Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Building Renovation

My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 24, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The rain beating down on my shop's metal roof was so loud that conversation wasn't possible. The downpour was so heavy that I could not see the highway in front of my shop. A flash river was running down my driveway. Water streamed from the ceiling in several places in the shop bay where I was trying to work. "I hope this downpour will be over soon," I thought. But it wasn't over soon. The deluge continued. After hours of hard rain, an inch of water was on my shop floor. 

By the time the rain ended, nine inches of rain had fallen. Rainwater flooded the floor throughout the shop. I knew that my old shop building had several leaks, but it had never flooded before. I realized that I was going to have to get my roof repaired. But we did not have another heavy rainfall for a few months, and I put it out of my mind. It was the year 2020, and it seemed that there were always more pressing things. 

In November of that year, I had the roof replaced. Hearing the rain on my new roof and no leaks in my shop was delightfully satisfying. While I was reading the book of Ecclesiastes, I found this little gem; "When you are too lazy to repair your roof, it will leak, and the house will fall in." Ecclesiastes 10:18 (GNT) "That is a little bit too close to home," I thought.

I started working on my cold, drafty shop in the spring of last year. The building was old and needed updating. In several places, the ceiling had fallen. Some of the siding had rotted away, and you could see outside. The old, ill-fitting garage doors left significant gaps. I would stuff old blankets into the cracks to try and keep some heat in the shop. It wasn't easy trying to keep the shop warm.

This winter, I worked in a warm, dry shop. After replacing many rotten studs and installing new insulation and siding, the project was complete with new garage doors and foam sprayed on the ceiling. I decided to continue the shop renovation this spring by repairing and remodeling the office and bathroom. 

When Terry began the project, he immediately ran into problems. Every wall was out of square and out of plumb. I jokingly told him, "The original builders must not have had a square or a level." The project proceeded slowly as he dealt with the compromises necessary to deal with the poor original construction. 

When Terry had completed the walls, he and his dad began laying out the tile floor. They did a masterful job of laying the tile to look square even though the rooms were out of square. Watching them work, I thought of Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 3:10 (VOICE). "Like a skilled architect and master builder, I laid a foundation based upon God's grace given to me. Now others will come along to build on the foundation. Each serves in a different way and is to build upon it with great care."

Whoever built my shop all those years ago was not a skilled architect or master builder. Whether new construction or renovations, building is a process that requires vision, planning, investment, and time. You must know what you want to build, prepare plans, and use proper construction tools and methods. If you don't, anyone who has to work after you will have problems.

The same principles hold true as we build our lives. "Without the help of the Lord it is useless to build a home or to guard a city. It is useless to get up early and stay up late in order to earn a living. God takes care of his own, even while they sleep." Psalms 127:1,2 (CEV) God wants us to be builders, but without his help, we will do a poor job.

If we try to build our lives without his help, God asks us, "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundations? Tell me if you know. Who set its measurements? Surely you know. Who stretched a measuring tape on it? On what were its footings sunk; who laid its cornerstone." Job 38:4-6 (CEB)

Jesus explained the importance of building correctly in Luke 6:47-49 (CJB) "Everyone who comes to me, hears my words and acts on them — I will show you what he is like: he is like someone building a house who dug deep and laid the foundation on bedrock. When a flood came, the torrent beat against that house but couldn't shake it, because it was constructed well. And whoever hears my words but doesn't act on them is like someone who built his house on the ground without any foundation. As soon as the river struck it, it collapsed and that house became a horrendous wreck!"

Here are three areas of construction God has assigned to us. First, the Bible instructs us to build up ourselves spiritually. "But you, dear friends, carefully build yourselves up in this most holy faith by praying in the Holy Spirit, staying right at the center of God's love, keeping your arms open and outstretched, ready for the mercy of our Master, Jesus Christ." Jude 1:20 (MSG)

God also calls us to build up the church. "Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church." 1 Corinthians 14:12 (NIV) Today, too many Christians seem to be tearing down the church instead of building it up.

