Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Good Gifts - December 27, 2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the December 27, 2017, issue of The Mena Star


During the Christmas season, we focus on giving good gifts. We spend a lot of money and time finding the right gifts for people that are important in our life. Did you give any great gifts this year? Was there a particular gift that you were especially excited about? Sometimes we fail in our gift giving. Did you have any fails this year?

One Christmas when my son was a young boy, we nearly ruined his Christmas with one of his gifts. One of his jobs was sweeping the kitchen floor. That Christmas we bought a stick vacuum cleaner and thought it would be funny to give to him as a gift. The vacuum, wrapped in beautiful paper, was the largest gift under the tree. When my son saw that the largest gift had his name on it, he was very excited. His imagination went wild. What could that present be? His whole Christmas revolved around the largest gift under the tree and speculating on what it could be.

When Christmas morning arrived, all he could think about was that gift. When he opened it, he was so disappointed that the rest of his Christmas presents couldn't make up for the vacuum cleaner fiasco.

Have you ever been disappointed by a gift? Has someone been disappointed by the gift you gave them? What about great gifts? What is the best gift you have ever received? What made it so special? Was it the value of the gift? Was it the person who gave it to you?

What is the best gift you received this Christmas? What is the best gift you ever received? As I think about this question, I find it hard to narrow down one particular gift as the best. There is a gift that I received that is very special to me even though the dollar value of the gift is not very high. Let me tell you the story.

In February 2004, my family and I went on a mission trip to San Pedro, Belize to help build a church. While we were there, we made lots of friends. The next year we made plans to go back to San Pedro.
Our return trip to Belize was wonderful. We got reacquainted with friends that we had made the year before, and made many new friends during the ten days that we were there. Many times friends would stop by our room with gifts such as fresh coconut water, papaya, or some small trinket. On the last day that we were in San Pedro, there was a steady stream of visitors to our room. They wanted to tell us goodbye. Many of them brought a small gift.

We received one gift that was very special to me. My wife made a special friendship with a little two-year-old boy who spoke only Spanish. Whenever he would see her, his face would light up. He didn’t understand English, but he understood the language of love. The day we were leaving he and his four-year-old sister came to our door with a gift. They gave us a well worn 1941 Walking Liberty half-dollar. I have no idea how this little family had come into possession of this coin, or why they gave it to me. Even though the monetary value of the coin is only a few dollars, it is one of the most precious gifts I have ever received.

I learned an important spiritual lesson on my trip to Belize. I learned it from the people that I met. They had such a desire to do something for us. Even though they had only meager possessions, they had such a desire to please. They wanted to see us before we left. They wanted to bring us a gift. It was very important to them. I saw a great object lesson in the way they treated me. It showed me how I should relate to God. I should come to God and say, “I don’t have much, but I want to give you something.” “God let me know what I can do to please you.” “God, I want to be with you.”

Gentle Reader, I know that you gave and received some good gifts this Christmas season. Jesus knows that too. In Matthew 7:7-11 (NIV) Jesus said, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

God is the ultimate giver of good gifts. No matter how awesome the best gift you opened this Christmas is, it can’t compare to the gift of Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas. In Romans 6:23 (KJV) the Bible tells us “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” God has given you the best gift ever; what will you give God?

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A Shepherd's Life - December 20, 2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the December 20, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


Growing up in Colorado, I remember occasionally seeing shepherds with their flocks of sheep when we traveled in the mountains. I thought that being a shepherd looked like fun. You got to spend your time outdoors in the beautiful Colorado mountains. Their small little trailers looked so homey and quaint.

When I got older and became an avid newspaper reader, I read some stories that showed the darker side of being a shepherd in Colorado. Most of the shepherds are foreigners who are seldom able to talk to family back home. They live without any human company for months at a time. The shepherds have no water, no toilet, no shower, no place to wash clothes. Most live in small, 6x10-foot trailers with just enough room to stretch out to sleep, a small wood-burning stove and little else. Some have an outhouse nearby. Many don’t.

Before World War II, most of Colorado’s shepherds were Americans, but by the early 1950’s, the industry couldn’t find enough American citizens to do the tedious and difficult work for very low wages. In 1952, Congress enacted a program to help farmers and ranchers secure a reliable supply of foreign workers. But shepherds were exempted from many of the protections granted by law to other foreign agricultural workers, such as an hourly wage and access to running water and a toilet.

Currently, more than 1,600 shepherds working in nine Western states participate in the program. They live in primitive tents or trailers, watching over thousands of animals on vast areas of public land. For decades, federal regulations have set their wages at $750 a month. Most shepherds work seven days a week for ten to twelve hours a day. Last year, the Department of Labor released a new rule increasing shepherd pay to $1,200 per month.

When you read or hear about shepherds, it is often a metaphor for a caregiver tending to his people, such as a leader or a pastor. But the actual shepherds, the ones who travel for miles and miles every day, tending to a large flock of sheep, lead a lonely and rugged life far away from civilization.

I want to be a shepherd. No, I don’t want to live alone with a herd of sheep in a small trailer with no bathroom or running water and work seven days a week for ten to twelve hours a day. But I have always coveted the experience of the shepherds on that first Christmas night.

God could have chosen to reveal this important announcement to anyone on earth. But instead of assigning the angels to visit some of the most important people on earth, God sent the angels to speak to humble shepherds, who most people didn't consider important. The shepherds would have been watching over their flocks while the sheep and lambs rested or grazed on grass from the hillsides. Although the shepherds were prepared to deal with any danger that threatened their animals, they were frightened by the angels' appearance. That is why the angels told them, “don’t be afraid.”

The angels reassured the terrified shepherds that they had good news for them. Since the shepherds raised the lambs that were sacrificed to atone for people's sins each spring on Passover, the shepherds would have well understood the importance of the Messiah's arrival to save the world from sin. In John 1:29 (NKJV), the Bible refers to Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

The fields around Bethlehem would have been very dark. Suddenly a bright light broke into the black night, as the sky above Bethlehem filled with a multitude of angels. The announcement of the birth of Jesus was marked by the light of many angels appearing in all of their heavenly glory. As amazing as the experience must have been, seeing angels appearing in the night sky isn’t the part of the experience that intrigues me the most. It is what happened next.

The Bible tells the story in Luke 2:15-18 (NKJV). "So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.”

Imagine what it must have been like to be one of the first people to see the baby Jesus! I can feel the excitement these humble shepherds felt. They had to tell people of their experiences. Can you imagine being a part of those conversations? Even in the days before media such as television and the internet, word traveled fast that something amazing was happening.

Gentle Reader, even though I will never be a shepherd or experience the things that the humble shepherds of Bethlehem experienced on that first Christmas, I can follow their example. I can spread the word about the baby Jesus. I can be excited about Jesus and what he means to this world. That is what Christmas is all about. Let’s all be shepherds!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Les Miserables - December 13, 2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the December 13, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


When my wife learned that the musical theatre production of Les Miserables was coming to Little Rock, we made plans to attend. We had attended a production of the show around twenty years ago and had enjoyed it very much. We asked my Mom if she would like to go with us and she was excited to be able to attend. She had studied Les Miserables in French class when she was a girl.

The December day that we traveled to Little Rock to see the production was a warm 75-degree day. After some Christmas shopping, a great meal at Cantina Laredo, and seeing an awesome sunset, we headed to The Robinson Center in downtown Little Rock. As we were driving, we watched the dramatic supermoon rise over downtown. The state capitol was striking with Christmas lights outlining the building.

The Robinson Center was a bustle of activity as we made our way to our seats. The set with its towering buildings on either side of the stage, made us feel like we were in France in the early 1800's. The audience of the sold-out show waited in eager anticipation for the performance to begin. When the first strains of music started, a hush fell over the theater. For over three hours the performers held the audience in rapt attention. Every line of the musical is sung through, so there is no spoken dialogue. Across the board, the vocals were amazing. The vocal power displayed by every member of the cast kept the audience enthralled.

