Wednesday, September 20, 2017

2017 Celebrity Waiter

Local celebrities raised more than $12,000 for cancer research during the 6th annual Relay For Life of Polk County Celebrity Waiter Event held on September 16th. Lou and Denni of Mena Mountain Resort prepared a delicious meal, and 18 local celebrities waited tables for tips. The room looked beautiful as each celebrity decorated their table. The tables had themes such as Masquerade, Rosie the Riveter, 1950’s Rock and Roll, Razorbacks, Crime Scene, The Flintstones, and The Presidents featuring Donald and Melania Trump. Many of the waiter’s guests dressed according to the theme.

The local celebrity waiters who participated in the event were; John and Christy Titsworth sponsored by Arkansas Country Properties, Regina and Richard Lawry sponsored by USEM Federal Credit Union, Jim and Joyce Stroope, sponsored by Nidec, Teresa Bates, Cassondra Gortemiller, Shelly Harvey and Rebecca Whitaker sponsored by Union Bank and Smith Pallet, Brandon Martin sponsored by the Mena Police Department, Scott Sawyer sponsored by  the Polk County Sheriff’s Department, John Maddox sponsored by Maddox and Maddox, Yuri Aguilar sponsored by Tres Agaves, Heather Lackey and Tabitha Viera sponsored by Relay For Life of Polk County and Genesis Cancer Center, and Bonita and Maegan Kent.

After the meal, donated items were auctioned off by auctioneer Jimmy Martin. There was spirited bidding on the many items that had been donated to the event. Leslie Humphrey, representing the American Cancer Society, along with volunteers from outside of Polk County judged the event. The Celebrities who received the most tips were Jim and Joyce Stroope. Second place went to Regina and Richard Lawry. The award for the Best Theme was given to Bonita and Maegan Kent for The Flintstones. Second went to John Maddox for the Razorbacks. The award for Best Dressed Waiter went to Brandon Martin and his table’s Crime Scene theme. Second place was given to Teresa Bates, Cassondra Gortemiller, Shelly Harvey and Rebecca Whitaker, Heather Lackey and Tabitha Viera for the 50’s Theme. The Sneakiest Waiter award went to Jim Stroope who seemed to be at every table in the room at once. Second went to Renee Hendrix and her baby Amelia.The Most Spirited Waiter award was presented to John and Christy Titsworth for their entertaining portrayal of Donald and Melania Trump. The runners-up were Cassondra Gortemiller and Teresa Bates. The 2017 Celebrity Waiters of the Year were Regina and Richard Lawry.

Leslie Humphrey of the American Cancer Society, said, “Congratulations Mena on a wonderful and fun Celebrity Waiter. I'm so glad I was able to be a part of such an awesome event. Thank you to everyone who helped make this event so successful.” Auctioneer Jimmy Martin added, “I want to thank the Relay for Life of Polk County Arkansas for letting us do their Benefit Auction. We had a wonderful time and got to meet some wonderful people.”

All of the funds raised at the event will be donated to Relay For Life of Polk County to support the American Cancer Society. ACS saves lives by helping people stay well by preventing cancer or detecting it early; helping people get well by being there for them during and after a cancer diagnosis; by finding cures through investment in groundbreaking research; and by fighting back by rallying communities worldwide to join the fight. The American Cancer Society is the nation’s largest non-governmental investor in cancer research. As a result, over 11 million people in America who have had cancer and countless more who have avoided it will be celebrating birthdays this year.

Once a Gangster

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

A few weeks ago, my wife and I took a day trip to Hot Springs with some friends and my sister. After a wonderful lunch at La Hacienda, we toured the historic bathhouse row in Hot Springs National Park. I have visited in the past and am intrigued by the history of Hot Springs.

The first permanent settlers came to the Hot Springs area in 1807. They were quick to realize the area’s potential as a health resort. By the 1830s, log cabins and a store had been built to meet the needs of visitors to the springs. By the 1880’s bathhouses were lining the streets of Hot Springs. The health resort industry led to Hot Springs becoming known as the "American Spa."

Along with the bathhouses, there were gambling establishments. From the Roaring 20’s until the end of World War II ten major casinos and numerous smaller houses operated in Hot Springs. Hot Springs became a haven for notorious criminals and mobsters, including Owen “Owney” Madden, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, and Al Capone. Word spread that Hot Springs was the perfect hideout for criminals running from police investigations. Al Capone and his bodyguards would rent out entire floors of hotels.

During that time, Al Capone virtually owned Chicago. Capone rose to infamy as the leader of the Chicago mafia during the Prohibition era. A gangster needs a good lawyer, and Capone hired one nicknamed "Easy Eddie." Eddie's skill at legal maneuvering kept Al Capone out of jail for a long time.

Capone paid Eddie very well. He and his family occupied a fenced-in mansion with live-in help. The estate was so large that it filled an entire Chicago City block. Eddie lived the high life of the Chicago mob and paid little attention to the vicious crimes committed by his mob friends.

Easy Eddie had a son that he loved dearly. He saw to it that his son had the finest clothes, the fastest cars, and a good education. Eddie wanted his son to be a better man than he was.

One day, Eddie made a difficult decision. He decided he would go to the authorities and tell the truth about Al Capone, clean up his tarnished name, and offer his son a name with some integrity. He knew that he would have to testify against Capone, and he knew that the cost would be great, but he testified anyway. Within the year, Easy Eddie's life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago street.

