Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Boxer

An Arkie's Faith column from the April 24, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

The car made its way along the rough, rocky county road. The idyllic pastures and the cattle they contained gave way to woods as the road gained elevation. After a sharp bend in the road, the surface became smoother as the road neared the top of the mountain. When the car climbed out of the woods, the view opened and revealed a beautiful mountaintop home. At the corner of the property, standing at attention, was a large, muscular, imposing looking dog. His sleek, short coat shone with the lean, muscular build of an athlete.

This scene repeated itself many times as we made our way up the mountainside to visit my cousin. The dog, a Boxer, would always be standing there with a majestic pose. His well-developed muscles visible under his tight skin gave him the air of a bodyguard. When we drove onto the property, he would be there to escort us up the driveway and greet us when we got out of the car.

Although the Boxer’s physique suggests that he would be aggressive, he is a gentle giant. He loves people and wants to be with you. According to the American Kennel Club; “The breed’s most appealing traits is a tremendous love for their humans and a need to be loved in return. A Boxer is happiest when he’s with his family.” My wife and I loved the Boxer, and he loved us.

One Saturday afternoon while were visiting, the Boxer and one of the family dogs went for a romp in the woods surrounding the house. An hour or so later the other dog returned home, but the Boxer didn’t. When another hour passed and the Boxer still wasn’t home, we began to get worried. My cousin and I went walking through the woods looking for the Boxer. After walking and looking for a long time, we widened the search by driving down the mountain and circling through town to the east side of the mountain. There was no sign of the Boxer. After several hours, we gave up the search. We hoped that he would come home, but we feared the worst.

Boxers are prone to the hereditary heart disease aortic stenosis, meaning an obstruction underneath the aortic valve. This medical condition can cause sudden death, so the dog looks fine one minute and keels over the next. We knew that Boxers are prone to heart problems, so we feared that the Boxer had suffered a heart attack. With sadness, we resigned ourselves to never seeing the Boxer again. Not knowing what had happened to him was the most difficult part.

One evening later that week, my wife and I were sitting in our living room when the phone rang. My wife answered the phone. “You will never guess what happened,” said the voice on the other end. “Our boy is home.” Just a few minutes earlier, my cousin had been outside his house when he saw the Boxer running as fast as he could towards home. What a joyous reunion that was. I don’t know who was happier, the Boxer or his people.

In Luke chapter 15, Jesus tells three stories, each describing a lost item, and the joy and celebration when they were found. “He was lost and has been found.” Luke 15:24 (NASB) could be referring to the Boxer. When Jesus was telling the story of a lost sheep, He said, “you will continue to search for it until you find it. And when you find it, you will be very happy. You will carry it home, go to your friends and neighbors and say to them, ‘Be happy with me because I found my lost sheep!’” Luke 15:4-6 (ERV) The story made me think about the phone call we received telling us that the Boxer was home.

The stories of the lost items in Luke 15 are about God's love and mercy for sinful human beings. Jesus is telling us that he wants us to rejoice with him. He says, “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10 (NKJV) “We had to celebrate and be happy, because your brother was dead, but now he is alive; he was lost, but now he has been found.” Luke 15:32 (GNT)

Are you looking for the lost? Are you celebrating and rejoicing when they are found? In Luke 19:10 (NRSV) Jesus says that He “came to seek out and to save the lost.” And the same Jesus who came to seek out and save, tells us in John 20:21 (NIV), “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Looking for hurting people and saving them was a priority in Jesus’ life on earth. It should be a priority for his people as well. But to do that, we must engage the broken and hurting people around us. Too many Christians do not want to seek out and save the lost. They are very happy to point out sin in the world and declare that those sinners are lost, but they don’t want to engage with them. Ed Stetzer, American author and pastor writes; “It’s fascinating that a lot of Christians don’t seem to like non-Christians, often referred to as the lost or the unchurched. Often, we want to keep away from messy people.”