The musical Les Miserables is based on a French historical novel by Victor Hugo that was first published in 1862. It is considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century. The novel tells a story of broken dreams, sacrifice, and redemption. It is an examination of law and grace, and a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit.

Victor Hugo wrote in the preface; “So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age—the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night—are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.”

The musical revolves around the story of two men; Jean Valjean, who was imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family, and Inspector Javert who is always looking for Valjean and seeking to arrest him after he breaks his parole.

To me, the most intriguing part the story of Les Miserables is the different way the main characters deal with law and mercy. The story starts when Jean Valjean is released after 19 years in jail. Valjean is rejected in every place he seeks refuge until he finds a priest who gives him food and a place to sleep.

Jean Valjean steals all the finest silver from the priest. He is caught and brought back and made to admit his sin in front of the priest. The police are ready to put Jean Valjean in jail when the priest stops them. He explains that he did give all of the silver to the man and, in fact, the man forgot to take the most precious silver. As the priest hands over his valuable candlesticks, it is clear that his grace is greater than Jean Valjean could have ever imagined. Having experienced such forgiveness, he spends the rest of his life trying to replicate the grace that was given to him.

Javert is the legalist, and he holds strictly to the letter of the law. There is only one way to treat others, and it is by strict justice. The story leads up to a climactic scene when Jean Valjean has the opportunity to kill Javert. But instead of retribution for the lifelong struggles and pain Javert has inflicted on his life, Jean Valjean shows him mercy, cuts his bound hands loose, and sends his enemy off as a free man.

The mercy shown to him by Valjean sends Javert, the legalist, into a tailspin from which he cannot recover. For him, mercy proves to be an unsolvable problem. He sings, “I am the law, and the law is not mocked! I’ll spit his pity right back in his face!” And then continues, “my thoughts fly apart. Can this man be believed? Shall his sins be forgiven? Shall his crimes be reprieved? Does he know that granting me my life today, this man has killed me even so.” After experiencing unmerited mercy, Javert the legalist jumps off a bridge and kills himself.

The power of Les Miserables is the way it contrasts the life of the merciful with the life of the merciless. The merciful have faced their guilt and been broken. The merciless have faced their guilt and hardened themselves like steel.

Gentle Reader, Les Miserables is a story of the contrast in how sinners respond to the offer of free mercy. At a profound level, this is the story of two responses to mercy: one man is broken and lives, and one man is hardened and dies. Titus 3:5 (NIRV) tells us that “He saved us. It wasn’t because of the good things we had done. It was because of his mercy. He saved us by washing away our sins. We were born again. The Holy Spirit gave us new life.” Don’t be an Inspector Javert and refuse the mercy that is shown to you, be a Jean Valjean and live a life showing mercy to others because of the mercy you have been given.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Rumble Seat - December 6, 2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the December 6, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


Last year, the Chamber of Commerce asked us to drive my Dad’s Shay Model A in the Christmas Parade with Santa Claus riding in the rumble seat. For those who are too young to know what a rumble seat is, it is an upholstered exterior seat which folded into the rear of a car. Rumble seat passengers are exposed to the elements and receive no protection from the regular passenger compartment top.

This year the Chamber of Commerce once again asked if we would drive Santa in the Christmas Parade. The Shay Model A had been driven very little since last year’s parade. I decided to get it out and drive it over the Thanksgiving holiday to make sure everything was in good working order before the parade. My granddaughters, ages twelve, ten, and seven, spent several days with us at Thanksgiving. They loved to ride in the rumble seat. Since only two could ride at a time in the rumble seat, there was always a discussion about who would ride there. The adults also enjoyed riding in the rumble seat. The two youngest granddaughters were riding in the front of the Model A when they looked through the tiny rear window and caught their parents kissing in the rumble seat. They thought that it was gross and very funny at the same time.

Whenever you drive an old car, you have instant friends. People will approach you and ask about the car. While I was driving with my granddaughters, we pulled into the gas station to put gas in the Model A. The station was busy, and we had to wait for a pump. My granddaughters were very animated, laughing and giggling in the rumble seat. The lady at the pump next to us came over to talk to us. She commented on the car, and how cute the girls were. She told me that the woman with her in the car was ninety-five years old and that she had been very excited to see the old car with the rumble seat. She remembered when she had ridden in rumble seats when she was young and told several stories about her rumble seat experiences.

When rumble seats were commonplace, most people wanted to ride in the front of the car, and the rumble seat was considered second best. Although rumble seats were fun and somewhat exciting to ride in, rumble seat riders were exposed to the wind, the noise, the bugs, the rain and the sun. People jokingly referred to the rumble seat as the mother-in-law seat. John Cougar Mellencamp included the song “Rumbleseat” on his 1985 album, Scarecrow. He sang, “I am a pitiful sight. I can't even get one thing right. I know just what it's like to be riding in the rumble seat.”

After seeing the Model A’s rumble seat, a customer at my shop told me a story about her own rumble seat experience: "I remember when I was teaching at a one-room school with all eight grades. My beau came courting one night, and after we had gone about a half-mile from home, I heard a slight noise which caused me to look through the rear window of the car. Grinning like a Cheshire Cat and peeking through from the other side sat my little brother, who had hidden in the rumble seat. Would you believe that my beau took him home instead of dumping him out and making him walk?" My cousin tells a similar story about his Dad. The difference in the stories is that his Dad was kicked out of the car and had to walk three miles back home.

Why is it that we get nostalgic when we see old cars. Why do those who remember rumble seats smile when they see one now? Nostalgia is a feeling of pleasure and sometimes slight sadness at the same time as you think about things that happened in the past. Nostalgia is selective memory. We remember the good things and don’t think about the bad. Nostalgia removes the rough edges from the good old days.

God wants us to leave the bad things that have happened to us in the past. He wants us to look to the future, but he does want us to remember. Psalms 105:4,5 (ICB) says, “depend on the Lord and his strength. Always go to him for help. Remember the wonderful things he has done. Remember his miracles and his decisions.” When we forget what God has done for us in the past, we aren’t likely to have a close relationship with him. In Psalms 78:11,12 (NRSV) the Psalmist wrote about the Ephraimites, “they did not keep God’s covenant but refused to walk according to his law. They forgot what he had done, and the miracles that he had shown them.”

The nineteenth-century American writer Ellen White wrote, “we have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us.” It is good to remind ourselves daily of our own experiences of God’s past protections and the ways He has rescued us. As we look forward to the future, it is helpful to remember how God has been there for us in the past. “Remember the old days. Think of the years already passed.” Deuteronomy 32:7 (NCV)

Gentle Reader, most of us tend to dwell on our current difficulties, whatever they may be, and to forget the many times that God has helped us in the past. In the Bible, we read that God regularly urged his people to remember the many ways that He had provided for them, or helped them, in the past and to believe that He would do so again. “Hold on to the Lord and do what He asks you to do. He has helped you before, and He will do it again” Joshua 23:8 (EECW) “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6 (NLT)

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Kalalau Trail - 11/29/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the November 29, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


Last month my wife and I hiked the Kalalau Trail on the Na Pali Coast of Kauai. The Na Pali Coast is a seventeen-mile road-less expanse along Kauai’s North Shore. It is an area filled with dramatic cliff faces, pristine beaches, and incredible beauty. Most people experience the Na Pali Coast by boat or helicopter, but the most adventurous experience it up close and personal by hiking the Kalalau Trail.

The Kalalau Trail is an 11-mile trail that provides the only land access to the rugged Na Pali Coast. The trail traverses five lush valleys and crosses above towering sea cliffs before ending at Kalalau Beach where it is blocked by sheer, fluted cliffs. Backpacker magazine has included the Kalalau Trail in its list of the ten most dangerous hikes in America. The magazine article states that the footing is treacherous after the island's abundant rainfall turns the track into a greasy slip and slide–not amusing when you're edging along a 300-foot cliff that spills straight into a rocky surf. But despite such dangers, tons of visitors continue to make the 11-mile (one way) pilgrimage to Kalalau, one of the world's most beautiful beaches. Kathy Valier, a Kauai resident who has written guidebooks on hiking the island, writes "the trail bed is narrow and crumbly, and I've talked with many people who have either fallen off the trail or seen it happen."

