Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Locked Out

My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 30, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

The phone rang, and when I answered it the voice on the other end of the line sounded a bit distressed. “Do you remember me? You put a windshield in my pickup a few months ago,” she explained. “I do remember you,” I said. “Well, I didn’t know who else to call,” she said, “I have locked my keys in my truck. Can you help me?” I told her that It would be a few minutes before I could get away from my shop, but that I would come out as soon as I could and see if I could get into her truck.

When I arrived, I got out the special tools that I have for getting into locked vehicles. I have two car antenna masts that I have adapted to use for breaking into vehicles. One of the antennas is straight with a slight curve to it, and the other one has a sharp right angle bend at the bottom and ends in a sharp point. After prying the top of the door away from the top, I was able to thread the straight antenna through the gap and try to use it to press down on the door lock button. After trying unsuccessfully for quite some time, I decided that I would have to try another method.

It was much more difficult, but I was finally able to pry the door away from the windshield post just enough to get the antenna with the right angle bend through the opening. When I was able to get the sharp point up against the door lock lever, I tried giving it a quick yank, but the point slipped off. After several tries, I finally succeeded in getting the door unlocked. My customer was very happy to be able to get her purse, keys, and phone out of the truck.

As I was driving back to my shop, I thought about how strange it was that for the third time in a month I had been asked to help someone get into their vehicle after they had accidentally locked their keys inside. An acquaintance had locked his keys in his pickup while he was at the veterinary clinic across the street from my shop. In a short while, I was able to get the door open on his pickup, and he was able to get back home.

A couple of weeks later, a longtime friend called and said that she left her little dog in the car for a minute while she was talking to someone and the dog jumped on the door panel and stepped on the door lock button. She couldn’t get in the car to go home, and she was worried about her dog. I grabbed my trusty homemade tools for breaking into vehicles and drove out to where she was locked out of her car. In a few minutes, she was back in her car and reunited with her little dog. The next afternoon, she came by my shop with a beautiful homemade pie. It was delicious.

Have you ever been locked out of your car or house? It’s not a pleasant experience. Although I have been locked out several times over the years, I don’t worry about locking the keys in the car that we have now. It has a safeguard system that won’t allow the doors to lock if it detects that the keys are in the vehicle. 

The Bible talks about locked doors in Revelation chapter 3. Eugene Peterson in his translation, The Message, refers to Jesus as “opening doors no one can lock, locking doors no one can open.” Revelation 3:7 (MSG) The passage goes on to say in verse 8, “I see what you’ve done. Now see what I’ve done. I’ve opened a door before you that no one can slam shut.” No one can lock you out of heaven. No one can keep you from the presence of Jesus.

Since Jesus has opened a door that no one can shut, surely everyone will be saved. It is what Jesus wants. 2 Peter 3:9 (NKJV) tells us that Jesus is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” Jesus doesn't want you to perish, but you have to believe in Him and repent to be saved. Jesus made it as clear as He could when He was talking to Nicodemus. He explained it this way. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” John 3:16-18 (NKJV)

God isn’t willing for anyone to perish but tells us that he who does not believe is condemned already. Even though Jesus has opened a door that no one can shut and has made a way for every one of us to escape condemnation; we still have to believe and enter through the door. Jesus puts it this way in Revelation 3:20 (NLT), “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.”

Gentle Reader, these words of Jesus are so beautiful. He is expressing His desire to be with us. He is not only knocking, but He is calling to us. The question is, will we open the door and invite Him in? To be locked in is as bad as being locked out. Bob Hartman of the band Petra wrote these beautiful words; “Jesus is holding out His love to you. But He made it so that you have to choose. How can you walk away empty again? When you know that you've got nothing to lose. Ask Him in – He loves you – Ask Him in.”

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Memorial Day

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

A local hero that we remember on Memorial Day is Herbert A. Littleton.

Littleton was a United States Marine who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for falling on a grenade during the Korean War.

He was born on July 1, 1930, in Mena, Arkansas. He enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve on July 29, 1948, for a one-year term. After the outbreak of the Korean War, Littleton reenlisted in the Marine Corps. He went to Korea with the 3rd Replacement Draft, fighting in South and Central Korean operations from December 17, 19,50 until his death.

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

At the Polk County Courthouse here in Mena, Arkansas there is a Polk County War Memorial that honors the fallen. The names of the Polk County citizens who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country are engraved on it.

Here are the names as they are engraved on the Memorial.

On this Memorial Day, I will remember the men and women, such as Herbert A. Littleton and all the rest of those whose names are engraved on the Polk County War Memorial, who died while serving their country. Thank You to our men and women who served, are serving, and especially those who sacrificed their lives.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Little Gray Kitten

My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 23, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

The little gray kitten was nowhere to be found. Two grown men were crawling on the dirty shop floor, looking under the dozen or so old cars stored there. Car parts, toys, and tires were stacked all around the cars. There were many many places for a tiny kitten to hide. How would they ever find the little gray kitten?

