Wednesday, December 29, 2021

In the Quiet of Christmas Morning

My An Arkie's Faith column from the December 29, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse. 

The morning dawned quiet and peaceful. Too quiet and peaceful. There was no excitement. There were no shouts of Merry Christmas. No laughter filled the air. The Christmas tree in the living room stood silently with presents all around. But the gifts remained untouched. No one was opening them. The living room was in perfect order, with no torn wrapping paper in sight.

I sighed and thought, “it doesn’t feel like Christmas.” It didn’t help that the temperature outside was almost seventy degrees. Across the street, cars filled the driveway, and people arrived for Christmas morning celebrations. But our house was quiet. Illness had changed our plans, and there would be no one at our home for Christmas. No bubbly, excited granddaughters to make the day festive. I thought about all the people who would not be with those they love this Christmas and felt empathy for them.

We did have a lovely Christmas dinner planned with cousins and my Daddy, but that was hours away. I sat in my favorite chair on the deck and looked out over my backyard. “It is so nice today,” I thought as I sat there in my shirt sleeves, “but it just doesn’t feel like Christmas.” Here in Arkansas, it’s not supposed to be in the seventies on Christmas. “What is it that makes Christmas feel special,” I wondered. I decided that it is being with people you love and feeling a part of a tradition. Our traditions help Christmas feel special.

Around the world, Christmas traditions vary considerably. I remember spending a Christmas in Puerto Rico in the 70s. Puerto Ricans celebrated Christmas, but there were no gifts on Christmas Day. January 6th, known as Three Kings Day, rather than December 25th, was the day for exchanging gifts. Children would gather grass, hay, or straw in shoeboxes for horses and camels of the three kings, much like children in the U.S. leave cookies and milk for Santa and his reindeer. Good kids are rewarded with presents and candy on Three Kings Day.

The tradition of Three Kings Day comes from the story in the Gospel of Matthew of wise men from the East who came looking for a baby who was the King of the Jews. “The star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Matthew 2:9-11 (NKJV) This biblical story is the basis for gift giving at Christmas.

In much of Europe, it is Christkind that brings the Christmas presents. The tradition dates to the reformation and Martin Luther. At this time, it was traditional to give children gifts on December 6th, St. Nicolas’s Day. Does the idea that Saint Nicolas delivers gifts sound familiar to you? But Martin Luther wanted to do away with the veneration of saints and saints’ days, so he started a gift-giving tradition on Christmas Eve. He told the children that the Christ Child had brought their presents. This tradition quickly took hold in Lutheran families. 

While Martin Luther’s original intention was that the infant Jesus brings gifts, over time, the image of a baby transformed into an angelic figure with golden hair topped with a crown and golden wings. A baby couldn’t deliver gifts, so a female angel with Christ-like qualities did the job. This angelic figure is known as Christkind. In much of Europe, Christkind is a symbol of Christmas along with Santa Claus. In this tradition, children never see Christkind in person. Parents tell them that Christkind will not come and bring presents if they try to spot it. You will find Christkind delivering gifts all over Germany, Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, and much of Latin America.

In Scandinavia, an important tradition during the Christmas season is celebrating Saint Lucia. She was a young Christian girl who was killed in 304 A.D. Her history has been lost, and all we know for sure is that this brave woman lost her life during the persecution of Christians in the early fourth century. Her veneration spread to Rome so that by the sixth century, the whole church recognized her courage in defense of the faith.

Tradition tells us that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, hiding in the catacombs under the city. She would wear candles on her head to have both her hands free to carry things. St. Lucia’s Day is now celebrated by a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash around her waist and a crown of candles on her head. The crown is made of Lingonberry branches which are evergreen and symbolize new life in winter. Many towns and villages choose a girl to play St. Lucia and lead a procession of carolers.

Whatever your Christmas traditions are, I hope they bring you joy and happiness. I have noticed that many Christians believe very strongly in their traditions. Traditions are not inherently good or bad, right or wrong. Some people defend traditions because the church has practiced it that way for years. Other people dislike tradition and want change just for the sake of change.

I feel that Christians should be neither “traditional” nor “non-traditional.” They should neither accept nor oppose a practice simply because it is a tradition. It doesn’t matter how long we have practiced something or when it began. What’s important is what God’s word says about it. If God’s word requires it, then we must do it. If God’s word forbids it, we must oppose it even if it is a tradition. If God’s word is silent, there is no problem with tradition. But I can’t expect all Christians to follow just because it is my tradition.

