Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Picture of God - The Mena Star

This is my article as published in the August 28, 2014 issue of The Mena Star.

A Picture of God

While we are traveling in the car, my wife and I like to listen to audiobooks.  We recently listened to Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery.  We enjoyed the book so much that I looked for other audiobooks by L. M. Montgomery. I found and purchased the book, The Story Girl, and we are currently listening to it.

The Story Girl was published in 1911 and tells of the adventures of a group of young cousins and their friends who live on Prince Edward Island.  The book is narrated by Beverley, who with his brother Felix, has come to live with his Aunt and Uncle on their farm while their father travels for business.  The Story Girl is their cousin Sara Stanley, whose many stories fill the book.

One story in the book really caught my attention.  On their way home from school, Felix has some interesting news.  "Jerry Cowan told me at recess this afternoon that he had seen a picture of God–that he has it at home in an old, red-covered history of the world, and has looked at it often."

This bit of news caused a lot of discussion from the little group.  They all wanted to know what God looked like.  The next day they asked Jerry to bring the book to school so they could see the picture.  He told them that he couldn't bring the book to school, but if they wanted to buy the picture outright he would tear it out of the book and sell it to them for fifty cents.

They wanted the picture so much that they pooled their resources and came up with the fifty cents.   Jerry met up with the group after school and brought the page from the book wrapped in newspaper. They paid him the money, but did not open the packet until he had gone.

This is the way L. M. Montgomery described the scene.  "Cecily," said Felicity in a hushed tone. "You are the best of us all. You open the parcel."

"Oh, I'm no gooder than the rest of you," breathed Cecily, "but I'll open it if you like."

With trembling fingers Cecily opened the parcel. We stood around, hardly breathing. She unfolded it and held it up. We saw it.

Suddenly Sara began to cry. "Oh, oh, oh, does God look like that? " she wailed.

Felix and I spoke not. Disappointment and something worse, sealed our speech. Did God look like that–like that stern, angrily frowning old man with the tossing hair and beard of the wood-cut Cecily held?

"I suppose He must, since that is His picture," said Dan miserably.

"He looks awful cross," said Peter simply.

"Oh, I wish we'd never, never seen it," cried Cecily.

We all wished that–too late. Our curiosity had led us into some Holy of Holies, not to be profaned by human eyes, and this was our punishment.

When they showed the picture to the Story Girl, she said, "Surely you don't believe God looks like that. He doesn't–He couldn't. He is wonderful and beautiful. I'm surprised at you. That is nothing but the picture of a cross old man."

Hope sprang up in our hearts, although we were not wholly convinced.

"I don't know," said Dan dubiously. "It says under the picture 'God in the Garden of Eden.' It's printed."

"Well, I suppose that's what the man who drew it thought God was like," answered the Story Girl carelessly. "But he couldn't have known any more than you do. He had never seen Him."

"It's all very well for you to say so," said Felicity, "but you don't know either. I wish I could believe that isn't like God–but I don't know what to believe."

Just like these children, far too many of us don’t know what to believe. There are so many pictures of God that we see every day. God’s own professed followers often paint horrific pictures of God; Pictures of hatred toward other races and religions, pictures of intolerance. Pictures of an unjust God who burns and tortures people for an eternity.

The children decided to ask their minister about this disturbing picture.  Felix was sent to ask him while the rest of them remained in the background but within hearing.

"Well, Felix, what is it?" asked Mr. Marwood kindly.

"Please, sir, does God really look like this?" asked Felix, holding out the picture. "We hope He doesn't–but we want to know the truth, and that is why I'm bothering you. Please excuse us and tell me."

The minister looked at the picture. A stern expression came into his gentle blue eyes and he got as near to frowning as it was possible for him to get.

"Where did you get that thing?" he asked.

Thing! We began to breathe easier.

"We bought it from Jerry Cowan. He found it in a red-covered history of the world. It says it's God's picture," said Felix.

"It is nothing of the sort," said Mr. Marwood indignantly. "There is no such thing as a picture of God, Felix. No human being knows what he looks like–no human being can know. We should not even try to think what He looks like. But, Felix, you may be sure that God is infinitely more beautiful and loving and tender and kind than anything we can imagine of Him. Never believe anything else, my boy.

I believe that Mr. Marwood got it right.  God is infinitely more beautiful and loving and tender and kind than anything we can imagine of Him.

