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!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Patrolman

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

The Datsun pickup was loaded, and Duane was finally ready to head out into the night. It had been a very long day at work. He had a job that had to be completed before he could leave for a family function in Salt Lake City. He hadn’t made it home until after 2 A.M. In an hour, all of his tools and equipment were unloaded, and he was ready to go. As he headed west out of Denver, there was unrelenting darkness in the mountains. The night was starless, and the moon was covered with clouds that blended in with the rest of the sky.

Duane was tired and worried. The Datsun’s engine was grumbling and straining as it made its way up into the mountains. The little pickup didn’t have enough power, and the engine would sputter and cut out as it climbed in elevation. Because the engine was running so poorly and couldn’t keep the pickup traveling at normal speeds, the trip was taking a long time. “What is wrong with the engine,” thought Duane. “Is it going to quit and leave us beside the road?”

By the time he reached the town of Craig, it was 8 A.M. He pulled into an auto parts store that had just opened. He thought that possibly the carburetor was dirty and causing the engine to run poorly, so he bought a bottle of carburetor cleaner. To make sure that the cleaner went directly to the carburetor, he took the gas line loose and filled the fuel filter with cleaner. He then poured the rest of the carburetor cleaner into the gas tank. As he headed west out of Craig, the Datsun’s engine began to run better, and before long it was purring along on the lonely country highway. Duane was relieved that the little pickup was once again running as it should. It was running so well, that soon they were traveling down the deserted highway at 80 miles per hour.

“Finally, I will be able to make up some time,” thought Duane. He hadn’t seen another vehicle for half an hour when suddenly he noticed a patrol car approaching in his rear-view mirror. He looked down at his speedometer and saw that he was going over 80 miles an hour. “Oh no,” he thought, “I’m going to get a speeding ticket.” He slowed the pickup down and expected the patrolman to stop him, but instead, the patrolman pulled around him and then slowed down. “That’s odd,” thought Duane, but he was thankful that he hadn’t been pulled over.

“Why is the patrolman driving so slow,” thought Duane. “I don’t need anything else slowing me down,” But he wasn’t going to pass him, so he followed behind. In a short while, the patrolman slowly pulled off the road into the shallow ditch. Duane could then see that there was a bridge that had washed out during the night. He saw a work crew putting up barricades on the opposite side of the bridge, but there were no barricades on his side. He followed the patrolman through the ditch and across the dry creek bed. As he made his way back up onto the highway, the patrolman was nowhere to be seen.

As Duane recently told me this story, I could hear the emotion in his voice even though the event happened thirty-five years ago. He is positive that God was watching out for him and sent the patrolman to keep him from hurtling off a washed-out bridge at 80 miles per hour. I believe that God was watching out for Duane, and I believe that he does the same thing for you and me. But most of the time I am unaware of what God is doing for me.

There is a story in the Bible about the prophet Elisha that shows that I am not alone in being unaware of what God is doing for me. You can find the story in 2 Kings Chapter 6. The King of Aram is at war with Israel.  Somehow the King of Israel is aware of every move he makes. The King of Aram thinks he must have a traitor in his ranks passing information to the Israelites. His men tell him that it’s not one of the king’s men, but it is Elisha, the prophet from Israel. They said, “Elisha even knows what you say in the privacy of your bedroom.” The king sent horses, chariots, and many troops to Dothan to capture Elisha. They arrived at night and surrounded the city.

We pick up the story in 2 Kings 6:15-17 (NCV), “Elisha’s servant got up early, and when he went out, he saw an army with horses and chariots all around the city. The servant said to Elisha, “Oh, my master, what can we do?” Elisha said, “Don’t be afraid. The army that fights for us is larger than the one against us.” Then Elisha prayed, “Lord, open my servant’s eyes, and let him see.” The Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw that the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

We are often totally unaware of how God is protecting us. When things aren’t going well for us, we are very aware; but when things are going smoothly, we don’t stop to think about God and how He is blessing us. “God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. He is my refuge, my savior, the one who saves me from violence.” 2 Samuel 22:3 (NLT)

Gentle Reader, “He has put his angels in charge of you. They will watch over you wherever you go.” Psalms 91:11 (ICB) Whenever my Momma saw evidence of God working in her life or the life of others, she would refer to it as a “God thing.” Be on the lookout for “God things” in your life; It may even be a patrolman.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Big Yellow Peterbilt

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

A light drizzle had begun to fall as the big yellow Peterbilt pulled into the driveway. The right windshield had a big crack and needed to be replaced. Because the exhaust smokestacks on the truck were too tall, I couldn’t get it under the roof of my workplace. “I guess I will just have to work outside in the rain,” I thought. Installing windshields in big trucks has never been my favorite thing to do. I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the job.