Gentle Reader, what are your Christmas traditions? Do they bring you joy? Do they remind you of Jesus and how important He is to you? Jesus wants you to have joy. He says, “these things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” John 15:11 (NKJV) This Christmas season, I hope you have experienced love and joy. “There are three things that endure: faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NCB)

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Home for Christmas

My An Arkie's Faith column from the December 22, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse. 

It was a cold, windy day in December 1903. Orville Wright stands on the beach in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, staring at the sky. His brother Wilbur is flying overhead in the machine they had built together. It was their fourth flight of the day in their hand-built flying machine. Wilbur Wright succeeded in flying their homemade machine for 59 seconds, covering 852 feet at a speed of seven miles per hour. Orville had piloted the first flight of the day that lasted just 12 seconds and traveled only 180 feet, but it proved that human flight was possible. 

Orville wrote in his diary about the first attempted flight that morning. “I found the control of the front rudder quite difficult. As a result the machine would rise suddenly to about ten feet and then as suddenly, on turning the rudder, dart for the ground. A sudden dart when out about 100 feet from the end of the tracks ended the flight. Time about 12 seconds.”

The brothers realized that a successful flight depended on their ability to learn how to handle the machine. Each attempt showed improvement. They were pleased enough with Wilbur’s 59-second flight but knew they could do better. Unfortunately, there was not going to be another flight that day. Orville explains in his diary. “We set the machine down a few feet west of the building, and while standing about discussing the last flight, a sudden gust of wind struck the machine and started to turn it over. All rushed to stop it. Will, near one end, ran to the front, but too late to do any good. Mr. Daniels and myself seized spars at the rear, but to no purpose. The machine gradually turned over on us. Mr. Daniels, having had no experience in handling a machine of this kind, hung on to it from the inside, and as a result was knocked down and turned over and over with it as it went. His escape was miraculous, as he was in with the engine and chains. The engine legs were all broken off, the chain guides badly bent, a number of uprights, and nearly all the rear ends of the ribs were broken.”

That day, Orville and Wilbur became the first to demonstrate a heavier-than-air machine’s sustained flight under the pilot’s complete control. What did the brothers do after their exciting success and the heartbreak of damaging their flying machine? They had an unhurried lunch and then walked four miles to send a telegram to their father. The telegraph read, “Success four flights Thursday morning all against twenty one mile wind started from level with engine power alone. Average speed through air thirty one miles. Longest 57 seconds. Inform press. Home for Christmas.” With their machine wrecked by the wind and flying done for the season, the Wrights immediately thought of going home for Christmas. They returned home with their broken machine on the evening of December 23.

According to their niece, Ivonette Miller, who was 7 in 1903, the children were excited that Wilbur and Orville would be home for Christmas. She recalled that they said something like: “Oh, goody, Uncle Will will be home in time to carve the Christmas turkey!”

Amanda Wright Lane, the great-grandniece of Wilbur and Orville, said: “The Wright family was thrilled to learn about that first flight, but they were happier yet to know that meant the boys, great cooks, would be home in time for Wilbur to stuff the Christmas turkey and for Orville to make his cranberry bunny, served at holiday meals.”

Orville and Wilbur Wright had just accomplished something that no human being before them had ever done. What they accomplished that cold, windy December day would change humankind forever. But their thoughts were with their family and making it home for Christmas.

The family is important to God because it is an institution He has created, and it is one of His blessings. Families come in all shapes and sizes. Every family is different, unique, and every person within each family is essential. When God created the family, he simultaneously gave us an extraordinary gift and a unique challenge. Family requires an unshakable commitment to each other even when everyone involved is intimately aware of each other’s flaws.

If you are committed to your family, they should always come first. Even if you are working on something significant, like the first powered, heavier than air flight, you should never forget your commitment to your family.

As a Christian, you are a part of two families, your earthly family and your heavenly family. 1 John 3:1 (GW) tells us, “Consider this: The Father has given us his love. He loves us so much that we are actually called God’s dear children. And that’s what we are.” And Romans 8:15-17 (ICB) says, “the Spirit that we have makes us children of God. And with that Spirit we say, ‘Father, dear Father.’ And the Spirit himself joins with our spirits to say that we are God’s children. If we are God’s children, then we will receive the blessings God has for us. We will receive these things from God together with Christ.” 