In his eyes, Easy Eddie had given his son the greatest gift he had to offer, at the greatest price he could ever pay. When the police found his body, they removed from his pockets a religious medallion, and a clipping from a magazine. It read: "The clock of life is wound but once, and no man has the power to tell just when the hands will stop, at late or early hour. Now is the only time you own. Live, love, toil with a will. Place no faith in time. For the clock may soon be still."

Let’s fast forward to World War II. Lieutenant Commander Butch O'Hare was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific. One day his entire squadron was sent on a mission.

After he was airborne, he looked at his fuel gauge and realized that someone had forgotten to refuel the plane. He would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and get back to his ship. His flight leader told him to return to the carrier. He dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet. As he was returning to the ship, he saw a squadron of Japanese aircraft flying toward the American fleet.
The American fighter planes were all gone on a mission, and the fleet was defenseless. Commander O'Hare couldn't reach his squadron and bring them back in time to save the fleet. He had no way to warn the fleet of the approaching danger. He decided that he must somehow divert the Japanese planes from the fleet. With no thought for his safety, he dove into the formation of Japanese planes. His wing-mounted 50 caliber guns blazed as he charged in, attacking one surprised enemy plane and then another. Commander O'Hare wove in and out of the now broken formation and fired at as many planes as possible until his ammunition was gone.

Even though he couldn’t fire his weapons, he continued the assault. He dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail in hopes of damaging as many enemy planes as possible. Finally, the exasperated Japanese squadron took off in another direction.

Commander O'Hare and his tattered fighter plane barely made it back to the carrier. The film from the gun-camera mounted on his plane told the story. It showed the extent of his daring attempt to protect his fleet. He had, in fact, destroyed five enemy aircraft. This action took place on February 20, 1942, and because of his heroism, Lieutenant Commander Butch O'Hare became the Navy's first Ace of World War II, and the first Naval Aviator to win the Medal of Honor.

A year later Butch was killed in aerial combat at the age of 29. His home town of Chicago would not allow the memory of this WW II hero to fade. O'Hare Airport in Chicago is named for Lieutenant Commander Butch O'Hare in tribute to the courage of this great man.

Gentle Reader, Butch O'Hare was "Easy Eddie's" son. No matter what your past has been, it’s never too late to make a change. The Bible tells us about a gangster, a criminal, who made a change. “There were also two criminals led out with Jesus to be put to death.” Luke 23:32 (NCV) As he was hanging on the cross waiting to die, one of the criminals turned to Jesus and said, “‘remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus said to him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’” Luke 23:42,43 (NCV) God says, “’At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.’ Indeed, the ‘right time’ is now. Today is the day of salvation.” 2 Corinthians 6:2 (NLT)

Friday, September 15, 2017

Fearing the Storm

It seems like a day doesn't go by that someone doesn't talk to me about the condition of the world. With the recent hurricanes and fires, people seem very nervous. I have to admit that I have my concerns. My business has been slower the last few weeks.

What I have noticed in the past few months, is that it seems like the people I have talked to who have been the most worried are Christians. I have gotten numerous e-mails from Christian people who are sure that doom and gloom are right around the corner. I can't believe that God wants us to live that way. 2 Thessalonians 3:16 says "may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way."

I do believe that we are living in the last chapter of Earth's history, but I am puzzled by many of my fellow Christians. Does God want us to worry?

I saw something the other day that puzzled me. I was in a Christian bookstore, and I saw that they had Christian worry stones for sale. According to tradition, a worry stone is a smooth, polished stone that when rubbed is believed to reduce one's worries and add a sense of calmness. When the stone is rubbed, the negative energy and worries are supposedly transferred into the stone and you are left calm and peaceful. I don't think worry stones are compatible with Christianity.

In Matthew 6:31 Jesus tells us "Do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?" He goes on to say "do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own".

When our kids were little, my wife would sing to them when she was trying to get them to go to sleep.

“Rock, rock, rock, little boat on the sparkling sea, Rock, rock, rock, dear Jesus rides in thee; Rock, rock, rock, o’er the waters swiftly flee, For Jesus rides in the little boat on blue Galilee.”

While researching the Sea of Galilee, I found out that it is the lowest freshwater body of water in the world at 685 feet below sea level. It lies in the Jordan Rift, a fault zone with steep hills and mountains all around it. The Mediterranean Ocean is only 27 miles to the west.

Ocean winds funnel through passes of the hill country and down the steep hillsides. As the warm moist air rises from the Sea of Galilee, it collides with the dry, cool air from the mountain heights to the east and thunderstorms can develop over the sea.

The worst storms on the Sea of Galilee are caused when a low-pressure zone to the east causes the winds to blow down from the Golan Heights. The air compresses in the passes of the Trans-Jordan mountains and rushes down onto the Sea of Galilee which has a relatively small area of 64 square miles. The water is forced down, but has no place to go, so it pushes up into towering waves. A storm surge on the Sea of Galilee in March of 1992 sent ten-foot waves on the west side of the sea crashing into downtown Tiberias causing heavy damage to the shopping area and marina.

The Bible describes one of these severe storms on the Sea of Galilee in the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the story. The storm in the story was a serious storm that put anyone out on the sea in grave danger. But Jesus was the master of the storm. Ever since then, people facing all kinds of storms in their lives that that threaten to destroy them have found hope in Jesus because of this Bible story.

The story is found in Mark 4:35-41. “On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”

Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”

The disciples are devout men of strong principle and have a hunger for God. They are sure they know who Jesus is. They take him on board "just as he is." To them, he is a teacher and story-teller, a miracle worker and an exhausted man. He is a celebrity, someone exciting to be around. It makes them feel good to be useful to him--to sail away with him from the crowd on the shore that envies their closeness to him.

