Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Queen Elizabeth II

My An Arkie's Faith column from the September 28, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Along with many other Americans, my wife and I watched with viewers worldwide as Great Britain paid a final farewell to Queen Elizabeth II with a state funeral and military procession. Her reign of 70 years and 214 days is the longest of any British monarch and the longest verified reign of any female sovereign in history.

Queen Elizabeth II's coffin was taken in a solemn procession to Westminster Abbey on the State Gun Carriage of the Royal Navy, drawn by 142 sailors. King Charles III walked alongside his siblings, Princess Anne, Princes Andrew, and Edward. The Prince of Wales and the Duke of Sussex followed behind. As the funeral procession entered the abbey, world leaders, politicians, and foreign royalty stood as her coffin was carried up the aisle. 

During the funeral service, The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said: "People of loving service are rare in any walk of life. Leaders of loving service are still rarer. But in all cases, those who serve will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privileges are long forgotten." He also spoke of how the Queen had declared on her 21st birthday "that her whole life would be dedicated to serving the nation and Commonwealth." The Archbishop added: "Rarely has such a promise been so well kept. Few leaders receive the outpouring of love we have seen."

A while ago, I came across a quote by the American author, historian, and Unitarian minister, Edward Everett Hale. He said, "I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will." It is an excellent motto for your life.

Queen Elizabeth II was in a position of power and influence to make a difference in the world. An article in the online magazine The Conversation stated it this way. "Her wisdom and unceasing sense of duty meant she was widely viewed with a combination of respect, esteem, awe, and affection, which transcended nations, classes, and generations. She was immensely proud of Britain and its people, yet in the end, she belonged to the world, and the world mourned her passing." But most people don't feel that they can make a difference. What can just one person do? 

A few years ago. A friend of mine was upset about a situation, and through his actions made a big difference, even though he was an ocean away. I found out what one person can do.

The narrative started back in 1916. The Battle of the Somme was one of the biggest battles of the First World War. Fought near the Somme River in France, it was also one of the deadliest battles in history. On July 1, 1916, 19,240 British soldiers lost their lives. It was the bloodiest day in the history of the British army.

July 1, 2016, marked the 100th Anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme. As a tribute to these soldiers, the British Royal Legion issued 19,240 hand-crafted solid brass limited edition golden poppy lapel pins, one for each British soldier who lost his life that day. Each pin came with a certificate featuring details of the individual soldier it commemorated.

The intricate golden pins were made from the brass of melted-down shell fuses found on the Somme battlefields and feature a prominent red center, painted with paint mixed with soil from the same fields. The British Royal Legion sold the pins for £39.99, with all proceeds being used to provide care and support for members of the British Armed Forces and their families. Unsurprisingly the poppies sold out within hours.

My friend, whose Grandfather fought during World War I, tried to purchase one but was unsuccessful. He looked on the British Legion site, but they had all sold out very quickly. He thought, "I bet someone is trying to profit off that," so he looked on eBay and found that there was already one listed, selling for nearly £400.

He said, "one of the sellers I contacted first was so mean and arrogant it just got me angry. It upset him to see opportunists making huge profits off something that had such meaning. He told me, "My Grandfather was in the Cavalry in the great war. The slaughter was incredible as humans fought the first real mechanized war. It was supposed to be the 'War that ended Wars.' Sadly, as we know, this was a forlorn dream."

My friend decided to contact the press in Great Britain. He was nervous when he called the papers, but the British newspaper Mirror published an article about reselling the golden poppy lapel pins, mentioning my friend. He was delighted when the BBC reported on it, and soon eBay removed the golden poppy lapel pins.

One man made a difference. Jude 1:22 (NKJV) says, "And on some have compassion, making a difference." You can make a difference. You can have compassion. You may not contribute to making a change an ocean away, but you can make a difference to someone. John F. Kennedy said, "One person can make a difference, and everyone should try."

In Zechariah 7:9 (GW), God tells us to "be compassionate and kind to each other." Imagine what a difference you could make by simply being kind to others. Several years ago, my young granddaughter walked up to a woman at church and gave her a big hug. This woman lived alone and had a prickly personality. She kept people at a distance. All day long, she kept telling people, "That child hugged me. No child has ever done that before." A simple hug made a difference in her life.

