Friday, June 24, 2016

Unforgivable


Did you know that the Bible talks about a sin that God can never forgive? Throughout the centuries since the New Testament was written, millions of people have lived in fear that they may have committed it. Is it really true? Is there something that God is unable to forgive?

The Bible says in Matthew 12:31 – “the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven unto men.” So, it turns out there really is a sin that can't be forgiven, and it's blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

That raises a crucial question, just what is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?  Well, that's a pretty important question; because this is the one sin the Bible says you can never have forgiven. If you do this one thing, if you blaspheme the Holy Spirit, you will never make it into the kingdom of heaven, and that's pretty serious.


In John 16:8 the Bible is referring to the Holy Spirit when it says, “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment." The Holy Spirit works as a kind of "conscience" for the whole world. In verse 13 Jesus continues, "However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth." Sometimes, people think of the Holy Spirit as a policeman, always ready to pounce on you if you have a little fun. But that's not a very accurate picture. The reason He speaks to your heart and lets you know when you're out of line is because He's trying to lead you closer to Jesus. He knows you need Jesus if you are going to be happy.

But what happens when you decide not to follow the voice of the Holy Spirit? What happens when you feel the pang of guilt and you know the right thing to do, but you deliberately choose against it? Many theologians teach that this is when people actually step into the territory of the unforgivable sin. They refer to it as grieving the Holy Spirit.


I recently read a story about a radar detector. A man bought a car that had a radar detector in it, and at first the radar detector had the man hitting the brakes every two blocks, whether he was speeding or not, because it seemed to go off a lot. But over time, the man noticed that he hardly heard it any more, even though it was still beeping just as often.

People are pretty good at tuning things out. It’s amazing how fast we learn to sleep near a busy railroad or how quickly we stop hearing the planes when we live near an airport. I will agree that it is a serious issue when we tune out the Holy Spirit, but is it unforgivable? I have to say no!


How can I be sure that grieving the Holy Spirit is not the unpardonable sin?  First of all let’s go back to Matthew 12:31 and read the whole verse.  “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men." This is a strange verse. There are two facts separated by a but.
1. Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men
2. The blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men

Notice that EVERY SIN will be forgiven. Now read 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Now, you might have noticed that there were no exclusions in that verse. It says that if we confess our sins, Jesus will both forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Is there a sin that God cannot forgive? The answer is yes, and the sin that God can't forgive is the sin you don't repent of. If this is true, then why did Jesus say in Matthew 12:31, "the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven unto men.” We need to look at the whole chapter to see why he made such a statement.


In the chapter there are several incidents that we need to look at.
Incident #1 – Disciples pick and eat grain on Sabbath – Pharisees disapprove
Incident #2 – Jesus heals man on Sabbath – Pharisees disapprove
Incident #3 – Jesus heals blind deaf man – Pharisees say it was through Satan’s power
Do you see a pattern?  There is a dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisees. All of these incidents bring Jesus to talk to the Pharisees about something that was unforgivable.

Earlier we decided that there is a sin that God cannot forgive, and it is the sin you don't repent of. Why would the Pharisees not repent of a sin? They were extremely picky about keeping the law. The reason that they would not repent is because they couldn’t see that they were doing anything wrong.

The unforgivable sin is the one that isn’t confessed, but there are two very different reasons for not confessing.
1. Because you have so tuned out the Holy Spirit that you can’t see sin.
2. Because you are so sure you are doing right that you don’t see your sin.

In Revelation 3:15-17 Jesus says, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.”

Here Jesus is describing an unforgiven state, not an unforgivable state. Whether it is the Pharisee of Jesus time or the Christian of today, when we feel that we are in need of nothing we are on dangerous ground. But Jesus gives us great hope in verse 19, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent."  Remember 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."


Back to Revelation 3 verse 20, 21 “ Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne."

Jesus never stops knocking. He is standing at the door and knocking. Will you open the door?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Trust Your GPS

My An Arkie's Faith column from the June 22, 2016, issue of The Mena Star.


Recently we had a family outing at Little Missouri Falls. It was a beautiful day for a picnic and playing in the Little Missouri River. The kids had a great time and so did the adults.