The focus of too many Christians is pointing out the sin in others. Daniel Darling states, "we must not allow our protest against values with which we disagree to overshadow our responsibility to show Christ's love for the world. It may very well be the person who offends us the most whom God is in the process of saving. And our gracious response might be the bridge that the Spirit uses to usher him from death to life.” Many people who claim to love God don’t have genuine love for other people. But 1 John 4:8 (NKJV) tells us, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

Gentle Reader, do you have compassion on those who are lost? I challenge you today to see the lost the way that Jesus sees them and to rejoice with Him whenever one of his lost sheep comes home!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Ten Years After

An Arkie's Faith column from the April 10, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

April 9 is the tenth anniversary of the EF-3 tornado that devastated portions of Mena in 2009. The Associated Press article that ran in newspapers nationwide the day after the storm stated, “Authorities began a house-to-house search Friday for possible victims of the tornado that struck a 'direct hit' on this mountain community, killing at least three people, injuring at least 30 others and flattening homes and businesses. The twister descended quickly on the Ouachita Mountains town shortly after eight p.m. Thursday.” Because it was national news, I had many people contact me asking if we were ok. I was one of the fortunate ones who had minimal damage from the storm.

Those of us that lived through that night will never forget it. I still often talk to people who experienced the terror of the storm. My wife was on the phone with a dear friend when the tornado hit. Our friend was in the bottom of a closet covered with blankets. She was afraid of the storm. As the storm hit the phone went dead. We didn’t know what had happened. After the storm had passed, I tried driving to her home, but the authorities were not letting traffic into that part of town. It was several long hours before a neighbor of hers was able to get word to us that she was ok, but her house was heavily damaged.

I remember the months that followed and the long hours at work installing auto glass. There were so many damaged vehicles that I worked from 6:00 A.M. till 10:00 P.M. six days a week. Two hundred homes were lost, and 1,000 homes were damaged. So many people had so much to do in the recovery and rebuilding that it seemed the whole town was fatigued.

Even though the people of Mena were tired and saddened, there was still a resilient spirit. The prevailing attitude was, “we will get through this.” When a town with a population of 5,700 has 1,000 homes damaged, a large percentage of the residents are affected. Anyone who didn't have damage to their property knew people who did. Watching the town rebuild showed me the importance of community and small-town Christian values.

On April 11, 2010, one year after the tornado, I was in attendance when the Polk County Arkansas Long Term Recovery Committee held an event in Janssen Park to recognize those who helped Mena recover from the tornado and to remember those who lost their lives. Mena residents gathered at the park on a beautiful sunny day to remember the tornado that swept through town the previous year. The volunteers that came from far and near to help with the recovery were recognized. The most poignant part of the event was the placement of a memorial in loving memory of the lives lost in the tornado; Anna Cress, Judy Lobner, and Albert Shaw.

A memorial is something that serves as a focus to help remember an event. Are there memorials in the Bible? There is a memorial right in the Ten Commandments. Exodus 20:8-12 (NKJV) says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”

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

On the seventh day of creation, God blessed and sanctified the seventh day. It is a memorial of creation.  Many people no longer believe that God created the world in seven days. If we deny that God is the Creator, we have no reason to worship God. “No one can see God, but Jesus Christ is exactly like him. He ranks higher than everything that has been made. Through his power all things were made—things in heaven and on earth, things seen and unseen, all powers, authorities, lords, and rulers. All things were made through Christ and for Christ. He was there before anything was made, and all things continue because of him.” Colossians 1:15-17 (NCV)

To reject the account of creation as found in Genesis is to reject not only Old Testament worship but New Testament worship. In Romans 1:25 (NLT) the Bible says, “They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise!” When we deny God’s creative power, we end up worshiping the creation instead of the Creator.

Gentle Reader, creation is important; It is the reason we worship God, and the seventh day has stood as a memorial to God’s creative power from creation week until today. “The Lord created the heavens. He is God. He formed the earth and made it. He set it firmly in place. He didn’t create it to be empty. Instead, he formed it for people to live on. He says, ‘I am the Lord. There is no other Lord.’” Isaiah 45:18 (NIRV)


Photos that I took in Mena during April 2009




























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