Thursday, March 19, 2020

Take a Break

It is Friday evening after work, and I am pulling into the Wal-Mart parking lot. The lot is at capacity, and I search for a parking space. Wal-Mart is often busy on Friday evening, but I can’t remember seeing it like this before. After parking a long way from the front of the store, I walk briskly through the light rain to the entrance. Once inside, I see something that I have never seen before. Every checkout lane is open, and each cashier has a line of customers waiting to check out. Fortunately, I just need a few things for the supper that my wife has planned for us and our granddaughters.

As I walk down the aisles, I see that there are many empty shelves. There is not a single roll of toilet paper on the paper goods aisle, and there are only a couple of packages of paper towels. There is no flour on the flour aisle. The canned vegetable aisle is decimated, with a few cans strewn here and there. I pick up a carton of eggs because there are almost none left, and I’m not sure if we have any at home. It is challenging to make my way down the crowded aisles. I am thankful when I can make my purchases and head home.

It has been a crazy week. The Covid-19 coronavirus has dominated the news cycle. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “the virus that causes COVID-19 is infecting people and spreading easily from person-to-person. Cases have been detected in most countries worldwide, and community spread is being detected in a growing number of countries. On March 11, the COVID-19 outbreak was characterized as a pandemic by the World Health Organization. A pandemic is a global outbreak of disease. Pandemics happen when a new virus emerges to infect people and can spread between people sustainably. Because there is little to no pre-existing immunity against the new virus, it spreads worldwide.”

Wherever you go, and whoever you talk to, the coronavirus is the number one topic of conversation. I know people have experienced a wide range of emotions regarding this outbreak, from fear to doubt and disbelief. As the days progress, I am seeing a general feeling change from, “this is nothing that I need to worry about because the news media is blowing it out of proportion,” to various levels of anxiety and a run on food and supplies at Wal-Mart.

On Tuesday, the World Health Organization issued guidelines for protecting mental health during the outbreak. “Avoid watching, reading, or listening to news that causes you to feel anxious or distressed; seek information mainly to take practical steps to prepare your plans and protect yourself and loved ones,” it advised. “Seek information updates at specific times during the day once or twice. The sudden and near-constant stream of news reports about an outbreak can cause anyone to feel worried.”

I don’t regularly follow the stock market, but this week if you have seen any news at all, it has been unavoidable. After closing on Friday, March 6, at 25,864, the Dow Jones dropped to 24,277 at 10:00 A.M. on Monday, March 9.  Major U.S. market indexes fell 7% almost right after the opening bell on Monday. The NYSE then triggered a market circuit breaker to halt a further plunge. Circuit breakers pause trading after reaching specific decline thresholds: If the S&P 500 falls 7%, trading will pause for 15 minutes. The circuit breaker pause slowed the steep declines, but the Dow finished the day 7.8 percent lower at 23,837. 

Once again, U.S. stocks hit critical circuit breaker levels on Thursday, as global markets plunged over investor fears about the coronavirus global pandemic. “Just like Monday, we’re giving the market 15 minutes to process the down movement,” said New York Stock Exchange President Stacey Cunningham. “It’s working as it’s designed to function so that the market can absorb what news was out overnight, how investors are reacting so they can make decisions, and everyone gets a chance to see what’s happening.”

Maybe we need to be like the stock market, and when we are overwhelmed with uncertainty and bad news, just step back, pause, and take a break for a few minutes. Judson A. Brewer, an associate professor at Brown University, wrote in The New York Times, “without accurate information, it is easy for our brains to spin stories of fear and dread. In addition to being fueled by uncertainty, anxiety is also contagious. In psychology, the spread of emotion from one person to another is aptly termed social contagion. Our own anxiety can be cued or triggered simply by talking to someone else who is anxious. Their fearful words are like a sneeze landing directly on our brain, emotionally infecting our prefrontal cortex, and sending it out of control as it worries about everything from whether our family members will get sick to how our jobs will be affected.”