They know the Sea of Galilee like the backs of their hands. They know what it takes to sail these waters. They are out for a nice cruise this evening, certain that they are in control. Suddenly their certainties are shredded along with their sail. The storm almost kills them. They are powerless, adrift, just one gust and one wave away from drowning.

Jesus is sound asleep on a cushion in the back of the boat, oblivious to the terrible storm that is overpowering them. The disciples wake him up in panic. "Teacher, don't you care that we are perishing?" It's an odd question. Determining his state of mind about their welfare seems the least of their concerns. Something more direct would be in order like, "Help!" or "Lord, save us!"

Jesus rouses himself and tells the wind to stop. He says to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" although he may be addressing the clamoring, terrified disciples as well. After all, it was his idea to cross the lake. They aren't going to drown on his watch, but they don't know that or trust him yet.

The wind stops, and the sea calms all in an instant. The disciples are surprised, but Jesus is disappointed. He had given them the amazing catch of fish when their best efforts had come up empty. They had seen him feed the 5,000 with only five loaves of bread and two sardines. He had healed the sick and raised the dead.  But they are still focused on their needs, not on what Jesus can do.

Jesus wants our trust because our salvation depends on him and our trust connects us to his saving power.

Isaiah 12:2 (NRSV) “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.” Our salvation isn't a personal achievement. It is a gift of God, and we have to trust that even, and especially, in the midst of the storm God will save us.

The disciples are finding out that there is a lot more to their "Teacher" than good stories and food distribution. He has faced down the worst storm that they have ever experienced, and they are stunned. They have only one question now, and it is the right one -- "Who then is this, that even the wind and waves obey him?"

Having seen his power in action, the men are now more afraid of Jesus than they were afraid of the storm. "They feared exceedingly," is the way the Bible puts it in Mark 4:41. Phobos is the Greek word that Mark's Gospel uses for how the men when the witnessed Jesus calming the waves. Phobos is the root word of "phobia," an abnormal, intense, illogical fear. It is a pathological terror devastating them to the core of their very being. At that moment, they realized that Jesus was more than just a good luck charm. They thought that when Jesus was with them, surely there wouldn’t be any storms. But when they witnessed the actual power that Jesus had over the storm, they were afraid of His power.

You have to experience this for yourself to be sure, but it is the moment of conversion when you become more afraid of Jesus than the storm that threatens to destroy you. Jesus doesn't mince words on this: "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt 10:28).

We have a lot of sweet illusions about Jesus. He tells us to cross the sea. He comes to us just as we are and climbs in your boat just as he is. We sail out with the other boats. We're proud to be in his company--Jesus and us sailing off together into the sunset and he's picked our boat, not theirs! "It doesn't get any better than this--we're taking Jesus for a ride," we think. We even pride ourselves that we've got everything under control so Jesus can sleep.

Then the wind changes and blows up a storm so severe that it robs us of rational thought. The waves turn rough and hit us again and again and then recoil and crash into us from the other direction with no let-up. Our carefully constructed little vessel begins to break up and take on water. "Hello, we're sinking here," we think. "We're dying!"

We wonder, "How can he be our sailing buddy when he is asleep in the back of the boat while we are bailing hard and not keeping up?" We call out in desperation, even anger, "Teacher, don't you care that I'm drowning?"

I know that I feel that way at times. When I am going through tough times, I wonder why God is allowing these things to happen. Sometimes I feel like David in Psalms 13:1,”How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?” And in Psalms 10:1 David wrote, “why do You stand afar off, O Lord? Why do You hide in times of trouble?”

Often when we are going through tough times, others no longer seem as supportive or as friendly, an abandoned feeling leads us into the downward spiral of thinking: No one cares for me! Like David, we may then conclude: God has also abandoned me!

I have found that there’s little said or written in Christian literature about helping believers who feel abandoned by God. Why do you suppose this is? I think it is because we have been taught that Christians are not to experience such things, that we are only to have “life more abundantly” or to “live victoriously.” The dying French atheist Voltaire said, “I am abandoned by God and man.”
We aren’t surprised to hear an unbeliever say that. But if any of us should admit to such feelings, many of our friends would shake their heads, and wonder whether we are true Christians. Isn’t that true? Isn’t that the chief reason why you do not talk to other Christians about your problems?”

Jesus has promised that He will calm the storm. We forget that Jesus told us the destination and said that we would go across together. It's our perception, not his reality that has us scared, but he'll hold us and make the bad thing go away like a mother holds and comforts her child who is crying after a nightmare.

Jesus does what is necessary, but he asks hard questions --"Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" "Who then is this?" we ask, wrestling with our egos. We want to think that we are in control. If we could only know the details of how, when, where, and why, we could control the outcome.
You may think it's enough to have Jesus in your boat, but are wondering why you are still wet and cold and your boat is sinking? "Don't you care?" you ask Jesus. "Why are you afraid?" he asks you back.

It is only later when the adrenaline subsides, and your body stops quivering that you realize that Jesus does care because the storm is gone, you are alive, and he made the difference. Paul says that "the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus! (Phil 4:7). Jesus is our peace.

It isn't the boat that you are in that is going to save you. It is the Christ Jesus in you that makes all the difference.

