Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Passing the Test

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 29, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Most people don't like to take tests. It makes them nervous. Some occupations such as nursing, law, civil service jobs, and many others, require passing a test before you can be licensed to work. Tests can create a lot of anxiety in people. Waiting to find out if you passed is very stressful.

Recently, a friend was stressed out while waiting for the day she would take the test required to be certified. Without the certification, she could not work in the field she had studied. Even though the worry about taking the test almost made her ill, when the day came, she passed it. 

I remember taking my driving test. I was driving a 1962 Chrysler. For the turn signals to work, you had to hold the turn signal lever in position because it wouldn’t stay if you didn’t. When I had to turn corners during the test, I held the turn signal lever in position with one hand while I steered with the other. When the test was over, the driving examiner took off points because I didn’t keep both hands on the wheel when I turned a corner. He didn’t notice that I was holding the turn signal lever in position with the other hand. I was afraid I wouldn't pass the exam, but after a lecture on the importance of keeping both hands on the wheel, he gave me a passing grade.

When I was in high school, I had a teacher who told us that if we had an A in the class, we wouldn’t have to take the final exam.  I wouldn’t say I liked taking finals, so I worked hard to get an A. On the Monday of finals week, the teacher posted the grades. I looked at the bulletin board and saw that I had an A-.  I was relieved.  I wouldn’t have to take the final exam. Then the teacher told me I would have to take the final exam because only those with an A were exempt and I had an A-. I argued that an A- was still an A but it didn’t do me any good. I still had to take the final exam. I was not happy.

Many Christians go through life like they are in school. They are always worried about their grades. They are concerned about making a passing grade. They spend their lives in anxiety about the outcome. They believe they cannot know if they are saved or lost! Many don't have that assurance of salvation.

The Bible has a lot to say on this topic. You can have the assurance of salvation. Jesus Himself gives assurance to those who believe in Him. In John 10:27,28 (NRSV) Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

While speaking to a group of people on the topic of assurance, I asked, “How many here are married? If you are, raise your hand.” Most of the hands in the audience went up. Then I asked a follow-up question, “How many of you don't know if you're married?” Not a single hand went up. Then I asked, “How do you know you are married?”

Just about everyone knows if they are married or not. A rare issue in the legal system might make someone unsure of their marital status, but most people know whether they are married.

We can be sure of our marital status, but can we know if we are saved? Indeed, we can know. In Philippians 4:7 (VOICE) Paul tells us that we can “know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus.” If we wonder every moment of every day what our score is on our final exam, we do not have peace. But God has promised his children peace. When Jesus was about to leave this earth, he told His disciples, “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” John 14:27 (NLT)

We can be sure of our marital status, but can we be sure what our marital status will be ten years from now? Now that’s a different question. In 2 Peter 1:10 (NLT), the Apostle Peter wrote, “Dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away.”

We can know that we are saved today, but only God knows the future. Only He knows whether we will fall away. But we can know in our heart whether we are in a saved condition right now. We need to know that.

Works-oriented Christians know that they don’t measure up. They know that Romans 6:23 (NKJV) tells us, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” They have a hard time believing that eternal life is a gift of God. They feel that they must score high on the final exam to achieve eternal life.

If we think perfect obedience is the test, we feel that God can’t save us every time we make a mistake. That doubt is intensified by the accusations made by Satan against us. Satan delights in making us doubt our salvation. On the other hand, we can delude ourselves by looking at our works with an overblown view of our own goodness, seeing righteousness in ourselves when there is none.

Gentle Reader, Jesus wants you to be saved. 2 Peter 3:9 (NCV) says, “God is being patient with you. He does not want anyone to be lost, but he wants all people to change their hearts and lives.” When you believe in Him and change your heart and life, Jesus wants you to know you are saved. In John 6:47 (NKJV), Jesus says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.”

Wednesday, November 22, 2023


My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 22, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

After years of leg and knee pain, I finally decided to have knee replacement surgery. My left knee had been in bad shape for a long time. Three years ago, my X-rays showed that it was bone on bone. At that time, my orthopedic surgeon told me the answer was a complete knee replacement. I resisted the idea, and he said to me that when it hurt bad enough, I would get it replaced. 

In early October, Dr. Hefley performed a total knee replacement on my left knee at the Arkansas Surgical Hospital. The morning after the surgery, the hospital’s physical therapist came into my room and told me it was time for therapy. After she helped me get out of bed, I fumbled with my hospital gown, trying to maintain at least a small amount of modesty.

As I walked down the hospital corridor with my walker, the physical therapist told me the goals for the session and then explained the importance of physical therapy after I went home. At the end of the corridor was an alcove with a couple of steps leading up to a small platform. She instructed me on the best way to step up onto the platform. I would need to master the skill before being released from the hospital.