Finally, God wants us to build up each other. "Don't let any unwholesome words escape your lips. Instead, say whatever is good and will be useful in building people up, so that you will give grace to those who listen." Ephesians 4:29 (NTE) "So support one another. Keep building each other up as you have been doing." 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (VOICE)

Gentle Reader, are you fulfilling your responsibility as a builder? Are you building up your spiritual strength, Jesus' church, and the people God has placed in your life? "As others build on the foundation (whether with gold, silver, gemstones, wood, hay, or straw), the quality of each person's work will be revealed in time as it is tested by fire. If a man's work stands the test of fire, he will be rewarded." 1 Corinthians 3:12-14 (VOICE) With God's help, you can be a quality builder.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

National Park Radio

My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 17, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

As we drove up Hwy 7 towards Jasper, lush green fields changed to forest as the road became crooked and steep. Occasionally we could glimpse a view of the valleys below as the road climbed to the top of a ridge. I love the "mountains of Arkansas," even if they aren't tall and majestic like the Rocky Mountains. 

Vance Randolph, who spent his life collecting, recording, and writing about Ozark life and folklore, once said about this area, "It's not that the mountains are so high but that the valleys are so deep." As we stopped to take in the views of the Arkansas Grand Canyon just a few miles from Jasper, I had to agree with Randolph. It may not be as deep as the one out West, but the canyon here in Arkansas has some truly breathtaking views.

We were on our way to Harrison to attend National Park Radio's album release concert for their new album, Canyons. As I looked out over the canyon from the Cliff House Inn, I thought about the beauty of Arkansas and how I sometimes compared it unfavorably to the Rocky Mountains I had grown up with in Colorado. National Park Radio's singer/songwriter Stefan Szabo wrote about those feelings in his song "Wander." Each year, the band tours out West during the summer because they love the majestic scenery there. But after coming back home to Arkansas after a tour, Stefan wrote these words that I can relate to. 

"Through the wild, we wander. You can find us there—sounds of distant thunder in the mountain air. Now behold the beauty high above the trees. Golden light reflecting from the snow-capped peaks. Oh, I don't know where I belong, but here I am." The final verse of the song tells the story of returning home. "Headed south from Jackson back to Arkansas. Now those Ozark mountains didn't seem so tall. But I can see the beauty of this place called home. Full of love and family and the Buffalo. Now I know where I belong. And here I am."

Like Stefan, I love traveling and seeing America's wonderfully varied landscapes. Still, when I come home to Arkansas, I realize that I live in one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. Our trip to Harrison and the Buffalo River area reinforced my belief that the Ouachitas and the Ozarks are as beautiful as anything the rest of the country has to offer. 

I first heard National Park Radio when they headlined the Lum and Abner Days Festival in 2018. We planned to attend the band's concert at Steel Creek Campground on the Buffalo River the following year. We arrived at the campground early in the afternoon. So early that we were the first to set out our chairs in front of the stage. We spent the afternoon swimming in the Buffalo River and picnicking while taking in the incredible scenic beauty of the area. When the first strains of music filled the air, the audience cheered as they settled down to watch the band play with the beautiful bluffs above the Buffalo River in the background.

It had been four years since the concert at Steel Creek, and I was excited to hear National Park Radio again. The band has changed with the changes that Covid brought to the live music industry. They no longer tour with a full band but as a husband-and-wife duo. When Kerrie and Stefan took the stage and began playing, It was as if they were old friends playing a few songs for you in your living room. 

The concert was terrific, and Kerrie and Stefan told stories about the music and their lives. I loved every song, but as the show ended, they had not played one of my favorites, "Mighty Mountains." The song has been meaningful to me since I first heard them play, and I was just a bit disappointed. When they returned for the encore, Stefan began a driving beat on his suitcase kick drum, then Kerrie started singing, "I'm gonna fight 'em all. A seven-nation army couldn't hold me back." Everyone in the audience seemed surprised to hear a White Stripes cover, as National Park Radio rarely sings covers.    

As the last strains of Seven Nation Army faded and I assumed the concert was over, Stefan immediately transitioned into another song. "When I was only seventeen, I found myself caught in between what you could say was life and fantasy." A smile spread across my face as I listened to Mighty Mountains. The song's message has resonated with me from the first time I heard it at Lum and Abner Days.

