Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Carriage House

My An Arkie's Faith column from the July 25, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

The two cars drove through the driving rain on narrow winding county roads. The rain had been falling for some time, pounding hard on the windshield as the wipers worked hard to keep up. The tidy, well-groomed farms with fields of corn, soybeans, and cotton flashed by. The drivers of the cars were too focused on the narrow black velvet ribbon that wound before them, dark with rain, to be able to appreciate the rural scenery. They had been driving for two days and were nearing their destination. After spending most of their time in heavy interstate traffic and the occasional traffic jam, it was good to be just a few miles away.

A few minutes later they turned onto Fork Road, following the directions on the GPS. The innkeeper had told them that the GPS would tell them that they had arrived at their destination well before they reached it. Sure enough, the GPS said “you have arrived at your destination,” with their lodgings nowhere in sight. They continued down Fork Road to the end of the road and continued through a gate to the Fork Farm and Stables.

They tried to follow the innkeeper’s directions, looking for the big barn. Their lodgings, the carriage house, was supposed to be just past the barn. Through sheets of rain, they saw an imposing building in the distance. It looked like a lodge, and they knew that there was a lodge on the property. As they drove past the “lodge,” they saw that it was a world class equestrian facility. It was far too fancy to call a barn. Sure enough, just past the barn, they saw the carriage house. Thankful to finally be able to relax, they ran through the rain into the house. After drying off, they looked around. The massive wood beams were beautifully cozy. The spiral staircase led upstairs two the attic bedrooms. The warm wood walls angled upward highlighting the charming rooms.

When my wife and I decided to take a trip to rural North Carolina with my sister and her husband to visit friends, I made reservations to stay in the Carriage House at the Fork Farm and Stables. The Fork’s title originated from its location at the confluence of the Pee Dee and Rocky Rivers. It has a long and interesting history. Records from 1748 show that the Colson’s were the first family to settle in the area. In 1771, Mr. Colson was issued a permit for an “Ordinary” or inn where food, drink, and lodging were available to travelers. It was the first licensed tavern in North Carolina.

Colson’s Ordinary was on The King’s Highway, the main road from Charleston to Salisbury. A Revolutionary War battle was fought in the area, and George Washington was a guest of the Colson’s. In 1999 the property was purchased by Jim Cogdell, who turned it into a working farm with world class equestrian facilities with arenas for showcasing dressage and jumping. Three sporting clay shooting courses bring people from a large area to The Fork. There is also duck, quail, dove and deer hunting on the property.

The morning after we arrived at the Carriage House, I woke up refreshed after a great night’s sleep. As I walked outside, I took in the beauty of my surroundings. There were lush green pastures separated into several different areas by gracefully curved board fencing. Beyond the pastures were large wooded areas. The impressive stables with their impeccably manicured landscaping were close by. Two horses came to the fence and whinnied to get my attention. As I was stroking one of the horse's neck, two young fawns appeared from behind the stables. They leisurely made their way to the wooded area behind the pasture.

As I was watching the sunrise and drinking in my beautiful surroundings, I thought about how this place had surpassed my expectations in every way. I had reserved the house for us because in this rural area there are no motels close by. The place looked nice enough in the internet photos, but many places look nicer on the website than they do in real life. Every part of our experience had exceeded our expectations. When it was time for us to leave, we wished that we could stay longer.

It was nice to stay at a place that exceeded our expectations. The last time that we took a trip, the place that we stayed in didn’t meet our expectations. That is always disappointing. But I know that there is a destination that will more than exceed my expectations. In 1 Corinthians 2:9 (NKJV) the Bible tells us that, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” I am “looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.” 2 Peter 3:13 (NLT)

Gentle Reader, my expectation of heaven comes from John’s description found in Revelation 21:1-4 (NCV) “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth had disappeared, and there was no sea anymore. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It was prepared like a bride dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Now God’s presence is with people, and he will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death, sadness, crying, or pain, because all the old ways are gone.’” Whatever our expectation of heaven is, God has promised that it will exceed our expectations. I’m longing for heaven; are you?

