Wednesday, January 16, 2019

A Gift for a King

An Arkie's Faith column from the January 16, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

The young girl eagerly tore the wrapping paper as she anticipated what was inside such a large box. She had noticed this present the moment she walked into Grandma’s living room and saw that one present under the tree was larger than all the rest. When she looked at the present, it had her name on it! She was so excited that she could hardly wait for Christmas morning.

When the paper was finally off the large box, and she was able to open it with the help of Daddy’s knife, her eyes lit up as she saw a barn and stable for her Spirit Riding Free horses. The box included a barn, fences, a wheelbarrow, stables with working lights, grooming tools, treats, and a real water pump with a hose. Grandma was happy that she seemed to like the gift. When we give gifts, we hope that the recipients will like them. 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?

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.

Did you have a difficult time choosing gifts for your friends or family this Christmas? Sometimes it can be hard to find just the right gift. Finding great gifts isn't just a twenty-first century Christmas problem. In the eighth century, a monk named Alcuin was wondering what to get King Charlemagne for Christmas.

Around 780, Charlemagne asked Alcuin to join his court in Francia. One year at Christmas, Alcuin wrote a letter to the king. The monk was afraid that his wealthier rivals would overshadow him at court. They had the money to buy the king expensive presents. Alcuin wrote: “I have long wondered what I might think a worthy gift to do honor to your imperial power and add to the riches of your treasury.” He went on to say that he was presenting to the king, “a gift of the Scriptures which are written with the pen of heavenly grace.”

When Alcuin wrote to Charlemagne to tell him of his Christmas gift, he said that a student of his, Nathanael, would deliver the gift. Alcuin sent Nathanael to Charlemagne’s court with the instruction, “Give my Lord my letter and my gift of the scriptures on Christmas Day with the greeting of peace.”

A beautifully decorated tenth-century copy of Alcuin’s letters records the story of this Christmas gift. The manuscript is a part of Lambeth Palace Library. Imagine how hard it was for a poor monk to come up with a suitable gift for the king. He knew from reading the scriptures that “a gift opens the way and ushers the giver into the presence of the great.” Proverbs 18:16 (NIV)

It is fun to give gifts but deciding on the proper gift for someone can be difficult. I have never needed to give a gift to a king, but I often struggle with coming up with good gift ideas for my wife. Receiving gifts can be fun. It’s especially nice when the person giving the gift knows you well enough to know what you need and the things that you like. A good gift fits your personality.

When Jesus was giving the sermon on the mount, he said, “if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” Matthew 7:11 (NLT) Even though we sometimes struggle with knowing what gifts to give others, God always knows the best gifts to give us. He knows what we need and can use, and he wraps up his gifts with love. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23 (NKJV) Now that is an awesome gift!

Gentle Reader, at times we as humans use our gift giving to try and gain favor with someone. But God is not trying to buy our favor or our love. He gives to us freely because he loves us, knows us, and knows our needs. He knows that we all need the gift of grace. We all need forgiveness. We all need to have the penalty paid for our sins. We need the gift of God; eternal life through Jesus. “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) Don’t be too proud to accept the gift. “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” Ephesians 2:8 (NLT) “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:15 (NIV)

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Icy Promises

An Arkie's Faith column from the January 2, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

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 to go. Bobby had never seen a road that was so slick. The day before, there had been several inches of sleet, 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 that 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 that I would take care of the cattle so if the only way that we can get there is by walking, then we will have to walk.”

Along the country road on the way to the neighbors’ house, there 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 up 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 came by spreading sand on the road. The driver stopped and asked where they were going. Daddy told him that they were heading to the neighbor’s house about a mile and a half on 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 we 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. As they made their way down the icy road, Daddy slipped and fell several more times. 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 go 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 in your power 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. He hoped that Daddy wouldn’t be too sore from all the times that he slipped and fell on the icy road.