Put yourself in the story. Do you require a clear sky and a calm sea before you venture out at Jesus' call? Are you putting your hope in a bigger boat or a water-tight hull of your own construction? Are you setting your course by the weather reports or by trusting your instincts to read the signs in the sky? Is Jesus disappointing you because your little boat seems to be sinking and he doesn't seem to care? Do you fear the storm more than you believe Jesus' instruction to cross the sea? Think about these questions because the story of Jesus calming the storm isn't about safe answers. It's a story about questions.

"Teacher, don't you care that we are perishing?" "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" "Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?" We need the answers to these questions.

Christianity is built on faith and trust in Jesus. I want to close with a story about one of the greatest tightrope-walkers of all time. His name was Blondin. He became obsessed with the idea of crossing Niagara Falls the first time he saw them in 1858. A year after his initial visit, he returned to accomplish the feat. The stunt was not without controversy. Many people felt that a stunt like Blondin's would trivialize the falls, turning them into a backdrop for a circus act, and should not be allowed.

Eventually, Blondin was allowed to string his wire across the falls and on June 30, 1859, he was the first man ever to cross Niagara Falls by tightrope. A large crowd of 100,000 people watched him walk on a single three-inch rope, 1,100 feet long and 160 feet above the falls on one side and 270 feet at the other.

Blondin made many more trips across the gorge during the next year. Each time, he thrilled larger crowds with more exciting acts. He balanced a chair on the rope and stood on it. He took pictures of the crowd while he balanced on the rope. He cooked a meal on a small portable cooker and lowered it to amazed passengers on the Maid of the Mist below. He crossed blindfolded, in a sack, on stilts, and pushing a wheel barrow.

In 1860 a Royal party from Britain that included the Prince of Wales saw Blondin cross the tightrope on stilts and again blindfolded. After that, he stopped halfway across and cooked and ate an omelet. Next, he wheeled a wheelbarrow from one side to the other and returned with a sack of potatoes in it. Then Blondin approached the Royal party. He asked the Prince of Wales, "Do you believe I could take a man across the tightrope in this wheelbarrow?" "Yes, I do," said the Prince. "Hop in, then," replied Blondin. Well, the Prince declined Blondin's challenge. He might have believed Blondin could do it, but he wasn't about to trust him with his life.

When it comes to our relationship with God, this kind of trust doesn't do much good. God doesn't want us to say "Yes Lord I believe in you, but not enough to put my life in your hands." Belief has to come with trust. Proverbs 3:5,6 tells us to "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”

Is there a difference between trust and belief? The Prince of Wales believed that Blondin could walk a man across the rope in a wheelbarrow, but he didn't trust him enough to get in. Do you believe in God? Do you trust him with your life? Trust God with all your heart. Trust Him through the storms of your life and don’t be afraid.

Thank you to Kent Hansen and his e-mail subscription service, A Word of Grace for Your Monday. This article borrows from the 9/11/17 e-mail. If you would like to subscribe to Kent's e-mails, click here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Winding Stairs

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

Our family spent a day hiking to the Winding Stairs area on the Little Missouri River over the Labor Day weekend. Winding Stairs is the name given to a series of bends and rapids causing the Little Missouri River to drop down in elevation. The rapids are formed by a narrow water gap through one of the novaculite ridges. The trail to Winding Stairs is a moderately difficult out and back trail with several river crossings. The trail is part of the Eagle Rock Loop Trail, a 26.8-mile loop through the rugged mountains of the area. Many hikers think that the Eagle Rock Loop is the best hike in the Ouachita Mountains, with its mix of rugged hills with hardwood and pines along with crystal clear streams.

Our planned destination was Raccoon Island. My granddaughters had named the spot Raccoon Island because on a previous backpacking trip to the area, a raccoon drug one of the backpacks away from the campsite. The day was perfect for hiking, partly cloudy and not too hot. The hike included several river crossings. We enjoyed wading across the river and cooling our feet. The scenery along the trail was delightful. As we neared our destination, I was fascinated by the unique rock formations in and along the river. The bluff overlooking Winding Stairs has spectacular views and is one of those places that defines Arkansas as the Natural State.

After hiking for several hours, we arrived at Raccoon Island. We took time to rest and to eat our lunch of sandwiches, grapes and trail mix. The Winding Stairs area of the Little Missouri River has several nice swimming holes, and we spent some time swimming before heading back to the trailhead. My granddaughters were having such a good time swimming that they didn’t want to leave. As we made our way back along the trail, my wife and I noticed that we no longer had the strength and stamina we had when we were younger. Although we were very fatigued by the time we made it back to the trailhead, our granddaughters seemed to have just as much energy as they had when we started our hike that morning. We were tired and sore, but it was a beautiful hike and an awesome way to spend a day with family.

When my son-in-law was planning the hike, he asked my wife and me to go along. My wife had some concerns about the difficulty of the hike. My son-in-law downplayed the difficulty of the hike and stressed the incredible beauty of the Winding Stairs area that would be our destination. He assured us that being able to see the natural beauty of the area would make the difficulty of the hiking and river crossings all worthwhile. After completing the hike, I found that even though the Winding Stairs area was breathtakingly beautiful, I enjoyed the journey as much as the destination.

It made me think about our spiritual journey. Many Christians are focused on going to heaven. That isn’t a bad thing to focus on. I want to go to heaven, and I hope that you do to. But shouldn’t my focus be on more than just mansions and streets of gold?