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Rainbow Cheerios

My An Arkie's Faith column from the July 18, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

When my oldest granddaughter is riding in the car with me, she often asks if we can listen to the those Southern Stories. She is referring to a podcast that I like to listen to called Tales from the South. The podcast features true stories written and told by the Southerners who lived them, in front of a live audience.

One of her favorite stories is “Rainbow Cheerios” by Paul Strack. Paul started his story with the words, “Cool – You have Rainbow Cheerios!” He goes on to explain that on the night of April 26, 2011, tornadoes hit the Mayflower, Arkansas area. His 13-year-old daughter learned that her friend’s house had been destroyed.

He reached out to the family and asked, “what can we do to help?” What the family needed most was someplace for their teenage daughters Rachael and Taylor to stay for a few days. Paul recounted, “with three teenagers of our own, and a 10-year-old to boot, we have a pretty good understanding of the adolescent attitude. What was odd and completely unexpected, was the positively bubbly, effervescent attitude that these two brought with them. And to have this attitude after immediately being displaced was nothing short of remarkable.”

When Paul told them how sorry he was for their loss, Taylor replied, “Oh well, what are you gonna do? It’s just a bump in the road.” Rachael quickly chimed in, “Yeah, they will bulldoze our house, and we will get to rebuild. And anyway, Mom finally gets to get her new carpet.” He couldn’t believe their positive attitude.

The next morning at breakfast, Paul heard Rachael exclaim, “How cool!” Rachael repeated – “How Cool! You guys have Rainbow Cheerios!” In the podcast, Paul explained, “we often buy our more popular cereals in bulk and empty the contents into plastic containers so they stay fresh. (No, my own Fiber One is not one of these.) But we often do buy Fruit Loops. You know, those sweet and sugary rings full of all the colors of the rainbow. Cheerios have the Honey Nut version, the Frosted version, and the Banana Nut version and now even the Multi-Grain version, but no rainbow version. Except through the eyes of Rachael.”

Two days after her house was destroyed by a tornado, she was still able to find complete joy – in a bowl of multicolored cereal. Her attitude reminds me of the admonition found in James 1:2 (NIV); “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” James goes on to explain, “you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:3,4 (NIV)

We are to consider the troubles that we are going through pure joy, not because the trouble is pleasurable, but because it helps produce patience within us. There is at least one good thing happening to us in the middle of our trouble. Our suffering is more than just pain. God has a purpose, and that purpose is always good. “We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan.” Romans 8:28 (VOICE) We can consider all things joy because God is working in all situations, even the most painful, for our salvation.

When our lives are filled with trouble, sorrow, and grief; we must be able to look to the future to find the joy. Jesus is our example. “Now stay focused on Jesus, who designed and perfected our faith. He endured the cross and ignored the shame of that death because He focused on the joy that was set before Him; and now He is seated beside God on the throne, a place of honor.” Hebrews 12:2 (VOICE)

Joy is more than just feeling good. Joy has to do with the acceptance of our present circumstances and deciding to have a positive attitude. It is our positive assessment that God is still in control of our difficult circumstances, and in the end, all things work together for our good. “When my worry is great within me, Your comfort brings joy to my soul.” Psalms 94:19 (NLV)

Charles R. Swindoll writes, “the single most significant decision I can make today is my choice of attitude.” If you let negative attitudes such as anxiety, envy, anger, or bitterness dominate your mind, those attitudes will lead you to make decisions that will affect your life in negative ways. But if you choose with God’s help to have a positive attitude, your life will become positive as a result.

In 1988, Singer-Songwriter Bobby McFerrin recorded the song "Don't Worry, Be Happy," The lyrics say, “in every life, we have some trouble. But when you worry you make it double. Don't worry, be happy. Don't worry, be happy now.” Whenever you have trouble, avoid reacting negatively and instead choose to respond positively. You can’t control situations or people, but you can choose how you’ll respond to them.

Gentle Reader, “be joyful because you have hope. Be patient when trouble comes, and pray at all times.” Romans 12:12 (NCV) “I heartily recommended that you pursue joy, for the best a person can do under the sun is to enjoy life. Eat, drink, and be happy. If this is your attitude, joy will carry you through the toil every day that God gives you under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 8:15 (VOICE) So, what are you gonna do?  When you hit a bump in the road where do you find your Rainbow Cheerios?