I pulled the hood assembly forward to tip it open so that I could climb up to the windshield. The drizzle soon made everything wet and slippery. I had to climb very carefully to maintain my footing. Once my foot slipped, but I was able to grab the grab handle and keep from falling. As I was removing the old windshield, the rain became heavier. It was no longer a drizzle. Once the windshield was removed, I quickly picked up the new windshield and began to climb up to position it in the opening. My heart sank as the wet windshield slipped out of my hand as I was trying to climb up into place. I watched in seeming slow motion as the windshield bounced a couple of times like a pinball and then slammed onto the concrete.

My new windshield was now badly broken, and there was no windshield in the Peterbilt. What was I going to do? It would be two days before I could get a replacement windshield. I remembered a friend who often worked on big rigs. I knew that he kept some truck windshields in stock. I called him and asked if he had a windshield for the Peterbilt. He said that he did. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that I would be able to complete the job for the customer. I headed out to pick up the windshield, and thirty minutes later I was back working on the Peterbilt. I had a difficult time installing the windshield, but with my Daddy’s help, it was finally in place. I was thankful to have the job completed even if I wasn’t making any profit. It is hard to make money when you pay for two windshields on one job.

When you are in business, there will always be days when things go wrong. There will be days that cost you money instead of making money. In the past, I have allowed myself to become very agitated when things like that happened. But I discovered that being upset didn’t change anything except that it made me unhappy. Frequently I let my circumstances determine my attitude. But I now realize that I can determine my attitude towards circumstances instead of allowing circumstances to control my attitude.

We often think that our emotional responses are controlled by our situation. When we experience negative circumstances, we believe that we have no choice except to react to them. We become upset and unhappy. Any other response seems impossible. But we can choose not to get upset by circumstances that normally would have upset us. To succeed, we must remember that we have a choice and then be deliberate about our reaction. 

In an article titled, “Choosing Not to Get Upset,” Christian psychologist Dr. Terry L. Ledford tells about a personal experience that he had while flying. He had boarded the plane and settled into his seat when the pilot made an announcement. He told the passengers that there was a problem with the onboard flight computer, and they would be underway as soon as maintenance fixed the problem, but that it would take some time. He then explained, “unfortunately, because this is an international flight, we can’t allow you to deplane, because of customs laws. Once the cabin door is closed, you are officially no longer in the U.S. We’ll turn on the air conditioning to make you as comfortable as possible.”

Dr. Ledford wrote; “Four hours later, we were still sitting there, and people were not happy. Many were standing in the aisles complaining. I was still sitting in my seat, reading my book. I noticed that three ladies were standing in the aisle beside me, fussing about the situation. One of the women was speaking to me. ‘And you, why are you not upset?’ she challenged. ‘You’re just sitting there reading like this isn’t bothering you!’ ‘I didn’t know that it would help to get upset,’ I responded.”

As I have matured, I have begun to realize that my circumstances are never helped by getting upset. I only make myself unhappy when I get upset, and often spread that unhappiness to the people around me. Being happy is a choice. We choose every day if we are going to let the worries, problems, and circumstances from our day get us down. If we decide that we are going to be happy no matter what the circumstances, we will enjoy life more.

In Philippians 4:11 (NIV) Paul said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” The key thought here is that Paul learned, and it’s possible for us to learn as well. Being content does not mean that you have no hopes or desires; it means being willing to let God teach you no matter what your circumstances are at the moment. Happiness and contentment do not come from things. They don’t come because of wonderful circumstances. They come from a relationship with God.

Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT) gives us more insight into how we can be content and happy. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

Gentle Reader, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. [Stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed; and do not permit yourselves to be fearful and intimidated and cowardly and unsettled.]” John 14:27 (AMPC) When difficult circumstances come our way we need to say, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want." Psalm 23:1 NKJV)

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Free Book

I am new to self-publishing. I published my first book in the spring of 2017, and just released my third book. I have learned a lot in the last year and a half; 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 around 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, Causing a Splash - Devotionals from a small town book three, I am offering a download of the Kindle version on Amazon for free through midnight, October 20, 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 Causing a Splash. If you would like a paperback copy, it is available through the end of October for just $4.69.

