Thursday, December 29, 2016

Top Ten List of 2016


2016 is almost over.  Here is a list of the top ten most viewed posts of 2016 on An Arkies Musings.  It is always interesting to me to see what topics other people are interested in.


Beginning in January 2016, I started writing a weekly column, An Arkie's Faith, for my local newspaper. My column from the September 28, 2016, issue of The Mena Star was the most viewed post of the year with over 6,000 views. The article "Return Fire" told the story of Fort Stevens; the only military fort in the United States to be fired upon by an enemy during a time of war since the War of 1812. You can read the post here.


The second most viewed post of the year was written on 9/11. It was the fifteenth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center. My thoughts as I looked back on that day that I titled, "Why Lord," seemed to resonate with my readers. You can read the post here.


My An Arkie's Faith column from the October 12, 2016, issue of The Mena Star, titled "Jump Start," came in at number three. Everyone finds it very inconvenient when their battery is dead or the electricity isn't working. You can read the post here.


Number four tells the story of a surprise party held for a dear friend. Her daughter planned a surprise birthday party and invited a large group of people. My wife helped decorate the large hall where the party was held. It’s not easy to pull off a surprise party with ninety people, but this party was very successful. You can read the post here.


The fifth most popular post of 2016 is the story of Desmond Doss and the movie Hacksaw Ridge. I have known the story of Desmond Doss for many years. When I was a young boy, I read the book The Unlikeliest Hero by Booton Herndon. In 1999 I was able to meet and talk to Desmond Doss. I'm proud to have been able to meet this humble man. His story made an impression on me when I was a boy. When I met him, I was impressed by his humility. The world needs more people like Desmond Doss. You can read the post here.


My friend, Lou Simsek, passed away on November 14. We attended the same church together for over 25 years. We both had a passion for missions. My favorite memories of Lou are from a mission trip that we made to Belize. My post remembering Lou was the sixth most viewed post of the year. You can read the post here.


For the past several years Heavener, Oklahoma has held a Viking Festival at The Runestone Park. This year my wife and I attended for the first time. My wife has Danish and Swedish ancestry so we found the festival very interesting. There were vendors with many handmade items along with activities such as Celtic music, ax throwing, horse rides, and a blacksmith. We really enjoyed the Royal Gauntlet Birds of Prey show. My post about the festival was number seven for  the year. You can read the post here.


The eighth most popular post of the year featured the Oregon Coast. After attending my niece's wedding in the Portland, Oregon area we took a couple of extra days to visit the Oregon Coast. As we visited various sites along the way I was remembering a trip that we took to the same area in 1975. I really enjoyed visiting the same places over 40 years later and remembering times long ago. I posted photos from the two trips in the post, "The Oregon Coast Revisited." You can read the post here.


Post number nine was "Genealogy Research," which was my An Arkie's Fath column from December 14th. In my wife's research she has found ancestors who were royalty along with some less savory characters. You can read the post here.


The tenth most popular post of 2016 was the history of the wreck of the Peter Iredale. Although the shipwreck happened in 1906, you can still walk out to the remains of the wreck at low tide. You can read the post here.

As a bonus I'm including one of my favorite posts of the year even though it didn't quite make the top ten. I was honored to be asked to officiate my niece Stacey's wedding. I love Luke and Stacey. They have such a zest for life. This is their story as I told it during the wedding ceremony. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Tony the Waiter

My An Arkie's Faith column from the December 28, 2016, issue of The Mena Star


During the Christmas season, my wife and I made a trip out of town to do some Christmas shopping. In the early afternoon, we took a break to get something to eat. The lunch rush was over, so the quaint little restaurant was not busy. We were thankful for the peaceful atmosphere.

Our waiter was rather ordinary in appearance and older than the rest of the wait staff. He was not very tall but was neatly dressed in slacks, dress shirt, and tie. He said, “my name is Tony.” As Tony waited on us, we noticed that he was very professional and wanted everything to be perfect. Any squeezed lime, empty sweetener packet, or used napkin were quickly removed from our table. When we commented on how well he was taking care of us, he was pleased.