Gentle Reader, small acts of kindness have changed the hearts and minds of others. You can make a difference even if you do not have the power and influence of a monarch. You can influence someone even if you are not a social media influencer. You may be only one, but the power of one can be significant. You can't do everything, but you can do something. Look for opportunities to serve others and find opportunities to thank those that are of service to you. Your gratitude is an act of kindness toward others and can profoundly impact someone. The power of one can change the world! Let kindness and compassion be your superpowers.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Chasing Monkeys

My An Arkie's Faith column from the September 21, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

As I travel, the landscape seems almost otherworldly. The trees along the road are veiled in wisps of fog, and overhead a crescent moon tries to break through the cirrus clouds. The faint moonlight enhances the ghostly, ethereal scenery of the early morning hours. 

As I drive through what seems like a sublime fairyland, I listen to a book on the stereo in my little S-10 pickup. The story appears predictable as a boy in the Ozarks of northeast Oklahoma reminisces about the summer he turned fourteen. But the story heads into bizarre territory when the boy, Jay Berry, and his hound dog, Rowdy, are out looking for the family’s crazy old milk cow, and Rowdy trees an animal in a large oak tree. 

Jay Berry tells the story, “At first, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was a monkey—an honest to goodness monkey.” Although it was hard to believe a story about finding a monkey in northeast Oklahoma, I wasn’t surprised. After all, the title of the book is Summer of the Monkeys.

I first heard about the book Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls when I read about the Mena School District’s reading program, One District One Book. I thought, “The title is interesting; I should read the book.” According to a Polk County Pulse article, “the idea is that the school district, sponsors, households, and community all read the same book, giving them something in common in addition to promoting reading and literacy.”  

The story is written from the perspective of a 14-year-old boy named Jay Berry. His life is full of adventure, exploring the river bottoms near his family’s farm. In the late 1800s, his family had moved from Missouri to Oklahoma to be near his grandparents. His twin sister, Daisy, has a crippled leg, but the family doesn’t have enough money to pay for the surgery she needs.

From the day Jay Berry discovers monkeys in a nearby river bottom and learns that they have escaped from a traveling circus, which has offered a large reward for their capture, he is obsessed with capturing the monkeys. He aims to claim the reward and use the money to fulfill his dream of owning a pony and a .22 rifle. He attempts to capture them using traps and a net borrowed from his grandfather, but the monkeys outsmart him at every turn. After one incredibly intense encounter, the monkeys attack Jay Berry and Rowdy, and they limp home covered in scratches and bites. Daisy spends several days nursing them back to health.

Jay Berry and his grandpa go to a nearby town to visit the library and see if there is a book there that can help them learn how to catch monkeys. They hatch a plan to catch the monkeys using coconuts, but as they return home, the monkeys steal the coconuts. Jay Berry wonders if he will ever be able to capture the monkeys. 

One night, not long after the monkeys stole his coconuts, Jay Berry was sleeping soundly when an earth-jarring clap of thunder awakened him. As the storm intensified, Jay Berry started worrying about his monkey nemeses. The following day, he told his Mama, “I’m going down in the bottoms and see about the monkeys. They could’ve drowned or blown away in the storm. I’m worried about them.”

His Papa asked, “If you find the monkeys, are you going to try to catch them?” Jay Berry answered, “no, I just want to see if they are all right.”

Jay Berry found the monkeys huddled together in a washout in the riverbank, wet, cold, and almost dead. When the monkeys saw that he was trying to help them, they followed him home. From this point on, the story follows a happy ending path. Jay Berry returns the monkeys to the circus and gets the reward. Instead of buying a pony and a rifle, he uses the reward money to pay for his sister’s surgery. But somehow, in the end, he still ends up with a pony and a rifle.

Although the premise seems a bit silly on the surface, the book has an excellent moral. It is about family and what matters most in this life. The book examines broad themes such as not giving up on your dreams, kindness, and love.

