Wednesday, January 25, 2017

In the Fog - 1/25/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the January 25, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

This winter there have been quite a few foggy days. I like a little bit of fog. I like the ethereal, otherworldly way the countryside looks in the fog. Too much fog is another story. One morning on my way to work the fog was so thick that I couldn’t see things that were right beside the road. That wasn’t fun. It can be unnerving to drive in that kind of fog.

One foggy drive that I made was quite memorable. Back in 2000, my wife and I made a trip to Nova Scotia to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We flew into Boston where we met my son-in-law’s uncle who took us on a whirlwind tour of the area including the Old North Church, the USS Constitution, and Buckman Tavern in Lexington. He had recently traveled to Nova Scotia and told us that we needed to be sure and visit Cape Breton Island. He told us that he had enjoyed driving the Cabot Trail and visiting the Fortress of Louisbourg. He told us to make sure that the day we drove the Cabot Trail wasn’t a foggy day.

In spite of his instructions, the day that we scheduled to drive the Cabot Trail turned out to be an extremely foggy day. I had seen pictures of the Cabot Trail, and it’s incredible views. It is one of the most scenic drives on the planet. I was looking forward to this amazing drive. We saw none of the spectacular scenery; we saw only dense fog. When we arrived at Louisbourg, we attended the Louisbourg Playhouse. In a bit if irony one of the songs they played was “In The Fog.”

I enjoy a bit of fog; it turns the world into a surreal landscape. But driving in a heavy fog can be frightening. It makes you slow down and be very alert. Faith is similar to driving in the fog. As we go through life, we don’t always see what’s right in front of us. Like a drive on a foggy day, life is revealed to us little by little. We can’t see into the future. God wants us to slow down and to make each action carefully and deliberately. He doesn’t want us to get in a hurry. That’s when accidents happen. We have to trust that we will get to where God wants us when His timing is right.

“Faith assures us of things we expect and convinces us of the existence of things we cannot see.” Hebrews 11:1 (NOG) When you have to drive in a heavy fog at night, it is so thick that your headlights can only light a few feet in front of the car. It creates tension and fear. What if there’s something I can’t see? What if the road turns and I miss it? High beams that help you to see far when it’s clear, only make the situation worse. You have to drive slow to feel safe. You have to take your time in getting to your destination. True faith is finding certainty in uncertain times. It is learning to trust God in the patches of fog that happen in everyone’s life.

Faith is believing that God is with you, whatever your circumstances are. Whether life is going smoothly, or you are experiencing the foggiest night of your life. When the foggy night comes, we are not alone. In Psalms 32:8  (NIRV) God makes this promise to you; “I will guide you and teach you the way you should go. I will give you good advice and watch over you with love.”

But why does God allow the fog in our lives? My daughter and her family are planning a trip to California this summer. On of the places they want to visit while they are there is Sequoia National Park. The park is famous for its giant sequoia trees. The Giant Forest in the park contains five out of the ten largest trees in the world.

These trees require fog to survive. The area has very little rain but often has dense fog. When fog hits, water drips off the tree needles, which point down to the ground. The fog is necessary for them to survive.

Gentle Reader, In our lives we need to stay constantly connected to God to survive. If we put our faith in God, we will be okay. The confusion of a foggy night may come, but we can trust that God will guide us through. Don’t panic because you can’t see into the future. Don’t let fear of the unknown unnerve you. God knows your future. He sees through the fog and has promised to guide you. “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) Trust God to guide you through the foggy moments to get you where you’re going right on time. “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.” Psalms 119:105 (NAB)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Thriving - 1/18/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the January 18, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

Recently my niece came to visit us for a few days. We enjoyed the visit even if the weather was snowy and cold. What we enjoyed the most was getting to know her little boy. He is just over a year old and a very busy little guy. During his visit more and more things kept getting put up out of his reach. He accepted the challenge and would find more things to get in to. He might be the busiest one-year-old I have ever seen.

Although he is very active, the thing that made the biggest impression on me is how personable he is. He wants to interact with everyone. He is a bubbly outgoing little boy who loves to laugh. He liked to take his great grandma’s hand and walk her around the house. He didn’t want her to stop but kept on walking with her. She said that she was going to get her steps in while he was here.

After potluck at church, his great grandpa was vacuuming the floor. He wanted to help, and even though his little legs were short, he held on to the vacuum and “helped” sweep the entire room. It may have taken quite a bit longer to finish the task, but great grandpa and little boy did a great job and were very cute while doing it.

A cute toddler with a big smile and a sunny disposition makes a lot of friends. Even strangers stop and comment when they meet this beautiful boy with dark hair and bright blue eyes. The few days that I got to spend with him brought to mind a Ty Gibson video that I watched recently titled, “Frederick’s Experiment.”

Frederick II was a man of extraordinary culture, energy, and ability. He was king of Sicily and Germany during the first half of the 13th century. He was crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1220. Frederick is considered by modern historians to be the most gifted, vivid and extraordinary of the medieval Holy Roman Emperors.

