Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Old Washington

My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 21, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

Washington, Arkansas is a peaceful tree-shaded town and one of the most amazing historic places in Arkansas. The old town still looks like the 19th century with plank board sidewalks and streets that have never been paved. Most of the town is now a part of Historic Washington State Park. It is commonly referred to as Old Washington. In the State Park, there are over thirty restored historic structures including the oldest building in Arkansas built of hand-hewn timber.

From its establishment in 1826, Washington was an important stop for pioneers traveling to Texas. Frontiersmen James Bowie, Sam Houston, and Davy Crockett all traveled through Washington on their way to the Alamo. Houston planned parts of the revolt strategy in a tavern in Washington during 1834.  James Black, a local blacksmith, is credited with creating the legendary Bowie knife carried by Jim Bowie at his blacksmith shop in Washington.

Following the capture of Little Rock by the Union Army in 1863, the Confederate government moved the state government offices to Hot Springs for a short time, then moved the state government to Washington, making it the Capital of Confederate Arkansas from 1863-1865. When the railroad that connected much of the state with Little Rock was built in the late 19th century, it was eight miles from Washington. Because it was no longer on the main travel route, Washington began a slow decline. Most of the businesses in Washington moved to Hope, Arkansas, which was on the railroad.

 In 1958, townspeople formed the Pioneer Washington Restoration Foundation to preserve the town's old structures. The once thriving community that had served as the capitol of Arkansas during the Civil War was now home to less than 300 people. In 1973 the area became an Arkansas State Park. The park contains 54 vintage buildings, 30 of which are on the National Register of Historic Places.
For the past fifty years, the town of Washington has held a Jonquil Festival each spring. My wife and I attended this year’s festival. It was a warm sunny day, and the tiny town was crowded with thousands of people. The event included arts and crafts vendors, food, music, a car show and a tractor show. Many of the historic homes were open for tours.

At the old blacksmith shop, there were several blacksmiths giving demonstrations. I enjoyed watching the blacksmiths at work. My wife’s grandfather was born in 1855 and was a blacksmith by trade in Stratton, Colorado. Her Dad said that when he was a boy, you could hear his father’s anvil ringing all over town. When the anvil quit ringing, you had better get home. It was time for supper.
As I watched the blacksmith at work, he took a flat bar of steel and shaped it into a knife. He placed the bar of steel into the glowing coals until the steel was red hot. Then he took the steel out of the coals and shaped it on the anvil by beating it with a hammer. The process had to be repeated many times to shape the bar of steel into a knife.

When a blacksmith is working with metal, the only way that he can shape it if he has heated it in the fire. In Isaiah 44:12 (NKJV) the Bible says that “the blacksmith with the tongs works one in the coals, fashions it with hammers, and works it with the strength of his arms.” And in Isaiah 48:10 (NIV) God says, “I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” Have you ever felt like you were being tested in the furnace of affliction? I know I have.

As the blacksmith at Old Washington was demonstrating his craft, he stuck the metal he was shaping deep into the burning coals and cranked the bellows until the coals flared up in brilliant flames. The metal bar glowed bright orange from the intense heat. He pulled it from the heat, explaining that the metal needed to be hot enough to be pliable but that he didn't want to melt it. Swinging around to his anvil, he shaped the metal bar with carefully placed blows from his hammer. I watched as he made mental calculations as to the amount of heat and the points of impact needed to form the metal to the shape he wanted.

The blacksmith would heat the metal, rough out the basic shape, inspect his work and heat it again to focus on the details. It was interesting to see a simple length of metal rod being converted into something useful. It had no resemblance to the plain bar it once had been.

