Friday, September 28, 2018

Why is Jesus Returning?

The vast majority of Christians believe that Jesus is coming again. The same Jesus who came to our world 2,000 years ago; who was born in Bethlehem, crucified on a Roman cross, resurrected on the third day, and ascended into heaven—is coming again.  He has a plan to do away with all sin and evil. 2 Peter 3:13 (NKJV) tells us, “Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

The Second Coming of Jesus is a precious doctrine, and I love to study my Bible to learn more about it. I have been studying the Second Coming for more than 40 years. Recently as I have been studying, I have looked at it from a different perspective. For many years the focus of my study was proving how Jesus will come. I haven’t been alone in this. In our second coming doctrine, we have some very good news to proclaim. Like all biblical truths, the second coming doctrine is a window into God’s love. So let’s take a look through the window.

When Jesus came the first time, He was specifically identified by John the Baptist as someone who was seeking those He loved here on the earth. In John chapter 3 we read about John’s followers. They were upset that people were flocking to Jesus instead of to John. We pick up the story in verse 26. “John’s disciples came to him and said, ‘Rabbi, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River, the one you identified as the Messiah, is also baptizing people. And everybody is going to him instead of coming to us.’ John replied, ‘No one can receive anything unless God gives it from heaven. You yourselves know how plainly I told you, “I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.” It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the bridegroom’s friend is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.’” John 3:26-30 (NLT) Notice that John called Jesus “the bridegroom,” and he identified himself as “the friend of the bridegroom,” or what we would call today “the best man.”

We are familiar with the idea that Jesus came to our world as our Savior to save us from our sins, but here we find an additional insight. Jesus not only came to save us from sin, but He also came to draw us into His love. The plan of salvation doesn’t just get us out of trouble; it shows us God’s heart. It shows us how much God loves us. Romans 2:4 says, “Do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”

What leads us to repentance? Is it anger? Is it fear? Is it God’s law? Is it your Pastor? No, the Bible says it is the kindness of God. Psalms 17:7 tells us, "Show Your marvelous lovingkindness by Your right hand, O You who save those who trust in You.”

Our redemption – our salvation - has an aim, a goal, and a purpose. We are delivered out of a really bad situation into a really good one. We are delivered out of sin into love! Not only does God pity us, but He also wants to show us how much He loves us. He wants us to “love Him because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19 That’s the big picture.

In Ezekiel 16 God tells us a very graphic and emotional story. Starting in verse 4 we read, When you were born, no one cut your umbilical cord. No one took care of you: you were not washed with water and purified, nor were you rubbed with salt and wrapped for warmth. No one felt sorry for you or had compassion on you or did anything to help you. Instead, your parents abandoned you, tossed you out into an open field. For on the day you were born, people looked upon you with deep contempt.

Then I passed by and saw you squirming around in your blood. As you lay there in your own blood, I said to you, “Live!” Again, I insisted, “Live!” And that’s exactly what you did. I helped you flourish like plants in the field. In time you grew, became a tall, beautiful young woman: your breasts developed and your hair grew thick and long. But you were still naked and bare. I passed by you again and saw you were old enough to love and to be loved, so I offered Myself to you in marriage. I wrapped my garment over you to cover your nakedness. Then I gave you My divine promise to always be your Beloved, and I entered the sacred covenant of marriage with you. I wed you, and you became Mine.

What a graphic and revealing description of our terrible predicament. We realize here that it is a lack of love that defines our fallen condition. We Need Love! That’s what God sees in us. He knows we need to be loved. Every person longs for someone to love them. God knows that His love alone can save us. He explains it in Ezekiel 16:6 Then I passed by and saw you squirming around in your blood. As you lay there in your own blood, I said to you, “Live!” Again, I insisted, “Live!”

We were dying in our sins, but God came along and took us up into His arms—the abandoned baby that nobody loved—and He speaks to us saying, “Live! Live!” Then, under His nurturing care, the baby thrives and grows up into a beautiful woman.

Don’t miss the heart of God here. When He looks at us, He’s looking for something specific and special. He longs for us to grow up spiritually to the point where we fall in love with Him in response to His love for us.

Back to the story in Ezekiel 16. When God sees that we are ready for love, He says, “I wrapped my garment over you to cover your nakedness. Then I gave you My divine promise to always be your Beloved, and I entered the sacred covenant of marriage with you. I wed you, and you became Mine.”

Here we see God essentially saying, “I love you so much I want you to be My wife.” God gives us life—or salvation—by loving us into a condition of thriving. Then He asks for our hand in marriage with the hope that we will say “Yes” and love Him back. That’s the real goal of the plan of salvation.

The prophet Hosea helps us to understand how much God is willing to do to make this marriage happen. He describes the fallen human condition as promiscuity. In Hosea 2:13: God describes the lost this way.“‘She decked herself with her earrings and jewelry, and went after her lovers; but Me she forgot,’ says the Lord.” Every sinner is pursuing illicit love affairs with things that keep God from the center of our affections and passions. So what is God going to do? How is He going to save us? By forcing us? By manipulating us? No.

Force and manipulation are contrary to the ways of love and therefore contrary to the character of God since “God is love” (1 John 4:8). So He has a different plan. God describes His course of action in Hosea 2:14: “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her.” God the allurer! I wasn’t sure allurer was a word, but I found it in the dictionary. One who allures. Some Bible versions use the word entice or attract. This isn’t the picture most people have of God! That doesn’t sound harsh, now does it? God intends to save us by alluring us, enticing us, attracting us. This concept reminds me of the words of Jesus. Not long before he was crucified, he foreshadowed the event when He said in John 12:32: “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” This sounds like Jesus is alluring, attracting and enticing us.