The Daddy that felt that his promise to a neighbor was so important that he was willing to walk ten miles on slick, icy roads on a cold winter’s day was my Grandpa and Bobby was my Daddy. Daddy learned by example from an early age that a man’s word is his bond, and that the promises we make are important. As much as I would like to be able to say that because of the example of my Grandpa and my Daddy, I have always kept my promises; that isn’t the case. I have made promises that I didn’t keep. But God expects us to keep our promises. “If a man makes a promise to the Lord or says he will do something special, he must keep his promise. He must do what he said.” Numbers 30:2 (NCV)

Gentle Reader, I have had many promises made to me that were broken. I’m sure that you have too. And just like you, I have broken promises that I have made. But unlike the promises we make 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 the promises God makes 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.” It is a promise you can count on!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Rusty Treasures

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

The coarse grinder disc cut its way through layers of old body filler, creating a thick layer of dust on the floor. When the grinder disc made its way through all of the old filler down to the metal of the fender, large pockets of rust appeared. The bottom edge of the fender had rusted through leaving a large hole several inches in diameter.

There isn't a word in the old car hobby that is more dreaded than the word "rust.” It's the automotive equivalent to cancer. Rust is bad news. I knew that my little Rambler American had some rust bubbling through to the surface before I began to repaint it, but I was surprised by how extensive the rust was.

After driving the little Rambler almost three years, I decided to give it a fresh coat of paint. There were rust bubbles on the front fenders and the rocker panels. I knew that I would need to do some rust repair. What I didn’t realize was that sometime in the past there had been extensive rust repair on the little car that hid the extent of the problem. By the time that I had completed the repairs, I had to fabricate patch panels and even build a portion of the rocker panel from scratch.

Every old car enthusiast wants to find a car that is rust free, but it is rare to find a decades-old vehicle without signs of rust. Today’s cars are not nearly as rust prone as older vehicles. Manufacturers are using better pre-production treatments, more use of galvanized metals, aluminum, plastics and composites, and smarter design but, rust hasn’t quite been banished. In places where the roads are salted in the winter, the effect of that salt on cars is brutal. Anytime that you have unprotected metal surfaces, rust is inevitable.

As I was repairing the rust on my Rambler, I was reminded of the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” Matthew 6:19-21 (NLT)

Here Jesus tells us not to place too much value in the things of this world. If you treasure them as the most important things in your life, one day you will find yourself very disappointed when they are devalued, destroyed, or stolen. Is Jesus telling us that we should not have any possessions here in this world? Of course not. But he is telling us that treasures on earth are subject to being eaten, corroding or being stolen. Treasures in heaven are secure. They will remain.

What do you treasure? I enjoy my little Rambler. When I drive it, it brings a smile to my face. But rust had damaged the Rambler, and even though I have repaired the rust, it will eventually come back. Jesus is telling us that whatever we have here on this earth will not last. Even if our “treasure” consists of gemstones such as diamonds and rubies, and precious metals such as gold and silver that resist rusting, it isn’t secure. Even though it may resist corrosion very well, there is still the age-old problem of other people wanting those items without paying you for them. They break in and steal them.

We understand what treasures are here on earth, but what did Jesus mean by “treasures in heaven?” I have heard many preachers use this verse to tell me why I should give my money to the church. While that might be part of it, I’m quite certain that is not what Jesus had in mind. He wants us to use our time, energy and finances to pursue after those things that are of eternal value; Those things that will have value in heaven, not on earth.

 “Treasures in heaven” are things of worth in the kingdom of heaven, such as justice and respect for the dignity of every person. Jesus implies that we should invest our money in activities that transform the world, instead of accumulating earthly treasures. The Ten Commandments start with these words; “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Exodus 20:3 (NKJV) When our heart is set on on the things of this earth, we are no longer serving God. We have put our treasures above God, and we are serving them. They have become our god and our life. Jesus challenges us to ask ourselves where our treasure is. If your treasure is on earth and the things of this world, your heart will be there as well. If your heart is focused on Jesus and on laying up treasures in heaven, your heart will be there.

