Saturday, December 30, 2017

Best of 2017

2017 is almost over.  Here is a list of the top ten most viewed posts of 2017 on An Arkies Musings.  It is always interesting to me to see what topics other people are interested in.

The most viewed post of 2017 is one titled Barn Find. In the late 70’s and early 80’s building kit cars on a VW chassis was very popular. In 1981 Daddy purchased a complete MG replica kit from MIGI. He spent many hours building the car. At about the same time he was building the MG, he built an addition to the side of his shop. When he completed the addition, the first thing that he stored in the new building was the recently completed MG replica. The little MG has never moved from that spot until just a couple of weeks ago. The post. Barn Find tells the story of the little MG. You can read it here.

The second most viewed post of the year was written about our cat. Saving Moses tells the story of how we became the owner of a cat. You can read the story here.

In January my wife and I saw Shreveport, Louisiana native Dylan LeBlanc in concert at South on Main in Little Rock, Arkansas. My blog post about the concert was the third most viewed of the year. You can read it here.

Number four on the top ten list of 2017 is one of my An Arkie's Faith newspaper columns. The title of the post is Free Gift, and it tells about our experience ant the Shreveport Krewe of Highland Mardi Gras Parade. You can read the post here.

A story about my granddaughters trip to Boston was the fifth most popular post of the year. She was snowbound in Boston for several days before she was able to fly back home. You can read the post here.

The story of my wife's great great grandmother, Sophie was the sixth most read post of 2017. In researching the story I found that during the summer of 1853, a cholera epidemic struck Gentofte, the area of Denmark where Sophie and her husband Peter lived. Peter became ill and died on August 8, 1853, leaving Sophie a widow at age twenty-nine with four small children. At the time of Peter's death, Sophie was not aware that she carried her and Peter's last child. Baby Otto was born eight months and eighteen days after Peter died. Baby Otto was my wife’s great-grandfather. He was conceived just a short while before his father died. That is how close my wife, who is my best friend and soulmate, came to never having a chance to be born. You can read about Sophie's Journey here.

In April. My wife and I attended a cocert by the incredible mandolin player, Sierra Hull. We enjoyed the concert more than we could have ever imagined. Sierra and bassist Ethan Jodziewicz are simply the best at their instruments. Even though they both are virtuoso's on their instruments, the mandolin and the bass, the live show takes on a minimalist approach. Being in the audience felt more like sitting in a living room listening to friends play music for you than being at a concert. My post about the Sierra Hull concert was number seven for the year. You can read it here. 

The subject of the eighth most popular post of the year was my Grandpa Lawry. Before he died my Uncle Lloyd Lawry put together a collection of stories and family history. I was blessed to have been given a copy of his collection. This post was the story he wrote about his Grandpa Lawry. You can read it here.

Post number nine was "My Daddy" which was my Father's Day tribute to my Daddy. You can read it here.

The tenth most popular post of 2016 was the history of the Studebaker XUV. There were plans to reintroduce the Studebaker nameplate in 2004. The Avanti Motor Corporation acquired the rights to use the Studebaker name on a large luxury sport utility vehicle, the XUV. The Studebaker XUV was introduced to the public at the Chicago Auto Show on Feb. 13, 2003. You can read the post here.

As a bonus I'm including one of my favorite posts of the year even though it didn't quite make the top ten. When we visited Hawaii, I was intrigued with the Kalalau Trail on the Na Pali Coast of Kauai. The Na Pali Coast is a seventeen-mile road-less expanse along Kauai’s North Shore. It is an area filled with dramatic cliff faces, pristine beaches, and incredible beauty. You can read about my experince on the trail here.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Good Gifts

My An Arkie's Faith column from the December 27, 2017, issue of The Mena Star

During the Christmas season, we focus on giving good gifts. We spend a lot of money and time finding the right gifts for people that are important in our life. Did you give any great gifts this year? Was there a particular gift that you were especially excited about? Sometimes we fail in our gift giving. Did you have any fails this year?