On the cross, Jesus gave the ultimate revelation of His love for us. And that love, if we look upon it, will draw us to Him. It will generate attraction in our hearts toward Him and allure us to His heart.
Now let’s go back to Hosea 2:16: “And it shall be, in that day, says the Lord, that you will call Me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer call Me ‘My Master.” What an incredible God! This is the most powerful being in the universe and yet He refuses to overpower us. He does not want a master-servant relationship with us, but rather a husband-wife relationship. He wants voluntary love to be the motivating power that defines our relationship with Him.

In verses Hosea 2:19,20 God pledges Himself to be our faithful spiritual husband: “I will take you for my wife forever; I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will take you for my wife in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord.”

Jesus came to our world to fulfill this prophecy. Standing before us with the promise of unwavering faithfulness, He offers Himself to us for an eternal union that will never be broken, which just happens to be what His second coming is all about.

You probably wondered when I was going to get back to the second coming of Jesus. In John 14:1-3, one of the most famous second coming passages, we read: “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”

I want us to think about this passage with the understanding that Jesus uses the language of a marriage relationship to describe our relationship with Him. What Jesus says here in John 14 about His second coming makes perfect sense. Jesus foretold His second coming by employing the language of the marriage customs of His time.

First, there was the wooing phase. If a man loved a woman, he would interact with her in such a way as to draw her to himself. Once drawn to him, the couple would enter into the courtship phase, getting to know one another and growing in their love. Then the man would propose. If her answer was yes, the man would then depart from his bride-to-be with a promise to return for her. The reason for his departure was practical. He would go away so that he could prepare a place for her in his father’s house.

In other words, Jesus did not merely promise to return; He promised to return for His bride. He is coming back to Earth for one reason: because He deeply, passionately, longingly loves us and wants to spend eternity in intimate fellowship with us. Don’t miss the fact that He says, “I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” Later, just before He was to die on the cross, Jesus again expressed His heart in John 17:24: “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am.”

That’s what Jesus wants. He wants you to simply, be “with” Him. Think of someone you like to be with, someone whose presence you desire and enjoy—your spouse, your mom or dad, your sibling, your best friend. The point is simple: we like to be with those we love.

Jesus longs for our presence, for our friendship, for the enjoyment of our love. When Paul talks about marriage, he uses it to describe the love of Christ for His people. In Ephesians 5:25, Paul says; “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.”

Paul is saying that the marriage relationship holds before us a deep, secret truth regarding our relationship with Jesus as His eternal bride. God has something in mind for us beyond our wildest dreams.

Presently, we are in the courtship phase of the relationship. He is wooing and winning us, revealing to our minds the beauty of His character so that we can mature in our love for Him. The total reality of our identity as the bride of Christ will not dawn upon us until the wedding itself. The time will come in salvation history when the church is spiritually “ready” to enter the marriage with her Lord. The whole universe will witness our readiness and make the wedding announcement.

Look at Revelation 19:6-8: And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. The entire story of the Bible points forward to a single point of climax: Jesus returning to earth to receive the church as His eternal bride.

The Song of Solomon is a prophetic love song that offers a unique window into the love of Christ for His church. In it, we get a penetrating glimpse into God’s matrimonial love for His people and where it ultimately leads. Chapter by chapter, verse by verse, expressions of devotion are exchanged between the man and the woman. They describe one another’s virtues. They compliment one another with exuberance. They want to be with each other.

Have you ever wondered why the Song of Solomon is in the Bible? To some people, it seems unnecessary. I remember some years ago when a friend of mine gave a sermon on the Song of Solomon. Several members didn’t think that it was appropriate. I guess they questioned why it was included in the Bible. I think that if we look closely, the Song of Solomon is more than just a silly love song.

 The climactic point of the song has the woman saying something very profound to her lover: Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised. (Song of Solomon 8:6, 7; ESV)

Suddenly, we are led to realize that the deepest love known to human beings—that which exists between a bride and her groom—tells us of God’s love for His church, and His hope that we love Him back. Dying on the cross, Jesus did, indeed, reveal to us a quality of love that is stronger than death, a love that no force in the world can quench.

Salvation is the plan by which Jesus allures our hearts back to Him and establishes a love relationship between Himself and us. And the second coming of Jesus is when the lover of our souls comes back to get us so we can be with Him forever. Now that’s good news! We as Christians eagerly long for the return of Jesus.

Jesus looks at us longingly even though we are a mess. He wants to be with us. That is why He’s coming back. The question is; do we want to be with Him?

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Out on the Tarmac

My An Arkie's Faith column from the September 26, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

The airport intercom crackled to life as the travelers at Gate 73 strained to hear the announcement. “If you are flying on Frontier flight 634 to Tulsa, the plane has been delayed, but will be arriving soon. We will unload the passengers and start boarding as quickly as possible.” It was already a half hour past the boarding time for the flight. People were nervous about missing their connecting flights.

About twenty minutes later the plane finally pulled up to the gate. From our seats near the window, we watched the passengers disembark the plane and walk down the movable ramp, filing past the window and into the airport. When the last passenger had made his way down the ramp, we thought that it wouldn’t be long before we started boarding. We watched as all the luggage was loaded into the cargo hold of the plane and the door was closed and locked. But still, there was no announcement about boarding.

