Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Don't Be Cruel

My An Arkie's Faith column from the February 12, 2020, issue of The Mena Star.

While driving down a country road, I saw someone in front of a house carrying a big stick. As I neared the house, I saw the man use the stick to beat a dog brutally. He was yelling and cursing as he repeatedly hit the dog. I cringed as I witnessed him treating the dog so cruelly. The dog cowered before the man, and he kicked the dog while beating it. I could see the fear in the dog’s eyes. I love dogs and seeing the abuse of this animal broke my heart.

Many people see God as someone who will treat anyone who is against Him with terrible cruelty. Some Christian writers and speakers spend a lot of time focusing on the wrath of God and how He will torture sinners. I recently read an article by John Burton titled, "Is it Time for Hell Fire Preaching Again?" In the article, he stated, "we need hellfire preachers to emerge and announce to the church and the world the reality of their situation and the measure of God's wrath and judgment that is coming. Contrary to popular belief, a very real revelation of hell, of torment, is needed to draw people to the Lover of their souls."

I can't agree with the idea that a very real revelation of hell, of torment, is needed to draw people to God. Instead, I want to present a gentle God. In Matthew 11:29 (NCV) 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.” Why would Jesus describe himself as gentle? I think we find the key in 1 John 4:18 (NKJV), “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.”

I’m not saying that there are no consequences. There is a judgment. Galatians 6:7-8 (NIV), tells us, "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life." But 2 Peter 3:9 (NKJV) 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. Fear spills over into our outreach efforts. We feel that we have to warn the world of the judgment, the Second Coming, and hell. Shouldn’t it rather be our privilege to announce to the world the Good News that Jesus is almost here? That we can all be ready for that because of what He’s already done before we were even born. That if we daily choose Him, we have nothing to fear from the judgment and hell.

There is no doubt that the world needs to come to repentance, but does God use fear as a way to motivate us? The Bible says in Romans 2:4(NASB), "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?  Is it fear?  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 God’s kindness towards us makes us sorry for the things we have done to hurt him.  It leads us to repentance.  It doesn’t lead us to fear Him. God doesn’t want us to fear Him. I will illustrate this with a story. One night a house caught fire, and a young boy had to go 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 was flames, smoke, and blackness.  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. Let me ask you a question. Was the boy in the story afraid? Yes, of course, he was afraid. He was afraid of the fire. Was he afraid of the fireman? No. He had to put his trust in the fireman. He couldn’t have put his trust in the fireman if he had been afraid of him.

Gentle Reader, God doesn’t want you to fear Him; he wants to save you. Over one hundred times the Bible tells us, do not be afraid. Do you see God as a harsh, demanding, cruel God or a loving God? Psalms 86:15 (NKJV) says, “But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.” Do you see God as a gentle God, a compassionate God, and a gracious God? A God who wants to save you. I hope so!

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Fighting the Flu

My An Arkie's Faith column from the February 5, 2020, issue of The Mena Star

My head felt like someone had shaken it until it bruised inside. My throat was so sore that it was hard to swallow. I alternated between feeling like I would burst into flames and intense chills. I couldn’t remember when I had felt this bad. When I first started feeling sick, I was returning from a trip to the Oregon coast. I just thought I was coming down with a cold and started taking over the counter cold medication. Three days later, I was feeling much worse, and I knew that I was suffering from more than a common cold.

I called the doctor’s office and was able to get in to see the doctor that afternoon. After sticking a swab down my throat until I gagged and sticking another swab up my nose until it felt like it was stabbing my brain, the doctor told me the good news was that I didn’t have strep throat. The bad news was that I had the flu and a sinus infection. He gave me prescriptions for an anti-viral and an antibiotic. He told me to go home and rest.

The next day, in addition to the symptoms that I already had, I developed a toothache worse than I had ever experienced before in my life. Ibuprofen did nothing for the pain. I took Hydrocodone, but it provided no relief. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. Sharp pains shot through my mouth, and colorful spots flashed in front of my eyes. I felt like my whole body had been beaten, especially the left side of my face.

Several months ago, my dentist had filled a tooth. He told me that if it ever started hurting again, to come in and we would probably have to put a crown on it. When he opened on Monday morning, I was at his office door asking for an appointment. He was able to see me within the hour, but after taking x-rays and examining the tooth, he told me that he couldn’t find any problems. It was probably an infection. That evening, the roof of my mouth was swollen and extremely painful.

The next morning, I called the doctor and told him about my mouth. He was able to get me in that morning, and after examining me, added another antibiotic to the one I was already taking. After several days, I am feeling better, but my energy levels are low. I am very thankful for the help that I have received from medical professionals.

In Matthew 9:12 (NCV), Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Christian music artist Michael Card wrote a song titled, “Gentle Healer.” It is a favorite of mine. I love the way that it refers to Jesus as the Gentle Healer. “The Gentle Healer came into our town today. He touched blind eyes and the darkness left to stay. But more than the blindness, He took their sins away. The Gentle Healer came into our town today.”

Jesus would come into a town and heal those who were sick. He also forgave their sins. There was something else that Jesus did before he left town. Luke 24:45 (NIV) tells us that Jesus “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”

Just like a doctor gives us a prescription to help us get well, Jesus has given us a prescription to help heal us spiritually. We need to take our spiritual prescription so that we can get healthy and stay healthy. The prescription is "The Holy Bible."  We need to take it every day. It is safe and effective.
I have never seen anyone whose spiritual growth has been hindered by reading the Bible. It improves us and makes us healthy in the Lord. Everything in the Bible is there for us to study and learn about God. “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing people what is wrong in their lives, for correcting faults, and for teaching how to live right.” 2 Timothy 3:16 (NCV) Religious books, commentaries, and devotionals are helpful, but if you just read them and not the Bible, you'll miss the active ingredient in the prescription. We need to read and study the Bible on our own.

When I read in the Bible of the healing that Jesus did, I notice the compassion that Jesus had as He interacted with the people. He cared for their needs. Matthew 14:14 (VOICE) tells us that, “though Jesus wanted solitude, when He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, and He healed the sick and the lame.” When Jesus sees you sick and in pain, He has compassion on you. You can speak to Him anytime about how you are feeling and what's going on in your life. You don’t have to make an appointment. He even makes house calls.

Not only does Jesus want to heal you and forgive you, but he also wants to give you rest. He knows that you are tired. He knows that you need rest to heal. In Matthew 11:28,29 (NCV), Jesus says, “Come to me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Accept my teachings and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives.”

Gentle Reader, come to Jesus, and He will give you rest. Don’t put off going to the doctor. You can’t get well on your own. You need the Gentle Healer. No matter what it is that you are facing right now in your life, Jesus understands. Jesus knows what you are going through. “‘I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,’ declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 30:17 (NIV)