One Christmas when my son was a young boy, we nearly ruined his Christmas with one of his gifts. One of his jobs was sweeping the kitchen floor. That Christmas we bought a stick vacuum cleaner and thought it would be funny to give to him as a gift. The vacuum, wrapped in beautiful paper, was the largest gift under the tree. When my son saw that the largest gift had his name on it, he was very excited. His imagination went wild. What could that present be? His whole Christmas revolved around the largest gift under the tree and speculating on what it could be.

When Christmas morning arrived, all he could think about was that gift. When he opened it, he was so disappointed that the rest of his Christmas presents couldn't make up for the vacuum cleaner fiasco.

Have you ever been disappointed by a gift? Has someone been disappointed by the gift you gave them? What about great gifts? What is the best gift you have ever received? What made it so special? Was it the value of the gift? Was it the person who gave it to you?

What is the best gift you received this Christmas? What is the best gift you ever received? As I think about this question, I find it hard to narrow down one particular gift as the best. There is a gift that I received that is very special to me even though the dollar value of the gift is not very high. Let me tell you the story.

In February 2004, my family and I went on a mission trip to San Pedro, Belize to help build a church. While we were there, we made lots of friends. The next year we made plans to go back to San Pedro.
Our return trip to Belize was wonderful. We got reacquainted with friends that we had made the year before, and made many new friends during the ten days that we were there. Many times friends would stop by our room with gifts such as fresh coconut water, papaya, or some small trinket. On the last day that we were in San Pedro, there was a steady stream of visitors to our room. They wanted to tell us goodbye. Many of them brought a small gift.

We received one gift that was very special to me. My wife made a special friendship with a little two-year-old boy who spoke only Spanish. Whenever he would see her, his face would light up. He didn’t understand English, but he understood the language of love. The day we were leaving he and his four-year-old sister came to our door with a gift. They gave us a well worn 1941 Walking Liberty half-dollar. I have no idea how this little family had come into possession of this coin, or why they gave it to me. Even though the monetary value of the coin is only a few dollars, it is one of the most precious gifts I have ever received.

I learned an important spiritual lesson on my trip to Belize. I learned it from the people that I met. They had such a desire to do something for us. Even though they had only meager possessions, they had such a desire to please. They wanted to see us before we left. They wanted to bring us a gift. It was very important to them. I saw a great object lesson in the way they treated me. It showed me how I should relate to God. I should come to God and say, “I don’t have much, but I want to give you something.” “God let me know what I can do to please you.” “God, I want to be with you.”

Gentle Reader, I know that you gave and received some good gifts this Christmas season. Jesus knows that too. In Matthew 7:7-11 (NIV) Jesus said, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

God is the ultimate giver of good gifts. No matter how awesome the best gift you opened this Christmas is, it can’t compare to the gift of Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas. In Romans 6:23 (KJV) the Bible tells us “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” God has given you the best gift ever; what will you give God?

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A Shepherd's Life

My An Arkie's Faith column from the December 20, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

Growing up in Colorado, I remember occasionally seeing shepherds with their flocks of sheep when we traveled in the mountains. I thought that being a shepherd looked like fun. You got to spend your time outdoors in the beautiful Colorado mountains. Their small little trailers looked so homey and quaint.

When I got older and became an avid newspaper reader, I read some stories that showed the darker side of being a shepherd in Colorado. Most of the shepherds are foreigners who are seldom able to talk to family back home. They live without any human company for months at a time. The shepherds have no water, no toilet, no shower, no place to wash clothes. Most live in small, 6x10-foot trailers with just enough room to stretch out to sleep, a small wood-burning stove and little else. Some have an outhouse nearby. Many don’t.

Before World War II, most of Colorado’s shepherds were Americans, but by the early 1950’s, the industry couldn’t find enough American citizens to do the tedious and difficult work for very low wages. In 1952, Congress enacted a program to help farmers and ranchers secure a reliable supply of foreign workers. But shepherds were exempted from many of the protections granted by law to other foreign agricultural workers, such as an hourly wage and access to running water and a toilet.

Currently, more than 1,600 shepherds working in nine Western states participate in the program. They live in primitive tents or trailers, watching over thousands of animals on vast areas of public land. For decades, federal regulations have set their wages at $750 a month. Most shepherds work seven days a week for ten to twelve hours a day. Last year, the Department of Labor released a new rule increasing shepherd pay to $1,200 per month.

