Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Eclipsed

My An Arkie's Faith column from the April 10, 2024, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

As we drove up the mountainside to my cousin’s house to attend an eclipse viewing party, clouds filled the sky. “Oh my,” I thought; “After several days of back-and-forth weather forecasts, I thought today was going to provide a cloud-free sky for viewing the eclipse.” 

We set up on the deck with a great view of the sky. The sun was almost peeking through the clouds, and then it disappeared. I put on my eclipse-viewing glasses and looked toward the sun. Occasionally, I could see the shape of the sun through the clouds. It was twenty minutes until the eclipse began. Hopefully, the clouds will clear by then.

A few minutes later, the sky cleared, and not a cloud was near the sun. I sat back in the reclining chair and put on my eclipse-viewing glasses. Excitement built in our group as the reality set in that the eclipse was beginning. When the first tiny black crescent appeared on the sun, everyone quieted as they focused on the sight before them.

After an hour of watching the black disc march across the face of the sun, our excitement built again as we prepared for totality. Suddenly, the tiny crescent disappeared, and there was a single, spectacular, bright point of light. We took off our viewing glasses and looked directly at the sun. Circling the blackness of the Moon, we saw a brilliant light, the Sun’s corona. Totality had begun!

My first view of totality was mind-blowing: excellent, beautiful, delicate, fantastic, and powerful. It left me with no words to describe what I was seeing. The air temperature dropped noticeably, and the sky darkened. A soft red glow like a sunset hovered over the mountains in the distance. The sun was a perfect circle of iridescent white light around a dark marble. 

Eclipse totality is magical. It was an ethereal experience, like seeing a window into another dimension. The moon's blackness was circled by the corona’s beautiful gossamer plumes of iridescent light. Jupiter and Venus appeared in the sky near the sun. The light on the horizon took on a lovely, soft yellow-orange color. 

I watched in awe, trying to record what I was seeing and experiencing mentally. But all too soon, the moment of third contact came, with a burst of light as the sun broke back through. We put on our eclipse-viewing glasses. I took a moment to soak in what I had just experienced. 

Watching the last half of the eclipse was fun, but there was no anticipation. The experience of totality was over, and I will never experience it again. After such a wonderful experience, I felt terrible for the many naysayers I have seen posted on social media over the past few days. One that resonated with me was the post, “I’m not sure how many eclipses there have been in my lifetime. I’m 74, and I fail to see how anyone can get excited about the planets doing what they do. It’s just another, and it will carry on happening occasionally.”

While total solar eclipses occur somewhere on Earth about every 18 months, they are an unusual event in the U.S. The next solar eclipse with a path crossing the U.S. will happen on Aug. 12, 2045, and will span from California to Florida.

On April 8th, large numbers of people across North America watched the eclipse. Because of the attention the eclipse received from the news media and the information that went viral on social media, it is predicted that more people observed and photographed this eclipse than any other eclipse in history.

Even though many people viewed the great American eclipse of 2024, I know of a celestial event that will have many more viewers. Shortly before Jesus was crucified, “His disciples came to him privately and said, ‘Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will signal your return and the end of the world?’” Matthew 24:3 (NLT) After giving His disciples many signs and much information, Jesus told them, “And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” Matthew 24:30 (NLT)

No event in the history of the world has been more anticipated than the return of Jesus Christ to this earth. Every generation of believers has believed that Jesus would return. When He was on this earth, Jesus promised His disciples that He would return. He told them, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” John 14:1-3 (NKJV)

This promise was reaffirmed when Jesus ascended to heaven. He had gathered His disciples and given them some final instructions. In Acts 1:9-11 (NLT), we read, “After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!’”

From that moment until now, those who believe in Jesus have been waiting for the world’s most astounding celestial event. It will be the most viewed event in the history of the planet. “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him.” Revelation 1:7 (NKJV)

Gentle Reader, Jesus is returning to this earth to reward His people just as He promised and take them to the beautiful home He has prepared for them. My prayer is that on that day, you will be among the people who say, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” Isaiah 25:9 (KJV)


Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Ninetieth Birthday

My An Arkie's Faith column from the April 3, 2024, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The wind buffeted the little Maverick pickup as we drove through Western Kansas on Interstate 70. My wife and I were on our way to Denver, Colorado, to attend my brother-in-law's ninetieth birthday. The road seemed to stretch on forever as the wind continued to blow. When we crossed the state line between Kansas and Colorado, a sign read, "Welcome to Colorful Colorado." 

I surveyed the landscape around me and saw nothing but brown, tan, and beige. There was nothing colorful that I could see. The Eastern Colorado plains are among the most sparsely populated areas in the continental United States. The dry grasslands stretched before me as far as the eye could see. Occasionally, there would be a farmstead with a few trees around it to break up the monotonous tan of the dry grasslands.

But I knew that three hours down the road, rugged mountains and city congestion spread out along Colorado's front range. Before long, we would be meeting family and preparing for a weekend of birthday activities. 

The birthday weekend started Friday night with a party at The Old Spaghetti Factory. Over forty family members from as far away as Oregon and Arkansas met for a fun evening celebrating Duane's milestone ninetieth birthday. It was great to visit with family we hadn't seen for some time. The family reconvened for a wonderful meal at Vista Ridge Academy in Erie, Colorado, on Saturday afternoon. 

