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.”

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Daddy's Guestbook

An Arkie's Faith column from the November 14, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

I could hear the distinctive throaty rumble of Harley-Davidson motorcycles as they pulled up the driveway to my shop; an uneven, syncopated rhythm that sounded like potato, potato, potato, potato. The two bikers had been traveling on Highway 71 when they spotted the old cars at my shop and stopped to look at them. They enjoyed looking at the cars and visiting with Daddy and me. They were especially excited to see our right-hand drive 1954 Ford Popular that had been imported from England. As we visited with them, we learned that they were from the United Kingdom; one was from London, and the other from Belfast, Northern Ireland. 

The bikers spent almost an hour admiring our old cars and visiting with us. When they were ready to leave, my Daddy asked them to sign his guestbook. Several years ago, he started asking visitors to our shop to sign his guestbook. Since that time, we have had visitors from all around the world sign the book.

One day a visitor was looking at our cars. As I visited with him, I wondered what type of accent he had. I asked him where he was from, and he replied, “Texas.” I didn’t press the issue, but I knew that he had not been born and raised in Texas. After visiting with him for a few minutes, he became more comfortable with me, and he said, “earlier you asked me where I was from. I told you Texas because I now live in the Dallas Fort Worth area. But I was born and raised in Iran.” He told me that because of the hate and prejudice that he has experienced, he usually doesn’t tell people that he is Iranian. I told him that with his accent, I was sure that he wasn’t a native Texan. He went on to tell me that he was a young man when he and his family were able to escape from Iran during the Iranian Revolution of the late 1970’s.

We have had visitors from all over the world stop by our shop. I remember one man and his story very clearly. As I visited with him, he told me how he came to the United States as a child. His father was a high-ranking officer in the Laotian Army who cooperated with the Americans during the Secret War. From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. engaged in a “secret war” in Laos. During that time U.S. forces dropped more than two million tons of bombs on Laos during 580,000 bombing missions. The bombings were part of the U.S. Secret War in Laos to support the Royal Lao Government against the Pathet Lao and to prevent the movement of traffic along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. When the U.S. was pulling out of Vietnam, his family was able to get out of Laos with the help of clandestine U.S. operatives. No one from his family has ever been able to return to Laos because there is a price on their heads. He was very emotional as he told us his story even though we had just met.

Over the years we have had people from all over America and the world sign Daddy’s guestbook. There was the young man from Switzerland who flew to New York City and purchased a Ford Transit Connect Van and was driving across America even though he didn’t own a car back in Switzerland. And the German man who purchased the old Mena Fire Truck. There was the Australian who was purchasing cars, trucks, and motorcycles to ship back home. People from South Africa, Mexico, Norway, Canada, The Netherlands, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Romania have also signed the guestbook.

My Daddy would love to have you stop by and sign his guestbook, but having your name written in it isn’t very important. There is a book where it is important to have your name listed. Writing about the New Jerusalem, the Apostle John said that “only what is pure will enter the city. No one who causes people to believe lies will enter it. No one who does shameful things will enter it either. Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life will enter the city.” Revelation 21:27 (NIRV) and in Revelation 3:5 (NKJV) Jesus tells us; “he who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”

In Bible times, the Israelites kept records of the names of the citizens of their cities. Genealogies were important to determine legal rights and social and religious functions. To have your name deleted from those records was a severe legal punishment. The book of life shows that those who belong to Christ are citizens of heaven. Their names are already written in the heavenly ledger, and they are considered citizens of that kingdom, with all its privileges. God’s forgiving grace makes it possible for the believer to have his name listed in the book, and if they confess and ask for forgiveness, their names will not be blotted out. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 (NKJV)

Gentle Reader, if you would like to have your name in my Daddy’s guestbook, then come by and visit him. He would be happy to have you sign his guestbook. But ask yourself the question that is asked by the old hymn; “Is my name written there, on the page white and fair? In the book of Thy kingdom, is my name written there?” In Luke 10:20 (NKJV) Jesus told His disciples: "Rejoice, because your names are written in heaven." The most important place to have your name listed is in heaven in the Book of Life.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Thank You, Veterans

Veterans Day is a day to honor the men and women who served in the United States Armed Forces.  In 1954, President Eisenhower published a proclamation in the Federal Register, instructing citizens to recognize Veterans Day on Nov. 11. He wrote: “On that day, let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.” The Department of Veterans Affairs has broadening that tradition of observance and appreciation to include both Veterans and Military Families for the entire month of November.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs Suicide Data Report, the veteran suicide rate averages 22 per day. Many more come home with significant problems as they try to return to non-military society. On this Veterans Day, please don't forget our veterans and the sacrifices they have made.

One of my ancestors who served his country is my great great great great grandfather, James Vowels.