As I thought about the book, my mind kept returning to what I feel is the turning point in the book. Jay Berry had compassion for the monkeys on the night of the terrible storm. Instead of viewing them as enemies he must subdue; he worried about them and had compassion for them. From that point on, everything in his life changed from disappointments to all his wishes coming true. The book wraps everything up just a bit too neatly but points out that compassion and kindness are the best approaches.

In Psalms 112:4 (VOICE), the Bible tells us that “when life is dark, a light will shine for those who live rightly— those who are merciful, compassionate, and strive for justice.” Unfortunately, most Christians are not known for their mercy, compassion, and desire for justice. We shout in the public arena, “Everyone should keep God’s law as I see it.” But Paul tells us, “The entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Galatians 5:14 (NIV)

In his book Grace for the Moment, Max Lucado offers a pledge that we could all make our own: “Nothing is won by force. I choose to be gentle. If I raise my voice, may it be only in praise. If I clench my fist, may it be only in prayer. If I make a demand, may it be only of myself.”

Gentle Reader, maybe, like Jay Berry, we need to change how we view those we oppose. Instead of viewing them as enemies we need to subdue, we need to consider them with compassion and kindness. As a Christian, kindness can go a long way. It can show others the character of the God we serve. We can show people they are important and created in God’s image through a smile, kind words, and compassion. You may never know the positive impact of your kindness, but “let love and kindness be the motivation behind all that you do.” 1 Corinthians 16:14 (TPT)

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

The Lincoln Navigator

My An Arkie's Faith column from the September 14, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

I was busy installing a windshield when the phone rang. It seems that if I am applying the urethane to a vehicle or setting a windshield in place, there is a good chance that the phone will ring. I laid down my urethane caulk gun and picked up the phone. "Last night, I broke the window in my Lincoln Navigator, and it has shattered into a thousand pieces," said the voice on the other end. "I need to get it replaced before it rains. How much will it cost?" "Let me get into the office where I can look it up," I answered. After getting all the information and pricing the glass, I told him, "That is an expensive piece of glass. It will cost $550.00 for the glass and installation. My supplier has the glass in stock, and I can have the glass here on Tuesday." "Well, I have to have it," he answered. "Go ahead and order it, and I will bring the Lincoln in on Tuesday to get the work done. Do you want me to come by and pay for it before you place the order?" I told him that it wasn't necessary to pay for it before I completed the job.

About an hour later, the customer with the Lincoln Navigator drove up to my shop. "I want to pay you for the glass," he said. I told him that it wasn't necessary, but he insisted. "Thank you," I said. "That is very thoughtful of you." He wrote me a check, handed it to me, and drove away.

My supplier delivered the Lincoln glass to my storage unit in DeQueen, and on Tuesday morning, I drove to DeQueen and picked up the glass. We had scheduled the job for Tuesday, but the customer didn't show up to get the glass installed. It was a busy day, and I didn't have time to think about it until late that afternoon. I called the customer but only got his voicemail. I left a message telling him that the glass was in and asked him to give me a call to reschedule. I thought it was unusual because it had been so important to him to replace the glass before it rained, but I didn't worry about it because he had prepaid for the job. I didn't hear from him for the rest of the week.

Two weeks went by before I heard from the customer. Finally, he called, and we made an appointment to install the glass. I was glad to have the job completed, but I was surprised that he waited so long to have the work done, especially since he had already paid for it.

In my warehouse, there are quite a few pieces of glass that customers have special ordered over the years but never came to get the work done. It is a frustrating and costly part of the business. But I also have several pieces of glass that customers have paid for but have never picked up. I am puzzled that someone would pay for a piece of glass and then never pick it up.

I am also puzzled that more people don't accept God's grace since the price is already paid. The Bible is clear that God's grace is a gift. Why don't more people take advantage of the gift? If you were to ask one hundred random people, "how do you get to heaven?" you would hear many different answers. Things like "try to be good and do your best," "work hard at being a good moral person," or "do more good things in life than you do bad things." The basis for each of these ideas is reliance on our abilities and actions. These ideas are not based on the idea that heaven is a gift. People who think they have earned their way and don't need the gift see no need to accept God's grace. 

