Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Keeping Your Word

My An Arkie's Faith column from the October 25, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Last Saturday, family and friends gathered to say goodbye to my Daddy. He was one of the most interesting people you could ever meet. His life revolved around his love for God, family, and cars. Anyone who knew him knew that he had a passion for cars. I drove one of my Daddy’s unique car creations to the memorial. It had started as a Chevrolet El Camino, but Daddy had grafted the front end of a 1950 Studebaker to the front of it. He called his creation a Studemino.

As I was driving the Studemino to the memorial, it started to lose power, and soon after, it quit as I went up a steep hill. I had to call my cousin to rescue me. As my daughter and I were waiting to be rescued, she started laughing. “It is so appropriate to be having car trouble on the day of Grandpa’s memorial,” she said. Through the years, Daddy had broken down on the highway too many times to count. It was almost a trademark. And he often ran out of gas trying to get to that next gas station that was a couple of cents cheaper. 

At the memorial, people remembered their experiences with Daddy, almost all centered around a car. So many people in attendance remembered Daddy giving them rides in his old cars or even letting them drive them. Daddy loved showing his cars to people and sharing them. Another theme was his trustworthiness. You could count on Daddy to keep his word. As people shared stories, I remembered one he had told me about his childhood. When Daddy told me the story, he said he learned the importance of keeping your word from his Daddy.

When he was young, his family called my Daddy Bobby. The cold Kansas winter wind blew as the young boy walked down the icy country road. The gravel road was coated in sleet and ice. “Be careful, Bobby,” Daddy said, “you don’t want to slip and fall like I just did.” “Yes, Daddy,” Bobby answered. They had already been walking for more than a mile and still had several more. Bobby had never seen a road that was so slick. There had been several inches of sleet the day before, followed by heavy freezing rain. The ice coated everything, making it impossible to travel the country roads by car.

Earlier that morning, Daddy had said, “Bobby, why don’t you come with me to take care of the neighbor’s cattle.” Daddy had promised the neighbor that he would feed the cattle while the neighbor had to be out of town for a few days. He hadn’t gone to feed the cattle the day before because of the ice storm, and he knew the cows would be hungry. “We can’t take the Model A; it’s frozen solid, and the roads are too slick,” Daddy said, “we will have to walk.” “But the neighbor's house is five miles from here,” Bobby said. “Yes,” Daddy answered, “but I promised I would take care of the cattle, so if the only way we can get there is by walking, then we will have to walk.”

Along the country road to the neighbors’ house were several long, steep grades. Daddy and Bobby struggled to make it up the slippery slopes, and Daddy fell multiple times. “How long will it take us to get there,” Bobby asked. “However long it takes,” Daddy answered, “I promised that I would take care of the cattle, and I must keep my word no matter how bad the conditions are or how long it takes.” Bobby put his hands in his pockets to warm them as they continued walking down the icy road.

After walking for three and a half miles, Daddy and Bobby came to the state highway. As they were walking down the highway, a truck spread sand on the road. The driver stopped and asked where they were going. Daddy told him they were heading to the neighbor’s house about a mile and a half down the highway. “Hop in and get warmed up,” the driver said, “ride with me while I’m sanding the road, and I will take you there.” Bobby was happy to crawl up into the cab of the truck and sit between the driver and Daddy.

When they reached the neighbor’s house, the truck stopped, and Daddy and Bobby crawled down out of the truck. “Thank you so much,” Daddy told the driver as they waved goodbye. Bobby gave grain to the cattle, and Daddy pitched hay. The cows were very happy to see them and get something to eat. When they had finished feeding the cows, Daddy chopped a hole in the ice so the cattle could get a drink. When they had finished, Daddy said, “We had better get started back home. We have a long way to go and want to get home before dark.”

Shortly after they started walking down the highway, someone gave them a ride to the country road that led to their house. They still had three and a half miles to walk. Daddy slipped and fell several times as they walked down the icy road. When they could finally see the home place, it was almost dark. They had walked miles and miles of treacherously slick roads to feed some cows. “Why did we have to feed the cows when the roads were so icy?” Bobby wondered.  “A man’s word is important,” Daddy answered. “If you make someone a promise, you should do everything you can to keep it.” When they opened the door to their house and felt the warmth of the wood stove, Bobby was happy to be home.