According to a document that I found, James Vowels was a soldier in the Army of the Revolution.  James was born in Virginia in 1738. He enlisted in 1776 under Captain George Slaughter of the 8th Virginia Regiment.  He 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 was up, he came home 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 great great great great grandfather was a part of some of the most important events in American history.  He experienced the hardships of Valley Forge.  He was part of the Army that forced the 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.

James Vowels served valiantly and did more than he was asked to do.  After the hardships he had gone through, I find it amazing that he left his new bride and re-enlisted in the army.  He was a man who definitely believed in what he was fighting for.

A local hero that we remember in Mena is Herbert A. Littleton.

Littleton was a United States Marine who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for falling on a grenade during the Korean War.

He was born on July 1, 1930, in Mena, Arkansas. He enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve on July 29, 1948, for a one-year term. After the outbreak of the Korean War, Littleton reenlisted in the Marine Corps. He went to Korea with the 3rd Replacement Draft, fighting in South and Central Korean operations from December 17, 1950, until his death.

Littleton earned the nation's highest award for valor on April 22, 1951, at Chungehon. At the time he was serving as a Radio Operator with the First Marine Division. Littleton was standing watch when a large well-concealed enemy force launched a night attack from nearby positions against his company. PFC Littleton quickly alerted the forward observation team and immediately moved into position to assist in calling down artillery fire on the enemy force. When an enemy hand grenade was thrown into his vantage point shortly after the arrival of the remainder of the team, he threw himself on the grenade, absorbing its full impact with his own body. By his prompt action, he saved the other members of his team from serious injury or death and enabled them to repulse the enemy attack. For his valor in the face of certain death, Herbert A. Littleton was awarded the Medal of Honor.

At the Polk County Courthouse here in Mena, Arkansas there is a Polk County War Memorial that honors the fallen. The names of the Polk County citizens who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country are engraved on it.

Here are the names as they are engraved on the Memorial.

On this Veterans Day I will remember the men and women, such as Herbert A. Littleton and all the rest of those whose names are engraved on the Polk County War Memorial, who died while serving their country and I will also remember my great great great great grandfather, James Vowels, and the multitude of other men and women who have sacrificed so much serving their county.  Thank You to our men and women who served, are serving, and especially those who sacrificed their lives.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Balloons over Branson

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 7, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

“Look over there,” my wife exclaimed, “there is a hot air balloon.” We were driving back to the house we had rented in Branson for the weekend. I pulled into a parking lot so that we could get a better view of the balloon and take some photos. As I got out of the car I noticed another balloon, and then two more. As the balloons drifted by, they were close enough to the ground that we could hear when the pilot activated the propane burner.

The balloons seemed to be headed in the same direction that we were going, so we followed them. When we pulled into the driveway of our rental, we saw that a balloon was flying right over us. The balloon was low enough that the people in the basket saw us taking photos and waved to us, yelling “hello.” The balloon was made of brightly colored rectangles with a vertical yellow strip with the bold letters WWJD. After the balloons had passed over us, we got back in the car to see if we could follow them.

We wound around the streets of Branson trying to keep the balloons in sight. Before long, we saw them landing in an open field between the local hospital and the Yakov theater. One of the balloons came in so low that the basket with its occupants brushed the tops of the trees. I imagine that was an interesting ride. We could see the basket being knocked around as it went through the treetops. We watched for a few minutes as the people got out of the baskets, and the balloons slowly collapsed to the ground.

We watched as the WWJD balloon slowly deflated, and its handlers started preparing to put it into the enclosed trailer they were pulling behind a van. I thought about the popular catchphrase, WWJD; "What Would Jesus Do?" WWJD is found on jewelry, emblazoned on bumper stickers and has made its way into popular culture. In any situation in our lives, it is important to ask ourselves, “what would Jesus do?” But I don’t think that most of us ask the question.

As I watched the WWJD balloon land, I noticed that one side said WWJD, but the other side was slightly different. It said, WDJD. That puzzled me for a moment until I realized that it stood for “What Did Jesus Do?” The only way to determine what Jesus would do is by learning what Jesus did. 2 Peter 3:18 (KJV) says, “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Whatever decisions we make in life, whether large or small, can best be made by asking ourselves what Jesus would do. But before we can do that, we must know what Jesus did.

As Christians our example is Jesus.  If we are to follow the example of Jesus, how should we relate to others? In Matthew 9:35,36 (NLT) the Bible tells us that “Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

What did Jesus do? He had compassion on others. If we follow the example of Jesus, we will have compassion. It seems to me that many Christians have lost their compassion. As I look around, I don’t always see Christians dealing with others with compassion. I am more apt to see hate than compassion.

I don’t want to meddle, but maybe I will just a little bit. Just think about a few of the hot button topics of our day and see what your response is toward the following groups. Gays, Muslims, Adulterers, Abortionists, Immigrants, Welfare Recipients, Thieves, Drug Dealers, Socialists, Prostitutes, Atheists, etc. Do you have compassion on them, or is your response something different? Can you hate someone when you are praying for their salvation?  Should we hate someone that Jesus loves and was willing to die for?

