Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween and Grace

Still Life

Grace seems to often pop up in places that I never expect it. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that simply stated "Grace Happens." It is true. Grace happens. It happens all around us. Often we are too busy to notice.

Today is Halloween. My wife has bought lots of candy in preparation for the kids she is expecting to come to our door. She is prepared to give candy, and lots of it, to anyone who rings her doorbell. She loves to see the kids in their costumes.

I remember a Halloween several years ago. The doorbell rang for the first time. My wife went to the door and opened it with a bowl of candy in her hand. There stood two kids, but they didn't have anything to put candy in. They didn't say trick or treat. They stood there with a long stemmed rose in their hand. "We are not asking for candy", they said. "We want to give you a rose."

Popcorn and Candy

Unexpected grace. Out of the blue. I never thought that on Halloween someone would come to my door and give me something. I think that is a key to understanding grace. We Christians often focus on the fact that grace is undeserved. That is true, it is undeserved. If you deserved it, it wouldn't be grace. But not only is it undeserved, it is unexpected.

I think that is what Paul is trying to get us to see when he wrote in Ephesians 3:8, "to me, who am less than the least deserving of all the saints, this grace was given." He seems to be almost unable to believe that grace was offered to him. It was unexpected. Maybe that is why he talks about grace more than any other Bible writer.

Look for the unexpected today. Look for grace in unexpected places. I know that you will find it. Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 1:14, "the grace of our Lord is exceedingly abundant."

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Check Up

My An Arkie's Faith column from the October 26, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

Recently I went to see my family doctor for my yearly check up. Well, maybe I was eight or nine months late. And maybe I went because my wife made an appointment for me. But what is important is that I went for my check up.

Why was I so reluctant to see my doctor? I can give you a list of excuses, but none of them are more important than my health. Maybe I don’t really want to know if there is a problem with my health. Fortunately, I received a clean bill of health. I don’t need to go to the doctor for a check up for another year.

I know that routine checkups are important because they can find problems that if undiscovered could grow to be serious health issues. I know that giving my doctor permission to find hidden health problems is best for my long-term health.

King David realized that spiritual check-ups were important. Asking God to search for hidden sin, he prayed, “Examine me, O God, and know my mind; test me, and discover my thoughts. Find out if there is any evil in me and guide me in the everlasting way. Psalms 139:23,24 (GNT) He realized that giving God the opportunity for a full and unconditional inspection of his mind and thoughts would keep him spiritually healthy.

King David knew that even if you are feeling good about yourself, it is time for a checkup! Only God knows the true condition of our heart, and only He can forgive, heal, and lead us to a righteous life and productive future. In Psalms 26:2,3 (GNT) we read, “Examine me and test me, Lord; judge my desires and thoughts. Your constant love is my guide; your faithfulness always leads me.” God knows us better than we know ourselves.

Do you go in for a checkup with the doctor every year? Does your doctor listen to your heart, update your immunizations, check your lungs and your weight? Checkups are good. They can stop little things from developing into bigger things. Given a choice, I’d probably not voluntarily visit my doctor for a physical exam. Over the years I haven’t regularly had check ups. I’m inclined to assume that everything is okay and not bother my doctor about it. But since my wife made the appointment for me I reluctantly went to the doctor. Given a choice, many of us are a little afraid of spiritual checkups as well. After all, if we check too closely, we might find that we need to make some changes in our life.

I know how to make an appointment and see my family doctor, but how do I go about getting a spiritual checkup? A good place to start is found in Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV) where Jesus answered the question, “which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

When I went to the doctor for my check-up, he asked a lot of questions. The first question we need to ask ourselves in a spiritual check-up is, do I love God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind? How do I know if I love God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind? Jesus gives us the answer in John 14:15 (NKJV) when he said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” That is clear enough. God’s commandments are a guide to let us know how we are doing spiritually.

For your spiritual check-up, turn to Exodus 20 in your Bible and read God’s words that he spoke from the top of Mount Sinai. Christians today refer to these words as the Ten Commandments. There is no better place to start a spiritual check-up than to read these commandments and look into your heart and see if you are following them the way God spoke them.