The song reminded me of times when I have been too easily discouraged. In the song, Stefan writes, "That crooked road seemed all too steep. It stretched beyond what I could see." But the song is not about giving in to life's problems. It is about a positive outlook and the determination not to let life pass you by. The music continues, "But at last I saw the future; Every moment that could be. Oh, I found that life was waiting there for me. Only for a moment, I'd forgotten why we came. Not unlike my father, mighty mountains call my name. Oh, the explanations and excuses we could find. But unlike my father, those mighty mountains I will climb."

We are all faced with mountains. Sometimes there are mountains of discouragement. Sometimes there are mountains of hopes, dreams, and aspirations. We often have "explanations and excuses" for why we can't climb those mountains. But God says that you can. In Psalm 18:33 (NLT), David says, "He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights." 

The last verse of the song is powerful. "It's strength we find when we are weak. It's faith that moves the tallest peak. And love that lasts for long after we're gone. But few can truly know the cost. And all who wander are not lost. For love will lead the tired and troubled home. 'Cause, at last, I see the future. Every moment that can be. And I've found that life is waiting here for me."

Gentle Reader, Don't miss out on God's blessings for you because you are too timid to attempt to climb mighty mountains. If you never climb the mountain, you will never be able to see the mountaintop view. God says, "Do not be afraid. I am with you. Do not be terrified. I am your God. I will make you strong and help you." Isaiah 41:10 (NIRV) He wants to climb mighty mountains with you.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Ouachita National Park

My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 10, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Even though I have lived in Mena, Arkansas, for over forty years, I am still amazed by the area's natural beauty. I love to travel and see America's wonderfully varied landscapes, but when I come home to the Ouachitas, I realize that I live in one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. 

I recently discovered a bit of history about this area that surprised me. I learned that in the 1920s, Congress introduced legislation that would have created a national park in this area. The proposed Ouachita National Park would have been 35 miles long and 12 miles wide, stretching through the central Ouachita Mountains of Polk and Montgomery counties.

The original proposal for a national park in the Ouachitas came in the early 1920s from business leaders in Mena, Arkansas. Their initial proposal for establishing Mena National Park focused on Rich Mountain, including the area now designated as Queen Wilhelmina State Park. But as the idea for a national park grew, they focused on a much larger area southeast of Mena.

Prominent politicians, businessmen from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, and local leaders from Mena worked hard to promote the idea. They organized The Ouachita National Park Foundation Society to promote the need for a national park in the South. The society published a promotional booklet that extolled the area's scenic beauty. It described the wide variety of vistas found in the proposed park. "There are steep, timber-covered peaks rising to 2,500 feet, long ridges of mountains, with peaks separated only by narrow green valleys with streams of pure, cold, spring water in abundance."

Society members wrote many articles praising the beauty of the Ouachitas and the proposed national park. In November 1926, K. E. Merren published an article titled "Ouachita National Park Will Be a Dixie Paradise." In the article, he wrote, "Few countries can surpass Arkansas in the beauties of its mountain landscape. The hills are wooded with evergreens and broadleafs, the pines appearing as bands of deeper green. Along some of the streams are mighty cliffs with tousled cedars and straggly pines clinging to their unfriendly sides. Everywhere are springs, the purity of whose waters are unsurpassed. In the valleys are streams, broken by rapids and falls."

But not everyone was in favor of a national park in the area. Roger W. Toll, the superintendent of the Rocky Mountain National Park, inspected the proposed park and asserted that the region did not meet the national park standards. He explained that the "Ouachita mountains are beautiful, attractive, luxuriant, verdant, friendly, and peaceful. They are not grand, spectacular, unique, nor superlative." He concluded by saying, "The Ouachita area does not contain features nor scenery on a scale equal to, or even approaching, the majority of the national parks that have been established by Congress. The area would not add any new feature of importance to the national park system that is not already represented, in a higher degree, in the existing parks. In my opinion, the National Park Service cannot consistently recommend consideration of this area for a proposed national park."

