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.