Gentle Reader, there is no doubt that God loves His children. He shows it by His words, His actions, and His promises. He longs for His children to be with him. Like we want our children and grandchildren to come home for Christmas, God wants us to come home and be with Him. Jesus says, “I will be there to greet you personally and welcome you home, where we will be together.” John 14:3 (VOICE) There is nothing in this life that is more important than for us to be a child of God and come home for Christmas. Let’s tell God, “I’ll be home for Christmas. You can plan on me.”

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Counting on Google

My An Arkie's Faith column from the December 15, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse. 

The Fed-Ex driver placed two gigantic Dell computer boxes on my front porch. I had been waiting for this day. I replaced my 386x computer with the 80-megabyte hard drive with a new Pentium computer containing a 1 Gigabyte hard drive and the latest Windows 95 operating system. The 19-inch monitor was so large that it hung out over the back of my desk. As I hooked up the wires and turned my new computer on for the first time, a current of excitement ran through me. Sitting on my desk was a state-of-the-art computer that was my portal to the world wide web.

After loading the Netscape Navigator software from my internet provider company, I sat at my desk with eager anticipation as I heard, “Pshhhkkkkkkrrrrkakingkakingkakingtshchchchchchchchcch*ding*ding*ding,” and the computer screen announced that I had connected. What would I search for now that I had the whole world at my fingertips? Using the InfoSeek search engine, I began soaking up information. It was after 3 a.m. when I finally pulled myself away from this magical information portal and went to sleep for a few hours before I had to go to work.

At about the same time, another story occurred halfway across the country at Stanford University. Larry Page and Sergey Brin met when Brin was assigned to show Page around Stanford. They disagreed about nearly everything during that first meeting, but by the following year, they started a partnership. Working from their dorm rooms, they built a search engine that used links to determine the academic importance of individual pages on the World Wide Web. They called this search engine Backrub.

Over the next couple of years, Page and Brin caught the attention of the academic community and Silicon Valley investors. In August 1998, after receiving an investment of $100,000, the team moved from the dorms to their first office: a garage in suburban Menlo Park, California. When they looked to name the company, they wanted something that spoke to the tremendous amount of information available as the World Wide Web was exploding. They decided on the word Googol. 

“Googol” got its name in 1938 when mathematician Edward Kasner picked the name for a number so large that it doesn’t have a significant role in mathematics. A googol is a 1 with one hundred zeros after it. There isn’t a googol of anything on Earth, not grains of sand, not drops of water in the oceans. It is an impossibly large number. Page and Brin were engineers and were familiar with the word googol. But they decided to modify it a little and came up with Google. Today, if you search the internet, you probably use the Google search engine. Even though more than twenty search engines are available, over ninety percent of users choose Google. 

The next time you search the internet and the familiar Google logo appears on the page, maybe you will remember the impossibly large number that gave Google its name. The largest number name that most of us use is trillion. But do we understand what a trillion is? When I hear that the United States is twenty-nine trillion dollars in debt, I have no fundamental concept of what that means. Twenty-nine trillion seconds equals 914,834 years. How can we wrap our minds around what such large numbers mean?

When people think of big numbers, the things used as symbols are interesting. Matthew 10:30 (NKJV) says, “but the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”  So, how many hairs are on your head? According to the Harvard University website Bionumbers, the number of hairs on a human head range from 90,000 to 150,000. That seems like a number that we can understand. 

Stars and grains of sand are symbols of big numbers found in the Bible. In Genesis 22:17 (NET), God made Abraham a promise, “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be as countless as the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the seashore.” Science writer David Blatner, in his book Spectrums, writes, “a group of researchers at the University of Hawaii, being well-versed in all things beachy, tried to calculate the number of grains of sand. They said if you assume a grain of sand has an average size, calculate how many grains are in a teaspoon, and then multiply by all the beaches and deserts in the world, the Earth has roughly seven thousand five hundred quadrillion grains.” That is a lot of grains of sand.

There is no way that I can wrap my mind around the concept of numbers like a trillion, quadrillion, and googol. But even a smaller number like eight billion is meaningless to me. I can read that any day now, the population of Earth will reach eight billion, but what does that mean? Eight billion people. It’s a considerable number. I know billions of people live on this planet, but I can’t comprehend what that means. 