Spending time with family and celebrating Duane's ninetieth birthday was the perfect way for me to spend Easter weekend. Easter morning, I reflected on the final week of Jesus' life. One of the stories that I remember from that week is Jesus crying for the city of Jerusalem. If He wept over the city of Jerusalem, can you imagine how He is crying over the world today?

When I was growing up, my family attended a small church in Fort Lupton, Colorado. The small church shared a pastor with another church. Sometimes, when the pastor wasn't there for the mid-week prayer service, those in attendance would take turns reciting a favorite text. Being a smart aleck, I thought it was amusing to say that my favorite verse was John 11:35. "Jesus wept."

As I have grown older, it has become a favorite verse of mine. The simple words "Jesus wept" may reveal as much about Jesus as any words ever written about Him. I'm sure that you remember Lazarus's story. When he became ill, his sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, "Lord, the one you love is very sick." Jesus chose to wait until Lazarus had died before He came. We read the story in John 11:33-35 (NLT). "When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within Him, and He was deeply troubled. 'Where have you put him?' He asked them. They told him, 'Lord, come and see.' Then Jesus wept."

Why did Jesus cry? Was it because of his love for Lazarus? He knew Lazarus would be alive in a few minutes. Jesus was crying because his friends were sad. Their sorrow moved him. Jesus is painfully aware of your suffering. Psalms 56:8 (NLT) tells us, "You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book."

A few days before he died, "Jesus came near Jerusalem. He saw the city and began to cry for it." Luke 19:41 (ICB): Why was Jesus crying? Was He crying for a city? Luke 13:34 (NLT) gives us some insight into this story. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God's messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn't let me." Jesus was crying for the people of Jerusalem. He had come to save them, but most were unwilling to be saved. Even though they had rejected him and his salvation, He had compassion for them.

If we follow Jesus' example, how should we, as Christians, relate to sinners? We should have compassion. It seems to me that many Christians have lost their compassion. Looking around, I don't often see Christians dealing with others with understanding. I am more apt to see hate than compassion.

Consider a few hot-button topics and see your response toward the following groups. LGTBQ, Muslims, Adulterers, Abortionists, Thieves, Drug Dealers, Illegal Aliens, Prostitutes, Atheists. Do you have compassion for them, or is your response something different? Can you hate someone while you are praying for their salvation? Should we hate someone that Jesus died for because he loves them?

Following the example of Jesus and having compassion for sinners is very liberating. It allows us to leave the judging up to God while practicing the self-sacrificing love He demonstrated on the cross. It will enable us to hold ourselves to a high moral standard without feeling that we must hate those who do not see things the way we do. 

Daniel Darling writes, "We must not allow our protest against values with which we disagree to overshadow our responsibility to show Christ's love for the world. It may very well be the person who offends us the most whom God is in the process of saving. And our gracious response might be the bridge that the Spirit uses to usher him from death to life."

A trendy catchphrase in Christianity is, "What Would Jesus Do?" WWJD is found on jewelry, emblazoned on bumper stickers, and has entered popular culture. The only way to determine what Jesus would do is by learning what Jesus did. Romans 5:8 (NKJV) says, "God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

Gentle Reader, Jesus cried for a city of sinners who rejected him. He asked his Father to forgive those who tortured and killed him. We should love the sinner as Christ loves us. After all, we are sinners too. Holding a sign that says "God Hates You" is not an effective way to witness. Let's follow the example of Jesus, love sinners, and hate sin in our own lives. John, the disciple that Jesus loved, tells us in 1 John 4:8 (NKJV) that "he who does not love does not know God, for God is love." 


Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Kerr Nature Center

My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 27, 2024, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

After a few days of rain, overcast skies, and drizzle, I awoke to sunshine and a beautiful blue sky. As I sat on my deck and looked out over the grass that was turning green and my dogwood tree in bloom, my phone buzzed with the notification of a text. 

I read the text from my cousin, “Do you want to go Jeeping.” “Sure,” I answered.

My cousin picked me up in his Jeep, and we headed out for an adventure. We decided to drive the Talimena Scenic Byway and, on our way back to Mena, drive down Polk Road 100. The views from Talimena Drive were spectacular, and the clear skies and low humidity combined for excellent visibility.

As we drove the Oklahoma portion of the drive, we entered the Winding Stair National Recreation Area. Shortly after, we came to the Kerr Nature Center. We pulled into the center and parked. It had been a long time since I had been there. But memories flooded my mind as I looked out over the flowering trees and the center's impressive pavilion.

When my kids were young, the Kerr Arboretum, as it was known then, was one of their favorite places to go. Many weekends, we would drive to the Arboretum and spend an afternoon hiking the trails. The trails were easy for the kids and just under a mile long. 

We got out of the Jeep and walked towards the pavilion. Barricades prevented us from entering. When we looked up inside, we saw rotted support beams. It made me sad to see how the building had deteriorated. 

The nature center is named for Robert S. Kerr. Kerr was the most influential politician in Oklahoma for many years. He was the first governor of Oklahoma to be born in the state. He was a three-term Senator and ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1952. A powerful and influential Senator, he was a close friend of President John F. Kennedy.

