Friday, September 29, 2017

God's Amazing Love

Seven billion people. It’s a big number. I know that there are more than seven billion people living on this planet, but I can't comprehend what that means.

God doesn't see the number; He sees faces; behind which are personal histories and heartaches, individual predicaments and potentials. He sees actual people with names. Each one lives in a particular place, wakes up each day, faces their issues and deals with the obstacles that confront them. God feels everything each one of them feels. He sees every detail of every experience that has gone into making each of them exactly who they are at this very moment. He loves each one of these people so much that he gave his only Son as a sacrifice for them.

In his song Maybe, I’m Amazed, Paul McCartney wrote, I'm amazed at the way you love me all the time.  He finished the song with these words.

"I'm amazed at the way you're with me all the time; Maybe I'm afraid of the way I leave you. Maybe I'm amazed at the way you help me sing my song, Right me when I'm wrong- Maybe I'm amazed at the way I really need you."

Are you amazed by Jesus and the sacrifice he made for you? You should be. Remember, God loves each one of the seven billion people who live on this planet so much that he gave his only son as a sacrifice for them. Jesus loves each one of them so much that he was willing to come to this earth and sacrifice his life.

God loves each one of the seven billion and that includes you.  1 John 4:7-11 (NKJV) "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” The Bible clearly states that God is love and that He loves us.  It also tells us that we are to love Him and each other.

In Matthew 22:37-39 Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” What He meant is that a person’s love ought to reach in three directions—upward to God, outward to others, and inward to self.

Most Christians agree that loving God and others is important, but is it important to love yourself? Self-esteem isn't considered a Christian attribute. It’s often associated with pride and self-centeredness—and there are plenty of both in our world. However, that’s not what Jesus meant. He was saying we should recognize and appreciate our worth. God created us in His image so we could have a relationship with Him. Jesus died for us so we could be forgiven and reconciled to the Father.
Since God values us so highly, shouldn't we love ourselves? I’m not talking about a boastful attitude, but a quiet peace that comes from knowing we’re deeply loved by our heavenly Father.

A healthy self-love is essential. If it is missing or in some way incomplete, we can’t love God or others as we should. A sense of unworthiness leaves us empty and prevents us from looking up to God in devotion and reaching out to others with affection. God does not want us to have low self-esteem.

The Bible has many passages that tell us what God has to say about our worth and our value in His eyes. Genesis 1:27 says that “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

1. You were made in the image of God.

Psalm 139:13-14 says “You made my whole being; you formed me in my mother’s body. I praise you because you made me in an amazing and wonderful way”.

2. God made you in an amazing and wonderful way.

Ephesians 1:4 says that “God chose us before the world was made so that we would be his holy people—people without blame before him.”

3. God chose you even before the world was made.

In Romans 5:8, the Bible tells us that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”

4. Jesus died for you not because you were good enough, but because he loved you.

If we focus on how much God loves us and the price He paid to redeem us, we will come to see ourselves as God sees us, and that will help us understand just how much we’re worth as children of God.

Our self-worth is often based on what other people tell us about ourselves. Jesus is the true authority on our self-worth.  Since He gave His own life up for us by dying on a cross, that should tell us just how valuable we are.

When we fully accept God’s love for us, we’ll have a healthy appreciation for ourselves, an ever-growing passion for Him, and the ability to care for others.

How much are you and I truly worth? And what value should we place upon each other?  Often we'll look at the work someone is doing, and if they're doing a poor job, making mistakes, then we view that person as of little value.  But is this the correct way of seeing value in someone?

Think about it, if we truly saw the value of people as God does, would we still treat each other the way we do?  Mathew 25:45 tells us, “I tell you the truth, anything you refused to do for even the least of my people here, you refused to do for me.”

The key to seeing and understanding the value of you and me and all other people in the world is to see our value in light of what Jesus did to save us! Are there people that we don’t think are worthy of our love?

There’s no question that Christians should want to be loved and to love others. But it’s not enough to tell others that you love them – you must SHOW you love others! Love is not an abstract idea. True love is not just something you feel – it’s something you demonstrate!

We all need to grow in this area because everybody needs to know they are loved. You especially need to know how to show love if you are a follower of Jesus. In 1 John 3:17-18 the Bible says, “What if a person has enough money to live on and sees his brother in need of food and clothing? If he does not help him, how can the love of God be in him? My children, let us not love with words or in talk only. Let us love by what we do and in truth.”

James says something along these same lines in James 2:15-17, “Someone might need clothes or food. If you say to that person, ‘God be with you! I hope you stay warm and get plenty to eat,’ but you do not give what that person needs; your words are worth nothing. In the same way, faith by itself—that does nothing—is dead."

We show our love through our actions.  God has asked us to love others. There are so many people in this world who don’t know love.

Let’s remember how valuable we are in God's eyes! All of us! And remember to be kind and loving to all the people in this world because of what Jesus has done for us, and the great worth He has placed on each of his children.

As I was writing this sermon, I was thinking about how I view different people groups, and how in my mind I have decided that some are not worth my time or love. Their problems are caused by their own bad decisions.  They chose to live that way.

