Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The Gift of Encouragement

An Arkie's Faith column from the December 24, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

In most houses, Christmas gifts are appearing around the tree. We focus on giving good gifts. We spend a lot of money and time finding the right gifts for people that are important in our life. Sometimes we stress out about getting the right gifts. For most people, money is an issue. We are limited in the gifts that we give by how much we can spend. But there is a gift that we can give that doesn’t cost us anything. It is the gift of encouragement.

In Ephesians 4:29 (NOG), Paul writes, "Don’t say anything that would hurt another person. Instead, speak only what is good so that you can give help wherever it is needed. That way, what you say will help those who hear you.” If we want to help someone, we need to encourage them. Do you know someone who needs your care and compassion today? Is there someone who would benefit from your kindness and encouragement?

As we go through life, one of the constants seems to be criticism.  I'm sure that everyone has been the recipient of criticism and has more than likely been critical of others. I have been criticized on many occasions and have myself been critical of others. Still, recently, I had experiences that made me stop and think about the impact of criticism, and its opposites, affirmation, approval, and encouragement. While I was at James Super Save Foods, a customer came up to me and told me how happy they were with the windshield repair I had done on their car. I was surprised. That is not the kind of thing that normally happens. Anyone in business is aware that a satisfied customer seldom lets you know that he is satisfied, but a dissatisfied customer will tell you that he is unhappy.

A few days ago, I met someone in Wal-Mart. She said, “I have appreciated the columns you have been writing recently. I like the personal stories.” I think that we are so used to criticism and negativity that when someone gives us some affirmation and encouragement, it takes us by surprise. Most of us aren’t accustomed to hearing encouraging words. We are more used to hearing criticism.

Some Christians that I know seem to think that their God-given job is to criticize other people that they think are living their lives wrong. They feel that somehow if they criticize the person, it will change their behavior. Not only does criticism not work, but it also has the opposite effect. Research has shown that to neutralize the emotional impact of criticism, you must affirm five times. According to Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, writing in the Harvard Business Review, “even the most well-intentioned criticism can rupture relationships and undermine self-confidence and initiative. It can change behavior, certainly, but it doesn’t cause people to put forth their best efforts. Only positive feedback can motivate people to continue doing what they’re doing well, and do it with more vigor, determination, and creativity. Perhaps that’s why we have found with the vast majority of the leaders; positive feedback is what motivates them to continue improving.”

Paul understood this when he wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV), "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” Elizabeth Harrison, a pioneer in early childhood education in America, stated, "Those who are lifting the world upward and onward are those who encourage more than criticize.” Are you encouraging those around you or are you criticizing?

When I was in grade school, I often heard the childhood rhyme, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." That statement is not true. Words may not break our bones, but they certainly can damage our spirits. In Proverbs 12:18 (CEV), the Bible tells us, “Sharp words cut like a sword, but words of wisdom heal.”

I recently ran across a story written by Kathy Schultz. She wrote, "pink is my granddaughter's favorite color. She had been telling me this since she first discovered colors. The other night as she chatted away, she added that yellow was another one of her favorite colors."

Kathy went on to explain why her granddaughter had added yellow as a favorite color. She said that when she asked about the new favorite color, her granddaughter began by telling her that when she went to music class, Mrs. Cooke, the music teacher, told her she was a bright yellow crayon, bright as the sun.

Kathy wrote, "this is a wonderful description of my grandchild! The teacher was right. She is a bubbly, cheerful, child. Truly, she is a bright ray of sunshine." She concluded by saying, "words have such power. A small statement made by her teacher had truly inspired my granddaughter. It made her even list yellow as her favorite color. I doubt she will ever forget the teacher's kind remarks. This made me think of the words I say. Do I say kind, encouraging, inspiring words to others?"

What about you? Is there someone in your life who needs to know how much you love them? Is there someone who would benefit from your kind words and encouragement? Express your care for them verbally. Sometimes we think, “They know I love and appreciate them. I don’t need to say it out loud.” But we need to tell them what we admire and appreciate about them—they want to hear it.

Gentle Reader, any time of the year, you can give the gift of encouragement. If you do, God will encourage you! When we encourage and help others, we are showing God’s love. Show someone how much you value them for who they are. Encouragement can drastically change a person’s life! Colossians 3:12 (ISV) tells us, “Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” If we are compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient, we will be able to be an encouragement to others. This year, give the gift of encouragement.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

High School English

An Arkie's Faith column from the December 5, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

Mrs. Langford stood in front of the class lecturing on whatever poem we were studying that day. But my mind was miles away. I was interested in space, science, sports, and that one particular beautiful blonde girl. “Old poetry was boring,” I thought. My grade in the class reflected my interest level.

Even though I didn’t enjoy the class, I still remember a few of the poems we studied. “The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew, The furrow followed free; We were the first that ever burst into that silent sea.” For some reason, those lines from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner have always stuck with me. I was recently reading an article that brought another poem from that class back to my mind. The most romantic poem, according to a survey of the magazine’s readers, was a poem from 1850. I remembered the poem from Mrs. Langford’s English class.

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach." Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote these famous words. She began writing poetry when she was eight years old. When she was 15, Elizabeth injured her spine as a result of a fall. Because of the accident, she became a shut-in. She passed the time writing poetry. In 1844, Robert Browning wrote to Elizabeth, admiring her poems. He continued to write to her, and they were engaged in 1845.

Elizabeth's father disapproved of Robert. In 1846, Elizabeth and Robert were secretly wed and moved to Italy. In 1850, Elizabeth's published her best-known book of poems, titled “Sonnets from the Portuguese.” The book contains 44 sonnets of love for Robert. He often called her "my little Portuguese" because of her dark complexion. The most famous sonnet is number 43, which begins, "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways." Even if you do not appreciate 19th-century poetry, you can tell that these are poems from the heart.