I may not be able to comprehend large numbers, but God can. Even though God can understand numbers that I cannot, God doesn’t see the number; He sees faces. God sees the personal histories and heartaches, individual problems and potentials. He sees actual people with names. Each one lives in a particular place, wakes up each day, faces their issues, and deals with the obstacles that confront them. He loves each one of these eight billion people so much that he gave his only Son as a sacrifice for them.

Even though we might not understand the concepts of a billion, trillion, or googol, we can know that God loves the world. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:16,17 (NKJV) 

Gentle Reader, God loves each one of the eight billion people on Earth, and that includes you. But when God looks at His children today, He sees billions of people selfishly divided and opinionated. He sees people who claim to follow Him but don’t love others. He wants us to do better. “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”1 John 4:7,8 (NLT) Eight billion people. It’s a vast number. But God loves them all. Let’s remember how much God loves us. All of us! We can count on Him all the way to a googol.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

The Threat of Rain

My An Arkie's Faith column from the December 8, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse. 

I kept an eye on the sky all day while I was working. It was covered in heavy clouds, colored a storm cloud grey. Occasionally the clouds would drip a bit as it almost began to rain. But most of the day, the skies are veiled in the lightest of mists. Tonight is the annual Christmas parade, and I wonder what the weather will do. I will be driving our Shay Model A roadster in the parade with the top down, and Ashley and Jodi of the Ouachita Chronicles will be riding in the open rumble seat. What will the weather bring? 

As I drive the Model A home from work, there is a light mist. Just enough to spot the windshield and make the seat wet. As I leave to go to the parade staging area, I throw in a roll of paper towels to help dry off. Questions swirl in my mind. How wet would we get driving in the parade? How many people would show up in this damp, wet weather? Just before the parade started, I dried off the seats. Once the parade began, the clouds held their moisture, and we didn’t get wet. As I drove down the parade route, People lined the streets. It didn’t seem that the weather had kept anyone away. 

As I drove in the parade, I looked for my family. My granddaughters from Louisiana were here, and family from the Pacific Northwest. I waved and then honked the ahooga horn on the Model A when I spotted them. They all had a great time at the parade, and the girls came home with lots of candy. 

The following day, I was again keeping an eye on the skies. Everything was wet from the rain overnight. We were having a mini family reunion this weekend, and for several weeks, my wife had been planning a picnic for today. One of our favorite drives is along the Cossatot River near Shady. There is a large area to pull off the road with excellent access to the river. For some time, my wife has wanted to have a picnic there. With family visiting us, she thought this weekend would be perfect for a picnic. 

As I loaded firewood, chairs, tables, and food into the SUV, the skies were spitting a few drops of rain on me. While we discussed the possibility of rain, my family from the Pacific Northwest told me that they would never get to do anything outdoors if they worried about a bit of rain. By the time we loaded up and headed for Shady, the skies had lightened, and there was no precipitation.

When we arrived at the banks of the Cossatot, we found a nice fire ring and got a fire started. We set up chairs around the campfire and listened to the river whispering sweet notes of cascading water. The sound of the water washes the stress of the week away. We enjoy visiting as the smoke from the campfire takes turns blowing in people’s faces. When the fire has burnt down enough to provide a bed of coals, we roast hot dogs and eat our picnic lunch. The area is so beautiful and peaceful that no one is in a hurry to leave. 

Dark, stormy clouds filled the sky a couple of times, but it never rained on our picnic. We had been concerned that the weather might spoil our fun, but it turned out to be perfect. After several hours, we put out the fire and loaded up the vehicles to return home. I decided to make a detour on the way home and drive to the top of Eagle Mountain. The road was difficult in my two-wheel-drive SUV. I kept losing traction on one steep portion of the road and had to back down the road and try three times before making it. But we were rewarded with stunning views from the summit. The sun was trying to break through the clouds, and the misty atmosphere gave the landscape an ethereal, otherworldly feel.

As we made our way down the mountain and back home, I was thankful that we had not allowed the threat of rain to keep us from our picnic. Instead of sitting at the house and wondering what the weather would do, we had gone ahead with our plans, and the day had turned out fantastic. 

Do you like the rain? We tend not to like rain very much, especially if we have an outdoor activity or work planned. Unless we have crops that need water, we don’t like the rain. Few of us look out the window on a rainy day and say, “what a great day!” The rain gets in the way of our comfort.