My thoughts came to rest on Nick.  He was in my youth class at church some years ago.  On October first, 2014, he was shot to death in Oklahoma City. He was just 23 years old.

The news report read, “around 9 p.m. on Wednesday, police were called out to the apartment complex on NW 25th and Penn on a shots fired call with a man down. On arrival, Nick Scott was discovered in the courtyard of an apartment complex. An apartment resident told police that they heard 5 or 6 shots. ‘I ran outside, everyone says Nick, it's Nick! He's dead; he's dead!’  The witness described Nick as a homeless man.”

When I heard the news, I was shaken up. I know that things like this are a daily occurrence, but it is different when you know the person. I knew that Nick had made some bad choices as a teenager. I didn’t realize that he had ended up homeless on the streets of Oklahoma City. When I attended his funeral, I found out more about his situation. His parents had been missionaries in Africa and had adopted him there. When they retired, they moved back to the U.S. There was a problem with Nick’s paperwork that his parents spent years trying to straighten out. They were never able to get citizenship papers for Nick, so he was living as an illegal immigrant.

At his funeral those who showed the most emotion where young street people who didn’t look the best or smell the best. Nick’s cousin gave the eulogy, and it made me think about my attitudes towards people. The eulogy made such an impact on me that I asked Nick’s cousin if he would permit me to publish it on my blog. He graciously gave his permission.  I would like you to read it. I hope that it makes an impact on you like it did me.

The last few years of Nick’s life were hard. Certainly harder than anything I've been through. There is no way to sugar coat it: as a homeless man in Oklahoma City, Nick suffered a lot. At Nick’s age, he should have been looking forward to an open-ended vista of possibilities. The American Dream, with all its hopes and promises, should have been tantalizing him with its optimism. And on his good days, Nick did dream of future success the way a young person should. He dreamt of getting his G.E.D. and going back to school, of making enough money to pay back everyone he had ever hurt, and of becoming a lawyer and helping people in situations like his.

But most days, Nicolas was trapped in a sense of futility. Robert Frost described an old man in a similar position in one of his poems, “The Death of the Hired Man.” Young as he was, it could easily have been Nick, Nick who lived as an illegal immigrant in his own country, barely eking out a living as a hired hand. Frost writes of him: So concerned for other folk, And nothing to look backward to with pride, And nothing to look forward to with hope, So now and never any different.

If there’s one thing that I've consistently heard from Nick’s friends and acquaintances over the years, it was that he was truly concerned for other folk. Nick did many things that he regretted, some things as innocent as stealing food to survive, and some things less easy to forgive. I don’t know what it’s like to be locked in the cycle of hopelessness that so many people living in poverty experience from day to day. I’m told that money loses value when there is never enough of it. There is a certain logic to irresponsibility in situations where human flourishing is rare and precious.

But people never lost value for Nick. Nick was a passionate believer in compassion and empathy. Nick stood in judgment over himself for his failures to do justice to people and their experiences. And he stood in judgment over me, over society and criminal justice, and over the church. The one person I never heard him criticize was his late mother, Tilly Scott, who for Nick embodied a complete and unconditional regard for the well-being of her son.

Nick went back and forth on his religious beliefs. Life on the street doesn't afford much luxury for debating academic arguments about God and theology. He didn't know what he believed, but he read his Bible regularly, and Nick seemed to genuinely feel that Christ was often more present in the homeless shelters and jail cells of Oklahoma City than in its churches. He tried many times to explain to me his belief that there is good in everyone, a source of dignity even in what most of us would consider broken and violent souls. Nick knew convicted murderers that he believed were among the most profound representatives of Christ-like compassion that you could find.

A few weeks ago the minister at my church in Virginia delivered a message on forgiveness and challenged everyone in our congregation to forgive one person that week, and to ask forgiveness from someone. Things were tense between Nick and I at the time. He’d told some fibs while trying to get my family to help him with rent money, and I was feeling pretty stern. It was a busy week for me, and I procrastinated on my homework, but finally, I told Nick that I forgave him and that supporting him was what was most important to us. He died that evening.

Because of my minister’s challenge, I have the comfort of knowing that Nick’s last words to me were of gratitude. That week, his family had chosen to love him unconditionally. He told me that it meant a lot and that he would try to do better toward us.

But what I failed to do, and what I wish I could do now, is ask Nick’s forgiveness. Not just for the times I wasn't there to help him. I want Nick’s forgiveness for being slow to learn how to see the dignity in every human being. It is always far easier to judge the homeless than to help them, even with family. On Nick’s behalf, I challenge all of us, myself included, to see the Christ in those in need. We have to go beyond feeling sorry for others and build relationships that allow us to truly understand them. Nick is no longer here for us to learn to love, but his belief in love is something we can carry on now that he is gone.