Even though it topped a magazine survey, I don’t think it is the greatest love poem of all time. The greatest love poem is found in the Bible in John 3:16,17 (NKJV) “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. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

What beautiful words. Notice that it is the whole world that God loves, not a single nation, not a single race. Not just the “good” people, not just the people who love God back. “God so loved the world.” He loves the lovable and the unlovable; The popular, and the unpopular; Those who love Him, and those who never think of Him.

I recently had an internet “discussion” with someone who doesn’t believe that God loves everyone. I wondered why he felt so strongly that God’s love is conditional? Some Christians find it hard to accept the fact that God freely gives His love and grace. They want to place limits on God’s love. They prefer to think that God only loves the same people they love and that God despises the same people they despise. To condone the fact that there are groups of people that they hate, they need to feel that God also hates those people.

To put it bluntly, these people are wrong. God loves the world, and that includes both those who are just like us and those who are different from us. If Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn people, why should we? Jesus came to lift up, not to put down. Jesus didn’t come to condemn us; Jesus came to offer us eternal life. We should follow His example.

God has written us a love letter. I was never much of a letter writer, but when my wife and I were dating, five hundred miles separated us. I became a letter writer. Every day when I got home from work I wrote her a letter. Imagine how I would have felt if she didn’t read my letters. Imagine how God feels when we neglect to read the love letter he has written to us.

In that love letter, we find these beautiful words, “But in all these things we are completely victorious through God who showed his love for us. Yes, I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor ruling spirits, nothing now, nothing in the future, no powers, nothing above us, nothing below us, nor anything else in the whole world will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:37-39 (NCV)

There is a sad but poignant story from the life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Her father disapproved of her courtship with Robert Browning. When they became engaged, her father refused to allow Elizabeth to marry. When she secretly married Robert, her father disowned her, but that didn’t stop her from keeping in touch. Almost weekly she wrote him a letter. Not once did he reply. After ten years she received a large box in the mail. Inside she found all of her letters. Every one of them was unopened! Today those letters are among the most beautiful in classical English literature, yet her father never read a single one of them.

Gentle Reader, the Bible, is God’s love letter to us. The love of Jesus waits on each page! Don’t leave your love letters unopened and unread. God loves you, and he wants to tell you just how much. Open the Bible, His love letter to you, and listen to what He has to say to you. “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3 (NIV)

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Thanksgiving Proclamations

An Arkie's Faith column from the November 28, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

Celebrating Thanksgiving in the United States has its roots in British Harvest Festivals and American history. In 1620, a group of more than 100 Puritans fleeing religious persecution, settled in what is now Massachusetts. The Pilgrims' first winter was so harsh that fewer than 50 of the group survived. The next spring, Native Americans taught them how to get sap out of the maple trees and how to plant corn and other crops. The harvest was successful, and the Pilgrims had enough food for the winter. Plymouth Colony's Governor, William Bradford, decided to throw a Harvest Festival and invited the colony's Native neighbors to take part.

Historians believe that this celebration took place sometime in the fall, though there are very few clues to reconstruct the feast.  All we know about it comes from a letter Edward Winslow wrote to a friend in England: “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men fowling, that we might rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They in one day killed as much fowl as served the company almost a week. At which time with many of the Indians coming among us, for three days we entertained and feasted; and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation, and bestowed on our governor.”

It wasn't until two years later, after enduring a long drought, that the Pilgrims celebrated an actual Thanksgiving. The harvest of 1623 was almost wiped out by a drought that began in June. The crops turned brown and were slowly withering away. Without a crop, they would die. The Pilgrims turned to the only hope they had, intervention by God. They appointed a solemn day of humiliation and prayer. The Pilgrims assembled one July morning under a hot, clear sky and for nine hours prayed. Their prayers were answered the next morning. Edward Winslow wrote, “for the next two weeks distilled such soft, sweet and moderate showers that it was hard to say whether our withered corn or drooping affections were most quickened and revived.” Governor Bradford ordered that July 30, 1623, be set aside as a day of public thanksgiving.

Governor William Bradford’s proclamation is considered the first Thanksgiving Proclamation. “Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest, has spared us from pestilence and disease, and has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience. Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, do gather at ye meeting house, on Thursday, November 29th, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings”. The first Thanksgiving wasn't a feast like the Harvest Festival of two years before; it was a solemn church service.

During his first year in office, President George Washington issued a proclamation that called for a day of thanksgiving. “Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed.”

The idea of a national Thanksgiving Day didn’t catch on, but in the mid-1800s, magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale mounted a campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. She wrote letters to five Presidents supporting a national Thanksgiving holiday. Her initial letters failed, but the letter she wrote to President Lincoln convinced him to issue a Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1863. In that year, with the county involved in a horrific Civil War, President Lincoln issued the following proclamation declaring a day of Thanksgiving. “It has seemed to me fit and proper that the gracious gifts of the Most High God should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. To set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.” Each year since 1863 the president of the United States has issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation.

Thanksgiving shouldn't be just a day; it should be a lifestyle. Philippians 4:5-7 (NKJV) tells us, “Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” As Christians, we should treat every day as a thanksgiving day. 

Gentle Reader, the Apostle Paul believed in Thanksgiving. In Colossians 2:6,7 (NOG), he wrote, “continue to live as Christ’s people. Sink your roots in him and build on him. Be strengthened by the faith that you were taught, and overflow with thanksgiving.” I want to live a life overflowing with thanksgiving. King David also believed in Thanksgiving. He said, “I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving.” Psalms 69:30 (NIV) Do you glorify God with thanksgiving? One of the traditions of Thanksgiving is talking about the things we are thankful for. I am truly thankful for my family, my friends, my country, my community, and especially for Jesus Christ and the grace that he shows me every day. What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? Happy Thanksgiving y'all!