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Two Maggies

My An Arkie's Faith column from the July 11, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

The two dogs ran through the door and out into the backyard. As I stood on the deck watching the dogs, one of them ran around the side of the house where I couldn’t see her. “Maggie,” I yelled, “get back over here.” The dog that was still in the yard looked at me with big sad eyes, wondering what she had done wrong. The problem was that both dogs were named Maggie.

Three months ago, Maggie the Golden Retriever came into our lives. A friend was looking for a good home for a pet she could no longer keep. She suggested that we keep Maggie for a week while she was out of town and see if we liked her. We fell in love with Maggie on the very first day. She has become a big part of our lives.

This week we have been dog sitting our friend's Border Collie named, you guessed it, Maggie. The two Maggies have become inseparable. They love to play with the dog toys, but whatever toy one of the Maggies has, the other one wants. They like to play tug of war. Wherever one of the Maggies is, you will find the other one.

Having two dogs with the same name is a problem. The dogs are confused when their name is called. We are confused also. We have finally resorted to referring to them as Maggie One and Maggie Two, so we know which dog we are talking about.

Just like the two Maggies, we are often confused by the voices we hear calling our name. There are many voices in the world. The world is a noisy place. If you are somewhere and everybody is talking at the same time, it is pandemonium, and you can’t understand what is being said. In Romans 12:2 (GNT) the Bible says, “do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect.”

To let God transform us, we need to be able to discern His voice from the many voices that are shouting for our attention each day. Jesus talked about his followers hearing his voice. He said that “the sheep know their shepherd’s voice. He calls each of them by name and leads them out. When he has led out all of his sheep, he walks in front of them, and they follow, because they know his voice. The sheep will not follow strangers. They don’t recognize a stranger’s voice, and they run away.” John 10:2-5 (CEV)

Jesus calls us each by name. He knows even more than our name. He knows our thoughts, feelings, longings, fears, and needs. Jesus is tenderly calling you today. The old hymn, “Softly and Tenderly,” is a favorite of mine. “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling. Calling for you and for me. See on the portals He's waiting and watching. Watching for you and for me. Come home, come home. Ye who are weary come home. Earnestly, tenderly Jesus is calling. Calling, O sinner come home.”

Whether or not you can hear Jesus calling you often depends on your ears. My ten-year-old granddaughter has been staying with us. She loves to listen to books on tape. When I want her to listen to me, I must tap her on the shoulder and get her to take the headphones off, so I can talk to her. Too often when Jesus is calling us, we can’t hear Him because of all the things that have our attention besides Him. Jesus says, “he who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Mark 4:9 (NKJV)

Psalm 23 is one of the best-known passages in the Bible because it comforts us with the image of a good shepherd caring for His helpless sheep. Imagine the sheep grazing contentedly while the shepherd walks among them.  At just the right time, he stands, calls them to follow him and gently calls out the names of his sheep. Every one of them has a name, and he knows them all. Each sheep hears that familiar voice and his name and follows the steps of the shepherd.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” Psalms 23:1-3 (NKJV) “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” John 10:3 (NKJV)

What an amazing thought! Jesus knows me by my name. To Him, I'm not just a number; I belong to Him, and He knows my name. When I feel unloved or persecuted and afraid, I feel peace knowing that Jesus knows me, that he knows my name, and that He is calling me. I remember the verse that says, “He called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9 (WE)

Gentle Reader, I hope that you hear Jesus calling your name and that you can recognize His voice, in the middle of this noisy world. God says, “I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1 (CSB) He wants us all to be able to “rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:20 (NIV)

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Low Gap Cafe

My An Arkie's Faith column from the July 4, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

As we drove through a remote section of the Boston Mountains, we came around a bend in the road and saw the sign that said Low Gap. The town consisted of a church and a cafe. We were hungry, so we stopped at the cafe for supper. Its old country exterior and remote location made us think that the food would be simple. The number of cars parked out front made us think that the food was probably good.