In her article, A Wonderful Life: Remembering Robert S. Kerr, Maura McDermott wrote. “Kerr used his political power for conservation. He sponsored bills making these water projects possible, not only in Oklahoma but across the nation. He also co-authored the Pollution Control Act, which provided money for adequate sewage treatment and water pollution research.

For him, conservation equaled national security. How could America compete if she had to feed a growing population on eroding farmland? How could she meet the housing needs of her people if timberland was vanishing or provide pure water to them if rivers were polluted?

In the ‘50s, Kerr had discovered the wild beauty of the Poteau River Valley and the Ouachita Mountains in southeastern Oklahoma. The ridge tops and south-facing slopes of these mountains were originally heavily forested with shortleaf pine. Hardwoods such as sweetgums, oaks, and maples thrived on moist, northern slopes and along rivers.”

Robert S. Kerr’s love of nature was evident to anyone who knew him. Although he passed away in 1963, I'm sure he would have been pleased when President Ronald Reagan designated Winding Stair National Recreation Area in 1988. The area comprises 26,445 acres and includes numerous campgrounds, an equestrian camp, an eighty-five-acre lake, and many hiking trails.

As my cousin and I walked the trails at Kerr Nature Center, I was captivated by the forest's beauty and stillness. The quiet was broken by the calls of a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers, who seemed to be answering each other. 

Nature can bring me peace in a way nothing else does, even if it is just sitting on my deck looking at the trees and the creek below my house. One of the reasons I love living in this area is that I can be in the national forest surrounded by nature in just a few minutes and feel that I am many miles from civilization. Or I can be atop a mountain ridge with amazing views stretching for miles.

Spending time in nature has profoundly affected my spiritual life. Something about a towering tree, a colorful wildflower, or a rushing waterfall reminds me that my God is incredible! The more time I spend in God’s wonderful creation, the better I know Him. In Psalms 19:1,2 (NLT), David wrote, “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known.” Nature can show us God’s beauty, glory, power, presence, and creativity if we pay attention. In Romans 1:20 (NLT), the Bible tells us that “ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”

I enjoy studying about God in His book, The Bible, but that isn’t the only way to learn about God. One of my favorite ways to see God is in nature. His creation is for us to enjoy and is a way for God to show us his excellent work. I feel so blessed to be surrounded by the beauty of our world. Every little detail is stunning and serves as a reminder of all God is capable of.

Gentle Reader, I love being outside and awed by God’s creation. In our technologically advanced world, we often relegate God to an accessory that improves our lives. We’ve lost sight of God’s majesty. Looking for God in nature helps us understand his majesty. David wrote of God’s majesty in 1 Chronicles 29:11 (VOICE): “All that is great and powerful and glorious and victorious and majestic is Yours, O Eternal One. Indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth belongs to You.”

More than 60 years ago, A.W. Tozer wrote, “With our loss of the sense of majesty has come the further loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine Presence. We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence.” The next time you are out experiencing God’s majestic creation, whether here in the beautiful Ouachita Mountains or some other place of natural beauty, wrap yourself in the feeling of God’s majesty and presence.



Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Momma's Memories

My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 20, 2024, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

While cleaning the garage, I found a notepad in my Momma’s handwriting. Before she passed away, she had started writing down a few stories from her childhood. When Daddy was going through Momma's things after she passed away, he found this notepad and gave it to me. I was happy to see the notepad because I had misplaced it, and it had been a few years since I had seen it. There were only four handwritten pages, but I noticed a theme connecting the stories. 

I want to share a few of those stories with you. Momma grew up in California during the Great Depression. Her family had moved to California from Michigan to find work. She was eight or nine when her family moved back to Michigan.

Momma wrote in her notepad, “In Carmel, California, we lived in a stone house with a stone wall around the property. One day, we were left alone and told to stay in the yard. Dot and I were at the end of the driveway when a car came by. Dot picked up some gravel and threw it at the car. The man stopped the car and told us he was going to call the police.

I took Dot into the house and made her get under the bed. When our folks came home, I wanted to make sure they wouldn’t let the police take Dot away.”

On another page, she wrote, “While we were living in Bonsall, California, Dot and I went to the neighbors. When we were called home, we didn’t go right away. Daddy came after us. I ran ahead, and Daddy spanked Dot’s legs all the way home.”

I want to share one last story that she wrote. “One day, I slammed the door, and Mommy made me sit and wait for Daddy to get home and punish me. 

I was told that if I was unhappy at home, I should leave. I walked down the road a ways but came back and stood outside the door. I asked my mother what I would eat, what I would wear, and where I would sleep. She told me that would be my problem. So I decided home was the place to stay.”

I felt sad as I read the stories. I missed my Momma, but that wasn’t why I felt sad. I was heartsick that my Momma’s childhood memories seemed to all have the common theme of fear and punishment. 