Gentle Reader, we all need a spiritual checkup once in a while; a time to look at our walk with the Lord and ask ourselves, “Am I on the right path?  Am I doing what the Lord wants for me?“ If your spiritual checkup finds you in need of some fine tuning, remember that the Great Physician has promised to help you accomplish it. Pray like King David did when he failed his spiritual check-up, “Create in me a pure heart, God, and make my spirit right again.” Psalms 51:10 (NCV)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Do Unto Others

My An Arkie's Faith column from the October 19, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

Recently I had one of those experiences at work that you just never want to have. After working on a customer’s vehicle, I moved it from my work area to our parking lot. I was in a hurry to start the next job. As I was working, I heard a thud! I looked up and saw that the vehicle I had recently moved had rolled back against another car.

I ran over to see what had happened. The left front fender of the vehicle was damaged where it had run into the rear bumper of another car. When I had shifted the vehicle into park, it didn’t stay, and when the transmission slipped out of park, the vehicle rolled back. My heart sank as I looked at the damage. I wasn’t looking forward to telling the customer that I had damaged his truck.

When the customer arrived at my shop, I immediately told him that I had something I needed to show him. I showed him the damage and told him that we would do whatever he wanted us to do to take care of the issue. He looked at the damage to his fender and said, “that doesn’t look too bad, and my truck is old, don’t worry about it.” He continued, “It was an accident, and I wouldn’t want that to have happened to me.” I told him that I wasn’t comfortable with doing nothing. We agreed on a monetary amount to pay for the damage. I told him that I appreciated how understanding he was about the incident. He told me that he wanted to treat me the same way he would want to be treated if it had happened to him.

In Christianity, we refer to this concept as “The Golden Rule.”  If you ask someone to repeat ”The Golden Rule,” they will usually say, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” There is no place in the Bible that uses exactly this phrase, but in Matthew 7:12 (NKJV), Jesus said, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” And in Luke 6:31 (NKJV) we read, “and just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.”

Most Christians truly believe this. But there’s one area of life where it seems that Christians forget the golden rule, and that’s politics. I’m amazed by how many Christians become completely uncivil when it comes to discussing politics. In everything else they are polite but once they start talking about politics or politicians they become vicious. It seems that they forget that the Bible says in Romans 12:10 (NLT), “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.”

Many devout Christians become mean, critical, and bitter when they talk about politics. Insults, name-calling, bitterness, and slander are the order of the day. They don’t seem to remember that the Jesus they claim to worship said to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Luke 6:27,28 (NIV)

I think that social media is partly to blame. People post things they might never say. I don’t believe that Christians shouldn't have opinions on politics or that they shouldn't express them. I’m very grateful that I live in a country where free speech is a basic human right. I’m happy that there are Christians who care about their country and involve themselves in the political process.

But does it have to be so full of hate? It is all right for a Christian to express an opinion on politics such as, “I think X is a poor President, Senator, Congresswoman, Candidate.” But we have all seen some Christians cross the line from opinion to attack, insult, and slander. Much of it is hateful and malicious.

When I look at the Facebook posts of some Christians, I ask myself if they have ever read Colossians 4:6 (NKJV) “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.”

In Matthew 12:34 (ICB) Jesus said, “The mouth speaks the things that are in the heart.” We as Christians can’t escape the reality that our words, or social media posts, reveal our true character.   In Matthew 12:37 (NLT) Jesus said, “the words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.” I have never read in the Bible where Jesus said, “But when it comes to politics and politicians, feel free to be as mean, vile and ugly as you want.”

When Christians say ugly words or post thoughts or pictures about people they disagree with to support their political position, they are talking about people that Jesus loves and died for. There is a real person behind those words. They are saying that about real people, not just ideologies, not just platforms, not just issues, not just politicians.

Gentle Reader, I’m sure that there is a way for Christians to engage in the political process and political discussions while still manifesting the Spirit of Jesus. If Christians consistently showed the Spirit of Jesus in their political discussions instead of being mean or harsh, it would be a powerful witness. Before you talk or post on social media, ask yourself if you would want to be talked about that way. Remember the golden rule.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Jump Start

My An Arkie's Faith column from the October 12, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

A few days ago I received a call from a friend. “We are at Wal-Mart,” she said, “and our battery is dead. Are you busy right now? Can you come and give us a jump start?” I grabbed my jumper cables, put them in my little Rambler, and headed for Wal-Mart.

My friend had left the headlights on, and the battery had run down. It didn’t have enough power to start the vehicle. When I arrived, I ran the jumper cables from the battery in my little Rambler to the battery in my friend’s vehicle and in just a few seconds the engine came to life.