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Hawksbill Crag

An Arkie's Faith column from the November 21, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

The sunshine felt good as we headed down the trail on a crisp November afternoon. Leaves drifted down in the light breeze, and soft muted fall colors were all around us. The light of the sun filtered through the tree foliage on each side of the trail. I was finally on the trail to Whitaker Point Trail headed to Hawksbill Crag. Hiking to Hawksbill Crag had been on my bucket list since the first time I visited the Jasper, Arkansas area. It is easily one of the most photographed and recognizable features in Arkansas.

The Hawksbill Crag, also known as Whitaker Point, is located along the northern edge of the Upper Buffalo Wilderness in the Ozark National Forest. The three-mile round-trip hike has scenic vistas, huge boulders, and culminates at the iconic photo spot where a rock formation that juts out from the bluff's face resembles a hawk's beak.

My anticipation was high as I walked along the busy trail. I was surprised by how many people were on the trail. Our “older” group of hikers often stopped to let other hikers pass us. The Whitaker Point Trail allows dogs if they are on a leash, and we met many dogs – and their owners – as we hiked. My wife talked to every one of them. When I saw all the people out enjoying nature on a beautiful fall day, I was impressed by the amount of effort they all had to put into being there. The trailhead is six miles from the highway on a steep, narrow, rough county road. It is many miles from the nearest town. But hundreds and hundreds of people made an effort to see Hawksbill Crag that day.

We took our time as we hiked, occasionally stopping to take in the breathtaking beauty of the area. As we got closer to our destination, the trail followed the bluff, and there were numerous rock outcroppings with amazing views. After hiking for an hour and a half, the Hawksbill Crag came into view. I was thrilled to see it. It was as beautiful as I had imagined. After photographing it from our vantage point, we walked the last few yards to the crag. As I walked out onto the almost flat top of the crag, I felt safe and secure with solid rock under my feet, even though it was hundreds of feet down from the edge. After taking lots of photos and soaking up the moment, we headed out to the trail to make our way back.

With the anticipation of photographing and experiencing Hawksbill Crag no longer pushing us on, the return trip took us a half-hour longer. The fact that we were getting tired and that on the return we gained 320 feet in elevation might have also been a factor. As we were nearing the end of the trail, we heard a strange rumbling sound. “Could that be traffic on the road,” we wondered? But as we went around the corner, we saw that it was a man pulling a large carrying case on wheels. I assumed that the case carried camera equipment. I can’t imagine the dedication it takes to carry a large heavy case three miles over rough terrain to get a photograph.

We were tired when we reached the parking area and found the rest of our group, but excited to have accomplished our goal of hiking the Whitaker Point Trail. My wife, who has a fear of heights, enjoyed the hike and had no fear as she stood on Hawksbill Crag. When you are standing on the crag, you have no sensation of height. You feel like you are walking out onto solid rock. Before the hike, we had discussed the fact that it can be a dangerous hike, and that four people have fallen to their deaths in the last decade.

Standing on the solid rock of Hawksbill Crag reminded me of the words of an old hymn, “on Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.” The Hymn uses the Biblical imagery of God as a rock. King David wrote in Psalms 61:2 (NIRV), “from a place far away, I call out to you. I call out as my heart gets weaker. Lead me to the safety of a rock that is high above me.” And Deuteronomy 32:3,4 (NCV) uses the imagery of God as a rock. “Praise God because he is great! He is like a rock; what he does is perfect, and he is always fair.”

Jesus described how those who hear His words were like “a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Matthew 7:24 (ISV) The wise man did not live a problem-free life. The storms still rolled in, with dark clouds and raging winds. But because the man had chosen wisely and built his house on the solid rock, his house did not fall. Jesus said, “the rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, but it did not collapse because its foundation was on the rock.”

As solid as the rock is at Hawksbill Crag, it isn’t a safe place if you get too close to the edge. If you slip and fall on the rock, you can pick yourself up and go on. You might skin a knee or get bruised, but you will live. But if you slip and fall too close to the edge, you might tumble hundreds of feet to your death.

Gentle Reader, God has provided a place of peace and safety for us. "Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing causes them to stumble." Psalms 119:165 (NKJV) Sometimes we look at God's law as a jail. We feel that it creates uncomfortable restrictions. We need to ask God to give us a love for his commandments, to instill in us a desire for the peace and safety of His law, and build on the rock. “Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome.” 1 John 5:3 (NLT)

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Conductor

An Arkie's Faith column from the October 31, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

The older Chevy van pulled into my driveway as I was installing a windshield. The van’s owner, Tom, climbed out of the van and came over to talk with me. He was having a problem with the windshield and wanted to see what we could do about it. We discussed the issue and scheduled a time to work on the van. Tom was very friendly, and we visited for a few minutes after scheduling the work. As we talked, Tom told me that he had spent thirty years a conductor on the Southern Pacific and the Union Pacific railroads. When he talked about his job as a conductor, it was apparent that he had loved his job.

When he was ready to leave, I told Tom that I had a gift for him. I gave him a copy of my latest book. The cover of the book features a photo by Whitley Lind Photography of a Kansas City Southern train traveling on the tracks at the Mena depot just before sundown. I thought that he would like the photo, and he did. As he left, Tom thanked me and said that he would see me for his appointment in a couple of days.