We observed a small airport maintenance vehicle pulling up to the nose of the plane.  A man stepped off the open-air vehicle and removed a step ladder from the rear. He positioned the ladder under a maintenance hatch on the underbelly of the plane. He climbed up the ladder and disappeared into the belly of the plane with only his legs visible. For over half an hour I watched his legs and wondered what he was doing up inside the plane. A couple of times he emerged, only to disappear once again in the belly of the plane.

Finally, a voice on the intercom announced that Frontier flight 634 to Tulsa would start boarding in just a few minutes. When at last we were settled into our seats, and the plane was ready to taxi to the runway, the pilot made an announcement. “When the plane arrived in Denver, there was a brake warning light on the control panel. The light was for the redundant backup braking system. The technician couldn't find a mechanical problem with the system, but it wasn’t communicating properly with the system computer. After replacing the brake system computer, everything checked out properly, and the warning light was no longer on.” He went on to assure us that the plane had never been in danger.

I am not a nervous flyer, but I have to admit that I had been very curious about the repairs that had been made to the airplane. It can be a bit unnerving to watch the plane that will carry you through the air at 30,000 feet being repaired. The pilot’s announcement explaining the repairs helped put my mind at ease. Whenever we fly, we have to put our trust in the pilot to get us safely through to our destination.

Robert Lee Scott Jr. was a flying ace of World War II, credited with shooting down thirteen Japanese aircraft. He is best known for his memoir, God is My Co-Pilot, about his accomplishments in World War II with the Flying Tigers and the United States Army Air Forces in China and Burma. In 1945, the book was made into a movie of the same name starring Dennis Morgan. After the book and the movie, God is My Co-Pilot became a Christian catch-phrase.

I remember seeing bumper stickers that read, “God is my co-pilot.” I understood what they were trying to say, but I wondered if that was right. If God is our co-pilot, we’re in the wrong plane! God isn’t our assistant; He is our captain. We don’t belong in the cockpit; we belong back in the cabin. I’m not a pilot, and I don’t know how to fly a plane. I need to put my trust in God, my pilot, to get me safely through to my destination.

Inspirational author and speaker BJ Gallagher writes, “my dad was an Air Force pilot. He taught me the difference between a pilot and a co-pilot. The pilot calls the shots; the co-pilot is the number two guy (or gal). The pilot is in charge; the co-pilot assists him – supporting, helping, and providing an extra pair of eyes, ears, and hands. The co-pilot’s job is important, but he never forgets who’s in charge.”

When we say that “God is my co-pilot,” we are saying, “I drive and God is my helper. I call the shots, and God does my bidding.” Proverbs 14:12 (NKJV) tells us, “there is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”

Gentle Reader, when life isn’t going the way we would like it to, it’s easy to try and take the wheel from God, and try and force Him to do things our way. But doing so shows our lack of faith and trust in God. Psalm 46:10 (NASB) says, “Cease striving and know that I am God.” Trying to be in control and trusting God at the same time doesn’t work. When we let God pilot our lives and trust that He knows best, we can rest and stop striving, which means that we will ultimately experience peace. Jesus came to earth “to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:79 (NKJV) Let Him be your pilot.

Friday, September 21, 2018


One night a house caught fire and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof. A fireman stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to the boy, "Jump! I'll catch you." He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, was flame, smoke, and blackness. As you can imagine, he was afraid to leave the roof. The fireman kept yelling: "Jump! I will catch you." But the boy protested, “I can't see you." The fireman replied, "But I can see you, and that's all that matters."

In life, each one of us finds ourselves in the same situation as the young boy on the roof.  We will be destroyed unless we do something.  If we stay in our current situation, we will be destroyed by fire.  The biggest question in our lives is, what must I do to be saved. In the little boy’s situation, the answer was; jump. What is the answer in your life?

Let’s start by looking at a story in the life of Paul.  Paul and Silas had been in Philippi for some time now, staying with Lydia, the woman he met at the place of prayer down by the river. They had been moving around Philippi preaching and teaching about Jesus. Following them around day after day is a slave woman whose owner made a profit off of her gift of clairvoyance, for it was believed she could tell fortunes and predict the future. This woman was shouting out to Paul and Silas saying, “These men are slaves of the Most High God.”

Initially, her shouts probably worked to Paul’s advantage, helping him gather a crowd, but after some days, he had had enough. Paul turns to the woman, in exasperation one day, without ever speaking to her directly, tells the spirit to come out of her, which it does.

The woman’s owners become outraged at their loss of potential revenue and haul Paul and Silas into court. They do not charge them with the loss of value to their property; rather they bring charges of disturbing the peace and advocating Jewish customs which are contrary to Roman law.

The crowd gets into it, the magistrates make an example of the men by stripping and having them whipped; and then jailed in the innermost cell with their feet placed in stocks.

While in prison, Paul and Silas begin to sing hymns and pray.  The singing and praying are interrupted by an earthquake; the cells are shaken, the doors opened, the chains fall off. The jailer runs to the scene, and is about to do himself in since he is responsible for keeping the prisoners in their cells when Paul calls out – we’re all still here; All are still here – the other prisoners, Silas, Paul. They have been freed, but they remain in their cells.