When you read or hear about shepherds, it is often a metaphor for a caregiver tending to his people, such as a leader or a pastor. But the actual shepherds, the ones who travel for miles and miles every day, tending to a large flock of sheep, lead a lonely and rugged life far away from civilization.

I want to be a shepherd. No, I don’t want to live alone with a herd of sheep in a small trailer with no bathroom or running water and work seven days a week for ten to twelve hours a day. But I have always coveted the experience of the shepherds on that first Christmas night.

God could have chosen to reveal this important announcement to anyone on earth. But instead of assigning the angels to visit some of the most important people on earth, God sent the angels to speak to humble shepherds, who most people didn't consider important. The shepherds would have been watching over their flocks while the sheep and lambs rested or grazed on grass from the hillsides. Although the shepherds were prepared to deal with any danger that threatened their animals, they were frightened by the angels' appearance. That is why the angels told them, “don’t be afraid.”

The angels reassured the terrified shepherds that they had good news for them. Since the shepherds raised the lambs that were sacrificed to atone for people's sins each spring on Passover, the shepherds would have well understood the importance of the Messiah's arrival to save the world from sin. In John 1:29 (NKJV), the Bible refers to Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

The fields around Bethlehem would have been very dark. Suddenly a bright light broke into the black night, as the sky above Bethlehem filled with a multitude of angels. The announcement of the birth of Jesus was marked by the light of many angels appearing in all of their heavenly glory. As amazing as the experience must have been, seeing angels appearing in the night sky isn’t the part of the experience that intrigues me the most. It is what happened next.

The Bible tells the story in Luke 2:15-18 (NKJV). "So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.”

Imagine what it must have been like to be one of the first people to see the baby Jesus! I can feel the excitement these humble shepherds felt. They had to tell people of their experiences. Can you imagine being a part of those conversations? Even in the days before media such as television and the internet, word traveled fast that something amazing was happening.

Gentle Reader, even though I will never be a shepherd or experience the things that the humble shepherds of Bethlehem experienced on that first Christmas, I can follow their example. I can spread the word about the baby Jesus. I can be excited about Jesus and what he means to this world. That is what Christmas is all about. Let’s all be shepherds!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Les Miserables

My An Arkie's Faith column from the December 13, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

When my wife learned that the musical theatre production of Les Miserables was coming to Little Rock, we made plans to attend. We had attended a production of the show around twenty years ago and had enjoyed it very much. We asked my Mom if she would like to go with us and she was excited to be able to attend. She had studied Les Miserables in French class when she was a girl.

The December day that we traveled to Little Rock to see the production was a warm 75-degree day. After some Christmas shopping, a great meal at Cantina Laredo, and seeing an awesome sunset, we headed to The Robinson Center in downtown Little Rock. As we were driving, we watched the dramatic supermoon rise over downtown. The state capitol was striking with Christmas lights outlining the building.

The Robinson Center was a bustle of activity as we made our way to our seats. The set with its towering buildings on either side of the stage, made us feel like we were in France in the early 1800's. The audience of the sold-out show waited in eager anticipation for the performance to begin. When the first strains of music started, a hush fell over the theater. For over three hours the performers held the audience in rapt attention. Every line of the musical is sung through, so there is no spoken dialogue. Across the board, the vocals were amazing. The vocal power displayed by every member of the cast kept the audience enthralled.

The musical Les Miserables is based on a French historical novel by Victor Hugo that was first published in 1862. It is considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century. The novel tells a story of broken dreams, sacrifice, and redemption. It is an examination of law and grace, and a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit.

Victor Hugo wrote in the preface; “So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age—the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night—are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.”

The musical revolves around the story of two men; Jean Valjean, who was imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family, and Inspector Javert who is always looking for Valjean and seeking to arrest him after he breaks his parole.

To me, the most intriguing part the story of Les Miserables is the different way the main characters deal with law and mercy. The story starts when Jean Valjean is released after 19 years in jail. Valjean is rejected in every place he seeks refuge until he finds a priest who gives him food and a place to sleep.

