house. Owl invites them in. Pooh wishes Owl a happy Winds-day, but Owl tells him that the wind is due to "a mild spring zephyr" and not because it is Winds-day.

A few weeks ago there was a day that I’m pretty sure was a Winds-day. At the very least it was a mild spring zephyr. The wind blew strong all day. It came from the north and had a sharp bite to it. The wind was so strong that our old shop building where my business is located creaked and groaned. As the day progressed some of the sheet metal on the roof became loose and started banging and making a horrible noise.

My Dad climbed up on a ladder to fasten the sheet metal. The ladder wasn’t on firm ground and it slipped. My Dad fell from the ladder and as he fell grabbed at the sheet metal, slicing his hand open. He wasn’t badly injured from the fall but he had to go to the doctor to have his hand sewed up. I feel very fortunate that he wasn’t hurt worse. If only I had been there to steady the ladder he wouldn’t have fallen.

In our spiritual lives God has promised to keep us from falling. The Psalmist wrote in Psalms 116:8 (NKJV), “For You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.” If we ask God to steady the ladder of our life we can trust Him to keep us from falling. In fact He is the only one who can keep us from falling. In Jude 24 (CEV) the Bible tells us that “only God can keep you from falling and make you pure and joyful in his glorious presence."

Before God can keep us from falling, we have to put our trust in Him. It is fairly easy to say the words “I trust you” but it is more difficult to show by our actions that we trust someone.

Charles Blondin is considered to be one of the greatest tightrope-walkers of all time. He was the first man ever to cross Niagara Falls by tightrope. In 1860 the Prince of Wales saw Blondin cross the Niagara Falls tightrope on stilts, and again blindfolded. After that Blondin stopped halfway across and cooked and ate an omelet. Next he wheeled a wheelbarrow from one side to the other, and returned with a sack of potatoes in it. Then Blondin approached the Prince of Wales and asked, "Do you believe I could take a man across the tightrope in this wheelbarrow?" "Yes, I do", said the Prince. "Hop in", replied Blondin. The Prince declined Blondin's challenge. He might have believed Blondin could do it, but he wasn't about to trust him with his life.

When it comes to our relationship with God, this kind of trust doesn't do much good.  God doesn't want us to say "Lord I believe in you, but not enough to put my life in your hands."  Belief has to come with trust.  Proverbs 3:5,6 (NLT) tells us to “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.

The Prince of Wales believed that Blondin could walk a man across the tightrope in a wheelbarrow, but he didn't trust him enough to get in. Do you believe in God? Do you trust him with your life?

Gentle Reader, trust God with all your heart, and if he asks you to get in the wheelbarrow, do it! Only God can keep you from falling. But for Him to be able to keep you from falling you have to put your trust in Him. You can’t depend on our own understanding. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Proverbs 14:12 (NKJV)