Gentle Reader, I can't say that I enjoy the heat, but I’m thankful that God is refining and shaping my life. Steel in the hand of a skilled blacksmith is malleable and not resilient. If the steel was resilient, then it would always bounce back to its original shape and be useless to anybody. I want to be useful, and the only way for a bar of steel to be transformed into something useful is to be put in the fire and shaped on the anvil. Remember that if you are being tried and shaped in the fires of life, that “it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Philippians 2:13 (NRSV)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 14, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

My wife and I were spending the weekend in Branson, Missouri the weekend that the musical Samson opened at the Sight and Sound Theater. We purchased tickets and made plans to attend.
Sight and Sound is a 2,000-seat, state-of-the-art theater featured a 300-foot panoramic stage that wraps around the audience, with sets four stories tall. It is a spectacular place to see a show.

I was a bit apprehensive about the show. How would they treat the story of Samson? They could be true to the biblical narrative and still have a production filled with sex and violence. What would their focus be? In the brochure about the play, I read: “Samson literally will bring down the house. But for all the spectacle, Samson is first a story of hope. It’s for the wayward and weary—or those who know and love them.” I settled into my seat and waited for the production to begin.

The story of Samson is one of those stories that has made me sometimes wonder why it’s even in the Bible. Samson’s strength is incredible and makes such a fascinating kid’s story. He killed a lion with his bare hands. He killed thirty men at one time. He easily broke the ropes used to bind him. He killed 1,000 men with a donkey’s jawbone. He lifted the great city gates of Gaza off their hinges and carried them for miles, and with his last ounce of strength, he knocked down the pillars of Dagon’s temple, killing 3,000 people. But parts of Samson’s story are risqué enough for an adult-only film.

At the very beginning, the narrator pointed out that Samson is mentioned in the book of Hebrews as being a man of faith. He is listed as a man “who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.” Hebrews 11:33,34 (NKJV)

I hadn’t thought about the fact that Samson is mentioned in the Bible as being a man of faith along with people such as Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Moses. When I thought about Samson, I thought about a man who turned to violence to solve his problems and a man who could not control his passions. But God saw Samson as a man of faith. How could that be?

The production did feature Samson’s tremendous strength. During the intermission, I overheard one of the ushers talking with a small boy. The usher said, “Don’t you think that Samson is a superhero?” The boy answered, “Yes he is, but he is real because he is in the Bible.” But throughout the show, the narration kept pointing out God’s grace. The story of Samson is a story of tremendous strength, but it is also a story of tremendous weakness. 

In an interview with The Christian Post, Jeff Bender, the director, writer and producer of Samson said, “the production is for the wayward and weary, but the biggest most important message of the show is about grace and God's grace for us." "We are all sinners!" he continued. "None of us are perfect; the only perfect person ever was Jesus. We are all messed up, we all have our problems that we deal with, but God's grace is always there for us no matter what we do, no matter who we are, no matter where we go, it's always there."

When I think about Samson, I think about how strong he was; but at the same time, I think about how weak he was. Although he had superhuman strength, He was a weakling when he battled against sin and temptation! Samson lived in sin all too often. He had little or no self-control. It seems that he fell for evil every time. But God never gave up on him. God never left him.

In an interview, the actor who played Samson said; "If I could say anything to anybody, it's that God's grace is there for you no matter what you've done, no matter what you think you've done, no matter how bad a person you think you are, no matter how many mistakes you've made – God still loves you. God still wants to reach out to you. God still wants you. He still thirsts for you. His grace is readily available for you."

Even in his weakness and failures, God used Samson anyway. His strength came from God. Sometimes we forget that God chose to work through Samson even though he had moral failings. He ruled Israel for 20 years and defeated many of Israel’s enemies. 

Even at Samson’s lowest point, God didn’t forsake him. Judges 16:21 (NLT) tells us that, “the Philistines captured him and gouged out his eyes. They took him to Gaza, where he was bound with bronze chains and forced to grind grain in the prison.” Even in these terrible circumstances, God was with Samson, and Samson remembered God. Then Samson prayed to the Lord, “Sovereign Lord, remember me again. O God, please strengthen me just one more time. With one blow let me pay back the Philistines for the loss of my two eyes.” Judges 16:28 (NLT)

Gentle Reader, In spite of Samson’s weakness, God was able to use him. That can only be because of God’s grace. We too, in spite of our weaknesses, can be used by God, not because of how good we are, but through His grace. God says to you, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NKJV) Samson’s story is a story of grace, and your story can be too.