Let’s turn to the story in Acts 16:25-30. "But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a great earthquake so that the foundations of the prison were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains were loosed. And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”

Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

There is that all important question.  What must I do to be saved?

In verse 31 Paul and Silas give the answer, “So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Believe in Jesus. There is the answer. It seems so simple. Just believe. Is there more to it than that? It seems that we as humans are always trying to add more to the answer. It has to be more difficult than that. Before we dig a little deeper into the subject, I want us to go back to the illustration of the little boy on the roof. All he had to do to be saved was believe in the fireman. But it couldn’t be words alone – He couldn’t just say I believe you can catch me. He had to jump.

Let’s look at another story in the Bible where the question, what must I do to be saved, is asked. Turn to Matthew 19:16-22, “Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good?  No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and your mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?”

Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions."

This wealthy man asked the all-important question: What must I do to be saved?  But notice how he asked the question. The way he worded the question tells us a lot about him. What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life? I think that many of us can relate to this man. I’m leading a pretty good life. What other good thing do I need to do to be saved? When we read the story, we like the answer that Jesus gave at first. Keep the commandments. The wealthy man wants to know which ones. Even after confirming that he has kept them all he asks, “What do I still lack?'

Jesus said, “Well if you are really serious about this whole business and you really want to be perfect, why don’t you go out and sell what you have and fully serve your neighbor.”

The young ruler wasn’t expecting that kind of an answer. He liked the “limited realm” of righteousness where people stop doing things. He was good at it. He stepped back when Jesus pointed him to the “continuous realm” of righteousness where there is no limit and no end of really caring for other people.

Jesus had pointed beyond the negative ten, to the positive law of love. That, of course, was more than the young ruler was ready to commit himself to. He felt relatively comfortable with the negative law.
He was good at not doing this and that, but he was not ready for the unlimited reach of God’s law into every area of his life.

Many of us are very uncomfortable with this whole concept of being a Christian as Jesus explained it. We tend to be Pharisees by nature. We are very happy with negative approaches to law because we like to know where the limits are.

We feel more comfortable when we can see the extent of our obligations. Jesus wants us to see that his true followers aren’t trying to see what the limits of their obligations are. He taught this lesson to Peter in Matthew 18. Peter was concerned about how many times he should forgive his neighbor.  In Matthew 18:21 we read, “Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

Peter knew what the rabbis had to say on the topic. They had concluded that the Lord forgives three times, and the fourth time He lets sinners have it. Well, rabbinic logic suggested that you cannot be more generous than God. Therefore, they concluded, three times should be the limit of human forgiveness. Peter thought that surely seven times was more than enough. Jesus saw things differently. "Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”  Matthew 18:22. Once again, Jesus points out that his true followers aren’t trying to see what the limits of their obligations are.

In actuality Peter was not asking “How much can I love my neighbor?” But he wanted to know, “When can I stop loving my neighbor?” That’s a very human question. I like that question. When can I stop loving my neighbor? That is where we are as natural people.

When can I stop all this niceness and give people what they deserve? I don’t like grace. Grace is giving people what they don’t deserve. I don’t mind getting it, but I don’t really like passing grace on to others.

Jesus then goes on to tell a story to illustrate his point. While settling his account with his servants, a man was brought before the king. He owed the king 10,000 talents. When it was decreed that he and his wife and children were to be sold for the debt, he begged for patience and promised to pay the debt. The king forgave his debt and released him.

The servant then went out and found a fellow servant who owed him 100 denarii and demanded payment. The man begged for patience and promised to pay the debt, but the servant had him thrown in prison. When the king found out what the servant had done, he told him, “shouldn't you have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you”?

The point of the story is that sinners, who have been forgiven an impossible debt, must pass on God’s mercy to their fellow humans, just as God has had mercy on them.

Jesus taught Peter that there is never a time when he could stop loving his neighbor or stop passing on God’s grace. Jesus taught that there is no limit to Christian love.

Like Peter, we are much more comfortable with the negative than the positive approach to law. We want to know when we have fulfilled our quota of goodness so we can relax and be our normal selves.

Focusing on the negative limits the scope of righteousness and makes it humanly manageable and achievable. Legalists focus on the “thou shalt not’s” and the “small sins,” because with that focus they feel they can achieve perfection.

Legalists love to talk about negative and minute behaviors. Dr. George Knight writes about a conversation he had. He was together with some friends after an afternoon seminar, and they were discussing the sin of David, when one of them said, “Well, some people have that sin to overcome. Mine is eating granola between meals.” From the friends perspective, he had almost arrived at perfection. Unfortunately, that negative approach to law falls far short of the ideal that Jesus taught.

There is a type of righteousness that picks on smaller and smaller units of action. Jesus taught the reverse. The Christian way is the endless righteousness expressed in caring for God and humanity that one finds summarized in the two great commandments. Matthew 22:36-39  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”  Jesus said to him, “‘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.’

It was that very ideal that drove the rich young ruler (with his smaller-and-smaller mentality) away from Christ in utter frustration.

We, like the rich young ruler, like to define sin as some small negative action, because anybody can overcome a habit if he or she tries hard enough. On the other hand, I have an impossible time loving all my neighbors all the time.

I can get the victory over cheese, peanut butter, or “granola between meals” any old time, but it takes God’s grace for me to love all my neighbors all the time, particularly when my neighbor is defined by Jesus in a manner that includes enemies.

So we want to know the limits of love and Christian living so that we can know when we have arrived. Human perverseness loves the negative approach to law because it limits the scope of righteousness.