Many Christians fall into this way of thinking. They believe they can do it themselves and don't need a gift. A survey conducted by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University finds that fifty-two percent of Americans who describe themselves as Christian believe they can earn their salvation through good works. Because of this mindset, some feel strongly that no one should receive assistance. 

In 1 Corinthians 6:20 (NCV) Paul tells us, "You were bought by God for a price. So honor God with your bodies." God paid the price of his Son to purchase your salvation. "He suffered the things we should have suffered. He took on himself the pain that should have been ours. But we thought God was punishing him. We thought God was wounding him and making him suffer. But the servant was pierced because we had sinned. He was crushed because we had done what was evil. He was punished to make us whole again. His wounds have healed us." Isaiah 53:4,5 (NIRV)

Jesus suffered for you. He took on himself the pain that should have been yours. Your sins were the ones that pierced him. He paid the price to heal you and make you whole. He has paid your debts—all of them. Jesus died for you. If you accept the gift of grace, the stain of sin on your life is washed white as snow.

John 19:28-30 (NCV) tells the story of the last moments of Jesus' life on the cross. "After this, Jesus knew that everything had been done. So that the Scripture would come true, he said, 'I am thirsty.' There was a jar full of vinegar there, so the soldiers soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a branch of a hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' mouth. When Jesus tasted the vinegar, he said, 'It is finished.' Then he bowed his head and died."

Gentle Reader, Jesus said, "It is finished" on the cross. He paid in full all the costs required to forgive our sins. And when we place our trust in him, our sin debt is forever wiped off the books! We all need the gift of grace. We all need to have the penalty paid for our sins. The Bible says, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" Romans 3:23 (NIV) and that "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 6:23 (NKJV) We all need the gift of God, eternal life. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God." Ephesians 2:8 (NRSV) Don't be too proud to accept the prepaid gift of grace.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

The Most Beautiful Rainy Day Ever

My An Arkie's Faith column from the September 7, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

I opened the weather app on my phone and checked the weather for Gulfport, Mississippi. There was an 80 to 100 percent chance of rain every day. We would be traveling to Gulfport for a long weekend in a couple of days. We had been planning our trip for two months. It looked like our weekend at the beach was going to be rainy.

In the forty-plus years that we have lived in Mena, we have never been to the Gulf coast. We decided that we would go to the beach this summer. The Gulfport and Biloxi area was the closest to us, just eight hours away. Two months earlier, I had rented a cute little beach cottage just a few blocks from the beach. We planned a long weekend and looked forward to our beach vacation.

As we left early Friday morning, the forecast hadn't improved. There was a ninety percent chance of rain both Saturday and Sunday, and Gulfport was under a flood watch. It didn't look good for our beach vacation. Our beach cottage rental was nonrefundable, so we decided we would make the best of it. If it rained all weekend and we had to stay inside, we would still have fun.

We stopped on our way through Louisiana to pick up our granddaughter. We had invited her to go with us to the beach, and she was excited about the trip. We told her it would probably rain all weekend, but it didn't dampen her spirits. 

My granddaughter loves listening to books and can often be found with headphones on listening to books on her iPad. We listened to the Audible book Lemons by Melissa Savage as we traveled. The book Lemons is the story of Lemonade Liberty Witt. Her mama always told her: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. But Lem can't make lemonade out of her new life when she goes to live with her estranged grandfather after her mother passes away.

Then she meets eleven-year-old Tobin Sky, the CEO of Bigfoot Detectives Inc., who is the sole Bigfoot investigator for their small town. After he invites Lem to be his assistant for the summer, they set out on an epic adventure to capture a shot of bigfoot on film. As the story unfolds, Lemonade Liberty Witt is finally able to once again make lemonade from the lemons that life has given her. 

My granddaughter was engrossed in the book and didn't like it when the GPS would talk over the narrator. Every time the GPS came on, we would hear a deep sigh from the back seat. Time passed quickly as we traveled, and soon, we drove into Gulfport. Dark, nasty clouds loomed overhead, but there was no rain


We found our beach cottage, and as soon as our luggage was inside, my granddaughter wanted to walk to the beach. As we stepped onto the beach, there was a large flock of seagulls on the sand. As grandma and granddaughter ran towards the gulls, the flock took off with flashes of white and grey filling the sky, their wings beating the salty air. The cries and squawks of the gulls and hundreds of beating wings created an uproar of sound. But soon, they were gone, and the only sounds were the waves lapping on the beach. My granddaughter began searching for shells as we listened to the rhythmic percussion of waves on sand. 