Tony spoke with an accent, which didn’t surprise us at a restaurant that serves Nuevo Latino cuisine. He asked us if we could understand his English. We smiled and told him we could understand him better than we could understand our Pastor who is from Romania. My wife asked Tony where he was from, expecting a country in Latin America, but Tony said he had moved to Arkansas from France.

Because it was mid-afternoon, the restaurant was not busy. We were Tony’s only patrons. During the meal, whenever Tony was at our table we asked about his story. My wife loves meeting new people and was curious about Tony’s move from France to Arkansas. We learned that in France, Tony had worked in the service industry. He had a long-time job at a hotel. One day he met a lady from the U.S. while he was working. They hit it off immediately. When she returned to America, they stayed in contact.

Tony decided to travel to the U.S. to see his new friend. After a whirlwind romance, they were married in Las Vegas. That was fifteen years ago, and he is still happily married and living in Ft. Smith, Arkansas.  Tony said that he loves Ft. Smith because it is a quiet, peaceful place but big enough to have everything he needs. He was proud of the fact that he has been an American citizen for one year.


As we visited, we found out that although Tony had lived in France for many years, he had never been a French citizen. His parents were citizens of Spain, so even though he wasn’t born in Spain or lived there, He was a Spanish citizen. Tony was born and grew up in Morroco. His sister married a man from France and moved there. Tony moved to France because of his sister and lived there for many years.

I was intrigued by the multinational aspects of Tony’s story. A baby born in Morocco to Spanish parents who spent many years in France; fell in love with an American; moved to the U.S. and became an American citizen. He now lives happily in Arkansas and does a great job taking care of the patrons in a small restaurant.


As I was looking through the restaurant's reviews on Yelp, I came across this one that made me smile. “Is this authentic? Beats me. Is this good? You bet. Big portions. Attentive service (by Tony. He speaks English Spanish and French). Reasonable prices.” We were not the first restaurant patrons to be impressed by this unassuming man and his attention to detail.

As I thought about Tony and the places that he has lived, I was reminded that the Bible says that all Christians are citizens of the Kingdom of God. In Galatians 3:26-28 (NIV) the Bible tells us that, “in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”


In God’s Kingdom, there is neither “Jew nor Greek.” That means no race and no nationality. It doesn't matter the color of the skin. It doesn't matter the shape of your face. It doesn't matter who your mother was or who your grandfather was or who your great grandfather was. It's not important.

Unfortunately, in society, those distinctions make a big difference. What neighborhood are you from? Where did you grow up? What color is your father's skin? These things end up separating us. We use race and nationality to decide people’s place in society. But with Jesus, there are no second-class citizens!

In God’s Kingdom, there is neither “male nor female.” Now, that doesn't mean that men and women aren't different. But the Bible says that they are equal under God in every way. Men and women may not be equal in the world, but in Jesus they are!


Gentle Reader, In God’s Kingdom there are no distinctions.  We are all children of God. “The Father has loved us so much that we are called children of God. And we really are his children.” 1 John 3:1 (NCV) All are equally welcome in God’s Kingdom, and all have an equal need of Him. In God’s Kingdom, everyone has equal rights, equal privileges, and equal blessings. Everyone is saved in the same way and entitled to the same privileges.There is no favoritism on account of birth, beauty, or blood. Everyone receives the same privileges as A child of God.

Monday, December 26, 2016

2016 in the Rearview Mirror



My job is installing windshields. You have a big windshield on the front of your car, and you have a small rearview mirror. The reason the windshield is so large and the rearview mirror is so small is because what has happened in your past is not nearly as important as what's in your future.  Although this is true, and I'm looking forward to what 2017 will bring, it is traditional to look back over the past year as we approach the new year. Here is a retrospective of 2016 with a link to a blog post from each month of the year.


In January my wife and I traveled to the Oregon Coast for her sibling's reunion. Her sister and brother-in-law provided us all a wonderful place to stay, great food, and transportation. Our condos sat on a bluff looking out over the ocean. 


