It makes perfection humanly achievable. Strangely, many think that an emphasis on the two great commandments is a watering down of the demands laid upon the Christian in daily living. Christ repeatedly demonstrated the opposite to be true.

No one can ever be saved or become perfect by not working on Sabbath or avoiding theft or not committing adultery. In fact, no one will ever be saved because of what he or she has not done.
Ellen White wrote, “We should not make self the center and indulge anxiety and fear as to whether we shall be saved. All this turns the soul away from the Source of our strength. Commit the keeping of your soul to God, and trust in Him. Talk and think of Jesus. Let self be lost in Him. Put away all doubt; dismiss your fears. Say with the apostle Paul, “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20. Rest in God. He is able to keep that which you have committed to Him.”

Christianity is a positive, not a negative.  Whether we like it or not (and the Pharisees of old certainly did not like it), Jesus put the standard of righteousness higher than people care to reach.  Most of us much prefer a standard based on definitely quantifiable things like diet, dress, Sabbath keeping, tithing, etc. In fact, it is our emphasis on human accomplishment that proves that we have merely shifted our pride from human accomplishment in worldly endeavors to human accomplishment in spiritual things.

The predicament of outward obedience accompanied by a lack of inward Christianity is one of the most spiritually dangerous situations we can be in. People who are deceived in this point may feel quite satisfied with themselves spiritually because they are doing what is right. I refer to this as spiritual arrogance.

That was the problem with the Pharisees of old. Never forget that they sincerely kept the law but put Christ on the cross. There has traditionally been a spirit of meanness among those who focus on laws rather than God’s character.

That meanness is especially aimed at those who disagree with them theologically and who may not be as zealous as they are on particular laws or rules or regulations. God’s plea is for us to get our priorities right. He wants us to believe in Him and surrender our will to Him so that we can truly keep His laws. The order is essential and crucial. The correct order keeps us away from a legalistic bookkeeping approach to salvation that recreates God into the image of a first-century Pharisee. Why would we as Christians want to emulate the Pharisees?

The point to remember is that if we are safe in Jesus, He will live out His life in us. That means that not only will our love be refocused from our self to God and others, but it means that God’s love will be the basis for our every action.

Christianity is not just an improvement on the old life. It is a total transformation of a person’s way of thinking, acting, and living. The Christian is not only in Christ, but Christ is in him or her through the softening power of the Holy Spirit.

How I treat my neighbor is the acid test of Christianity. For too long, Christians have applied John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” to the Ten Commandments. Read John 13, 14, and 15, and see what the context is. “I command you,” Jesus says over and over in these chapters, “to love one another.

Out of that principle and only out of it comes a meaningful keeping of God’s laws.
• Because I love my neighbor, I will not covet my neighbor’s car, house, wife, or husband.
• Because I love my neighbor, I cannot use him or her as a sexual object for my pleasure.
• Because I love my neighbor, I will not take things that belong to him.
• Because I love my neighbor, I will not kill or even hate him.

Love to God and neighbor is the centerpiece of Christianity. “By this,” said Jesus, “all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Let’s go back to the story of the boy on the roof. One night a house caught fire, and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof. A fireman stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to the boy, "Jump! I'll catch you." He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, was flame, smoke, and blackness. As you can imagine, he was afraid to leave the roof. The fireman kept yelling: "Jump! I will catch you." But the boy protested, “I can't see you." The fireman replied, "But I can see you, and that's all that matters."

What must I do to be saved?  I need to trust Jesus so much that I will jump into his arms. He can’t save me if I don’t trust him enough to jump. He can’t save me if I am busy trying to save myself. It’s time for us to really believe in the Lord Jesus Christ: Believe enough to surrender our will and jump into his arms. Will you jump with me today?

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

On the Caddo

My An Arkie's Faith column from the September 19, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

Our area was forecast to receive two to four inches of rain. My son-in-law is an avid river rafter and was excited to see the possibility of a good rainfall. He made plans to visit over the weekend so that he could go rafting. Thursday came and went without any significant rainfall. Friday had very little rain. Friday afternoon he drove up from Louisiana with a rubber raft and an inflatable kayak. He was hoping for enough rainfall on Saturday to be able to go rafting on Sunday.

On Saturday, the rains didn’t come. We enjoyed the rain-free day and spent the afternoon walking on the paths around the lakes on the University of Arkansas Rich Mountain campus. My son-in-law regretted bringing the raft and all the equipment needed. He was disappointed that after all of that work we would not be able to go rafting.

Saturday evening as he sat at the computer checking the area river levels, he saw that the Caddo River was rising. The Caddo Gap and Glenwood areas had received an inch of rain, and it was enough to raise the river so that we could float it. The rafting trip was back on.

Sunday morning as we prepared to head out to Norman where we would put into the Caddo River, we made one last check of the river level. The river levels had dropped almost as dramatically as they had risen. It looked like there would be just enough water flowing for us to make the trip.

After pumping the raft full of air and preparing it to float, we shuttled a vehicle to the takeout point at Caddo Gap. When we returned, we were finally able to get on the water. It was a beautiful day; cloudy and overcast so that we were not in the direct sunlight, and not too hot. As we floated down the river, I drank in the amazing scenery. You can see the beauty of nature while floating a river that you can’t see any other way. I drank in the serene tranquility and peacefulness of my surroundings. The river has a relaxing, hypnotic quality. It is as if the normal everyday life doesn’t exist while you are floating a river.