To check out my other books you can go to my Amazon author page.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Twenty Tons of Yellow Trees

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

It was a beautiful September morning as we headed west out of Denver on I-70. The mountain views were impressive as we drove along. When we turned onto Highway 91 heading toward Leadville, there were colorful stands of quaking aspen trees that seemed to stretch for miles. Aspen trees have a golden-yellow fall foliage color and on rare occasions turn to orange. The fall foliage was incredible. Several locals that we talked to said the color was the best it had been in years.

Aspen trees are called "quaking," because the foliage of aspens shimmers or "quakes" when there is a breeze. My wife, who grew up in Colorado, loves the quakies. The smell of an aspen grove and the rustling sound that the leaves make when the wind blows through them are some of her favorite things. The scenery on our drive that day was incredible. There was a deep blue sky, and the groves of golden aspens shimmered on the hillsides. The slender, white-barked aspen painted the mountains with their beautiful yellow, gold, and orange colors.

Aspen regenerate by shoots rising along long lateral roots. Root sprouting causes many genetically identical trees, called a clone. All the trees in a clone have identical characteristics and share a root structure. Each aspen grove includes one or more aspen clones. The aspen trees of each clone will change color at the same time because they are genetically related. Aspen clones can be less than an acre and up to 100 acres in size. The largest known aspen clone is over 100 acres in size and weighs more than 14 million pounds.

The fall color was amazing as we made our way towards my brother-in-law’s cabin above Leadville. Along the way, we stopped at the headwaters of the Arkansas River, where you can jump across the river. Not many people in Arkansas can say that they have jumped across the Arkansas River, but I can. When we arrived at the cabin, the little valley that it sits in was awash with color. The view from the cabin includes three 14ers, that is mountain peaks with an elevation above 14,000 feet.

My seven-year-old granddaughter was with us, and she enjoyed taking pictures with her tablet. After seeing so much beautiful fall color, we asked her how many yellow trees she had seen. She said, “I have seen two tons of yellow trees.” After a night at the cabin, we headed towards the Grand Mesa. Our drive over Tennessee Pass was even more beautiful than the drive the day before. Everywhere you looked there were massive groves of beautiful golden aspens. By the end of the day, as we were stopping once again to take photos of the trees, my granddaughter decided that she had seen enough yellow trees. We asked her how many yellow trees she had seen, and she replied, “I’ve seen twenty tons of yellow trees.”

As beautiful and amazing as the fall colors were, she was tired of looking at yellow trees. She was no longer excited about taking pictures of the trees with her tablet. What had been exciting at first had become boring for her. After seeing “twenty tons of yellow trees,” she had become indifferent. It made me think about my life and how some days I am indifferent to God and everything that He does for me.

The Bible describes this as being lukewarm. “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.” Revelation 3:15, 116 (NASB) Jesus isn’t happy with lukewarm followers. Would you want to be in a relationship with someone who was lukewarm in their feelings towards you?

Following Jesus doesn’t mean believing in Him and then living your life as though He doesn't matter to you. Being a Christian means to follow Him completely every day; not just when you are in the mood. Spending an hour a week worshipping Him is not enough. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 7:21 (NIV)

In 2 Timothy 3:5 (NCV) Paul describes lukewarm Christians, saying that they “will act as if they serve God but will not have his power.” Mature Christians follow God with all their heart. Jesus said, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Mark 12:30 (NIV)

Lukewarm Christians sit in churches and believe the message of the gospel but are not meaningfully engaged in its mission. Lukewarm Christians don’t really want to be saved from their sin, only to be saved from the penalty of their sin. Lukewarm Christians think that they are “wealthy and do not need anything,” but “are really miserable, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” Revelation 3:17 (ICB) Lukewarm Christians act like a believer and do “good” deeds to increase their self-esteem, but until they realize that they are miserable, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked, God can’t save them.

Gentle Reader, Christians often become lukewarm because their Christianity has become routine and mundane. They look at all of the amazing things that God does for them, and they say “I’m tired of looking at trees. I’ve already seen twenty tons of yellow trees.” We are often totally unaware of how God is blessing us. When things aren’t going well for us, we are very aware, but when things are going smoothly, we don’t stop to think about God and how He is blessing us. Don’t be lukewarm, remember that “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” 2 Corinthians 9:8 (NIV)

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Adobe Badlands

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

The fresh, clean, early morning air filled my lungs as I quietly slipped out the front door. No one else was awake at the guest house on the Kirkham Horse Ranch in Austin, Colorado. The sun was still well below the horizon as I headed out for a morning walk. The ranch is nestled in a narrow valley that runs north and south, with adobe hills abruptly rising to the east and the west.