Gentle Reader, I have had many promises made to me that were broken. I’m sure that you have, too. And I have broken promises that I have made. But unlike our promises to each other, God keeps every promise he makes to us. God does not go back on His word. “God is not a human being, and he will not lie. He is not a human, and he does not change his mind. What he says he will do, he does. What he promises, he makes come true.” Numbers 23:19 (NCV) When you read your Bible, look for God’s promises to you. A favorite promise of mine is found in Isaiah 41:10 (NLT): “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” You can count on God to keep his word!

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

I'll Meet You at the River

My An Arkie's Faith column from the October 18, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

My Daddy had looked forward to his Madison College reunion for six months. I told him I would take him, and he was so happy. Over the years, he kept in touch with friends from college. This year’s reunion was to be the final reunion, and Daddy didn’t want to miss it. Madison College closed in the early 60s, so there are few remaining alumni. As the reunion neared, he talked about it to everyone he met.

A few weeks before the reunion, my orthopedic surgeon scheduled my knee replacement surgery just a few days before the college reunion. When I told Daddy, he was very disappointed. I felt terrible, but there was nothing I could do. I asked my daughter if there was any way that she might be able to take him, and she was able to arrange her schedule so that she could.

Daddy was excited when I told him she would take him to the reunion. They packed the car with snacks and headed out on a road trip to Nashville, Tennessee. While at the reunion, Daddy had a great time reconnecting with old friends. He also enjoyed showing off his beautiful granddaughter. Nine college alumni who, along with Daddy, graduated in the 50s were in attendance.

The morning after the reunion, Daddy and some friends ate breakfast at Cracker Barrel. After a wonderful visit, it was time to head back home to Mena. When they said their goodbyes, Daddy told his friends, “I probably won't see you again, but I will meet you at the river.”

The evening that Daddy and my daughter returned from Nashville, we had a wonderful time visiting as they told us stories of the weekend. Daddy was happier and more engaging than he had been for quite a while. He told anyone he talked to about his reunion experiences. He told stories from his boyhood that I had never heard before. 

While recovering from knee surgery, Daddy stayed at my business daily to let customers know I could not work for a few weeks. Last Wednesday, while he was at the shop, my wife and I made two trips there and visited with him for a few minutes. On Thursday, a friend helped me pick up a load of glass and make deliveries. My Daddy wasn't there when we stopped by the shop to pick up the glass delivery truck. “He is usually here by this time,” I thought. “I wonder what is happening with him.”

When we returned to the shop with a load of glass on the truck, he still wasn’t there. “Let’s go check on Daddy before we make our deliveries,” I told my friend. When we arrived at Daddy’s house and went inside, we found that he had slipped away during the night. That scene will be forever etched in my memory.

The shock of that experience is still with me as I make funeral arrangements. Sadness and grief have come in waves as I cope with everything that must be taken care of. But between those waves of intense emotion are thoughts of comfort as I think about Daddy’s last words to his friends, “I’ll meet you at the river.”

One of his favorite hymns was Shall We Gather at the River. “Shall we gather at the river, where bright angel feet have trod, with its crystal tide forever flowing by the throne of God? Yes, we'll gather at the river, the beautiful, the beautiful river; Gather with the saints at the river that flows by the throne of God.”

My Daddy had spent his life serving God in the best way he knew how. He loved Jesus and believed fully that he would spend eternity with him. He loved studying his Bible and took to heart the passages that read, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” 1 John 5:13 (ESV) “Endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.” Romans 5:4 (NLT) He was confident he would meet at the river.

The hymn’s final verse proclaims, “Soon we'll reach the shining river, soon our pilgrimage will cease. Soon our happy hearts will quiver with the melody of peace. Yes, we'll gather at the river, the beautiful, the beautiful river; Gather with the saints at the river that flows by the throne of God.”

Robert Lowry wrote this hymn in 1864 after meditating on a picture of heaven found in Revelation 22:1-2 (ESV), “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.”

I’m comforted that Daddy has fallen asleep and is resting peacefully. He is no longer fighting the daily battles of life. In 2 Timothy 4:7 (NLT), Paul’s words could be Daddy’s. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.” I’m comforted that God has promised that if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, we can be sure that those who sleep in Jesus will live again. When the Lord Himself descends from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God, the dead in Christ will rise again.

