Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Sophie's Journey - 3/29/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the March 29, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

A few weeks ago I self-published my first book. It is titled An Arkie’s Faith and includes over twenty-five articles from this column. After learning the process of self-publishing, I started thinking again about a project that I have been considering for some time. A few years ago my wife started doing some genealogy research. Early on in her research, she ran across the incredible story of her great-great-grandmother, Sophie. The story is compelling and fascinating. It needs to be told.

Sophie 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.

In 1856, the Willie Handcart Company made the thousand-mile journey from Iowa City to Salt Lake City on foot, pulling handcarts. Although Sophie and her children arrived safely in Salt Lake City, over sixty members of the Willie Handcart Company died on the trail.

As these pioneers pulled handcarts across the plains and over the Rocky Mountains, they faced starvation, hypothermia, frozen limbs, and death. Jens Nielsen, who traveled with Sophie in 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.”

I have started researching Sophie’s story and am in the process of writing a book about her experience. As I was researching the early part of Sophie’s story while she was still living in Denmark, I came across information that sent a chill up my spine when I read it. I knew that Sophie was a widow when she made her amazing journey. I was trying to learn more about her husband, and their life together before he died.

I discovered that during the summer of 1853, a cholera epidemic struck Gentofte, the area of Denmark where Sophie and her husband Peter lived. Peter became ill and died on August 8, 1853, leaving Sophie a widow at age twenty-nine with four small children. At the time of Peter's death, Sophie was not aware that she carried her and Peter's last child. Baby Otto was born eight months and eighteen days after Peter died.

Baby Otto was my wife’s great-grandfather. He was conceived just a short while before his father died. That is how close my wife, who is my best friend and soulmate, came to never having a chance to be born.

I’m thankful that all those years ago baby Otto was conceived. I’m sad that he grew up never knowing his father, but I’m thankful that he was born and that as a toddler, he survived the long journey from Denmark to Salt Lake City. I imagine God telling Otto; “I am your Creator. You were in my care even before you were born.” Isaiah 44:2 (CEV)

Otto’s birth was no mistake or accident, and your life isn’t either. Your parents may not have planned you, or your birth may have been part of a carefully thought out plan. But God planned for you. He was not at all surprised by your birth. In fact, he expected it. God says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart for my holy purpose.” Jeremiah 1:5 (NOG)

Before you were conceived by your parents, you were created in the mind of God. It is not by chance or coincidence that you are alive right now. You are alive because God wanted to create you! Not only did God want to create you, but He also had a plan for your life. In Psalms 139:16 (NIV) we read, “your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Knowing that God knew us, and formed us, and gave us life, helps us to make sense of our world. We are all looking for a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. Not only did God know us before we were born, He knows everything about our present situation. He knows everything about you. The Bible says that “the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Matthew 10:30 (NKJV) God cares about your personal journey because he cares about you. No one has ever loved you more or ever will.

Gentle Reader, God wants you to know how much He loves you. He created a plan for your life before you were even born. That is how special you are to God! What a wonderful thought, to know that the God of the universe knew us intimately and set us apart for His purposes even before we were born! Not only did God have a plan for you before you were born, but He also promises to help you fulfill that plan. Won’t you join me in claiming the promise found in Psalms 138:8 (ESV); “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.”

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Snowbound - 3/22/2017

My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 22, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

A year ago my oldest granddaughter was diagnosed with scoliosis. My son-in-law did extensive research on scoliosis treatments and braces. He was impressed with the success of Dr. Marc Moramarco in Boston. He made the decision for the family to travel to Boston last summer so that my granddaughter could see Dr. Moramarco, and be fitted with a Gensingen Brace®

In his research, my son-in-law found that the Gensingen Brace® is unique in that, for adolescents it offers potential improvement of the Cobb angle, a measure of the curvature of the spine, rather than just halting the progression. According to Dr. Moramarco, the brace’s asymmetric design focuses on overcorrection. It is the highest standard in scoliosis bracing and successfully addresses most curve magnitudes.

After she returned home from Boston and began wearing the new brace, my granddaughter showed improvement in the curvature of her spine. This winter she has been growing rapidly. She is three inches taller than when she was fitted for the brace last summer. Curves progress rapidly during growth spurts, so she needed to return to Boston to be fitted with a new brace.

Her paternal grandparents took her to Boston to see Dr. Moramarco. After she had been measured, photographed and x-rayed, the technicians built her custom brace. The night before she was to fly home from Boston, winter storm Stella moved into the northeast. The storm grounded over 6,000 flights including the one that was to fly my granddaughter home.