A half-hour earlier, a customer had come into my shop for a windshield repair. As I worked on the windshield, the customer opened the liftgate of the SUV so it would not get too hot. In the back was a tiny kitten in a cardboard carrier. When the job was finished, the customer was ready to close the liftgate. He noticed a hole in the carrier and saw that the kitten was missing. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the little gray kitten streaking into the building full of old cars. He hurried into the building as he asked me to help him find the kitten.

I’m sure that it was quite a sight to see two men crawling on the floor and looking under cars. “Here kitty, kitty, kitty. Here kitty, kitty, kitty.” We looked under car after car with no luck. Where could that little kitten be? There were so many places to look. “Here kitty, kitty, kitty. Here kitty, kitty, kitty.” Finally, we heard a feeble little “meow.” We couldn’t see anything, but at least we knew the general direction to look in. After several more minutes, I spotted a flash of gray behind a large piece of cardboard.

We now knew exactly where the little gray kitten was. We quietly and carefully positioned ourselves so that the kitten couldn’t escape. As we closed in, the little kitten tried to shoot past me. I was able to reach out and catch the tiny gray body as it tried to get past me. At first, the kitten struggled; but as I held the tiny body close to my chest, it calmed down and seemed to want to melt into me. The customer was very relieved to get the little gray kitten back into the carrier. Now he could get the kitten safely home.

As I was trying to retrieve the little gray kitten, I thought, “doesn’t the kitten know it is not in it’s best interest to hide from us?” If the owner isn’t there to take care of the kitten, how will it eat? Who will protect it? It reminded me of a story found in the Bible.

From the beginning, God walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. But one day everything changed. They had disobeyed God, and they knew it. Adam and Eve hid from God because they were afraid. In their shame, they could not face God as he came to walk with them. “When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. Then the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’” Genesis 3:8,9 (NLT)

Why were Adam and Eve trying to hide from God? They were afraid. Just like the little gray kitten was frightened and ran into the building to find a place to hide, Adam and Eve were afraid and wanted to hide. What were Adam and Eve afraid of? Had God ever given them a reason to fear Him? They knew that they had disobeyed and were sure they were in trouble. But the Bible tells us that “there is no fear in love; perfect love drives out all fear. So then, love has not been made perfect in anyone who is afraid, because fear has to do with punishment.” 1 John 4:18 (GNT)

We may be tempted to run and hide from God when we sin against Him, but we must realize that God’s desire is for us to draw close to Him. In Romans 5:9 (TPT), Paul tells us that “Christ proved God’s passionate love for us by dying in our place while we were still lost and ungodly!” That doesn’t sound like someone we need to hide from or be afraid of.

Maybe we hide because we’ve done something wrong and don’t want to get in trouble. Or maybe it’s because we don’t want to feel guilty about something we’ve done. But God says, “I am watching them closely, and I see every sin. They cannot hope to hide from me.” Jeremiah 16:17 (NLT)

We hide because we don’t want to have to come to terms with God’s authority over us and our lives. We want to do what we want to do, and if we encounter God, we might have to let Him be in charge. So, we do our best to hide from Him.

Gentle Reader, if we truly believe that when God allows us to face the consequences, it’s for our good, then we won’t be afraid to face Him when we’ve done something wrong. If we truly believe that with God in control, our lives would be much better, we won’t be afraid of Him. 1 John 1:9 (KJV) tells us that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And Psalms 103:12 (NIRV) assures us that God “has removed our sins from us. He has removed them as far as the east is from the west.” God “is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” 2 Peter 3:9 (NLT) God wants to save you more than anything else in the world. Don’t be afraid like the little gray kitten, but allow God to rescue you. You will be glad you did.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

My Most Unforgettable Character

My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 16, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

When I was a young boy, I used to eagerly read the “My Most Unforgettable Character” story each month in the Reader’s Digest. I read the Reader’s Digest from cover to cover, but I always looked forward to reading “My Most Unforgettable Character.” In real life, my most unforgettable character is my cousin LeRoy.

When he was thirty-four years old, a car accident left LeRoy paralyzed from the waist down. His chances of survival were not good for the first few days. After a few weeks, doctors inserted stainless steel rods in his back to stabilize his spinal column. The accident left him with constant, excruciating pain for many years, until an experimental laser surgery relieved ninety percent of his pain. He was told that at best he had fifteen years to live, but he proved the doctors wrong, living an amazing life; remaining very active until shortly before passing away at the age of eighty-three.

LeRoy lived life on his terms, far exceeding the expectations for a person with paraplegia. His freedom and independence were very important to him. For many years he refused to be tied down to driving with hand controls. He didn’t even want to drive an automatic. To him, it was like admitting defeat. He would drive a manual transmission by using a cut off shovel handle in each hand, leaning forward into the steering wheel with his chest. Over the years he drove hundreds of thousands of miles across the United States, searching for car parts, pulling cars on tow dollies and trailers, and visiting family and friends along the way.