On December 5, 1927, Congressman Wingo introduced legislation in the House of Representatives to create the Ouachita National Park, with a similar bill being introduced in the Senate by Senator Robinson. Despite the reservation of the National Park Service administrators, the prospects for passage looked good. On February 17, 1929, the U.S. Senate passed the bill without a dissenting vote. A few days later, the House passed the bill by a vote of 164 to 71. It looked like there would be a new National Park, with Mena being the main town near the park.

The supporters of the Ouachita National Park were excited when their hard work was rewarded by Congress passing the bill, but then were devastated when President Calvin Coolidge, at the last moment of his presidency, pocket-vetoed the legislation by refusing to sign the bill. Senator Robinson declared, "The failure of the bill is a distinct disappointment. The measure will be reintroduced in the senate when Congress convenes again." 

Congressman Wingo appealed to supporters of the Ouachita National Park, "Do not get discouraged, forget the disappointment caused by the pocket veto of the bill, and keep in the fight until victory is won." He finished his appeal by stating, "I have greater faith now that the Ouachita National Park will be established than I ever had before."

The economic turmoil of the Great Depression put plans for a national park in the Ouachitas on the back burner. The idea has never been resurrected, and what might have been is now buried on the dusty shelves of history. When I think of all the hard work, planning, promoting, and lobbying the Ouachita National Park Foundation Society did to make the national park a reality and how close they came to success, I remember what I read in Proverbs 16:9 (NIRV) "In their hearts human beings plan their lives. But the Lord decides where their steps will take them." 

As much as I feel for those who worked so hard to make a national park in our area a reality, I'm glad they were unsuccessful. Maybe I am selfish, but I love driving through the area that would have been a national park and still finding secluded places to enjoy the peaceful beauty of the Ouachitas. I can't imagine what the area would be like if a national park had existed here for almost 100 years.

Gentle Reader, everyone experiences times of frustration over unfulfilled plans or dreams. When things don't go how we hope, feeling disappointed is normal. We all have times when we aren't where we want to be or where we think we should be. But in those times, remember that "God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan." Romans 8:28 (VOICE) "People may make plans in their minds, but only the Lord can make them come true." Proverbs 16:1 (NCV)

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

The Petersens

My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 3, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

I love music and have for as long as I can remember. As a young boy, I would sit in front of the record player and watch the platter spin around as I listened. I still remember my parent's records by Perry Como, Brook Benton, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Billy Vaughn, and Trini Lopez. 

When I bought my first radio, a small black portable transistor radio, I turned the dial to 950 KIMN and listened to what I was sure was the best radio station in the world. Ode to Billie Joe, Pleasant Valley Sunday, All You Need is Love, Heroes and Villains, and many other songs streamed through my head as I drifted off to sleep with my very own transistor radio under my pillow. I spent every moment I could listening to my radio.

As a teenager, I spent most of my money on music. I bought a stereo for my room. I installed a stereo in every car I drove. I purchased one of the first boom boxes I saw at my local Alco store. When I went to college, I had to study on my bed because my entire desk was covered with the hundreds of albums I owned.

My tastes in music have always been eclectic. During my high school years, I listened to the hard rock of Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, and Black Sabbath, but I also loved The Carpenters, Bread, John Denver, and Melanie. My favorite music is still pop music from the 60s and 70s.

I spend hours on YouTube listening to music, so the algorithm suggests lots of new music in my favorite styles. As I have gotten older, my favorite music genres are folk, bluegrass, and Americana. One of my favorite YouTube artists is Reina del Cid. Reina posts a new video most Sunday mornings on her series, Sunday Mornings with Reina Del Cid. Each week I look forward to a new video. 

Reina often collaborates with other artists on her Sunday morning videos. One Sunday in early 2020, the new video was the song, Delta Dawn. Reina was playing with a group of musicians that I had never seen before. In the notes for the video, she wrote, "I've been a big fan of The Petersens ever since I saw their cover of Jolene, and I was so thrilled it worked out to do a couple of songs with them while we were both in Dallas earlier this week on tour. They are as nice and genuine as they are talented, and it was a total honor to make music with them. I hope there will be more opportunities to jam in the future! Check out our cover 'Southern Nights' with the Petersens on their channel!"