Two days later, Tom drove the Chevy van to my shop for his appointment. It was a dreary drizzly day and had rained most of the morning. I told Tom that because of the rain I would not be able to seal the windshield on his van, and we would have to reschedule. Even though I was not able to work on his van, Tom stayed and visited. He told me that he enjoyed my book and that he had a gift for me. He gave me a DVD of a song titled “The Conductor,” written and performed by Sherry Lovan. The song came about from the writing that Tom did while he was on the railroad. Sherry wove his words and story into a beautiful song.

While we were visiting, I asked Tom about his duties as a conductor. When I was a kid, I always liked watching a freight train go by, and waiting for the little red car to appear at the end. I knew that the conductor was in that little red caboose. But today’s trains don’t have a caboose, so I didn’t realize that they still had conductors. Tom explained to me that the conductor reviews schedules and shipping records. They make sure that cargo is distributed evenly along the train and maintain communication with the train's engineer and traffic control personnel. The conductor monitors any equipment issues or mechanical problems and arranges for repairs and stops when necessary. Tom said forcefully, “the engineer only drives the train, but the conductor is in charge of the train. He is the boss.”

Tom’s words made me think about the Christian life. The old song, “Life Is Like A Mountain Railroad,” came to my mind. “Life is like a mountain railroad. With an engineer so brave. We must make this run successful. From the cradle to the grave.” Sometimes Christians teach that we should let God be the engineer in our lives. But I don’t think that is a good analogy. The song’s analogy is a better one. We are the engineer in our lives. We are the drivers. God has set us free to drive our own lives. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1 (NIV)

If God has given us the freedom to drive our lives, what part does He play in our lives? If we are in charge, does that leave God out? I think that Tom’s explanation of the conductor’s job is also a good explanation of God’s role in our lives. “The engineer only drives the train, but the conductor is in charge of the train. He is the boss.” God wants us to drive, but we need to remember that He is in charge. On a train, the conductor makes sure cargo is loaded and unloaded and properly accounted for. He is responsible for the train, the freight, and the crew. The conductor is responsible for coordinating relationships among the railroad, the shipping company, and the engineer. He must know the train schedules for the railroad to coordinate loading and unloading of freight. Communicating these things with the engineer is also important since the engineer moves the train from one stop to the next

“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.” Galatians 5:13 (NLT) God has given you the freedom to drive your train. Sometimes we look at someone who has made bad decisions and say, “their life is a train wreck.” God had given you the freedom to be the engineer of your life’s train, but we need to remember that God is the conductor. David wrote in Psalms 119:44,45 (NCV) “I will obey your teachings forever and ever. So I will live in freedom, because I want to follow your orders.” Living in freedom, and then wrecking the train because we won’t listen to the conductor isn’t much freedom.

Gentle Reader, everyone craves freedom, but what is freedom? I once heard a preacher say that “freedom is being able to do what you please without considering anyone except your spouse and your kids, the company and the boss, neighbors, and friends, the police and the government, the doctor and the church.” In human society, chaos results if we consider just our interests. We are the engineers of our life, but we need a conductor. Don’t kick the conductor off your train. “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. Live as servants of God.” 1 Peter 2:16 (NCV)

Friday, October 25, 2019

Abandoned Patina

An Arkie's Faith column from the October 24, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

A gray streak shot across the driveway as I pulled my shop truck up to the door of my business. “What was that,” I thought, as I got out of my truck and unlocked the door. It was time to open my shop for the day. I had a very busy day scheduled and was in a hurry to get started. As I turned on the lights and opened the garage door, I heard a soft meow. As I walked outside, the meow became louder and more insistent. I heard, “Meow, meooow, meoooooow.” Then I saw the source of the sounds, a gray kitten.

When the kitten saw me, it came running towards me. As I tried to get started on my first job of the day, the kitten was weaving through my legs, rubbing against me, meowing loudly. “Someone has dumped this poor kitten beside the road,” I thought. Then I thought several unkind thoughts about the kind of person who would dump their animals on the road like that. I was too busy as I went about my work to pay much attention to the abandoned kitten.

When my Daddy came to work about a half-hour later, the kitten immediately started rubbing against him. When he sat down in his chair, the kitten jumped up on his lap. A few minutes later, the kitten was sitting on his shoulders and climbing onto his head. As I looked closer at the kitten, I saw that although it was mostly gray, It had brown and red spots. It looked a bit like a calico, but I had never seen a cat colored like it before. Later I found out that the coloration on the kitten is called dilute calico.

Calico cats are tricolored. Their coat is made up of three colors, white, black, and brownish-red. Calicos have white as their primary color, with the other colors being secondary. However, a dilute calico is exactly that – diluted. A dilute calico normally has a coat of grey, silver, and reddish-gold. The colors are not as distinct as a normal calico’s. Instead, they sometimes appear blended and smudged together.

When a friend of mine, who is a fellow car collector, stopped by a bit later, the kitten made friends with him. He said, “you should name the cat Patina because the rust-colored spots remind me of the patina on an old car.” Lately, there has been a lot of discussion in the car world about “patina,” that old, imperfect finish that speaks to a car’s age and wear. Some collectors are choosing to leave the exterior of the cars that they are refurbishing in their original condition, not repairing and repainting the body. The marks and blemishes on the exterior are like battle scars that become sources of pride, demonstrating that a car is an original survivor.

Patina, the cat, tried hard to make friends with everyone who stopped by my shop that day. I’m not sure I have ever seen as friendly a cat as Patina. My Daddy and I offered to give the cat to each person who paid attention to it. But no one wanted a free kitten. Daddy made a sign that said, “Free Kittens,” and placed I out beside the highway. It was late afternoon, and we still had not found a new home for Patina. When a young lady came to pick up her car after I had repaired the windshield, Patina ran out to meet her. She picked the kitten up and was petting it. After she paid for the work I had done on her car, she asked, “are you really giving this kitten away?” I told her that the kitten had been abandoned and needed a new home. If she wanted the kitten I would be happy to give it to her. When she left, I don’t know who was happier, the gray calico kitten or its new owner.