One of my favorite stories about LeRoy’s driving happened when he was driving a Mazda RX-7 cross-country to deliver it to California. As he was driving across Arizona, the road was straight, and you could see for miles. The was no traffic, and LeRoy liked to drive fast. He had the cruise control set at 110 mph. LeRoy never saw the cop, but the cop saw him and pulled him over for speeding. When LeRoy handed the cop his driver’s license, the cop noticed that the license was for hand controls only. He asked LeRoy about it, and LeRoy showed him the sawed-off shovel handles that he used to press the pedals. The cop just shook his head and told him to slow it down a bit and let him go on his way.

Not all patrolmen were as understanding. For several years whenever LeRoy was driving between Hot Springs and Little Rock, he avoided Highway 70 and drove 20 miles out of his way to avoid that section of highway. He had a couple of encounters with a hard line patrolman who had no mercy for the fact that LeRoy drove without hand controls. The last time he stopped LeRoy, the cop wasn’t going to let LeRoy leave because he didn’t have hand controls. As LeRoy politely conversed about the situation with the cop, the cop said, “I should just take you to jail.” LeRoy answered, “why don’t you just do that. I’ve got nothing I have to do, and I could use a place to stay and three meals a day.” When the cop couldn’t get ahold of anyone to impound LeRoy’s car, he let him go but said, “if I ever catch you again I will send you to jail.” LeRoy must have believed him because for several years he would not drive on that stretch of road.

LeRoy spent many years in Mena and was a big part of our family’s lives. He spent much of his time while he was in Mena at my shop. He loved to be involved with cars. In the days before the internet, LeRoy was the internet for many of us in the car business. He had a little black book of contact information for most of the salvage yards in the Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas area. He would find, order and pick up parts for me, my Dad, my uncle, and many other friends in the Mena area. He knew just about anyone who was in the car business in Mena and offered his services to anyone. Many days I saw him sit in my shop and spend the entire day on the phone with salvage yards hunting parts.

Recently, a mutual friend told me the story of the first time he met LeRoy. My friend had a body shop in Mena and rebuilt a lot of wrecks. He had just purchased a car in Dallas and asked my Dad if he knew anyone who would be willing to haul the car to Mena. My Dad said that he had a cousin who would probably be able to get the car. My friend talked to LeRoy on the phone and made the arrangements for him to pick up the car. When Leroy pulled up in front of my friend’s shop with the car, he got out and was unloading the car off of the trailer. My friend had no idea that LeRoy was in a wheelchair when he had hired him to pick up the car. It was a big surprise to see a man in a wheelchair unloading the trailer. He went outside and asked LeRoy if he needed help getting the car off the trailer. LeRoy answered matter of factly, “no, I’ve got it.”

In all of the time that I spent with LeRoy over the years, I never once heard him complain about his situation. It seems to me that James 1:12 (NIV) was written especially for LeRoy; “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” Hebrews 12:1 (KJV) asks us to “run with patience the race that is set before us.” LeRoy's life is an example of doing just that.

Gentle Reader, whenever things are a bit tough and aren’t going the way I would like them to, I always think about LeRoy and how he handled the challenges that life gave him. His optimism and cheerfulness in the face of very difficult situations impressed me. Like Job, he seemed to say, “I decided to forget my complaints, to put away my sad face and be cheerful.” Job 9:27 (NLT) His determination to do things for himself and not be a burden to others was evident to anyone who knew him. I’m sure that I am not the only person who counts LeRoy as their most unforgettable character.

After LeRoy's memorial, an old college friend of his wrote; "LeRoy would stop in to see me as I moved around the country, I visited him in the rehab a few weeks before he died. Upbeat to the end. Every time after a visit I had the same prayer, "Lord, forgive me for complaining about ANYTHING."

Monday, May 14, 2018

LeRoy Earl Borton

This eulogy, written by Linda Borton McCabe, was read by Tom Borton at LeRoy Borton's memorial held on Sunday, May 13, 2018, in Keene, Texas

LeRoy Earl Borton was born at home on January 22, 1934, in Ava, Missouri, to John Borton and Jessie Reeve Borton, and passed to his rest on October 21, 2017, in Athens, TN, at the age of 83.

As the firstborn of five children, he spent his growing up years on farms in Missouri and Michigan, where he developed an early love for cars, trucks, tractors, and anything motorized. He began driving farm trucks almost before he could see over the dashboard, and it was said that if a truck came down the road and you could not see anyone behind the wheel, it was probably LeRoy.

Those were hard years, but living on the farm and growing a large garden enabled them to always have enough to eat, as well as having lots to keep him and his 3 brothers and one sister busy.

LeRoy attended high school at Adelphian Academy in Michigan and Sunnydale Academy in Missouri, followed by a year at Union College in Lincoln, NE. He then finished his degree in chemistry at Madison College near Nashville, where he and his classmates were known for their practical jokes. Including one very famous water fight that started with syringes being poked through the flimsy wall between the hospital darkroom and the X-Ray department, to spray unsuspecting people, but which ended with buckets of water being thrown and a LOT of water on the X-Ray department floor.