A friend posted the following encounter on Facebook. “Today an individual stopped me in a parking lot and asked me if I were to die today, right this very moment, do I know I would go to heaven. I took a second to gather my thoughts because I have always thought this to be a strange question; As if the entire point of the cross, the tomb, the resurrection and my salvation is going to heaven. Sure, I want to go to heaven someday, but I also want to be saved for today. I need salvation to be the father and husband that my kids and wife need. I need salvation to be a good teacher. I need salvation to preach the gospel. I need salvation to love my neighbor and enemies alike. I have had a lot of life to live since I was saved. Sure, heaven is in the mix, but right now life is what is on my mind. When I talk to the lost, life seems to be their immediate concern as well. Perhaps we need a different question when sharing our faith. Perhaps we should talk about living because life is ultimately what Jesus gave.”

Instead of presenting the gospel as something that will yield a future benefit we need to present it as something that has already benefited. Something that benefits us now. The rewards of the gospel are present tense not future tense. This changes faith from being something that we are rewarded for to a way we express gratitude.

Back in the 70’s, one of my favorite music artists was Evie. She sang a song that was titled, “If Heaven Never Was Promised to Me.” Here are some of the lyrics. “You may ask me: Why do you serve the Lord? Is it just for heaven's gain? Or to walk those mighty streets of gold? And to hear the angels sing? Is it just to drink from the fountain that never shall run dry? Or just to live forever, ever and ever in that sweet all by and by? But if heaven never was promised to me. Neither God's promise to live eternally. It's been worth just having the Lord in my life. Living in a world of darkness, but He brought me the light.”

The promise of heaven and eternal life is awesome, but God loves us and wants us to love Him now. He wants a relationship with us now not just the promise of one in the future.

Gentle Reader, Jesus wants to be with you. Revelation 3:20 (NKJV) tells us, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” This promise is present tense. Jesus wants to come in now. He wants to be with you now. He has prepared a place for you in heaven, but He wants to be with you now, not just later in heaven.  He wants to give you a rich and satisfying life. He wants to do it now! In John 10:10 (NKJV) Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Studebaker XUV

Not long ago I discovered that 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 XUV was the vision of Michael Kelly, an entrepreneur with one-time business interests in auto body shops, van conversions, ethanol fuel additives, Mexico resorts, raceways and family fun parks. He bought the Avanti Motor Corporation in 1986, sold it in 1988, and bought it again in 2001.

The Studebaker XUV was introduced to the public at the Chicago Auto Show on Feb. 13, 2003. The XUV was posed by some rugged-looking rocks in a small Avanti Motor Corporation display. The vehicle was a last ditch attempt by the struggling Avanti Motor Corporation to cash in on the booming SUV market.

The company brochures stated that it was, "the first Studebaker produced in 37 years, it boasts an unbeatable blend of tradition and technology. The Studebaker XUV (which stands for “Xtreme Utility Vehicle”) has a starting price of $75,000 and includes many luxury features. The XUV is the first vehicle of its kind to offer rear sliding doors, and it comes standard with a retractable rear top that completely opens up the back of the vehicle."

"This is not your ordinary SUV. Our Studebaker XUV is a vehicle for those who want to drive and experience something different," said Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the Avanti Motor Corporation Gwen Beem. "During the first model year we expect to produce approximately 150 of these vehicles. The Studebaker XUV provides a great mix of functionality and unique style."

The company planned to build the Avanti Studebaker XUV on a Ford Super Duty pickup frame. The XUV was supposed to be powered by either a 310hp version of the Ford 6.8L Triton V-10 or a 325hp version of the 6.0L Ford Power Stroke diesel. As far as I could find out, there was never a drivable prototype produced. The Chicago Auto Show vehicle was a non-operational mule with no interior.

Production of the Studebaker XUV hit a snag almost immediately. When they introduced the vehicle at the Chicago Auto Show, GM noticed it's similarity to the GM owned Hummer H2. They took the Avanti Motor Corporation to court, seeking a permanent injunction barring it from producing a sport-utility similar to GM's highly recognizable Hummer H2. "GM won't allow others to profit from and capitalize upon the enormous popularity and goodwill developed in the Hummer H2 by copying its trade dress," said Chuck Ellerbrock, the GM trademark attorney who managed the litigation. The case was settled out of court with Avanti agreeing to make minor changes to the Studebaker. The lawsuit generated quite a bit of free publicity, but the XUV never got beyond the prototype stage.

On Oct. 27, 2006, Avanti Motors hosted a gala celebration for more than 200 guests to inaugurate the company's all-new manufacturing facilities in Cancun, Mexico. The nearly 100,000 sq ft Avanti industrial complex included a 65,000 sq ft production facility, a new separate building for fiberglass production, a new purpose-built CNC and engineering room with research and development areas, plus a 10,000 sq ft Avanti showroom with an upstairs area housing an Avanti/Studebaker museum and offices.

It looked like Avanti might have a new lease on life, but the owner, Michael Kelly, was arrested in December 2006 by the FBI for operating what the Justice Department alleged was a $400 million real estate Ponzi scheme. Avanti Motors folded in 2007, according to Consumer Guide Automotive. The Chicago Tribune reported that Kelly spent six years in custody before pleading guilty to a single fraud charge in December 2012.

There are rumors that one or more of the three prototypes produced might still be in existence in Cancun, Mexico. That would be an amazing barn find!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Remembering September 11

Every year when September 11th comes around, the emotions of Americans are heightened as we remember September 11, 2001. Most Americans can remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the awful news that airplanes had crashed into the World Trade Center. I was at work when my wife called me to tell me what she was seeing on TV. I turned my radio on, and listened all day as the news reports came in. I first wrote about my feelings of this terrible event in 2008 shortly after I started writing on this blog. You can read that post by clicking here.