I got up early the following day and drove to a good vantage point to watch the sunrise. Large banks of clouds covered the eastern sky, and there was not much color in the sky. But to the north, there were some breaks in the clouds, and most importantly, there was no rain. I checked the weather app on my phone, and there was still an eighty percent chance of rain, and we were under a flash flood warning. The morning had lower rain chances than the afternoon, so we planned to visit the beach if the weather permitted.

Over breakfast, we talked about our options, and my granddaughter said that she wanted to go to the beach even if it rained. "You get wet in the water," she said, "so what does it matter if we get wet with rain." By the time we got to the beach, the sun was shining, and the sky was bright blue. There were some fluffy white clouds but nothing that was threatening. 

After coating ourselves with sunscreen, we spent the next couple of hours enjoying the beach. My granddaughter spent most of her time building sandcastles and looking for shells. As I swam in the ocean, fish were jumping all around me. Sometimes the fish barely broke the surface, but sometimes they jumped two feet straight into the air. Not far from me, a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron fished from a drainage pipe. I watched it catch several fish.

When we were ready to leave the beach, black clouds formed far off to the west. But we had experienced nothing but bright blue skies. We spent the afternoon exploring Biloxi and Ocean Springs but never saw a single drop of rain. After a delicious meal at Salute Seafood and Italian Restaurant in Gulfport, we drove back to our beach cottage. As we drove along the beach, my granddaughter exclaimed, "this was the most beautiful rainy day ever!"

Pastor Charles Swindoll writes, "the longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past; we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you. We are in charge of our attitudes."

Gentle Reader, our attitudes about our circumstances can help us make lemonade from lemons. Every one of us experiences disappointments and hardships. But how we react makes a huge difference. In Proverbs 17:22 (AMP), the Bible tells us, “A happy heart is good medicine and a joyful mind causes healing, But a broken spirit dries up the bones." Don't let a rainy forecast break your spirit. You might experience the most beautiful rainy day ever.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The James Webb Space Telescope

My An Arkie's Faith column from the August 31, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

While attending grade school during the 1960s, I had two passions that consumed me. I loved baseball. I chewed lots of awful gum to collect baseball cards. As much as I loved baseball, space exploration intrigued me. My heroes were the astronauts in NASA's space program, and I read everything about them that I could get my hands on. In 1969 my interest in space was at a fever pitch. Everyone was talking about the race to land on the moon. The entire world was captivated when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. Every newspaper covered the story. I soaked it all in.

While I went through High School, I stayed interested in space, but there were many other things to interest me and take up my time. By now, there had been six moon landings and one near disaster. In just a few years, astronauts on the moon had gone from the most exciting and talked about thing on the planet to ho-hum, you can drive a vehicle on the moon. I wasn't the only one less excited about the space program. The Apollo 17 mission in December 1972 was the final mission of NASA's Apollo program. With the end of moon exploration, public interest in space exploration waned.

NASA didn't recapture the interest of most Americans until 1981, when the Space Shuttle Columbia made the first flight of a space vehicle that returned to Earth and was reusable. Once again, humans seemed on the verge of conquering the heavens. One of the exciting new directions in space exploration was the Hubble Space Telescope. In 1979 work was started on this new project. After many delays, it launched in 1990. Once again, NASA captured the interest of the American public.

I remember sitting at my new Windows 95 computer with a dial-up modem and waiting several minutes for high-resolution Hubble Telescope images to download. The photos that Hubble produced were breathtaking. When I first saw the pictures, I thought of the words of David found in Psalms 19:1 (AMP), "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And the expanse of heaven is declaring the work of His hands."

In 1989, even before the Hubble Space Telescope launched, NASA scientists started asking, "what's next?" But it wasn't until the mid-1990s that the idea of an infrared telescope, the Next Generation Space Telescope, was formally proposed and approved.

