Thursday, August 29, 2019


An Arkie's Faith column from the August 29, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

The white envelope stared up at me from my desk. It seemed to be mocking me. The envelope had been lying there on my desk for three weeks. Every time I sat down at my desk, the first thing I noticed was that annoying envelope. I knew that I had to do something about that envelope.

On my birthday my wife had handed me the envelope. When I opened it, I found a gift certificate for a massage at Meraki Massage and Bodyworks. I tried to be gracious, but I am quite sure that I didn’t accomplish it. I had never had a massage, and I felt that I would not like it. I have never liked to have someone rub my back, and the idea of a stranger massaging me was intimidating. I have a fear of the unknown, and this was definitely an unknown.

I told my wife that I didn’t think that I would like to get a massage and that she could use the gift certificate herself. For over a year, my wife had been regularly getting massages at Meraki Massage and Bodyworks. She told me how wonderful Jackie was as a masseuse. She encouraged me to get a massage and see if it would help with the problems I had been having with my neck. I told her that I would think about it and placed the envelope on my desk.

Every time I looked at that envelope, I felt bad. My wife had given me a gift, and I hadn’t appreciated it. Finally, I told my wife, “call and make me an appointment for a massage.” When I showed up for my massage, I was apprehensive, but Jackie did everything she could to put me at ease. She told me numerous times to relax, as I would tense up. She spent extra time working on my neck because I was having neck pain and problems with range of motion. At the end of the massage, I made an appointment for another massage. I was no longer apprehensive.

For the past six months, Jackie has worked on improving the range of motion in my neck. She has tried different techniques and has researched how to deal with my condition. I have been impressed with her personalized attention to my issues. Whenever I walk into her massage room, I see her motto painted in large letters across one wall. Meraki: To do something with soul, creativity, or love, leaving a piece of yourself in what you are doing.

As I have gotten to know Jackie and been a regular client of hers, I realize that this word, Meraki, describes her approach to what she does. When I investigated the origin of the word Meraki, I found that it is of Greek origin, and it is one of those words that has no direct translation in English. As I thought about this word that needs a whole sentence when translated into English, I thought about people I know who are passionate about their jobs, their hobbies, and their life, people who do something with soul, creativity or love, and leave a piece of themselves in what they are doing. What an amazing way that is to live life!

As Christians, we need to embrace Meraki as a way of life. I think that the concept is a Biblical one. One day while Jesus was teaching at the temple, the Jewish leaders attempted to trap Jesus into saying something that could be used against him. They had determined that the Law consisted of 613 commandments, and they categorized them into greater and lesser laws. “One of the legal experts came up, and overheard the discussion. Realizing that Jesus had given a splendid answer, he put a question of his own. ‘Which commandment,’ he asked, ‘is the first one of all?’ ‘The first one,’ replied Jesus, ‘is this: “Listen, Israel: the Lord your God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your understanding, and with all your strength.” And this is the second one: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” No other commandment is greater than these ones.’” Mark 12:28-31 (NTE)

Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God with all your heart, soul, and understanding and strength. This response would likely have gone over well with the Jewish leaders since it came directly from Deuteronomy 6:5 (NKJV) “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” No one could argue with that. But Jesus didn’t stop there. He added, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

One of the authors that I enjoy reading is Eugene Peterson. He was an American Presbyterian minister, scholar, theologian, author, and poet. He wrote over 30 books, including the Bible paraphrase, The Message. I recently read the following line that made an impact on me. He wrote, "there is far more to this Christian life than getting it right. There is LIVING it right." We, as Christians, are to love God with our passions, desires, perceptions, and thoughts. We are also to love him with how we talk, and what we do with our hands, and how we utilize our talents; our entire being is to display that we love God. But that isn’t all. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves.

When I was in high school, the chorus to a popular worship song was, “they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yeah, they'll know we are Christians by our love.” I wonder what happened to that Christian idealism that I felt back then. When I see the issues that Christians seem to focus on today, I don’t see love. We seem to have forgotten that Jesus taught that the most important thing after loving God is loving your neighbor. He taught that we are always to love others. He even said to love your enemies as well as those that persecute you.