Many years ago my son-in-law had visited the Blue Hole, and he wanted to take everyone there. He had gotten directions from the internet and brought them with him. We caravaned down narrow, rough, dusty roads. After traveling down FS99 for awhile, we found that the road had a closed locked gate. We had to turn around and head back. From this point, we weren’t sure of the best way to get back home so we used our GPS. The GPS directed us down a beautiful road that I had never been on before, Long Creek Road. The road repeatedly crossed the creek. There were some beautiful new concrete bridges and some low water crossings. After several miles, the road came to an abrupt stop, and we had to turn around once again.


We knew how to get back to Little Missouri Falls and how to get home from the falls so we headed back. Sometimes exploring a new road can be quite an adventure. When you are traveling a rural Arkansas road, you just don’t know where you will end up. Sometimes even a GPS doesn't help.

Have you taken any wrong turns in your life? Have you been on any bad roads? How do you know which route to take? In Psalms 25:4 (NLT) the Bible says, "Show me the right path, O Lord; point out the road for me to follow.”

That sounds like a GPS doesn't it. God will point out the right road for us to follow. You can trust him.  You might not always be able to trust your GPS, but you can always trust God. No matter how knowledgeable you are, you aren't the best choice as navigator. Proverbs 14:12 (NKJV) tells us that, "there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death."


The whole point of being a Christian is to have a knowledgeable navigator to guide us through this life to our eternal destination. Why would we decide not to listen to the best guide there is and use our own judgment instead? Solomon explained it very well in Proverbs 20:24 (ISV) “A man’s steps are directed by the Lord; how then can anyone understand his own way?” The only reliable GPS for our spiritual life is God’s word. The Bible gives us direction. So many Christians I meet seem to want more than the Bible.  The Bible isn't enough for them, and they want something new. Psalms 119:105 (NKJV) states, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."  If David and Solomon understood that it was God’s Word that directs our steps why should we feel that there is not enough information in the Bible and feel the need to supplement it?


One of the last songs that George Harrison recorded was a song titled “Any Road”. The chorus of the song says “If you don't know where you're going any road will take you there.” His words are very true. They describe the kind of roads that I like to explore. I like to drive on them because I don’t know where I’m going. I like to just take off and explore new roads. When I see a road, I always wonder where it goes. Sometimes I have been completely lost, but eventually, I made it home. It can be fun not knowing where you are going.

While it can be fun to explore unknown roads on a Sunday afternoon drive, it’s not a good plan in our spiritual lives. We should know where we are going. We should all have the same destination in mind.

Gentle Reader, I hope that you know where you are going. Jesus told us that not just any road would take us there. Have you found the road that leads to life? Have you studied the map? Do you have your spiritual GPS? Do you use it? I hope that you and I will be able to say what David said in Psalms 73:23-26 (NCV) “But I am always with you; you have held my hand. You guide me with your advice, and later you will receive me in honor. I have no one in heaven but you; I want nothing on earth besides you. My body and my mind may become weak, but God is my strength. He is mine forever.”

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Deserve To Die


The recent Orlando nightclub massacre was a horrific event and very disturbing on many levels. It immediately became the catalyst for political discussions on many topics such as terrorism, Muslim extremism, gay rights and gun control. One of the many news stories about the event really caught my attention.

According to Tampa Bay TV station Channel 10, “A Sacramento pastor responded to the Orlando shooting that killed 49 people and injured 50 with praise, stating ‘they deserve what they got.’ A recording of the sermon, given by Pastor Roger Jimenez from Verity Baptist Church, was posted to YouTube the day after the tragedy.

In the video, Jimenez preached to his congregation that they should not be grieving the homosexual victims of the shootings. ‘Are you sad that 50 pedophiles were killed today?’ asked Jimenez. ‘Um no. I think that’s great. I think that helps society. I think Orlando, Florida, is a little safer tonight. The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die.’”


