Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Question

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

When I was a teenager living in Loveland, Colorado, I spent a lot of time in my bedroom listening to my stereo. When I started buying records, one of the first ones that I bought was Days of Future Passed by The Moody Blues. In the fall of 1972, the song Nights in White Satin was in heavy rotation on the radio. The Moody’s had re-released the single from 1967, and it became a big hit. Because I loved the song, I purchased the album Days of Future Passed. 

I can still remember the first time I put the record on the turntable. Classical symphonic music greeted my ears. I wondered what kind of record this was. It was over five minutes before the orchestral music segued into the vocals of Dawn is a Feeling. Throughout the rest of the record, the Moody Blues tracks alternated with interludes from the London Festival Orchestra. That record made an impact on me. I loved the record from start to finish.

The idea of a Days of Future Passed 50th-anniversary tour had been on the Moody Blues members' minds since 2015. The idea was to perform the album live in its entirety. When I first heard about the project, I thought it would be wonderful to see them perform Days of Future Passed in concert, but never imagined I would be able to. When I found out that they would be in Tulsa at the BOK Center, I purchased tickets. The concert was amazing. The first half included a number of songs from their extensive catalog and the second half was the album Days of Future Passed. After the last strains of music faded away, the audience erupted in massive applause. As the Moody’s returned to the stage for an encore, they played their 1970 hit, Question.

“Why do we never get an answer when we're knocking at the door; with a thousand million questions about hate and death and war?” As I listened to the song, my mind wandered to some of the current drama in my life. My Mom has been very ill, and it seems that we haven’t been able to get the medical care that she needs. There have been family issues and personal issues and a lot of stress. I have to admit that I have asked God why all of this is happening to my family.

We may ask the question "why me?" but 1 Peter 4:12 (ICB) tells us, "My friends, do not be surprised at the painful things you are now suffering. These things are testing your faith. So do not think that something strange is happening to you.” Jesus Himself said in John 16:33 (NET), “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage—I have conquered the world.”

When trouble and suffering seem do dominate our lives, it's not surprising that we would ask the one-word question, "Why?" That "why" can pack so much emotion, such as confusion, desperation, or even anger. But as we sort through our feelings, our questions, our doubts, it is good to remind ourselves that a loving God always hears us. He always cares about us.

The Bible makes a startling statement about the tough times in our lives. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” James 1:2,3 (NASB)  I don’t know about you, but I am not looking for tough times, and I’m not looking for more endurance. But the Bible says that I should consider it a joy.

I find that in my life, doubt creeps in because I can’t stand unanswered questions: Why is there suffering? Why do innocent people suffer harm but guilty people go free? Where is God when something terrible happens?

The lyrics of the Moody Blues, Question, seems to speak to me. “But in the grey of the morning, my mind becomes confused. Between the dead and the sleeping and the road that I must choose. I'm looking for someone to change my life. I'm looking for a miracle in my life.”

I’m looking for change in my life. I’m looking for miracles. At times, like me, you may wonder where God is, and what He is doing. Life can go very wrong at times. It may test your sanity and your faith. But you are not alone. Job, Paul, Elijah, John the Baptist, and even Jesus went through tough times that pushed them to the edge. C. S. Lewis, who watched his dear wife die of cancer, put it this way: "But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

Gentle Reader, there is no easy answer to the problem of suffering. We may never understand, but we do know that God gave his Son to save us from our sin and all its destructive effects in this world, and that includes suffering. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16 (NKJV) I'm looking forward to the day when God will make everything that is wrong become right. “I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.’” Revelation 21:3,4 (NLT)

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Out in the Cold

My An Arkie's Faith column from the January 24, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

This past week, my hometown has seen the coldest temperatures in over twenty years. On the coldest morning, the temperature was five degrees with a wind chill of minus thirteen. Because of the unusually low temps, the working conditions at my shop were very cold. My old, drafty, uninsulated, shop building has only space heaters for heat. On the bitterly cold days, the heaters could do little more than keep the temperature above freezing. Like many other people in the area, I had water pipes that were frozen. As I worked, I longed for warmer weather.

According to an article published by the Associated Press, “a record-breaking blast of cold closed schools and government offices across the South and sent cars sliding off roads in a corner of the country ill-equipped to deal with the wintry weather. At least ten people died.” Cold weather can be deadly, and each winter many people lose there lives because of the cold.