Gentle Reader, the Bible says “set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” Colossians 3:2 (NKJV) Does this mean that Jesus wants us to be paupers? No, the Bible is also clear that God values hard work. “Lazy people want much but get little, but those who work hard will prosper.” Proverbs 13:4 (NLT) So, how are we to understand the difference between appropriate and inappropriate attention to “treasures on earth?” Jesus answers, “don’t worry and say, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ The people who don’t know God keep trying to get these things, and your Father in heaven knows you need them. Seek first God’s kingdom and what God wants. Then all your other needs will be met as well.” Matthew 6:31-33(NCV) Remember that Ramblers rust, “but the word of the Lord endures forever.” 1 Peter 1:25 (NKJV)

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Christmas Recital

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

The country church was beautifully decorated for Christmas. There were Christmas trees, poinsettias, and a lovely nativity. One by one, Mrs. Bates’ piano students played the Christmas pieces they had prepared for the recital. From the simplest notes of Jolly Old St. Nicholas by the youngest student to a rousing duet version of Sleigh Ride by one of the students with Mrs. Bates, the sounds of Christmas filled the church.

My granddaughters, aged eight, eleven, and thirteen were among the students playing at the recital. They had been practicing their pieces for weeks. The girls performed beautifully. I asked them if they were nervous, but they said they weren’t. Even when there was a problem with the piano, they didn’t let it bother them but played through it.

As I listened to them and the other piano students, I remembered growing up and taking music lessons. I played the trumpet and was in the band. I didn’t mind practicing and could always learn to play my pieces correctly but when it was time for a performance my nerves would get the best of me. I have terrible memories of botched performances. Once I was scheduled to play a solo before a church area youth conference. While we were traveling to the town where the youth conference was being held, our car broke down. By the time repairs were made, we were late arriving. I was scheduled to play almost immediately. I was so unnerved that I could hardly make a sound with my trumpet. Failure in front of my peers was a devastating blow to my fragile teenage ego.

Have you ever found that something that you can do, have done, and have practiced many times, fails you when you are under pressure? For me, that was my trumpet. No matter how hard I practiced, I would often mess up when I was playing for my music teacher or in front of an audience. In our small school band, I played third chair trumpet. The first chair trumpet player thought it would be a good idea if on one of our pieces I would switch with him and play the first trumpet part. I practiced and practiced until I had the part perfect. We did the switch several times in practice, and the band director didn’t notice. When the night came for our public performance, we made the switch, and I played the part quite poorly. The band director was not happy!

My junior year of high school I transferred to a larger school and was too intimidated to try out for the band. I eventually stopped taking lessons, telling my parents that the pressure was too much. My trumpet sits forlornly in the garage. Now I can barely make a sound. Because I wasn’t willing to try to handle the pressure, I soon wasn’t able to play at all.

When they are under pressure, many people experience a loss of the ability to do what they can usually do. Why is that? When we are under pressure, our focus shifts from execution to the outcome. How we as Christians react under pressure says more about our faith and maturity in Jesus than anything else.

In 2 Corinthians 1:8,9 (VOICE), Paul talks about being under intense pressure. “My brothers and sisters, we have to tell you that when we were in Asia, the troubles we faced were nearly more than we could handle. The burdens we bore nearly crushed us. Our strength dwindled to nothing. For a while, we weren’t sure we would make it through the whole ordeal. We thought we would have to serve out our death sentences right then and there. As a result, we realized that we could no longer rely on ourselves and that we must trust solely in God.” The only way that a Christian can handle the pressures of life is to trust solely in God instead of relying on ourselves.

I recently heard a story that I’m quite sure never actually happened, but I liked the application so I will share it with you. We will call it a parable.

A famous concert pianist was preparing for a show when a group of admirers came to the concert hall. A little boy was there with his mother. He wandered away from her and found himself on a stage with a grand piano.

Suddenly the curtains parted, and a spotlight lit the grand piano. The mother looked around for her son and saw him on stage sitting at the piano. He started playing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” The concert pianist walked up to the boy, put his arms around him and began playing a counter medley as he whispered, “keep playing, you're doing great.” The audience was mesmerized as he played alongside the boy. When they finished, the audience rose in applause.

What we do for God in our strength is a lot like playing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” in a concert hall all by ourselves. For us to accomplish anything worthwhile for God, it is going to have to be with Him. Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13 (NKJV), “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Gentle Reader, in the piano recital of life, God will sit down beside you and turn your music into something beautiful that will bring glory to Him. It is together with God, and only with God, that beautiful music is created.  Jesus tells us in John 15:4 (NCV), “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch cannot produce fruit alone but must remain in the vine. In the same way, you cannot produce fruit alone but must remain in me.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Afraid of the Dark

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

The young boy made his way through the kitchen, out the front door, and onto the screened in front porch. He hesitantly opened the screen door and crept out into the night. The path that was illuminated just hours before was now lost in the blackness of a moonless night. Fear gripped him as he carefully made his way to the outhouse at the end of the path.

