Monday, April 28, 2014

Pond Creek

A few weeks ago some friends of ours took us to Pond Creek National Wildlife Refuge, an amazing natural area that I had never heard about before even though it is only about 50 miles from us.

The Pond Creek National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1994 and is located about 30 miles north of Texarkana, Arkansas and 10 miles southeast of De Queen, Arkansas. Pond Creek is made up of various oxbow lakes, sloughs, and bottomlands hardwood areas along the Little and Cossatot Rivers.

Pond Creek was created in order to protect the wetland and bottomland hardwood habitat and to serve as a habitat for neo-tropical migratory birds. It also serves as an important nesting habitat for wood ducks and wintering habitat for other migratory waterfowl. It is located where the Mississippi and Central Flyways intersect.

The forested wetlands of the refuge are used by migrating and wintering waterfowl during the fall, winter and spring. Mallards, gadwall, American wigeon and wood ducks are among the over 15 species of waterfowl that traditionally use the seasonally flooded wetland habitats of the refuge. Other species seen less often include northern shoveler; blue and green-winged teal.

The Pond Creek Refuge provide outstanding habitat for an abundance of birdlife, particularly neotropical migratory songbirds. Neotropical birds use the refuge as a rest stop during fall and spring migration to replenish energy reserves for the long journey to and from wintering areas in Central and South America. This habitat is also used for breeding and nesting during the spring and summer for many of these species.

We spotted a Cooper's Hawk, an American Kestrel, a Green Heron, and a number of Kinglets, but I couldn't tell if they were Golden-crowned or Ruby- crowned.  Our friends had seen an alligator on a previous visit but we didn't see any on this trip.

This was our first visit to Pond Creek, but it definitely will not be our last.  The day was cloudy, cool and a bit rainy.  I want to return on a day that will be a bit better for photography.

If you love quiet secluded natural places, I highly recommend a visit to Pond Creek Natural Wildlife Refuge.

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Friday, April 25, 2014

Voyage to Tarshish

In Matt 21:28-31, Jesus tells a parable. A father had two sons. He went to the first and said, "Go work in my vineyard." The son said, "No." But later he felt bad and went and did as his father had told him. The father then went to his second son and said, "Go work in my vineyard." The son said, "Yes." But he didn't actually go. Jesus asked, "Which son did the will of his father?"

The answer was: The first son, the one that actually went and worked into the vineyard.

There could easily have been a third son in this parable: The father says, "Go work in my vineyard." The son says, "No." There's a discussion between father and son and in the end the son says, "Fine! I'll go and work in your stupid vineyard. Now quit pestering me."

He's the son who gives grudging obedience, half-hearted obedience. That's Jonah. We have all heard the story of Jonah.  He was swallowed by a whale and lived to tell about it.

The Lord called Jonah to Nineveh, but instead he runs away to Tarshish, a great and wealthy city on the coast of Spain. It is about as far to the west as most Israelites have ever ventured, while Nineveh is about as far to the east as most Israelites have ever gone. Nineveh is a great city and the fiercest enemy of Jonah’s people, so Jonah is afraid and wants to be completely away from this calling and from anyone who may be inclined to go on this ill-fated adventure.

The Bible tells us that the Lord threw an intense wind at the sea. The violence of the storm put Jonah’s ship in jeopardy of breaking apart. The sailors panicked! They started running back and forth, throwing cargo overboard to lighten the boat; every man, out of desperation, cried to his own deity.

The sailors said, You know what we should do? We should cast lots to find out who is ultimately responsible for our distress!  So they cast their lots, and Jonah’s name was chosen.

The sailors said to Jonah, “What have you done? Because of you, we’re all going to be killed.”  What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?

Jonah answered, God is using the sea to punish me, so pick me up and throw me into the sea! Then the sea will grow calm again, and you’ll be safe! This is all my fault! This great storm of my God’s anger has built against you because of me!

At that, they grabbed Jonah by his arms and legs and threw him overboard. And when they did, the raging sea grew calm.

God didn't let Jonah die. He chose a large fish to swallow Jonah; for three days and three nights the prophet Jonah sat safely inside the belly of this fish.  Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and the fish threw up Jonah onto the dry land.

Why did Jonah disobey God and take a voyage to Tarshish?  Jonah was a prophet and received messages directly from God.  You would think that when God said, “Get up, go to the great city of Nineveh”, that Jonah – the prophet – would obey.  So why didn't Jonah go?