I am not a politician or a doctor or a scientist. I’m not sure which news reports can be trusted. So instead, I look to Jesus’ words for comfort and guidance. He said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27 (NKJV). Jesus knew that fear and worry weakens us and interferes with our ability to respond effectively to the challenges of life.

Gentle Reader, although we must remain on alert against the virus, worrying won’t change our circumstances or lower our chance of infection. It won’t help us fight off illness or move us to action. There are things that we can do, such as social distancing and being diligent about washing our hands. We should take whatever precautions we can, but worrying and hoarding won’t help. Instead of worrying and being anxious, Jesus says, “do not worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will have its own worries. The troubles we have in a day are enough for one day.” Matthew 6:34 (NLV) Take a break from the anxieties of these troubled times and trust God. “Since God cares for you, let Him carry all your burdens and worries.” 1 Peter 5:7 (VOICE)

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Sharing Candy

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

On December 7, 1941, Japanese forces staged a surprise attack on the American naval fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. In a two-hour attack, Japanese planes sank or damaged 18 warships and destroyed 164 aircraft. Over 2,400 servicemen and civilians lost their lives. The very next day, the United States Congress declared war, and everyday life across the country was completely changed.

In early 1942, a rationing program was established that set limits on the amount of gas, food, and clothing that could be purchased. Families were issued ration stamps that were used to buy their allotment of everything from meat, sugar, fat, butter, vegetables and fruit, to gas, tires, clothing, and fuel oil. Sugar became the first food item to be rationed. Wholesalers, retailers, bakeries, and industrial users of sugar were registered for sugar ration books in April 1942. Candy and sweets were in short supply.

My Grandpa Lawry had a real sweet tooth. Knowing him and his love for sweets, I can only imagine how hard sugar rationing was on him. But even with the wartime rationing, every time he was paid, he would manage to bring home some kind of candy for his kids. Oh, how they looked forward to the days when they knew there would be candy.

When my Grandpa would come home with his precious bag of candy, 13-year-old Opal was put in charge of carefully dividing the spoils. The most common candy that Grandpa was able to purchase was Boston Baked Beans. Opal would conscientiously count out three equal piles, one piece at a time. Bobby and Delbert, aged 5 and 10, would quickly eat their small portion of the candy, but Opal would save hers for later. When she had candy left, and her brothers didn't, she would share her part with them.

Last month I attended my Aunt Opal's memorial service in Ooltewah, Tennessee. During the ceremony, my Daddy told the story of Opal sharing her candy. His voice cracked with emotion as he remembered her kindness and thoughtfulness. Person after person talked about Opal's concern for others and her selflessness. These kinds of things are expected at memorials, where people tend to embellish a person's better qualities. But in my Aunt Opal's case, there was no embellishment needed. She may be the sweetest, kindest, most loving person I have ever known. In my entire life, I can never remember her saying one bad thing about anyone.

Life wasn't easy for Opal. She suffered many trials and difficulties. But she seemed to have the capability of handling lifes pressures and disappointments with grace and dignity. She was able to follow the counsel of James. "Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing." James 1:2-4 (CSB) In life, we are going to have troubles. But instead of thinking that we should live a trouble-free life, it's much better to expect bumps in the road and yet learn how to find joy in them. There's a joy that comes from knowing that God is in control of every single situation in our lives.

Opal spent her life encouraging and inspiring others. She followed the counsel found in Hebrews 3:13 (NIV). "But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called 'Today,' so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness." It is easy to find something to bring people down, such as a discouraging word, a disapproving look, or disrespectful actions. Many Christians gossip about the problems of others. But you don't gossip about someone to build them up; you do it to belittle them or cast doubt on their character. In Proverbs 12:18 (CEV), the Bible tells us, "Sharp words cut like a sword, but words of wisdom heal."

I'm sure that sometimes in her life, Opal said sharp words. None of us are perfect. But she strived to follow Paul's admonition found in Ephesians 4:29 (NOG), where he wrote, "Don't say anything that would hurt another person. Instead, speak only what is good so that you can give help wherever it is needed. That way, what you say will help those who hear you." And in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV), "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing."