When I was a young boy, my grandparents’ home didn’t have an indoor bathroom. The outhouse was interesting in the daytime because it was different than being at home, but on a dark night, it was creepy and a bit frightening. Darkness changes our perspective. Most children at one time or another experience the fear of the dark. And unlike most childhood fears, it’s one that plenty of people never outgrow.

According to Psychologist Thomas Ollendick, the director of the Child Study Center at Virginia Tech University, some fears are acquired based on specific life experiences; others are more universal and innate. Fear of darkness falls into that latter category. The reason: It’s not the darkness itself that’s frightening. It’s the fear of what the darkness masks. The dark leaves us vulnerable and exposed, unable to spot any threats that may be lurking nearby. For much of human history, dark meant danger, and fearing it meant taking precautions to stay safe. That’s not the case anymore — there’s not much to fear when we spend the darkest hours of the night tucked safely in our beds with a light switch nearby — but darkness has nevertheless held on to its place in our psyche as a manifestation of the terrifying unknown.

Darkness is scary because you can’t see. Once the lights are on, everything turns back to normal. The shadowy, life-threatening figures become normal, everyday objects. Your heart rate slows, and you are no longer hyperventilating. You can see again, and the world is normal once more. The Psalmist understood the connection between fear and darkness, but he also knew that God is greater than those fears. He wrote, “You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness.” Psalms 91:5,6 (NIV) Darkness makes the world a scary place, but Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” John 8:12 (NKJV)

In the light of God’s love and grace and truth, we can find courage, help, and strength to overcome our fears. When he was talking to Nicodemus, Jesus explained it this way: “The Light has come into the world, but they did not want light. They wanted darkness, because they were doing evil things. All who do evil hate the light and will not come to the light, because it will show all the evil things they do. But those who follow the true way come to the light, and it shows that the things they do were done through God.” John 3:19-21 (NCV)

When Jesus came to this world, it was as if a light was switched on. Every one of us needs that light to shine into our lives. Recently, the lights turned on for me spiritually. I’d been in a dark period for a while. I had been taught that God gives us trials and therefore He must have caused the darkness that was consuming my life. People that I had loved and trusted had abandoned me. I incorrectly believed that if my life was difficult, that it must be God’s will. I had been taught that trials bring us closer to God, so I should be thankful. But I wasn’t thankful; I was angry and bitter. I was in darkness, and I was afraid for what the future would bring. Then a light switched on when I read Jeremiah 29:11 (NCV), where God says, “I have good plans for you, not plans to hurt you. I will give you hope and a good future.”

A light turned on, and now I could see, and over time it’s become even clearer. I have come to realize that God never intended for evil to happen and He has a plan to wipe it out. Instead of causing my suffering and trials, Jesus takes them on Himself. In 1 Peter 5:6,7 (NKJV) we are told to “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”

Looking at what Jesus did for me on the cross and realizing that He has good plans for me changed my perspective. Knowing that He wanted me to cast my cares upon Him was like a turning on a light switch. Realizing that He wasn’t the cause of my trials and troubles, brought light back into my life.

Gentle Reader, if you are living in fear and darkness, God wants to light up your world. “For God, who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:6 (NET) Turn the lights on with the flip of a switch, and maybe you’ll find yourself saying with Paul, “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” 1 Corinthians 2:2 (NKJV).

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Falls Branch Trail

An Arkie's Faith column from the November 28, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

The warm sunshine filtered through the trees as we made our way from the trailhead to the Falls Branch Trail. It was a beautiful November day with temperatures in the seventies. After the second day of Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat, our family was excited to get outside and get some exercise. We had made plans to visit Garvan Woodland Gardens and see the Christmas light display. Since we were driving to Hot Springs to go to the gardens, we wanted to find someplace to take a short hike while we waited for the sun to go down.