Gentle Reader, we as Christians need to live our lives with Meraki. We need to live our lives with soul, creativity, and love, leaving a piece of ourselves in what we are doing. When others see your life, do they see someone who is loving God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your understanding, and with all your strength; And loving your neighbor as yourself?

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Saying Goodbye

An Arkie's Faith column from the August 22, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

When my children were at home, every year we would take a trip to Denver, Colorado to see their Aunt Nora. My wife’s sister, Nora, was eighteen years older than my wife. Because my wife’s mother had passed away before my children were born, Aunt Nora was a grandma figure to them. On the day that we had to leave, we would gather together to have a prayer before we got into the car to drive home. When we were ready to leave, my children would say, “this is the part where Aunt Nora cries.” And without fail, we would see Aunt Nora waving to us with tears in her eyes as we drove away.

Aunt Nora fought a long hard battle with cancer, and ten years ago, we had to say our final goodbye. Saying goodbye is hard. One and a half years ago, I sat in the funeral home chapel as I said goodbye to my Momma. These thoughts came flooding back this week as I sat in church waiting for the funeral of a friend to begin. I stared at the beautiful stained-glass windows without actually seeing them.

As the priest spoke, he opened with a familiar verse found in Ecclesiastes. “All things have their season, and in their times all things pass under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die.” Ecclesiastes 3:1,2 (DRA) Then he read 1 John 14:1-3 (DRA) “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many mansions. If not, I would have told you: because I go to prepare a place for you. And if I shall go, and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will take you to myself; that where I am, you also may be.” Even though there is a time to die, Jesus has promised that He has prepared a place for us and that He will come again and get us so that we can be where He is.

As the priest brought his thoughts to a close, he read Revelation 21:4 (DRA) “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away.” These are some of the most comforting words in the Bible. There will be a time when there will be no more tears, death, mourning, crying, or sorrow. There will be a time when we will never have to say a final goodbye.

As we were leaving the church, I was talking with a friend, and she said, “as we were driving to the church and saw all of the other cars on the road, I thought, ‘Why aren’t these people going to the funeral of one of the most wonderful people I have ever known.” My friend's words made an impression on me. For many years, the woman we were remembering had taken care of so many people in her role as a business owner, church leader and community leader, and yet most people in town were going about their lives as if nothing had happened.

Many people live their lives without acknowledging what Jesus has done for them. They may even say that they believe in God but live their lives as if he doesn’t exist. We live in a culture of ambivalence. But Jesus wants to do so much for us.

Jesus wants to save us from alienation and bring us to friendship. Romans 5:10 (NLT) says, “For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.” Jesus died for us so that we could have fellowship with God. Through faith and repentance, you can go from being God’s enemy to being God’s child.

Jesus wants to save us from slavery to sin and to give us freedom. Romans 6:17 (VOICE) says, “Thank God that your slavery to sin has ended and that in your new freedom you pledged your heartfelt obedience to that teaching which was passed on to you.” We often think of ourselves as free. People say, “I am free. I can do what I want.” But the Bible says that we are slaves of sin. Jesus saves us from being slaves of sin and makes us able to live like He made us to live. “It is God himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus; and long ages ago he planned that we should spend these lives in helping others.” Ephesians 2:10 (TLB)

Jesus wants to save us from eternal death and give us eternal life. Romans 6:23 (KJV) says, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In John 3:14-17 (NLT), Jesus said, “the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”

Gentle Reader, Jesus wants to do so much for you. He wants you to acknowledge Him. In Luke 12:8 (NIV) Jesus said, “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God.” Today will you make an effort to acknowledge what Jesus has done for you.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

I Can't See

An Arkie's Faith column from the August 15, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

Four-year-old Molly is at her neighbor’s Nicole’s house. She likes to go with her big brother when he plays with the neighbor boys. And Nicole loves having a Molly around. Being the mother of three rambunctious boys, she liked spending quiet girl time with Molly.