In 2002, the Next Generation Space Telescope project was officially named the James Webb Space Telescope. James Webb, who ran NASA from February 1961 to October 1968, did more for space exploration than any other government official. He shepherded the agency from the first American manned space flight to circling the moon. By the time Webb retired just a few months before the first moon landing in July 1969, NASA had launched more than 75 space science missions to study the stars and galaxies, our own Sun, and the as-yet-unknown environment of space above the Earth's atmosphere. As early as 1965, Webb also had written that a major space telescope, known as the Large Space Telescope, should become a significant NASA effort.

In September 2003, NASA awarded the $825 million contract for James Webb Space Telescope with a planned launch date in 2007. But engineering problems, political hesitancy, and project management issues caused countless delays. In July 2011, Congress threatened to pull funding for the project. After a tense few months, Congress funded the telescope project in November 2011. 

By 2017, the telescope was complete, but NASA delayed the launch due to technical issues. In 2018, an independent review board recommended that the launch be moved to March 2021. But the global pandemic created problems for NASA, and delays kept coming. Finally, the James Webb Space Telescope was successfully launched on Dec 25, 2021.

On July 12, 2022, NASA released the first full-color images from the telescope to the public. Although the release of the pictures barely made a blip in the news media, The magnificent photo of the Carina Nebula took me back to my childhood and the excitement I felt about space exploration. Isaiah 40:26 (VOICE) tells us, "look at the myriad of stars and constellations above you. Who set them to burning, each in its place? Who knows those countless lights each by name? They obediently shine, each in its place, because God has the great strength and strong power to make it so."

The universe staggers our imagination. It is humbling to realize that our planet earth is simply a speck of cosmic dust in the grand universe God created. David was amazed by God's creation. In Psalms 8:3,4 (NLT), he wrote, "When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars you set in place, what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?"

When I first became excited by space exploration as a boy, the 200-inch telescope at the Palomar Observatory in California was the most famous in the world. It was a far cry from the telescope built by Galileo in 1609. With each new telescope, from Galileo to the James Webb Space Telescope, we can see more and more in the universe. 

The effect was awe-inspiring when I experienced the night sky in the Big Bend area of Texas with its almost nonexistent light pollution. There were so many stars visible than I could typically see. There are over two thousand stars visible in a dark night sky. But starting with Galileo, with each improvement in telescope technology, more and more stars have become visible to astronomers.

Gentle Reader, it is the same with the Bible. I have been reading and studying the Bible since I was a boy, but there are still new discoveries. Paul wrote to Timothy, "Since you were a child you have known the Holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise. And that wisdom leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing people what is wrong in their lives, for correcting faults, and for teaching how to live right" 2 Timothy 3:15,16 (NCV). Keep studying the Bible; you don't know what discoveries are still waiting for you.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Berlin Cathedral

My An Arkie's Faith column from the August 24, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

It was our first full day in Berlin and we were at the Pergamon Museum. We were experiencing one of the well-known features of the museum, the Ishtar Gate from Babylon. It reaches thirty-eight feet from the floor to the ceiling, covered in shimmering, brightly glazed cobalt blue bricks. The finely carved animal reliefs shine with vibrant aqua blues, greens, and yellows. Daddy and I gazed up at the images of dragons, lions, and young bulls. 

Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II built the Ishtar Gate around 575 BCE. The gate was the main entrance into the city of Babylon and was part of Nebuchadnezzar's plan to beautify his empire's capital. He placed an inscription on the gate that read, "I placed wild bulls and ferocious dragons in the gateways and thus adorned them with luxurious splendor so that people might gaze on them in wonder." Thousands of years later, his words ring true as I gazed in wonder when I first encountered the ancient entryway.

In a museum filled with ancient wonders, including the Market Gate of Miletus, a large marble monument built in Miletus, in modern-day Turkey, in the 2nd century AD., the Ishtar Gate stood out in its brilliant color and magnificent artistry. "What an amazing way to start our tour of Germany," I thought. After lunch in the museum cafĂ©, where I enjoyed an excellent veggie burger and experienced rhubarb juice for the first time, Daddy and I headed back to our hotel. 