We were alone on the river. We saw no other rafts, kayaks or canoes, but we were surrounded by wildlife. Twice we saw bald eagles soaring just above the treetops. There were egrets, herons, and ducks too numerous to count. As we came around a bend in the river, we were surprised to see a flock of wild turkeys flying low from one bank of the river to the other. On a side note, a flock of wild turkeys is referred to as a rafter. The rafters floating down the river saw a rafter of turkeys.

After eating our lunch on a lovely little sand bar next to a beautiful green pasture, we were back on the water. Because of the low water conditions, my granddaughters were often able to get out of the raft and swim along in the slow flowing river. They were excited to see three deer splash their way across the river just ahead of us.

Although the low water made for a calm and easy float without much whitewater, it wasn’t without problems. Numerous times we became stuck on the rocks. Often, we could dislodge ourselves by pushing on the rocks with our paddles and spinning off the rocks. If that didn’t work, my son-in-law and oldest granddaughter would get out of the raft and by pushing and pulling be able to get the raft free. Several times we had to all get out of the raft to be able to free the raft after getting stuck on the rocks in very shallow areas.

Although we had a great time, everyone was excited when we finally saw the takeout in Caddo Gap. We were tired and hungry, and it was starting to rain. By the time we deflated the raft and loaded everything into the van we were wet and cold. But a good hot meal at Little Italy in Glenwood revived everyone’s spirits.

As I drove back home, I thought about the promises that God has made to protect us during difficult times. He says, “when you face stormy seas I will be there with you with endurance and calm; you will not be engulfed in raging rivers. If it seems like you’re walking through fire with flames licking at your limbs, keep going; you won’t be burned.” Isaiah 43:2 (VOICE) But what about the times when the river is not raging but is so low that we have to get out and drag the raft?

We can know that God will be with us whether the storms are raging, or the drudgery of life seems to overwhelm us, “because He has said, ‘I will never leave you; I will always be by your side.’” Hebrews 13:5 (VOICE) God is with you when you have to drag yourself out of bed to face another day just as much as He is with you during the troubled times in your life. Florence Nightingale wrote, “the greatest heroes are those who do their duty in the daily grind of domestic affairs while the world whirls as a maddening dreidel.”

Many of us can relate to the lyrics of Jackson Browne’s song, The Pretender. “Gonna pack my lunch in the morning and go to work each day. And when the evening rolls around, I'll go on home and lay my body down. And when the morning light comes streaming in, I'll get up and do it again.” Does God care about such mundane things as our daily work schedule? He has given us a wonderful promise in Joshua 1:9 (NIV), “do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Gentle Reader, life can become routine, and we can get tired of the monotony of it. But in Hebrews 10:36 (NLT) we are told that “patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.” Don’t get discouraged when you have to drag your raft over the rocky shoals of life. Remember that God is with you even in the routine things in life.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Forest Fire

My An Arkie's Faith column from the September 12, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

The line of cars stretched out as far as the eye could see. For many miles, we had slowly trudged along the highway trying to get back to Denver. It was a holiday weekend, and it seemed like everyone was making their way back to the city. The traffic had become heavy as soon as we turned onto Highway 285. We became a part of a procession of vehicles snaking their way down the road and over the brow of a hill, with cars bumper to bumper.

It was the first time that I had been to the South Park area of Colorado. South Park is a grassland basin surrounded by mountains in central Colorado. The high valley ranges in elevation from 9,000 to 10,000 feet and features a colorful river valley with views of several 14,000-foot mountain peaks.

After twenty miles of stop and go traffic we came to an area where we could see large areas of burnt forest on our left. In June of this year, a fire started in the Weston Pass area. By the time it was contained, it had burnt over 15,000 acres. Firefighters from 27 states battled the blaze for a month before they were able to contain the fire. 

Friends of my brother-in-law have a membership in the Campground of the Rockies located on Highway 285. The main fire edge came to within a mile of the campground. On July 1st, the local authorities issued an evacuation notice to everyone staying at the campground. The fire forced Highway 285 to close between Fairplay and Antero Junction.

The Weston Pass fire was just one of many forest fires this summer. According to the Denver Post, “halfway through the summer, at least 1,585 wildfires have torched more than 431,600 acres of Colorado forest and grasslands and destroyed or damaged about 450 homes, making 2018 one of the most destructive fire seasons in history — and it isn’t over yet.”

2018 has been a significant forest fire event. The 2018 North American fire season is already 25 percent worse than during the same time in 2017. By the end of August, wildfires had burned 4.5 million acres. At least 110 current wildfires were burning almost 2 million acres. 28,250 firefighters were battling the fires. The haze from the wildfires drifted to New York and parts of New England.

But even as these destructive fires rage through the forest, something is quietly going on to prepare their very renewal. My friend, Canadian author Talena Winters, recently wrote; “After a wildfire, the forest always regrows. Some seeds, like lodgepole pine, are only released by fire, and that's how the forest renews itself. It is in the crucible of the flames that new things, new ideas, new hope can be born. Sometimes, when we've just survived a world-ending event (or maybe something smaller, like a fight with our spouse), we need to look at the event with fresh eyes. Instead of seeing it as a disaster, how can we make it into an opportunity to change the situation for the better?”