I hope that today’s talk will help you see the dignity in every human being.  If we can do that; see the dignity in every person regardless of race, gender, religion, social standing, politics, nationality; We become more like Jesus.  We become like the Jesus of John 3:16,17  For God so loved the world (all seven billion people of every possible nationality, race, religion, social standing, and sexual orientation) 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’ve always like the song, Jesus loves the little children. I’m sure you know it. “Jesus loves the little children, All the children of the world, Red and yellow, black and white; they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

In Matthew 25:40, Jesus said, "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to Me."  I have always understood that helping the "least of these" was, in reality, helping Jesus. Recently I have come to realize that when I judge or criticize people, I do it to Jesus Himself. When I talk badly about people groups, I’m talking badly about Jesus.

When God looks at His children today, he sees billions of people selfishly divided and opinionated. He sees people who were created in His image to be like Him, to love mercy and do justly and walk humbly. He sees people who claim to follow Jesus and yet can't see when He, "the least of these," needs their help.

We as Christians have been given a message to spread around the world, but we have failed. We have passed judgment on many of those around us. We say "they don't deserve the love of God; they don't deserve my time because they are no good.”

Instead of judging others, we need to look into the mirror of God’s law of love and recognize how bad we are.  James 1;23,24 says, "if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.”

We need to look into the mirror of God’s law and see ourselves as we really are instead of spending our energy judging others. When we judge or criticize people, we do it to Jesus Himself.

Let’s remember how much we are of value in God's eyes! All of us! And remember to be kind and loving to all the people in this world because of what Jesus has done for us, and the great worth He has placed on each of his children.

1 John 4:7,8  Beloved, “let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

We show our love through our actions. God has asked us to love others to help them thrive. There are so many people in this world who are failing to thrive. Are there those that we know who are failing to thrive because we are not loving them – by what we do?

Let’s remember how much we are of value in God's eyes! All of us! And remember to be kind and loving to all the people in this world because of what Jesus has done for us, and the great worth He has placed on each of his children. Seven billion people and counting. It’s a big number. But God loves them all. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Are they precious in your sight?

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Waiting Tables

My An Arkie's Faith column from the September 27, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

For several years, I have been involved with the American Cancer Society’s Celebrity Waiter Event. Celebrity Waiter is an annual fundraiser where local “celebrities” are asked to wait on guests that they have invited to the event. Money is raised for the American Cancer Society by tipping the waiters.

In the past, I have been involved in organizing the event, but this year I agreed to be a “celebrity waiter” and help my wife wait on a table. It was an eye-opening experience. I have always appreciated the waiters and waitresses that serve me when I go out to eat. But after helping with just one table of eight people, I have a new found appreciation for those who wait tables for a living. During the evening my activity tracker logged over five miles.

Waiting tables is among the most common occupations in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than two million people work as waiters and waitresses in the United States. They are a part of a food service industry that employs more than 7 million people. These people work hard to make it possible for Americans to enjoy eating out.

The term waiter, meaning a servant who waits on tables, was first used in the late 15th century in reference to household servants. By the seventeenth century, it also referred to those who worked in public inns and eating houses. Another term used for someone who waits on tables at a restaurant is server. Whatever term is used to describe someone who waits on tables, it is derived from being a servant.

Jesus talked a lot about those who serve. In Mark 10:43-45 (MEV) He said, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever among you would be greatest must be servant of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

Service to others is not a glamorous concept. Why do people choose to be a waiter or a waitress? It can be a demanding, draining job. I read a blog post by D. Conrad that told the story of life as a waiter. “I waited tables for thirty-nine years. I started out working six days a week for eleven years. Then four days a week for twenty years. The last eight years was three days a week. Each day was a nine-hour day. All days were very busy. One day my hands were hurting so bad my hips hurt my legs hurt. I just could not do it anymore. I had surgery for carpal tunnel, and shots in my spine. This job is very hard on the body. I hate not working, I loved the people and miss them.”

Why would someone want to spend their lives serving people? Is it because the job is easy? No, it’s not an easy job, but those who excel at it do so because they love serving people. I think that is what God has in mind for His children. He knows that service to others will bless us as well as the community around us. In 1 Peter 4:10 (ERV) Peter wrote, “God has shown you his grace in many different ways. So be good servants and use whatever gift he has given you in a way that will best serve each other.”

Service is a great way to put aside our selfish nature and become connected to others. When we start seeing the needs of others, it takes our focus off of ourselves. Serving others not only strengthens the bonds between us; it reflects the love of God.

As Christians, are we looking out for others the way we look out for ourselves? Do we put their needs ahead of our own? When we do serve others, we often try to serve better and harder if we serve in high-profile situations and are our efforts are noticed by others. When our service goes unnoticed, we aren’t motivated to further service. We want recognition for our service.

God made you for service, not for self-centeredness. In Philippians 2:3-7 (ESV), "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men."

Jesus modeled for us the ultimate example of serving others when He performed a task that was only done by the lowest of household servants in his day. In John 13:4,5 (NET) the Bible says that “He got up from the meal, removed his outer clothes, took a towel and tied it around himself. He poured water into the washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel he had wrapped around himself.” Jesus demonstrated his love for his disciples by serving them.