While in school, he and a few friends pooled their money to buy a boat to use on the nearby Cumberland River. It took all their spare time to keep it running—in fact, they spent more time working on it than riding in it, and in keeping with their chosen field, they named it the “Bloody Corpuscle”

After graduating in 1957 as a Lab and X-Ray technician, now with a wife and brand-new baby girl to support, LeRoy took a job in El Campo, TX. But within a year or so, he was recruited by a group of doctors to run the lab in their clinic up in north-east TX—in the little town of Paris. A tiny 2-bedroom bungalow was purchased for the growing family—which soon included another daughter and then after that, a son.

LeRoy freelanced on the side by doing lab work on weekends for some small hospitals in neighboring rural counties, which had no weekend staff in their labs. The specimens would be packed up and put on the bus that ran between towns. LeRoy would go to the bus station and pick them up, take them to his lab and run the tests that were needed. These were the days when frogs lived in the lab refrigerator to be used as pregnancy tests—which was a huge medical advancement over the rabbits that had been required when he was in school.

Life was good, and with a growing family needing more space, property was purchased and cleared just outside of town, and a modest brick rancher took the place of the tiny bungalow.

Then on July 8, 1968, everything changed. On a family vacation to California, a mechanical malfunction caused the car to skid off the road and roll 2 ½ times, tossing the family around like rag dolls and ending LeRoy’s walking career on the side of the road, north of Flagstaff, AZ. He was just 34 years old.

Trauma medicine, especially following a spinal cord injury, was not what it is now, and his chances of survival were not good for the first few days. After a few weeks, surgery was done to insert stainless steel rods in his back to stabilize his very jumbled spinal column, and a few months after that he was sent to rehab, to learn to make the best of what muscles he had left and to figure out what to do with the 15 short years he was told was all he could expect out of life.

Braces from shoe to waist could stiffen his legs so he could stand, and crutches could help him move along with a lurching, dragging motion, but LeRoy quickly decided that they were not worth the energy, and to focus on developing his strengths—his arm and shoulders. His grip strength was legendary, and all the way into his 70’s, he could still get out of his chair, down to the ground and back up again all by himself.

Once home, the first order of business was to get a car with hand controls so he could drive again since no one wanted to put up with his backseat driving. Unable to return to his job, partly because the countertops were all too high for him to reach, and partly because the phantom pain he was left with was constant and excruciating, the family began searching for a solution to the pain that didn’t involve narcotics. LeRoy used to say that the pain in his legs was caused by his back but was actually all in his head since his legs could have been amputated and it still would have felt to him that they were in pain.

The staff at a natural treatment facility near Chattanooga, TN discovered that putting ice on the site of the spinal cord injury cooled the damaged nerves enough so he could sleep without pain meds, so for 15 years—until an experimental laser surgery relieved 90% of his pain—he slept on frozen ice packs every night. But during the day, he needed something to keep his mind off how badly he was hurting, so he went back to his first love—fixing cars and making things run.

The small community in TN where they now lived had plenty of cars that needed fixing, so LeRoy could always be found up under the hood or down on the ground underneath a car, asking the nearest person, young or old, to hand him this or that tool. A couple generations of adolescents and teenagers learned how to change brakes, starters and alternators under LeRoy’s watchful eye. And if the bolt wouldn’t budge, he was known to say “Am I going to have to get down there and do that?” which would result in extra struggling and grunting and hopefully success on the part of the often skinny and usually very young apprentice.

When it came to anything motorized, LeRoy had great troubleshooting skills. He could listen to an engine and diagnose a problem, and could usually figure out a way to fix it. Once his kids had left the nest, he remained on call as their “dial-a-mechanic”. They would call from a pay phone from several states away and he would say “Well, I can’t tell you for sure but I think it might be…” and he was usually right! Rarely did he have to personally go rescue them, since he had taught them to do basic mechanics on their own, but he once drove all night from New Hampshire to Scranton, PA to get his 17 and 19-year-old daughters back on the road when the lug bolts sheared and the wheel came off a trailer load of apples they were hauling to West Virginia.

Speaking of driving, LeRoy put on tens of hundreds of thousands of miles, crisscrossing the country, searching for car parts, pulling cars and pieces of cars behind him on tow dollies and trailers and visiting family and friends along the way. His adventures on the open road were many. From chasing and retrieving a spare that got away as he was changing a tire—alone—on the side of the road, to descending a flight of stairs one-by-one, dragging his chair behind him, when he ended up on the second story and no one was available to help him down and he was ready to leave. He refused to believe that there was anything he couldn’t figure out how to do, with a little ingenuity and some time.

Coming from large, close family, LeRoy had over 40 first cousins, so nearly everywhere he went, he had family or friends he could stop in and see. And since he loved collecting and then passing on all the latest news and gossip, LeRoy was facebook before facebook was even thought of! It was a family joke that he would go out of his way across 3 states to visit even a shirttail relative. LeRoy loved his friends and family.