I revisited the topic in 2010 in a post titled 9/11 and Hope.  The post highlighted two organizations that give me hope, The American Cancer Society and The New Your Says Thank You Foundation.

While my wife and I were studying our family histories, I came across a historical event that I had never heard about before. A couple of things struck me about this event. It happened on September 11th and was one of the worst massacres in American history. The date was September 11, 1857 and the place was Mountain Meadows in Southern Utah.

The story starts when Alexander Fancher and John T. Baker along with 140 men, women, and children and 40 wagons left Caravan Springs in northwest Arkansas and headed west to California. Their path took them through Utah. Brigham Young, the leader of the Mormon Church and the territorial governor of Utah had forbidden the Mormons to sell anything to the wagon train. He also declared that, "the Almighty recognized Utah as a free and independent people, no longer bound by the laws of the United States". There was extreme distrust of any non Mormons by the Mormon people.

In early September, the wagon train made camp at a place called Mountain Meadows where there was grass and water for their horses and cattle. On September 7, the group was attacked by Indians and the Mormon Militia disguised as Indians. A child who survived the massacre said, "Our party was just sitting down to breakfast when a shot rang out from a nearby gully, and one of the children toppled over, hit by a bullet." The shots came from forty to fifty Indians and Mormons. The well-armed emigrants returned fire. Soon the gun battle turned into a siege.

Over the next three days, Mormon reinforcements, continued to arrive at the scene of the siege. William Dame, the head of the southern Mormon Militia, was determined to not let the emigrants pass: "My orders are that all the emigrants, except the youngest children, must be done away with." The siege was a standoff and continued for several days. The commanders of the Mormon Militia came up with a treacherous plan for ending the stand-off.

On September 11, they marched across the field to the emigrants' camp waving a white flag. When they reached the camp they promised that they could guarantee the emigrants' safety if they would agree to their terms. The desperate emigrants agreed to the terms: They would give up their arms, wagons, and cattle, in return for promise that they would would be taken past the Indians to safety in Cedar City. They looked upon the Mormons as their saviors. One of the wagons was loaded with the youngest children. A woman and a few seriously injured emigrant men were loaded into a second wagon. Following the two wagons, the women and the older children walked behind. An armed Mormon "guard" escorted each emigrant man.

When the escorted men had fallen a quarter mile or so behind the women and children, the command was given, "Halt!  Do your duty!" Each of the Mormon men shot and killed the emigrant at his side. Then they began the slaughter of the women and older children. It was over in just a few minutes. 120 members of the wagon train were dead. The militia did not kill some small children who were deemed too young to relate the story. None of the survivors was over seven years old. The children were taken into Mormon homes. Once the story of the massacre got out, the relatives of the children made an attempt to get them back, but it took over two years and the help of the U. S. Army to return the children to their relatives.

Members of the militia were sworn to secrecy. A plan was set to blame the massacre on the Native Americans. This train was undoubtedly a very rich one. It is said the emigrants had nearly nine hundred head of fine cattle, many horses and mules. They also had a great deal of money and gold besides. Large amounts of their valuables and cattle were taken by the Mormons in Southern Utah. Some of the cattle were taken to Salt Lake City and sold or traded. The remaining personal property was taken to the tithing house at Cedar City and auctioned off to local Mormons.

Pictured here is Nancy, the only survivor of the Peter and Saleta Huff family.  The photo was taken at her wedding in January 1869.

Once news of the massacre began to trickle out, the nation was horrified. Mark Twain wrote about it in his book "Roughing It".  "A large party of Mormons, painted and tricked out as Indians, overtook the train of emigrant wagons some three hundred miles south of Salt Lake City, and made an attack. But the emigrants threw up earthworks, made fortresses of their wagons, and defended themselves gallantly and successfully for five days! Your Missouri or Arkansas gentleman is not much afraid of the sort of scurvy apologies for "Indians" which the southern part of Utah affords. He would stand up and fight five hundred of them. At the end of the five days the Mormons tried military strategy. They retired to the upper end of the 'Meadows,' resumed civilized apparel, washed off their paint, and then, heavily armed, drove down in wagons to the beleaguered emigrants, bearing a flag of truce! When the emigrants saw white men coming they threw down their guns and welcomed them with cheer after cheer."

It was twenty years before anyone was convicted in the massacre. Because of Mormon control of the judicial system in Utah, no one was brought to justice. When the Federal government finally stepped in, John D. Lee was offered as a scapegoat, and was the only person convicted out of the estimated 50 to 70 Mormon participants.  He was executed at the Mountain Meadows Massacre site on March 23, 1877.

The terrible events of September 11, 1857 have a clear parallel to the terrible events of September 11, 2001. It shows us that throughout history there have been people who believe their religion gives them the right to kill other people. Just look back at the Salem Witch Trials, or the Inquisition, or the Crusades, or the Holocaust. Although many times in history it has been Christian people who have been involved in these killings, true Christianity, following the teachings of Jesus, requires Christians to "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you", Luke 6:27

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Look to the Sky

On August 21st, my wife and I along with my Dad and a customer who happened to be at my business watched the eclipse of the sun. We took turns sharing the two welding helmets at the shop to safely watch the shadow of the moon march across the face of the sun. It was an amazing experience. During the peak minutes of the eclipse, there were light clouds that made it impossible to get a good photograph. But a few minutes later the clouds dissipated, and I could get useable photos by holding the dark glass from my welding helmet over the camera on my smart phone. I was happy to have a record of this incredible experience.