Too often, we let the possibility of something going wrong keep us from doing something we want to do. “But what if something goes wrong,” we say. “What if it rains on my parade.” We fail to reach our potential in life because we are too timid. But, “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT)

In Matthew 25, Jesus told a story that illustrates this. He describes how a wealthy master entrusted three of His employees with his money. The Master gave a different amount to each one but the same task. To invest the money he gave them. One employee was very timid. He was afraid of failure. He said, “Master, I knew that you were a hard man. So I was afraid and went and hid your money in the ground.” Matthew 25:24,25 (NCV)

Gentle Reader, the employee in this story didn’t lose the Master’s money, but he wasted an opportunity. The threat of failure kept him from fulfilling his potential. God told Joshua, “Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (NLT) And he is telling you the same thing. Don’t let fear of failure keep you from doing great things in your life. Don’t let the threat of rain keep you from being all that God wants you to be.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The Real Christmas Tree

My An Arkie's Faith column from the December 1, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse. 

The three girls chattered happily as they ran from tree to tree on Papa Great’s property. He had suggested that they come to choose a real Christmas tree from his woods. Even though there were so many to choose from, it didn’t take long to find a tree they liked. But they kept looking to see if there was another tree that they liked better. After looking at dozens of trees, they decided to look again at the first tree that had caught their eye. After much discussion and taking a vote, they decided on the tree. 

Papa Great brought a small bow saw for the girls to use to cut down the tree. One girl worked for a few minutes, and then another girl, but the tree still stood. When the two girls decided to work together, one on each side of the bow saw, using it as a small crosscut saw, they finished the job in a minute. The girls had their live Christmas tree. They planned to put the tree on Grandma’s deck.

While they were searching for the perfect tree, Grandma told them a story from when she was a girl. For as long as she could remember, there had been an aluminum Christmas tree in her house each Christmas. Artificial aluminum trees were shiny and felt very modern. The aluminum tree at her home was lit with different colors by a color wheel placed under the tree. The color wheel had four colored segments on a plastic wheel; when the wheel rotated, a light shone through the plastic, lighting the tree’s metallic branches with different colors. 

But this year, She and her sisters decided that they wanted to get a real Christmas tree. They planned to get a tree and have it put up before their parents got home from work. They pooled their money and walked the half mile to the Arlan’s store where they knew there were Christmas trees for sale in the parking lot. There were so many to choose from, but the girls finally decided on a tree and paid for it. Suddenly they realized that there was part of the plan they hadn’t thought through. How were they going to get the tree home?

There was nothing that they could do but try to carry the tree home. I can imagine the looks the girls received from the passersby as they trudged along the busy city thoroughfare, struggling to hold on to and carry the sizeable Christmas tree. When they finally got home, they realized that they had another problem. They had chosen a tree that was much too tall to fit in their house. They looked through their Daddy’s tools and found a small hand saw. They began trying to cut off the bottom of the tree so it would fit in the house. As they were sawing on the tree, they heard Daddy’s truck drive into the driveway. They knew that their plan of having the tree put up in the living room before their parents got home wasn’t going to happen. 

Daddy was shocked to see his girls dauntlessly trying to cut off the bottom of an oversized Christmas tree. But with his help, the girls were able to put the tree up. This year they would have a real tree, not an artificial one. The girls still remember this memorable Christmas even though it happened over fifty years ago. The story of that Christmas tree brings back special memories. 

After Grandma told the girls the story of the real Christmas tree, Papa Great told them a Christmas tree story from his childhood. He grew up in Kansas during the depression. No one ever bought a Christmas tree. He lived in a place with no evergreen trees, so they would cut a leafless tree and put it up for a Christmas tree. One Christmas, Papa Great’s older brother, decided that they should have a proper Christmas tree. So, the three siblings walked a mile to where they knew there was a large cedar tree. Papa Great’s brother climbed up into the tree and cut a few branches. They carried the branches home and tied them together to try and fashion them into a Christmas tree. That Christmas, they had a real evergreen tree in the house, even if it was just a few branches tied together. 

The girls could see the happy memories in Papa Great’s eyes even though the event had happened almost eighty years ago. And hopefully, these girls will remember the Christmas that they went to Papa Great’s and cut down their own Christmas tree. Kathryn Butler writes, “memory binds us to places that forget us, and to moments that no one else values.” But our memories are important. They shape who we are.