According to the Weather Channel, winter storm Stella dumped from three to four feet of snow in some areas, paralyzed several major cities including Boston, and knocked out power out to over half a million people. Several places in Massachusetts reported winds of 70 to 80 miles per hour. The Bolton Valley Ski Area in the Green Mountains of northern Vermont reported a storm total of 58 inches of snow.

Because of the storm, it was several days before my granddaughter was able to fly home. She was snowbound in Boston. I don’t know what her grandparents thought about being stranded, but my granddaughter was ecstatic. Being from Louisiana, she has only seen small amounts of snow. When I talked to her, she excitedly told me, “Papa, the snow was up to my knees!” As I talked with her, I was thankful that it wasn’t me stranded in a snowstorm in Boston.

I have never liked the cold. The last few days have been unseasonably cold for March, and I have been miserable and just a bit whiney. But as I talked with a bubbly, vivacious, excited girl who was experiencing a real winter snowstorm for the first time in her life, something else crossed my mind. There isn't anything quite like a big snowfall that leaves the ground a fluffy pure white, without any dirt or debris.

A fresh snowfall makes any landscape beautiful. What lies underneath the snow might be ugly, but the snow hides any blemishes and makes everything pure and white. God does the same thing with each of us. We may have a sordid past. We may not be currently living as we should. But God longs for us to ask for forgiveness so that he can cover our sins. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Isaiah 1:18 (KJV)

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised when you woke up and looked out your window to see snow covering the landscape? A dull and dreary day unexpectedly transformed into a beautiful day blanketed with snow. Bare and seemingly lifeless trees turned into marvelous works of art. In the same way, God is pleased when we allow him to cover our sins.

Because of His great love for us, God doesn’t abandon us in our sins. Instead, by His grace, He wants to change and transform us. “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Col. 1:13,14 (NRSV)

Have you ever noticed how quiet it seems after a heavy snowfall? As snowflakes pile up, there is space left between them. With all that space, sound is unable to bounce off snow as easily as it would off water, dirt, or grass. As a result, the sound gets absorbed.

When God takes our sins and makes them white as snow, it cuts down on the noise of the world around us. The world becomes just a bit quieter and more peaceful. We can more easily hear God as he communicates with us.

Gentle Reader, we all have sin in our life that makes us dirty and separates us from God. But God has provided a way for us to be clean again. Through Jesus, we can all be as white as snow. “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 (KJV)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Scavenger Hunt - 3/15/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the March 15, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

Last week my wife and I along with my cousins and their grandson, visited Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The Gardens were the dream of Verna Cook Garvan. In 1956 Mrs. Garvan began to develop it as a garden. When she died in 1993, Mrs. Garvan gave the property to the University of Arkansas Foundation.

Garvan Woodland Gardens is the largest undeveloped tract of land on Lake Hamilton. There are over three miles of recreational trails. This time of year over 150,000 tulips line the walkways.  Every year that we can we visit the gardens during the tulip extravaganza. The peak tulip viewing times at the gardens are in March. The gardens are beautiful any time of the year, but I think that the tulip season is the best.

We had a very enjoyable afternoon. The temperatures were warm, and the flowers were beautiful. My cousin’s grandson had a great time. He especially enjoyed nature bingo. Each young visitor to the gardens is given a bingo card with each square listing an item to find as they walk the trails. Items on the card included such things as a cave, a fish, a pine cone, a butterfly or moth, a waterfall, a crawling bug, and a rock bigger than you. If they made a bingo, they received a gift as they left the gardens.

My cousin’s grandson wasn’t satisfied when he made his first bingo. He wanted to fill every square on his card. Instead of bingo, he treated his card as a scavenger hunt. By the time we left the gardens, he had completed the entire card.

As I watched him scamper from place to place looking for each item on the bingo card, I thought about the treasures found in the Bible. It seems that few Christians are excited about searching the Bible. King David loved to search the Bible. He said, “How sweet your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey. Your commandments give me understanding; no wonder I hate every false way of life. Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” Psalms 119:103-105 (NLT)

King David searched God’s Word for wisdom and found it sweeter than honey! He depended on God’s promises and was personally guided by God’s words. Even though David was one of the earth’s richest men, God’s Word was his greatest treasure.

I want to have the passion David describes in Psalms 119. I am convinced that if I make plans and set aside time to read God’s Word, I will find promises and insights that are trustworthy. Instead of reading my Bible because I feel that I must, I want to search through it each day like someone on a scavenger hunt.