Unfortunately, Christians often view their Heavenly Father through the same lens of fear and punishment. Many people see God as someone who will treat anyone who is against Him with terrible cruelty. Some Christian writers and speakers spend a lot of time focusing on the wrath of God and how He will torture sinners. I recently read an article by John Burton titled, "Is it Time for Hell Fire Preaching Again?" In the article, he stated, "We need hellfire preachers to emerge and announce to the church and the world the reality of their situation and the measure of God's wrath and judgment that is coming. Contrary to popular belief, a very real revelation of hell, of torment, is needed to draw people to the Lover of their souls."

I'm afraid I have to disagree with the idea that a very real revelation of hell, of torment, is needed to draw people to God. Instead, I want to lift up a gentle God. In Matthew 11:29 (NCV), Jesus describes himself this way, “Accept my teachings and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives.” Why would Jesus describe himself as gentle? We find the key in 1 John 4:18 (NKJV), “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.”

I’m not saying that there are no consequences. There is a judgment. Galatians 6:7-8 (NIV) tells us, "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life." But 2 Peter 3:9 (NKJV) tells us that God “is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." 

Does God use fear as a tactic to lead us to repent? Many Christian preachers and writers use fear. Fear spills over into our outreach efforts. We feel that we must warn the world of judgment, the Second Coming, and hell. Shouldn’t it rather be our privilege to announce to the world the Good News that Jesus is almost here? We can all be ready for that because of what He’s already done before we were born. If we choose Him daily, we have nothing to fear from judgment and hell.

Undoubtedly, the world needs to come to repentance, but does God use fear to motivate us? The Bible says in Romans 2:4(NASB), "Do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?" What leads us to repentance?  Is it fear?  No, we are led to repentance by the kindness of God. When we experience God’s kindness and feel his love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness, we want to love him. When we love God, we want to please him; we want Him to live in us and work through us.

Seeing God’s kindness towards us makes us sorry for our actions that hurt Him. It leads us to repentance. It doesn’t lead us to fear Him. Jesus doesn’t want us to fear Him. He wants to be our friend.

In John 15:15 (AMP), Jesus says, “I do not call you servants any longer, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you My friends, because I have revealed to you everything that I have heard from My Father.” A servant is afraid of his master, but a real friendship should not involve fear. Jesus wants to be our friend and to dispel our fears. He wants to cast out fear.

Gentle Reader, God doesn’t want you to fear Him. He wants to save you. Do you see God as a harsh, demanding, cruel God or a loving God? Psalms 86:15 (NKJV) says, “But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.” Do you see God as a gentle, compassionate, and gracious God? A God who wants to save you. I hope so!


Wednesday, March 13, 2024

The Doctor's Coupe

My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 13, 2024, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

As I was visiting with a long-time car collector friend, he told me that he was going to sell his 1926 Ford Model T Doctor’s Coupe. I had a couple of cars that he was interested in and wanted to know if I would be interested in making a trade. I told him that I wasn’t interested in Model T’s. They were too old for me, and I knew nothing about them.

A few days later, he posted the Doctor’s Coupe on Facebook Messenger. When I saw the photos, I fell in love with the car. I had never seen a Model T coupe before. I decided to call my friend and see if we could make a deal. I made him an offer, and the Model T Doctor’s Coupe was mine.

A few days later, my friend delivered the Model T to my shop. He gave me a quick driving lesson after driving the car off the trailer. Model Ts are different from modern vehicles in the way they drive. On the floor are three pedals, just like the manual transmission cars of today. But the pedals serve very different functions. 

The left pedal is the clutch on the cars I am used to driving. When you push on the clutch, the car’s transmission disengages from the motor. But on a Model T, you press hard on the left pedal, bands tighten on the transmission, and the car moves forward in low gear. When you have built enough speed, you let off the left pedal, and the car shifts into high gear. This car has only two speeds forward.  Push down for low, and lift for high. 

On the right-hand side, you have a conventional brake pedal. When you want to stop, you step on it, just like in a modern car. The only difference is the location of the pedal. In the vehicles that I am used to driving, the right pedal is the gas pedal that controls the engine's speed. But on a model T, the right pedal engages a brake band on the outside of the transmission and slows the car.  The brakes on a Model T are weak, and you must be very careful when driving.

Now, can you guess what the center pedal is for? When you want to back up, you step on the center pedal, and the car backs up. The dual-purpose, hand-operated Emergency Brake and Clutch Release are also located on the floor to the driver's left. It is pulled back toward the driver and serves as the parking brake. But pushing the handle halfway into a vertical position puts the car into Neutral, essential for stopping and reversing.  Moving the handle toward the driver’s feet puts the Model T in top gear.

Modern drivers will not be used to two controls on the steering wheel. These two levers are positioned under the steering wheel. This one on the left is the spark advance, retard in the up position, advance down. On the other side is the hand throttle. The Model T has no accelerator on the floor; instead, the engine speed is controlled by this hand throttle. As you move it down, the engine goes faster and faster.

After driving around at my shop for a few minutes, I was ready to try the Model T on the highway. I needed gas in the fuel tank and headed for the nearest gas station. The highway heading into town from my shop has a fairly steep incline. The Model T struggled to make it up the hill as I mashed down on the low-gear pedal. I chugged along at around five miles an hour. 