There were two things that LeRoy had. He had a huge heart and he also had a very hard head.  From driving all night from OK to TN to make sure a teenager got to say goodbye to her dying grandfather to going out of his way to deliver cars, rototillers, woodchippers and lawn tractors to his family and friends all over the country, he was willing to go the extra mile to help someone in need.

But he had his flaws as well, and his hard head could make life interesting for those closest to him. His freedom and independence were of primary importance to him, and as he often said (and lived it as well) “LeRoy is not going to do what LeRoy doesn’t want to do”! He lived life on his own terms, far outliving the expectations for a paraplegic, but in the last few years as injuries began to limit his mobility and independence more and more, it was hard for him. And once the doctor told him he had cancer, with no chance of a cure, he told her “It’s time for me to go”, and 18 hours later he was gone. Still on his own terms to the very end.

He leaves behind, to miss his huge heart, three surviving siblings—Tom, Clyde and Myrtle, three children—Loni, Linda and John, four grandsons and one great-granddaughter. Plus a lot of cousins, nieces, nephews and friends. He will be missed.

Friday, May 11, 2018

A Gentle God

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

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

One story in the book caught my attention. I want to share the story with you. While the schoolkids were on their way home from school, Felix has some exciting news. "Jerry Cowan told me at recess this afternoon that he had seen a picture of God–that he has it at home in an old, red-covered history of the world, and has looked at it often."

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

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

L. M. Montgomery described the scene this way. "Cecily," said Felicity in a hushed tone. "You are the best of us all. You open the parcel." "Oh, I'm no gooder than the rest of you," breathed Cecily, "but I'll open it if you like."

With trembling fingers, Cecily opened the parcel. We stood around, hardly breathing. She unfolded it and held it up. We saw it. Suddenly Sara began to cry. "Oh, oh, oh, does God look like that?” she wailed.

Felix and I spoke not. Disappointment and something worse sealed our speech. Did God look like that–like that stern, angrily frowning old man with the tossing hair and beard of the wood-cut Cecily held? "I suppose He must since that is His picture," said Dan miserably. "He looks awful cross," said Peter simply. "Oh, I wish we'd never, never seen it," cried Cecily.

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

When they showed the picture to the Story Girl, she said, "Surely you don't believe God looks like that. He doesn't–He couldn't. He is wonderful and beautiful. I'm surprised at you. That is nothing but the picture of a cross old man." Hope sprang up in our hearts, although we were not wholly convinced.

"I don't know," said Dan dubiously. "It says under the picture 'God in the Garden of Eden.' It's printed." "Well, I suppose that's what the man who drew it thought God was like," answered the Story Girl carelessly. "But he couldn't have known any more than you do. He had never seen Him."
"It's all very well for you to say so," said Felicity, "but you don't know either. I wish I could believe that isn't like God–but I don't know what to believe."

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

The children decided to ask their minister about this disturbing picture. Felix was sent to ask him while the rest of them remained in the background but within hearing. "Well, Felix, what is it?" asked Mr. Marwood kindly.

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

The minister looked at the picture. A stern expression came into his gentle blue eyes, and he got as near to frowning as it was possible for him to get. "Where did you get that thing?" he asked. Thing! We began to breathe easier.

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

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

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

God has been a victim of character assassination. Unfortunately, it is not just his enemies who do this work; it is also people who claim to serve and follow him.

Character assassination is an attempt to tarnish a person's reputation. It may involve exaggeration or manipulation of facts to present a misleading picture of the person. Such acts are often difficult to reverse or rectify, and the process is compared to a literal assassination. The damage can last a lifetime or, for historical figures, for many centuries after their death.

In practice, character assassination may involve double speak, spreading of rumors, innuendo or deliberate misinformation on topics relating to the subject's morals, integrity, and reputation. It may include spinning information that is technically correct, but that is presented misleadingly or without the necessary context.

It seems like character assassination has become commonplace. I know that I have been a victim. We live in a culture that revolves around putting people down in any manner possible. Politics seems like nothing but character assassination. Each politician or pundit tries to smear the opposing side. In Leviticus 19:16 God tells his people “Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people.” Although gossip and character assassination are commonplace, a Christian should be involved with them.

Character assassination is a serious issue, but there is a type of character assassination that is even more serious; the assassination of God’s character.

The first time we find character assassination in the Bible is in Genesis Chapter 3. There Satan, disguised as a beautiful serpent, tells Eve half-truths and lies and gets her to believe them instead of what God has told her.

Satan invented character assassination. We know that he used it in heaven. He was so good at it that he convinced one-third of the angels to believe him instead of God. It is the method that he uses to separate people from God. Ellen White wrote, “It is Satan's constant effort to misrepresent the character of God.  At the same time, he causes men to cherish false conceptions of God so that they regard Him with fear.” We want to make sure that we aren’t working for him by giving people the wrong idea about God’s character. It can happen to even the best Christians.

If we claim to speak for God, we must not misrepresent the kind of God he is. There is nothing more serious than to picture God as he does not wish to be seen. We must be careful with how we picture God to others.