Molly’s favorite movie is Pocahontas. This evening, while the boys are playing, she is in Nicole’s dimly lit bedroom, and Nicole is putting braids like Pocahontas’ in Molly’s long, dark brown hair. When she finishes, Nicole sets Molly on the vanity in front of the mirror and holds a mirror behind Molly’s head. “How do you like it?” Nicole asks. “Oh, I can’t see it,” Molly says. Nicole starts tilting the mirror in different ways. “I still can’t see it,” Molly says.

Molly’s family and friends know that she has poor vision, but no one knows that she is night blind. She has already had one surgery and a bunch of exploratory tests, but people think that she sees more than she does. Molly would try to tell adults that she couldn’t see when it was dark, but they always assumed it was just a typical childhood fear of the dark. They didn’t realize that she actually couldn’t see anything. Night-blindness is one of the first symptoms of retinitis pigmentosa.

One night when Nicole was taking Molly back to her house, they began walking down the porch steps when Molly started clinging to her and saying, “I can’t see. I can’t see.” Nicole said, “I know you can’t see the same as you can during the day, but you can still see outlines and shadows and shapes. See? Look at the stairs; you can still see the line of the edge of the stairs.” But Molly told her, “No, I still can’t see.” When Nicole got Molly home and told her parents what had happened, it was the first time they realized how severe her vision loss was.

When Molly started school, the other kids picked on her. From first grade until she graduated from high school, bullying was a part of Molly’s life. One day Molly’s mom was picking her up from school. As they were walking through the hallway, kids started throwing garbage at Molly and giggling. One of them slid a french fry container filled with ketchup in front of her feet to see if Molly would step in it. Molly’s mom couldn’t believe they were doing that right in front of an adult. Mom said to Molly, “these kids are throwing things so you’ll trip. They think it’s funny, and they’re looking at me with absolutely no respect.” Molly told her, “Yeah, Mom, that’s my life. That’s what it’s like. Just ignore it.”

By the eighth grade, Molly noticed that her vision was fading fast. Within six months, she lost what little remaining vision she had. During her high school years, Molly suffered from crippling depression, but with very supportive parents and counselors, she was able to not only overcome but to become a successful motivational speaker and author.

In her book, “It’s Not What It Looks Like,” Molly writes; “The first voice I hear most days is Niamh, my amazing mom, coming into my room to wake me up. She opens the blackout curtains in my LA apartment so just a little bit of light comes in. Yep. I already know what you’re thinking: You’re 25 and your mom still wakes you up? Whatt? Is that because you’re blind? Nope. News flash: Blind people can and many do live alone. In fact, back home in Toronto, I lived in my own apartment for two years.

Most blind people go through years of training and, in the case of those who were not born blind, rehabilitation to make sure that we can be capable and independent. We go through orientation and mobility training, take life skills classes, and many other things to make sure we don’t walk into things, that we’re confident, and that we can navigate safely without hurting ourselves or others. I rely on my mom and others, not because I’m disabled, but because anybody with a business like mine doesn’t do it alone. Blindness just adds an extra layer of challenge to what I do daily.

‘Molly,’ my dad said, ‘You can do a lot of things, but what you can’t do is be this independent, hard-working, and successful unless you have people to support you. No one, no matter who they are, gets to achieve their goals without support from others. No one is 100% perfect at 100% of what they try. That’s why it takes a team to achieve what you were put on this earth to do.’ So, that’s why my mom is waking me up. And someday when she does go back home, I’ll get a really loud alarm clock. But for now, it’s her and me. And I’m loving this morning ritual we share. So, good morning, Mom.”

King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 4:9,10 (NLT) “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.” We need to rely on others, and to be willing to reach out and help. We as Christians often have the wrong idea of what it means to reach out and help. A blind person isn’t helped by being informed that they are blind.

Gentle Reader, “it is God himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus; and long ages ago he planned that we should spend these lives in helping others.” Ephesians 2:10 (TLB) God has planned for you to spend your life helping others. The choice is yours. Either you can point out the faults of others and criticize them, or you can help and encourage them. I hope that your choice will be to help and encourage others. When we encourage and help others, we are showing God’s love. Show someone today how much you value them for who they are. Help and encouragement can make a big difference in a person’s life!