We referred to our book, Arkansas Dayhikes for Kids and Families, by Pam, Tim, and Amber Ernst. We chose to hike the Falls Branch Trail at Lake Catherine State Park. The book told us that the hike to the Falls Creek Falls “is an easy stroll along the lakeshore.” An easy stroll to a waterfall was just the hike that some of us older folks in the group thought sounded good.

The book went on to explain; “There are several trails that take off from the trailhead, but the one that you want is the Falls Branch Trail that goes down near the lake shore. It heads out through some nice big trees, crosses a road near the camping area, and goes over a foot bridge—you are following the white blazes. (There are actually three different trails that share the first part of the route, so you will see different color blazes on the trees).”

When we arrived at Lake Catherine, we followed the road to the campground where the trailhead was located. As we were heading down the path to the trail, I volunteered to run something back to the car. “I will catch up to you,” I said to the others. When I made it back to the place where the trails start, there was a sign that showed Falls Branch Trail with its red blaze taking off to the right along with a yellow blaze for the Horseshoe Mountain Trail. To the left, it showed a white blaze for the Dam Mountain Trail. I studied the sign for a minute and thought about the conflicting information in my mind. I knew that I wanted the Falls Branch Trail, but it went to the right, and I was pretty sure that when I had looked at the map, I needed to go left. I didn’t have a map with me or the hiking book.

As I was standing there trying to decide which way to go, I remembered something from the hiking book quite clearly. It had stated, “you are following the white blazes.” Even though the sign said Dam Mountain Trail, I decided that it had the correct blazes, and it was going the correct direction. I headed down the trail with the white blazes. It wasn’t long before I reached the waterfall. It is less than three-quarters of a mile from the trailhead to the falls. When I arrived, I was puzzled. Where was the rest of my group? I hadn’t seen them on the trail, so I assumed that they were already at the falls.

After waiting at the falls for fifteen minutes, I called to find out where the rest of my group was. I found out that because a part of the trail traveled over steep slippery rocks, some of the group had turned back and were now back at the car. The rest of the group was still hiking. They assured me that they were on the Falls Branch Trail. At the trail marker sign, they had taken the trail to the right with the red blazes. When they had reached the sign, they too were puzzled. They thought that they remembered that the trail to the falls went to the left, but the sign clearly showed that Falls Branch Trail went to the right. So, they choose the trail to the right with the red blazes.

After comparing notes, we figured out what had happened. Falls Branch Trail is a loop trail, and they had taken the long way around to the falls while I had taken the trail in the opposite direction, arriving at the falls much sooner. How could we have been so confused about this simple trail? We had both looked at the trail map. We had both read the hiking book. But we didn’t have either the map or the book with us as we hiked. The information that wasn’t made clear on the sign, or in the book was that from the trailhead to the falls in the direction that I had hiked, Falls Branch Trail and Dam Mountain Trail are the same trail, with the two trails diverging at the falls.

By the time the rest of the group reached the falls, our daylight was fast slipping away. After enjoying the beauty of the falls and taking photos, we had to hurry back to the trailhead before it got dark.
How is it that people who have read the same information can come to different conclusions? In this case, it was which part of the information we chose to emphasize. I chose to focus on the blaze color even though it contradicted with the trail name. The other group felt that the trail name was the most important thing.

Gentle Reader, in this age of information overload, your decisions in life are affected by the information you choose to emphasize. Proverbs 2:8-11 (NLT) tells us that God “guards the paths of the just and protects those who are faithful to him. Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair, and you will find the right way to go. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will fill you with joy. Wise choices will watch over you. Understanding will keep you safe.” To make the best choices in life, choose to emphasize the information that God has given us in the Bible. “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” Psalms 119:105 (NLT)

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Knowledge

An Arkie's Faith column from the November 21, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

Matt McCabe is a tall, muscular man, standing 6-foot-2. He is good-looking, with blond hair and a big smile. He loves to talk about his city, London. McCabe had spent three years of his life thinking about London’s roads and landmarks, and how to navigate between them. In the process, he had logged more than 50,000 miles on a motorbike and on foot. He is studying to become a London taxi driver. To become a London taxi driver, he will need to pass a test called simply, The Knowledge.
The Knowledge has been around since the 1800s. Taxi-driver candidates, known as Knowledge boys and Knowledge girls, are issued a copy of the Blue Book; a guidebook that contains a list of 320 trips around London. To be licensed as an “All London” taxi driver, Matt will need a thorough knowledge of all the streets, parks, hospitals, restaurants, places of worship, sports stadiums, hotels, club, theatres, museums, schools, police stations, and any other places of interest to tourists.