After the step therapy, we walked back down the corridor towards my room. As we walked, the therapist explained the importance of physical therapy after knee replacement and told me what to expect. “During the first couple of weeks,” she said, “you will be working on things like bending your knee, stretching your knee straight, restoring normal walking, and doing exercises to help you move through the different stages of recovery.”

“As your therapy progresses,” she continued, “you will work on flexibility, range-of-motion, and muscle-strengthening exercises. The goal is not only to strengthen the knee but to slow the development of scar tissue that can reduce your range of motion. The most important aspect of your physical therapy will be range-of-motion exercises—active knee bending and straightening help to improve pain and swelling. Your physical therapist will safely guide you through exercises to restore your knee range of motion. Movement and flexibility are key to a good recovery.”

After going home from the hospital and starting physical therapy in Mena, it became evident how stiff and inflexible my knee was. I had a poor range of motion in my knee and was not able to bend it easily. Physical therapy and the stretching exercises that I did daily helped me become more flexible. After several weeks of treatment, my therapist was happy with the range of motion restored to my knee.

While doing the stretching exercises, I realized that while my legs are not very flexible, I have other issues with flexibility. My body may not be very flexible, but neither is my mind. We often refer to someone as stubborn or headstrong. In a more flattering way, we may refer to them as uncompromising, determined, or persistent. As Christians, we often see these traits as positive, and they can be. In 1 Corinthians 15:58 (ISV), Paul wrote, “Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, unmovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord.” I believe that the Bible is firm and unchangeable. It contains God’s truth and His principles. But sometimes, that belief can make me very inflexible. 

We may think that we must remain faithful to principles and convictions, regardless of the opinions of others. But many Christians with this mindset bully others or are perpetually angry because they do not like what is going on. I recently heard an acronym I want to adapt and use here. These people are cave people, that is, Christians Against Virtually Everything. There is a time to take a moral stand, but we should still be salt and light, and the only way to do that is to be flexible in how we see things.

Flexibility, the ability to quickly change directions and compromise when appropriate, is admirable. Think what would happen if an airplane pilot refused to be flexible and change altitude or direction when advised of a dangerous weather system. Or think about what could happen if car drivers refused to let other people merge into their lanes. Flexibility is necessary, but how should you decide when to be flexible and when to resist change? 

Maybe, like me, many of you suffer from inflexibility. We have figured out how to live our lives and feel that to be victorious Christians; we must be determined and uncompromising. The backbone of our beliefs becomes rigid rules and regulations. We are stubborn in our determination to control life’s course and outcome.

Often, I have tried to maintain control over my life instead of letting God be in control. I thought I figured out everything and knew how God needed to answer my prayers. Yet, life rarely works how I want it to or think it should. I am too inflexible. I like the answer to inflexibility given by the Christian author Susan Lenzkes. She says, “There is a cure. Each time life throws us a punch, we can do a deep knee bend, forcing our muscles of faith, hope, and understanding to stretch.” She goes on to say, “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be broken. No, that’s not one of Jesus’ Beatitudes, but it is an attitude that makes all the difference in your emotional and spiritual health.”

Gentle Reader, are you a flexible person? Spiritual flexibility comes from exercising our faith and trust in God, not from an unyielding belief. We must be accommodating and eliminate pride in our rigid rules and regulations. “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.” James 1:19,20 (NLT)

Inflexible Christians are not good witnesses to the world. Trillia Newbell explains it this way; “What is so strange to me is people believe that by fighting, they are being faithful. It’s hard to convince someone that they may need to be slow to speak and to tame their tongue if they think they’re right. And if they think they’re fighting for Jesus.” Don’t be a cave person. Make it your goal to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2023


My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 15, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

During the first part of 1993, our family built our new home. To save money, we would go to the building site every evening and clean up after the workers. Seeing the progress each day was exciting, even though it seemed painfully slow. 

Before the new house was completed, the house we were living in sold, and we needed a place to live while our new house was finished. My parents had an available rental house in Yocana, so we moved to the country. Our new home was nearing completion and would be ready to move into in a few weeks. We enjoyed living in the country, even if the long drive into town several times a day did get old.

The house on the hilltop overlooked the highway, and cows in the field behind the house stood at the fence and watched as we moved in. Before long, the excitement of living in a new home in the country wore off for my kids. There is nothing to do, they complained. My son would let us know that he was “bored, bored, bored, bored, bored.”

We didn't have satellite television because we would only be there for a few weeks. Our only entertainment was a VHS player, a small television, and a few VHS tapes. One of the movies we owned was the Disney film Newsies. My daughter, who was in the eighth grade, loved the movie. It seemed that she watched it every day. 

The movie Newsies is based on the true story of the Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York City. Thousands of homeless children try to make a living selling newspapers. Newsboy Jack "Cowboy" Kelly, played by Christian Bale, is a newsboy selling newspapers for Joseph Pulitzer and his paper, the New York World. The newsboys must purchase the newspapers for fifty cents per hundred and make money by selling them for a penny each.