Frederick’s court blended Norman, Arabic, and Jewish elements. He spoke six different languages, Latin, Sicilian, German, French, Greek and Arabic. He encouraged scholarship, poetry and mathematics, and original thinking in all areas, and was friendly with Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars.

Frederick’s openness to ideas made him unpopular with church leadership. His demands that the church renounce its wealth and return to apostolic poverty and simplicity did not sit well with the papacy and its supporters, who branded him as Antichrist. He was excommunicated not once but four times.

Frederick was an avid patron of science and the arts. He had an unlimited thirst for knowledge and learning and considered himself to be an equal of the scientific minds of his times. In the pursuit of scientific knowledge, he carried out cruel experiments on people. The purpose of one experiment was to discover what language children would naturally speak if they were never spoken to.

King Frederick took babies from their mothers at birth and placed them in the care of nurses who were forbidden to speak in the babies hearing. Along with the prohibition on speaking, the nurses were not allowed to touch the infants other than to clean or feed them. To his great dismay, Frederick’s experiment was cut short without finding out what language the babies would speak. The babies grew up to speak no language at all because they died. In the year 1248, an Italian historian named Salimbene di Adam recorded, “They could not live without petting.” The babies died for want of touch.

Modern medicine calls this phenomenon, “failure to thrive.” For some reason, we humans flourish under the influence of love and we gradually die without it. As I think about my great nephew and how much he thrives on the love of his family I can’t imagine what would have happened to him if he had been a part of Frederick’s experiment.

Dr. Dean Ornish in his national best seller, Love and Survival, presents study after study demonstrating that love is a chief influence for mental, emotional, and even physical health. He says, “The scientific evidence leaves little doubt that love and intimacy are powerful determinants of our health and survival. Why they have such an impact remains somewhat a mystery.”

The problem for many scientists is that they are trying to understand the human need for love within the context of Darwinian evolution. Evolution begins with a survival-of-the-fittest premise. It says that self-preservation is the highest law and the main factor in our survival. Love is self-giving rather than self-preserving. Therefore, love makes no sense in the evolutionary context. And yet, here we are; creatures who thrive on love and are utterly dependent on it. Every human has a desire to love and be loved.

Gentle Reader, why do we so desperately long for love? In 1 John 4:16 (NIV) the Bible tells us that “we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” Genesis 1:27 (NLT) states that “God created human beings in his own image.” Scientists may feel that the reason that love and intimacy have such an effect on our health and survival is a mystery, but I don’t. God made us to love and to be loved.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Resolutions - 1/11/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the January 11, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

How successful have you been so far in keeping your New Year’s resolutions? I have a track record of failed resolutions. I always resolve to get more organized and to keep better records, but I am not good at organization. I resolve to get more exercise, but January is not a good time of the year to try to be more active.

New Year's resolutions have a long history. Over 2,500 years ago in Babylon, people would make promises to their gods at the beginning of each year. Popular promises were things such as paying debts and returning borrowed items. It is fitting that we now make resolutions on January 1st because January is named for the Roman god Janus. The Romans traditionally made annual promises to Janus.

What about the God that you serve? Does He want you to make promises to Him? Is there a right and wrong way to make resolutions?

There is a story in the Bible about a very ambitious spiritual resolution. When God spoke the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai, the Children of Israel were frightened. The Bible story tells us that “when the people heard the thunder and the trumpet, and when they saw the lightning and the smoke rising from the mountain, they shook with fear and stood far away from the mountain. Then they said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself, and we will listen. But don’t let God speak to us, or we will die.’” Exodus 20:18,19 (NCV)

Moses then talked to God, and God gave him many additional rules and laws for living. In Exodus 24:7 (NKJV) the Bible tells us that Moses “took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient.’”

That is quite an amazing resolution, but in just a short time these same people were dancing around a golden calf, breaking the first two commandments that God spoke to them from the mountain.

A friend recently posted his New Year’s resolutions on social media. They were -  1. Study my Bible. 2. Do what it says. It reminded me of the resolution made at Mt. Sinai, “all that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient.” I agree that his resolutions are excellent and that we should all make those resolutions, but I hope that he will be able to keep his resolutions better than I have.

Have you ever broken a promise you very much wanted to keep? I know that I have. I’ll bet that you have too. Why do we do this? I recently came across a phrase that seems to explain it. In the book Steps to Christ, author Ellen White writes that “resolutions are like ropes of sand.”

It seems like New Year’s resolutions are hopeless. In the comic strip Peanuts, Charlie Brown says, “The best way to keep New Year’s Resolutions is in a sealed envelope in a bottom desk drawer.”

If we are so bad at keeping our resolutions, how can we ever expect to better ourselves? How can we hope to grow, and become the person Jesus wants us to be? I think that I have found an answer in the life of King David.