You can purchase Molly Burke's audiobook, It's Not What it Looks Like here.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Driving in Circles

An Arkie's Faith column from the August 8, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

The rough rocky road seemed to get narrower as we drove along. Even though it was August, the foliage was bright green, and the sides of the road were lush with green grass and flowers. It was a beautiful, unseasonably cool summer day. The forecast for the day was rain, but it was a lovely afternoon for a ride in Ouachita National Forest. The cloudy but rain-free skies along with temperatures in the ’70s made it a perfect day to be outdoors.

When we left the house that afternoon, we had no particular destination in mind. We just knew that we wanted to go for a drive in the forest. We drove out Hwy 375 to Shady and then headed west on forest service roads. As we drove over rough roads with many washed out areas from the heavy rains that we have had this year, we were not lost, we just weren’t exactly sure where we were. When we would come to an intersection, we would have to decide which way to go. I wasn’t sure about the last decision we had made. The road was getting worse, and grass was growing in the middle of the road. As we were deciding that we needed to turn around and go back the other way, we came to a place where a stream had completely washed out the road. There was no choice but to turn around.

We love exploring back roads and not necessarily know where we are going, but my wife was getting nervous. My daughter and her family were coming to our house from Louisiana, and my wife began to worry that we would not get home in time. When I looked at the time, I realized that she was probably right to be worried. After we turned around and retraced our path to the last intersection, we felt better about the road we were on. It started to look like a road that was being used more frequently than many of the roads we had been traveling. When we saw an electrical box beside the road, we knew that we were headed back to civilization. Before long we came to a home. We knew that we would soon come to a road out of the forest, but where were we. Would we be coming out in Vandervoort, in Cove, or Hatfield? We were so turned around that we had no idea.

To our surprise, we didn’t come out of the forest in any of those locations. When we reached a paved road, my wife said in surprise, “do you know where we are? We are at Bethesda Road.” We were just a couple of miles from our house. We had wandered around on forest service roads for two hours and had come back to where we started. Sometimes exploring a new road can be quite an adventure. When you are traveling a rural Arkansas road, you just don’t know where you will end up.

I think that Jesus liked country roads and mountains. In Matthew 5:1,2 (NIRV), we find Jesus teaching. “Jesus saw the crowds. So he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him. Then He began to teach them.” Christians often refer to the teaching Jesus did on that day as the sermon on the mount. As Jesus was teaching the people, he talked about roads. He said, “enter God’s kingdom through the narrow gate. The gate is large and the road is wide that leads to ruin. Many people go that way. But the gate is small and the road is narrow that leads to life. Only a few people find it.” Matthew 7:13,14 (NIRV)

In one of his most famous poems, Robert Frost wrote about roads. The poem starts with the line, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both and be one traveler, long I stood.” I know how he felt. When we were traveling on the forest service roads, and came to a fork in the road, we had to make a decision. Robert Frost ended his poem with these words; “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

As we go through life, following the most popular road is usually not the best choice. Following Jesus often goes against popular opinion. Following Jesus is to take the road less traveled. Taking the road less traveled doesn’t mean we prefer to go against what everyone else is doing to be different. It means we follow the narrow road because God calls us to do what is right.

Jesus tells us that most people want to follow a lifestyle without restrictions. But those people tend to be selfish, putting their desires ahead of anything else, and other people get hurt. That kind of life leads to self-destruction. Many lives, marriages, families, and communities have been harmed or even destroyed because people have insisted on following their own self-serving path.

One of the last songs that George Harrison recorded was a song titled “Any Road.” The chorus of the song says, “If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there.” His words are very true. They describe the kind of roads that I like to explore. I like to drive on them because I don’t know where I’m going. I like to explore new roads. When I see a road, I always wonder where it goes. Just like our driving adventure this weekend, sometimes I have been completely lost, but eventually, I made it home. It can be fun not knowing where you are going.

Gentle Reader, it can be fun to explore unknown roads on a Sunday afternoon drive, but it’s not a good plan for our spiritual lives. We should know where we are going. We should all have the same destination in mind. I hope that you know where you are going. Jesus told us that not just any road would take us there. Have you found the road that leads to life? Have you studied the map? The Bible is the roadmap for our lives. “Your word is like a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalms 119:105 (NCV)