When we serve others, we demonstrate our love for them. To have a servants heart, we must be willing to do whatever needs to be done. God wants us to develop a lifestyle of service to others. Studies have shown that volunteering is so good for the mind and body that it can ease symptoms of stress and depression. Serving others can be a distraction from our own worries.

Gentle Reader, do you want to prosper and get ahead in life? Jesus said, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” Mark 9:35 (NKJV) “It is God himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus, and long ages ago he planned that we should spend these lives in helping others.” Ephesians 2:10 (TLB) To have a happy, meaningful and rewarding life we need to be of service to others. God planned it that way.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

2017 Celebrity Waiter

Local celebrities raised more than $12,000 for cancer research during the 6th annual Relay For Life of Polk County Celebrity Waiter Event held on September 16th. Lou and Denni of Mena Mountain Resort prepared a delicious meal, and 18 local celebrities waited tables for tips. The room looked beautiful as each celebrity decorated their table. The tables had themes such as Masquerade, Rosie the Riveter, 1950’s Rock and Roll, Razorbacks, Crime Scene, The Flintstones, and The Presidents featuring Donald and Melania Trump. Many of the waiter’s guests dressed according to the theme.

The local celebrity waiters who participated in the event were; John and Christy Titsworth sponsored by Arkansas Country Properties, Regina and Richard Lawry sponsored by USEM Federal Credit Union, Jim and Joyce Stroope, sponsored by Nidec, Teresa Bates, Cassondra Gortemiller, Shelly Harvey and Rebecca Whitaker sponsored by Union Bank and Smith Pallet, Brandon Martin sponsored by the Mena Police Department, Scott Sawyer sponsored by  the Polk County Sheriff’s Department, John Maddox sponsored by Maddox and Maddox, Yuri Aguilar sponsored by Tres Agaves, Heather Lackey and Tabitha Viera sponsored by Relay For Life of Polk County and Genesis Cancer Center, and Bonita and Maegan Kent.

After the meal, donated items were auctioned off by auctioneer Jimmy Martin. There was spirited bidding on the many items that had been donated to the event. Leslie Humphrey, representing the American Cancer Society, along with volunteers from outside of Polk County judged the event. The Celebrities who received the most tips were Jim and Joyce Stroope. Second place went to Regina and Richard Lawry. The award for the Best Theme was given to Bonita and Maegan Kent for The Flintstones. Second went to John Maddox for the Razorbacks. The award for Best Dressed Waiter went to Brandon Martin and his table’s Crime Scene theme. Second place was given to Teresa Bates, Cassondra Gortemiller, Shelly Harvey and Rebecca Whitaker, Heather Lackey and Tabitha Viera for the 50’s Theme. The Sneakiest Waiter award went to Jim Stroope who seemed to be at every table in the room at once. Second went to Renee Hendrix and her baby Amelia.The Most Spirited Waiter award was presented to John and Christy Titsworth for their entertaining portrayal of Donald and Melania Trump. The runners-up were Cassondra Gortemiller and Teresa Bates. The 2017 Celebrity Waiters of the Year were Regina and Richard Lawry.

Leslie Humphrey of the American Cancer Society, said, “Congratulations Mena on a wonderful and fun Celebrity Waiter. I'm so glad I was able to be a part of such an awesome event. Thank you to everyone who helped make this event so successful.” Auctioneer Jimmy Martin added, “I want to thank the Relay for Life of Polk County Arkansas for letting us do their Benefit Auction. We had a wonderful time and got to meet some wonderful people.”

All of the funds raised at the event will be donated to Relay For Life of Polk County to support the American Cancer Society. ACS saves lives by helping people stay well by preventing cancer or detecting it early; helping people get well by being there for them during and after a cancer diagnosis; by finding cures through investment in groundbreaking research; and by fighting back by rallying communities worldwide to join the fight. The American Cancer Society is the nation’s largest non-governmental investor in cancer research. As a result, over 11 million people in America who have had cancer and countless more who have avoided it will be celebrating birthdays this year.

Once a Gangster

My An Arkie's Faith column from the September 20, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I took a day trip to Hot Springs with some friends and my sister. After a wonderful lunch at La Hacienda, we toured the historic bathhouse row in Hot Springs National Park. I have visited in the past and am intrigued by the history of Hot Springs.

The first permanent settlers came to the Hot Springs area in 1807. They were quick to realize the area’s potential as a health resort. By the 1830s, log cabins and a store had been built to meet the needs of visitors to the springs. By the 1880’s bathhouses were lining the streets of Hot Springs. The health resort industry led to Hot Springs becoming known as the "American Spa."

Along with the bathhouses, there were gambling establishments. From the Roaring 20’s until the end of World War II ten major casinos and numerous smaller houses operated in Hot Springs. Hot Springs became a haven for notorious criminals and mobsters, including Owen “Owney” Madden, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, and Al Capone. Word spread that Hot Springs was the perfect hideout for criminals running from police investigations. Al Capone and his bodyguards would rent out entire floors of hotels.