Do you portray a harsh, demanding God or a loving God? Are you presenting a picture of God that will please Him? We want to make sure that we aren’t a part of the character assassination of God.

We know that the Bible says God is love. 1 John 4:7,9 (NLT) "Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love."

God = Love. In algebra, we have the rule of symmetry: If a=b,  then b=a. So if God=Love, then Love=God. With that in mind, turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 13 and read verses 4-7. "Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance."

Now since Love=God, replace love in the passage with God. God is patient and kind. God is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. He does not demand His own way. He is not irritable, and He keeps no record of being wronged. God does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. God never gives up, He never loses faith, He is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

What a beautiful picture of God. Is that the picture of God you are presenting to your friends and neighbors?

The most common smear on God’s character that I hear is that he will torture people for eternity. Most Christians believe that God is in the business of torturing people and is doing so as we speak.
Jonathan Edwards, who is called America’s greatest theologian, once gave a sermon entitled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Edward’s sermons and writings helped fuel the Great Awakening of the 1730’s and 1740’s. His “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon is probably the most famous sermon in American history.

That sermon was a call for repentance, and he argued that those who refuse to repent will suffer unimaginable eternal torment. Here is an excerpt from that sermon. "'Tis everlasting Wrath. It would be dreadful to suffer this Fierceness and Wrath of Almighty God one Moment; but you must suffer it to all Eternity: there will be no End to this exquisite horrible Misery: When you look forward, you shall see a long Forever, a boundless Duration before you, which will swallow up your Thoughts, and amaze your Soul; and you will absolutely despair of ever having any Deliverance, any End, any Mitigation, any Rest at all; you will know certainly that you must wear out long Ages, Millions of Millions of Ages, in wrestling and conflicting with this almighty merciless Vengeance; and then when you have so done, when so many Ages have actually been spent by you in this Manner, you will know that all is but a Point to what remains. So that our Punishment will indeed be infinite. Oh, who can express what the State of a Soul in such Circumstances is! All that we can possibly say about it gives but a very feeble faint Representation of it; it is inexpressible and inconceivable: for who knows the Power of God’s Anger?"

He goes on to say, "The God that holds you over the Pit of Hell, much as one holds a Spider, or some loathsome Insect, over the Fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked;  his Wrath towards you burns like Fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the Fire;

O, Sinner! Consider the fearful Danger you are in: 'Tis a great Furnace of Wrath, a wide and bottomless Pit, full of the Fire of Wrath, that you are held over in the Hand of that God, whose Wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you as against many of the Damned in Hell: You hang by a slender Thread, with the Flames of divine Wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder."

Is Jonathan Edward’s depiction of God one that attracts you? In John 12:22 Jesus says, “if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” And in John 14:9 he says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” The depiction of God as a tyrant who is so angry that he is compelled to torture his victims for eternity just doesn’t fit with the merciful, longsuffering loving God that I find depicted in the Bible

I can understand why God might ultimately decide to destroy those who refuse to repent and accept his plan of salvation. What else could he do? Those people would bring ruin to his paradise of believers if allowed into heaven, and they would only spiral downward into greater and greater misery if allowed to live forever in their own pride. To some extent, it is merciful to destroy them, and we know that God is a God of mercy.

Also, God is a God of justice, and his nature would require that those who sin and also rejected his plan of salvation must in some way pay retribution for those sins.

But there is an immense difference between destruction and the eternal torment described by Jonathan Edwards. I can’t understand why God would decide to torment a person without end. With no hope of rehabilitation, what purpose would it serve? The assertion that God will assign some people to eternal torment seems to contradict the claim that He is purely and infinitely loving. It is not the action of a gentle God.

Unfortunately, most of Christianity still buys into Jonathan Edwards view of God’s character. Although we as a church do not teach that you will burn forever in hell, I have met Adventists who want to focus on the wrath of God. They teach that I should be afraid of God. I recently read an article by one of these Adventist authors that stated, “For the sake of our own souls we need to get rid of gentle Jesus meek and mild and look for the one who turned over the tables and cleared the temple.”

Today I want to lift up a gentle God. In Matthew 11:29 Jesus describes himself this way. “Accept my teachings and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives.” And in John 14:9  he says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

Why would Jesus describe himself as gentle? I think we find the key in 1 John 4:18 ESV, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”

Jesus doesn’t want us to fear Him. God doesn’t want us to fear Him. Jesus wants to be our friend.
John 15:15 “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.”  A servant is afraid of his master, but a real friendship should not involve fear. Jesus wants to be our friend and to dispel our fears. He wants to cast out fear.

I’m not saying that there are no consequences. There is a judgment. Galatians 6:7-8 tells us; “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”

There will be those who are afraid of God.  Revelation 6:14-16 “Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place. And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!’”

Even though there will be people who are afraid of God, it is not what he wants. 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that God “is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

Does God use fear as a tactic to lead us to repent? Many Christian preachers and writers use fear. Even Adventist preachers and writers have been known to use fear as a motivator. 