Friday, March 9, 2018

What Must I Do?

One night a house caught fire and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof. A fireman stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to the boy, "Jump! I'll catch you." He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, was flame, smoke, and blackness. As you can imagine, he was afraid to leave the roof. The fireman kept yelling: "Jump! I will catch you." But the boy protested, “I can't see you." The fireman replied, "But I can see you, and that's all that matters."

In life, each one of us finds ourselves in the same situation as the young boy on the roof.  We will be destroyed unless we do something.  If we stay in our current situation, we will be destroyed by fire.  The biggest question in our lives is, what must I do to be saved. In the little boy’s situation, the answer was; jump. What is the answer in your life?

Let’s start by looking at a story in the life of Paul.  Paul and Silas had been in Philippi for some time now, staying with Lydia, the woman he met at the place of prayer down by the river. They had been moving around Philippi preaching and teaching about Jesus. Following them around day after day is a slave woman whose owner made a profit off of her gift of clairvoyance, for it was believed she could tell fortunes and predict the future. This woman was shouting out to Paul and Silas saying, “These men are slaves of the Most High God.”

Initially, her shouts probably worked to Paul’s advantage, helping him gather a crowd, but after some days, he had had enough. Paul turns to the woman, in exasperation one day, without ever speaking to her directly, tells the spirit to come out of her, which it does.

The woman’s owners become outraged at their loss of potential revenue and haul Paul and Silas into court. They do not charge them with the loss of value to their property; rather they bring charges of disturbing the peace and advocating Jewish customs which are contrary to Roman law.

The crowd gets into it, the magistrates make an example of the men by stripping and having them whipped; and then jailed in the innermost cell with their feet placed in stocks.

While in prison, Paul and Silas begin to sing hymns and pray.  The singing and praying are interrupted by an earthquake; the cells are shaken, the doors opened, the chains fall off. The jailer runs to the scene, and is about to do himself in since he is responsible for keeping the prisoners in their cells when Paul calls out – we’re all still here; All are still here – the other prisoners, Silas, Paul. They have been freed, but they remain in their cells.

Let’s turn to the story in Acts 16:25-30. "But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a great earthquake so that the foundations of the prison were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains were loosed. And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”

Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

There is that all important question.  What must I do to be saved?

In verse 31 Paul and Silas give the answer, “So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Believe in Jesus. There is the answer. It seems so simple. Just believe. Is there more to it than that? It seems that we as humans are always trying to add more to the answer. It has to be more difficult than that. Before we dig a little deeper into the subject, I want us to go back to the illustration of the little boy on the roof. All he had to do to be saved was believe in the fireman. But it couldn’t be words alone – He couldn’t just say I believe you can catch me. He had to jump.

Let’s look at another story in the Bible where the question, what must I do to be saved, is asked. Turn to Matthew 19:16-22, “Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good?  No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and your mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?”

Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions."

This wealthy man asked the all-important question: What must I do to be saved?  But notice how he asked the question. The way he worded the question tells us a lot about him. What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life? I think that many of us can relate to this man. I’m leading a pretty good life. What other good thing do I need to do to be saved? When we read the story, we like the answer that Jesus gave at first. Keep the commandments. The wealthy man wants to know which ones. Even after confirming that he has kept them all he asks, “What do I still lack?'

Jesus said, “Well if you are really serious about this whole business and you really want to be perfect, why don’t you go out and sell what you have and fully serve your neighbor.”

The young ruler wasn’t expecting that kind of an answer. He liked the “limited realm” of righteousness where people stop doing things. He was good at it. He stepped back when Jesus pointed him to the “continuous realm” of righteousness where there is no limit and no end of really caring for other people.

Jesus had pointed beyond the negative ten, to the positive law of love. That, of course, was more than the young ruler was ready to commit himself to. He felt relatively comfortable with the negative law.
He was good at not doing this and that, but he was not ready for the unlimited reach of God’s law into every area of his life.