The kitten had been abandoned by its previous owner, but now was happy to be adopted into a new family. You and I are also adopted.  We are adopted into the family of God. How did we become adopted? The Bible tells us that by believing in Jesus, we gain the right to become God’s children. John 1:12,13 (NLT) says, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.”

Our Father in Heaven does not show favoritism between His family members, and neither should we. In His eyes, we are united together as one family, a family that is connected through His son, Jesus Christ. Too often, we abandon fellow family members. “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.” Psalm 27:10 (NIV)

I am amazed by how many of my customers suffer from loneliness. I can sense the loneliness as I talk with them. But there is something worse than being lonely, and that is feeling abandoned. Many lonely people also feel abandoned by family, abandoned by friends, and abandoned by God.

You can sense how abandoned David feels when he wrote, “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?” Psalms 13:1 (NKJV) When David wrote this, he was hurt, vulnerable, discouraged and fearful. David’s words express his fear that God has rejected and abandoned him.

Gentle Reader, have you ever felt this way? You may have endured something very difficult. In this life, people are often powerless to help us, and even loved ones fail us. But to feel abandoned by God is the worst agony because without God there is no hope. You can know that God has not abandoned you. “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor ruling spirits, nothing now, nothing in the future, no powers, nothing above us, nothing below us, nor anything else in the whole world will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38,39 (NCV) You may feel abandoned, but it isn’t God who abandoned you. It is God who adopted you. “The Father has loved us so much that we are called children of God. And we really are his children.” 1 John 3:1 (NCV)

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Maggie and Tucker

An Arkie's Faith column from the October 17, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

The tiny white ball of fluff raced pell-mell around the room. His ears flopped about, and his tail wagged furiously. Our Golden Retriever, Maggie, was meeting this little dynamo for the first time. The puppy jumped on Maggie and played with her tail. They had a great time together. We were happy to see that Maggie and the puppy got along so well. In less than a week, we would be picking up our new Mini Golden Doodle puppy and taking him home.

My wife could hardly stand the wait. All she could talk about was her new puppy. We spent hours going through a list of names that she had compiled, trying to decide on a name. The top contenders on the list of names were Aspen, Darcy, Bondo, and River. But none of them seemed quite right for the new puppy. My son-in-law suggested Tucker, and we decided that would be our puppy’s name. When the day finally arrived, we picked Tucker up and took him home.

Tucker was a little bit intimidated by his new surroundings. He wanted to be with Maggie. Wherever Maggie was, there was Tucker right alongside her. He wanted to jump on her and play with her. Maggie liked having Tucker there and enjoyed playing. When Tucker was tired, he snuggled up next to Maggie on her dog bed. As much as Maggie had liked playing with Tucker, by the evening, she was tired of the little bundle of energy jumping at her, climbing on her and attacking her. It was fun to play for a little while, but Maggie likes her rest. When Tucker would jump on her, Maggie would look up at us with pleading eyes. “Can’t you make him stop,” she seemed to say.

When it came time to go to bed, we put Tucker in a crate in our bedroom next to Maggie’s bed. He immediately started to howl and scratch at his crate. I have never heard sounds like he was making. It was a cross between yipping, yodeling, and howling. The amount of sound that he could make was incredible. Maggie just looked at us and refused to get in her bed. She decided to sleep in the bathroom. When she had first seen Tucker, she had loved playing with him, but now she wanted a break.

Tucker still wants to be with Maggie all the time. He no longer feels that he must constantly jump on her and bite at her, but he is never far from her. He is now content to sit next to her and lean on her or curl up with her. Maggie puts up with him but doesn’t want to be with Tucker every minute. Maggie’s relationship with Tucker reminds me of what Jesus told the church in Ephesus. “But here is something I hold against you. You have turned away from the love you had at first.” Revelation 2:4 (NIRV)

When Maggie first met Tucker, she loved playing with him. But when he came to live with us twenty-four hours a day and wanted to be with her every moment, she didn’t love him as much. Sometimes we Christians can forget how much we loved Jesus at first. When we first realize what Jesus has done for us, how much he loves us, and how much he sacrificed to save us, we are filled with love for Him. But as the years go by, our love for God can weaken.

Sometimes we allow the stress and pressures of life to control us. We get caught up in our problems and allow them to build a wall between God and ourselves. We may not even know that we are doing it. We become unhappy in our lives. We forget our first love for Jesus.

I have experienced this personally. Over a year ago my Momma passed away. I experienced powerful emotions during this time. Grief can be overwhelming, and it can heighten other emotions. I found myself dealing with extreme bitterness towards people who had mistreated my Momma. I felt that their mistreatment had been so stressful to my Momma that it had contributed to her death.

It felt like my life was spinning out of control, and I couldn’t make sense of it anymore. When you feel like you have been wronged, your feelings often intensify as you dwell on the situation. The more you think about it, the angrier you become. If you can’t get your feelings in check, bitterness can consume you. That was the mindset that I found myself in. The more I thought about the people who had wronged my family, the more enraged I became. My grief and my anger were consuming my life and making it difficult for me to cope.

I knew that I had to get my life under control somehow. I had to rein in my emotions to be able to get on with my life. I knew that the only way to do that was to focus on loving God and others. Even when I was wallowing in my grief and anger, I knew that God still loved me. I read in Psalms 56:8 (NLT) “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” I knew that I needed to rekindle my first love towards God.