When I reached the gas station, I opened the flap on the cowl and removed the gas cap. When I could see the gas nearing the top of the tank, I put the gas nozzle back on the pump, replaced the gas cap, and got back in the Model T. I was still nervous while driving. The controls were so different, and the little car was so slow that I worried about the traffic passing me at highway speeds. 

That evening, I watched many YouTube videos explaining how the Model T transmission and pedals worked. My new purchase intrigued me, and I wanted to learn all I could about it. I was also fascinated by the tremble coils the Model T uses in its ignition system. 

As I was getting ready for bed, a thought suddenly came to my mind. I didn't pay for the gas when I drove the Model T to the gas station and filled the tank. I am used to using a credit card for my gas purchases, but the station nearest my shop doesn’t have card readers at the pump. As I thought about it, I clearly remembered driving off without paying. 

I didn’t sleep well all night, tossing and turning, knowing I had not paid for my gas. First thing in the morning, I drove to the gas station to pay for the gas. I was embarrassed and apologetic as I walked into the station and told them what had happened. I felt like a thief, even though it had been unintentional.

I thought about the passage in Leviticus 5:17(NCV), “If a person sins and does something the Lord has commanded not to be done, even if he does not know it, he is still guilty. He is responsible for his sin.” I wondered, can we be guilty for sinful responses that seem to happen to us automatically? Can we consider sin voluntary if it is not consciously chosen? What if I unintentionally drive off without paying for my gas?

As I was paying for the gas, I had the assurance of God’s forgiveness. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 (ESV)

Gentle Reader, God has promised to forgive us if we confess our sins. Part of confession is making things right. I hold on to the promise found in Hebrews 10:22 (NCV): Let us come near to God with a sincere heart and a sure faith because we have been made free from a guilty conscience, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.”



Wednesday, March 6, 2024

The Rearview Mirror

My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 6, 2024, issue of The Polk County Pulse.


As a windshield installer, one of the things that I am often asked to do is glue the rearview mirror back onto a windshield when it has fallen off.  

One day, a friend of mine came by my shop. “My rearview mirror fell off my Bronco’s windshield. Can you glue it back on,” he asked. I assured him I could and got the rearview mirror adhesive kit off the shelf. After removing the mirror from the windshield bracket, I carefully cleaned and prepped the windshield and the bracket. I used the two-part adhesive and activator to reattach the bracket to the windshield. After the adhesive cured for a few minutes, I reattached the mirror to the windshield.

A few days later, my friend returned his Bronco to the shop. “The rearview mirror has fallen off again,” he said. I glued the bracket back on the windshield and reattached the mirror. I could never figure out the issue with his windshield, but over the time he owned the Bronco, I reattached the rearview mirror four times. The Bronco’s rearview mirror became a running joke with us, and he still gives me a hard time.

Have you ever driven a car without a rearview mirror? It can be uncomfortable. Why do cars have a rearview mirror? Sometimes, we need to know what is behind us.

Do we need a spiritual rearview mirror? Yes, we need to know what is behind us. When Moses presented the Feast of Unleavened Bread to his people, he said, “Remember this day, the day you left Egypt. You were slaves in that land, but the Lord with his great power brought you out of it.” Exodus 13:3 (NCV)

We need to look back and see what God has done for us in the past. It gives us something to base our belief on. God wants us to remember. The word remember is used 230 times in the New King James Version of the Bible.

Psalms 105:5 (VOICE) says, “Remember the wonderful things He has done, His miracles and the wise decisions He has made.” Just like a glance in your car's rearview mirror can put your mind at ease, remembering what God has done for us is very reassuring.

A rearview mirror is excellent for checking out what is happening behind you, but there is something that a rearview mirror isn't good for. Would you want to be on the road with me if I spent all my time looking in the rearview mirror? That would be very dangerous. Spending all our time in the past is also dangerous in our spiritual lives.

In Philippians 3:12-14 (NLT), Paul wrote,” I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

Paul says the first step in pressing forward is forgetting what is behind.  We are to remember what God has done for us in the past, but we are to forget our own past. The past can be a terrible enemy.   John MacArthur said about Paul's statement in Philippians 3, "Churches are full of spiritual cripples, paralyzed by the grudges, bitterness, sins, and tragedies of the past.”

Writer Max Lucado likens holding a grudge to being in quicksand. When we have a grudge, we can't seem to get out of its grasp. The more we think about and struggle with it, the deeper we sink. I think the only way we can get ourselves out of the quicksand of holding a grudge is through the power of God. In Ephesians 4:26,27 (NLT), Paul writes, “Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

Our conflict with the devil is hard enough without us intentionally giving him a mighty foothold.  Don’t look in the rearview mirror at all the wrongs done to you.

The Bible makes it clear that Christians should forgive, not hold grudges. In Matthew 6:14-15 (NCV), Jesus says, “If you forgive others for their sins, your Father in heaven will also forgive you for your sins. But if you don’t forgive others, your Father in heaven will not forgive your sins.”

Can forgiveness change the past? No. What will forgiveness do? It sets us free from the past so we can move into the future. 

Sometimes, I think that accepting forgiveness is the only thing harder than forgiving. When I was growing up in Colorado, my pastor was Pastor George. I still remember his teaching on the scripture 1 John 1:9 (KJV). “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 became my favorite verse.