There’s no room whatever for appealing to fear. But I’ve heard Adventist preachers doing their level best to instill fear. Scaring their listeners with the Time of Trouble, a coming apostasy, spiritual formation, etc. They know that the fearful are afraid of the devil, so they focus more on the devil’s power than on God’s power and neglect to note that the devil has already been beaten.

Fear also spills over into our outreach efforts: “We have to warn the world of the Second Coming.” Shouldn’t it rather be our privilege to announce to the world the Good News that Jesus is almost here? To tell people that we can all be ready because of what He’s already done before we were even born? That if we daily choose Him, we have nothing to fear?

There is no doubt that the world, and we in the church need to come to repentance, But does God use fear as a way to motivate us?

The Bible says in Romans 2:4, "Do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?"

What leads us to repentance? What brings us to confess? Is it fear? Is it to avoid hell? Is it to gain the rewards of heaven? No. We are led to repentance by the kindness of God. When we experience God’s kindness and feel his love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness, it makes us want to love him.  When we love God, we want to please him; we want Him to live in us and work through us.

Seeing his kindness towards us makes us sorry for the things we have done to hurt him. It leads us to repentance.  Seeing God’s kindness towards us makes us want to be like him and show compassion to our fellow human beings.

Many times in the New Testament God is referred to as the God of peace. Dozens of times New Testament writers use the greeting, peace to you or grace and peace to you.

Jesus came into the world bringing peace. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’” Luke 2:13-14

One of the last things that he said to his followers is found in John 14:27. “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

Because Jesus came to this earth, we can have peace with God. Romans 5:1 tells us that since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, God is the God of peace; God is the God of love. God is not the God of fear. Fear and love are at war with one another. We cannot, on the one hand, proclaim the all-encompassing love of God, and on the other hand—whether consciously or subconsciously—drown ourselves with worry that we are beyond the reach of His compassion and doomed to eternal punishment.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:16,17

Ellen White wrote, “God does not bid you fear that He will fail to fulfill His promises, that His patience will weary, or His compassion be found wanting. Fear to trust your own strength, fear to withdraw your hand from the hand of Christ and attempt to walk life’s pathway without His abiding presence.”

God doesn’t want you to fear Him; he wants to save you. But there is something that you should fear. Fear to trust in your own strength.

Let’s each one of us do some soul searching today. Do you portray a harsh, demanding God or a loving, gentle God? Are you presenting a picture of God that will please Him? Do you serve a God who is a friend, or do you view Him as a taskmaster just waiting for you to fail?

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

Monday, May 7, 2018

Worth the Cost

My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 9, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

A couple of months ago, a customer came into my shop wanting an estimate on a paint job. He had a Nissan pickup that was over twenty-five years old. The little truck needed a lot of work, and the estimate was for more than it was probably worth. I never expected to get the job. The truck just wasn’t worth it.

About a month later, I received a call. The customer wanted to know If I remembered estimating a paint job on his Nissan pickup. I told him that I remembered it. He wanted to know when he could bring the truck to me. I was surprised that he wanted to spend that much money on the truck. Then he told me the story of the little Nissan hardbody pickup. His brother bought the pickup off of the showroom floor and drove it for many years. My customer inherited the Nissan when his brother passed away. The little truck had great sentimental value to him.

When we were repainting the truck, my customer wanted to make sure that it was refinished exactly the way it was when his brother had bought it new. We had to special order the same striping tape so we could match the stripe that the dealer had added when the truck was new. Because the rear bumper was twisted and damaged, I suggested replacing the bumper with a new one. But the bumper had the dealership name made into the face, so the customer wanted to save it. We straightened it the best we could and repainted it.

When the customer came to pick up his little Nissan, he was very happy with it. Before long he was going to a family reunion, and he was looking forward to being able to show everyone the refurbished Nissan. He didn’t complain when he paid the bill. To him, it was worth the cost.

How much are you and I truly worth? What value should we place upon each other? We as Christians have been given the message of God’s love and grace to spread around the world, but in many ways, we have failed. We have passed judgment on many of those around us. We say "they don't deserve the love of God; they aren’t worth my time, because they are no good.” We tend to look at people of certain races and religions as having little value. When people have made certain lifestyle choices, or have made mistakes in their life, we view that person as of little value. We might even describe them as worthless. But is this the correct way of seeing value in someone?

Because we are all God’s children, you are not more valuable than anyone else, and you are not less valuable than anyone else. All people equally bear the image and likeness of God; Male and female, young and old, black and white, rich and poor. All have dignity, value, and worth. One of the greatest lies is that some people are more valuable than others.

When God looks at His children today, he sees billions of people selfishly divided and opinionated. He sees people that He created in His image, “to practice justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8 (TLV) He sees people who claim to follow Jesus and yet can't see the value of people that Jesus loves so much that He gave His life for them.

Think about it, if we truly saw the value of people as God does, would we still treat each other the way we do?  In Mathew 25:45 (NLT), Jesus tells us, “I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.” The key to seeing and understanding the value of all other people is to see their worth in the light of what Jesus did to save them! To Him, it was worth the cost.