I checked out The Petersens channel, and I loved it. Before too long, I had watched every video on their channel. I found out they had regular concerts in Branson, Missouri, and hoped I could go to a show, but it never worked out. Then one day earlier this year, a post popped up on my Facebook feed with a photo of The Petersens. One short sentence accompanied the photo. "The Petersens are coming to Mena April 28th."

When the tickets went on sale for The Petersens concert at Avalon Keep, I was among the first to purchase tickets. I contacted Michael and suggested a promotion for the concert. Richie's Discount Auto Glass would give away two tickets while promoting the concert. I eagerly waited for the night of the show.

It was a cloudy and dreary evening with a light mist falling as we pulled into the packed parking lot at Avalon Keep and tried to find a place to park. The show was sold out, and the beautiful Avalon Hall was bursting at the seams. The crowd eagerly waited for the concert to begin. 

The dobro followed a few bars of solo banjo, then the rest of the band joined in. "Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, I'm begging of you, please don't take my man." The music filled the room as the group's tight harmonies captivated the audience. The Petersens played a wide variety of traditional, pop, and country music. Matt, guitarist, and vocalist with the band, entertained the crowd with his quick wit and humor as he announced the songs.

As the evening progressed, the rain began to fall. Matt told the audience they had learned the next song for a concert in Portland, Oregon, but he thought it was appropriate for Mena. As the rain beat down on the roof, they began to sing, "It rains everywhere I go. Storms appear, and the winds they blow. I got nothin' but trouble to show, 'cause it rains everywhere I go." The heavy rains seemed like a cozy backdrop to the music.

A hush fell over the room when the dobro began quietly playing the first few bars of Amazing Grace. "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I'm found, was blind, but now I see." There is something about the song that touches people's hearts. It is so familiar and yet so meaningful. It is the gospel in a nutshell. As the music continued, the audience reverently joined in. "When we've been here ten thousand years, bright, shining as the sun. We've no less days to sing God's praise than when we first begun."

Gentle Reader, God doesn't love you because of who you are or your actions. He tells you, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NKJV) God made you. He loves you. You can't make God love you more. You can't make God love you less. He loves you just as much on your bad days as on your good ones. The Bible has a word for this: grace. And it's amazing. "God's mercy is great, and he loved us very much. Though we were spiritually dead because of the things we did against God, he gave us new life with Christ. You have been saved by God's grace." Ephesians 2:4,5 (NCV)

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

The Unlikely Messenger

My An Arkie's Faith column from the April 26, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

I sat in the high school auditorium, waiting in anticipation for the play to begin. I had been hearing about the play for several weeks. My oldest granddaughter, a junior in high school, had written the play over the last month. She also directed the play, with fifteen of her fellow high school students performing all the roles. 

When it was time to begin, my granddaughter made her way to the front of the auditorium and began to speak. "My name is Autumn Grant," she began. "I am the writer and director of The Unlikely Messenger. I am very nervous and excited to have you all watch the play that the drama class has worked hard on for so many hours for your enjoyment. I have a few little requests for you in the audience. Number one is, please silence your cell phones because this play takes place in the 1840s, so they did not have cell phones. It would add to the realism if no cell phones went off during the play. Just silence your cell phone so the actors don't realize that they're actually in 2023."

After the introduction, the lights dimmed and faded to black. The audience was silent as a spotlight appeared on the center aisle, and three young girls walked toward the stage, happily chatting. Another girl soon appeared, and there was an altercation. When the three girls ignored her and walked away, she picked up a rock and threw it at them, hitting Ellen in the head. Her sisters pick Ellen up and carry her home. 

The following scenes show the doctor visiting Ellen, her mother pleading with God for Ellen's life, and her father not recognizing her because of her injuries. After her family listens to William Miller, a famous preacher of the era, they are excited that Jesus is coming soon. They are very disappointed when Jesus doesn't come when they thought he would. 