Opal always seemed content and happy no matter what her circumstances were. She grew up during the Great Depression, with very few possessions. Life handed her some financial setbacks. But these words of Paul could have been written by Opal. "I have learned to be satisfied with what I have and with whatever happens. I know how to live when I am poor and when I have plenty. I have learned the secret of how to live through any kind of situation—when I have enough to eat or when I am hungry, when I have everything I need or when I have nothing." Philippians 4:11,12 (ERV)

The secret to contentment is a simple one. It does not require displays of religious fervor. It is just the opposite. Christians who focus their lives on their works are never content. Contentment comes from a simple childlike response to life's ups and downs. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart." Proverbs 3:5 (NKJV)

To sum up my Aunt Opal's life would be difficult because she lived a full life. But I think the words of Jesus found in Matthew 22:37-39 (NLT) are very applicable. '" You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" Anyone who knew Opal could see that she loved God with all her heart, and she loved her neighbor and herself.

Gentle Reader, I want to live my life in such a way that when I am gone, I will be remembered for loving God and loving my neighbor. I want to be remembered as someone kind, thoughtful, and encouraging. I want to be remembered as someone content with whatever situation I was in because I trusted God. I want to be remembered as my Aunt Opal is remembered.

You can purchase the book, Opal Lawry Vega's Memories by clicking here

You can read Opal Lawry Vega's blog by clicking here

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Bear Lake

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

The front range was glistening with fresh snow as we traveled north out of Denver. Well over a foot of snow had recently blanketed the area. My mind drifted back to the many winters I spent along the front range. During my twenty years in the area, I lived in Dacono, Frederick, Erie, and Loveland. I attended school in Longmont, Brighton, Boulder, and Campion. The house that we lived in just outside of Erie was situated on top of a rolling hill and had a beautiful, unobstructed view of the mountains. That amazing view is permanently etched into my memory.

My nephew, my wife, and I were on our way from Denver to Estes Park. The slanted, reddish-brown sandstone formations called the Flatirons that make up a portion of Boulder’s foothills on the west side of town, were covered in white. We stopped to take photos of the iconic Boulder landmarks. For the past several days, This area of Colorado had been receiving large amounts of snow. By the time we reached Estes Park, it had started to snow once again.

After an amazing lunch at the Café de Pho Thai, we headed up into Rocky Mountain National Park. The snow became heavier as we drove into the park. Traffic was light as we made our way past places that brought back waves of nostalgia. Both my wife and I spent time in Rocky Mountain National Park as we were growing up. When we married, we spent the first six years living in Loveland, 35 miles from the park. Rocky Mountain National Park was our favorite place to go when we had free time. We made many wonderful memories there.

Our destination was Bear Lake. One of the most popular places in the park, Bear Lake lies nestled in a glacial valley surrounded by snow-capped peaks and pristine forest. Because it is so popular, it is very crowded in the summertime. We had not visited Bear Lake for many years. It has become so crowded, that often the only way you can reach the lake is by shuttle bus.

Perched at 9,475 feet, Bear Lake sits in a high valley. Hallet Peak, with an elevation of 12,713 feet, stands guard directly above Bear Lake and the diamond face of 14,259-foot Longs' Peak stands to the east. When you look at the mountains surrounding the lake,  you will notice several V- and U-shaped canyons along the sides of high peaks. These canyons are evidence of glaciers and the tremendous power they have in molding the landscape.

When we arrived at Bear Lake, there were just a few cars in the parking lot. When we climbed down out of the truck and attached the microspikes to our shoes, the cold went right through us. It was snowing, and the flakes swirled around us. The thermometer showed eighteen degrees, and there was a nice mountain breeze. As we made our way down the short trail to the lake, snow covered almost all of the fence that marked the trail. The sign at the visitors center said that there were 52 inches of snow on the ground. Several more inches fell during the day.

With the microspikes on our shoes, we had no trouble with the slippery snow-packed trail. As I remembered all of those winter visits to Bear Lake many years ago, I thought about how nice it would have been to have microspikes back then. My wife and I spent many quiet winter weekends in the park. Those are some of our fondest memories.