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. It was a fairly nice winter day with temperatures in the forties. I was listening to the radio while I worked. It seemed like every few minutes there was a bulletin warning of a significant winter storm that was fast approaching. As I listened to the warnings on the radio, I decided that because I had a twenty-five-mile drive home, I should head home early.

By the time I headed home in my little Ford Pinto, the snow was coming down. Soon the snowfall was so heavy that visibility was almost zero. Before long I began to get worried. The snow was already so deep that the ditches were full of snow and I couldn’t tell where the edge of the road was. 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 in my little Pinto, I would never be able to get out. My progress was very slow, and the storm intensified as time went on. I began to regret not grabbing a coat that morning. My mind wandered to stories of people who were stranded after sliding off of the road in a blizzard.

While I was driving slowly down the road, I noticed my wheels starting to slip. I soon realized that I wasn’t making any progress. I was on a fairly steep hill, and the little Pinto couldn’t make it up the hill. I carefully backed down the hill and tried following my tracks with all of the speed that I dared. I made it a bit farther but still couldn’t get over the hill. When I got out of the car to survey my situation, I noticed a driveway just off to my left. I pulled into the driveway and sat there for a while. I didn’t know what to do. After about a half hour, I shut the car off because my gas gauge showed almost empty. In my hurry to get home I had forgotten to gas up. Before long it was quite cold in the car. I hadn’t seen one other car on this lonely stretch of county road. I began to get worried and prayed to God for a way out of my situation.

When the blizzard let up a bit, I could see a house off in the distance at the end of a long driveway. I got out of the car and walked up to the house. I knocked on the front door and got no answer. I went around to the back and knocked again. Still no answer. After standing in the snow and shivering for a bit, I checked the door to see if it was locked. The back door was unlocked. I opened it and stepped into a mudroom with boots, coats, a sink, and a couple of old metal chairs. After a few minutes, I took one of the coats of off the hook and put it on. I hoped the owners would understand.

I sat there, a bit more comfortable because of the coat, and thought about my troubles. I knew that my wife was worried about me, but I had no way to let her know about my situation. The door into the house from the mudroom had three small windows. I looked through the windows and noticed a phone hanging on the wall. I tried the doorknob, and it was unlocked. I felt terrible about going into the home of a stranger, but I didn’t know what else to do. I made a quick call to my wife to let her know that I was safe, but had no idea when I would be able to get home. Then I went back into the mudroom.

Over the next hour, I made several trips back to my car to see if the conditions had changed. The snow wasn’t coming down as hard, and visibility had improved. On one of these trips, a four wheel drive pickup drove up the hill leaving tracks to follow. I got in my little Pinto, backed down to the bottom of the hill, drove as fast as I could up the hill and made it over the top. In a few minutes, I was able to make it safely home. I’m sure that the owners of the home never knew that they had been my salvation.

Gentle Reader, that memorable scenario happened forty years ago. I don’t think I have ever been colder or more concerned about my safety. While He was talking to His disciples about signs of His coming at the end of the world, Jesus said, “because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.” Matthew 24:12,13 (NKJV) Don’t let your love grow cold. Jesus has promised to save those who endure to the end. “God is to us a God of deliverances; And to God the Lord belong escapes from death.” Psalms 68:20 (NASB) Whenever you feel the cold of the world surrounding you, remember the promise found in Micah 7:7 (NKJV) “I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; My God will hear me.”

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


My An Arkie's Faith column from the January 17, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

For the past week, my Mom has been in the inpatient rehabilitation unit of the local hospital. After spending a week in the intensive care unit, she was transferred to the rehabilitation unit where she has been given physical therapy and occupational therapy.

Rehabilitation is the process of restoring a person's ability to live and work as normally as possible after an illness. It helps the patient achieve maximum possible physical fitness and regain the ability to be independent. It offers assistance with skills needed in everyday activities. My Mom is looking forward to regaining her strength so that she can return home.

Rehabilitation is not only for the person who has suffered a serious illness. It can also be treatments designed to facilitate the process of recovery from an injury to as normal a condition as possible. Every patient in an injury rehab program has to follow a recovery plan so that they will gain strength and avoid re-injury.

Spiritually we have all been injured and are in need of rehabilitation. Every one of us at some time has been spiritually wounded. How have you been injured? Do you have relationships with other Christians that have been damaged? Have you placed your trust in a church system or a leader instead of God? Have you lost your faith in God? Because spiritual matters are complex, it can be hard to find the problem. Any of these things can injure our faith and leave us in need of healing.