Ninevah was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, Israel's direct enemy. If there was one nationality that Israel hated and wanted to wipe off the face of the Earth, it was the Assyrians. The Assyrians were powerful, destructive, and ruthless with any nation getting in their way.

Why did Jonah run?  Why didn't he obey God? Because he is guilty of what many if not all of us have done, pass judgment.

Jonah set himself up as a judge against Assyria. He had been given a message of warning from God himself, but he determined that the Ninevites are not worthy of this message.  Assyria was not worthy to be saved.

The command to get  up and go is the same message that we find in the great commission given by Jesus in Matthew 28:19,20 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Jesus has told us to get up and go.  Where are you going?  Are you on the road to Nineveh or on a voyage to Tarshish?  We have been given a message to spread around the world, but we have failed. We have passed judgment on many of those around us. We say "they don't deserve the love of God; they don't deserve my time, because they are no good.

When we decide that certain people groups aren't worthy of our time, aren't worthy of the good news of salvation, we are boarding a boat for Tarshish.  When we hate any people groups we are saying that they aren't worthy of God’s love or his salvation.

I’m afraid that the reason we don’t want to travel to Nineveh and give the good news is that we are afraid that God might actually save the people we don’t like.  That was apparently a factor in Jonah’s decision to take a voyage to Tarshish.

In Jonah 4:2 Jonah shows his true feelings as he talks to God.  “God, isn't this what I said would happen when I was still in my own country? This is exactly the reason I ran away to Tarshish in the first place. I know how You are! I know that You are not like other gods, that You are full of grace and compassion, that it takes a lot to make You angry, and that Your loyal love is so great that You are always ready to relent from inflicting misery”.

Are we afraid that God is so full of grace and compassion, and that His love is so great that he might extend salvation to those we don’t want to associate with?

When God asks you to get up and go, what are you going to do?  Are you going to head to Nineveh even though it is an evil city, or are you going to take a voyage to Tarshish?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Overlook at Castle Rogue's Manor

O is for Overlook.  My wife and I spent last weekend in Eureka Springs, Arkansas with my sister and her husband.  While we were there we took a private guided tour of Castle Rogue's Manor in the nearby town of Beaver.  The castle is situated on limestone cliffs above the White River and has some amazing overlooks.

The Castle was designed and built over the last twenty years by owner/resident Smith Treuer.  He gave us a very detailed tour of the property and then let us wander over the twenty acres that the castle is built on.  It was a photographers dream.

The Castle design and materials honor native trees of the Ozarks by incorporating their natural beauty into the heart of its structure with a stunning mixture of Black Walnut, Arkansas Red Cedar, as well as salvaged Redwood and Douglas Fir from the Pacific Northwest. All wood used in castle buildings was aged and milled on-site by local craftsman.

We had a great time at the castle and the views are something I will never forget.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Tolerance - The Mena Star

This is my article as published in the April 17, 2014 issue of The Mena Star.


On March 19th, Fred Phelps, leader of the Westboro Baptist Church died. He was known as a preacher of hate.  His followers were known for their opposition to homosexuality and for picketing the funerals of soldiers.  They believe that God kills soldiers to punish a nation that tolerates homosexuality. They would picket soldiers funerals with signs that read, “God Hates Fags,” “God Hates You,” and “Thank God For Dead Soldiers.”

After Pastor Phelps death I did see some hateful comments and Facebook posts, but I saw something else that surprised me.  One prominent homosexual leader said, “I believe in showing love to my enemies and treating people with grace even when they don’t deserve it. I pray for [him] and his family just as I pray for those he harmed".

Another mentioned that instead of celebrating the death of Phelps, he recognized that Fred Phelps had a family who loved him and would be sadly missed by many people. And that even though there were strong disagreements with Phelps on many levels, there would be no gloating or rejoicing over his death.

Two days after Pastor Phelps died his followers picketed at 17-year-old singer Lorde’s show in Kansas.  Counter demonstrators unraveled a banner that said ‘sorry for your loss’ as a response to their ex-leader’s death.

In a blog post titled A Time for Tolerance, Pastor John Bradshaw addressed the passing of Pastor Phelps with these words.