Jean Valjean steals all the finest silver from the priest. He is caught and brought back and made to admit his sin in front of the priest. The police are ready to put Jean Valjean in jail when the priest stops them. He explains that he did give all of the silver to the man and, in fact, the man forgot to take the most precious silver. As the priest hands over his valuable candlesticks, it is clear that his grace is greater than Jean Valjean could have ever imagined. Having experienced such forgiveness, he spends the rest of his life trying to replicate the grace that was given to him.

Javert is the legalist, and he holds strictly to the letter of the law. There is only one way to treat others, and it is by strict justice. The story leads up to a climactic scene when Jean Valjean has the opportunity to kill Javert. But instead of retribution for the lifelong struggles and pain Javert has inflicted on his life, Jean Valjean shows him mercy, cuts his bound hands loose, and sends his enemy off as a free man.

The mercy shown to him by Valjean sends Javert, the legalist, into a tailspin from which he cannot recover. For him, mercy proves to be an unsolvable problem. He sings, “I am the law, and the law is not mocked! I’ll spit his pity right back in his face!” And then continues, “my thoughts fly apart. Can this man be believed? Shall his sins be forgiven? Shall his crimes be reprieved? Does he know that granting me my life today, this man has killed me even so.” After experiencing unmerited mercy, Javert the legalist jumps off a bridge and kills himself.

The power of Les Miserables is the way it contrasts the life of the merciful with the life of the merciless. The merciful have faced their guilt and been broken. The merciless have faced their guilt and hardened themselves like steel.

Gentle Reader, Les Miserables is a story of the contrast in how sinners respond to the offer of free mercy. At a profound level, this is the story of two responses to mercy: one man is broken and lives, and one man is hardened and dies. Titus 3:5 (NIRV) tells us that “He saved us. It wasn’t because of the good things we had done. It was because of his mercy. He saved us by washing away our sins. We were born again. The Holy Spirit gave us new life.” Don’t be an Inspector Javert and refuse the mercy that is shown to you, be a Jean Valjean and live a life showing mercy to others because of the mercy you have been given.

Friday, December 8, 2017


I must admit that I have never liked Xmas as an abbreviation for Christmas.  It just seems a bit flippant and unnecessary. In today's culture where many Christians perceive a war against Christmas, they see the use of Xmas as an attempt to secularize the season by taking Christ out of Christmas.

I must admit that I agreed with those sentiments until I actually looked into the history of the use of Xmas.  Originally, Xmas was an abbreviation where the X represents the Greek letter chi, which is the first letter of Christ's name in Greek, ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ. However, because of the modern interpretations of the letter X, many people are unaware of this and assume that this abbreviation is meant to drop Christ from Christmas.

According to R. C. Sproul in his book, Now That's a Good Question, the idea of X as an abbreviation for the name of Christ came into use in our culture with no intent to show any disrespect for Jesus. The church has used the symbol of the fish historically because it is an acronym. Fish in Greek (ichthus) involved the use of the first letters for the Greek phrase “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” So the early Christians would take the first letter of those words and put those letters together to spell the Greek word for fish. That’s how the symbol of the fish became the universal symbol of Christendom. There’s a long and sacred history of the use of X to symbolize the name of Christ, and from its origin, it has meant no disrespect.

The Greek letter Χ, or Chi, was a common abbreviation for "Christ" in past religious writings. Its usage can be traced as far back as the 4th century in Rome, and to 1021 AD in historic Anglo-Saxon manuscripts. Xmas began to be used in English starting in the 1500′s. Webster’s dictionary acknowledges that the abbreviation Xmas was in common use by the middle of the sixteenth century.

In an article on the subject of Xmas written by Dennis Bratcher, he states, "Xmas is not a modern invention to try to convert Christmas into a secular day, nor is it a device to promote the commercialism of the holiday season.  Its origin is thoroughly rooted in the heritage of the Church.  It is simply another way to say Christmas, drawing on a long history of symbolic abbreviations used in the church. In fact, as with other abbreviations used in common speech or writing (such as Mr. or etc.), the abbreviation "Xmas" should be pronounced "Christmas" just as if the word were written out in full, rather than saying "exmas."