Saturday, December 24, 2016

Jesus and the Second Death


The book of Revelation the Bible talks about the second death. Both the first death and the second death are the result of sin, but the first is temporary and occurs by means of physical causes, such as disease or tragedy or old age. We are all too familiar with the first death. The second death does not occur on merely a physical level, but on the psychological level as well, due to the lethal power of one’s guilt. It is complete and final.

Revelation 20:13-15 is very specific about what the second death is, "The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire." Being cast into the lake of fire is the second death.

The lake of fire, or hell, is equivalent to the second death. God will not subject the wicked to eternal torture in the flames of some underworld. They will be resurrected to face the record of their lives in one final reckoning, then they will be eternally annihilated “as though they had never been” (Obadiah 16).


When the Bible says “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), it does not merely mean the first death. When the Bible says of Jesus “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3) and that He went to the cross so that He “might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9), it does not merely mean the first death. 

The wages of sin is the second death. Everyone dies. Even those who have the gift of God, eternal life. It logically follows that Jesus can only save us from what He has endured and conquered for us. If Jesus only experienced the first death, then he can only save us from the first death, and we must still face the second death ourselves. 

However, the good news is that Jesus faced the full, horrific reality of the second death. Come with me to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus and His disciples enter the garden. Something astounding is about to happen. As Jesus and His disciples enter the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is staggering under the weight of some invisible burden. The disciples can see that something is wrong. Jesus explains what’s happening to Him: “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38).


Jesus has suffered no physical abuse and yet He is dying. No blood has yet been spilled from His body by violence and yet He is bleeding. Luke tells us in Luke 22:44, “And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” He is bleeding through His pores due to the intense internal stress the shame of our sin is imposing on Him.

Jesus is staggering under the weight of some invisible burden. The disciples can see that something is wrong. Jesus explains what’s happening to Him: “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.” (Matthew 26:38)  Here Jesus opens to our understanding the nature of His suffering. Notice that He used the same word He had employed earlier to describe the second death as distinct from the first death: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” 

Again, the word here translated “soul” is psyche in the Greek text and that is precisely the word Jesus uses now to communicate what He’s enduring. In Gethsemane, Jesus says He is dying at the psyche level of His being. He is dying from the inside out, under the lethal power of our sin and guilt.

No physical abuse has yet been inflicted upon Him. And yet, He is dying! No blood has yet been drawn from His flesh by violence. And yet, He is bleeding! Luke tells us: “And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44) He is bleeding through His pores due to the intense internal stress our sin is imposing on Him.


Jesus is taken to the cross. Yes, nails were hammered through His hands and feet. Yes, His body was tortured. And yet, He never uttered a word about the physical pain, because His mental suffering was so intense that it nearly eclipsed His physical pain.

For a sustained period of time, as our guilt enveloped His heart in impenetrable emotional darkness, Jesus could not see life for Himself beyond the grave. But here’s the amazing thing: He was not trapped. His back was not up against a wall with no way out. There are two things He said before the cross that indicate that He was not trapped:

John 10:17,18 “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”

Don’t miss what all this means. Jesus faced the prospect of eternal death, and yet, because He loved you and me, He did not pull back. He was willing to die forever to save us. No wonder Paul called what happened at Calvary, “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19). When Jesus gave His life on the cross, He showed that He loves us more than His own existence.


But here's the glorious good news: Jesus didn’t simply experience the second death. He conquered it as He experienced it. Peter declared: “Whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it” (Acts 2:24).

Notice the language here. “It was not possible” for death to hold Jesus. But why? For one simple reason: “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:56)... but Jesus never sinned. Under the fiercest temptations to save Himself, He kept on loving all of us at any cost to Himself.

By love alone, Jesus triumphed over the second death. Therefore, it was impossible for the second death to hold Him. His resurrection is proof of His victory over our sin, our guilt, and our death. How could He love me so deeply, so selflessly? Is this really what God is like? The story of Calvary shows us the true loving character of God.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Best Gift Ever

My An Arkie's Faith column from the December 21, 2016, issue of The Mena Star


As Christmas approaches, one of the things that people focus on is giving good gifts. We spend a lot of money and time finding the right gifts for people that are important in our life. Sometimes we fail in our gift giving.