When we have a physical injury, we can see the need for healing and rehabilitation. But the negative spiritual effects of painful physical events often aren’t as obvious to us. Has betrayal, rejection, loss, or abuse left you wondering where God is?

In Hebrews 12:12-14 (NASB) There is a passage that sounds a lot like rehabilitation. “Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.”

In a society that is obsessed with instant gratification, rehabilitation seems hard. Many of us are not willing to put in the time and effort needed. Spiritually, we want things to improve immediately. I don’t know anyone who likes to wait. Waiting can test our faith. When we have been injured, and need rehabilitation, we are often impatient and discouraged. When our rehabilitation doesn’t happen quickly, we begin to wonder if God cares.

Rehabilitation simply means working back to health. As painful as injuries are, they are only a stage. There is a future. Whatever the enemy has tried to take away from you, God wants to restore it. God wants to make it better than before. Every day we have choices to make. We can be tempted to get hurt, wounded, or depressed. We can complain and remain in the same awful condition. Or we can give our cares to God and begin our rehabilitation. “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” 1 Peter 5:7 (NLT)

It isn’t unusual for people to be discouraged in times of trouble and tribulation. In the Bible, there are many examples of godly men and women who were spiritually injured and were discouraged. King David wrote many of the Psalms during the dark times in his life. The Psalms of David can encourage us when we are depressed, tired and discouraged. Even though David had experienced some dark times and had been injured by others, he wrote these beautiful words in Psalms 23:1-3 (NKJV) “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”

When other people injure you, don’t be discouraged or depressed. Don’t allow what people say to control your emotions. You control your destiny. God has promised to restore you. He is painfully aware of your suffering. When you cry, He is aware. Psalms 56:8 (NLT) tells us, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” And In Psalms 34:15, 17-19 (NASB) we read, “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry. The righteous cry and the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”

Gentle Reader, if you have been injured and need rehabilitation, Jesus says, “come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (NKJV) No matter what others have done to you, no matter what spiritual wounds have been inflicted on you, Jesus says, “I will restore you to health, and I will heal you of your wounds.” Jeremiah 30:17 (NASB)

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Emergency Room

My An Arkie's Faith column from the January 10, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

Last week my Mom called my wife to let her know that she had gotten an appointment with the cardiologist. When she got off the phone, my wife immediately called me to tell me that I should take my Mom to the emergency room. “Mom was out of breath from talking on the phone. She needs help now,” my wife said. I called my Mom and told her that I would be there in 15 minutes and go with her and Daddy to the emergency room.

Daddy drove Mom, and I followed in my shop truck. When we arrived, I planned to go inside and get a wheelchair, but Daddy drove up to the emergency room door, and Mom got out and walked inside. I quickly parked and ran in to help her. When I got inside, I saw that the waiting room was full. I hurried to catch up with Mom. She was at the registration desk. They asked her what the problem was, but she was so out of breath that she couldn’t answer. I told them that she couldn’t breathe. In less than a minute, there was someone there with a wheelchair, and they whisked her away.

I finished with the registration process, and then they took Daddy and me back to see her. She was already on oxygen and able to talk with us. I was thankful for the quick response of the emergency room team, but I couldn’t help thinking about all those people in the waiting area who hadn’t been helped yet.

If you’ve ever been to the emergency room, you’ve experienced the process known as triage. Triage is a French word that means “to sort out,” and it refers to the system that doctors and nurses use to decide which patients are in dire need of help and who isn’t. I looked up triage in the dictionary, and one of the definitions given was, “the sorting of patients (as in an emergency room) according to the urgency of their need for care.” If a doctor were to treat someone with a cold while another patient with a heart attack goes unattended and dies, the doctor and the hospital would be in trouble. Some situations call for immediate attention, while others can wait. I’m thankful that the decision was made to help my Mom immediately.

Every day, each one of us has to make triage decisions in our life. We only have 24 hours. We have to decide what is most important to us. I recently read a story that illustrates what is most important. A time management teacher stood in front of his corporate overachiever students. He said, “Okay, time for a quiz.” He picked up a gallon, wide mouth jar and set it on the table. Then he took some fist-sized rocks and placed them in the jar. When the jar was filled to the top, and he could fit in no more rocks he asked, “Is this jar full?” Everyone in the class said “yes.” He said, “Really?”