The day before we hiked the trail, we saw the Na Pali Coast by helicopter. The tour was incredible and gave us dramatic and up-close views of the emerald-hued cliffs with razor-sharp ridges that tower above the Pacific Ocean, revealing beautiful beaches and waterfalls that cascade to the lush valley floor. As amazing as the helicopter tour was, we were only able to spend a few minutes near the Na Pali Coast. I wanted to see more and made plans to hike the Kalalau Trail.

To be able to hike beyond the two-mile point on the trail, you have to purchase a permit from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. The number of permits issued is very limited and must be purchased well ahead of time. Not that it mattered, because I was not prepared for a 22-mile backpacking trip. I didn’t have the time, equipment, or the physical stamina. But I dreamed of hiking the trail. I knew that was an impossible dream, so I set my sights a bit lower. I wanted to hike the trail to the first vantage point where I could get a good view of the Na Pali Coast.

We set out to accomplish our goal of walking a mile on the Kalalau Trail. That seemed like an easy goal. But the trail was steep, rocky, muddy and slick. The other hikers that we met on the trail were all much younger than us. We took our time and carefully made our way up the trail. There were places with steep drop-offs beside the trail. We hugged the rocky wall to the inside and continued to make our way upward. From trailhead to the first vantage point, the trail gains almost 800 feet in elevation. It is a strenuous hike. As we made our way upward, the hikers that we met coming back down encouraged us and told us how amazingly beautiful the view was.

It took us about an hour to carefully climb our way up to that first glimpse of the Na Pali Coast. We were not disappointed. There is no way to describe the view. Even though I had read descriptions of the scenery and seen photographs that were taken from that very spot, seeing it with my own eyes surpassed everything I had imagined. We stayed there for about fifteen minutes, taking photos and visiting with other hikers. That moment was a highlight of my vacation.

Since we have returned home, I have been obsessed with the Kalalau Trail. I have been reading anything I can find about it, and have watched scores of YouTube videos that people have made of their hike. The views from the hike are some of the most beautiful in the world, and there is no way to see them other than making the 22-mile hike. It is still a dream of mine to hike the Kalalau Trail, but I realize that it is all but impossible for me.

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I have something to look forward to that is even more exciting than the Kalalau Trail. God has made many promises in the Bible, and each one has been or will be fulfilled. But the return of Jesus is one of the greatest promises of all. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 (NKJV) gives us this promise, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

Gentle Reader, I realize that my obsession with the idea of hiking the Kalalau Trail should pale in comparison to my eagerness for the return of Jesus. I wonder how I can spend so much time looking forward to earthly joys such as the beauty of the Na Pali Coast and spend so little time thinking about and anticipating the second coming of Jesus. “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.” Philippians 3:20 (NLT) Are you eagerly awaiting the return of Jesus?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Kilauea Sunrise - 11/22/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the November 22, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


On my first morning in Kauai, I woke up early and slipped out of the condo before anyone else was awake. I headed out in the rental van looking for a place where I could watch the sunrise. As I headed east out of Princeville, I looked at the map on my phone, and it seemed that the nearest place that I would be able to see the sunrise would be Kilauea Point.

When I reached the small town of Kilauea, there was a gas station open, so I stopped to get a drink. It was still pitch-black outside. The cashier was a friendly older woman who struck up a conversation. Everything about me said that I was a tourist, down to the camera that was hanging around my neck. “You are sure up early this morning,” she said. “What do you have planned for today.” “I am going to find a place to watch the sunrise,” I told her. “I’ve never watched a sunrise,” the cashier answered. The idea that she had never seen the sunrise puzzled me, but I didn’t say anything.

There was no one else at the gas station, and I visited with the cashier for a few minutes. Her family had lived in the area for over one hundred years. She could remember when there were no tourists and almost no roads. Life hadn’t been easy for her and her family even though the area looked like paradise to me. As I walked out of the station and got back into the van, I was a little bit sad for this woman who had never watched a sunrise.

The drive out to Kilauea Point was less than two miles. There is a small parking area there, so I parked the van and got out, anticipating my first sunrise in Kauai. It was no longer pitch-black; there was just enough light so that I could see the surroundings. From my vantage point, I could see the dim outline of the Kilauea Lighthouse out on the point to my left. As I waited for the sun to come up, I was able to see many birds. Kilauea Point is a national wildlife refuge, and home to thousands of birds. I saw albatross, red-footed boobies, brown boobies, red-tailed and white-tailed tropicbirds, great frigatebirds, and shearwaters. The cliffs around the point were a bustle of activity. I also saw several nene, the native goose that is the state bird of Hawaii. The nene are endangered with fewer than one thousand left in the wild.

As the sky began to lighten, the clouds off to the northwest started to glow with color. I began taking pictures. The beauty of the area along with the sunrise filled my heart with joy as I soaked it all in. During the hour or more that I stayed there, only two other people stopped by. As I got back into the van and headed back to the condo, I once again thought about the woman that I had visited with earlier. She had lived her whole life within a few miles of here and yet had never experienced the sunrise. I hadn’t been on the island for twenty-four hours and yet I had just had one of the most enjoyable mornings of my life. Once again I felt sad for her.

I remembered the lyrics to a song by the folk singer Melanie. “Why sleep when the day has been called out by the sun. From the night 'cause the light's gonna shine on everyone. Why sleep when the sleep only closes up our eyes. Why sleep when we can watch the sunrise. Take you an apple and take you a song and watch a baby day be born.” When I see the sunrise, I think of new beginnings. Sunrise brings with it a new day, with new possibilities and new potential. Yesterday has been put to rest and a new day is born.

Recently I have gone through some very painful experiences in my life, but at the same time, I have been encouraged by people who had no idea what I was going through. The experience has helped me focus on the positive and try to leave the negative in the past. The prophet Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 43:18,19 (NCV), “The Lord says, ‘Forget what happened before, and do not think about the past. Look at the new thing I am going to do. It is already happening. Don’t you see it? I will make a road in the desert and rivers in the dry land.’”

God does not want us to focus on what had happened in the past; going through life looking in the rear-view mirror. But we so often can't help ourselves. We remember how people have hurt us and the mistakes we made. We need to look ahead and focus on the future. God wants to do new things in our lives.

Gentle Reader, a sunrise holds so much promise: a new day, a new opportunity, a fresh start. If the night has been difficult, get up and watch the sun come up. Witnessing a sunrise is a soul-healing process. As the intense colors emerge from the horizon and break across the sky, think about what Jesus said in Matthew 6:34 (TPT), “refuse to worry about tomorrow, but deal with each challenge that comes your way, one day at a time. Tomorrow will take care of itself.” Don’t be like the woman who lived her whole life on the beautiful island of Kauai and yet never witnessed a sunrise.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Warning Labels - 11/15/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the November 15, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


In my occupation as an auto bodyman and painter, I have painted many unusual things. One of the most unusual was a Bandit Wood Chipper that I painted for my cousin. Wood chippers have powerful feed systems with large chipper openings that allow you to break down limbs and branches. One of the things that I had to do before I could paint the wood chipper was to remove all the decals and stickers. So that I would know where to put the new decals when I finished painting, I took pictures of all the decals and locations for reference.

Wood chippers are very dangerous machines. I have never used one, but after reading all the warning decals, I have a new found respect for the dangers involved.

One warning label reads “DANGER! STOP TO THINK!! Reaching or kicking into the infeed spout can cause serious injury or death! DO NOT reach with your hand or kick with your foot inside the feed spout. The feedrolls are very powerful. Once your hand or foot is grabbed by the feedrolls, you can be pulled into the chipper. Do not think you will be able to pull yourself out of the feedrolls. They will not let go!” Another one reads “DANGER! SEVERE INJURY OR DEATH CAN OCCUR! UNLESS THESE INSTRUCTIONS ARE FOLLOWED.”