Early in the film, Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst agree to raise the price of newspapers for purchase by the newsboys to sixty cents per hundred. Feeling they cannot bear the added cost, Jack organizes a strike with the aid of fellow newsie David. Along the way, the boys are aided by a newspaper reporter and hindered by the warden of “The Refuge,” a juvenile detention facility.  

Jack and the newsies gain the cooperation of rival newsboy groups from New York and Brooklyn to team up and strike against the big-shot newspaper owners. They eventually win their hard-fought demands after distributing a self-published newspaper flier and gaining the support of other non-union child workers around the city.

As I heard the music and dialogue from Newsies in the house almost daily for several weeks, the story became embedded in my brain. After our new home was finished and we moved in, Newsies faded into the background as we now had many more cable television options. But I never forgot the story.

A few weeks ago, the girl next door invited us to see the Mena High School production of the musical Newsies. She was excited about her role in the play and wanted us to see the show. I hadn’t thought about the Newsies for quite a few years, but the memories of our Yocana house and Christian Bale singing and dancing as the VHS tape of Newsies played almost daily came flooding back.

As the play began, there was a good crowd in the audience at the Mena High School Performing Arts Center. The energetic ensemble cast kept the crowd entertained as the story progressed. I was impressed with the quality performances by the young cast. 

The musical was light-hearted and entertaining, with lively and spirited choreography. But as I reflected on the performance, I realized that the underlying true story was anything but light-hearted. The complexities of the newsies’ struggle could never be explored in a movie or a musical. The historical reality was one of homelessness and child exploitation. 

As I tried to put myself back in 1899, I wondered how I would have seen the situation. As a businessman living in a lovely home, how would I have viewed the rag-tag children standing up to respected community leaders and causing trouble? Would I have been able to see the injustice of their situation?

God’s view of injustice is clear: he hates and renounces it. Yet injustice can be found in almost every area of human relationships. So, what should the Christian do when he sees injustice? Isaiah 1:17 (VOICE) says, “Learn to do good; commit yourselves to seeking justice. Make right for the world’s most vulnerable— the oppressed, the orphaned, the widow.”

Unfortunately, I don’t see much of Christianity following this council. Often, Christians side with the oppressors or are the oppressors. Jesus called out the religious leaders of his time for neglecting justice.  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the Law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” Matthew 23:23 (NASB)

Seeking justice is central to understanding Jesus. In his teaching and healing work, Jesus ministered to the sick, the poor, foreigners, and outcasts. He overturned unjust social structures between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak, and more.

Micah 6:8 (NIRV) tells us: “The Lord has shown you what is good. He has told you what he requires of you. You must act with justice. You must love to show mercy. And you must be humble as you live in the sight of your God.” Jesus’ life teaches us that these three characteristics mentioned in Micah 6:8 should be embodied and reflected in our lives as we relate to our neighbors.

Gentle Reader, Jesus is telling His people today to walk humbly, act with justice, show mercy, and love all of humanity. Will we listen to His voice and instruction? “Open your mouth for those who cannot speak, and for the rights of those who are left without help. Open your mouth. Be right and fair in what you decide. Stand up for the rights of those who are suffering and in need.” Proverbs 31:8,9 (NLV)

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Lost Valley

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 8, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Abraham Clark settled near the Buffalo River in Arkansas sometime in the 1830s or 40s. Records from those early days in Arkansas are scarce. He built a small cabin near a tributary of the Buffalo. Families who settled in the Buffalo River region had to work hard to make it. The land could provide food, but it wasn’t easy to make money. Some families grew cotton and some harvested plants like goldenseal, ginseng, sassafras, and slippery elm to sell to dealers. The rugged terrain made it difficult to move goods.

We don’t know much about Abraham Clark, but the tributary of the Buffalo River, where he first settled, is named for him. This intermittent stream, called Clark Creek, plunges 1,200 feet in the 3-mile stretch from its source to its confluence with the Buffalo River.

It was one of Abraham’s descendants who guided a group of government surveyors up the creek in 1898. He led them to an enormous rock shelter. Deep in its dry interior, they noticed bushel upon bushel of tiny corn cobs left centuries earlier by Native Americans. The locals named the rock formation Cob Cave. 

In 1931, archeologist Samuel C. Dellinger led an expedition from the University of Arkansas to the cave, looking for Native American artifacts. He spent three weeks digging in the deepest section of the Cob Cave. Dellinger and his team uncovered many corn cobs, and an assortment of gourds, sunflower seeds, and woven baskets. The artifacts had been preserved due to the site’s arid conditions. The collections, made possible by a grant from the Carnegie Foundation, are still used today by researchers examining the food and fiber practices of Native Americans.