Sometimes in our life, it seems like forest fires surround us. Every one of us is going through trials and hardships of some kind. There are Christians who are facing trials and tribulations that I can’t begin to imagine. It is hard to put myself in the shoes of someone like Joni Eareckson Tada. She was just a teenager when she went with her sister to a beach on the Chesapeake Bay and suffered a diving accident that left her quadriplegic.

But Joni didn’t let her situation destroy her. Fifty years later she wrote, “In a way, I wish I could take to heaven my old, tattered Everest and Jennings wheelchair. I would point to the empty seat and say, “Lord, for decades I was paralyzed in this chair. But it showed me how paralyzed You must have felt to be nailed to Your Cross. My limitations taught me something about the limitations You endured when You laid aside your robes of state and put on the indignity of human flesh.”

There are days where my trials seem very heavy. I may not be a paraplegic, but my problems seem ready to burn me up. I shake my fist at God and ask Him why he allows the forest fires to rage in my life; why He allows people to hurt me. He answers me with these words from 1 Peter 1:6,7 (NLT). “So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.”

When other people injure you, don’t be discouraged or depressed. Don’t allow what people say to control your emotions. God is painfully aware of your suffering. When you cry, He is aware. Psalms 56:8 (NLT) tells us, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” And in Psalms 34:15, 17-19 (NASB) we read, “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry. The righteous cry and the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”

Gentle Reader, there may be forest fires now, but God has promised that there will be a time when He “will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4 (NKJV) I can’t wait for that day!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

9/11 - 1857

Every year when September 11th comes around, the emotions of Americans are heightened as we remember September 11, 2001. Most Americans can remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the awful news that airplanes had crashed into the World Trade Center. I was at work when my wife called me to tell me what she was seeing on TV. I turned on my radio and listened all day as the news reports came in. I first wrote of my feelings about this terrible event in 2008 shortly after I started writing on this blog. You can read that post by clicking here.

While my wife and I were studying our family histories, I came across a historical event that I had never heard about before. A couple of things struck me about this event. It happened on September 11th and was one of the worst massacres in American history. The date was September 11, 1857, and the place was Mountain Meadows in Southern Utah.

The story starts when Alexander Fancher and John T. Baker along with 140 men, women, and children and 40 wagons left Caravan Springs in northwest Arkansas and headed west to California. Their path took them through Utah. Brigham Young, the leader of the Mormon Church and the territorial governor of Utah had forbidden the Mormons to sell anything to the wagon train. He also declared that, "the Almighty recognized Utah as a free and independent people, no longer bound by the laws of the United States". There was extreme distrust of any non Mormons by the Mormon people.

In early September, the wagon train made camp at a place called Mountain Meadows where there was grass and water for their horses and cattle. On September 7, the group was attacked by Indians and the Mormon Militia disguised as Indians. A child who survived the massacre said, "Our party was just sitting down to breakfast when a shot rang out from a nearby gully, and one of the children toppled over, hit by a bullet." The shots came from forty to fifty Indians and Mormons. The well-armed emigrants returned fire. Soon the gun battle turned into a siege.

Over the next three days, Mormon reinforcements continued to arrive at the scene of the siege. William Dame, the head of the southern Mormon Militia, was determined to not let the emigrants pass: "My orders are that all the emigrants, except the youngest children, must be done away with." The siege was a standoff and continued for several days. The commanders of the Mormon Militia came up with a treacherous plan for ending the stand-off.

On September 11, they marched across the field to the emigrants' camp waving a white flag. When they reached the camp they promised that they could guarantee the emigrants' safety if they would agree to their terms. The desperate emigrants agreed to the terms: They would give up their arms, wagons, and cattle, in return for the promise that they would be taken past the Indians to safety in Cedar City. They looked upon the Mormons as their saviors. One of the wagons was loaded with the youngest children. A woman and a few seriously injured emigrant men were loaded into a second wagon. Following the two wagons, the women and the older children walked behind. An armed Mormon "guard" escorted each emigrant man.

When the escorted men had fallen a quarter mile or so behind the women and children, the command was given, "Halt!  Do your duty!" Each of the Mormon men shot and killed the emigrant at his side. Then they began the slaughter of the women and older children. It was over in just a few minutes. 120 members of the wagon train were dead. The militia did not kill some small children who were deemed too young to relate the story. None of the survivors was over seven years old. The children were taken into Mormon homes. Once the story of the massacre got out, the relatives of the children made an attempt to get them back, but it took over two years and the help of the U. S. Army to return the children to their relatives.

Members of the militia were sworn to secrecy. A plan was set to blame the massacre on the Native Americans. This train was undoubtedly a very rich one. It is said the emigrants had nearly nine hundred head of fine cattle, many horses and mules. They also had a great deal of money and gold besides. Large amounts of their valuables and cattle were taken by the Mormons in Southern Utah. Some of the cattle were taken to Salt Lake City and sold or traded. The remaining personal property was taken to the tithing house at Cedar City and auctioned off to local Mormons.

Pictured here is Nancy, the only survivor of the Peter and Saleta Huff family.  The photo was taken at her wedding in January 1869.