Do you think that Bandit Industries Inc. is serious about their warnings? Are they plain enough for you to understand? The wood chipper was covered with these warnings. I took 30 pictures of warning labels. The manufacturer wants to make sure that you understand the dangers of working with this machine.

The wording on this label made me smile; the company is very serious about their warnings. “BRUSH CHIPPERS ARE VERY DANGEROUS MACHINES TO OPERATE! READ AND BELIEVE THIS WARNING DECAL!” They want you to read and believe. One line on this warning decal reads "There have been MANY ACCIDENTS involving the feed rolls, resulting in the amputation of hands, arms, feet, legs, and DEATH. DO NOT let this happen to you!”

These warnings made me think of the Bible and all the directions and warnings that God has placed in it. In Jeremiah 6:10 (NET) the prophet says, “Who would listen if I spoke to them and warned them? Their ears are so closed that they cannot hear! Indeed, what the Lord says is offensive to them. They do not like it at all.” Why is it that we don't want to listen to the word of the Lord? When I read the warnings on a piece of machinery, I take them seriously, but if I read it in the Bible, I don't want to listen.

It seems that all products come with warning labels. Some of them seem very silly. A can of air freshener has the warning, “do not spray on face or eyes.” That seems reasonable, but I couldn’t quite understand why it contained the warning, “keep out of reach of children and teenagers." Nytol sleep aid tablets have the warning, “may cause drowsiness.”  Vidal Sasson hair dryers want to make sure that you “do not use while sleeping.” A Superman costume comes with this warning; “This costume does not enable flight or super strength.”

Some warnings are very obvious such as, "May irritate eyes,” found on a can of self-defense pepper spray. Or, "do not use orally," on a toilet bowl cleaning brush. A hammer manufacturer thought it was necessary to include the warning, "may be harmful if swallowed." A bag of peanuts has the warning, “may contain peanuts.” But other warnings make you scratch your head and wonder why. Like the bottle of shampoo that contains the following warning; “Caution: The contents of this bottle should not be fed to fish.” Or the clothing washing instructions that say, "do not wear for sumo wrestling."

Because of these often silly warnings, Most of us don’t pay any attention to the warnings placed on the products that we use. But some of them are very important, such as the ones found on the wood chipper that I painted.

The Bible contains a clear warning in Romans 6:23 (KJV).  As clear as the warning decals on a wood chipper. It says "The wages of sin is death." That is clear. Thankfully the verse doesn't end there. It also says "But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

The warnings on the wood chipper were not placed there because Bandit Industries Inc. doesn't want you to have any fun. They were not placed there just to restrict the user. They were placed there for the benefit and safety of the user. God's commandments are like the warnings on the wood chipper. They are not to restrict us; they are for our benefit. They are to keep us safe.

Gentle Reader, many times we look at God's law as a jail. We feel that it creates uncomfortable restrictions. We need to ask God to give us a love for his commandments, to instill in us a desire for the peace and safety of His law. 1 John 5:3 (NKJV) tells us "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” God’s warnings aren’t there to keep us from having fun. It is just the opposite. “Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the Lord. Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts.” Psalms 119:1,2 (NLT)

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Hammered Dulcimer - 11/8/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the November 8, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.



On a recent trip to Branson, Missouri I visited the Butterfly Palace. As I walked into the butterfly aviary, I saw hundreds of butterflies of all sizes and colors flying everywhere. As I was taking it all in and watching the butterflies, I heard beautiful hammered dulcimer music. I assumed that music was being piped in through a speaker system. As I walked around a corner, I saw that the music was coming from a woman playing a hammered dulcimer.

I love hammered dulcimer music, so when she had finished the song, I approached her to talk to her and tell her how much I appreciated the music. She plays on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays at the Butterfly Palace and has Cd’s for sale in the gift shop area. Her name is Ilace Mears, and she is an award-winning hammered dulcimer player. In 2016 she was named the National Hammered Dulcimer Champion at the 46th Annual Walnut Valley Festival. As I visited with her, I told her my experience as a wishful hammered dulcimer player.

Several years ago our family made a trip to Branson Missouri to meet my sister and her family. We had a delightful weekend, enjoying everything except the Branson traffic. We especially enjoyed going to Silver Dollar City.

While we were at Silver Dollar City, we listened to traditional mountain music. I like to listen to mountain instruments, especially the hammered dulcimer. There were vendors selling instruments, and I stopped at one of the booths to look at the hammered dulcimers. The salesman showed me the different dulcimers that he had and assured me that with the materials he had, I would be able to learn to play. In the excitement of the moment, I purchased the hammered dulcimer.

When I returned home, I got the new hammered dulcimer out and tried to play it. Somehow I just couldn't get the hang of it. I watched the video that the salesman had included. I still couldn't make music. All I could make was horrendous noise. I read the book that came with the instrument, but it didn't seem to help. I came to realize that I just wasn't musically talented. I would probably never be a hammered dulcimer player. I put the hammered dulcimer with its zippered case and its wooden stand in the back of the closet. The only time I thought about them was when they got in my way as I was trying to get something out of the closet.

Several years later I was in a financial pinch. Among other things, our heat pump was struck by lightning, and I had to replace the compressor. As I was thinking about how I was going to pay for the new heat pump, that hammered dulcimer came to mind. I wondered if I could sell it. I thought about selling it on eBay, but I never got around to it.

One day on an impulse I called the swap shop at noon on KENA radio and listed the hammered dulcimer. I had heard a lot of unusual things for sale on the swap shop, but never a hammered dulcimer. The day went by, and I did not receive any calls about the dulcimer.

That night there was another small crisis at home. The washing machine wasn't working properly. I don't know about your house, but at my house, that was a crisis. Where were we going to get the money to pay for the repairs? We hadn't recovered from replacing the heat pump. Call the appliance repairman I told my wife, we have to get the washing machine fixed. That night we prayed that God would help us out of this financial problem.

The next day around noon I received a call from Waldron. The caller asked, "do you have a hammered dulcimer for sale? I have been looking for one for my daughter, and a friend told me they had heard one for sale on the radio." I assured her that I did, and made arrangements to meet her so that I could show her the dulcimer. When she saw the instrument, she gave me my asking price immediately. It was almost exactly the amount that the repairman needed for fixing the washing machine.

As the buyer was leaving, I told her, "I don't know if you are a Christian or not, but I have to tell you something." I was so excited by how God was taking care of my financial problem that I had to tell her the whole story of the dulcimer and the washing machine. After I had told her the story, she replied, "I am a Christian, and I have to tell you a story. My daughter has wanted a hammered dulcimer for some time. I have been to several music stores, but the cost of a hammered dulcimer is more than we can afford. My daughter has been praying that God would help her find a dulcimer she could afford. I told her that used ones were very hard to find, but she continued to pray about it. Finding this dulcimer at a reasonable price is an answer to our prayers."

I stood there stunned as I realized that the great God that we serve had answered the prayers of two families that day. In Philippians 4:6 (NCV) the Bible says "Do not worry about anything, but pray and ask God for everything you need, always giving thanks.”

Gentle Reader, when we pray, God has promised to hear our prayers and give us good gifts. In Matthew 7:7-11 (NIV) Jesus said, “ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” You can have confidence that God will hear your prayers. “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” 1 John 5:14 (NKJV)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Corn Maze - 10/18/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the October 18, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


Have you ever experienced a corn maze? I recently had my first corn maze experience at Holly Springs Homestead, a local family farming operation owned by Luke and Deedee Alston. Both Luke and Deedee grew up on a farm. The land they farm includes land originally owned by Luke’s great-great-grandfather, and the very land where Luke’s father was born. Holly Springs Homestead is recognized as a Century Farm by the Arkansas Agriculture Department.