In the spring of 1945, Arkansas state publicist Avantus Green arranged for a National Geographic staff photographer, Willard Culver, to visit the Buffalo River area. Green had heard rumors of Cob Cave and decided to take his guest to the remote location. Not only did they find Cob Cave after a strenuous hike, but they also found a series of waterfalls beyond the rock shelter and another cavern with an underground cascade. Even though National Geographic decided not to use any of Culver’s photographs taken that day, Green was impressed with the area’s spectacular beauty and named it The Lost Valley.

Green’s press releases about The Lost Valley caught the attention of Margaret Maunder, a feature writer for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. In April 1946, she traveled to Little Rock, where she met Green and Harold Foxhall, an Arkansas state geologist. The trio drove to Harrison and then to the valley of Clark Creek the following day. The Sunday, June 2, 1946, edition of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat included a full-page article describing the adventure, along with six photographs.

The first paragraph of Margaret Maunder’s article read, “Oddly enough, in a country combed by the wandering footpaths of 140,000,000 people, there still exist spots of rugged yet ethereal beauty, virtually unknown to present-day Americans. One of these is the newly discovered Lost Valley in the verdant, rocky wilderness of northwestern Arkansas, scarcely more than 325 miles from the heart of St. Louis. Here, as recently as one year ago, mighty waterfalls cascaded over cliff-like palisades as tall as 40-story buildings and pounded on ancient slabs of pure marble many feet below all without their thundering roar touching the eardrums or their sun-glistening beauty catching the eye of modern man.”

In the early 1950s, students from the University of Arkansas began making the arduous trip from Fayetteville to explore this special place they kept hearing about. One of them was Kenneth L. Smith, who, in the summer of 1958, wrote two articles on Lost Valley for the Sunday Magazine published by the Arkansas Gazette. 

In 1960, commercial logging within sight of Cob Cave galvanized public support for protecting the property. In 1966, Gov. Orval Faubus announced a 200-acre purchase establishing Lost Valley State Park. In 1973, this park was given to the National Park Service for inclusion in the Buffalo National River.

Today, Lost Valley is a popular destination with an easy-to-moderate trail leading to Cob Cave and Eden Falls. The round-trip hike of a little over 2 miles is jam-packed with fascinating photo ops: caves, springs, waterfalls, bluffs, a rock shelter, and a natural bridge. When Margaret Maunder described Lost Valley as “one of the most scenically beautiful spots between the two oceans,” she wasn’t exaggerating.  

I have made the beautiful hike along Clark’s Creek to Cob Cave several times. I spent last weekend in the Buffalo River area. We had family visiting from Oregon and wanted to show them some of the beauty that Arkansas has to offer. The weekend was rainy and gloomy, but we didn’t let the weather dampen our spirits.

On Sunday, the group decided to hike the Lost Valley Trail in the rain. I couldn’t do the hike because of my recent knee replacement surgery, but those who went had a great time, even in the rain. They took flashlights with them so they could explore the cave. I’m so thankful that this beautiful location is now easily accessible to so many. A friend told me, “I guess if they named it, it isn't really lost anymore.”

There was a time when the Bible wasn’t easily accessible. Only a select few could read it. The Church discouraged people from reading the Bible on their own. This policy intensified through the Middle Ages and later, with the addition of a prohibition forbidding translation of the Bible into native languages. The Council of Toulouse (1229 C.E.) declared, "We prohibit also that the laity should be permitted to have the books of the Old or New Testament; but we most strictly forbid their having any translation of these books."

Although much of the world now has easy access to the Bible, in over 50 countries, it is either illegal to own or challenging to get Bibles. I’m thankful that I can easily purchase Bibles and access many translations for free over the internet.  

Gentle Reader, if you are looking for a beautiful hike in Arkansas, I recommend the Lost Valley Trail. And if you are looking for hidden gems of wisdom, I recommend The Bible. God says, “Listen to what I say, and treasure my commands. Tune your ears to wisdom and concentrate on understanding. Cry out for insight and ask for understanding. Search for them as you would for silver; seek them like hidden treasures.” Proverbs 2:1-4 (NLT) 

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Poor Vision

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 1, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Four-year-old Molly is at her neighbor Nicole’s house. She likes to go with her big brother when he plays with the neighbor boys. And Nicole loves having 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 she has poor vision, but no one knows she is night blind. She has already had one surgery and many exploratory tests, but people think 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 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, 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. Bullying was part of Molly's life from first grade until she graduated from high school. One day, Molly’s mom was picking her up from school. As they walked 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 told 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 sight she had. During her high school years, Molly suffered from crippling depression. Still, with very supportive parents and counselors, she was able to overcome and 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? What? 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.”

In Ecclesiastes 4:9,10 (NLT), King Solomon wrote, “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 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 support and inspire 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!