Many of us are very uncomfortable with this whole concept of being a Christian as Jesus explained it. We tend to be Pharisees by nature. We are very happy with negative approaches to law because we like to know where the limits are.

We feel more comfortable when we can see the extent of our obligations. Jesus wants us to see that his true followers aren’t trying to see what the limits of their obligations are. He taught this lesson to Peter in Matthew 18. Peter was concerned about how many times he should forgive his neighbor.  In Matthew 18:21 we read, “Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

Peter knew what the rabbis had to say on the topic. They had concluded that the Lord forgives three times, and the fourth time He lets sinners have it. Well, rabbinic logic suggested that you cannot be more generous than God. Therefore, they concluded, three times should be the limit of human forgiveness. Peter thought that surely seven times was more than enough. Jesus saw things differently. "Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”  Matthew 18:22. Once again, Jesus points out that his true followers aren’t trying to see what the limits of their obligations are.

In actuality Peter was not asking “How much can I love my neighbor?” But he wanted to know, “When can I stop loving my neighbor?” That’s a very human question. I like that question. When can I stop loving my neighbor? That is where we are as natural people.

When can I stop all this niceness and give people what they deserve? I don’t like grace. Grace is giving people what they don’t deserve. I don’t mind getting it, but I don’t really like passing grace on to others.

Jesus then goes on to tell a story to illustrate his point. While settling his account with his servants, a man was brought before the king. He owed the king 10,000 talents. When it was decreed that he and his wife and children were to be sold for the debt, he begged for patience and promised to pay the debt. The king forgave his debt and released him.

The servant then went out and found a fellow servant who owed him 100 denarii and demanded payment. The man begged for patience and promised to pay the debt, but the servant had him thrown in prison. When the king found out what the servant had done, he told him, “shouldn't you have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you”?

The point of the story is that sinners, who have been forgiven an impossible debt, must pass on God’s mercy to their fellow humans, just as God has had mercy on them.

Jesus taught Peter that there is never a time when he could stop loving his neighbor or stop passing on God’s grace. Jesus taught that there is no limit to Christian love.

Like Peter, we are much more comfortable with the negative than the positive approach to law. We want to know when we have fulfilled our quota of goodness so we can relax and be our normal selves.

Focusing on the negative limits the scope of righteousness and makes it humanly manageable and achievable. Legalists focus on the “thou shalt not’s” and the “small sins,” because with that focus they feel they can achieve perfection.

Legalists love to talk about negative and minute behaviors. Dr. George Knight writes about a conversation he had. He was together with some friends after an afternoon seminar, and they were discussing the sin of David, when one of them said, “Well, some people have that sin to overcome. Mine is eating granola between meals.” From the friends perspective, he had almost arrived at perfection. Unfortunately, that negative approach to law falls far short of the ideal that Jesus taught.

There is a type of righteousness that picks on smaller and smaller units of action. Jesus taught the reverse. The Christian way is the endless righteousness expressed in caring for God and humanity that one finds summarized in the two great commandments. Matthew 22:36-39  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”  Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

It was that very ideal that drove the rich young ruler (with his smaller-and-smaller mentality) away from Christ in utter frustration.

We, like the rich young ruler, like to define sin as some small negative action, because anybody can overcome a habit if he or she tries hard enough. On the other hand, I have an impossible time loving all my neighbors all the time.

I can get the victory over cheese, peanut butter, or “granola between meals” any old time, but it takes God’s grace for me to love all my neighbors all the time, particularly when my neighbor is defined by Jesus in a manner that includes enemies.

So we want to know the limits of love and Christian living so that we can know when we have arrived. Human perverseness loves the negative approach to law because it limits the scope of righteousness.

It makes perfection humanly achievable. Strangely, many think that an emphasis on the two great commandments is a watering down of the demands laid upon the Christian in daily living. Christ repeatedly demonstrated the opposite to be true.