Over the years, I have come to realize that there is a problem with this verse. The problem is not with the verse but that many Christians don’t believe it. They say they believe, but their actions show they don’t feel forgiven.

In Isaiah 43:25 (NASB), God tells us, “I alone, am the one who wipes out your wrongdoings for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.” David wrote in Psalms 103:12 (ISV), “As distant as the east is from the west, that is how far he has removed our sins from us.” And Micah 7:19 (NIRV) says, “You will completely wipe out the evil things we’ve done. You will throw all our sins into the bottom of the sea.”

When you are forgiven, God wipes out your sins; He has removed them as far as the East is from the West and thrown them into the bottom of the sea. Don’t be looking in your rearview mirror for your sins.  

Gentle Reader, we must learn how to use our rearview mirror properly. We need to look back at how God has led in our lives and how he has blessed us. But don’t look back at our sins that God has promised to forgive as we forgive those who have sinned against us. 


Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Erfurt, Germany

My An Arkie's Faith column from the February 28, 2024, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Someone who knew I had traveled to many places recently asked me a question. They wanted to know my favorite destination I would recommend visiting. That was a difficult question because many areas have left a lasting impression. The answer to that question might change from day to day, but the answer I gave that day was Erfurt, Germany.  

I still remember my first impressions of Erfurt. The tour bus drove down the narrow cobblestone street and stopped in front of an old church. Our tour guide, Bernd, told us that the church was St. Augustine's Church, built over 700 years ago. In 1277, Augustinian Hermits started to build St. Augustine's Church and the monastery complex. He said, "We will spend the weekend inside the historic walls and rooms where monks, including Martin Luther, once lived and prayed." 

Our tour had arranged for us to stay at the Augustinerkloster in Erfurt, Germany. It's a working Lutheran church and cloister used as a conference center with 51 visitor rooms. As I walked toward my room, I soaked in the history of the place and tried to imagine what it would have been like to live here as a monk over five hundred years ago.

After settling into the room, I headed out to explore the old town of Erfurt. The area has been inhabited for thousands of years, but no one knows precisely how old the city is. The earliest written records of Erfurt were from 742 A.D. when a diocese was established there.

German writer Arnold Zweig described Erfurt's charming old quarter as a "picture book of German history." Somehow, the medieval city center emerged relatively unscathed from World War II, after which it became stuck in the strange cocoon of East German communism for half a century. Because of this, Erfurt has a surprising time-capsule quality. Walking through the jumble of narrow alleys and open squares, I tried to visualize the same places during medieval times. 

The picturesque beauty of the Krämerbrücke, or Merchants Bridge, struck me. It's the oldest secular building in town and the longest-inhabited bridge in Europe. Half-timbered houses flank a beautiful cobblestone street. The bridge was constructed in 1325, though most houses date to the 15th century.

My walk through Erfurt culminated in the vast Cathedral Square, dominated by two old churches. As I sat down and soaked up the scene, The sounds of a busy German square enveloped me. Conversations surrounded me as people ate and socialized at the many open-air restaurants around the plaza. Children squealed with delight while they played. I sat on a bench, watching couples quietly conversing and teenagers congregating nearby. 

Even though I was alone, I felt part of a vibrant community. I sat quietly and tried to imagine what it was like five hundred years ago when Martin Luther lived here. The medieval charm of the old city made it easy for my mind to engage in flights of imagination and fill it with the sights and sounds of the 16th century.

After spending the night in the modernized rooms of the over six-hundred-year-old Augustinerkloster, our tour group met the following day to worship in St. Augustine's Church. We had been permitted to worship in the old church Martin Luther had attended as a monk. The church was closed to tourists for one hour, and we had it all to ourselves. Sitting in the beautiful old church and singing Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress, I was filled with awe and the history of the place. 

I was reminded of why Martin Luther became a monk who worshipped in this church. The day was July 2, 1505. Martin had recently completed a Master's degree and started his law studies at the University of Erfurt. He was returning to Erfurt after visiting his parents when he was caught in a terrible thunderstorm. Lightning struck near him, and he was thrown to the ground. Fearing for his life, he called to Saint Anne: "I will become a monk!" Much to his father’s dismay, Martin left law school and entered the monastery. 

In 1517, Martin Luther wrote a document attacking the Medieval Church’s corrupt practice of selling indulgences to absolve sin. His “95 Theses” had two central beliefs. The first is that the Bible is the central religious authority, and the second is that salvation is only by faith in Jesus and not by works. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:8,9 (NKJV)

As Christians, we want to make Jesus the center of everything. We shouldn’t focus on just portions of the gospel of Jesus; we should teach Jesus in the completeness of his life. Paul addressed this concept in 1 Corinthians 2:1,2 (NLV): "Christian brothers, when I came to you, I did not preach the secrets of God with big sounding words or make it sound as if I were so wise. I made up my mind that while I was with you, I would speak of nothing except Jesus Christ and His death on the cross."

Martin Luther was a champion of the Bible. He spent many years translating the Bible into the vernacular German of the common man. He believed every Christian should read the Bible for himself and that with God's help, each Christian could understand the truths it contained. He wrote, "We must make a great difference between God's Word and the word of man. A man's word is a little sound that flies into the air and soon vanishes, but the Word of God is greater than heaven and earth, yea, greater than death and hell, for it forms part of the power of God, and endures everlastingly." 