One of the ways that I have found to get excited about the Bible is to study by topic. When I study the Bible by chapter, I sometimes get stuck and spend too long in one place. That isn’t a bad thing, but topical studies can leave you wanting more, hungry to know about the topic and what the Bible says about it.

Talking about those who follow God, Psalms 1:2 (NLT) says, “they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night.” Meditating on God’s Word requires study, not just skimming over a few verses.

The prophet Jeremiah said, "when I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart’s delight.” Jeremiah 15:16 (NLT) Don't let anyone devour your spiritual food for you. Insist on doing it for yourself. Anyone can be a student if he makes up his mind. Study the various topics in the Bible, one by one, going through the Bible and finding what it has to say on these subjects. It is alright to study what the great theologians have to say on important subjects, but it is far more important to know what God has to say.

Many people know a part of what God has to say. Usually, it is the part that someone has taught them, so their ideas are imperfect and one-sided. If they knew all God had to say on the subject, it would be much better. The only way to know all God has to say on any subject is to go through the entire Bible.

My favorite way to study a topic is to use a concordance to focus on keywords. Strong’s concordance is an excellent resource, but I usually use one of the many excellent Bible programs on the internet. Bible Gateway is my favorite.

Using your favorite method of searching the Bible, compile a list of words related to the topic you want to study. Collect all references relating to each word, then consider each reference individually. Only after studying each verse with an open mind should you come to a conclusion.

In Acts 17:11 (NOG) the Bible shows us how we should study; “The people of Berea were more open-minded than the people of Thessalonica. They were very willing to receive God’s message, and every day they carefully examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true.” Gentle Reader, will you resolve with me to carefully examine the Bible to see if what you have been taught is true? “Whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” Romans 15:4 (NKJV)

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Free Gift - 3/08/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the March 8, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

Recently my wife and I traveled to Louisiana to see my granddaughter compete in the Pathfinder Bible Bowl. Pathfinders are a worldwide organization of young people sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, though young people of any religion, or none at all, are welcome and encouraged to join the organization. Pathfinders offer a wide range of activities including camping, community service projects, and training in a variety of recreational, artistic, nature, conservation, and vocational areas. In the Bible Bowl, Pathfinder teams made up of kids from Arkansas and Louisiana aged 10 – 16 competed by answering one hundred questions on a predetermined Bible topic. My granddaughter's team was pleased with their second place finish.

The day after the Bible Bowl, we attended the Krewe of Highland parade in Shreveport. A co-worker of my daughter’s had invited our family to watch the parade from her house. The co-worker’s house is on the parade route where the parade starts and ends. It was a fantastic location to see the family-friendly parade.

Over one hundred floats passed by with participants throwing free gifts out into the crowd. Over 11,000 people lined the streets waving their hands in the air and yelling, “throw me something.” Participants on the floats threw the traditional Mardi Gras throws such as beads, doubloons and plastic cups. The Krewe of Highland is famous for unusual throws. This year there were lots of ramen noodles, moon pies, and hot dogs among the throws. Because it is a family-friendly parade throws also included candy, frisbees, mini-footballs, super balls, and a wide assortment of stuffed animals.

Since the first Highland parade over twenty years ago, the parade has continued to be a family parade sticking to its original mission, a family-friendly Mardi Gras parade in the Highland Historical District of Shreveport. This year’s event was witnessed by the largest crowd ever to see a daytime parade in Northern Louisiana.

It is amazing to see how excited people get about the possibility of catching some plastic beads or other trinkets. Everyone is swept up in the idea of being the one to get that special item. Everywhere you look there are kids on their parent's shoulders, giving them a chance to catch some of the free items. Participants on the floats often single out kids in the crowd to give them a special gift.

As I put a large bag of “treasures” in the car when the parade was over, I thought about how everyone at the parade clamored for these plastic items that had no actual value. I thought about how I wished people were that excited about the free gift of God’s grace. Romans 3:24 (NIRV) tells us, “the free gift of God’s grace makes us right with him. Christ Jesus paid the price to set us free.”

The Bible is clear that God’s grace is a free gift. Why don’t more people accept the free gift? If you were to ask one hundred random people, “how do you get to heaven?” you would hear a lot of different answers. You would hear things like, “try to be good and do your best” or “work hard at being a good moral person” or “do more good things in life than you do bad things.” All of these ideas are based on our abilities and actions. They are not based on the idea of a free gift. People that don’t feel the need of the gift see no need to accept the free gift of God’s grace. Many religious people fall into this way of thinking. They feel that they can do it themselves and that they don’t need some free gift.