Gentle Reader, nothing is more important than obeying God’s greatest commandment: to love him. And God knows you will only be able to do so if you have been loved first. 1 John 4:19 (NKJV) says, “We love him because he first loved us.” Let’s take time today to experience the love of our heavenly Father, and let his love renew within us our first love.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Apollo 11

An Arkie's Faith column from the October 3, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

My eyes were glued to the screen as I watched the enormous crawler-transporter with the Saturn V rocket move slowly towards the launch pad at Launch Complex 39. The crawler is 131 feet long and 114 feet wide. Weighing over six million pounds, the crawler moves with the power of 16 diesel locomotive 16-cylinder engines. The Saturn V rocket on the crawler was over 360 feet tall. Fully fueled for liftoff, the Saturn V weighed over six million pounds. As I watched the huge rocket lift off, flames shot out hundreds of yards in both directions, and the rocket slowly made its way up past the launch tower. The Apollo 11 mission to the moon was underway.

I was sitting in a comfortable recliner at the IMAX Theater in Branson, Missouri, watching Apollo 11. The film reconstructs the exciting moments of preparation, liftoff, landing, and return of this historic mission to put men on the moon. The filmmakers used newly discovered, never before seen 70mm footage. The scenes that were unfolding before me were enthralling. I couldn’t believe the quality of the historical footage that I was seeing. As I watched, I was transported back to 1969.

When I was a boy, my heroes were the astronauts in NASA’s space program. I read everything about them that I could get my hands on. By 1969 my interest in space was at a fever pitch. Everyone was talking about the race to land on the moon. When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, the entire world was captivated. Every newspaper covered the story. I soaked it all in. The moon landing was a part of pop culture. After watching the moonwalk on TV, the Moody Blues drummer, Graham Edge, penned the poem "Higher and Higher,” which was used to open their next album.

"Blasting, billowing, bursting forth with the power of ten billion butterfly sneezes. Man, with his flaming pyre, has conquered the wayward breezes. Climbing to tranquility, far above the clouds, conceiving the heavens, clear of misty shroud. Vast vision must improve our sight. Perhaps, at last, we'll see an end to our own endless blight, and the beginning of the free.”

As I listened to these words, even as a boy, I realized that this optimism that space exploration would make the world a better place was misplaced. I read in my Bible in Obadiah 1:4 (NCV) “‘even if you fly high like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, I will bring you down from there,’ says the Lord.” As a Christian, I looked to space exploration to learn more about the awesome things God had made. I was excited by the discoveries and what they could show me about how awesome God is.

While I went through High School, I stayed interested in space, but there were many other things to interest me and take up my time. I realized that as interesting as space exploration was, it wasn’t changing things here on earth. By now there had been six moon landings. In just a few years, moon landings had gone from the most exciting and talked about thing on the planet, to being commonplace. The space race was over, and pop culture had found other interests.

NASA didn’t recapture the interest of most Americans until 1981 when the Space Shuttle Columbia made the first flight of a space vehicle that returned to earth and was reusable. Once again man seemed on the verge of conquering the heavens. One of the exciting new directions in space exploration was the Hubble Space Telescope. Nothing NASA had done since landing on the moon captured the interest of the American public as much as the Hubble Telescope. The images that the Hubble produced were breathtaking. When I first saw the images, I thought of the words of David found in Psalms 19:1 (GW). “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky displays what his hands have made.”

One Hubble photo fascinates me. It is called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. Astronomers picked a seemingly empty spot in the sky. Staring at the spot in the sky for ten days, Hubble kept taking pictures one after another for the entire exposure time, accumulating data. Astronomers put the exposures together into one final picture. Each time they added an exposure, the view got deeper, revealing fainter objects. When they finished, they had the deepest picture ever taken of the heavens.
The image is of a small region in the constellation Ursa Major. It covers an area 2.5 arcminutes across; one part in a million of the whole sky. The image contains an estimated ten thousand galaxies. That would mean that the whole universe contains a million times ten thousand galaxies.

Astronomers estimate that our home galaxy, the Milky Way, contains between two hundred and four hundred billion stars. How many stars are in the universe? I will let you do the math. “Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.” Isaiah 40:26 (NIV)

Gentle Reader, the universe staggers our imagination. It is humbling to realize that our planet Earth is simply a speck of cosmic dust in the great universe that God has created. When David saw the night sky, he was amazed by God’s love for us. In Psalms 8:3,4 he wrote, “I look at your heavens, which you made with your fingers. I see the moon and stars, which you created. But why are people even important to you? Why do you take care of human beings?” Go outside tonight, take a look at the starry sky and know that there is a Creator who cares for you, who died for you and wants to bring you home to live with him.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Lake Houston Blessings

An Arkie's Faith column from the September 26, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

The stately two-story house stood on the banks of Lake Houston. In the forty years since she had been lovingly built by her family, she has never seen anything like it. Wave after wave of heavy rains batter her. The winds are swirling around her, and she is creaking and groaning as she struggles to withstand the storm. In the yard, trees are swaying madly, screaming as their limbs strain against the onslaught. The house begins to be tested: the roof, the windows, the walls were all under attack. The house worries that she will be damaged and that her family will not be able to live there anymore.

When the winds finally die down, the stately house realizes that she is still standing. She has made it through the storm. Her mind drifts back to the time that the family built her. Dad was a builder by trade, and he built the stately house where he would raise his family. Mom loved the new house, and it’s delightful setting on the shores of Lake Houston. The kids enjoyed bringing their friends home to the stately house. They especially liked the swimming pool in the backyard. Mom was happy when laughing kids were having a good time at her house. The stately house was thankful that she was still standing and that soon the family would be able come back home.

