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.