Following the example of Jesus and having compassion on others is very liberating. It allows us to leave the judging up to God while we practice the self-sacrificing love He demonstrated on the cross. It allows us to hold ourselves to a high moral standard without feeling that we must hate those who do not see things the way we do.

Daniel Darling states, "we must not allow our protest against values with which we disagree to overshadow our responsibility to show Christ's love for the world. It may very well be the person who offends us the most whom God is in the process of saving. And our gracious response might be the bridge that the Spirit uses to usher him from death to life.”

Jesus cried for a city that rejected him. He asked his Father to forgive those who tortured and killed him. We should love the "sinner" as Christ loved us sinners and, by our conduct and words, show a better way. When we uplift the right and the good, sin will appear in its true colors. However, if we do not model the love of Christ and give no evidence of His power in our lives, no amount of argument will induce the "sinner" to give up his sin. Holding a sign that says “God Hates You” is not an effective way to witness.

Gentle Reader, we as Christians are called to follow the example of Jesus. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:21 (NIV) “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” Paul told the Corinthians to “follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1 (NIV) Our goal should be to follow the example of Jesus and treat others with compassion every day.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Your Vote Matters

My An Arkie's Faith column from the October 31, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

It was shortly after eight in the morning when we pulled up in front of the building. Outside was a sandwich board sign with the words “vote here” written above a rippling American flag. Even though it was early, there were several cars parked out front. My wife and I were headed out of town and decided to vote before we left. When we walked into the room to vote, all of the voting machines were in use, and there were a couple of people in line ahead of us. The people working the polls were friendly and helpful. Before long, both my wife and I were standing in front of our respective voting machines.

After voting for the statewide races, for the U.S. representative, the state senator, local races, and the ballot initiatives, I carefully reviewed the ballot before giving my final approval. I was now one of the more than two million voters who have cast early ballots. Many people are expecting an above-average turnout for this year's mid-term elections. Political pundits on both sides are calling this election crucial, and are trying to convince those who are on their side to get out and vote. The rhetoric has been harsh, caustic and bitter. 

The past weeks and months my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been filled with ugly, hateful, and often downright false political posts. Most of the time they are reposts of someone else's memes or articles. I wonder if anyone's mind has ever been changed by the hateful vitriol that they read on social media. Is this really what Christians want to be known for?

One of the best-known sayings of Christianity is the Golden Rule; “Do to others what you want them to do to you.”Matthew 7:12 (NCV) Most Christians believe this. They would not only agree that it’s correct to treat others right, but also believe in showing respect and kindness. But there’s one area of life where it seems that Christians forget the Golden Rule, and that’s politics. I am amazed by how many Christians become completely uncivil when it comes to discussing politics. In everything else they are polite, but once they start talking about politics or politicians, they become vicious. It seems that they forget that the Bible says in Romans 12:10, “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.”

When we as Christians are tempted to fire back when confronted with beliefs that we don’t agree with, we need to listen to the advice given in Romans 12:2 (NKJV). “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

When we feel that our beliefs are under attack, the basic human response is to fire back. We let our natural, carnal, human emotions dictate our behavior. We feel anger and want to lash out. We feel fear and want to defend our beliefs or attack perceived wrongs. 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 speak up for their beliefs, 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 difference in opinion by angrily returning fire. Your political opinions do matter. Your vote does matter. But your opinions and votes should not be the most important things in your life. As Christians, our ultimate hope does not rest on political candidates or political power or political initiatives. Speaking of voting in elections, John Piper wrote, “Its outcomes do not give us the greatest joy when they go our way, and they do not demoralize us when they don’t… We deal with the political system. We deal with the news. We deal with the candidates. We deal with the issues. But it is not the great thing in our lives. Christ is. And Christ will be ruling over his people with perfect supremacy no matter who is elected and no matter what government stands or falls.”

I’m thankful to live in a country were your vote matters and my vote matters. I’m thankful that we can be a part of the political process. By all means vote. But remember that the Bible informs us that “the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” 1 John 2:17 (TLV) Don’t let politics consume you and cloud your judgment. Don’t be complicit when slander is explained away as righteous anger, and winning arguments is more important than being truthful.

Gentle Reader, your vote matters. When you vote for someone to represent you, whether in the local, state, or national government, it is important to vote for someone who shares your principles. But your vote this year is not the most important vote you will cast. Every day you have to vote for who you want to represent you that day. Do you want Jesus to represent you, or are you willing for Satan to be your representative? “If you don’t want to serve the Lord, you must choose for yourselves today whom you will serve… As for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15 (NCV)  Who will you choose to vote for today? Your vote matters!