We need to be very careful of the picture of God that we paint.  For some people, the only picture of God that they can see is the one that we paint.  Psalms 86:15 says, “But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth”.  Is that the God in your picture?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

2014 Celebrity Waiter Dinner

The Relay For Life of Polk County held its third annual Celebrity Waiter Dinner on Friday, August 22 at the Mena Mountain Resort.  Local celebrities waited tables for tips and Farrell Cole held a live auction of items that had been donated.  By the time the evening was over, more than 18,000 dollars had been raised for the American Cancer Society.

 The local celebrities that participated this year are Jim and Joyce Stroope, Monroe Miller, Tanya Sickles, Belinda Jones, Brenda Hamilton, Betty Johnson, Jared Standridge, David Jones, Terry and Rita Keener, George and Rhonda McKee, Ginger Sterner, Lawana Callahan, Nina and Frank Moore, Josh Marshall, Greg Goss, and George Davis.

After the meal provided by Mena Mountain Resort, the guests provided their own entertainment with karaoke and dancing.  At the conclusion of the event awards were handed out in the following categories: Sneakiest Waiter – Jim Stroope; Best Theme - Ginger Sterner and Lawana Callahan; Best Dressed Table – Frank and Nina Moore; Most Spirited Waiter – Josh Marshall; Best Dressed Waiter – Greg Goss; Celebrity Waiter of the Year – Jim Stroope; Second Place Celebrity Waiter of the Year – Nina and Frank Moore; Most Tips – Jim Stroope; Second Most Tips – Nina and Frank Moore.

The Relay For Life of Polk County Committee thanks all the 2014 celebrity waiters and each person who attended the Celebrity Waiter Dinner.  Your participation made it another successful event.  Relay For Life is working to create a world with less cancer and more birthdays, and fighting for every birthday threatened by every cancer in our community.

Friday, August 8, 2014


Recently I received a phone call shortly after I arrived at work.  A caller from Minnesota was asking if I could help a young woman who had been stranded in Mena.  She had traveled from Lafayette, Louisiana to Minnesota by bus to attend a wedding.  On her return trip the bus she was riding on stopped in Mena in the early morning hours.  The young woman along with several other women got off the bus to use the restroom.  She was last in line, and as soon as she finished and walked outside she saw that the bus was pulling away. She chased the bus waving her arms frantically but the bus drove off. 

She didn't know what to do.  She was stranded at a gas station in a strange town.  Her first call was to Greyhound Bus customer service. They were not helpful at all.  It was no concern of theirs that the bus had left her.  Since she was not on the bus that her ticket was written for, the ticket was no longer valid.  If she wanted to continue her journey by bus she would have to go to a Greyhound terminal and purchase a new ticket.  The nearest terminal was nearly 100 miles away and there was not another bus until the next day.  The customer service rep suggested that she take a taxi.  There is not a taxi available in the small rural town of Mena. 

When I arrived at the gas station I found the young woman very upset.  Being stranded here in Mena isn't what she had planned on. We talked about her options in between phone calls from friends and family trying to find a solution.  After some time we finally worked out a plan to get her home.  Her family started driving north from Lafayette and my parents drove her to Texarkana where her family met up with her.  She was no longer stranded.

I could empathize with the stranded young woman.  On a trip that we took back in 2008 we ended up stranded three times.  We were on our way to Belize.  We had boarded our plane at DFW when the announcement was made that we had to wait in line for our plane to be de-iced.  After three hours on the plane it was announced that due to snow all flights were grounded.  We were stranded in the airport along with thousands of other passengers.  Because all flights were canceled there were so many people spending the night that there was no way to get a motel room.   

We spent a very uncomfortable night in the airport, and it was the next afternoon before we were able to fly to Belize.  When we got to airport in Belize our small plane wasn't able to fly to San Pedro because of a thunderstorm.  We were once again stranded.  On our way home we were once again stranded, this time in Miami, due to flights cancelled due to weather.  

As uncomfortable as it was to spend the night at DFW airport, it was nothing compared to the experience of Mehran Karimi Nasseri.  He was expelled from Iran in the 70's for protesting against the Shah.  He was awarded refugee status by Belgium.  He claimed that his mother was British and in 1988 made a trip to London.  While he was in Paris he was mugged and his papers were stolen.  He went ahead and boarded his flight for London, but when he arrived British officials sent him back to Paris because he had no papers.

Because he had no papers, he was not allowed to leave the airport; He was stranded. He lived there for the next 18 years.  Belgium at first refused to issue new papers saying he had to come back to Belgium to get them, but he couldn't leave the airport without papers. After many years Belgium officials made arrangements for him to be able to return, but he refused.  Apparently the world outside of the airport terminal was too frightening.  