At first, I was shocked, outraged, and then saddened by the hateful rhetoric. But then I realized that when the pastor said, “they deserve what they got,” he was right. They got what they deserved. But I also realized that they got what I deserved. The Bible tells us in Romans 6:23 that, “the wages of sin is death,” and in Romans 3:23 it says, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." I deserve to die. But thankfully Romans 6:23 doesn’t just state, “the wages of sin is death,” but goes on to say that, “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

2 Peter 3:9 tells us that God “is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." God is longsuffering towards us. Are we longsuffering towards our fellow man? God doesn’t want anyone to perish. Can we say the same thing?

Before you condemn anyone, please remember what Jesus said in John 3:16-17, “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. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” I’m thankful that even though I deserve to die, God sent His Son into the world to bring me the gift of eternal life.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

No Fear

My An Arkie's Faith column from the June 15, 2016, issue of The Mena Star.    


Recently while I was driving down the road, I saw a man beating and kicking a dog. I cringed as I witnessed the dog being treated so cruelly. The dog cowered, and I could see the fear in its eyes. I love dogs and seeing this animal being abused broke my heart.

Many people see God as someone who will treat anyone who is against Him with terrible cruelty. Some Christian writers and speakers spend a lot of time focusing on the wrath of God and how He will torture sinners. I recently read an article by John Burton titled, "Is it Time for Hell Fire Preaching Again?" In the article, he stated, "we need hell fire preachers to emerge and announce to the church and the world the reality of their situation and the measure of God's wrath and judgment that is coming. Contrary to popular belief a very real revelation of hell, of torment, is needed to draw people to the Lover of their souls."


I can't agree with the idea that a very real revelation of hell, of torment, is needed to draw people to God. Instead, I want to lift up a gentle God. In Matthew 11:29 (NCV) Jesus describes himself this way, “Accept my teachings and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives.” Why would Jesus describe himself as gentle? I think we find the key in 1 John 4:18 (NKJV), “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.”

I’m not saying that there are no consequences. There is a judgment. Galatians 6:7-8 (NIV), tells us, "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life." But 2 Peter 3:9 (NKJV) tells us that God “is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." Does God use fear as a tactic to lead us to repent? Many Christian preachers and writers use fear. Fear spills over into our outreach efforts. We feel that we have to warn the world of the judgement, the Second Coming, and hell. Shouldn’t it rather be our privilege to announce to the world the Good News that Jesus is almost here? That we can all be ready for that because of what He’s already done before we were even born. That if we daily choose Him, we have nothing to fear from the judgement and hell.


There is no doubt that the world needs to come to repentance, but does God use fear as a way to motivate us? The Bible says in Romans 2:4(NASB), "Do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?" What leads us to repentance?  Is it fear?  No, we are led to repentance by the kindness of God. When we experience God’s kindness and feel his love, grace, mercy and forgiveness, it makes us want to love him.  When we love God we want to please him; we want Him to live in us and work through us.

Seeing God’s kindness towards us makes us sorry for the things we have done to hurt him.  It leads us to repentance.  It doesn’t lead us to fear Him. God doesn’t want us to fear Him.


I will illustrate this with a story. One night a house caught fire, and a young boy was forced to go 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 was flames, smoke, and blackness.  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.
Let me ask you a question. Was the boy in the story afraid? Yes, of course, he was afraid. What was he afraid of? He was afraid of the fire. Was he afraid of the fireman? No. He had to put his trust in the fireman. He couldn’t have put his trust in the fireman if he had been afraid of him.

Gentle Reader, God doesn’t want you to fear Him, he wants to save you. Do you see God as a harsh, demanding, cruel God or a loving God? Psalms 86:15 (NKJV) says, “But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.”  Do you see God as a gentle God, a compassionate God, and a gracious God? A God, who wants to save you. I hope so!

41 Years Ago

1975

Today is a special day. 41 years ago, I said "I Do" to my very best friend. The best decision I 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 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.

A Senior in High School

This is the girl that took my breath away when she walked into class that morning. 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 that she had already told Russell she would march with him. If I talked to Russell, she would march with me. Once again summoning up every bit of courage I had, I spoke 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 at the Denver First Seventh-day Adventist Church. The last 41 years have been an exciting and very fulfilling time. I'm looking forward to the next 41 years together.