One winter visit came vividly to my memory. It was a sunny cold day, and we were hiking around the lake. Because of the heavy snow on the ground, it was hard to tell where the trail was. At one point, we got off of the trail and were too close to the lake. As I took a step in the snow, my body broke through the snow and ice into the water below. We made our way back to the car as quickly a possible to get warmed up.

We had a wonderful afternoon in Rocky Mountain National Park. With the snow falling, it had it’s own special kind of beauty. It seemed that every campground, every picnic area, every road, every herd of elk, brought out a story. It was a warm fuzzy trip down memory lane. Happy memories make our life better. Remembering the good things that have happened to us helps us to live better lives in the present.

Psalms 77:11 (GNT) says, “I will remember your great deeds, LORD; I will recall the wonders you did in the past.” My memories become some of my greatest praises. As I remember the times that I have seen God working in my life, It gives me hope no matter what challenges life gives me in the present. If you are a Christian who is trying to learn how to trust in God more, then look back to what He has done in the past. Sometimes Satan tries to make us believe that past deliverances were just a coincidence. Don’t let Satan deceive you. Look back to those times and remember how God took care of you. “Let them praise the Lord for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them.” Pslams 107:31 (NLT)

Gentle Reader, your memories of how God had worked in your life in the past are an ever-growing reservoir of past grace. It is important to remember and to be thankful for these experiences. Remembering the past helps our future by increasing our faith in God. “I remember what happened long ago; I consider everything you have done. I think about all you have made.” Psalms 143:5 (NCV)

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Don't Be Cruel

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

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

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

I can't agree with the idea that a very real revelation of hell, of torment, is needed to draw people to God. Instead, I want to present a gentle God. In Matthew 11:29 (NCV) Jesus describes himself this way, “Accept my teachings and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives.” Why would Jesus describe himself as gentle? I think we find the key in 1 John 4:18 (NKJV), “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.”

I’m not saying that there are no consequences. There is a judgment. Galatians 6:7-8 (NIV), tells us, "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life." But 2 Peter 3:9 (NKJV) tells us that God “is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."

Does God use fear as a tactic to lead us to repent? Many Christian preachers and writers use fear. Fear spills over into our outreach efforts. We feel that we have to warn the world of the judgment, the Second Coming, and hell. Shouldn’t it rather be our privilege to announce to the world the Good News that Jesus is almost here? That we can all be ready for that because of what He’s already done before we were even born. That if we daily choose Him, we have nothing to fear from the judgment and hell.

There is no doubt that the world needs to come to repentance, but does God use fear as a way to motivate us? The Bible says in Romans 2:4(NASB), "Do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?" What leads us to repentance?  Is it fear?  No, we are led to repentance by the kindness of God. When we experience God’s kindness and feel his love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness, it makes us want to love him.  When we love God, we want to please him; we want Him to live in us and work through us.

Seeing God’s kindness towards us makes us sorry for the things we have done to hurt him.  It leads us to repentance.  It doesn’t lead us to fear Him. God doesn’t want us to fear Him. I will illustrate this with a story. One night a house caught fire, and a young boy had to go to the roof. A fireman stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to the boy, "Jump! I'll catch you." He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see was flames, smoke, and blackness.  He was afraid to leave the roof. The fireman kept yelling: "Jump! I will catch you." But the boy protested, “I can't see you." The fireman replied, "But I can see you, and that's all that matters."

In life, each one of us finds ourselves in the same situation as the young boy on the roof. We will be destroyed unless we do something. If we stay in our current situation, we will be destroyed by fire. Let me ask you a question. Was the boy in the story afraid? Yes, of course, he was afraid. He was afraid of the fire. Was he afraid of the fireman? No. He had to put his trust in the fireman. He couldn’t have put his trust in the fireman if he had been afraid of him.

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

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Fighting the Flu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Fort Stevens State Park

My An Arkie's Faith column from the January 29, 2020, issue of The Mena Star

My wife and I enjoy visiting the Oregon coast. We have family that lives in the Pacific Northwest and we have spent a lot of time in the area. There is so much natural beauty and history that we always find something new and interesting to do in the area.