The eclipse was truly the great American eclipse. It was visible as a partial eclipse from all 50 states and as a total eclipse from a 70-mile-wide sliver of 14 states. The solar eclipse path of totality stretched from Salem, Oregon, to Charleston, South Carolina. Everyone in the continental U.S. was able to see at least a fifty percent eclipse.

While total solar eclipses occur somewhere on Earth about every 18 months, This was the first total solar eclipse in the continental U.S. in 38 years. The last one occurred on February 26, 1979. Not many people saw it because it clipped just five states in the Northwest and the weather blocked the view of the sun in most places. It had been 99 years since the last coast-to-coast eclipse. When the next total solar eclipse over the continental U.S. occurs on April 8, 2024, Mena, Arkansas will be in the path of totality. I’m excitedly waiting to see a total eclipse on that day.

On August 21st, large numbers of people across North America watched the eclipse. Because of the attention the eclipse received from the media, and the information went viral on social media, more people observed and photographed this eclipse than any other eclipse in history. There is no hard evidence on the number of people who watched the eclipse, but a CNN poll taken shortly before the eclipse indicated that about half of the US population planned to watch the eclipse.

About 12 million people live in the solar eclipse’s 70-mile-wide path of totality. An estimated seven million people traveled to the path of totality to have the opportunity to observe a total eclipse. Some friends of mine made reservations months ago in Missouri so they could view the total eclipse. In many locations, this large number of travelers created massive traffic problems. Over one million people traveled to Oregon for the eclipse, causing the worst traffic mess in Oregon history. In Kentucky, there were twenty-mile long traffic jams on the Interstate. One man reported that had been in a traffic jam for eleven hours.  Another tweeted that the Bluegrass Parkway interchange “might be the worst traffic jam in the world right now.”

Eclipse travelers in Wyoming made history. The sparsely populated state had the most traffic it has ever seen, with more than a million visitors. Wyoming Department of Transportation spokesman Doug McGee said, “Our highway system was taxed like it’s never been before. The roads just weren’t designed for that volume of traffic.” He added, “the number of cars participating in the mass exodus rivaled the 636,294 registered cars and pickup trucks in Wyoming as of 2016.”

Even though a large number of people viewed the great American eclipse of 2017, 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 said to 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 that, “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 amazing celestial event. And 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)

But a significant number of Christians don’t believe in this celestial event that the Bible says will be the most viewed event in history; Every eye will see Jesus coming with clouds.

When Jesus promised His disciples, “I will come again” (John 14:3, NKJV), He created hope that has burned in the hearts of nearly all Christians for 2,000 years. And seldom since the first century A.D. has this hope burned more brightly in the hearts of more Christians than it does today.

But there is a shadow that darkens the hope of many Christians. According to the Bible, a terrible time of trouble—often referred to as “the Tribulation”— will take place on earth just before Christ’s second coming. For nearly 1,800 years, Christians believed that all of God’s people would pass through this tribulation. However, about 200 years ago, a new theory was proposed—that God will take true Christians out of the world and take them to heaven before the Tribulation. Then only those left behind will pass through the Tribulation.

The carrying away of the saints to heaven before the Tribulation is called the “rapture.” According to those who hold this view, the rapture will be secret in the sense that, at first, no one will know that it has occurred. Those who are left behind on earth will only realize that it has happened when they become aware that many people have suddenly disappeared for no good reason. Many religious films have attempted to portray this rapture in recent years. These films typically show surprised people wondering what happened to their friends and loved ones. Another common scene is that of cars and airplanes crashing because their drivers and pilots were “raptured.”

In a sense, this view of the end of the world could be called a dual second coming theory because it splits Christ’s return to our planet into two parts—the rapture before the Tribulation and the Second Coming at its conclusion.

One of the more notable advocates in recent years of the pre-Advent theory of the rapture was the late Christian radio broadcaster Harold Camping, whose predictions about the date of the rapture failed three times: September 6, 1994; May 21, 2011; and October 21, 2011. With each date, he claimed that believers would be secretly taken to heaven while those remaining behind would be engulfed in fire and plagues. These bold predictions gained him not only a following but also millions of dollars in donations, as thousands of people, believing they would soon be taken to heaven, gave him money and property.

Hal Lindsey’s 1970 multi-million best-selling book The Late, Great Planet Earth also promoted the rapture. And though Lindsey didn’t predict dates the way Camping did, he made all sorts of predictions about world events, particularly regarding Israel and the Middle East, none of which have yet come about, including—obviously—the rapture itself.

In more recent times, the Left Behind novels became a best-selling 16-part series that was subsequently used as the basis for a series of four films plus a more recent Left Behind movie starring Nicolas Cage. The books and the movies, with the rapture a key theological element, inspired a video game called Left Behind: Eternal Forces, which itself led to several sequels. There are Left Behind graphic novels, CDs, a Left Behind series for teens, and audio dramatizations.

I propose that the rapture is a fantasy of people’s imaginations—and that’s precisely the problem. The imagination is where the rapture idea originated, and that’s where it exists to this day. It can’t be found in the Bible.

But doesn’t the Bible teach that Jesus will return to earth and take the saved to heaven, while the lost remain? Isn’t the second coming of Jesus one of the crucial teachings of the New Testament? Aren’t Christians on solid biblical ground when they proclaim that Jesus is coming back and that when He does He will “rapture” His people to heaven?