No one can ever be saved or become perfect by not working on Sabbath or avoiding theft or not committing adultery. In fact, no one will ever be saved because of what he or she has not done.
Ellen White wrote, “We should not make self the center and indulge anxiety and fear as to whether we shall be saved. All this turns the soul away from the Source of our strength. Commit the keeping of your soul to God, and trust in Him. Talk and think of Jesus. Let self be lost in Him. Put away all doubt; dismiss your fears. Say with the apostle Paul, “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20. Rest in God. He is able to keep that which you have committed to Him.”

Christianity is a positive, not a negative.  Whether we like it or not (and the Pharisees of old certainly did not like it), Jesus put the standard of righteousness higher than people care to reach.  Most of us much prefer a standard based on definitely quantifiable things like diet, dress, Sabbath keeping, tithing, etc. In fact, it is our emphasis on human accomplishment that proves that we have merely shifted our pride from human accomplishment in worldly endeavors to human accomplishment in spiritual things.

The predicament of outward obedience accompanied by a lack of inward Christianity is one of the most spiritually dangerous situations we can be in. People who are deceived in this point may feel quite satisfied with themselves spiritually because they are doing what is right. I refer to this as spiritual arrogance.

That was the problem with the Pharisees of old. Never forget that they sincerely kept the law but put Christ on the cross. There has traditionally been a spirit of meanness among those who focus on laws rather than God’s character.

That meanness is especially aimed at those who disagree with them theologically and who may not be as zealous as they are on particular laws or rules or regulations. God’s plea is for us to get our priorities right. He wants us to believe in Him and surrender our will to Him so that we can truly keep His laws. The order is essential and crucial. The correct order keeps us away from a legalistic bookkeeping approach to salvation that recreates God into the image of a first-century Pharisee. Why would we as Christians want to emulate the Pharisees?

The point to remember is that if we are safe in Jesus, He will live out His life in us. That means that not only will our love be refocused from our self to God and others, but it means that God’s love will be the basis for our every action.

Christianity is not just an improvement on the old life. It is a total transformation of a person’s way of thinking, acting, and living. The Christian is not only in Christ, but Christ is in him or her through the softening power of the Holy Spirit.

How I treat my neighbor is the acid test of Christianity. For too long, Christians have applied John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” to the Ten Commandments. Read John 13, 14, and 15, and see what the context is. “I command you,” Jesus says over and over in these chapters, “to love one another.

Out of that principle and only out of it comes a meaningful keeping of God’s laws.
• Because I love my neighbor, I will not covet my neighbor’s car, house, wife, or husband.
• Because I love my neighbor, I cannot use him or her as a sexual object for my pleasure.
• Because I love my neighbor, I will not take things that belong to him.
• Because I love my neighbor, I will not kill or even hate him.

Love to God and neighbor is the centerpiece of Christianity. “By this,” said Jesus, “all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Let’s go back to the story of the boy on the roof. One night a house caught fire, and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof. A fireman stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to the boy, "Jump! I'll catch you." He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, was flame, smoke, and blackness. As you can imagine, he was afraid to leave the roof. The fireman kept yelling: "Jump! I will catch you." But the boy protested, “I can't see you." The fireman replied, "But I can see you, and that's all that matters."

What must I do to be saved?  I need to trust Jesus so much that I will jump into his arms. He can’t save me if I don’t trust him enough to jump. He can’t save me if I am busy trying to save myself. It’s time for us to really believe in the Lord Jesus Christ: Believe enough to surrender our will and jump into his arms. Will you jump with me today?

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Storm Damage

My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 7, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

As I drove into the driveway of my shop, my heart sank. The roof of our pole barn that we use for storage was a twisted mass if tin. The storms that night had severely damaged the roof, and the heavy rains had soaked everything inside the building. For the past month, it seemed that there had been one disaster after another in our lives. 

Because of the heavy rains that our area was experiencing, it was a week before we were able to repair the roof. When we were able to repair the roof, we discovered that over the years the roof had been leaking and the wood had rotted. When the storm came, the weakened wood wasn’t able to withstand the high winds. Besides repairing the roof, we had to replace the rotten wood.