On one trip a few years ago, my wife and I visited Fort Stevens State Park. The original fort was completed in 1865. Its purpose was to protect the mouth of the Columbia River from Confederate gunboats and the British Navy during the Civil War. The fort was named after Civil War general and former Washington Territory governor, Isaac Stevens, who died in 1862 at the Battle of Chantilly.

Fort Stevens was used for 84 years, closing at the end of World War II. Today, it is a 3,700-acre state park. There is a visitor’s center that tells the history of the fort. We enjoyed the visitor's center and the informative film that we saw there.

The fort was Oregon's only coastal defense fort during the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II. Fort Stevens is the only military fort in the United States to be fired upon by an enemy during a time of war since the War of 1812.

On June 21, 1942, a Japanese submarine used a screen of fishing boats to avoid minefields and slip into position eight miles west of Fort Stevens. The immediate objective of the submarines was to attack a U.S. Navy submarine and destroyer base, which the Japanese believed to be near the mouth of the Columbia River. The Japanese intelligence was wrong; there was no such base.

At 11:30 P.M., the crew of the submarine fired on Fort Stevens. The first of the 16-inch long, 60-pound shells headed toward the coast. In all, 17 shells were fired. At 11:45 PM, the last shell was on its way, and the submarine headed west, on its way to the open sea. The crew of the submarine had no way of knowing where the shells landed, or what effect they had.

The men of Fort Stevens responded quickly after the first shell hit, with soldiers scrambling to get dressed and to their posts. Within a few minutes, the men had the guns at Battery Russell loaded and ready to fire. While waiting for the order to return fire, Captain Wood and his men considered their options. Eventually, a response was received:  “Do not fire – I repeat do not fire.”

Captain Wood’s men were unhappy. Richard Emery, who was a soldier at Fort Stevens that night, said, “We were frustrated. There was a lot of anger. We felt that we should have been able to fire back.” Major Robert Huston, who was the Senior Duty Officer that night, made the decision. It was a tough call. He knew the effect it would have on troop morale.

Fortunately, the shells from the Japanese submarine caused very little damage. One shell damaged the backstop of a baseball diamond within 100 yards of Battery Russell,  and another landed near a beach house but didn’t damage the house. When asked the next day how close the shells had come to the military post, Colonel Doney told reporters, “Too close.”

Why was the decision made not to return fire? Following the attack, there was a good deal of speculation about the decision. One rumor was that the officers decided not to take action because the U.S. Army would have been required to give combat pay to soldiers who returned fire. Major Huston and Colonel Doney gave an official explanation. The submarine appeared to be out of range, so why give away defense positions to a target that couldn’t be hit? It wasn't in the best interest of the fort or the men in it to return fire.

When we are attacked, the basic human response is to return fire. When we are mistreated or threatened, we want to return hurtful words or harmful actions. We let our natural human emotions dictate our behavior. We feel anger and want to lash out. We feel fear and want to defend or attack. We feel wronged and want to get revenge. But is that how a Christian should handle conflict?

In Proverbs 15:1 (NET), Solomon wrote these words of wisdom, “A gentle response turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” And James wrote in James 1:19,20 (ISV), “You must understand this, my dear brothers. Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. For human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”

I am not suggesting that there is never a time when Christians should defend themselves. But I have noticed that often we as Christians are slow to listen but quick to speak and get angry. My social media feeds are filled with angry Christians. Some answer every perceived attack, or even a difference in opinion by returning fire in an angry way.

Gentle Reader, Ecclesiastes 7:9 (AMP) says, “do not be eager in your heart to be angry, For anger dwells in the heart of fools.” Are you eager in your heart to be angry? Are you quick to return fire? When you are attacked, and you will be, remember that there is no downside to a gentle response. Don’t be eager to be angry, don’t be eager to return fire.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Winter Beauty

An Arkie's Faith column from the January 23, 2020, issue of The Mena Star.