Poet Wendell Berry has observed that when we are young, our lives are all time and very little memory. As we grow older, we discover that our lives are almost entirely memory and very little time. It is important to remember. Memory can be a tremendous blessing. It can bring smiles, laughs, or even tears of joy as we look at pictures, share stories, or think about the good times of bygone days. The character Kevin on the TV show The Wonder Years said, “Memory is the way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.”

The crucial importance of memories recurs throughout the Bible. At the end of his life, Moses urges the people whom he’s shepherded for forty years to “be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you don’t forget the things which you have seen with your own eyes. Don’t let them fade from your memory as long as you live. Teach them to your children and grandchildren.” Deuteronomy 4:9 (NOG)

Gentle Reader, this Christmas, make new memories! Make lots of happy memories. Everyone has memories, both painful and joyful. But you can make plenty of positive memories to overshadow the difficult ones. And while you are making new memories, remember the blessings God has given you in the past. Pray the prayer of David found in Psalms 143:5,6 (ICB). “I remember what happened long ago. I recall everything you have done. I think about all you have made. I lift my hands to you in prayer. As a dry land needs rain, I thirst for you.” Merry Christmas and Happy Memories.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The First Thanksgiving

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 24, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Golden threads of morning light announce a new day. It is our first Thanksgiving Day in Arkansas. The weather is unusually warm for November, and I am thankful for it. My wife and I are hosting Thanksgiving this year, and there will be more than twenty people here. There isn’t room for that many in our small house, so we have cleaned the garage and mopped the floor several times. We have set up borrowed tables and folding chairs in the garage. Cooking is already underway in the kitchen. I’m thankful for the warm weather because our garage isn’t heated.

There is a bustle of activity as everyone arrives. I’m thankful to be surrounded by family and friends. My parents and both sets of grandparents are here. After a bountiful meal, my Grandpa Lawry asks if he can sing a song. He loves to sing, and even though he doesn’t have a good singing voice, some of my favorite memories are of him singing. Grandpa chooses the song, The Love of God. His voice wavers and his words slur a bit as he sings acapella, “The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell. It goes beyond the highest star and reaches to the lowest hell.”

His voice is filled with emotion, and I do not doubt that he believes every word with his whole heart. He continues singing, “Could we with ink the ocean fill and were the skies of parchment made. Were every stalk on earth a quill and every man a scribe by trade. To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry. Nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky.” As the last words of the song rolled off his lips, I felt warm and cozy, surrounded by the love of God and family.

At the time, I didn’t realize how special that Thanksgiving would become in my memory. But in just a couple of weeks, my Grandpa passed away suddenly. I’m thankful for that first Thanksgiving in Arkansas and the memory of Grandpa singing. Even though it was forty years ago, my memories are vivid, and I can still hear him sing. 

I remember learning in school that the Pilgrims held the first Thanksgiving in 1621. But since my boyhood school days, I have discovered that there were Thanksgiving celebrations held in America before the 1620s. The people of El Paso, Texas, claim that the first Thanksgiving was held in Texas in 1598. Spanish conquistador Don Juan de Oñate led an expedition north of the Rio Grande into an area now known as Texas, where he and his colonists joined Native Americans in a feast on April 30, 1598.

The King of Spain sent Oñate to colonize the area north of the Rio Grande. His journey started from Santa Barbara, Chihuahua. The 50-day trip across the Chihuahua Desert, was unforgiving to the expedition. There were 400 men, 83 wagons, and thousands of horses, sheep, and goats. Their provisions ran out quickly, and the desert provided no running water or rainfall. After days without water, the party finally spotted the banks of the Rio Grande. Capt. Villagrá, who provided a written record of the expedition, wrote, “Our men threw themselves into the water and drank as though the entire river did not carry enough to quench their terrible thirst. Then satisfied, they threw themselves upon the cool sands, deformed and swollen and more like toads than men.” They rested under the cottonwood trees on the banks of the Rio Grande for ten days, spending their time swimming, fishing, and hunting.