He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in, and asked them once more, “Is this jar full?” By this time, the class was on to him. “Probably not.” one of the students said. He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in the jar, and it went into all the spaces between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?” “No,” the class shouted.

Then he took a pitcher of water and poured it in until the jar was full to the brim. The truth this illustration teaches us is that If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you will never get them in at all. What are the big rocks in your life? If you sweat the little stuff, the gravel, the sand, the water, you will fill your life with little worries that don’t matter. You will never have the real quality time that you need to spend on the big things.

What is the biggest rock of all? What matters most? In Matthew 22:36-39 (NKJV) we read, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Mother Teresa said, “It’s not what you do, but how much love you put into it that matters.” Barbara Bush said it in a slightly different way, “What matters most is how you treat others and not what you have done.” Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:2,3 (NLT) if I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.”

Gentle Reader, what matters most in life is love. The Apostle John tells us in 1 John 4:16 (NLV) “We have come to know and believe the love God has for us. God is love. If you live in love, you live by the help of God and God lives in you.” Love should be your top priority, primary objective, and greatest ambition. Love is not just something good in your life; it’s the most important part. In 1 Corinthians 14:1 (NLT) Paul tells us to “let love be your highest goal!” It is not enough just to say that love is important; we must prove it by investing time in our relationships with God and people.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Free Promotion

I am brand new to self-publishing. I published my first book in the spring of 2017, and just released my second book last month. I have learned a lot in the last year; at least I hope that I have learned from my mistakes. One of the first things that I discovered was how hard it is to self-edit. By the time that I have written and re-written a story, I am so familiar with it that it is hard to see typos and poorly written elements. My mind sees the page as it should be instead of how it actually is.

The second thing that I discovered is how uncomfortable I am with self-promotion. There is a line from the movie Field of Dreams that says, "if you build it, he will come." In popular culture, the line is more often misquoted as "if you build it, they will come." I must admit that I had that mindset when I published my book. I now have a book, surely people will come and purchase it.

The reality that every author, musician, artist or other creative person faces is that if you don't promote yourself, nobody will. Self-promotion is a necessity even if it is an uncomfortable one. No one likes a braggart, and self-promotion seems a bit like bragging. Look at me! Look what I have done!

Sometimes friends and acquaintances mistake promotion as being too full of yourself. But there is no other way to let people know that you have something that they might be interested in. I think that the reason that many authors, musicians, etc. are uncomfortable with self-promotion - and aren't very good at it - is a lack of self-confidence. Should anybody care about what I have created? Is it worth anyone's time or money? What will people think about what I am trying to promote? Just about anyone who creates something has doubts about how good it is.

If you are confident that you have a good product, it is a fine line between having confidence in what you are promoting and appearing to be full of yourself. I am trying to walk that fine line as I promote my new book.

I am quite aware that I have a lot of room for improvement as a writer, but in my latest book, I believe that I bring a unique perspective to a very crowded genre. There are lots of people writing about spiritual things. I use personal experiences, local events, and national news as a way to bring out spiritual truths in the short devotionals included in my book. Each story ends with a simple, uncomplicated point and is less than 1,000 words in length so that the book can be read a few minutes at a time.

As a part of my promotion for the book, In the Fog - Devotionals from a small town, I am offering a download of the Kindle version on Amazon for free through January 13, 2018. You can read it at no cost to you other than time. Don't let my uncomfortable self-promotion have been in vain. Go to Amazon and download your free copy of In the Fog. If you would like a paperback copy, it is available for just $3.58.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

In the Fog

In December, I published my second book in the Devotionals from a small town series titled, In the Fog. I write a weekly column for the Religion section of The Mena Star. In August 2015, the newspaper hired Sarah Wilson, a young journalist from Louisiana, as editor of the paper. Her very first issue included an article she wrote about the upcoming county fair. She contacted me and asked if she could use some photos of the fair that she had found on this blog. From this contact, they developed a working relationship. Sarah was happy to include articles that I contributed to the paper.

In December 2015, Sarah called me and outlined a plan that she had for the newspaper in the new year. She was planning on a weekly column for the religion page written by a local writer instead of using a syndicated column. From reading my blog, she knew that I often wrote on spiritual topics. Sarah asked me if I would be willing to commit to writing a weekly column. I agreed, and the new column, An Arkie’s Faith, premiered on January 7, 2016, with an article titled One Little Candle.