My wife and I were spending the weekend in the Buffalo River area to celebrate our forty-third anniversary. Along for the trip was our seven-year-old granddaughter. We had a very enjoyable time attending the Buffalo River Elk Fest and visiting Jasper, Ponca and Boxley Valley. We love to explore backwoods dirt roads and ended up in out of the way places like Erbie and Murray. Our granddaughter loved swimming in the Buffalo River. She went swimming at the Ponca low water bridge and the Steel Creek Campground. It was after an afternoon of swimming that we ended up at the Low Gap Cafe.

People were waiting to be seated when I walked up to the door of the cafe. Because there were only three of us, we were soon seated in the outdoor gazebo section of the small restaurant. We ordered Fettuccini Alfredo, Eggplant Parmesan, and a Portobello Mushroom that was steamed and stuffed with tomato, spinach, and mozzarella cheese; served over saffron rice and sauteed zucchini. The gourmet food freshly prepared by a chef trained in New York City was a surprise.

As we were enjoying our meal, Joey de Lago and Stefanie Behe performed live, playing an eclectic mix of music. Their repertoire was wide-ranging, from old standards to Latin music to music from the roaring twenties. Whatever song they were playing, Joey ’s acoustic guitar had a Latin flavor. His parents fled to the U.S. from Cuba in 1959 during the Cuban Revolution. His eyes still sparkle when he plays Cuban music, and he makes sure you know how much he disliked Fidel Castro.

As we ate our meal and listened to the music, I heard something familiar. It was music from the movie, Jungle Book. They were playing “I Wanna Be Like You.” “I wanna be like you. I wanna walk like you. Talk like you, too.” Those lyrics reminded me of my two an a half-year-old great-nephew. On his last visit, his Mom and Grandma brought him by my shop to say goodbye before they traveled home to Missouri. He loved being at my shop. I was busy with customers while he was here, but my Daddy showed him how to pump up the floor jack. He loved pumping up the jack and letting it down. Daddy was changing tires on his trailer. Whatever Daddy was doing, my great-nephew was right beside him copying his every action. Daddy let him help tighten the lug nuts on the trailer wheels. He turned the four-way lug wrench until every lug nut was tight.

As I watched my great-nephew wanting to do everything my Daddy was doing, I thought about how Christians should relate to Jesus. We should want to be like Jesus. We should want to do the things that Jesus did. The Apostle John wrote, “those who claim to belong to him must live just as Jesus did.” 1 John 2:6 (NIRV) And Peter declared, “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.” 1 Peter 2:21 (NRSV)

A popular catchphrase in Christianity is, "What Would Jesus Do?" WWJD is found on jewelry, emblazoned on bumper stickers and has made its way into popular culture. The only way to determine what Jesus would do is by learning what Jesus did. 2 Peter 3:18 (KJV) says, “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Whatever decisions we make in life, whether large or small, can best be made by asking ourselves what Jesus would do.

Christian author Stephen Mattson writes, “Followers of Jesus must ask themselves an important question: What’s the point of Christianity? Because in the big scheme of things, is the purpose of having a Christian faith primarily for gaining political power, or creating and enforcing laws, or hoarding wealth, or living as comfortable a life as possible? Or is it ultimately about bettering and saving humanity?” He goes on, “the reality is that the good news of the gospel cannot be heard and accepted unless we emulate Jesus. The Bible shows us that Jesus is the best example of who to follow, so why aren’t Christians doing so?”

If we are to follow the example of Jesus, how should we relate to others? We should have compassion. It seems to me that many Christians have lost their compassion. As I look around, I don’t always see Christians dealing with others with compassion. I am more apt to see hate than compassion. Following the example of Jesus and having compassion on sinners is very liberating. It allows us to leave the judging up to God while we practice the self-sacrificing love He demonstrated on the cross. It allows us to hold ourselves to a high moral standard without feeling that we must hate those who do not see things the way we do.

Gentle Reader, God calls us to live like Jesus did, no matter what anyone else says. Every decision we make is an opportunity to walk closer with God or a step farther away from Him. God wants us to want to be like Him. Don’t be one of the many Christians who choose to trust, and follow, and put their hope in so many other things besides Jesus. In the end, are we as followers of Jesus following his example: Loving our neighbors, and even our enemies, to the very best of our ability? God wants to change us; but before he can, we have to want to be like him. “The Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NLT)