Even though we know from history that it isn't offensive to use “Merry Xmas,” do be aware that some still find it so, so use good judgment when using the abbreviation “Xmas.”

Merry Xmas every one from An Arkie's Musings - pronounced properly of course.  :)

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Rumble Seat

My An Arkie's Faith column from the December 6, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

Last year, the Chamber of Commerce asked us to drive my Dad’s Shay Model A in the Christmas Parade with Santa Claus riding in the rumble seat. For those who are too young to know what a rumble seat is, it is an upholstered exterior seat which folded into the rear of a car. Rumble seat passengers are exposed to the elements and receive no protection from the regular passenger compartment top.

This year the Chamber of Commerce once again asked if we would drive Santa in the Christmas Parade. The Shay Model A had been driven very little since last year’s parade. I decided to get it out and drive it over the Thanksgiving holiday to make sure everything was in good working order before the parade. My granddaughters, ages twelve, ten, and seven, spent several days with us at Thanksgiving. They loved to ride in the rumble seat. Since only two could ride at a time in the rumble seat, there was always a discussion about who would ride there. The adults also enjoyed riding in the rumble seat. The two youngest granddaughters were riding in the front of the Model A when they looked through the tiny rear window and caught their parents kissing in the rumble seat. They thought that it was gross and very funny at the same time.

Whenever you drive an old car, you have instant friends. People will approach you and ask about the car. While I was driving with my granddaughters, we pulled into the gas station to put gas in the Model A. The station was busy, and we had to wait for a pump. My granddaughters were very animated, laughing and giggling in the rumble seat. The lady at the pump next to us came over to talk to us. She commented on the car, and how cute the girls were. She told me that the woman with her in the car was ninety-five years old and that she had been very excited to see the old car with the rumble seat. She remembered when she had ridden in rumble seats when she was young and told several stories about her rumble seat experiences.

When rumble seats were commonplace, most people wanted to ride in the front of the car, and the rumble seat was considered second best. Although rumble seats were fun and somewhat exciting to ride in, rumble seat riders were exposed to the wind, the noise, the bugs, the rain and the sun. People jokingly referred to the rumble seat as the mother-in-law seat. John Cougar Mellencamp included the song “Rumbleseat” on his 1985 album, Scarecrow. He sang, “I am a pitiful sight. I can't even get one thing right. I know just what it's like to be riding in the rumble seat.”

After seeing the Model A’s rumble seat, a customer at my shop told me a story about her own rumble seat experience: "I remember when I was teaching at a one-room school with all eight grades. My beau came courting one night, and after we had gone about a half-mile from home, I heard a slight noise which caused me to look through the rear window of the car. Grinning like a Cheshire Cat and peeking through from the other side sat my little brother, who had hidden in the rumble seat. Would you believe that my beau took him home instead of dumping him out and making him walk?" My cousin tells a similar story about his Dad. The difference in the stories is that his Dad was kicked out of the car and had to walk three miles back home.

Why is it that we get nostalgic when we see old cars. Why do those who remember rumble seats smile when they see one now? Nostalgia is a feeling of pleasure and sometimes slight sadness at the same time as you think about things that happened in the past. Nostalgia is selective memory. We remember the good things and don’t think about the bad. Nostalgia removes the rough edges from the good old days.

God wants us to leave the bad things that have happened to us in the past. He wants us to look to the future, but he does want us to remember. Psalms 105:4,5 (ICB) says, “depend on the Lord and his strength. Always go to him for help. Remember the wonderful things he has done. Remember his miracles and his decisions.” When we forget what God has done for us in the past, we aren’t likely to have a close relationship with him. In Psalms 78:11,12 (NRSV) the Psalmist wrote about the Ephraimites, “they did not keep God’s covenant but refused to walk according to his law. They forgot what he had done, and the miracles that he had shown them.”