My wife and I made plans to go to Holly Springs Homestead for this year’s Fall Fun on the Farm. It looked like it would be lots of fun. We wanted our granddaughters from Louisiana to be able to go with us, but the timing didn’t work out. We decided to go even if our grandkids couldn’t. The website description of the event tantalized us. “You can get lost in the corn maze, enjoy a beautiful ride through the country and see the sights on the hayride, admire acres of the sunflowers, learn something new at the Crops of Arkansas display or one of our many on-farm educational events, step back in time for some old-fashioned play in The Kids Farm, and experience a real pumpkin patch – see how they are planted, watch them in various stages of growth and take one home!”

The day we planned to go to the farm turned out cloudy, breezy, and overcast. As we pulled into the parking lot, a few drops of rain started falling. We decided to go ahead and experience the farm and the corn maze even if there were a few raindrops. We headed for the corn maze, but at the entrance to the maze, they were getting ready to leave on a hayride. During the hours that the Fun on the Farm is open, there is a hayride every thirty minutes. Since the hayride was ready to leave, we climbed aboard. The hayride travels along the outside edge of the corn maze and through the sunflower patch, the pumpkin patch, the barnyard, and the crops of Arkansas plots where we saw rice and cotton growing.

By the time the hayride was over, the rain had stopped, and the sky seemed to be clearing. We made our way into the corn maze. The maze covers six acres and is covered from one end to the other with winding paths. The corn is very tall, and there is no way to see anything except corn stalks and the path you are currently on. It didn’t take long for us to realize that trying to figure where we were on the tiny map they provided was almost impossible. We ended up going around in circles several times. We thought we were in a completely different part of the maze when we turned a corner a found ourselves at the exit. We had been having so much fun that we turned around and tried to find our way back to the entrance. By the time we found our way back to the entrance, the sun had come out and we were hot, sweaty, and thirsty.

It may sound corny, pun intended; but our corn maze adventure has parallels with our Christian walk. While walking through the maze, we learned to be prepared to change directions. In this life, you are going to have to be willing to change your course. In the cornfield, if we had decided that we would only go straight, we would have never gotten out of that maze. We had to be flexible enough to move out of the area we knew into a new area to get to the end. In the same way, God doesn’t want us to become complacent as we go through life. He wants us growing, and often that means taking us on a new path and learning new things.

It can be hard to understand where you are going when you are concentrating on what is directly in front of you. But when you rise above and see the situation from a different viewpoint, you will be able to see the path you have been taking all along. Once my wife and I found the exit of the corn maze, we were better able to understand the layout of the maze. When we knew where the exit was in relation to the treeline, we had a much better idea of our location in the maze as we made our way back to the entrance.

In Colossians 3:2 (NKJV) the Bible tells us to “set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” We can get bogged down in the worries and cares of this world and fail to see the way God is leading in our lives. The rest of your life is just like a maze. There will be many times that you will have to decide whether to go left, right, or straight ahead. It is important to have a plan, to seek out help. In 1 Corinthians 9:26 (NIV) Paul said, “I do not run like someone running aimlessly.”

If you run aimlessly, make the wrong choices, and choose the wrong paths in life, you will waste part or all of your life. You will be angry and frustrated, and you will never reach the end successfully. But God has given you something to help you through the maze of life. You have the word of God, which is “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalms 119:105 (NKJV)

Gentle Reader, you will be lost in the maze of life without God's word. It sheds light on all your decisions so you can see what you should do. “We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” 2 Peter 1:19 (NIV) The word of God and the prophecies it contains are the signposts that keep you going in the right direction in life. The only way you can successfully navigate the maze of life and have a successful exit strategy is to read the Bible and learn of Jesus, ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand what Jesus has done for you, and love and obey Him.  Jesus says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” John 14:15 (NKJV) Don’t be lost in the maze.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A Loose Screw - 10/11/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the October 11, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


I volunteer at a local food pantry. Once a month we receive a shipment of food from the River Valley Regional Food Bank. The last time that we received a delivery, I met the delivery truck with a couple of friends of mine who also volunteer at the food pantry. After picking up the food and delivering it to the food pantry, we each went our separate ways. I headed back to work in my 1962 Rambler American.

As I pulled away from the food pantry, my Rambler started sputtering and running poorly. Because my gas gauge doesn’t work, I thought that I might be running out of gas, so I headed for the nearest gas station. It only took seven gallons of fuel to fill the Rambler’s tank. I knew that being low on fuel wasn't the problem. After filling the tank, I wasn’t able to keep the little car running enough to drive it. The engine would start, but it ran so poorly I couldn’t move the car.

After a few minutes, I decided that it wasn’t going to run, so I would have to walk back to my shop. Just as I was closing the hood, someone stopped and asked me if they could help. I told them that I could use a ride, so they drove me to my shop. I returned with my Dad, and we towed the Rambler back to the shop.

It was a couple of days before I had time to look at my Rambler. I suspected the fuel system, but when I checked it out, the fuel pump was working great, and plenty of fuel was being delivered to the carburetor. Even though I had rebuilt the carburetor several months ago, I took the top off to inspect the needle valve and jets. Everything looked fine.

When I checked the ignition system, I found that there was a very weak, almost imperceptible spark. What could be causing a weak spark, I asked myself. The points were brand new just a few hundred miles ago, and I checked that they had the proper gap. It wasn’t the points. I replaced the ignition coil and the coil wire. I still had a very weak spark. It wasn’t the coil. What could it be?

A few months ago I had a similar problem with the car, and after rebuilding the carburetor, replacing the spark plugs, replacing the points and distributor cap the problem was finally fixed when I replaced the condenser. Could the new condenser have gone bad already? I decided to change the condenser. When I was replacing the condenser, I noticed that the screw that attaches the condenser lead to the terminal of the points was a bit loose. I didn’t think too much about it, but when I was reinstalling the screw, I found that it was very difficult to get tight.

After installing the condenser, the little Rambler started right up and ran fine. I’m sure that the condenser was good, and that the problem all along had been the loose screw. Such a small thing had caused to much trouble. It made me think about how important each part of a car is if you want it to run properly. Just one small screw being a bit loose made it impossible for me to drive my car.

Henry David Thoreau wrote, “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Many people feel like they are unimportant. They feel that their lives just don’t matter. Nothing they can do will make a difference in the world. They feel that they are just a small insignificant part of the world.

Even though the screw that fastens the condenser lead to the ignition points terminal is very small, if it isn’t doing its job the car can’t function. The same is true in God's Kingdom. 1 Peter 2:5 (NLT) tells us, "you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple.” In a physical building, a missing brick leaves a hole in the wall. God wants us to be a part of something so much bigger than just ourselves, but he wants us to know that we have an important part to play.

Another symbol that the Bible uses for believers is the body of Christ. I Corinthians 12:12,13 (NLT) tells us that “the human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.

When you become a Christian, you become a part of the body of Christ. He is the head. He leads the body. But He needs you. He has a special purpose for you. We read in 1 Corinthians 12:18 (NIV), "God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be." There are more than seven billion people on this planet, but God made only one you. You are unique. You are unlike anyone else who has ever lived or ever will live. He made you because He wants someone exactly like you. He has plans for you. You are important and necessary. The  Bible says, “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each one of you is a  separate and necessary part of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:27( NLT)

Gentle Reader, many people today are experiencing feelings of insignificance because they compare themselves to others. There will always be someone who you feel is more important than you. There are many more important parts of an automobile than a small screw inside the distributor. But that small screw is so important that if it is loose, the automobile isn’t usable. We each have an individual purpose that cannot be compared to anyone else. You are a separate and necessary part of the body of Christ.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Butterfly Palace - 10/04/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the October 4, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


The Butterfly Palace is a family owned attraction in Branson, Missouri. On my last visit to the area, I visited The Butterfly Palace with my sister and her family. In the butterfly aviary, which is designed to be a living rainforest, there are over 1,000 live tropical butterflies from around the world. Butterflies of all sizes and colors were flying everywhere and even lighting on us.