As we walked across the Spree River bridge, we saw a fantastic view of the Berlin Cathedral with its striking, green-colored copper dome. The Cathedral's history goes back to the 15th century. In 1894, Emperor Wilhelm II decided to demolish the old Cathedral and build a new cathedral that he envisioned as the answer to St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Daddy and I decided to take a river cruise on the Spree River. It was a beautiful day, and relaxing after the long walk from our hotel to Museum Island and taking in the Pergamon Museum felt good. Because the Berlin Cathedral sits on the banks of the Spree, our cruise gave us incredible views of the Cathedral and all the other beautiful buildings on Museum Island. I was looking forward to touring the Cathedral later. Our tour had arranged a guided tour of the Cathedral later that day.

The Berlin Cathedral tour was an optional extra for anyone who wanted to go. We were to meet our tour guide at 4:30 in the hotel lobby and walk to the Cathedral for the 5:00 tour. By the time Daddy and I returned to the hotel, and he was settled in our room, the tour group had already left the hotel. 

I started walking to the train station using the app on my phone. According to the app, I would be able to catch the train and make it to the Cathedral in time. There was just one problem. The app directed me to the train station and even gave me the train number, but I couldn't find the train. There were two levels to the station, but I couldn't find my train, U5, anywhere. I assumed the U meant upper, and I walked the length of the upper level but could not find it. I finally found a wide staircase going down from the main level and discovered that U meant underground. By the time I found my train and got off at the Museum Island stop, it was after 5:00.

I hurried to the Berlin Cathedral, but there was no sign of my group. When I walked up to the entrance, there were signs saying the Cathedral was closed for the day. I tried the door, thinking my group might be inside or someone could direct me to them, but the door was locked. A wave of disappointment washed over me. I had missed the tour. I was upset with myself for not figuring out the train system in time. "Oh well," I thought, "there's nothing I can do about it now." 

I had been so rushed trying to get to the Cathedral on time that I hadn't paid attention to what was happening around me. I stood there, taking in my surroundings. As I walked back onto the Spree River bridge, I heard a young girl playing the flute. I leaned against the railing for a few minutes listening to her play. As I walked away, I tossed a Euro coin into the small box next to her that read, "spende." My translation app told me that "spende" meant donation.

As I walked across the bridge, I was in no hurry to return to the hotel. I had not traveled to Germany to spend my time in a hotel. I wandered through the area's streets and found a several-block-long cobblestone pedestrian lane lined with tall, beautiful trees in an area surrounded by buildings. As I walked along, I heard music and followed the sound until I came to a place where a band was playing in front of a small coffee shop.

I ordered a latte macchiato and sat at a small table under the trees listening to the upbeat, happy music. Even though the songs were in Spanish and I could only pick out a few words, the pop, reggae, latin, fusion was unique and enjoyable. When the band took a break, I went up to talk to them and asked if anyone spoke English. The lead singer spoke English, and we spent a few minutes visiting. He and his band Mikarma were visiting Berlin for the first time, and they had only been in Germany for a couple of days. 

As I made my way through the streets of Berlin on my way back to my hotel, I thought about how disappointed I was to miss the Berlin Cathedral tour. But I realized that If I had made the tour in time, I would have missed out on the experience of listening to and visiting with the band Mikarma. Sometimes what we think to be annoyances can be blessings in disguise. Those times we are late or held up from being where we feel we should be at the time can end up being God's plan for us all along.

Gentle Reader, "people may make plans in their minds, but only the Lord can make them come true." Proverbs 16:1 (NCV) Don't let disappointments in life bring you down. We never know what God has in store for us in the future. "I know what I have planned for you," says the Lord. "I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope." Jeremiah 29:11 (NET)


Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The Teal Envelope

My An Arkie's Faith column from the August 17, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The teal envelope stood out from the white envelopes of the bills, credit card offers, and an "urgent notice" from a health insurance company. When we opened the envelope, there was a card with beautiful branches and green and teal leaves covering the top third. Below the leaves, the card proclaimed, "we do, again. Celebrating 50 years of marriage." My wife's sister from Oregon was renewing her vows and celebrating her fiftieth anniversary in a few weeks. 