I think sometimes our spiritual life can have leaks. I know mine can. When I am focused on what can go wrong more often than what can go right; those thoughts are not from God. Those thoughts are little leaks that over time can leave us spiritually damaged. Focusing on the negatives in this life leads us to fear, and fear is an enemy of our faith. 2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV) tells us that, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

There is something about a strong faith in God that can help us deal with the big trials in our life. God wants us to have faith in Him and not give in to fear when trials come. When a devastating hardship crashes into your life, if your faith is strong, you can reach out to God to free you from the fear. 

Most of our fears and worries in life are pesky little leaks that drip, drip, drip on the foundation of our lives. Often these small fears and worries drip into our lives undetected. But if we are dwelling on these fears, we are not focused on God’s power. Fear undermines our faith. Jesus said, "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?" Luke 12:25 (NIV) God hasn’t given you a spirit of fear. He has given you hope.

Worry never works! It can’t add a single hour to our life. Jesus tells us, “since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” Luke 12:26 (NIV) Worrying never solves problems, and it wastes our energy and time. Worry weakens the framework of our faith in God.

The damage that worry causes to our lives is slow but steady. Little by little, it can rot away our faith until our foundation in God is no longer strong. When the storms of life come, we are not able to withstand them. If I had taken time to repair the leaks in our building, the roof would have withstood the storm, and the major repairs would not have been needed. We have other buildings that have similar leaks, and we are making plans to repair them so that we won’t have major damage from a future storm. I don’t want the statement found in Ecclesiastes 10:18 (NKJV) to be true about me: “Because of laziness the building decays, And through idleness of hands the house leaks.”

Because I ignored the small problems, it allowed the major problem to come up. In life, there can be small problems that creep into our lives. Little things that come up and begin to create damage in our lives. 

Although fear and worry can undermine your faith, they are not the only things that can be a constant dripping in our lives. Anger is another thing that can cause a lot of damage. Paul tells us not to give the devil a foothold. In Ephesians 4:26,27 (NIV) he wrote, “in your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Anger gives the devil a foothold, and it eats away at our relationship with God. 

In my life, I have a problem with anger. When I feel that I have been mistreated, I get angry. And especially when I see family members and people that I care about being mistreated it makes me angry. Anger eats away at me and even gets in the way of my relationship with God. My anger at people spills over into anger at God. I become angry with God for allowing people to mistreat my family and me. Paul knew that this could be a problem and give the devil a foothold. Paul’s advice on dealing with people who make you angry is found in Ephesians 4:29 (TPT) “Never let ugly or hateful words come from your mouth, but instead let your words become beautiful gifts that encourage others; do this by speaking words of grace to help them.” 

Gentle Reader, if there are any small leaks in your life, bring them to Jesus. Don’t allow them to build up in your life and cause major destruction and destroy you. Don’t let worry or anger weaken your faith in God. Letting worry and anger take hold in your life, will slowly undermine your faith in God. As in the case of my roof, the small leaks can eventually cause major damage when the storms of life come. Don’t let your roof leak. “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” 1 Peter 5:7 (NLT)

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

I Can Only Imagine

My An Arkie's Faith column from the February 28, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

How is your imagination? Do you ever daydream? What do you imagine?

Former Beatle John Lennon wrote a song titled Imagine in the early 70's. The melody is beautiful, and it is one of the most popular songs he ever wrote. But while the melody may be beautiful, the lyrics paint a different picture. Listen to what Lennon had to say.

“Imagine there's no heaven. It's easy if you try; No hell below us; above us only sky. Imagine all the people, living for today. Imagine there's no country. It isn't hard to do; Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion, too. Imagine all the people living life in peace.”

One of Lennon's ideas was that the concept of God and religion got in the way of world peace; and in the final analysis, caused more bad than good. Karl Marx thought this very same way, and so have many other philosophers over the centuries. Their idea was that if you rid the world of its ideas about God and religion, then the world would become a utopia. People working together in peace and perfect harmony would soon solve the world's problems.