During that time, Al Capone virtually owned Chicago. Capone rose to infamy as the leader of the Chicago mafia during the Prohibition era. A gangster needs a good lawyer, and Capone hired one nicknamed "Easy Eddie." Eddie's skill at legal maneuvering kept Al Capone out of jail for a long time.

Capone paid Eddie very well. He and his family occupied a fenced-in mansion with live-in help. The estate was so large that it filled an entire Chicago City block. Eddie lived the high life of the Chicago mob and paid little attention to the vicious crimes committed by his mob friends.

Easy Eddie had a son that he loved dearly. He saw to it that his son had the finest clothes, the fastest cars, and a good education. Eddie wanted his son to be a better man than he was.

One day, Eddie made a difficult decision. He decided he would go to the authorities and tell the truth about Al Capone, clean up his tarnished name, and offer his son a name with some integrity. He knew that he would have to testify against Capone, and he knew that the cost would be great, but he testified anyway. Within the year, Easy Eddie's life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago street.

In his eyes, Easy Eddie had given his son the greatest gift he had to offer, at the greatest price he could ever pay. When the police found his body, they removed from his pockets a religious medallion, and a clipping from a magazine. It read: "The clock of life is wound but once, and no man has the power to tell just when the hands will stop, at late or early hour. Now is the only time you own. Live, love, toil with a will. Place no faith in time. For the clock may soon be still."

Let’s fast forward to World War II. Lieutenant Commander Butch O'Hare was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific. One day his entire squadron was sent on a mission.

After he was airborne, he looked at his fuel gauge and realized that someone had forgotten to refuel the plane. He would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and get back to his ship. His flight leader told him to return to the carrier. He dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet. As he was returning to the ship, he saw a squadron of Japanese aircraft flying toward the American fleet.
The American fighter planes were all gone on a mission, and the fleet was defenseless. Commander O'Hare couldn't reach his squadron and bring them back in time to save the fleet. He had no way to warn the fleet of the approaching danger. He decided that he must somehow divert the Japanese planes from the fleet. With no thought for his safety, he dove into the formation of Japanese planes. His wing-mounted 50 caliber guns blazed as he charged in, attacking one surprised enemy plane and then another. Commander O'Hare wove in and out of the now broken formation and fired at as many planes as possible until his ammunition was gone.

Even though he couldn’t fire his weapons, he continued the assault. He dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail in hopes of damaging as many enemy planes as possible. Finally, the exasperated Japanese squadron took off in another direction.

Commander O'Hare and his tattered fighter plane barely made it back to the carrier. The film from the gun-camera mounted on his plane told the story. It showed the extent of his daring attempt to protect his fleet. He had, in fact, destroyed five enemy aircraft. This action took place on February 20, 1942, and because of his heroism, Lieutenant Commander Butch O'Hare became the Navy's first Ace of World War II, and the first Naval Aviator to win the Medal of Honor.

A year later Butch was killed in aerial combat at the age of 29. His home town of Chicago would not allow the memory of this WW II hero to fade. O'Hare Airport in Chicago is named for Lieutenant Commander Butch O'Hare in tribute to the courage of this great man.

Gentle Reader, Butch O'Hare was "Easy Eddie's" son. No matter what your past has been, it’s never too late to make a change. The Bible tells us about a gangster, a criminal, who made a change. “There were also two criminals led out with Jesus to be put to death.” Luke 23:32 (NCV) As he was hanging on the cross waiting to die, one of the criminals turned to Jesus and said, “‘remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus said to him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’” Luke 23:42,43 (NCV) God says, “’At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.’ Indeed, the ‘right time’ is now. Today is the day of salvation.” 2 Corinthians 6:2 (NLT)

Friday, September 15, 2017

Fearing the Storm

It seems like a day doesn't go by that someone doesn't talk to me about the condition of the world. With the recent hurricanes and fires, people seem very nervous. I have to admit that I have my concerns. My business has been slower the last few weeks.

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 and gloom are 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 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".

When our kids were little, my wife would sing to them when she was trying to get them to go to sleep.

“Rock, rock, rock, little boat on the sparkling sea, Rock, rock, rock, dear Jesus rides in thee; Rock, rock, rock, o’er the waters swiftly flee, For Jesus rides in the little boat on blue Galilee.”

While researching the Sea of Galilee, I found out that it is the lowest freshwater body of water in the world at 685 feet below sea level. It lies in the Jordan Rift, a fault zone with steep hills and mountains all around it. The Mediterranean Ocean is only 27 miles to the west.

Ocean winds funnel through passes of the hill country and down the steep hillsides. As the warm moist air rises from the Sea of Galilee, it collides with the dry, cool air from the mountain heights to the east and thunderstorms can develop over the sea.

The worst storms on the Sea of Galilee are caused when a low-pressure zone to the east causes the winds to blow down from the Golan Heights. The air compresses in the passes of the Trans-Jordan mountains and rushes down onto the Sea of Galilee which has a relatively small area of 64 square miles. The water is forced down, but has no place to go, so it pushes up into towering waves. A storm surge on the Sea of Galilee in March of 1992 sent ten-foot waves on the west side of the sea crashing into downtown Tiberias causing heavy damage to the shopping area and marina.