Even though the winds stopped battering the stately house, the rains continued to fall. Over the next two days, over 30 inches of rain fell in the area. The water levels of Lake Houston rise until they are lapping at the front door of the house. But it keeps raining, and the water keeps rising. Soon there are several inches of water on the floor, and the water is rushing in at the front, the sides, the back. To the stately house, it feels like an invasion. By the time the lake reaches its highest levels, deep water covers the entire first floor of the stately house. She is waterlogged and very sad. When the water levels start to recede, the house wonders what will become of her. Will her family ever be able to live in her again.

Inside, there’s at least an inch of mud on the floor, and the mold on the walls is chest high. It looks like someone broke in and ransacked the house. Everything from the shelves covers the floor. The knife block, with the knives still in it, sits in the living room. The refrigerator is full of spoiled food, and the house stinks like an entire army of dirty feet. The front door is blocked by a bookcase so swollen with water that it collapsed in a huge pile of books and shelves. The once stately house is a stinky mess.

Hurricane Harvey was a Category 4 hurricane that caused this historic, catastrophic flooding in August 2017. The family displaced from the stately house were among 30,000 families in the area that had no place to stay. They wondered if their family home would be able to be saved. When Dad first inspected the damage, his heart sank. There was so much damage. There was debris everywhere. How could they ever make the stately house liveable again?

When the family started the daunting task of cleaning up, friends started showing up to help. Mom was standing at a second-story window and looking out over the mess where there had once been a yard full of laughing children. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She looked out at a group of her kids' friends partying. Her kids had become adults many years ago, but here were their friends, the same kids who had spent so much time at the stately house when they were young, once again having a great time in her yard. There was loud music, laughing and dancing. They were working hard with shovels and brooms cleaning up the debris. It was dirty, smelly, nasty work. But they were having a great time.

Mom couldn’t believe that so many people were there to help with the cleanup. While they were cleaning debris, a carpenter drove up in his pickup, pulling a trailer with his tools. He told Dad, “when I heard that your house was flooded and that you were doing the repair work yourself, I came as soon as I could. I have brought my tools, and will stay and work with you until you are finished.” Many other people donated their time. Before long the house was once again stately; ready for the family to move back in.

When Mom, from the stately house, was telling me the story; she told me, “I have never felt so blessed in my life as I did in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.” I thought, “how can someone feel blessed when they are dealing with such trying circumstances.” I know that the Bible says, “God can give you more blessings than you need.” 2 Corinthians 9:8 (NCV) But who needs to have their home devastated by a hurricane?

As Mom continued the story, she told me that as a builder, Dad had given many of the people that came to volunteer their start in the business. They loved and respected him, and when they heard that he needed help, they came. Mom had shown love and kindness to her kids' friends. She had let them know that they were always welcome to share in the happiness of the stately house.

Gentle Reader, “give to people and they will give to you. They will fill your cup, press it down, shake it, and let it run over. That is what they will give to you. How much you give to others is how much God will give to you.” Luke 6:38 (WE) Our blessings are based on our willingness to bless others. How we treat others will determine how we are treated by others and by God. God has been gracious with us, so we should share that graciousness with others. If we do, the blessings in our cup will be pressed down, shaken, and running over.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

James and the Sixth Grade

An Arkie's Faith column from the September 19, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

James was nervous as he entered the school building. He was always nervous on the first day of school. James found his way to the sixth-grade schoolroom. As he walked through the door a deep male voice boomed a welcome, asked his name, and directed him to a desk. Now James was more nervous than ever. His teacher was a man. He had never had a man for a teacher before.

After the first week or two of the new school year, James wasn’t so nervous in class. He liked Mr. B (that’s what all the students called him) as a teacher. Mr. B had a way of explaining things that made sense to James. Some teachers are just there for the paycheck, just hanging out until retirement is feasible, but not Mr. B. He cared about each of his students and made time for all of them. In class, his eyes and voice were gentle but with enough assertiveness and confidence to keep the class in order. It wasn’t long before James (for the first time) was happy to go to school every single day.

Sixth graders don’t usually make plans for their future, but by the end of sixth grade, James knew what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to be a teacher. Throughout the rest of his grade school and high school years, his determination never wavered. He wanted to be a teacher like Mr. B. During his senior year in high school James started making plans for college and becoming a teacher.

Although James enjoyed being at school and learning, things were not as good at home. Throughout his high school years, his relationship with his mother deteriorated. Although he was still planning on becoming a teacher, he began to leave navy recruitment pamphlets around the house in strategic locations where his mother would be sure to see them. One day, during an argument with his mother, she yelled, “why don’t you go ahead and join the Navy and get out of my sight.” Seething with anger, James decided that he would join the Navy. He would show his mother.

Shortly after graduation as James was on a bus heading to boot camp and wondering what he had done. As he looked out the window and watched the scenery pass by, he regretted that he had let his mother goad him into a decision that he wasn’t sure was right for him. Why had he let his anger towards her change his goals for the future? Regret washed over him as he realized that the plans that he had been working on since the sixth grade were now in shambles. Even as he lamented over the choices he had allowed himself to be pushed into, he determined to make the best of his situation and be the best sailor he could be.

As James was telling me his story, I could see that the emotions were still fresh in his mind even though the events had happened many years ago. He had recently retired from a career in teaching. Even though his plans were sidetracked when he joined the Navy, he was still able to reach his goals in life. When he got out of the Navy he went back to school and became a teacher. James left me with a nugget of wisdom. He told me, “don’t ever let someone else push you into making decisions that you wouldn’t have made otherwise.”