The Bible is very plain in Romans 5:16 (NLT) “And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins.” Our efforts lead only to condemnation. Isaiah 64:6 (NIV) tells us that,  “all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” It is important for us to understand that we don’t have the ability to be righteous apart from the free gift of God.

Not only do we not have the ability to be righteous, but we are also under a heavy penalty. Romans 3:23 (KJV) says, “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” And Romans 6:23 (KJV) adds, “for the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Every person on the earth is under the penalty of death. But thankfully there is hope, because of Jesus Christ. The book of Acts tells the story of the Philippian jailer. When the jailer asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” Acts 16:30,31 (NKJV)

Gentle Reader, we all need the gift of grace. We all need to have the penalty paid for our sins. We need the gift of God, eternal life. Don’t be too proud to accept the gift. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”  Ephesians 2:8 (NRSV)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Sick and Tired - 3/01/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the March 1, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

Recently a customer of mine remarked, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” I know how he feels. I have been feeling poorly for almost three weeks, and I am tired of it. Many of my friends, customers, and acquaintances are fighting colds, the flu, and other illnesses this time of the year.

When I first started feeling bad, I just thought I was coming down with a cold. I started taking over the counter cold medication. After a week, I thought that I was getting over the cold, but a couple of days later I was much worse. After listening to my wife for several days telling me that I needed to see the doctor, I finally called and made an appointment.

Why was I so reluctant to see my doctor? I can give you a list of excuses for not wanting to make the appointment. I didn’t want to take the time or spend the money. I was sure it was a virus, and I would eventually wear it out. The reason that I finally went to the doctor was that I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.

The doctor told me that I had a sinus infection and put me on antibiotics. I also had raspy lungs and a bad cough. The doctor told me that if my cough wasn’t better in four days to come back in for a visit.

Four days later, my cough was still bad. I returned to the doctor and was given a steroid shot. Within a few hours, I was covered in a rash that was very uncomfortable. Once again I just wanted to deal with the rash and not go back to the doctor, but my wife made me an appointment.

In Matthew 9:12 (NCV) Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Christian music artist, Michael Card wrote a song titled, “Gentle Healer.” It is a favorite of mine. I love the way that it refers to Jesus as the Gentle Healer. “The Gentle Healer came into our town today. He touched blind eyes and the darkness left to stay. But more than the blindness, He took their sins away. The Gentle Healer came into our town today.”

Jesus would come into a town and heal those who were sick. He also forgave their sins. There was something else that Jesus did before he left town. Luke 24:45 (NIV) tells us that Jesus, “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”

Just like a doctor gives us a prescription to help us get well, Jesus has given us a prescription to help heal us spiritually. We need to take our spiritual prescription so that we can get and stay healthy. The prescription is "The Holy Bible."  We need to take it every day. It is safe and effective.

I have never seen anyone whose spiritual growth has been hindered by reading the Bible. It improves us and makes us healthy in the Lord. Everything in the Bible is there for us to study and learn about God. “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing people what is wrong in their lives, for correcting faults, and for teaching how to live right.” 2 Timothy 3:16 (NCV) Religious books, commentaries, and devotionals are helpful, but if you just read them and not the Bible, you'll miss the active ingredient in the prescription. We need to read and study the Bible on our own.

When I read in the Bible of the healing that Jesus did, I notice the compassion that Jesus had as He interacted with the people. He cared for their needs. Matthew 14:14 (NKJV) tells us that, “when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick.”

I'm so glad I have that same Gentle Healer as my doctor. Whenever Jesus sees that I am sick and in pain; He has compassion on me. I can speak to Him anytime about how I'm feeling and what's going on in my life. I don’t have to make an appointment. He even makes house calls.

Not only does Jesus want to heal you and forgive you, but he also wants to give you rest. He knows that you are tired, sick and tired. In Matthew 11:28,29 (NCV) Jesus says, “Come to me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Accept my teachings and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives.”

Gentle Reader, are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? Come to Jesus, and He will give you rest. Don’t put off going to the doctor. You can’t get well on your own. No matter what it is that you are facing right now in your life, Jesus understands. Jesus knows what you are going through. He says, “come to me.” We don’t need to come to Jesus timidly or in fear. “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16 (NKJV)