The nineteenth-century American writer Ellen White wrote, “we have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us.” It is good to remind ourselves daily of our own experiences of God’s past protections and the ways He has rescued us. As we look forward to the future, it is helpful to remember how God has been there for us in the past. “Remember the old days. Think of the years already passed.” Deuteronomy 32:7 (NCV)

Gentle Reader, most of us tend to dwell on our current difficulties, whatever they may be, and to forget the many times that God has helped us in the past. In the Bible, we read that God regularly urged his people to remember the many ways that He had provided for them, or helped them, in the past and to believe that He would do so again. “Hold on to the Lord and do what He asks you to do. He has helped you before, and He will do it again” Joshua 23:8 (EECW) “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6 (NLT)

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Kalalau Trail

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 29, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

Last month my wife and I hiked the Kalalau Trail on the Na Pali Coast of Kauai. The Na Pali Coast is a seventeen-mile road-less expanse along Kauai’s North Shore. It is an area filled with dramatic cliff faces, pristine beaches, and incredible beauty. Most people experience the Na Pali Coast by boat or helicopter, but the most adventurous experience it up close and personal by hiking the Kalalau Trail.

The Kalalau Trail is an 11-mile trail that provides the only land access to the rugged Na Pali Coast. The trail traverses five lush valleys and crosses above towering sea cliffs before ending at Kalalau Beach where it is blocked by sheer, fluted cliffs. Backpacker magazine has included the Kalalau Trail in its list of the ten most dangerous hikes in America. The magazine article states that the footing is treacherous after the island's abundant rainfall turns the track into a greasy slip and slide–not amusing when you're edging along a 300-foot cliff that spills straight into a rocky surf. But despite such dangers, tons of visitors continue to make the 11-mile (one way) pilgrimage to Kalalau, one of the world's most beautiful beaches. Kathy Valier, a Kauai resident who has written guidebooks on hiking the island, writes "the trail bed is narrow and crumbly, and I've talked with many people who have either fallen off the trail or seen it happen."

The day before we hiked the trail, we saw the Na Pali Coast by helicopter. The tour was incredible and gave us dramatic and up-close views of the emerald-hued cliffs with razor-sharp ridges that tower above the Pacific Ocean, revealing beautiful beaches and waterfalls that cascade to the lush valley floor. As amazing as the helicopter tour was, we were only able to spend a few minutes near the Na Pali Coast. I wanted to see more and made plans to hike the Kalalau Trail.

To be able to hike beyond the two-mile point on the trail, you have to purchase a permit from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. The number of permits issued is very limited and must be purchased well ahead of time. Not that it mattered, because I was not prepared for a 22-mile backpacking trip. I didn’t have the time, equipment, or the physical stamina. But I dreamed of hiking the trail. I knew that was an impossible dream, so I set my sights a bit lower. I wanted to hike the trail to the first vantage point where I could get a good view of the Na Pali Coast.

We set out to accomplish our goal of walking a mile on the Kalalau Trail. That seemed like an easy goal. But the trail was steep, rocky, muddy and slick. The other hikers that we met on the trail were all much younger than us. We took our time and carefully made our way up the trail. There were places with steep drop-offs beside the trail. We hugged the rocky wall to the inside and continued to make our way upward. From trailhead to the first vantage point, the trail gains almost 800 feet in elevation. It is a strenuous hike. As we made our way upward, the hikers that we met coming back down encouraged us and told us how amazingly beautiful the view was.

It took us about an hour to carefully climb our way up to that first glimpse of the Na Pali Coast. We were not disappointed. There is no way to describe the view. Even though I had read descriptions of the scenery and seen photographs that were taken from that very spot, seeing it with my own eyes surpassed everything I had imagined. We stayed there for about fifteen minutes, taking photos and visiting with other hikers. That moment was a highlight of my vacation.

Since we have returned home, I have been obsessed with the Kalalau Trail. I have been reading anything I can find about it, and have watched scores of YouTube videos that people have made of their hike. The views from the hike are some of the most beautiful in the world, and there is no way to see them other than making the 22-mile hike. It is still a dream of mine to hike the Kalalau Trail, but I realize that it is all but impossible for me.