As we walked through the aviary, it was hard to decide where to look next. As a photographer, I was most interested in taking photos of the beautiful butterflies. While we were there, we took part in the daily butterfly release. The Butterfly Palace purchases butterflies in the chrysalis stage from around the world. Each chrysalis is placed in a plastic container. Every day, the butterflies that have emerged from their chrysalis are released into the aviary. The average lifespan of a butterfly is about one month, so the Butterfly Palace must release new butterflies to keep a large population in the aviary.

I enjoyed being a part of the butterfly release. People who are in the aviary at the time of the release are allowed to participate. Each butterfly is in the clear plastic container that has been the home of the chrysalis. Those of us participating were instructed to hold the container over our heads, remove the lid, and turn the container upside down, allowing the butterfly to go free. Some of the butterflies had to be coaxed out of the container after it was opened. My butterfly was eager to be free and flew out of the container before I even turned it upside down.

The butterfly release provides for some great photo opportunities. When the butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, its wings are wet, and the butterfly cannot yet fly. The wings must dry, and the butterfly must exercise flight muscles before it can fly. When the butterflies are released, they like to find a place to land and stretch out their wings. I took some beautiful photographs of these butterflies with their wings spread out.

Butterflies are born as an egg. Next, they turn into a caterpillar. This caterpillar will eat constantly and will grow through this stage of its life. As the caterpillar grows, it will molt or shed its skin. When the caterpillar is fully grown, it goes into a resting stage and becomes a chrysalis. When the chrysalis breaks open, and a butterfly comes out, the adult butterfly will begin the process all over again by laying eggs of its own.

Scientists refer to this process of transformation as metamorphosis. It is an amazing process that is difficult to understand. First, the caterpillar digests itself, releasing enzymes to dissolve its tissues. Certain highly organized groups of cells known as imaginal discs survive the digestive process. Once a caterpillar has disintegrated all of its tissues except for the imaginal discs, those discs use the protein-rich soup all around them to form the wings, antennae, legs, eyes, and all the other features of an adult butterfly. One butterfly expert said, “The creation of the body of a caterpillar into the body and wings of a butterfly is, without doubt, one of the wonders of life on earth.”

Just like the rebirth of a caterpillar into a butterfly can be a difficult process to understand, so can the rebirth of a person. When Jesus was talking to Nicodemus, He said, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” John 3:3 (NLT) Nicodemus then asked Him, “how can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” John 3:4 (NLT)

The caterpillar’s metamorphosis provides a great illustration of a believer’s spiritual transformation. The caterpillar's main purpose in life is eating. It eats the leaves in its world just as we feed on the ideas of the world around us. In the chrysalis stage, the caterpillar appears lifeless. Paul described this stage of a Christians life in Romans 6:6 (NCV); “We know that our old life died with Christ on the cross so that our sinful selves would have no power over us and we would not be slaves to sin.”

When the caterpillar emerges from its chrysalis, it is transformed into a completely new creature. When we recognize our sin, confess it, and receive God’s forgiveness, we are transformed into a new life in Him. 1 John 1:9 (NKJV) tells us that, “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)

Once the butterfly emerges, it does not return to the caterpillar state. When a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, it flies; something it couldn’t do before. The butterfly drinks sweet nectar instead of gorging on leaves. The butterfly has a new life, a new purpose, a new way of feeding itself.

Gentle Reader, are you a new creation in Christ still trying to gorge on the leaves of this world? Are you still trying to crawl back inside the chrysalis to live as you once lived? Once a butterfly breaks free from the chrysalis, it is free to soar to new heights. It never goes back to its former way, of being in bondage in the chrysalis. Instead, it lives its life as God fully intended. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1 (NIV)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Waiting Tables - 9/27/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the September 27, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


For several years, I have been involved with the American Cancer Society’s Celebrity Waiter Event. Celebrity Waiter is an annual fundraiser where local “celebrities” are asked to wait on guests that they have invited to the event. Money is raised for the American Cancer Society by tipping the waiters.

In the past, I have been involved in organizing the event, but this year I agreed to be a “celebrity waiter” and help my wife wait on a table. It was an eye-opening experience. I have always appreciated the waiters and waitresses that serve me when I go out to eat. But after helping with just one table of eight people, I have a new found appreciation for those who wait tables for a living. During the evening my activity tracker logged over five miles.

Waiting tables is among the most common occupations in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than two million people work as waiters and waitresses in the United States. They are a part of a food service industry that employs more than 7 million people. These people work hard to make it possible for Americans to enjoy eating out.

The term waiter, meaning a servant who waits on tables, was first used in the late 15th century in reference to household servants. By the seventeenth century, it also referred to those who worked in public inns and eating houses. Another term used for someone who waits on tables at a restaurant is server. Whatever term is used to describe someone who waits on tables, it is derived from being a servant.

Jesus talked a lot about those who serve. In Mark 10:43-45 (MEV) He said, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever among you would be greatest must be servant of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

Service to others is not a glamorous concept. Why do people choose to be a waiter or a waitress? It can be a demanding, draining job. I read a blog post by D. Conrad that told the story of life as a waiter. “I waited tables for thirty-nine years. I started out working six days a week for eleven years. Then four days a week for twenty years. The last eight years was three days a week. Each day was a nine-hour day. All days were very busy. One day my hands were hurting so bad my hips hurt my legs hurt. I just could not do it anymore. I had surgery for carpal tunnel, and shots in my spine. This job is very hard on the body. I hate not working, I loved the people and miss them.”

Why would someone want to spend their lives serving people? Is it because the job is easy? No, it’s not an easy job, but those who excel at it do so because they love serving people. I think that is what God has in mind for His children. He knows that service to others will bless us as well as the community around us. In 1 Peter 4:10 (ERV) Peter wrote, “God has shown you his grace in many different ways. So be good servants and use whatever gift he has given you in a way that will best serve each other.”

Service is a great way to put aside our selfish nature and become connected to others. When we start seeing the needs of others, it takes our focus off of ourselves. Serving others not only strengthens the bonds between us; it reflects the love of God.

As Christians, are we looking out for others the way we look out for ourselves? Do we put their needs ahead of our own? When we do serve others, we often try to serve better and harder if we serve in high-profile situations and are our efforts are noticed by others. When our service goes unnoticed, we aren’t motivated to further service. We want recognition for our service.

God made you for service, not for self-centeredness. In Philippians 2:3-7 (ESV), "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men."

Jesus modeled for us the ultimate example of serving others when He performed a task that was only done by the lowest of household servants in his day. In John 13:4,5 (NET) the Bible says that “He got up from the meal, removed his outer clothes, took a towel and tied it around himself. He poured water into the washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel he had wrapped around himself.” Jesus demonstrated his love for his disciples by serving them.

When we serve others, we demonstrate our love for them. To have a servants heart, we must be willing to do whatever needs to be done. God wants us to develop a lifestyle of service to others. Studies have shown that volunteering is so good for the mind and body that it can ease symptoms of stress and depression. Serving others can be a distraction from our own worries.

Gentle Reader, do you want to prosper and get ahead in life? Jesus said, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” Mark 9:35 (NKJV) “It is God himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus, and long ages ago he planned that we should spend these lives in helping others.” Ephesians 2:10 (TLB) To have a happy, meaningful and rewarding life we need to be of service to others. God planned it that way.

Once a Gangster - 9/20/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the September 20, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


A few weeks ago, my wife and I took a day trip to Hot Springs with some friends and my sister. After a wonderful lunch at La Hacienda, we toured the historic bathhouse row in Hot Springs National Park. I have visited in the past and am intrigued by the history of Hot Springs.

The first permanent settlers came to the Hot Springs area in 1807. They were quick to realize the area’s potential as a health resort. By the 1830s, log cabins and a store had been built to meet the needs of visitors to the springs. By the 1880’s bathhouses were lining the streets of Hot Springs. The health resort industry led to Hot Springs becoming known as the "American Spa."