What is your favorite season? I've always been a big fan of spring. There is nothing like the anticipation of springtime after three long months of winter. Crisp air, budding trees, greening grass, and blooming flowers make spring an amazing time. I have never liked winter. Short days and cold weather put me in a bad mood. My favorite thing about winter is that it signals that spring is on the way.

Even though winter isn’t my favorite time of the year, I find that winter can be beautiful. A fresh snowfall makes any landscape delightful. What is under the snow might be ugly, but the snow hides any blemishes and makes everything pure and white. God does the same thing with each of us. We may have a sordid past. We may not be currently living as we should. But God longs for us to ask for forgiveness so that he can cover our sins. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Isaiah 1:18 (KJV)

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised when you woke up and looked out your window to see snow covering the landscape? A dull and dreary day unexpectedly transformed into a beautiful winter day blanketed with snow. As I write this, our area hasn’t seen any snowfall, but that doesn’t mean that we haven’t had some winter beauty.

A week ago, a major storm made its way through Arkansas. It started with temperatures in the upper 60’s with heavy rain, thunder, lightning, and possible tornadoes. The following day, temperatures dropped into the 20’s and 30’s. The roads remained clear, but a thin layer of ice coated some trees. When temperatures in our area are hovering around the freezing mark, it is usually a few degrees colder on the Talimena Drive going to Queen Wilhelmina State Park. We decided to drive to the park and see the sights.

As we drove out of Mena and gained elevation, it became very foggy, and white frost covered the trees. Bare and seemingly lifeless trees turned into marvelous works of art. The fog and the trees changed the landscape into a mystical, magical place. The fog, ice, and frost filled the mountain with winter beauty.

I enjoy a bit of fog; it turns the world into a surreal landscape. But driving in a heavy fog can be frightening. You must slow down and be very alert. Faith is like driving in the fog. As we go through life, we don’t always see what’s right in front of us. Like a drive on a foggy day, life is revealed to us little by little. We can’t see into the future. God wants us to slow down and to make each action carefully and deliberately. He doesn’t want us to get in a hurry. That’s when accidents happen. We must trust that we will get to where God wants us to be when His timing is right.

Although a snowstorm makes the landscape look clean, white, and beautiful, driving in a heavy snowstorm isn’t any fun. I grew up in Colorado and experienced lots of snow and cold weather. I can still remember how frightened I was the day that I experienced a Colorado blizzard. When I headed home from work that day, the snow was coming down hard. Soon the snowfall was so heavy that visibility was almost zero. As I inched my way along, I frequently stopped the car and got out to find the edge of the road. I knew that if I slipped off the road, I would never be able to get out. My progress was very slow, and the storm intensified as time went on. I ended up being stuck and stranded for a few hours before I was able to make it home. It was a frightening experience.

“Faith assures us of things we expect and convinces us of the existence of things we cannot see.” Hebrews 11:1 (NOG) When you drive in a blizzard or fog at night, your headlights can only illuminate a few feet in front of the car. It creates tension and fear. What if there’s something I can’t see? What if the road turns and I miss it? High beams that help you to see farther when it’s clear, only make the situation worse. To feel safe, you must drive slowly and carefully. True faith is finding certainty in uncertain times. It is learning to trust God in the patches of fog that happen in everyone’s life.

To have faith is to believe that God is with you, whatever your circumstances are, whether life is going smoothly, or you are experiencing the foggiest night of your life. When the foggy night comes, we are not alone. In Psalms 32:8 (NIRV), God makes this promise to you; “I will guide you and teach you the way you should go. I will give you good advice and watch over you with love.”

Gentle Reader, in our lives, we need to stay constantly connected to God. If we put our faith in God, we will be okay. The confusion of a foggy night or a blizzard may come, but we can trust that God will guide us through. Don’t panic because you can’t see into the future. Don’t let the fear of the unknown unnerve you. God knows your future. He has promised to guide you. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) Trust God to guide you through the storms of life, and to get you where you’re going right on time. “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.” Psalms 119:105 (NAB)