One Christmas when my son was a young boy, we nearly ruined his Christmas with one particular gift.  One of his jobs around the house was sweeping the kitchen floor. That Christmas we bought a stick vacuum cleaner and thought it would be funny to give to him as a gift. The vacuum, wrapped in beautiful paper, was the largest gift under the tree. When my son saw that the largest gift had his name on it, he was very excited. His imagination went wild. What could that present be? His whole Christmas revolved around the largest gift under the tree and speculating on what it could be.



When Christmas morning arrived, all he could think about was that gift. When he opened it, he was so disappointed that the rest of his Christmas presents couldn't make up for the vacuum cleaner fiasco.

Have you ever been disappointed by a gift? Has someone been disappointed by the gift you gave them? What about great gifts? What is the best gift you have ever received? What made it so special? Was it the value of the gift? Was it the person who gave it to you?

What is the best gift I ever received? As I think about this question I find it hard to narrow down one particular gift as the best. There is a gift that I received that is very special to me even though the dollar value of the gift is not very high. Let me tell you the story.


In February 2004, my family and I and other members of my church went to San Pedro, Belize to help build a church. While we were there, we made lots of friends. The next year we made plans to go back to San Pedro.

Our return trip to Belize was wonderful. We got reacquainted with friends that we had made the year before, and made many new friends during the ten days that we were there. Many times friends would stop by our room with gifts such as fresh coconut water, papaya, or some small trinket. On the last day that we were in San Pedro, there was a steady stream of visitors to our room. They wanted to tell us goodbye. Most of them brought a small gift.


We received one gift that was very special to me. My wife made a special friendship with a little two-year-old boy who spoke only Spanish. Whenever he would see her, his face would light up. He didn’t understand English, but he understood the language of love. The day we were leaving he and his four-year-old sister came to our door with a gift. They gave us a well worn 1941 Walking Liberty half-dollar. I have no idea how this little family had come into possession of this coin, or why they gave it to me. Even though the monetary value of the coin is only a few dollars, it is one of the most precious gifts I have ever received.

I learned an important spiritual lesson on my trip to Belize. I learned it from the people that I met. They had such a desire to do something for us. Even though they had only meager possessions, they had such a desire to please. They wanted to see us before we left. They wanted to bring us a gift. It was very important to them. I saw a great object lesson in the way they treated me.  It showed me how I should relate to God. I should come to God and say, “I don’t have much, but I want to give you something.” “God let me know what I can do to please you.” “God, I want to be with you.”


Gentle Reader, I know that you are planning on giving good gifts this Christmas season. Jesus knows that too. In Matthew 7:7-11 (NIV) Jesus said,  “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

No matter how awesome the best gift you open this Christmas is, it can’t compare to the gift of Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas. In Romans 6:23 (KJV) the Bible tells us “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” God has given you the best gift ever; what will you give God this Christmas?

Friday, December 16, 2016

Candy Canes


I recently read about the legend of the candy cane. Legend is an old English word meaning "probably not true." Even so, I enjoyed reading about the legend.

The legend says that in medieval times, there was a town in Europe where any public display of Christianity was forbidden. No crosses or Bibles were allowed. One old man, a candy maker by profession, was very upset by this. He loved God and couldn't stand to not share that love with others. He prayed for God to show him some way to make Christmas gifts for the children which would teach them the story of Jesus.


His answer was the candy cane. The candy cane was in the shape of a shepherd’s staff to show them that Jesus is our Shepherd and we are His flock. Upside down the candy cane was a "J", the first letter of Jesus' name. It was made of hard candy to remind us that Christ is the rock of our salvation. The wide red stripes on the candy cane were to represent the blood He shed on the cross for each one of us so that we can have eternal life through Him. The three narrow red stripes on the candy canes symbolized that by His stripes, or wounds, we are healed.

The flavoring in the candy cane was peppermint, which is similar to hyssop. Hyssop is of the mint family and was used in Old Testament times for purification and sacrifice just as Jesus sacrificed His life for ours. The old candy maker told the children that when we break our candy cane it reminds us that Jesus' body was broken for us. If we share our candy cane and give some to someone else, it represents the love of Jesus. God gave Himself to us when He sent Jesus. He loved us so much He wants us to spend eternity with Him.