Along with the bathhouses, there were gambling establishments. From the Roaring 20’s until the end of World War II ten major casinos and numerous smaller houses operated in Hot Springs. Hot Springs became a haven for notorious criminals and mobsters, including Owen “Owney” Madden, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, and Al Capone. Word spread that Hot Springs was the perfect hideout for criminals running from police investigations. Al Capone and his bodyguards would rent out entire floors of hotels.

During that time, Al Capone virtually owned Chicago. Capone rose to infamy as the leader of the Chicago mafia during the Prohibition era. A gangster needs a good lawyer, and Capone hired one nicknamed "Easy Eddie." Eddie's skill at legal maneuvering kept Al Capone out of jail for a long time.

Capone paid Eddie very well. He and his family occupied a fenced-in mansion with live-in help. The estate was so large that it filled an entire Chicago City block. Eddie lived the high life of the Chicago mob and paid little attention to the vicious crimes committed by his mob friends.

Easy Eddie had a son that he loved dearly. He saw to it that his son had the finest clothes, the fastest cars, and a good education. Eddie wanted his son to be a better man than he was.

One day, Eddie made a difficult decision. He decided he would go to the authorities and tell the truth about Al Capone, clean up his tarnished name, and offer his son a name with some integrity. He knew that he would have to testify against Capone, and he knew that the cost would be great, but he testified anyway. Within the year, Easy Eddie's life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago street.

In his eyes, Easy Eddie had given his son the greatest gift he had to offer, at the greatest price he could ever pay. When the police found his body, they removed from his pockets a religious medallion, and a clipping from a magazine. It read: "The clock of life is wound but once, and no man has the power to tell just when the hands will stop, at late or early hour. Now is the only time you own. Live, love, toil with a will. Place no faith in time. For the clock may soon be still."

Let’s fast forward to World War II. Lieutenant Commander Butch O'Hare was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific. One day his entire squadron was sent on a mission.

After he was airborne, he looked at his fuel gauge and realized that someone had forgotten to refuel the plane. He would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and get back to his ship. His flight leader told him to return to the carrier. He dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet. As he was returning to the ship, he saw a squadron of Japanese aircraft flying toward the American fleet.
The American fighter planes were all gone on a mission, and the fleet was defenseless. Commander O'Hare couldn't reach his squadron and bring them back in time to save the fleet. He had no way to warn the fleet of the approaching danger. He decided that he must somehow divert the Japanese planes from the fleet. With no thought for his safety, he dove into the formation of Japanese planes. His wing-mounted 50 caliber guns blazed as he charged in, attacking one surprised enemy plane and then another. Commander O'Hare wove in and out of the now broken formation and fired at as many planes as possible until his ammunition was gone.

Even though he couldn’t fire his weapons, he continued the assault. He dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail in hopes of damaging as many enemy planes as possible. Finally, the exasperated Japanese squadron took off in another direction.

Commander O'Hare and his tattered fighter plane barely made it back to the carrier. The film from the gun-camera mounted on his plane told the story. It showed the extent of his daring attempt to protect his fleet. He had, in fact, destroyed five enemy aircraft. This action took place on February 20, 1942, and because of his heroism, Lieutenant Commander Butch O'Hare became the Navy's first Ace of World War II, and the first Naval Aviator to win the Medal of Honor.

A year later Butch was killed in aerial combat at the age of 29. His home town of Chicago would not allow the memory of this WW II hero to fade. O'Hare Airport in Chicago is named for Lieutenant Commander Butch O'Hare in tribute to the courage of this great man.

Gentle Reader, Butch O'Hare was "Easy Eddie's" son. No matter what your past has been, it’s never too late to make a change. The Bible tells us about a gangster, a criminal, who made a change. “There were also two criminals led out with Jesus to be put to death.” Luke 23:32 (NCV) As he was hanging on the cross waiting to die, one of the criminals turned to Jesus and said, “‘remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus said to him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’” Luke 23:42,43 (NCV) God says, “’At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.’ Indeed, the ‘right time’ is now. Today is the day of salvation.” 2 Corinthians 6:2 (NLT)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Winding Stairs - 9/13/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the September 13, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


Our family spent a day hiking to the Winding Stairs area on the Little Missouri River over the Labor Day weekend. Winding Stairs is the name given to a series of bends and rapids causing the Little Missouri River to drop down in elevation. The rapids are formed by a narrow water gap through one of the novaculite ridges. The trail to Winding Stairs is a moderately difficult out and back trail with several river crossings. The trail is part of the Eagle Rock Loop Trail, a 26.8-mile loop through the rugged mountains of the area. Many hikers think that the Eagle Rock Loop is the best hike in the Ouachita Mountains, with its mix of rugged hills with hardwood and pines along with crystal clear streams.

Our planned destination was Raccoon Island. My granddaughters had named the spot Raccoon Island because on a previous backpacking trip to the area, a raccoon drug one of the backpacks away from the campsite. The day was perfect for hiking, partly cloudy and not too hot. The hike included several river crossings. We enjoyed wading across the river and cooling our feet. The scenery along the trail was delightful. As we neared our destination, I was fascinated by the unique rock formations in and along the river. The bluff overlooking Winding Stairs has spectacular views and is one of those places that defines Arkansas as the Natural State.

After hiking for several hours, we arrived at Raccoon Island. We took time to rest and to eat our lunch of sandwiches, grapes and trail mix. The Winding Stairs area of the Little Missouri River has several nice swimming holes, and we spent some time swimming before heading back to the trailhead. My granddaughters were having such a good time swimming that they didn’t want to leave. As we made our way back along the trail, my wife and I noticed that we no longer had the strength and stamina we had when we were younger. Although we were very fatigued by the time we made it back to the trailhead, our granddaughters seemed to have just as much energy as they had when we started our hike that morning. We were tired and sore, but it was a beautiful hike and an awesome way to spend a day with family.

When my son-in-law was planning the hike, he asked my wife and me to go along. My wife had some concerns about the difficulty of the hike. My son-in-law downplayed the difficulty of the hike and stressed the incredible beauty of the Winding Stairs area that would be our destination. He assured us that being able to see the natural beauty of the area would make the difficulty of the hiking and river crossings all worthwhile. After completing the hike, I found that even though the Winding Stairs area was breathtakingly beautiful, I enjoyed the journey as much as the destination.

It made me think about our spiritual journey. Many Christians are focused on going to heaven. That isn’t a bad thing to focus on. I want to go to heaven, and I hope that you do to. But shouldn’t my focus be on more than just mansions and streets of gold?

A friend posted the following encounter on Facebook. “Today an individual stopped me in a parking lot and asked me if I were to die today, right this very moment, do I know I would go to heaven. I took a second to gather my thoughts because I have always thought this to be a strange question; As if the entire point of the cross, the tomb, the resurrection and my salvation is going to heaven. Sure, I want to go to heaven someday, but I also want to be saved for today. I need salvation to be the father and husband that my kids and wife need. I need salvation to be a good teacher. I need salvation to preach the gospel. I need salvation to love my neighbor and enemies alike. I have had a lot of life to live since I was saved. Sure, heaven is in the mix, but right now life is what is on my mind. When I talk to the lost, life seems to be their immediate concern as well. Perhaps we need a different question when sharing our faith. Perhaps we should talk about living because life is ultimately what Jesus gave.”

Instead of presenting the gospel as something that will yield a future benefit we need to present it as something that has already benefited. Something that benefits us now. The rewards of the gospel are present tense not future tense. This changes faith from being something that we are rewarded for to a way we express gratitude.