Gentle Reader, if you have experienced the loss of a friend or family member, remember that God does not want you to be ignorant “concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NKJV) God has said that they are blessed. Revelation 14:13 (NIV) says, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”’ 

I’m confident that Daddy believed the words of the Psalmist found in Psalms 17:15 (NASB); “As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.” I’m looking forward to the day that Jesus returns and Daddy will awake and look into the face of Jesus, his Savior. I’m looking forward to the day “God 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 hope to meet Daddy and you at the river one day.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

The Great Imbalance

My An Arkie's Faith column from the October 11, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

I recently received a phone call from Vicky Warren. A mutual friend gave her my phone number and told her we might have mutual interests. Vicky has a passion for missions, and I have a passion for writing about my experiences using spiritual principles. As we talked, she told me she was the CEO of a parachurch organization, MissionNext. MissionNext is a church mobilization organization that connects ministry leaders and missionaries to service opportunities in over 200 countries.

Vicky’s passion for missions was evident as we visited. Her particular passion is for the unreached areas of the world. She takes the gospel commission very seriously. “Go and make followers of all people in the world. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything that I have taught you, and I will be with you always, even until the end of this age.” Matthew 28:19,20 (NCV) 

Vicky made me aware of some things that I had never realized before. A large portion of the world has no Christian presence at all. Twenty-nine percent of the world, just over one out of every four people on this planet, live in areas where they have never heard of Jesus. They have no chance of hearing the good news of Jesus Christ because they have no access to the gospel: no Bibles in their language and no churches or believers nearby who might tell them about Jesus.

Like most Christians, I thought we were doing a pretty good job of spreading the gospel. To be presented with evidence that shows we have so much room for improvement was disheartening. 

On the YouTube channel Radical, I watched a video titled The Great Imbalance. There, I learned that there are 7.75 billion people in our world, and over three million are unreached, meaning they have zero access to the gospel. Most will be born, live, and die without hearing about Jesus.

In its simplest terms, The Great Commission is the command of Jesus to reach “all of the world.” But we are not getting close to that goal. The video I watched broke down the numbers of what they called the great imbalance. Accomplishing any task requires determination, a plan, and resources. But here is where the imbalance comes into play.

Across the world, hundreds of millions of Bible-believing Christians want to fulfill the Great Commission. They donate hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars to their churches. Last year, over forty billion dollars were allocated to missions. 400,000 Christian people are working as missionaries. It seems like Christians are doing their part to help fulfill the command of Jesus to make followers worldwide.

But on closer inspection of the statistics, we find a great imbalance. Of those billions of dollars given to missions, only a tiny portion, around one percent, is used for unreached people groups, and only three percent of missionaries take the gospel to unreached people worldwide. This is the great imbalance. Twenty-nine percent of the world, just over one out of every four people on this planet, live in areas where they have never heard of Jesus. And Christians use just one percent of their mission donations in these areas.

I’m reminded of the story of Jonah, where God gave him a message. “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.” Jonah 1:2 (NLT) But instead of following God’s command, “Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish.” Jonah 1:3 (NLT)

We know how Jonah tried to get out of doing what God had told him to do. But have we ever acted like Jonah? Jesus has told us to get up and go. Where are you going? Are you on the road to Nineveh or on a voyage to Tarshish? We have been given a message to spread worldwide but failed. We have passed judgment on many of the people groups of the world. We say, "They don't deserve the love of God; they don't deserve my time because they are no good.”

When we decide that certain people groups aren't worthy of our time, aren't worthy of the good news of salvation, we are boarding a boat for Tarshish. We don’t want to travel to Nineveh and give the good news because we are worried that God might save the people we don’t like.  That was a factor in Jonah’s decision to board the voyage to Tarshish.

In Revelation 7:9 (NASB), God reveals the grand finale of human history. When humanity’s struggle finally ends, God will fill His eternal Kingdom with “a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues.” God is preparing for an uncountable multitude of worshippers from every nation, tribe, and language. We must not merely wait for this to happen. God asks for us to work with Him to bring it to pass. Jesus commands us to “go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to all people.” Mark 16:15 (GNT)

How can you and I go into the world and preach the gospel “to every nation, tribe and people, no matter what language they speak?” Revelation 14:6 (NIRV) What can we do from a small town in Western Arkansas? God has a job for each one of us, and he provides the means for us to accomplish it.

Gentle Reader, what will you do when God asks you to get up and go? Do you take the Gospel Commission as a personal command? Are you looking forward to hearing, “Well done, good and faithful servant?” Matthew 25:23 (NKJV) Then we must “go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to all people.” Mark 16:15 (GNT) Let’s help correct the great imbalance.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

A Leg to Stand On

My An Arkie's Faith column from the October 4, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

I walked into Dr. Hefley’s office in Little Rock with a few minutes to spare before my appointment. Just a minute after checking in, I was called to the door leading to the exam rooms. The X-ray technician led me to the x-ray room and took images of my knees. When he was finished, I was directed to an exam room to wait for the doctor.