While there is truth to the idea that religion has been a major player in many of the conflicts in the world, when I put my imagination to work, I see something different. When I imagine that there is no heaven, it is scary. As bad as things are in this world, imagine what it would be like if there were no God. If you spend much time imagining these kinds of things, it's frightening. Imagining the world without God is depressing. Let's imagine something different.

I like to imagine the future. When I was a boy, I liked to read popular science magazines. I also liked reading books by Isaac Asimov. His vision of what the future would be like intrigued me. One of my favorite things to imagine is what heaven will be like. Put your imagination to work. What do you imagine heaven is like?

Does the Bible have anything to say about our imagination? The Bible tells us in Ephesians 3:20 (VOICE) “Now to the God who can do so many awe-inspiring things, immeasurable things, things greater than we ever could ask or imagine through the power at work in us.” I can imagine a lot of great things, but God can do things greater than I could ever imagine. Put your imagination to work. Whatever you imagined, God can do greater things.

I like to think about God. I study the Bible to learn more about him. But can I fully understand him? In Isaiah 55:8,9 (NKJV) the Bible tells us, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

God's ways are far beyond anything we can imagine. It seems my imagination is useless when it comes to God. I like to imagine what heaven will be like. But I know that my imagination isn’t up to the task. “Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined, are the things God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 (NET)

Do you love God? God has prepared something so incredible that no human mind has ever even imagined it. There are people on this planet that have great imaginations. Look at some of the wonders of this world. The imaginations of artists, writers, and architects are often spectacular, but even they cannot imagine anything like heaven. Have you ever imagined what heaven will be like? Whatever you imagined doesn't even come close to what God has actually prepared for you.

The fact that we can’t imagine what God has prepared for us doesn't mean that we have no information at all. When the Apostle John was given a vision of the new heaven and new earth, he wrote these words. “I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.’ And the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new!’” Revelation 21:3-5 (NLT) I take great comfort in that promise. Even though I can't imagine what God has prepared for me, I can be sure that He will wipe every tear from my eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.

Gentle Reader, do you want to go to heaven? Why do you want to go there? In John 14:1-3 Jesus tells us, “let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” Jesus has prepared a place for us, and he wants us to be there with Him. That is why I want to go to heaven. I want to be where Jesus is. Do you want to be there with Jesus? What will it be like when we see the place that Jesus has prepared for us? I can only imagine!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Hot Water

My An Arkie's Faith column from the February 21, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

The past few weeks have been a blur for me. The adage seems to hold true; when it rains, it pours. One day, while we were making almost daily trips back and forth to the hospital in Hot Springs, our hot water heater started leaking. Because I didn’t have time to replace the water heater immediately, I drained the tank so it wouldn’t leak, and we were without hot water for several days. As I was feeling a bit sorry for myself for the expense and inconvenience of having to replace our water heater, I realized that I was facing a first world problem.

I thought about my friends in Belize. When we visited them, the young couple and their son lived in a 64 square foot apartment with no hot water. Their water source was a cold water spigot outside the apartment. When my wife talked to a group of fifth-grade students in San Pedro, Belize, one of the questions they asked her was, “do you have a bathroom in your house in America?” She told them that she did, but was too embarrassed to tell them that our house has three bathrooms.

Even though being without hot water is a first world problem, after four days of going without hot water I was, ironically, in a bit of hot water. My wife very nicely wondered when I might be able to get the water heater installed. The next evening, we didn’t make the trip to the hospital in Hot Springs, but instead stayed home and installed the new water heater.

The expression to be in hot water, meaning to be in trouble, is a very old expression. It has been used for over five hundred years. One story says it got that meaning from the custom of throwing boiling water down on enemies attacking a castle, but most linguists are unsure of its origin. Most people no longer pour boiling water on their enemies, but we still get in hot water. When we are in hot water, we are in trouble.