Back in the 70’s, one of my favorite music artists was Evie. She sang a song that was titled, “If Heaven Never Was Promised to Me.” Here are some of the lyrics. “You may ask me: Why do you serve the Lord? Is it just for heaven's gain? Or to walk those mighty streets of gold? And to hear the angels sing? Is it just to drink from the fountain that never shall run dry? Or just to live forever, ever and ever in that sweet all by and by? But if heaven never was promised to me. Neither God's promise to live eternally. It's been worth just having the Lord in my life. Living in a world of darkness, but He brought me the light.”

The promise of heaven and eternal life is awesome, but God loves us and wants us to love Him now. He wants a relationship with us now not just the promise of one in the future.

Gentle Reader, Jesus wants to be with you. Revelation 3:20 (NKJV) tells us, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” This promise is present tense. Jesus wants to come in now. He wants to be with you now. He has prepared a place for you in heaven, but He wants to be with you now, not just later in heaven.  He wants to give you a rich and satisfying life. He wants to do it now! In John 10:10 (NKJV) Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Restoration - 9/06/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the September 6, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


All of my life I have been around old cars. My Dad loves old cars and has always owned and repaired them. He has a large collection of cars from the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. One of his favorite things to do is to visit with people who are interested in old cars and show them his collection. People from all over the U.S. and the world have stopped by his business to look at the cars.

Anyone in Mena who likes old cars looks forward each year to the Queen Wilhelmina Rod Run. Last month over 200 classic, antique and special interest cars were entered in the 42nd annual rod run held in Mena. I enjoyed looking at the cars and visiting with the owners of the vehicles and other car enthusiasts. As I visited with the owners of some of the cars, I was impressed by how much work they had put into their project, and by the attention to the smallest detail. You could tell that they loved their vehicle and talking about the process they had gone through to build such a fascinating car.

As I looked at the many beautiful cars lining the street, I realized that each one of these projects had started with a worn out car in need of restoration. To create these beautiful works of art takes a lot of time, energy, and money. It also takes a person with a passion and a vision of what could be. When they first purchased the car in need of restoration, they did so because they had a vision of what it could be.

I think that there is a parallel between beautifully rebuilt cars and our spiritual lives. “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” Romans 5:8 (NLT) Just like the owners of the cars in the rod run loved an old car that was in need of restoration enough to purchase it and spend enormous amounts of time, energy, and money to make it beautiful; God loves us in our broken down condition. But even though he loves us in our sinful condition, He doesn’t want us to stay in that condition. He has a vision for our lives. He wants to restore us.

In Job 33:26 (NKJV) The Bible talks about restoration. There it says, “He shall pray to God, and He will delight in him, He shall see His face with joy, For He restores to man His righteousness.” God has a plan for each one of us. He plans to restore us to righteousness. The difference between you and I, and an old car in need of restoration is that the old car is passive. It isn’t part of the decision to restore. But you and I have to be willing to be restored.

Old cars that aren’t chosen for a restoration project eventually will rot and rust away until no one can see the possibility of saving the car and they end up abandoned or crushed and destroyed. Fortunately for us, God isn’t looking for just one project to restore, He want’s to restore all of us no matter what our condition is. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16 (NKJV) God doesn’t want us to be abandoned and crushed by this life. He doesn’t want us to perish. 2 Peter 3:9 (KJV) tells us that God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

Unlike the old car that is passive in the restoration process, we have a part to play in our restoration. God wants us all to repent. Repentance is saying to God, “I know that I need to be restored. I want you to restore me.” In Romans 2:4 (NASB) the Bible 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? The Bible says it is the kindness of God. Paul puts in another way in 2 Corinthians 7:10 (NKJV). “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation.” I like the way God inspired Paul to put that. Not just sorrow, but godly sorrow. My favorite verse of scripture is 1 John 1:9 (NKJV). It says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

What does it mean to confess? The dictionary says: to admit or state that one has committed a crime or is at fault in some way. To confess we have to admit we are wrong. The term repent, or repentance takes this idea a step further. The dictionary says that to repent is to feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one's wrongdoing or sin.

What leads us to repentance? What leads us to confess? 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 to be restored.

Gentle Reader, I hope that you will spend some time today reflecting on the kindness that God has shown you and tell Him that you are sorry for the things you have done to hurt Him. God has promised that if we confess our sins, He will forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. He will restore us if we let Him.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Great American Eclipse - 8/30/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the August 30, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

On August 21st, my wife and I along with my Dad and a customer who happened to be at my business watched the eclipse of the sun. We took turns sharing the two welding helmets at the shop to safely watch the shadow of the moon march across the face of the sun. It was an amazing experience. During the peak minutes of the eclipse, there were light clouds that made it impossible to get a good photograph. But a few minutes later the clouds dissipated, and I could get useable photos by holding the dark glass from my welding helmet over the camera on my smart phone. I was happy to have a record of this incredible experience.

The eclipse was truly the great American eclipse. It was visible as a partial eclipse from all 50 states and as a total eclipse from a 70-mile-wide sliver of 14 states. The solar eclipse path of totality stretched from Salem, Oregon, to Charleston, South Carolina. Everyone in the continental U.S. was able to see at least a fifty percent eclipse.

While total solar eclipses occur somewhere on Earth about every 18 months, This was the first total solar eclipse in the continental U.S. in 38 years. The last one occurred on February 26, 1979. Not many people saw it because it clipped just five states in the Northwest and the weather blocked the view of the sun in most places. It had been 99 years since the last coast-to-coast eclipse. When the next total solar eclipse over the continental U.S. occurs on April 8, 2024, Mena, Arkansas will be in the path of totality. I’m excitedly waiting to see a total eclipse on that day.

On August 21st, large numbers of people across North America watched the eclipse. Because of the attention the eclipse received from the media, and the information went viral on social media, more people observed and photographed this eclipse than any other eclipse in history. There is no hard evidence on the number of people who watched the eclipse, but a CNN poll taken shortly before the eclipse indicated that about half of the US population planned to watch the eclipse.

About 12 million people live in the solar eclipse’s 70-mile-wide path of totality. An estimated seven million people traveled to the path of totality to have the opportunity to observe a total eclipse. Some friends of mine made reservations months ago in Missouri so they could view the total eclipse. In many locations, this large number of travelers created massive traffic problems. Over one million people traveled to Oregon for the eclipse, causing the worst traffic mess in Oregon history. In Kentucky, there were twenty-mile long traffic jams on the Interstate. One man reported that had been in a traffic jam for eleven hours.  Another tweeted that the Bluegrass Parkway interchange “might be the worst traffic jam in the world right now.”

Eclipse travelers in Wyoming made history. The sparsely populated state had the most traffic it has ever seen, with more than a million visitors. Wyoming Department of Transportation spokesman Doug McGee said, “Our highway system was taxed like it’s never been before. The roads just weren’t designed for that volume of traffic.” He added, “the number of cars participating in the mass exodus rivaled the 636,294 registered cars and pickup trucks in Wyoming as of 2016.”

Even though a large number of people viewed the great American eclipse of 2017, I know of a celestial event that will have many more viewers. Shortly before Jesus was crucified, “His disciples came to him privately and said, ‘Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will signal your return and the end of the world?’” Matthew 24:3 (NLT) After giving His disciples many signs and much information, Jesus told them, “And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” Matthew 24:30 (NLT)

No event in the history of the world has been more anticipated than the return of Jesus Christ to this earth. Every generation of believers has believed that Jesus would return. When He was on this earth, Jesus promised His disciples that He would return. He said to them, “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.” John 14:1-3 (NKJV)

This promise was reaffirmed when Jesus ascended to heaven. He had gathered His disciples and given them some final instructions. In Acts 1:9-11 (NLT) we read that, “after saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!’”

From that moment until now those who believe in Jesus have been waiting for the world’s most amazing celestial event. And It will be the most viewed event in the history of the planet. “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him.” Revelation 1:7 (NKJV)

Gentle Reader, Jesus is coming back to this earth to reward His people just as He promised and to take them to the beautiful home He has prepared for them. My prayer is that on that day, you will be among the people who say, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” Isaiah 25:9 (KJV)