On April 30, 1598, Oñate requested that the friars traveling with them say a Mass of Thanksgiving to celebrate their deliverance from death in the desert. “We built a great bonfire and roasted the meat and fish, and then all sat down to a repast the like of which we had never enjoyed before,” Villagrá wrote. “We were happy that our trials were over, as happy as were the passengers in the Ark when they saw the dove returning with the olive branch in his beak, bringing tidings that the deluge had subsided.”

Although the people of El Paso have an excellent historical claim to the first Thanksgiving in America, the people of St. Augustine, Florida, believe that they have a better one. On September 8, 1565, hundreds of Spanish settlers, under Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, landed at what is now St. Augustine, Florida. Blaring trumpets and thundering artillery accompanied Avilés as he waded ashore. The Spanish admiral kissed Father Francisco Lopez’s cross, then claimed Florida for God and Spain. As curious members of the indigenous Timucua tribe looked on, the newly arrived colonists gathered around a makeshift altar as Father Lopez performed a Catholic Mass of Thanksgiving for their safe arrival. At the invitation of the Spanish, the Timucuans then joined the newcomers in a communal meal.

Florida historian Michael Gannon feels that this feast was America’s first Thanksgiving. In his book “The Cross in the Sand,” he wrote, “It was the first community act of religion and thanksgiving in the first permanent settlement in the land.” But Texas holds an even earlier claim to the first Thanksgiving. An official Texas Historical Commission marker near the Palo Duro Canyon acknowledges that Fray Juan De Padillo conducted thanksgiving services there on May 29, 1541, for the army accompanying Spanish conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado.

Gentle Reader, the location of the first Thanksgiving in America is not what is essential. God wants us all to live as though each day was Thanksgiving. But too often, we forget to give thanks for what God is doing for us. We have a choice, every day, to give him thanks. And with a heart of thanksgiving, we realize that no matter what we face, God doesn’t just work to change our situations and help us through our problems. He does more. He changes our hearts. Paul wrote, “in every situation be thankful and continually give thanks to God; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (AMP) “Clothe yourself in love. Love is what holds you all together in perfect unity. Let the peace that Christ gives control your thinking, because you were all called together in one body to have peace. Always be thankful.” Colossians 3:14,15 (NCV) Look for things to thank God for every day. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Perception of Time

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 17, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The air has the crisp feel of fall, and the stars are bright overhead as I load windshields into the back of my little S-10 shop truck. I have a full load this morning, with every slot in my rack filled. When I have loaded everything into my truck, I drive to the gas station to fill up and then head back to Mena.

I have been making two or three trips a week to DeQueen to pick up my auto glass for the past several months. My supplier no longer delivers to the Mena area but does deliver to DeQueen. During the night, they drop off my order at a storage unit that I have rented. On the days I make the trip to pick up my glass, I leave early in the morning to be back at my shop in time to open before 8:00 A.M. 

Today as I leave DeQueen, it is already twilight. Even though the sun isn’t up yet, its light filters through the atmosphere and gently illuminates the landscape. As I drive, a rosy hue begins to creep across the morning sky. Golden fingers of sunlight begin to appear. As I round a corner, there is a large open pasture to the east. Suddenly the sky is ablaze with the fire of the rising sun, casting long shadows on the ground. Soon the sun peaks out from behind the tree line. I see the first rays of the sun fall on the earth. Before my eyes, the clouds become lit with a fabulous, colorful light as the rising sun announces the coming of a new day. I pull over to the side of the road and get out to take a photo. 

It is the first sunrise I have seen for a while. My schedule hasn’t changed, but my perception of time has. Daylight Saving Time has ended until next spring, and last Sunday, we turned our clocks backward one hour. The intriguing thing about Daylight Saving Time is that we aren’t changing time. It is simply our perception of time. We aren’t changing how long the sun remains in the sky, and we aren’t changing the 24 hours in a day. We’re simply changing what answer the clock gives us.

The new time on my clock means that I witnessed the sunrise on my morning drive back from DeQueen instead of driving back in the dark. With the time change comes a new perception of my surroundings. I can see everything clearly as I go through the countryside. With the sunrise, the leaves of the trees glow in the warm morning light. The branches of each tree spread out with glorious fall colors. I had made this drive just a few days ago and had seen nothing. But today, the beauty of the sunrise and the magnificent fall colors speaks to my soul. “The God of gods, the mighty Lord himself, has spoken! He shouts out over all the people of the earth in every brilliant sunrise and every beautiful sunset, saying, ‘Listen to me!’” Psalms 50:1 (TPT)

I am happy to be driving in the warmth of the morning light and am enjoying the beauty of the landscape around me, but in the back of my mind comes the nagging realization that tonight when I leave work, it will already be dark. As much as I enjoyed this morning, I am not looking forward to it getting dark so early.

