Wednesday, September 5, 2018


My An Arkie's Faith column from the September 5, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, I saw a post about the opening of a local zipline. It read, “to celebrate we're giving away a free ticket. To enter: Like our page, like this post, comment, and share this post. The winner will be announced Sunday morning.” I thought to myself, “why not?” As a local business owner, I believe in supporting local businesses.

I didn’t think about it again until the next Sunday morning when a message popped up on my phone. “Congratulations, Richard!! You are the winner of our free zipline canopy tour ticket. Give us a call or message us when you're ready, and we'll reserve a spot for you.” I found it hard to believe that I had won.

When I called, I spoke to the owner, Shelly. As we were visiting, she gave me some of the background of the zip line. She has been interested in a zipline for ten years, but it was more of a dream than anything else. When her son was nine years old, he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome which is generally considered to be on the “high functioning” end of the autism spectrum. I was particularly interested in her story because I have a nephew who was diagnosed with autism at an early age.

Speaking about her son, Shelly said that “getting him to go outside to play was a chore. It was as if he was glued to the inside of the house. So I turned the outdoors into a science project and super adventure.”  As she became more involved with projects to keep her son interested in being outdoors, Shelly added agritourism and sustainable workshops to her farm. Her family homesteaded the farm in 1897, and 120 years later it remains in the family. Shelly now calls the farm The Blue Zipline and Farm because blue is the color of autism awareness. Whenever Shelly talked of her farm and the zipline project, the conversation seemed always to turn back to her son. She said, “My son has been inspirational.”

It has taken three years to design, build, test and get state approval for the zipline. Shelly involved her son in planning the course, choosing the corridors through the trees, and testing the height and angles of the zipline. A ten-year dream is now a reality because of the dogged determination that Shelly has brought to the project and her unwavering persistence in making a better life for her son.

I am excited to have a zipline in the area, and I’m excited to have won a free zipline canopy tour. It is always nice to win something and to get it for free. My free zipline tour came without conditions; It was exactly what it said, a free tour. Shelly even graciously allowed me to transfer the free zipline tour to my 9-year old cousin who has been wanting to zipline but never has. The only condition for me to receive my free gift was for me to call and arrange a time.

Many “free” things come with lots of strings attached. I get telemarketer calls telling me that I have won a free 3-day cruise to the Bahamas. One day I took the time to delve a little deeper into the particulars of the “free” cruise. The first thing I learned was that I had to pay $19.00 per person to sign up. Then there are more fees. 12.95 per day per person for gratuities. 15.00 per day per person for fuel surcharge. It's another $69.00 per person for the cruise fees, then $150.00 per person for some government fee, then another $120.00 for port fees. There is also a 29.00 per person exit fee when you are leaving the Bahamas. Not exactly “free.” The free cruise scam is something of a legend among travelers.

There are so many things like the Bahamas free cruise scams that most of us are suspicious of “free” offers. I think that may be why so many people are leary of God’s offer of grace. Romans 3:24 (NIRV) tells us, “the free gift of God’s grace makes us right with him. Christ Jesus paid the price to set us free.”

The Bible is clear that God’s grace is a free gift. Why don’t more people accept the free gift? If you were to ask one hundred random people, “how do you get to heaven?” you would hear a lot of different answers. You would hear things like, “try to be good and do your best” or “work hard at being a good moral person” or “do more good things in life than you do bad things.” All of these ideas are based on our abilities and actions. They are not based on the idea of a free gift. People that don’t feel the need of the gift see no need to accept the free gift of God’s grace. Many religious people fall into this way of thinking. They feel that they can do it themselves and that they don’t need some free gift.

The Bible is very plain in Romans 5:16 (NLT) “And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins.” Our efforts lead only to condemnation. Isaiah 64:6 (NIV) tells us that,  “all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” It is important for us to understand that we can't be righteous apart from the free gift of God’s grace.

Gentle Reader, we all need the gift of grace. We all need to have the penalty paid for our sins. Romans 3:23 (KJV) says, “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” And Romans 6:23 (KJV) adds, “for the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Don’t be too proud to accept the gift. It is not a scam. “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) You have been selected to receive to free gift of God’s grace. Don’t miss out because you think it is too good to be true.

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