Friday, June 10, 2016

Sophie Cathrine Wilhelmine Klauen Petersen



When my wife started doing some genealogy research she ran across a fascinating story.  It is the story of her great-great-grandmother, Sophie.

Sophia Klauen was born in Copenhagen, Denmark on August 17th, 1824. When she was a young girl she married Peter Peterson.  In 1853 he died of a contagious disease.  Some time after his death, Mormon missionaries from America studied with her.  One thing that they focused on was the faithful gathering in Zion. To them, Zion was the new Mormon settlement in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Sophie was baptized on December 27, 1855, and later sold her homestead in preparation to go to America.  She trusted two Elders with the money from the sale of her farm but it was never returned to her.  On May 4, 1856, Sophie and her children sailed from Liverpool, England on the ship Thornton.


On the voyage across the Atlantic, her eight-year-old son Thomas fell from the upper deck and was killed.  He was buried at sea.  Still she was determined to go to Salt Lake City and she never lost faith. She believed the Lord would help her reach her destination.

After arriving in New York, she along with hundreds of other converts from Denmark and England traveled by train to Chicago and then to Iowa City which was as far west as the train went in 1856.

There she became a part of the Willie Handcart Company.  Prior to 1856, pioneers traveled to Utah in heavy, expensive wagons.  To save money, Brigham Young came up with the idea of Handcarts that could be pulled by humans rather than animals. The plan was to bring as many people as possible, for as small an amount of money as possible.

Over nineteen hundred European converts signed up to cross the Plains with handcarts in 1856.  The handcarts were designed to serve four or five persons each.  At Iowa City, the emigrants were organized into companies of about 100 handcarts each.  Each adult was allowed only 17 pounds of personal belongings.


Sophie and the rest of the Willie Company left Iowa City in August 1856.  There were over 400 people in the company pulling 100 handcarts with 5 support wagons.  From Iowa to Missouri the roads were good and the game was plentiful.

When the Martin Company arrived at Florence, Nebraska a council was held, and they decided to press on, though there were those who advised against it because they felt it was too late in the summer to begin the journey. Three hundred miles later, a herd of buffalo stampeded the Willie Company's oxen and cattle, so the provisions from the stranded wagons were moved to handcarts and much of their possession had to be left behind.

The plans were to replenish their provisions when they reached Fort Laramie in Wyoming, but the Fort either had no food to spare or wouldn't sell it to the Mormon immigrants.  The people lived on mostly flour that was rationed out daily.  The portion of flour for each man was cut from 16 ounces to 10 ounces when they were not able to get provisions at Fort Laramie.

The strenuous work of pulling the handcarts on short rations caused much suffering and a number of deaths.  When a harsh winter storm arrived on October 19, 1856, the exhausted pioneers faced starvation, hypothermia, frozen limbs, and death. Deep snow then made it impossible for them to move forward. On October 20th, the group was completely out of food. They did not have adequate clothing and blankets to keep warm.  Their situation was desperate and it looked like everyone would be lost.


In early September, Franklin D. Richards, returning from Europe where he had served as the Church's mission president, passed the Willie handcart company as he was traveling to Salt Lake City. Richards and the 12 returning missionaries who accompanied him were in carriages and light wagons pulled by horses that were able to travel much faster than the handcarts.

On October 4 the Richards party reached Salt Lake City and told the church leaders of the dire circumstances of the handcart company. The next morning the Church was meeting in a general conference, where Young and the other speakers called on the Church members to provide wagons, mules, supplies, and teamsters for a rescue mission. On the morning of October 7, the first rescue party left Salt Lake City with 16 wagon-loads of food and supplies.  Throughout October, more wagon trains were assembled, and by the end of the month 250 relief wagons were on the road.

On October 21st, the first relief wagons reached the starving company. Although 68 of the 404 emigrants died on the way to Salt Lake City, the losses would have been much greater if the relief wagons had not reached them when they did.


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.

Sophie Peterson and her children all made it to Salt Lake City. Through all of the hardships and disappointments she endured, she never lost sight of her goal.  She lost all of her money.  Her son died on the voyage to America.  She endured extreme hardship and hunger on the handcart journey.   Most of the few belongings she was allowed to take on the journey had to be left on the trail when the carts had to be used to haul provisions.