"Some Christians—who by definition must subscribe to Jesus’ teachings regarding manifesting love towards others—find it impossible to love homosexuals, or to demonstrate toward them even a modicum of tolerance or kindness. I suspect some of this has to do with the Internet age: it is easy to be hateful when you might be geographically removed from the object of your scorn, and the expression of your vitriol is conducted via a computer keyboard. But many Christians—and I recognize that ‘many’ certainly does not equal ‘all’—treat homosexuality with a special type of hatred, and homosexuals as the worst of sinners.

There is little wonder that many people are turned off by Christianity when they witness “Christians” treating others with hatred and scorn. One prominent British personality has stated publicly that he could never be a Christian because Christians are so brutally unkind to those with whom they disagree.

I’m certainly not advocating or excusing homosexuality. As I read the Bible I see homosexuality as being contrary to the will of God. But so is dishonesty. So is pride. So is lying. And so is being hateful. In expressing hate towards gays, many “Christians” are guilty of a sin towards which God cannot—and will not—turn a blind eye.

As hard as it may be, God calls Christians—commands Christians—to love everyone.  And until we do, we are no better than those we criticize and condemn".

Pastor Daniel Darling states, "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".

Let’s follow the example of Jesus and love sinners and hate the sin in our own lives. John, the disciple that Jesus loved, tells us in 1 John 4:8 “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love”.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Norton Art Gallery

Last weekend my wife and I visited the Norton Art Gallery Gardens in Shreveport, Louisiana with our daughter and her family.  The gardens are known for their azaleas and last weekend was peak time for them.

The gardens contain over 15,000 plants, including approximately 100 native and hybrid varieties of azalea. These blossom into gorgeous colors including white, purple, pink, red, orange, yellow, and even some bi-colored blooms in the early spring.  Along with the azaleas are flowering shrubs, including sweet spire, dwarf abelia, and loropetalum, and lovely trees including birch, corkscrew willows, Crimson Queen maples, Bloodgood maples, dogwoods and redbuds. Several small streams tumble over rocks and waterfalls as they make their way toward the large ornamental pond at the center of our gardens.

While we were in such a beautiful place we took photos of our grand daughters.  They loved being outside on such a beautiful day.

We had such a good time at the gardens.  The weather was perfect and the azaleas couldn't have been more beautiful.  It was a day I will never forget.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Five Years Ago

Mena Tornado 2009 23

Five years ago today the face of Mena changed drastically. An F3 tornado damaged a large section of town. 100 houses were destroyed and 600 damaged. Over 10,000 trees were destroyed.

I wrote the following paragraphs a few hours after the tornado hit.

Tonight at around 7:30 the tornado sirens sounded here in Mena. Gina and I went to the safe place in our house, the downstairs hallway. About that time our electricity went out. The storm passed without damage here at the house. We were thankful that we were spared.

After the storm passed and the stars came out, I decided to drive into town to see if anyone had electricity. When I got to downtown, I started to see storm damage and saw that the authorities were not letting people proceed to the north side of Mena.

I drove to my parents house to see if they were OK, and they were fine with no damage to their house or property. I drove on to the church but saw no damage there. I thought that the storm may not have been to bad, but by the time I returned home, the phone was ringing off the hook with reports of severe damage.

The first news reports stated that the Polk County Sheriff's Department reports one person was killed after a tornado swept through the town Thursday night.

We received a call from a friend telling us that our good friend Deanna had a lot of damage to her house, and her car was totaled. Just before the storm hit, Deanna was on the phone with Gina telling her that she was in the closet and she was scared. We have not been able to talk to her since. We don't know what we will find when we are able to get into the the area. Just a couple of blocks from her house, there were 20 or more people in the Masonic Lodge when it collapsed. There is one known fatality on the street where Deanna lives.

We have had friends staying with us this evening, because they were not able to get home. The National Guard is in town and not letting anyone into the severely damaged area. There was damage at Rich Mountain Community College, and at Wal-Mart. There is extensive damage at U.S. Motors where Gina operates the Credit Union.

I need to go to sleep, but probably sleep won't come. I don't know what tomorrow will bring.

Here are photos that I was able to take two days after the tornado. Pictures can't really give you the feel of the actual scene.









I want to dedicate this post to the memory of those who died in the tornado; Anna Cress, Judy Lobner, and Albert Shaw.

Anna Cress, Judy Lobner and Albert Shaw