The Knowledge focuses on the six-mile radius from Charing Cross, center-point of London. The area has over 25,000 streets. London cabbies need to know all of those streets; the direction they run, which are one-way, which are dead ends, and where to enter and exit traffic circles. But cabbies also need to know everything on the streets. When Matt takes his test, the examiner may ask him to identify the location of any restaurant in London. Any pub, any shop, any landmark, no matter how small or obscure are all fair game. He may be asked to name the whereabouts of flower stands, of laundromats, of commemorative plaques or statues. Matt understands that the test will be a challenge. That is why he has worked so hard for the last three years learning the streets of London.

The trial a London cabbie endures gaining his qualification has been called the hardest test, of any kind, in the world. It is an intellectual, psychological and physical ordeal, with thousands of hours of immersive study, as would-be cabbies attempt to commit to memory all of London, and demonstrate their knowledge through a very difficult series of oral examinations. The process takes on average four years to complete, and for some, much longer than that. Matt McCabe hopes to pass “The Knowledge” soon and become a London taxi driver.

According to a BBC News article, “the structure of a London taxi driver's brain changes during the grueling process of learning the quickest way around the capital. Dozens of trainee drivers had MRI scans before and after they acquired "The Knowledge," memorizing thousands of journeys and street names.” 79 taxi driver trainees were given brain scans by scientists at University College London just before they started to learn “The Knowledge,” which usually takes four years to complete.

Throughout the learning process, any changes to their brains were mapped by regular MRI scans. Research published in the journal, “Current Biology,” stated; “Compared with similar scans from non-taxi drivers, those who had attempted The Knowledge had increased the size of the posterior hippocampus - the rear section of the hippocampus which lies at the front of the brain.” This is a part of the brain associated with navigation in birds and animals.

"There seems to be a definite relationship between the navigating they do as a taxi driver and the brain changes," said Dr. Eleanor Maguire, who led the research team. She said: "By following the trainee taxi drivers over time as they acquired - or failed to acquire - the Knowledge, a uniquely challenging spatial memory task, we have seen directly and within individuals how the structure of the hippocampus can change with external stimulation. The human brain remains 'plastic,' even in adult life, allowing it to adapt when we learn new tasks. This offers encouragement for adults who want to learn new skills later in life."

When we exercise our brains, we can improve our brains abilities. Are you exercising your brain? Can you exercise just once a year and expect improvement? Thanksgiving is the time of the year that we exercise our feelings of gratefulness and thankfulness for everything in our life. But what about all the rest of the year? Isn't it important to be thankful all year round, and not just one day?
With so much negativity in the world, it can be hard to acknowledge all of the great things going on in life around you. But if we exercise thankfulness in our brains, it can change our perception. Therapist Valeria Moore thinks it’s something that should be routine, something we should teach children to do, too. "We need to make expressing gratitude a daily practice," she says. "It would make us and our interactions, not just our holidays, much more positive." Moore tries to incorporate gratitude in her counseling sessions with patients and makes it a point to teach her 7-year-old daughter about gratitude every day.

When you approach life with thanks or appreciation, you acknowledge what you have instead of what you wish you had or what you want. Research has shown that people who regularly practice gratitude are more relaxed, more resilient, have a more positive outlook on life. Being grateful can impact every part of your life.

Gentle Reader, when Paul was writing to the Philippians, he told them, “I thank God every time I remember you. And I always pray for all of you with joy.” Philippians 1:3,4 (ICB) Thankfulness was a daily part of Paul’s life. He wrote about being thankful dozens of times. He believed that thankfulness should be exercised every day, not just once a year. “Always give thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:20 (NCV) Even when the Thanksgiving holiday is over let’s resolve to follow Paul’s advice found in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NKJV); “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”