Just a few days before the teal envelope came in the mail, my wife and I had rented a VRBO and finalized plans for a long weekend trip to the beach in Gulfport, Mississippi. As my wife was reading the invitation, she said, "I wish we hadn't made plans to go to the beach; I would really like to go to Oregon for my sister's fiftieth." After we discussed the situation for a few minutes, I said, "I wouldn't be able to go, but why don't we see what it would cost for you to fly out for the weekend."

After checking the price of an airline ticket, my wife was ready to back out. Prices had risen a couple of hundred dollars since her last trip to Oregon. But we decided that she should go. How often can you attend your sister's fiftieth wedding anniversary? Once we purchased the ticket, my wife had an idea she thought would make the trip more fun. She envisioned keeping her plans a secret from her sister and surprising her by just walking into her house. The more my wife thought about it, the more she wanted to try to pull it off.

To make her surprise work, she needed the help of her nieces. As her plan developed, she decided that the best way to surprise her sister would be for her nieces to arrange a family get-together at a restaurant on the evening her flight landed in Portland. Her niece picked her up at the airport, and when they arrived at the restaurant, my wife waited outside until she was sure that her sister was in the restaurant. Then as her niece was filming, my wife strolled in and walked beside the table. Her niece said, "Oh look, my sister is here. Or maybe it's yours." After a squeal of delight, her sister said, "how did you do that?" Her niece answered for her, "she had a little help from her nieces."

As I sit at my computer writing this article, my wife is in Oregon, enjoying the party as Terry and Bunny Boyd celebrate fifty years of marriage. It's not easy to pull off a surprise when several people are involved in the planning, but my wife and her nieces were very successful. It is satisfying to be able to pull off a good surprise.

Everyone loves a good party. Even the Bible loves a party. One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is Luke 15; I call it the party chapter. It is Luke's account of three parables, each describing a lost item that is found and a party that was held to share the joy and happiness of finding the lost item.

The audience for these stories were the Pharisees, who were complaining about Jesus' lifestyle and his welcoming of tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees used the term "sinners" for any people they felt were not following Jewish law properly or had questionable occupations. Foreigners or anyone they felt were beneath them were referred to as sinners. 

These social and religious outcasts were coming to Jesus, and he received them and ate with them. In Luke 5:30-32 (NIV), the Bible says, "But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, 'Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?' Jesus answered them, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.'"

The Pharisees didn't like that Jesus associated with sinners. Why were they so upset? Why were they unwilling to associate with them? We find the answer in the story of the older brother found in Luke 15. In this parable, the older brother represents the Pharisees, who grumbled at Jesus' reception of sinners. In the story, the older brother is working in the fields when his younger brother, "the sinner," returns. The older brother does not know of his younger brother's return until he hears happy sounds coming from the house. He became outraged and refused to join the party. When the father came out to ask him to join in, the older son refused.

We find the story in Luke 15:29 (MEV), "But he answered his father, 'Look! These many years have I served you. Nor have I ever transgressed your commands, yet never have you given me a goat, so that I might be merry with my friends.'" The older brother was at work in the field when his younger brother, "the sinner," returned home. He thought his works were the basis for obtaining his father's love. This emphasis on works was the error of the Pharisees. They were hard at work, keeping the law as they interpreted it, thinking it would win God's approval and blessing.

The older brother continues complaining to his father in Luke 15:30 (MEV), "But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed the fattened calf for him." This complaint is the flip side of the first complaint. Because the older brother expected a reward for his work, he expected his younger brother to be disowned because of his lack of work.

The father answered in Luke 15:31-32 (MEV), "He said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. But it was fitting to be merry and be glad, for this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'" The father was not celebrating because of the younger brother's sins but because of his return. The older brother not only failed to comprehend grace, but he resented it. His self-righteousness is so intense that he resents the grace of God and refuses to rejoice in it.

Gentle Reader, don't be an older brother. Don't resent the grace that God so freely offers to others. I challenge you today to see all people the way Jesus sees them, people to associate with and love. Remember that Jesus throws a party whenever one of his lost sheep comes home, and he wants you to join the party.