This story of the candy cane is just a legend. No one knows for sure exactly how the candy cane was invented, but this legend is an excellent picture of Jesus and His love for you. Think about it the next time you enjoy a candy cane. And who doesn't enjoy a good candy cane?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Genealogy Research

My An Arkie's Faith column from the December 14, 2016, issue of The Mena Star


A few years ago my wife started doing some genealogy research. Early on in her research, she ran across the fascinating story of her great-great-grandmother, Sophie. Sophie Cathrine Wilhelmine Klauen Petersen 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.

1n 1856, over nineteen hundred European immigrants signed up to make the thousand-mile journey from Iowa City to Salt Lake City pulling handcarts. They were organized into companies, with Sophie and her children becoming a part of the Willie Handcart Company. Although Sophie and her children arrived safely in Salt Lake City, over sixty members of the Willie Handcart Company died on the trail.


My wife has been very interested in the details of this story and has done a lot of research. As these pioneers pulled handcarts across the plains and the Rocky Mountains they faced starvation, hypothermia, frozen limbs and death. 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.”


While she was researching her family tree, my wife found that some of her ancestors were very interesting historical figures including Alfred the Great and Charlemagne. Along with royalty she also found some less savory ancestors. One relative that she found in her research was John D. Lee. He was infamous because of his involvement in the Mountain Meadows Massacre that took place in Utah on September 11, 1857.  On that day, Native Americans and members of the Mormon church attacked a wagon train and slaughtered 120 people including women and children. The Mormon Church turned John D. Lee over to the Federal authorities as a scapegoat. He was the only person convicted out of the estimated 50 to 70 Mormon participants and was executed for his crimes.

I’m sure that all of us have some bad ancestors. Some people are ashamed of the actions of their ancestors and think that it reflects badly on them. If the thought of unsavory ancestors bothers you, you probably should not attempt genealogy. I do not know of anyone doing genealogy that has not uncovered something from the past they are not proud of. I'm sure glad I'm not responsible for anything my ancestors did.


In Matthew 1:1-17, we find the genealogy of Jesus. Whenever I find genealogies in the Bible, I usually skip over them to read something more interesting. But recently as I was reading the Christmas story I started with Matthew 1 and read from the beginning. I wondered why Matthew started his gospel with a boring genealogy. As I read, I noticed something unusual. Matthew included four women.

If you read all of the other genealogies in the Bible or from any literature from the time, none of them include women. Matthew not only included women in the genealogy but women with poor reputations.


In Matthew 1:3 we find Tamar listed as an ancestor of Jesus. Tamar was a widow who disguised herself as a prostitute to trick her father-in-law into getting her pregnant and bore a child named Perez. A disturbing story introduces an illegitimate Perez into the lineage of Jesus.

In Matthew 1:5, Rahab, a prostitute, is listed in the genealogy. She is not an Israelite, but a heathen Canaanite. She bore a son named Boaz. The wife of Boaz, the Moabite woman Ruth,  is specifically mentioned as an ancestor of Jesus. The fourth woman listed is Bathsheba, with whom King David had an adulterous affair that resulted in the birth of King Solomon.

Matthew decided to open his gospel by saying that Jesus descended from the incest of Tamar, the prostitution of Rahab, the Moabite Ruth, and the adultery of Bathsheba. Why would he begin his book this way? It shows that Jesus was one of us. He was human. John 1:14 (NKJV) tells us that He, “became flesh and dwelt among us.” But all of the moral failures of the ancestors of Jesus did not stop Him from achieving His purpose. Jesus, just like each one of us, had unsavory ancestors. But Hebrews 4:15 (NCV) tells us, “For our High Priest is able to understand our weaknesses. He was tempted in every way that we are, but he did not sin.”

Gentle Reader, the message of Christmas is that God is love. “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.” John 3:16 (NKJV) No matter what is in your past, no one is beyond redemption. Matthew 1:21 (NKJV) gives us the focal point of the Christmas story; “she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus did not give up on the world but chose to enter into this turbulent human experience as a baby in order to reconcile the world to himself. That is what Christmas is all about, and that is good news.