The Bible describes one of these severe storms on the Sea of Galilee in the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the story. The storm in the story was a serious storm that put anyone out on the sea in grave danger. But Jesus was the master of the storm. Ever since then, people facing all kinds of storms in their lives that that threaten to destroy them have found hope in Jesus because of this Bible story.

The story is found in Mark 4:35-41. “On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”

Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”

The disciples are devout men of strong principle and have a hunger for God. They are sure they know who Jesus is. They take him on board "just as he is." To them, he is a teacher and story-teller, a miracle worker and an exhausted man. He is a celebrity, someone exciting to be around. It makes them feel good to be useful to him--to sail away with him from the crowd on the shore that envies their closeness to him.

They know the Sea of Galilee like the backs of their hands. They know what it takes to sail these waters. They are out for a nice cruise this evening, certain that they are in control. Suddenly their certainties are shredded along with their sail. The storm almost kills them. They are powerless, adrift, just one gust and one wave away from drowning.

Jesus is sound asleep on a cushion in the back of the boat, oblivious to the terrible storm that is overpowering them. The disciples wake him up in panic. "Teacher, don't you care that we are perishing?" It's an odd question. Determining his state of mind about their welfare seems the least of their concerns. Something more direct would be in order like, "Help!" or "Lord, save us!"

Jesus rouses himself and tells the wind to stop. He says to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" although he may be addressing the clamoring, terrified disciples as well. After all, it was his idea to cross the lake. They aren't going to drown on his watch, but they don't know that or trust him yet.

The wind stops, and the sea calms all in an instant. The disciples are surprised, but Jesus is disappointed. He had given them the amazing catch of fish when their best efforts had come up empty. They had seen him feed the 5,000 with only five loaves of bread and two sardines. He had healed the sick and raised the dead.  But they are still focused on their needs, not on what Jesus can do.

Jesus wants our trust because our salvation depends on him and our trust connects us to his saving power.

Isaiah 12:2 (NRSV) “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.” Our salvation isn't a personal achievement. It is a gift of God, and we have to trust that even, and especially, in the midst of the storm God will save us.

The disciples are finding out that there is a lot more to their "Teacher" than good stories and food distribution. He has faced down the worst storm that they have ever experienced, and they are stunned. They have only one question now, and it is the right one -- "Who then is this, that even the wind and waves obey him?"

Having seen his power in action, the men are now more afraid of Jesus than they were afraid of the storm. "They feared exceedingly," is the way the Bible puts it in Mark 4:41. Phobos is the Greek word that Mark's Gospel uses for how the men when the witnessed Jesus calming the waves. Phobos is the root word of "phobia," an abnormal, intense, illogical fear. It is a pathological terror devastating them to the core of their very being. At that moment, they realized that Jesus was more than just a good luck charm. They thought that when Jesus was with them, surely there wouldn’t be any storms. But when they witnessed the actual power that Jesus had over the storm, they were afraid of His power.

You have to experience this for yourself to be sure, but it is the moment of conversion when you become more afraid of Jesus than the storm that threatens to destroy you. Jesus doesn't mince words on this: "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt 10:28).

We have a lot of sweet illusions about Jesus. He tells us to cross the sea. He comes to us just as we are and climbs in your boat just as he is. We sail out with the other boats. We're proud to be in his company--Jesus and us sailing off together into the sunset and he's picked our boat, not theirs! "It doesn't get any better than this--we're taking Jesus for a ride," we think. We even pride ourselves that we've got everything under control so Jesus can sleep.

Then the wind changes and blows up a storm so severe that it robs us of rational thought. The waves turn rough and hit us again and again and then recoil and crash into us from the other direction with no let-up. Our carefully constructed little vessel begins to break up and take on water. "Hello, we're sinking here," we think. "We're dying!"

We wonder, "How can he be our sailing buddy when he is asleep in the back of the boat while we are bailing hard and not keeping up?" We call out in desperation, even anger, "Teacher, don't you care that I'm drowning?"

I know that I feel that way at times. When I am going through tough times, I wonder why God is allowing these things to happen. Sometimes I feel like David in Psalms 13:1,”How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?” And in Psalms 10:1 David wrote, “why do You stand afar off, O Lord? Why do You hide in times of trouble?”

Often when we are going through tough times, others no longer seem as supportive or as friendly, an abandoned feeling leads us into the downward spiral of thinking: No one cares for me! Like David, we may then conclude: God has also abandoned me!

I have found that there’s little said or written in Christian literature about helping believers who feel abandoned by God. Why do you suppose this is? I think it is because we have been taught that Christians are not to experience such things, that we are only to have “life more abundantly” or to “live victoriously.” The dying French atheist Voltaire said, “I am abandoned by God and man.”
We aren’t surprised to hear an unbeliever say that. But if any of us should admit to such feelings, many of our friends would shake their heads, and wonder whether we are true Christians. Isn’t that true? Isn’t that the chief reason why you do not talk to other Christians about your problems?”