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I have something to look forward to that is even more exciting than the Kalalau Trail. God has made many promises in the Bible, and each one has been or will be fulfilled. But the return of Jesus is one of the greatest promises of all. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 (NKJV) gives us this promise, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

Gentle Reader, I realize that my obsession with the idea of hiking the Kalalau Trail should pale in comparison to my eagerness for the return of Jesus. I wonder how I can spend so much time looking forward to earthly joys such as the beauty of the Na Pali Coast and spend so little time thinking about and anticipating the second coming of Jesus. “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.” Philippians 3:20 (NLT) Are you eagerly awaiting the return of Jesus?

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Giving Thanks

We had a lovely Thanksgiving and are continuing our Thanksgiving celebration through Sunday when the kids will be returning home. I appreciate the reminder to give thanks for our blessings, but realize that we should be giving thanks 365 days of the year. 

In the U.S. there has been an annual Thanksgiving observed since 1863.  In that year, with the county involved in a horrific Civil War, President Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring a day of Thanksgiving. 

One of the traditions of Thanksgiving is talking about the things we are thankful for.  There are many things, but I am truly thankful for my family, my country, my community, nature, and especially for Jesus Christ and the grace that he shows me.

The Greek word translated in the Bible as thanksgiving is eucharistia. The English spelling is Eucharist.  My dictionary gives the following definitions. 1. The sacrament of Holy Communion; the sacrifice of the Mass; the Lord's Supper. 2. The giving of thanks; thanksgiving.

The word that most people use to describe the Lord’s Supper means thanksgiving.  What a great thought.  The Lord’s Supper is a ceremony in which we give thanks for what Jesus has done for us.  The root word in Eucharist is charis.  Charis is normally translated as grace.  That makes sense.  Think with me for a moment.  What happens at the beginning of your Thanksgiving meal?  Someone says “grace”.  Why do we say that they say grace?  Saying grace is giving thanks. 

At a British conference on religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room.  “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

After some discussion, the conferees had to agree. The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, is singularly Christian.  Of all the world’s religions, only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.

In 2 Timothy 1:9, the Bible says, “He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began”.

Before you were born there was grace for you.  Thank God for grace!  As wonderful as it is, grace is not well understood and often not really believed. We use the word a lot but rarely think about what it means. It's probably true that most of us think infrequently about God's grace. 

Part of our problem is in the nature of grace itself. Grace is scandalous. It’s hard to accept. It’s hard to believe. It’s hard to receive. We are skeptical when a telemarketer tells us, "I'm not trying to sell you anything. I just want to offer you a free trip to Hawaii." Automatically we wonder, "What's the catch?" because we have all been taught that "there's no free lunch."

Grace shocks us in what it offers. It frightens us with what it does for sinners. Grace teaches us that God does for others what we would never do for them. We would save the not-so-bad. God starts with prostitutes and then works downward from there. Grace is a gift that costs everything to the giver and nothing to the receiver. It is given to those who don't deserve it, barely recognize it, and hardly appreciate it.

Grace means that no one is too bad to be saved. The Bible is full of examples; Liars, cheaters, murderers, adulterers, prostitutes.  God specializes in saving really bad people.

Grace also means that some people may be too good to be saved. That is, they may have such a high opinion of themselves that they think they don't need God's grace. They may admit they are sinners but they don't admit they are spiritually dead.

This view of grace is hard for good people to accept because it means we must give up our "goodness" in order to be saved. We must admit that nothing we have done matters in the least when it comes to being forgiven by God. God has designed our salvation so that he alone gets the glory!

Ephesians 2:8,9 tells us,  “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”.

Imagine what heaven would be like if you had to earn your way there. "I was a preacher." "I built churches across the world." "I gave a million dollars to world missions." "I had hundreds of baptisms at my meetings." "I volunteered at the hospital." “I baked cookies for the school kids.” As good as those things are they will not help forgive even one sin. They will not save you or help save you. 

Can you just imagine someone putting his arm around Jesus and saying, "You and me, Jesus, we did it: You died on the cross and I baked the cookies”? I am so thankful that it's not like that. When Jesus died on the cross, he paid the full price for your salvation. Jesus paid the price all by himself.

Grace is never cheap.  Grace costs the ultimate.  It is just that you and I aren’t the ones paying.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life”.  John 3:16

Thank God for grace!   Look for grace in unexpected places. I know that you will find it. Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 1:14, "the grace of our Lord is exceedingly abundant".