Gentle Reader, I want to leave you with these words penned by Luther. "There is no other interpreter of the Word of God than the Author of this Word, as He has said, ‘They will all be taught by God.’ John 6:45 (NCV). Hope for nothing from your own labors, from your own understanding: trust solely in God and in the influence of His Spirit. Believe this on the word of a man who has experience."


Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Just One More

My An Arkie's Faith column from the February 21, 2024, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

On Hacksaw Ridge, soldiers lay dead or dying. Over the noise of gunfire and artillery, voices yelled, “medic!” The enemy had caught them by surprise. Mortar rounds were exploding, and bullets were flying. The order came, “Retreat!” While soldiers scrambled away from danger, one soldier ran toward the enemy, looking for wounded soldiers left on the battlefield. More than seventy-five men remained behind, too wounded to retreat. 

For hours, without any help, he carried injured soldiers through enemy fire, lowering each man on a rope-supported litter he had devised to a safe spot over forty feet below the ridge. He used double bowline knots he had learned as a young boy, tying the makeshift litter to a tree stump that served as an anchor. Many hours later, after rescuing countless injured soldiers, he refused to stop even though he was at the point of exhaustion. He was determined to find every fallen soldier who was still breathing. His motto was, “As long as there is life, there is hope.”

At the beginning of the day, his company had launched the assault of Hacksaw Ridge with 155 men. After the vicious enemy attack, fewer than one-third could retreat down the escarpment to relative safety. The rest lay wounded, scattered across the enemy-controlled ground. One lone soldier charged back into the firefight to rescue as many men as he could, knowing that he would probably die that day. The soldier strongly believed in God, and his prayer after each rescue was, “Please, Lord, help me get just one more.” 

Just One More is the title that my granddaughter, Autumn Grant, has chosen for her second play. Last year, although only a junior in high school, she wrote and directed her first play, The Unlikely Messenger. For the last year, she has been working on a two-act play presenting the story of Desmond Doss. Rehearsals for Just One More begin this week, and the play will be performed in April. I am looking forward to seeing the play.

Just One More is the story of Desmond Doss. He enlisted in April 1942 but refused to kill or carry a weapon into combat because of his strong belief in the commandment that says, “Thou shalt not kill” Exodus 20:13 (KJV). The Army gave him the designation of conscientious objector. Desmond worked at the Newport News Naval shipyard and could have requested a deferment. But he desired to do his part in the war effort. For him, that meant saving lives, not taking them. He described himself as a “conscientious cooperator.” He became a medic and served in the Pacific theatre. 

His refusal to carry a gun caused trouble with his fellow soldiers. They called him a misfit. One man in the barracks warned him, “Doss, as soon as we get into combat, I’ll make sure you won’t come back alive.” His commanding officers wanted to get rid of Desmond. They saw him as a liability. Nobody believed a soldier without a weapon was worthwhile. They tried to intimidate him, scold him, assign him extra arduous duties, and when that didn’t work, declared him mentally unfit for the Army. 

Desmond was court-martialed for refusing a direct order to carry a gun. But the Army failed to find a way to throw him out, and he refused to leave. He believed his duty was to obey God and serve his country. But it had to be in that order. His unwavering convictions were most important.

Desmond never held a grudge. With kindness and gentle courtesy, he treated those who had mistreated him. He lived by the words of Jesus, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you.” Matthew 7:12 (NASB) When the men in his unit saw him in action, displaying incredible courage and selflessness, his tormentors became his biggest supporters. Desmond was an example of the principle found in John 15:13 (NKJV), “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”

Because of his bravery during the American assault on Okinawa in May 1945, Desmond was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Truman on October 12, 1945. As he shook the hand of Corporal Desmond Doss, President Truman said, “I’m proud of you. You really deserve this. I consider this a greater honor than being President.”

I have known the story of Desmond Doss for many years. When I was a boy, I read his biography, The Unlikeliest Hero, by Booton Herndon. One story that I remember happened three weeks after Hacksaw Ridge. In a night attack, Desmond remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover. A grenade blast seriously wounded his legs. Rather than call another aid man, he cared for his injuries and waited five hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to safety. 

When Desmond saw a more critically wounded man nearby, he crawled off the litter and directed the litter bearers to take care of the other man. While he was waiting for the litter bearers to return, he was hit by enemy fire, this time suffering a compound fracture of his arm. In extreme pain, he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards over rough terrain to the aid station.

In 1999, I had the honor of meeting Desmond Doss. I had taken a group of boys ages 10 to 14 to hear him speak. After his talk, my boys wanted to meet him. We waited for a chance to talk to him. Desmond stayed until everyone who wanted to meet him had a chance. He took the time to speak to each of the boys personally. The boys loved him and were very impressed. They told me, “We got to meet a real American hero.”

Gentle Reader, I’m proud to have met this humble man. His story made an impression on me when I was a boy. When I met him, I was impressed by his humility. Even though everyone in the audience wanted to hear about his Medal of Honor, he was uncomfortable talking about his actions. He focused more on being prepared and being willing to help others. He stressed the importance of standing up for your convictions. 