Over the past two years, I have used personal experiences, local events, and national news as a way to bring out spiritual truths. Feedback from the local community has been positive. I will continue to write the column through 2018.

In March 2017, I published a book titled The Little Things – Devotionals from a small town. The book contains devotionals taken from my weekly newspaper column. My new book, In the Fog, is the second in the Devotionals from a small town series. Both books are available on Amazon in either paperback or Kindle format at the links below.

In the Fog (paperback) - $3.58

In the Fog (kindle) - $0.99

The Little Things (paperback) - $3.58

The Little Things (kindle) - $0.99

Geminid Meteor Shower

My An Arkie's Faith column from the January 3, 2018, issue of The Mena Star

The Geminid meteor shower can be seen every year between December 4 and December 16, with its peak activity being around December 13-14. The Geminids were first observed in 1862. The meteor shower is named Geminid because the meteors seem to emerge from the constellation Gemini. The Geminids can be seen with the naked eye from the Northern Hemisphere.

Unlike most other meteor showers, the Geminids are not associated with a comet but with the asteroid, 3200 Phaethon, which approaches the Sun closer than any other named asteroid. Its nearest approach to the sun is only 13 million miles which is less than half of the planet Mercury's distance from the sun.

Phaethon was the first asteroid discovered by using images from a spacecraft. Astronomers discovered it on October 11, 1983. Shortly after its discovery, Astronomers observed that the orbital elements of the asteroid were the same as the orbital elements of 19 Geminid meteors. They determined that Phaethon is the parent body of the Geminids meteor shower of mid-December.

This year my wife and I watched the Geminid meteor shower from my cousin's house on a hilltop overlooking the valley below. The four of us sat outside visiting and drinking hot chocolate as we looked up into the sky waiting to see falling stars. Over the next hour and a half, we saw dozens of meteors streaking across the sky.

As we craned our necks to see the next falling star, I noticed something unusual. Even though we were all looking in basically the same direction and for the same thing, seldom did we all see the same streak of light. The average time that a meteor is visible to the naked eye is less than half a second. By the time someone would see a meteor and point in the direction it would no longer be visible. Scientists have studied reaction times and determined that a meteor needs to last close to a second for someone to be able to point it out to another person. There were a few falling stars that were so bright and lasted long enough that all four of us were able to see it.

Sitting out under the stars and watching the sky was a relaxing way to spend a couple of hours. I enjoyed the experience, and it left me feeling peaceful. My life has been very stressful lately and watching the meteor shower was a great way to de-stress.

Watching a meteor shower hasn’t always been a way to lessen stress. In ancient times, people were very superstitious about unusual objects in the night sky. Throughout recorded history, people have watched the night sky, and celestial phenomena like meteor showers brought about responses ranging from curiosity to hysteria. Meteor showers were something very strange and terrifying to our ancestors. There have even been times when a meteor shower scared everyone, causing people to be terrified, believing they were sent from the angry gods. They believed that meteors were signs of future wars, diseases, famines, and hardship.

Today it is easy for us to think that people in times past were crazy for worrying about such things. Modern educated people would never worry about such silly things. But we do worry. You would think that Christians would be exempt from worry, but we are not. Sometimes we wonder if the apostle Paul was out of touch with reality when he wrote in Philippians 4:6 (NCV) “do not worry about anything, but pray and ask God for everything you need, always giving thanks.”

Did Paul mean that a Christian has no worries? If he did, then every Christian knows that they don’t measure up to Paul’s standard. He wrote the phrase in the present active tense, which puts a bit of a different meaning to his statement, “do not worry about anything.” The presence of anxiety is unavoidable, but what we do about it is what matters. God doesn’t want us to be in a perpetual state of worry. Could you use some peace and calm in your life? We all could use some peace, and God is ready to give it. He says, “do not worry about anything, but pray and ask Me for everything you need, always giving thanks.”

Whenever you go outside at night and look up at the stars, remember that they are a reminder of the power and greatness of God. Isaiah 40:26 (NLT) tells us to, “look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of his great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing.”

Gentle Reader, God wants to give you peace. He wants to take your anxieties and worries from you. 1 Peter 5:7 (NLT) tells us to “give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” If we give our worries and cares to God, He has promised to give us peace. “God’s peace, which goes beyond anything we can imagine, will guard your thoughts and emotions through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7 (GW)