God calls teenage Ellen to comfort the followers of William Miller who have been disappointed, but she doesn't feel like she can and stays away from church meetings, so she won't have to share what God has told her. She tells God, "I know what you showed me. I know you want me to share this with others, but how can I? What if I'm too sick, God? I'm only seventeen. I can tell my family, but I won't tell others. Look at me; I'm not fit to share your message. Pick someone else."

When Ellen finally decides to speak to others, she travels around New England speaking to groups, encountering interested listeners and detractors. It wasn't easy for a female, especially a teenage girl, to be taken seriously, but after her initial hesitancy, Ellen dedicated her life to God and preaching His message. 

At the end of the hour-long play, the audience cheered as the performers came out for a curtain call, showing their appreciation for the hard work of everyone involved. As my granddaughter came onto the stage and held hands with the performers, her face broke into a big smile. Now there were no more late nights writing, no more hours and hours of practice, and no more anxiety and nervousness. There was now relief and happiness, knowing that the play was a success and the audience loved it. 

The play tells the historical story of Ellen Harmon, who Smithsonian Magazine named one of the "100 Most Significant Americans of All Time." For the next seventy years, she preached across the U.S. and Australia and wrote over 5,000 periodical articles and 40 books. She is the most translated female non-fiction author in the history of literature and the most translated American non-fiction author of either gender. Historian Randall Balmer has described her as "one of the more important and colorful figures in the history of American religion." 

Ellen's story as an unlikely and hesitant messenger reminded me of another hesitant messenger's story. Moses is a shepherd who encounters a strange phenomenon while watching his flock. The Bible says that "Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn't burn up. 'This is amazing,' Moses said to himself. 'Why isn't that bush burning up? I must go see it.'" Exodus 3:2,3 (NLT)

When Moses inspected the burning bush, God called to him from the middle of the bush. "'The cry of the people of Israel has reached me, and I have seen how harshly the Egyptians abuse them. Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.' But Moses protested to God, 'Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?' God answered, 'I will be with you.'" Exodus 3:9-12 (NLT)

But just like Ellen, Moses didn't feel like he could do the job God asked him to do. He pleaded with God, "O Lord, I'm not very good with words. I never have been, and I'm not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled." Exodus 4:10 (NLT)

God wasn't going to take no for an answer. He told Moses, "'Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.' But Moses again pleaded, 'Lord, please! Send anyone else.'" Exodus 4:12-13 (NLT)

When Moses was finally convinced to go to Egypt and confront the Pharaoh, one of the most powerful men on the planet, God was able to use him to free over 600,000 enslaved people. He is remembered today as one of the most important prophets in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. 

Gentle Reader, the stories of Moses and Ellen show us that God has always used ordinary men and women to carry out his plans if we are willing. Have you felt God asking you to do something, but because you feel inadequate, you have resisted Him? God has a plan for you. Whatever God has in store for you, remember His words of encouragement: "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." Isaiah 41:10 (NLT) You may be the next unlikely messenger.


You can watch the play here.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

High Bank Twin Falls

My An Arkie's Faith column from the April 19, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

I struggled as I climbed over the rocks alongside the creek I was following. The trail had been evident initially as I meandered among tall thin trees that weren't fully leafed out this early spring. When the path became undefined, with only a jumble of rocks visible, I knew I needed to follow the small creek to my destination.

My son-in-law told me about a beautiful waterfall a quarter mile off Highway 215. Because there were no signs marking the trailhead, he had given me instructions on how to find the waterfall. "When traveling on Hwy 215 past Byrd's Adventure Center," he explained, "you will come to a sign with an arrow pointing to the right that says High Bank Canoe Launch. Continue a short way to a small bridge. On the far side of the bridge, there will be a small, unmarked area to the right with enough room for two or three cars to park. After parking, cross over the highway and follow the creek."

It was a beautiful, warm spring day as we set out to find the waterfall. We quickly found the place to park and the unmarked trail. As we headed upstream, we encountered another stream to our right with a tiny cascade. The path became rougher and steeper, with rocks and boulders directly beside or within the stream. The footing was a bit dicey, especially with my worn-out knees, but I carefully tested each step with my hiking pole as I carefully climbed over the rocks.