Desmond’s life reminds me of the words found in Proverbs 15:33 (NCV), “Respect for the Lord will teach you wisdom. If you want to be honored, you must be humble.” The world needs more people like Desmond Doss, who are focused on saving just one more.


Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Latter Rain

My An Arkie's Faith column from the February 14, 2024, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

A light mist was in the air as we arrived at Avalon Hall. I was curious as to what the evening would look like. The event was the Art Lovers Ball. I knew there would be art, music, and food, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. We walked into the beautifully decorated venue and were directed to our table.

As the event began, Michael Cate introduced artist Carolyn MacMahon. On the stage were three large paintings. Two paintings of castles reminded me of our summer trip to Europe. Carolyn explained her process, from composition to the steps she took as she finished the paintings. I was touched by the paintings and impressed with the quality. They would not have been out of place displayed at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

But the painting that most impacted me depicted several spirited horses running in a field with beautiful scenery and ominous clouds in the background. As Carolyn began to talk about the painting, she told the story of how it was commissioned. 

When Kirk contacted Carolyn with the idea for the painting, he wasn’t sure it was even possible. When Kirk was going through his father's estate, he found an old photo that was very meaningful. It was an 8x10 photo of himself standing in front of the fireplace of the home he grew up in. Above the fireplace mantel was a painting of a circle of running wild stallions and, in the distance, a storm-covered mountain range. The photo reminded him fondly of his younger years and how much he loved the painting over the fireplace. Unfortunately, the photo had irreparable water damage.

As Carolyn was telling us about the origins of the painting, she invited Kirk to come up on stage and tell us how the painting came to be and how much it meant to him. His story touched my heart, and after the presentation, I asked him if I could share his words with you, my readers. He graciously gave me permission. 

Kirk continued the story after telling us about the history of the old, damaged photo. “About five years later, my path crossed that of Carolyn MacMahon. I had gotten to know one of her sons here in Mena, Arkansas, and in becoming friends with him, I learned of his mother’s talent and extraordinary gift for painting. I was invited to her home with several members of our church for a small Bible study. When I walked in, I saw that her home was filled with her paintings and other items of her artwork. I could see clearly her wealth of talent as I went from piece to piece. It was then that I felt my friend say to me, ask her to recreate your beloved painting. 

At once, I asked her about it, and she stated she would give it a try. Knowing the condition of the photo and its damage, I wasn’t sure what she could do. She came over a few days later, and I gave her the photo as we discussed the challenges of recreating the painting. In joy and great anticipation, she started the process. There was quite a bit of communication back and forth as to what I remembered about the painting, for a lot of details were missing due to the water damage. Some months later, she had completed the painting, and when I saw it for the first time in its final state, I could not express the joy I felt inside. It is truly a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. 

So many years later, so many experiences between then and now, looking at myself in the photo and juxtaposed to myself now, I know so much more about God, my Father and my friend. The painting now took on an eternal meaning of life with God, now and in the future. I now understand that God’s Spirit in the first temple dwelled by a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of smoke by day, a splendor that held the world in glorious awe. Now, the Spirit of God dwells in us, making the latter rein of Christ greater than the former. 

The first temple was built by the hands of men according to God’s specifications and it was a site so wonderful and excellent it captivated the attention of every nation on earth. The second temple was built and ordained by the hands of God, exceeding in greatness the first, making the latter temple more excellent than the former temple.

The first covenant was written by the finger of God on tablets of stone. The second covenant was written by God on the hearts of men, making the second covenant greater than the first.

The Word of God became flesh and dwelled among us through the person of Jesus Christ, not doing away with the commandments but fulfilling them, being all in all, showing and proving the righteousness and love of God for us all. 

When I look at this painting, I see the tempest in the background, the raging storms, and the mountains of struggles. The stallions aren’t escaping; they have gone through the storm, being set free from the torrents of disaster, free to run and not be weary, free to walk in truth and burst forth in joy, being set free from pain and sorrow of the past and what lies behind them, and exhilarated in joy, not fear, for the life ahead of them.

My latter life far exceeds my former life. I look forward with Joy to the First Resurrection, when I will see God, not as through a veil, but face to face as He truly is. So, I run with Joy and Faith in the race set before me. And this painting is that constant reminder. Thank you, Jesus, and thank you, Carolyn.”

Kirk Kelso named his precious painting “Latter Rain.” As I was listening to him talk about the painting with his voice filled with emotion, I thought of the text in Joel chapter two that talks of the latter rain. “Rejoice in the Lord your God; For He has given you the former rain faithfully, And He will cause the rain to come down for you— The former rain, and the latter rain.” Joel 2:23 (NKJV) 

Gentle Reader, in farming, there are specific stages involved in producing a good harvest: the planting, the germination of the seed by the early rains, the maturation period, and finally, the ripening period brought on by the last rains of the season, which the Bible calls, “the latter rain.” In Deuteronomy 32:2 (AMPC), God says, “My message shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distill as the dew, as the light rain upon the tender grass, and as the showers upon the herb.” Let’s pray for the latter rain of God’s message to fall on our hearts so He can complete the final harvest.