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)