Before I could see the waterfall, I could hear the plunging water. At first, I could barely glimpse the falls through the trees, but when the view opened, I saw a double waterfall flowing over a steep bluff, then cascading down the grotto before plunging into a pool below. The side-by-side tumbling waterfalls dropped over seventy feet. I climbed onto a large flat rock in the middle of the stream and spent several minutes enjoying the beauty and tranquility.

Arkansas has many hidden gems, from gorgeous rock formations to scenic overlooks and beautiful forests and rivers. I have been exploring Arkansas' natural beauty for over forty years, but there's always another treasure waiting to be found. I had never heard about High Bank Twin Falls until my son-in-law told me about them. His enthusiasm made me want to see the falls for myself.

After enjoying the beauty of the falls, we hiked back down the trail to our truck. As we continued down Hwy 215 on our way to Oark, we pulled into a turnout with an impressive view of the Mulberry River below. There was another family there enjoying the view. My wife, who never met a stranger and talks to everyone she meets, initiated a conversation with them. She had noticed a Dome Life decal on the back of their vehicle, and because we follow the outdoor adventures of Kellie and Cody Oden on the YouTube channel Dome Life, we began talking to them. 

We love watching Kellie and Cody each week on YouTube and were excited to meet other people who follow them regularly. While talking, we told them about the fantastic waterfall we had just seen. They knew nothing about the falls but were interested in seeing them. We gave them directions to the falls before getting in our truck and heading to Oark General Store, where we planned to eat lunch.

After we returned home from the day's adventure, I posted photos of High Bank Twin Falls on my Facebook page. The next day, I was surprised to see a comment on the post from the fellow Dome Lifers we had met. They wrote, "I'm so glad we crossed paths and met you all yesterday. Thanks for convincing us to go find this. It was beautiful."

As I thought about the beauty of High Bank Twin Falls, I realized something. I would have never seen the falls if my son-in-law had not been so enthusiastic in his description of them. He gave us detailed directions and encouraged us to hike to the falls, so we went. Without going to High Bank Twin Falls, we would never have told the people we met about the falls and given them directions. Indirectly, my son-in-law was responsible for our newfound friends discovering the beauty of High Bank Twin Falls.

When Jesus gave his disciples and us his final instructions before he left this earth, He said, "You will be my witnesses—in Jerusalem, in all of Judea, in Samaria, and in every part of the world." Acts 1:8 (NCV) A witness testifies to what he has seen, heard, or experienced. Like a witness in a courtroom, we share what we've seen, heard, and experienced as a follower of Jesus. 

We are to be witnesses for Jesus. But too often, we, as Christians, act more like lawyers and judges than witnesses. I hear Christians judging the actions of others and condemning them. They refer to these harsh, unloving actions as witnessing. But witnessing and judging are very different things.

Jesus tells us, "Do not judge other people. Then you will not be judged. You will be judged in the same way you judge others. You will be measured in the same way you measure others. You look at the bit of sawdust in your friend's eye. But you pay no attention to the piece of wood in your own eye. How can you say to your friend, 'Let me take the bit of sawdust out of your eye'? How can you say this while there is a piece of wood in your own eye? You pretender! First take the piece of wood out of your own eye. Then you will be able to see clearly to take the bit of sawdust out of your friend's eye." Matthew 7:1-5 (NIRV)

Gentle Reader, instead of being prosecuting attorneys or judges, we are called to be witnesses and tell our stories. Tell someone of your experience with Jesus that is so compelling that it makes them want to experience it. "When you speak, make sure it's always full of grace, and well flavored with salt! That way you'll know how to give each person an appropriate answer." Colossians 4:6 (NTE)

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Who Do You Think You Are?

My An Arkie's Faith column from the April 12, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Over the past few years, one of the TV programs that I have enjoyed watching is "Who Do You Think You Are?" After a four-year hiatus, the documentary series returned last year. In each episode, a different celebrity searches to trace their family tree with the help of historians and experts, unlocking past mysteries and unbelievable real-life stories across the world and through time.