On our vacation in Colorado this year we wanted to visit the Grand Mesa and the Cedaredge area. My wife’s family were some of the first settler’s in this area of Colorado. From the first time that I visited the area, I have thought that the Grand Mesa is one of the most beautiful places I have seen. The Grand Mesa is the largest flattop mountain in the world, covering over five hundred square miles with an elevation of more than 10,000 feet above sea level.  There are more than three hundred lakes spread across the Grand Mesa.

When looking for a place to stay, I came across the Kirkham Horse Ranch. Owners Ross and Nancy Kirkham rent out their beautiful guest house. From the living room, you can sit on the sofa and look out of the large picture window and view the Grand Mesa. Even though the view of the Grand Mesa is lovely, and the valley is pretty, I have never thought that the adobe hills were attractive. I have always found them to be plain, boring and a bit ugly.

The plain brown hills in this part of Colorado are referred to as the Adobe Badlands. They are characterized by abruptly sloping hills with deeply-carved canyons, washes, and ravines. Most of the adobes have nothing growing on them. The ‘dobes, as the locals refer to them are a stark brown and grey landscape.

As I started my walk in the dim light of early morning, my opinion of the ‘dobes hadn’t changed. They were not inviting. They seemed cold and colorless and unattractive. As I walked through the pasture and waited for the sun to rise over the ‘dobes to the east, something magical began to happen. To the west, the ‘dobes were being transformed. As the light crept down the ‘dobes they changed from dull brown and grey to vibrant gold and orange as the early morning sunlight slowly bathed the western landscape. I watched as the light started at the very top of the ‘dobes and slowly glided down them until they were entirely painted with the warm and vibrant tones of daybreak. As I looked at the ‘dobes I thought, “wow, they are beautiful!”

What had made the difference in my attitude toward the ‘dobes? I was seeing them in a different light. I remembered the lyrics to a song by the folk singer Melanie. “Why sleep when the day has been called out by the sun. From the night 'cause the light's gonna shine on everyone.” When the light shines, it changes the way things we see things. When we see people through the light of Jesus, it changes the way we see them.

How do you see the people around you? We often see people that we find unattractive, and I’m not talking about their physical attractiveness. There are people groups that we find unattractive. Race, religion, political ideas, culture, and identity separate us, and we often find those who look or think differently from us unattractive.

We as Christians have often passed judgment on many of those around us. We say, "they don't deserve the love of God; they don't deserve my time because they are no good.” If we think that someone is making mistakes in their life, then we often view that person as of little value. We frequently judge others by their race, religion, gender, economic or social strata, but is this the correct way of seeing value in someone?

God doesn't see people groups; He sees faces, behind which are personal histories and heartaches, individual predicaments and potentials. He sees actual people with names. Each one lives in a certain place, wakes up each day, faces their issues and deals with the obstacles that confront them. God feels everything each one of them feels. He sees every detail of every experience that has gone into making each of them exactly who they are at this very moment. He loves each one of these people so much that he gave his only Son as a sacrifice for them.

Internationally renowned author and speaker Wayne Dyer wrote, “see the light in others, and treat them as if that is all you see.” All people matter to God. It doesn’t matter who they are or what they’ve done or even what they believe. Christ died for them, Jesus loves them, God has a plan for their lives, and he wants to have a relationship with them.

The Bible says in Mark 6:34 (NIV), “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them.” That’s the way we need to see people. You can’t hate someone or feel that they are unattractive and worthless, and have compassion on them at the same time. Seeing people with the light of Jesus shining on them is directly tied to compassion. As we see with the light of Jesus, we will experience compassion as He did and be moved to reach out to others, even those that we found unattractive before we saw them in the light of Jesus.

Gentle Reader, we need to be kinder, more loving and more forgiving. It’s easy to feel this way toward those who share the same beliefs as you; those you find attractive. But the second great commandment is to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Matthew 22:39 (NKJV) It doesn’t say to only love those who you find attractive. Look at others in the light of Jesus and see them the way that He sees them. “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” Ephesians 2:4-5 (ESV)