Once news of the massacre began to trickle out, the nation was horrified. Mark Twain wrote about it in his book "Roughing It".  "A large party of Mormons painted and tricked out as Indians, overtook the train of emigrant wagons some three hundred miles south of Salt Lake City, and made an attack. But the emigrants threw up earthworks, made fortresses of their wagons, and defended themselves gallantly and successfully for five days! Your Missouri or Arkansas gentleman is not much afraid of the sort of scurvy apologies for "Indians" which the southern part of Utah affords. He would stand up and fight five hundred of them. At the end of the five days, the Mormons tried military strategy. They retired to the upper end of the 'Meadows,' resumed civilized apparel, washed off their paint, and then, heavily armed, drove down in wagons to the beleaguered emigrants, bearing a flag of truce! When the emigrants saw white men coming they threw down their guns and welcomed them with cheer after cheer."

It was twenty years before anyone was convicted in the massacre. Because of Mormon control of the judicial system in Utah, no one was brought to justice. When the Federal government finally stepped in, John D. Lee was offered as a scapegoat and was the only person convicted out of the estimated 50 to 70 Mormon participants.  He was executed at the Mountain Meadows Massacre site on March 23, 1877.

The terrible events of September 11, 1857, have a clear parallel to the terrible events of September 11, 2001. It shows us that throughout history there have been people who believe their religion gives them the right to kill other people. Just look back at the Salem Witch Trials, or the Inquisition, or the Crusades, or the Holocaust. Although many times in history it has been Christian people who have been involved in these killings, true Christianity, following the teachings of Jesus, requires Christians to "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you", Luke 6:27

Wednesday, September 5, 2018


My An Arkie's Faith column from the September 5, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, I saw a post about the opening of a local zipline. It read, “to celebrate we're giving away a free ticket. To enter: Like our page, like this post, comment, and share this post. The winner will be announced Sunday morning.” I thought to myself, “why not?” As a local business owner, I believe in supporting local businesses.

I didn’t think about it again until the next Sunday morning when a message popped up on my phone. “Congratulations, Richard!! You are the winner of our free zipline canopy tour ticket. Give us a call or message us when you're ready, and we'll reserve a spot for you.” I found it hard to believe that I had won.

When I called, I spoke to the owner, Shelly. As we were visiting, she gave me some of the background of the zip line. She has been interested in a zipline for ten years, but it was more of a dream than anything else. When her son was nine years old, he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome which is generally considered to be on the “high functioning” end of the autism spectrum. I was particularly interested in her story because I have a nephew who was diagnosed with autism at an early age.

Speaking about her son, Shelly said that “getting him to go outside to play was a chore. It was as if he was glued to the inside of the house. So I turned the outdoors into a science project and super adventure.”  As she became more involved with projects to keep her son interested in being outdoors, Shelly added agritourism and sustainable workshops to her farm. Her family homesteaded the farm in 1897, and 120 years later it remains in the family. Shelly now calls the farm The Blue Zipline and Farm because blue is the color of autism awareness. Whenever Shelly talked of her farm and the zipline project, the conversation seemed always to turn back to her son. She said, “My son has been inspirational.”

It has taken three years to design, build, test and get state approval for the zipline. Shelly involved her son in planning the course, choosing the corridors through the trees, and testing the height and angles of the zipline. A ten-year dream is now a reality because of the dogged determination that Shelly has brought to the project and her unwavering persistence in making a better life for her son.

I am excited to have a zipline in the area, and I’m excited to have won a free zipline canopy tour. It is always nice to win something and to get it for free. My free zipline tour came without conditions; It was exactly what it said, a free tour. Shelly even graciously allowed me to transfer the free zipline tour to my 9-year old cousin who has been wanting to zipline but never has. The only condition for me to receive my free gift was for me to call and arrange a time.

Many “free” things come with lots of strings attached. I get telemarketer calls telling me that I have won a free 3-day cruise to the Bahamas. One day I took the time to delve a little deeper into the particulars of the “free” cruise. The first thing I learned was that I had to pay $19.00 per person to sign up. Then there are more fees. 12.95 per day per person for gratuities. 15.00 per day per person for fuel surcharge. It's another $69.00 per person for the cruise fees, then $150.00 per person for some government fee, then another $120.00 for port fees. There is also a 29.00 per person exit fee when you are leaving the Bahamas. Not exactly “free.” The free cruise scam is something of a legend among travelers.

There are so many things like the Bahamas free cruise scams that most of us are suspicious of “free” offers. I think that may be why so many people are leary of God’s offer of grace. Romans 3:24 (NIRV) tells us, “the free gift of God’s grace makes us right with him. Christ Jesus paid the price to set us free.”

The Bible is clear that God’s grace is a free gift. Why don’t more people accept the free gift? If you were to ask one hundred random people, “how do you get to heaven?” you would hear a lot of different answers. You would hear things like, “try to be good and do your best” or “work hard at being a good moral person” or “do more good things in life than you do bad things.” All of these ideas are based on our abilities and actions. They are not based on the idea of a free gift. People that don’t feel the need of the gift see no need to accept the free gift of God’s grace. Many religious people fall into this way of thinking. They feel that they can do it themselves and that they don’t need some free gift.

The Bible is very plain in Romans 5:16 (NLT) “And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins.” Our efforts lead only to condemnation. Isaiah 64:6 (NIV) tells us that,  “all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” It is important for us to understand that we can't be righteous apart from the free gift of God’s grace.

Gentle Reader, we all need the gift of grace. We all need to have the penalty paid for our sins. Romans 3:23 (KJV) says, “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” And Romans 6:23 (KJV) adds, “for the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Don’t be too proud to accept the gift. It is not a scam. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”  Ephesians 2:8 (NRSV) You have been selected to receive to free gift of God’s grace. Don’t miss out because you think it is too good to be true.