Some of my favorite episodes have featured stories where celebrities find out things about their ancestors that they never knew before. Jason Sudakis learned the details of his grandfather's death and that his grandfather abandoned his grandmother on their wedding day. Kelly Clarkson investigated the life of her three times great grandfather, who fought in the Civil War, was a prisoner of war, and later became a Senator. And Annie Lennox discovered the sad story of her great-great-grandmother who became an orphan at five after her mother, a widow, and a pauper, died. 

In an interview with Meredith Jacobs, executive producer Dan Bucatinsky said, "We've been doing this show for ten years now — we can't quite believe it — but there's a messaging in this show that I think happens that is sort of under the surface, which is that history matters, that we are all made up of both enormous and also tiny moves that occurred even 100, 200, 300 years ago with our ancestors. There has been a growing interest in genealogy."

Why are people interested in genealogy? They understand that their heritage is part of who they are today. I have been researching my family tree and traced the Lawry name back to Joseph Laurie, born in Scotland. So far, the most interesting ancestor I have found is my four times great grandfather, James Vowels.

According to a document I found, James Vowels was a soldier in the Army of the Revolution. He was born in Virginia in 1738. In 1776 he enlisted under Captain George Slaughter of the 8th Virginia Regiment. James fought in the Battles of Brandywine on September 11, 1777, Germantown on October 4, 1777, and several others. He wintered with his regiment at Valley Forge and served out the time of his enlistment faithfully.

When his enlistment ended, he returned to Virginia and married Anne Fields in April 1781. After the wedding, he again joined the Army and was at the siege of Yorktown. After the surrender of Cornwallis on October 19, 1781, he returned home to Culpepper County, Virginia, where he lived until his death on April 17, 1815.

My four times grandfather was a part of some of the most critical events in American history. He experienced the hardships of Valley Forge. He was part of the Army that forced English General Cornwallis to surrender and end the war. He helped America gain its independence. He was a true patriot. I'm proud to be a descendant of James Vowels.

As much fun as it was researching my genealogy, I finally reached a dead end and couldn't trace my Lawry family tree any farther. To continue, I would need to travel to Scotland, where the last records of Joseph Laurie were found. But I am still left with the question, where did I come from?

Who do you think you are? The answer determines how we live our lives. Our existence is meaningless if we feel we are here by an accident of forces. But if we are here because of God, our life has great worth, purpose, and a promised future beyond death.

In the Bible's account of human history, we read, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, " Genesis 1:1 (KJV), "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." Genesis 1:26 (KJV)

Who do you think you are? God says he loves you and made you in his image and likeness. Satan lies and tells you that you are just a cosmic accident.

Who do you think you are? You don't have to determine your identity because God has revealed it. God has told us that He created us. So many people are searching for their identity because they don't believe God created them.

Anytime we try to establish our identity and do not understand it biblically, it results in problems. New Age philosophy teaches that God is in us and that everything is universally connected through God. Pantheism is the belief that nature is identical to divinity and that, as a part of nature, each person is God. Who do you think you are? If you believe you are God, nothing can control your behavior.

Another identity that many people assume is that of a highly evolved animal. They believe we are just animals who have evolved with opposable thumbs and intelligent brains. Who do you think you are? If you feel you are only a highly developed animal, there is nothing to control your behavior.

The question should not be, who do you think you are, but who does God say you are? The Bible tells us in 1 John 3:1 (VOICE), "Consider the kind of extravagant love the Father has lavished on us—He calls us children of God! It's true; we are His beloved children." God says that we are his children!

All people are equally made in the image and likeness of God; Male and female, young and old, black and white, rich and poor. All have dignity, value, and worth. One of the greatest lies is that some people are more valuable than others. Because we are all God's children, you are not more valuable than anyone else, and you are not less valuable than anyone else.

That is why I don't believe in the survival of the fittest. I don't believe in Darwinian evolution, which says those who are strong survive, and those who are weak are worth less. Adolph Hitler based his plan for the Aryan race on his study of Darwin's theory. Christians shouldn't believe in racism, sexism, or class distinctions, because we all are made in the image and likeness of God.

Gentle Reader, who do you think you are? Your answer will profoundly affect your life, actions, and salvation. "We are God's creation. He created us to belong to Christ Jesus." Ephesians 2:10 (NIRV)