I recently read that in England, during the Middle Ages, a suspected criminal was forced to put their arm in a cauldron of hot water up to the elbow. If the arm did not heal in a couple of days, they were found guilty. That sounds like as good an explanation as any of being in hot water. During the 1500’s a common phrase used to signify being in a troublesome situation was, “cost me hot water.” In 1537, Arthur Plantagenet wrote in a letter; “I can get no conserve dishes; howbeit, if they are to be had, I will have of them, or it shall cost me hot water.” And in 1593, in his historical play of Edward the First, G. Peele used the line, “it shall cost me hot water, but thou shalt be King Edward's man.”

In an ironic twist, there is a church mentioned in the Bible that was in hot water with Jesus because of being like lukewarm water. In Revelation 3:15-16 (NLT), In a letter to the church at Laodicea, Jesus said, "I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!"
Some Bible commentators have suggested that the metaphor of lukewarm water has been drawn from the water supply of the city. The nearby city of Hierapolis had hot springs, and the city of Colossae had cold, pure water. But archaeology shows that Laodicea had an aqueduct that probably carried water from hot mineral springs some five miles south, which would have become tepid before entering the city. In his book, Archaeology And The New Testament, John McRay writes, "Water piped into Laodicea by aqueduct from the south was so concentrated with minerals that the Roman engineers designed vents, capped by removable stones, so the aqueduct pipes could periodically be cleared of deposits."

The warm, sulfur water was probably nauseating to the taste and smell. By traveling only a few miles, the Laodicean residents had access both to healing hot waters in one direction and to refreshing cold waters in another direction. However, Laodiceans could also choose to partake only of the waters that flowed into their city. In that case, they drank lukewarm water that smelled bad and made them feel nauseated.

After getting their attention by telling the Laodiceans that “since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!" Jesus then explains why He described their spiritual condition as lukewarm. “Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have prospered and grown wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” Revelation 3:17 (AMP)

The church in Laodicea thought of itself as rich and in need of nothing. Many of the members may have been wealthy, but Jesus is talking about spiritual pride and arrogance. Jesus' message is the same for us. Many of us are neither spiritually hot nor deadly cold. We have become lukewarm like Laodicea, who was not only self-sufficient and distracted by worldly things, but also felt that their own efforts made them safe.

Gentle Reader, “it is by God's grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God's gift, so that no one can boast about it.” Ephesians 2:8,9 (GNT) If you are lukewarm, Jesus says to you, “I correct and discipline those whom I love, so be serious and repent! Look! I am standing at the door and knocking. If anyone listens to my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he will eat with me.” Revelation 3:19,20 (ISV) Will you open the door?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

My Valentine

A Senior in High School

Happy Valentine's Day to My Valentine!

The best decision I have ever made was to marry the girl who stole my heart when she walked into Mr. Brost's History class the beginning of my senior year of high school.  I was too shy to talk to girls, so it was almost a year before she had any idea that I was interested.  I think that the good Lord knew that I needed all of the help I could get so he made it so that our paths crossed in a number of ways that year.  Mr. Brost selected five students to work together each week producing learning packets for History class.  Gina and I were both in the group.  We both worked at the Harris Pine furniture factory.  I worked on the dresser jig, and she made drawers.  I would spend my breaks back with the drawer makers, but she still didn't catch on.

It came time for our High School graduation and I still had never gotten up the nerve to ask her out. Finally, I mustered up every ounce of courage I could find and asked her if she would march with me when we graduated.  She told me that she would like to but she had already told Russell she would march with him.  If I would talk to Russell she would march with me.  Once again summoning up every bit of courage I had I talked to Russell.  He was very gracious and bowed out.  I was on cloud nine.


The rest is history. After a year of a long distance relationship, five hundred miles, we were finally in the same place at the same time. I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this girl. On June 15, 1975, we were married in the Denver First Seventh-day Adventist Church. The last 43 years have been an interesting and very fulfilling time.

I know that high school romances are not supposed to be forever and that when kids get married when they are in their teens the marriages aren't supposed to last, but we have proven those things wrong.  It is still awesome to go through each day with my best friend, My Valentine!

Here We Are