As I waited, I wondered what the process would be. I was changing Orthopedic doctors, and this was my first visit. A man in scrubs walked into the room and said, “My name is Kenneth Weaver, and I am a physician assistant. Dr. Hefley couldn’t be here today, so I will examine you.”

My heart sank a little. Would this make the process take longer? Would I have to make more trips to Little Rock? I had been suffering from knee pain for several years and finally decided to have the knee replacement done. Now that I was ready, how long would it take before the surgery would be scheduled?

 While I was lost in my thoughts, the doctor examined the X-rays on his computer. When he had finished, he turned to me and said, “You don’t have a leg to stand on.” 

I know my left knee has been in bad shape for a long time. Three years ago, my X-rays showed that it was bone on bone. My previous orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Bean, told me the answer was a complete knee replacement. I resisted the idea, and he said to me that when it hurt bad enough, I would get it replaced. But I hadn’t realized how bad my right knee was. 

The doctor said, “We need to schedule knee replacement surgery as soon as possible.” 

“I have a fiftieth high school reunion to attend,” I told him. “And I have tickets to see the Beach Boys in concert. But after that, I am ready.”

“On your way out, talk to the girl who does the scheduling, and let’s get you a new knee so you will have a leg to stand on,” he replied.

When I told the scheduler that I was ready to schedule the surgery any time after the Beach Boys concert, she put me on the schedule for the day after the concert. As I write this, it is the day before my knee replacement surgery. By this time tomorrow, I should have a brand-new knee.

To prepare for the surgery, I had to travel to Little Rock for a pre-op physical. Passing the physical was the final hurdle to getting relief from the pain I had been experiencing. The doctor requires that I be off all pain medications before the surgery, including arthritis medication. My pain levels over the last couple of weeks have been high, and I have had extreme difficulty climbing stairs and getting in and out of chairs. I am looking forward to having a leg to stand on.

As I limp around with a cane and must have help to get out of my chair, I think about a passage in Ecclesiastes 12:2,3 (ICB). “When you become old, the light from the sun, moon and stars will seem dark to you. It will seem as if the rain clouds never go away. At that time your arms will lose their strength. Your strong legs will become weak and bent.”

What will it mean for me to have a leg to stand on? In a physical sense, it will be a relief for me to have a new knee. But when we use the phrase, “He doesn’t have a leg to stand on,” what do we mean?

If you say that someone doesn’t have a leg to stand on, you mean that a statement or claim they have made cannot be justified or proven. There is no evidence, support, or justification for one's argument or actions, or they have no chance of success. This metaphor dates from the sixteenth century and applies the lack of physical support to an idea or hypothesis. The Elizabethan satirist Thomas Nashe in The Unfortunate Traveler, written in 1594 stated, “Faine he would have pacht out a polt-foot tale, but God knows it had not one true leg to stand on.”

How many of our beliefs and claims can be proven, and how often, when we speak, do we not have a leg to stand on? I have often thought I could accomplish God’s will for my life with my own effort. I think I still have one good leg to please God with, and I believe I can accomplish His purposes without His power. I hobble my way through life, seeking to walk the Christian walk.

I’m sure that I am not alone in this. Paul thought he could be righteous through his efforts. Only when God knocked him off his high horse and had a face-to-face encounter with him did Paul realize he didn’t have a leg to stand on. He later wrote, “For it’s by God’s grace that you have been saved. You receive it through faith. It was not our plan or our effort. It is God’s gift, pure and simple. You didn’t earn it, not one of us did, so don’t go around bragging that you must have done something amazing.” Ephesians 2:8 (VOICE)

We must admit we do not have a “leg to stand on.” The Holy Spirit gives us the strength to want to please and serve God. We must recognize our weaknesses and remember we are dependent on God’s grace moment by moment and step by step.

Isaiah 64:6 (GW) tells us that “all our righteous acts are like permanently stained rags. All of us shrivel like leaves, and our sins carry us away like the wind.” Why would we rely on saving ourselves when God tells us that in our own works, we don’t have a leg to stand on?

Gentle Reader, in a beautiful poetic passage in Psalms 139:9,10 (NIV), David wrote, “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” The only way we can navigate through life's pitfalls is if God guides us and holds us up. Otherwise, we don’t have a leg to stand on.