Sophie's granddaughter Mary Smith Westover wrote about her grandmother; "Grandmother and her family were sent to Manti. She knew no one there. Albert Smith who later became my grandfather took Sophie and her children and gave them a place to stay.

Grandmother was good to grandfather's children by his first wife. Sophie was the mother of 14 children. My father was named after his father and was the 3rd child of this marriage. He was an only son as two sons died while in their infancy. Grandfather also died before she did, but he left her well provided for with a nice home.

Grandmother lived a wonderful life and was always ready to help others. Her road of life wasn't strewn with roses but she never complained. When she passed away she was laid to rest by her husband's side in Manti Cemetery. Her children and children's children should live lives worthy of such a mother and grandmother."

I have to agree with Sophie's granddaughter, Mary Smith Westover, Sophie lived an amazing life.


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Local Hero

My An Arkie's Faith column from the June 8, 2016, issue of The Mena Star.


As I write this week’s column, it is Memorial Day. My wife and I are spending a quiet day at home catching up on some work that needs to be done around the house.

Memorial Day is a day for remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. I have been fortunate enough to not have any close family members who perished in the service of their country.  But as I think about how wartime affected some family members who served and how sad their lives ended, I have come to realize what they sacrificed to serve their country.

A local hero that we remember on Memorial Day is Herbert A. Littleton. He was a United States Marine, who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for saving his fellow soldiers by falling on a grenade during the Korean War.

He was born on July 1, 1930, in Mena, Arkansas. He enlisting in the Marine Corps Reserve on July 29, 1948, for a one-year term. After the outbreak of the Korean War, Littleton reenlisted in the Marine Corps. He went to Korea with the 3rd Replacement Draft, fighting in South and Central Korean operations from December 17, 1950, until his death.


Littleton earned the nation's highest award for valor on April 22, 1951, at Chungehon. At the time, he was serving as a Radio Operator with the First Marine Division. Littleton was standing watch when a large well-concealed enemy force launched a night attack from nearby positions against his company. PFC Littleton quickly alerted the forward observation team and immediately moved into position to assist in calling down artillery fire on the enemy force. When an enemy hand grenade was thrown into his vantage point shortly after the arrival of the remainder of the team, he threw himself on the grenade, absorbing its full impact with his own body. By his prompt action, he saved the other members of his team from serious injury or death and enabled them to repulse the enemy attack. For his valor in the face of certain death, Herbert A. Littleton was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. gave a speech on Memorial Day in 1884. He ended his address with the words, “Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death.” I believe that Holmes’ proposition to “think of life, not death” honors the fallen soldiers such as Herbert A. Littleton. Their sacrifice follows the example of Jesus, who gave His life for our freedom. The sacrifice that Littleton made for his comrades in arms and the sacrifice that Jesus made for you and I both show a selfless love for others by sacrificing their lives so that others could live.


The Bible describes this type of real love in John 15: 13 (NKJV) “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” And also in 1 John 3:16 (NLT), "We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.” Herbert Littleton demonstrated this kind of love.

In the Bible and in military service, the willingness to sacrifice one’s life is not dependent on the worthiness of the people who are saved by the act of supreme love. "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 (NKJV)

In a perfect world, everyone who lived in freedom would be worthy of such a sacrifice and be thankful. But that’s not the way it is. So many people have sacrificed their lives so that I can live in freedom, but how often do I think about what they have done for me. I might think about it for a few minutes on Memorial Day, but they are not in my thoughts on most days. How often do I reflect on the sacrifice that Jesus made for me? Many Christians only think about what Jesus has done for them at times like Easter and Christmas.

Jesus said in Luke 9:23 (NKJV) “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” We need to thank God for the sacrifice of Jesus every day, not just once or twice a year or even once a week. “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise.” Hebrews 13:15 (NIV)

Gentle Reader, we are blessed to be living in a free country. We should honor our soldiers for the liberty we have. We should also give thanks to Almighty God for the freedom we have to spend eternity with Him because of His gift of forgiveness through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.