There is a difference in the way Mr. Nasseri and the young woman that I helped dealt with being stranded.  The highest priority of the young woman was to get home.  She didn't want to be stranded in Mena, Arkansas.  I'm sure that Mr. Nasseri felt the same way at first, but after years of living in the airport terminal he no longer felt stranded.  He felt like the terminal was his home.

Jesus told us in John 15:19, "If you belonged to the world, it would love you as it loves its own.  But I chose you from this world, and you do not belong to it; that is why the world hates you".  

We as Christians have been stranded here on this earth, but we don't belong to it.  It is not our home.  Jesus tells us about our home in John 14:2,3 "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".

We are stranded; we are strangers.  This world is not our home.

I am a poor, wayfaring stranger
Traveling through this world alone
And there's no sickness, toil or danger
In that bright land to which I go
And I'm going there to see my mother
And I'm going there no more to roam
And I'm only going over Jordan
And I'm only going over home

Monday, August 4, 2014


D is for Doom, my entry for this weeks ABC Wednesday.

It seems like a day doesn't go by that someone doesn't talk to me about the condition that the world finds itself in.  Too many of my acquaintances are buying into all of the doom being spread on TV and social media.

Will Work For Food

What I have noticed in the past few months, is that it seems like the people I have talked to who have been the most worried are Christians.  I have gotten numerous e-mails from Christian people who are sure that doom is right around the corner.  I can't believe that God wants us to live that way.  2 Thessalonians 3:16 says "may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way".

I do believe that we are living in the last chapter of Earth's history, but I am puzzled by many of my fellow Christians.  Does God want us to worry?

I saw something the other day that really puzzled me.  I was in a Christian bookstore, and I saw that they had Christian worry stones for sale.  According to tradition a worry stone is a smooth, polished stone that when rubbed is believed to reduce one's worries and add a sense of calmness.  When the stone is rubbed, the negative energy and worries are supposedly transferred into the stone and you are left calm and peaceful.  I don't think worry stones are compatible with Christianity.

In Matthew 6:31 Jesus tells us "Do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?"  He goes on to say "do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own".

Christianity is supposed to be built on faith and trust. There is a story told about Blondin, who is considered to be one of the greatest tightrope-walkers of all time.  Blondin became obsessed with the idea of crossing Niagara Falls the first time he saw them in 1858.  A year after his initial visit, he returned to accomplish the feat.  The stunt was not without controversy.  Many people felt that a stunt like Blondin's would trivialize the falls, turning them into a backdrop for a circus act, and should not be allowed.

Eventually, Blondin was allowed to string his wire across the falls and on June 30, 1859, he was the first man ever to cross Niagara Falls by tightrope.  A large crowd of 100,000 people watched him walk on a single three-inch rope, 1,100 feet long and 160 feet above the falls at one side and 270 feet at the other.

Blondin made many more trips across the gorge during the next year. Each time, he thrilled larger crowds with more exciting acts.  He balanced a chair on the rope and stood on it.  He took pictures of the crowd while he balanced on the rope.  He cooked a meal on a small portable cooker and lowered it to amazed passengers on the Maid of the Mist below.  He crossed blindfolded, in a sack, on stilts, and pushing a wheel barrow.

In 1860 a Royal party from Britain that included the Prince of Wales saw Blondin cross the tightrope on stilts, and again blindfolded. After that he stopped halfway across and cooked and ate an omelet. Next he wheeled a wheelbarrow from one side to the other, and returned with a sack of potatoes in it.  Then Blondin approached the Royal party. He asked the Prince of Wales, "Do you believe I could take a man across the tightrope in this wheelbarrow?"  "Yes, I do", said the Prince.  "Hop in, then", replied Blondin.  Well, the Prince declined Blondin's challenge. He might have believed Blondin could do it, but he wasn't about to trust him with his life.

When it comes to our relationship with God, this kind of trust doesn't do much good.  God doesn't want us to say "Yes Lord I believe in you, but not enough to put my life in your hands."  Belief has to come with trust.  Proverbs 3:5,6 tells us to "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding;  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.

Is their a difference between trust and belief.  The Prince of Wales believed that Blondin could walk a man across the rope in a wheelbarrow, but he didn't trust him enough to get in.  Do you believe in God?  Do you trust him with your life?  Trust God with all your heart, and if he asks you to get in the wheelbarrow, do it!


ABC Wednesday is a fun way to see blogs from around the world