A couple of months ago I had a similar experience in my wife’s car. While my wife and daughter were shopping, I stayed in the car with my granddaughter who was not feeling well. While we were in the car, my granddaughter wanted to listen to her favorite podcast, Tales from the South. The podcast features true stories told by the Southerners who lived them, in front of a live audience. I plugged my phone into the car’s stereo system, and we enjoyed listening to some great stories. When my wife and daughter came back to the car and were ready to go, the battery was dead, and the car wouldn’t start.

When we first purchased the car I had placed a set of battery cables in the compartment under the rear floor. We had never needed to use the cables before, but I was glad that we had them with us. With the cables, we were able to jump start the car and be on our way again.

Electrical power is one of those things that we don't think about very often. We usually only think about the power when it isn’t there. When we turn the key in our car, we expect the engine to start. When we flip the switch, we expect the lights to go on. When we come home from work on a hot day, we expect the house to be cool and comfortable. When we open the refrigerator, we expect the milk to be cold.

When the power isn’t working, it suddenly becomes very important. Anyone who was living in Polk County during December 2000 remembers being without power. That year a major ice storm developed Christmas Day and continued through the early morning hours of December 27th. Much of western Arkansas was coated by a layer of ice up to 3 inches thick. The effects were devastating. 300,000 Arkansans were without power for many days. The 2000 ice storm is believed to be the worst natural disaster in Arkansas history. We were without power for six days and had friends in South Polk County who were without power for 23 days.

Even though our house still had all of its electrical wiring, outlets, and switches nothing worked. Habits are hard to break, and even after days without power I still found myself trying to turn on the lights. Even though everything looked fine, there was no power.

Just like a house without power or a car with a dead battery, we have no power in ourselves to follow Jesus. We have no energy to serve Him. We have no power to change ourselves. I’m sure that your experience verifies the fact that sheer will power cannot conquer sin. On our own, living like Christ is not difficult; it’s impossible. Jesus explains this in John 15:5 (NLT) “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”

Jumper cables have no power in themselves. Their only job is to connect the dead battery to a battery that works. When the car starts, no one says, “Wow, what powerful jumper cables you have!” It doesn’t matter if the jumper cables are new and shiny, or if they are old and rusty and dirty and tied in knots. All that matters is that they connect the dead battery to a battery with a full charge. The power is in the fully charged battery. The cables are just a conduit; the working battery does all the work of bringing life to the dead car.

Our only job in this life is to be connected. We need to be connected to the Source of power and be willing to reach out and touch anyone who is broken down. Do you know someone who is broken down, hurting, in need of power in their life? Do you feel unable to help them? Remember, the burden to be the battery, to bring energy to them, is not yours. Your job is to be the cables that connect them to Jesus through love.

Gentle Reader, just like we take our electrical power for granted, we also often take God's power for granted. We expect Him to love us. We expect Him to be there for us, but how often do we think about His power? I want to say with King David, "I will sing about your power. Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love. For you have been my refuge, a place of safety when I am in distress.” Psalms 59:16 (NLT)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Viking Festival

Last weekend my wife and I attended the Viking Festival held at Heavener Runestone Park in Heavener, Oklahoma. The most prominent feature of the park is a large, vertical sandstone slab (ten feet wide and twelve feet high), bearing strange carvings.

 The Heavener Runestone is veiled in mystery and controversy. According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, "the stone was first discovered in the 1830s by a Choctaw hunting party and was reportedly seen by white trappers in 1874. Locally it became known as Indian Rock, because it was generally believed that American Indians had made the markings. In 1928 Gloria Farley of Heavener saw the stone and realized that the carvings were similar to characters of the runic alphabet. Since 1953 she has led a group of individuals who believe that Vikings traversing the Mississippi, Arkansas, and Poteau rivers made the inscription.

Over the years scholars have given various opinions as to the possibility of Scandinavians having passed through present Oklahoma by the eleventh century. Others contend that the inscriptions were made by a member of La Salle's expedition party circa 1687, or by a Swedish captain leading German colonists as part of a French colonization effort in the Mississippi Valley between 1718 and 1720.

In 1923 the Smithsonian Institute identified the eight symbols as Scandinavian runes. Originally the characters were interpreted to read GNOMEDAL, with "Gnome" and "dal" translated as sundial valley or monument valley. In 1986 Dr. Richard Nielson at the University of Denmark determined that the markings should be translated as GLOMEDAL, meaning Glome's Valley, indicating a land claim. Another interpretation involves the belief that the markings are encryptions to represent the date November 11, 1012. But the question remains as to who carved the characters and when they were carved. Other stones with runic inscriptions have been found in Oklahoma at Poteau, Shawnee, and Tulsa."