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Kilauea Sunrise

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 22, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

On my first morning in Kauai, I woke up early and slipped out of the condo before anyone else was awake. I headed out in the rental van looking for a place where I could watch the sunrise. As I headed east out of Princeville, I looked at the map on my phone, and it seemed that the nearest place that I would be able to see the sunrise would be Kilauea Point.

When I reached the small town of Kilauea, there was a gas station open, so I stopped to get a drink. It was still pitch-black outside. The cashier was a friendly older woman who struck up a conversation. Everything about me said that I was a tourist, down to the camera that was hanging around my neck. “You are sure up early this morning,” she said. “What do you have planned for today.” “I am going to find a place to watch the sunrise,” I told her. “I’ve never watched a sunrise,” the cashier answered. The idea that she had never seen the sunrise puzzled me, but I didn’t say anything.

There was no one else at the gas station, and I visited with the cashier for a few minutes. Her family had lived in the area for over one hundred years. She could remember when there were no tourists and almost no roads. Life hadn’t been easy for her and her family even though the area looked like paradise to me. As I walked out of the station and got back into the van, I was a little bit sad for this woman who had never watched a sunrise.

The drive out to Kilauea Point was less than two miles. There is a small parking area there, so I parked the van and got out, anticipating my first sunrise in Kauai. It was no longer pitch-black; there was just enough light so that I could see the surroundings. From my vantage point, I could see the dim outline of the Kilauea Lighthouse out on the point to my left. As I waited for the sun to come up, I was able to see many birds. Kilauea Point is a national wildlife refuge, and home to thousands of birds. I saw albatross, red-footed boobies, brown boobies, red-tailed and white-tailed tropicbirds, great frigatebirds, and shearwaters. The cliffs around the point were a bustle of activity. I also saw several nene, the native goose that is the state bird of Hawaii. The nene are endangered with fewer than one thousand left in the wild.

As the sky began to lighten, the clouds off to the northwest started to glow with color. I began taking pictures. The beauty of the area along with the sunrise filled my heart with joy as I soaked it all in. During the hour or more that I stayed there, only two other people stopped by. As I got back into the van and headed back to the condo, I once again thought about the woman that I had visited with earlier. She had lived her whole life within a few miles of here and yet had never experienced the sunrise. I hadn’t been on the island for twenty-four hours and yet I had just had one of the most enjoyable mornings of my life. Once again I felt sad for her.

I remembered the lyrics to a song by the folk singer Melanie. “Why sleep when the day has been called out by the sun. From the night 'cause the light's gonna shine on everyone. Why sleep when the sleep only closes up our eyes. Why sleep when we can watch the sunrise. Take you an apple and take you a song and watch a baby day be born.” When I see the sunrise, I think of new beginnings. Sunrise brings with it a new day, with new possibilities and new potential. Yesterday has been put to rest and a new day is born.

Recently I have gone through some very painful experiences in my life, but at the same time, I have been encouraged by people who had no idea what I was going through. The experience has helped me focus on the positive and try to leave the negative in the past. The prophet Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 43:18,19 (NCV), “The Lord says, ‘Forget what happened before, and do not think about the past. Look at the new thing I am going to do. It is already happening. Don’t you see it? I will make a road in the desert and rivers in the dry land.’”

God does not want us to focus on what had happened in the past; going through life looking in the rear-view mirror. But we so often can't help ourselves. We remember how people have hurt us and the mistakes we made. We need to look ahead and focus on the future. God wants to do new things in our lives.

Gentle Reader, a sunrise holds so much promise: a new day, a new opportunity, a fresh start. If the night has been difficult, get up and watch the sun come up. Witnessing a sunrise is a soul-healing process. As the intense colors emerge from the horizon and break across the sky, think about what Jesus said in Matthew 6:34 (TPT), “refuse to worry about tomorrow, but deal with each challenge that comes your way, one day at a time. Tomorrow will take care of itself.” Don’t be like the woman who lived her whole life on the beautiful island of Kauai and yet never witnessed a sunrise.