Too often in life, we let other people affect our decisions. Whether because of anger, peer pressure, desire, friendship, intimidation, or even love, when we let someone else dictate our decisions, things can often go wrong. King Solomon wrote, “a man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24 (ESV) “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Proverbs 16:9 (ESV)  And Isaiah tells us that even when we make a bad decision If we ask God, he will help us make the right decision. “If you go the wrong way—to the right or to the left—you will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the right way. You should go this way.’” Isaiah 10:31 (NCV)

Each one of us makes thousands of choices every day. For some of us, making decisions is difficult. We second guess ourselves all of the time and are never quite sure about the choices we make. It is okay to ask for advice when facing decisions. “Plans fail without good advice, but they succeed with the advice of many others.” Proverbs 15:22 (ESV) But be careful about allowing others to dictate the path of your life. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” Proverbs 3:5,6 (NLT)

Gentle Reader, we have all made poor choices at times and have suffered the consequences of those choices. We have all let other people influence us to make choices we shouldn’t have made. The good news is that no matter what poor choices we may have made in the past, there is always hope for a better future. God knew that we would make some bad choices, but he loves us so much that he sent Jesus to pay the price for our sin and to provide a way for our relationship to him to be restored. “Even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 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. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:14-17 (NKJV)

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Easy Eddie

An Arkie's Faith column from the September 5, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

The bright sunlight glistened off of the bright white buildings along bathhouse row in Hot Springs. As we walked along the street, I tried to imagine what it was like during the heyday of bathhouses. I am intrigued by the history of Hot Springs.

The first permanent settlers came to the Hot Springs area in 1807. They were quick to realize the area’s potential as a health resort. By the 1830s, log cabins and a store had been built to meet the needs of visitors to the springs. By the 1880s bathhouses were lining the streets of Hot Springs. The health resort industry led to Hot Springs becoming known as the "American Spa."

Along with the bathhouses, there were gambling establishments. From the Roaring ’20s until the end of World War II ten major casinos and numerous smaller houses operated in Hot Springs. Hot Springs became a haven for notorious criminals and mobsters, including Owen “Owney” Madden, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, and Al Capone. Word spread that Hot Springs was the perfect hideout for criminals running from police investigations. Al Capone and his bodyguards would rent out entire floors of hotels.

During that time, Al Capone virtually owned Chicago. Capone rose to infamy as the leader of the Chicago mafia during the Prohibition era. A gangster needs a good lawyer, and Capone hired one nicknamed "Easy Eddie." Eddie's skill at legal maneuvering kept Al Capone out of jail for a long time.

Capone paid Eddie very well. He and his family occupied a fenced-in mansion with live-in help. The estate was so large that it filled an entire Chicago City block. Eddie lived the high life of the Chicago mob and paid little attention to the vicious crimes committed by his mob friends.

Easy Eddie had a son that he loved dearly. He saw to it that his son had the finest clothes, the fastest cars, and a good education. Eddie wanted his son to be a better man than he was. One day, Eddie made a difficult decision. He decided he would go to the authorities and tell the truth about Al Capone, clean up his tarnished name, and offer his son a name with some integrity. He knew that he would have to testify against Capone, and he knew that the cost would be great, but he testified anyway. Within the year, Easy Eddie's life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago street.

In his eyes, Easy Eddie had given his son the greatest gift he had to offer, at the greatest price he could ever pay. When the police found his body, they removed from his pockets a religious medallion, and a clipping from a magazine. It read: "The clock of life is wound but once, and no man has the power to tell just when the hands will stop, at late or early hour. Now is the only time you own. Live, love, toil with a will. Place no faith in time. For the clock may soon be still."

Let’s fast forward to World War II. Lieutenant Commander Butch O'Hare was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific. One day his entire squadron was sent on a mission. After he was airborne, he looked at his fuel gauge and realized that someone had forgotten to refuel the plane. He would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and get back to his ship. His flight leader told him to return to the carrier. He dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet. As he was returning to the ship, he saw a squadron of Japanese aircraft flying toward the American fleet.

The American fighter planes were all gone on a mission, and the fleet was defenseless. Commander O'Hare couldn't reach his squadron and bring them back in time to save the fleet. He had no way to warn the fleet of the approaching danger. He decided that he must somehow divert the Japanese planes from the fleet. With no thought for his safety, he dove into the formation of Japanese planes. His wing-mounted 50 caliber guns blazed as he charged in, attacking one surprised enemy plane and then another. Commander O'Hare wove in and out of the now broken formation and fired at as many planes as possible until his ammunition was gone.

Even though he couldn’t fire his weapons, he continued the assault. He dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail in hopes of damaging as many enemy planes as possible. Finally, the exasperated Japanese squadron took off in another direction.

Commander O'Hare and his tattered fighter plane barely made it back to the carrier. The film from the gun-camera mounted on his plane told the story. It showed the extent of his daring attempt to protect his fleet. He had destroyed five enemy aircraft. This action took place on February 20, 1942, and because of his heroism, Lieutenant Commander Butch O'Hare became the Navy's first Ace of World War II, and the first Naval Aviator to win the Medal of Honor.

A year later Butch was killed in aerial combat at the age of 29. His home town of Chicago would not allow the memory of this WW II hero to fade. O'Hare Airport in Chicago is named for Lieutenant Commander Butch O'Hare in tribute to the courage of this great man.

Gentle Reader, Butch O'Hare was "Easy Eddie's" son. No matter what your past has been, it’s never too late to make a change. The Bible tells us about a gangster, a criminal, who made a change. “There were also two criminals led out with Jesus to be put to death.” Luke 23:32 (NCV) As he was hanging on the cross waiting to die, one of the criminals turned to Jesus and said, “‘remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus said to him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’” Luke 23:42,43 (NCV) God says, “‘At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.’ Indeed, the ‘right time’ is now. Today is the day of salvation.” 2 Corinthians 6:2 (NLT)