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 (NIV) says that “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” You were made in the image of God. So was the person that you don’t think is worth saving.

Ephesians 1:4 (NLT) says that “even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.” God chose you even before the world was made. He also chose that person you don’t think has much value.

In Romans 5:8 (NKJV), the Bible tells us that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus died for you; not because you were good enough, but because he loved you. He also loves those people you can’t bring yourself to love. If we focus on how much God loves everyone and the price He paid to redeem them, we’ll come to see people as God sees them, and that will help us understand just how much they are worth.

Gentle Reader, let’s remember how much value we have in God's eyes! All of us! And remember to be kind and loving to all people, because of what Jesus has done for us, and the great worth He has placed on each of his children. To Jesus, it was worth the cost. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. John 3:16,17 (NKJV)

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

It Is Well With My Soul

My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 2, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

Last week, in our weekly Bible study group, we started by watching a video produced by La Sierra University music students who performed a beautiful arrangement of the hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul.” The music video tells the story of how Horatio Spafford was inspired to write the lyrics to this classic hymn.

Horatio was a prominent Chicago lawyer. He owned several properties throughout the city. He and his wife had four beautiful daughters and one son. Horatio was a successful lawyer, and with his real estate investments became a very wealthy man. But suddenly things began to go very wrong for Horatio. It began with the tragic death of his young son. Then he lost everything overnight when the great Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed most of his real estate holdings.

Two years later, Horatio with his wife and four daughters planned a vacation in Europe. At the last minute, Horatio had to stay behind to deal with some financial problems, so he sent his wife Anna and their four daughters on ahead to France. Halfway across the Atlantic Ocean, their ship was struck by another ship. Anna Spafford led her girls to the top deck where they tried to get into a lifeboat. Just twelve minutes after the accident, the bow broke, and they were swept into the frigid water of the Atlantic Ocean as the ship sank. A lifeboat later found Anna floating unconscious on a piece of wood.

Horatio received a dreadful telegram from his wife, “Saved alone…” It bore the terrible news that the ship had wrecked and all four of his daughters had died.

After receiving the telegram from his wife, Horatio immediately booked passage to Wales to bring his wife home. On the Atlantic crossing, the captain of the ship called Horatio to his cabin to tell him that they were passing over the spot where the ship had sunk. While he was in the area of the ocean where his daughters had perished, Horatio penned these words. “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.” It is hard to believe that such encouraging and uplifting words were written at a time of such unimaginable sorrow. Horatio Spafford is an example of amazing faith and trust in God.

After watching the video, we began our study of Matthew chapter 8. “Large crowds followed Jesus as he came down the mountainside. Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. ‘Lord,’ the man said, ‘if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.’ Jesus reached out and touched him. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be healed!’ And instantly the leprosy disappeared.” Matthew 8:1-3 (NLT) I was drawn to the similarities between this leper and Horatio Spafford. Both men were going through times of great difficulty, but both of them showed great faith and trust in God.

After our Bible study, we headed out to the Ouachita River for a picnic. We were hoping to meet up with family and friends who were on a 19-mile Ouachita River float trip. The Ouachita River is one of the most beautiful and clear rivers in Arkansas. The river begins in the Ouachita Mountains near Mena, and flows easterly through the Ouachita National Forest, eventually becoming part of Lake Ouachita.

We picnicked at the Rocky Shoals Access to the Ouachita River just off of Highway 270. It was a beautiful sunny day, and it was warm without being too hot. We stayed there for some time, but our group never floated past. We did talk to a large group of ladies who were part of a wedding party.

From there we made our way downriver to the Fulton Branch Float Camp. From the picnic area, there is a commanding view of the river. We spent a very peaceful hour relaxing on the bluff overlooking the river. During that time only one group paddled past us. It wasn’t our group, but we talked to them as they made their way past us. From Fulton Branch, we traveled over several miles of Forest Service roads to the River Bluff Float Camp. The secluded area has a great view of the river. We were all alone while we were there. The beautiful day and the peaceful surroundings helped melt the stress away. As I took in the gorgeous views, I realized that all was well with my soul. We were never able to find our group, but we had a wonderful day anyway.

On the drive back home, I thought about the stress that I had been under for the past few months. But after spending a lovely sunny afternoon in the beauty that is the Ouachita National Forest, I realized that peace, like a river, had attended my way. This year has been a tough one for my family and me, but even though sorrows like sea billows roll, God wants me to be able to say, “it is well with my soul.”

Gentle Reader, I want to be able to say with the Apostle Paul; “I have learned to be content and self-sufficient through Christ, satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or uneasy regardless of my circumstances. I know how to get along and live humbly in difficult times, and I also know how to enjoy abundance and live in prosperity. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of facing life, whether well-fed or going hungry, whether having an abundance or being in need.” Philippians 4:11,12 (AMP) With God in my life, no matter what happens to me, I can truly say “it is well with my soul.”