The Runestone Park was a lovely place to hold the Viking Festival. There were vendors with many handmade items along with activities such as ax throwing, horse rides, and a blacksmith. We really enjoyed the Royal Gauntlet Birds of Prey show. Royal Gauntlet is a rescue, rehabilitation and release organization that provides care and rehabilitation of sick or injured wildlife.

All afternoon there was music at the stage and amphitheater. We really enjoyed listening to the Celtic and Medieval music. The groups that we listened to were Black Oak Shillelagh, Einini, Bear Creek Troupe and Native Souls.

The Viking Festival is a twice a year event with spring and fall festivals. I'm looking forward to attending again next year.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Caney Creek Wilderness Area

Even though it is less than twenty miles from my house, yesterday was the first time I had explored the Caney Creek Wilderness Area. We were out for an afternoon ride on a beautiful day and ended up at Caney Creek. We had no destination in mind and were just exploring back roads.

The United States Congress designated the area of the Ouachita National Forest as Caney Creek Wilderness in 1975. The protected area consists of over 14,000 acres in this rugged portion of the Ouachita Mountains. Caney Creek and Short Creek flow through the wilderness area before joining the Cossatot River and are separated by steep ridges with stunning views.

We explored an area that is used as a swimming hole. The water was so clear that we could easily watch dozens of fish swimming in the area. I want to go back next summer with my granddaughters. I know they will love the area.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Astoria Column

My An Arkie's Faith column from the October 5, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

On a recent trip to the Oregon coast, my wife and I visited the Astoria Column. The city of Astoria, Oregon is located at the mouth of the Columbia River and has a population of about 10,000 people. The Astoria Column is one of the most visited parks in the state of Oregon and is the city’s most popular attraction with more than 400,000 visitors each year.

The Astoria Column is part of a series of 12 historical monuments that Ralph Budd, president of the Great Northern Railroad, erected in the early 1900’s between St. Paul, Minnesota and Astoria, Oregon. In 1925, he announced that he wanted a memorial in Astoria that would, “properly salute Astoria’s explorers and early settlers for their critical role in the United States’ stretch to the Pacific Coast.”

The final design for the monument was modeled after the Trajan Column, a Roman triumphal column in Rome, Italy, which commemorates Roman emperor Trajan's victory in the Dacian Wars. The Trajan Column tells the story of two military campaigns fought between the Roman Empire and Dacia, modern day Romania, between AD 101-106.

The Astoria Column, as the monument was called, featured a hand-painted spiral around the column that would stretch more than 500 feet if unwound. The artwork commemorated the historical events that transpired at the mouth of the Columbia River. Scenes depicted on the column include events such as the discovery of the Columbia River by Captain Robert Gray; the wintering of the Lewis and Clark Expedition; the arrival of the ship Tonquin, and the completion of the railroad. Work on the monument began in March 1926, and it was dedicated on July 22, 1926.

Towering above Astoria, the Column sits on top of Coxcomb Hill, 600 feet above sea level. From this vantage point, the 125-foot tall column provides an incredible view of Young’s Bay, the Coast Range, the mighty Columbia River, and in the distance, the Pacific Ocean.

As I visited The Astoria Column, I was amazed by the beautiful views. I enjoyed taking photographs and immersing myself in the scenery. I was also quite interested in the history that the column depicts. Before visiting the site, I hadn’t realized that the column was intended to be a memorial.

A memorial is something that serves as a focus to help remember an event.  Are there memorials in the Bible? There is a memorial right in the Ten Commandments.  Exodus 20:8-11 (NKJV) says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”

What are we to remember when we keep the Sabbath holy? That God created the heavens and the earth. When did God set up this memorial?  Genesis 2:1-3 (NKJV) tells us, “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”

One of the main topics of the book of Revelation is worship. In Revelation 14:6,7 (NKJV) it says, “Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth—to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people—saying with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.’” God wants people who will worship Him as the Creator.

Hebrews 11:3 (NCV) tells us that, “By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.” Faith is important to the Christian, and by faith, we understand that God created the universe. By faith, we realize that because God is our Creator, He deserves our worship.

Gentle Reader, creation is important; It is the reason we worship God as our Creator, and the seventh day has stood as a memorial to God’s creative power from creation week until today.