The Bible does teach all of these things. The second coming of Jesus is, indeed, the great hope of Christians everywhere. Jesus Himself, more than once, promised to return. The problem is what those who proclaim the rapture in these books and movies say about it. Yes, Jesus is coming back; and, yes, when He comes He will “rapture” His people to heaven. It just won’t happen the way it’s popularly portrayed.

The popular idea is that Jesus is going to return quietly and unseen seven years before His second coming and secretly and quietly rapture the faithful to heaven. The common teaching is that people—spouses, children, parents, friends, neighbors; that is, any Christian who’s ready—will just vanish, having been taken to heaven. You could be driving in a car or sitting in a classroom or walking in the grocery store or traveling in an airplane when those around you will suddenly disappear, leaving only their clothes. Everyone else is, well, left behind.

Why do so many people believe this teaching about Christians being secretly snatched away to heaven? It comes from a misreading of a few texts while ignoring others.

The texts that are used to promote this rapture view are found in Matthew 24. While He was discussing world events just prior to His second coming, Jesus said, “In the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (verses 38–42).

Those who teach the rapture argue that, in the field and the mill, the ones who “will be taken” are the one secretly raptured to heaven while the ones “left behind” will be those who remain on earth.
There’s a major problem, though, with using these texts to teach a secret rapture. Jesus used Noah’s flood as a parallel illustration of His return. So what happened to those who didn’t get in the ark at the time of the flood? “The flood came and took them all away.” Notice that it was those who didn’t get in the boat who were “taken away”—that is, they were drowned; they were lost. How, then, can we read the next verses, which talk about those who are “taken,” as being the ones raptured to heaven? The Flood parallel shows that the ones taken are those who are lost, while the ones who are left will be those Jesus takes to heaven with Him when He returns.

Maybe that’s what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he described the real rapture at Christ’s second coming.  “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17) This text clarifies three things about Christ’s second coming.

First, Paul said that those who are alive and who are left will be caught up “to meet the Lord in the air.”

Second, these verses teach that there will be a rapture, but contrary to the Left Behind version, nothing about it will be secret. Christ will come down from heaven with a shout, “with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God.”

Third, notice what else happens during this rapture: “the dead in Christ will rise first.” This is the resurrection of the dead, which the Bible has talked about for thousands of years. It’s what Jesus had in mind when He said, “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40, NKJV). Whatever the resurrection of the dead will look like, between that and the ruckus made at Christ’s return, the idea of the rapture being a quiet or secret event has to be wrong.

Several other texts show what the second coming of Jesus will be like. Writing in Revelation 1:7, the apostle John said, “Behold, [Jesus] is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him” (NKJV).

And in predicting His second coming Jesus Himself said that “as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. . . . Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:27, 30, 31, NKJV).

Those who teach the rapture theory argue for the secrecy based on a biblical metaphor of a thief coming to a house at night. Peter did write that “the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:10, NKJV) So, yes, Christ will come as a thief in the night, but what will happen when He does? The heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt, and earth will be burned up. That’s hardly a secret event!

The metaphor of the thief in the night means simply what the Bible has said in other places. 1 Thessalonians 5:4 says, “But you aren’t in the dark about these things, dear brothers and sisters, and you won’t be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief.” We don’t know when Jesus will come back, just as we don’t know when a thief in the night will come to our homes. The secrecy has to do with the timing of the event, not the event itself.

On a Tuesday night in 1945, the air was clear over the city of Dresden, Germany. Children had already gone to bed. Suddenly, at about 9:30 P.M., the mournful wail of air raid sirens filled the air. Could it really be? Nobody seriously expected Dresden to be a target. Of course, an air raid was always possible, but few people believed it could actually happen. All over the city, trembling fingers fumbled with radio dials. A frenzied announcer confirmed their worst fears: The planes were really coming. Dresden was under attack.

Families scrambled to remember inadequately rehearsed emergency plans. Moments later the ominous drone of Allied bombers enveloped the city, followed by the sound of seemingly endless explosions. The intense heat of the resulting fires rose so quickly into the night air that it created a vacuum powerful enough to uproot trees.

The merciless pounding continued through the night and well into the next day as waves of Allied planes dropped their lethal loads on the helpless citizens of Dresden. Estimates of the death toll range from 35,000–100,000 people. When it was over, a once-beautiful medieval city lay in smoldering ruins.

According to the words of Jesus, His return to this world will creep up on millions of people like a thief. Many who hear the trumpet blast will be caught by surprise. It’s not that they didn’t know about the possibility of Christ’s coming; it’s just that they didn’t really expect it to happen.

Tragically, for those who choose to disbelieve, the appearance of Christ will come as a devastating surprise. It will be similar to that Tuesday night in Dresden. The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.

The parallels are sobering. In the city of Dresden, people understood that war was raged all around them. In our world today, almost everyone senses that a massive spiritual struggle between good and evil is taking place. With the passing of time, however, many people have been lulled into complacency. For them, the second coming of Jesus will be like a thief in the night.

The teachers of the secret rapture theory take one event— the second coming of Jesus when the dead will be resurrected, when everyone will be raptured, and when the earth will be destroyed—and they turn it into two events, the first being the one so graphically depicted in films, books, and video games, such as the Left Behind series. However, the Bible teaches only one event—the second coming of Jesus, when all of God’s people (not just some of them) will be taken up from the earth together.

That’s the hope that Christians have held for 2,000 years. And it’s the hope that can give us the courage to endure the ups and downs of life in this present world.

Jesus is coming back to this earth to reward His people just as He promised and to 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)