David was a very busy guy. He was the leader of a nation with the workload and responsibility that comes with the position of king. He had many personal and political goals. But he took these goals and made one simple resolution: “I’m asking the Lord for only one thing. Here is what I want. I want to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. I want to look at the beauty of the Lord. I want to worship him in his temple.” Psalm 27:4 (NIRV)

David knew that there was only one thing that could make him truly successful; time spent in the presence of God, looking at the beauty of God’s character. Why is it so important to spend time looking at the beauty of God’s character? Is it to make God love you more or earn spiritual brownie points. No, but quiet time spent with God and looking at the beauty of His character connects you with God.

Jesus knows you’re busy and cares about the many things you have to do. So He makes a promise to you that time in His presence will actually make you more productive: “But seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33 (ESV)

Gentle Reader, New Year's resolutions aren’t worthless. In fact, people who set goals are ten times more likely to succeed than those who don’t. Everything that we accomplish in life is because we resolved to do it. There is no need to be discouraged if you’ve failed before. We all will fail at some point in our life. Failing is a learning experience so we can do better next time. “A righteous person may fall seven times, but he gets up again.” Proverbs 24:16 (GW) This year, instead of focusing on personal performance, how about focusing on a relationship with God. Make a resolution to put your relationship with God first.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Traditions - 1/04/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the January 4, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

As I sit at my computer to write this week’s column, it is only a couple of days until the New Year. I remember my first New Year’s Day in Arkansas, thirty-five years ago. A few days before New Year’s, someone from the auto parts store that I traded with stopped by my shop and gave me a specially labeled can of black-eyed peas. I took the can home to my wife who was puzzled by the strange gift from the auto parts store. 

I asked another bodyman if the auto parts store had given him a can of black-eyed peas. He said, “yes, why do you ask?” I told him that I thought it was a bit strange. He explained that it was a long-standing tradition to eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. The only New Year’s tradition that I had heard of was making New Year’s resolutions.

Southern Living magazine says, “according to folklore, this auspicious New Year’s Day tradition dates back to the Civil War, when Union troops pillaged the land, leaving behind only black-eyed peas and greens as animal fodder. Rich in nutrients, these were the humble foods that enabled Southerners to survive.” Like most traditions, this one has many variations. Some say you should eat exactly 365 peas on New Year's Day. If you eat any less, you'll only be lucky for that many days. Others say you should leave one pea on your plate, to share your luck with someone else. I have also heard that if you don't eat every pea on your plate, your luck will be bad.

Traditions are a part of life no matter where you live. Traditions vary from place to place and from one family to another. Our family has many Christmas traditions. Christmas morning my wife has made the same breakfast for many years. The interesting thing about this special meal of egg, cream and sausage casserole and Christmas Coffee Cake is that we don’t eat those foods any other day of the year.

My daughter takes the Christmas traditions very seriously. This year we bought new living room furniture that didn’t leave enough room for the Christmas tree to be where it has been for over 20 years. I wasn’t sure my daughter was going to be able to handle the tree being in a different location. On our first Christmas together my wife bought a Disney paint by number ornament kit. She painstakingly painted the wood cutouts of Disney characters. They have hung on our tree for over 40 years. When my kids were teenagers, they wanted to know why we had to put those ugly old ornaments on the tree. They didn’t think they were attractive. Now it is traditional for my daughter to complain, tongue-in-cheek, about those old ornaments.

I think that we may have started a new tradition this year with my granddaughters, aged eleven, nine, and six. They were very curious about how their grandparents celebrated Christmas years ago. They were especially intrigued with my wife’s story of the artificial aluminum Christmas tree lit with a color wheel that was her Dad’s favorite. They had heard about making popcorn garland and wanted to try. We popped some corn and the girls spent the evening stringing popcorn and decorating Grandma’s tree. Everyone loved the way it looked on the tree. It was a special Christmas memory for the girls, and I’m sure that they will want to string popcorn again next year.

When two people get married, they have to blend the traditions of their families, or they have to create new traditions. My wife’s family always opened their gifts on Christmas morning. I grew up opening gifts on Christmas Eve. We compromised by opening our gifts on Christmas morning. My wife believes very strongly that Christmas morning is the proper time to open gifts.

I have noticed that many Christians believe very strongly in their traditions. Traditions are not inherently good or bad, right or wrong. Some people defend traditions because the church has practiced it that way for years. Other people dislike tradition and want change just for the sake of change. Invariably those people begin new practices, which soon become their new traditions.

Christians should be neither "traditional" nor "non-traditional.” They should neither accept nor oppose a practice simply because it is a tradition. It doesn’t matter how long we have practiced something or when it began. What’s important is what God’s word says about it. If God's word requires it, then we must do it. If God's word forbids it, then we must oppose it even if it is a tradition. If God’s word is silent, then there is no problem with tradition, but I can’t expect all Christians to follow just because it is my tradition.

In Jesus' day, tradition was a big part of religion. One day some Pharisees demanded that Jesus tell them why his disciples did not follow their tradition. Jesus answered them, “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” Matthew 15:7-9 (NKJV)

Gentle Reader, are you following the tradition of God, or are you following human traditions and doctrines that differ from His word? “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” Colossians 2:8 (NKJV)