Jesus has promised that He will calm the storm. We forget that Jesus told us the destination and said that we would go across together. It's our perception, not his reality that has us scared, but he'll hold us and make the bad thing go away like a mother holds and comforts her child who is crying after a nightmare.

Jesus does what is necessary, but he asks hard questions --"Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" "Who then is this?" we ask, wrestling with our egos. We want to think that we are in control. If we could only know the details of how, when, where, and why, we could control the outcome.
You may think it's enough to have Jesus in your boat, but are wondering why you are still wet and cold and your boat is sinking? "Don't you care?" you ask Jesus. "Why are you afraid?" he asks you back.

It is only later when the adrenaline subsides, and your body stops quivering that you realize that Jesus does care because the storm is gone, you are alive, and he made the difference. Paul says that "the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus! (Phil 4:7). Jesus is our peace.

It isn't the boat that you are in that is going to save you. It is the Christ Jesus in you that makes all the difference.

Put yourself in the story. Do you require a clear sky and a calm sea before you venture out at Jesus' call? Are you putting your hope in a bigger boat or a water-tight hull of your own construction? Are you setting your course by the weather reports or by trusting your instincts to read the signs in the sky? Is Jesus disappointing you because your little boat seems to be sinking and he doesn't seem to care? Do you fear the storm more than you believe Jesus' instruction to cross the sea? Think about these questions because the story of Jesus calming the storm isn't about safe answers. It's a story about questions.

"Teacher, don't you care that we are perishing?" "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" "Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?" We need the answers to these questions.

Christianity is built on faith and trust in Jesus. I want to close with a story about one of the greatest tightrope-walkers of all time. His name was Blondin. He 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 on 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 there 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. Trust Him through the storms of your life and don’t be afraid.

Thank you to Kent Hansen and his e-mail subscription service, A Word of Grace for Your Monday. This article borrows from the 9/11/17 e-mail. If you would like to subscribe to Kent's e-mails, click here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Winding Stairs

My An Arkie's Faith column from the September 13, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

Our family spent a day hiking to the Winding Stairs area on the Little Missouri River over the Labor Day weekend. Winding Stairs is the name given to a series of bends and rapids causing the Little Missouri River to drop down in elevation. The rapids are formed by a narrow water gap through one of the novaculite ridges. The trail to Winding Stairs is a moderately difficult out and back trail with several river crossings. The trail is part of the Eagle Rock Loop Trail, a 26.8-mile loop through the rugged mountains of the area. Many hikers think that the Eagle Rock Loop is the best hike in the Ouachita Mountains, with its mix of rugged hills with hardwood and pines along with crystal clear streams.

Our planned destination was Raccoon Island. My granddaughters had named the spot Raccoon Island because on a previous backpacking trip to the area, a raccoon drug one of the backpacks away from the campsite. The day was perfect for hiking, partly cloudy and not too hot. The hike included several river crossings. We enjoyed wading across the river and cooling our feet. The scenery along the trail was delightful. As we neared our destination, I was fascinated by the unique rock formations in and along the river. The bluff overlooking Winding Stairs has spectacular views and is one of those places that defines Arkansas as the Natural State.

After hiking for several hours, we arrived at Raccoon Island. We took time to rest and to eat our lunch of sandwiches, grapes and trail mix. The Winding Stairs area of the Little Missouri River has several nice swimming holes, and we spent some time swimming before heading back to the trailhead. My granddaughters were having such a good time swimming that they didn’t want to leave. As we made our way back along the trail, my wife and I noticed that we no longer had the strength and stamina we had when we were younger. Although we were very fatigued by the time we made it back to the trailhead, our granddaughters seemed to have just as much energy as they had when we started our hike that morning. We were tired and sore, but it was a beautiful hike and an awesome way to spend a day with family.

When my son-in-law was planning the hike, he asked my wife and me to go along. My wife had some concerns about the difficulty of the hike. My son-in-law downplayed the difficulty of the hike and stressed the incredible beauty of the Winding Stairs area that would be our destination. He assured us that being able to see the natural beauty of the area would make the difficulty of the hiking and river crossings all worthwhile. After completing the hike, I found that even though the Winding Stairs area was breathtakingly beautiful, I enjoyed the journey as much as the destination.

It made me think about our spiritual journey. Many Christians are focused on going to heaven. That isn’t a bad thing to focus on. I want to go to heaven, and I hope that you do to. But shouldn’t my focus be on more than just mansions and streets of gold?

A friend posted the following encounter on Facebook. “Today an individual stopped me in a parking lot and asked me if I were to die today, right this very moment, do I know I would go to heaven. I took a second to gather my thoughts because I have always thought this to be a strange question; As if the entire point of the cross, the tomb, the resurrection and my salvation is going to heaven. Sure, I want to go to heaven someday, but I also want to be saved for today. I need salvation to be the father and husband that my kids and wife need. I need salvation to be a good teacher. I need salvation to preach the gospel. I need salvation to love my neighbor and enemies alike. I have had a lot of life to live since I was saved. Sure, heaven is in the mix, but right now life is what is on my mind. When I talk to the lost, life seems to be their immediate concern as well. Perhaps we need a different question when sharing our faith. Perhaps we should talk about living because life is ultimately what Jesus gave.”

Instead of presenting the gospel as something that will yield a future benefit we need to present it as something that has already benefited. Something that benefits us now. The rewards of the gospel are present tense not future tense. This changes faith from being something that we are rewarded for to a way we express gratitude.

Back in the 70’s, one of my favorite music artists was Evie. She sang a song that was titled, “If Heaven Never Was Promised to Me.” Here are some of the lyrics. “You may ask me: Why do you serve the Lord? Is it just for heaven's gain? Or to walk those mighty streets of gold? And to hear the angels sing? Is it just to drink from the fountain that never shall run dry? Or just to live forever, ever and ever in that sweet all by and by? But if heaven never was promised to me. Neither God's promise to live eternally. It's been worth just having the Lord in my life. Living in a world of darkness, but He brought me the light.”

The promise of heaven and eternal life is awesome, but God loves us and wants us to love Him now. He wants a relationship with us now not just the promise of one in the future.

Gentle Reader, Jesus wants to be with you. Revelation 3:20 (NKJV) tells us, “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.” This promise is present tense. Jesus wants to come in now. He wants to be with you now. He has prepared a place for you in heaven, but He wants to be with you now, not just later in heaven.  He wants to give you a rich and satisfying life. He wants to do it now! In John 10:10 (NKJV) Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Studebaker XUV

Not long ago I discovered that there were plans to reintroduce the Studebaker nameplate in 2004. The Avanti Motor Corporation acquired the rights to use the Studebaker name on a large luxury sport utility vehicle, the XUV.

The XUV was the vision of Michael Kelly, an entrepreneur with one-time business interests in auto body shops, van conversions, ethanol fuel additives, Mexico resorts, raceways and family fun parks. He bought the Avanti Motor Corporation in 1986, sold it in 1988, and bought it again in 2001.

The Studebaker XUV was introduced to the public at the Chicago Auto Show on Feb. 13, 2003. The XUV was posed by some rugged-looking rocks in a small Avanti Motor Corporation display. The vehicle was a last ditch attempt by the struggling Avanti Motor Corporation to cash in on the booming SUV market.

The company brochures stated that it was, "the first Studebaker produced in 37 years, it boasts an unbeatable blend of tradition and technology. The Studebaker XUV (which stands for “Xtreme Utility Vehicle”) has a starting price of $75,000 and includes many luxury features. The XUV is the first vehicle of its kind to offer rear sliding doors, and it comes standard with a retractable rear top that completely opens up the back of the vehicle."

"This is not your ordinary SUV. Our Studebaker XUV is a vehicle for those who want to drive and experience something different," said Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the Avanti Motor Corporation Gwen Beem. "During the first model year we expect to produce approximately 150 of these vehicles. The Studebaker XUV provides a great mix of functionality and unique style."

The company planned to build the Avanti Studebaker XUV on a Ford Super Duty pickup frame. The XUV was supposed to be powered by either a 310hp version of the Ford 6.8L Triton V-10 or a 325hp version of the 6.0L Ford Power Stroke diesel. As far as I could find out, there was never a drivable prototype produced. The Chicago Auto Show vehicle was a non-operational mule with no interior.

Production of the Studebaker XUV hit a snag almost immediately. When they introduced the vehicle at the Chicago Auto Show, GM noticed it's similarity to the GM owned Hummer H2. They took the Avanti Motor Corporation to court, seeking a permanent injunction barring it from producing a sport-utility similar to GM's highly recognizable Hummer H2. "GM won't allow others to profit from and capitalize upon the enormous popularity and goodwill developed in the Hummer H2 by copying its trade dress," said Chuck Ellerbrock, the GM trademark attorney who managed the litigation. The case was settled out of court with Avanti agreeing to make minor changes to the Studebaker. The lawsuit generated quite a bit of free publicity, but the XUV never got beyond the prototype stage.

On Oct. 27, 2006, Avanti Motors hosted a gala celebration for more than 200 guests to inaugurate the company's all-new manufacturing facilities in Cancun, Mexico. The nearly 100,000 sq ft Avanti industrial complex included a 65,000 sq ft production facility, a new separate building for fiberglass production, a new purpose-built CNC and engineering room with research and development areas, plus a 10,000 sq ft Avanti showroom with an upstairs area housing an Avanti/Studebaker museum and offices.

It looked like Avanti might have a new lease on life, but the owner, Michael Kelly, was arrested in December 2006 by the FBI for operating what the Justice Department alleged was a $400 million real estate Ponzi scheme. Avanti Motors folded in 2007, according to Consumer Guide Automotive. The Chicago Tribune reported that Kelly spent six years in custody before pleading guilty to a single fraud charge in December 2012.

There are rumors that one or more of the three prototypes produced might still be in existence in Cancun, Mexico. That would be an amazing barn find!