It’s interesting when you think about it. My perception of time changed. Because of a predetermined concept, we all turned our clocks back an hour and began to function in this new time. And our perception changed. We didn’t change any physical thing. “It is the Lord who created the stars, the Pleiades and Orion. He turns darkness into morning and day into night.” Amos 5:8 (NLT) The sun comes up at the same time, but we perceive that time differently. We arrange our schedules around this new perception of time. 

I am often frustrated by my lack of control over my life. It makes me wonder how my life would become more enjoyable if I changed my perception. What if I looked at my situation in a new light? What would happen if I turned back the clock of my perception?

Changing our perception does not mean ignoring the hardships of this life. We all have difficulties. We all spend time driving in the dark. But Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. The one who follows Me will no longer walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12 (TLV) We will still grieve over things lost and fight against injustice. We will still have troubles in our lives. But we can look at these things in a way that does not destroy our emotions or our stability. When we change our perception of this life in terms of God’s love for us, we see our struggles in a new light. This idea takes time to become a reality. Like our bodies adjusting whenever there’s a time change, our minds and spirits need time to grow used to new perceptions. It won’t happen overnight.

You can start changing your perception by remembering that God is in control. We aren’t in charge of the sun or the earth, but God is. He won’t leave you forsaken when you feel things are beyond your reach. Trust in God’s plan when you struggle with desiring a situation to turn out a specific way. Trust in His goodness. You can have the same security as the Psalmist who wrote, “When I felt my feet slipping, you came with your love and kept me steady. And when I was burdened with worries, you comforted me and made me feel secure.” Psalms 94:18,19 (CEV)

Gentle Reader, “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 (NLT) We can have peace and joy trusting God instead of trying to control everything ourselves. We may not have the power to change all things, but we can change our perception of all things. Changing our perception can help us remember that God is in control. He says, “Stop your striving and recognize that I am God. I will be exalted over the nations! I will be exalted over the earth!” Psalms 46:10 (NET)

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Shine Eye Surprise

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 10, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

There is a chill in the air as I load the luggage into the back of our SUV. I can see my breath as I scrape away the thin layer of ice that covers the windows. After a busy week, I am looking forward to our trip to the Buffalo River. I'm hoping to relax and see beautiful fall colors. 

For the last several years, we have made plans with my sister each fall to spend a long weekend somewhere in the Ozarks. We try to pick a weekend when the fall colors will be on display. This year I rented a cabin from Buffalo River Outfitters near St. Joe, Arkansas. I love the Buffalo River, but this was our first time to visit this area of the river.

The drive from Mena to the Buffalo River area is always beautiful, and today is no exception. In Danville, we turn onto Highway 27. In Dover, Highway 27 splits off from Highway 7 and heads towards Marshall. I have never been on this section of the road before and find it intriguing. The leaves are beginning to change, and muted colors cover the hillsides with patches of golden splendor and occasional oranges and reds. The road twists and winds its way through the countryside, but I am not in a hurry. I soak in the beauty of the area, and the tension of the week melts away.

Our cozy cabin is just a short distance from the Buffalo River, with easy access to Grinder's Ferry and Tyler's Bend. We spent the weekend exploring from Spring Creek to Dillard's Ferry and Buffalo Point to Rush. The weather was perfect, with crisp cool mornings and warm sunny afternoons. Each new location that we explored impressed us with its beauty.

At night we visited Tyler's Bend to view the night sky. The Buffalo National River is an International Dark Sky Park, the only dark sky park in Arkansas. It was a new moon, the humidity was low, and the skies were cloudless, providing perfect conditions for observing the night sky. From our vantage point at the pavilion, there was no artificial light visible. The sky was ablaze with stars, and the milky way dominated our vision. 

Our time went by much too fast, and soon it was time to check out of our cabin and make our way back home. We planned to eat breakfast at Ferguson's Country Store and Restaurant and then take a short hike to the Collier Homestead at Tyler's Bend before heading home. Our meal at Ferguson's was excellent, and the staff was friendly. As we visited with our waitress and told her the places we had explored over the weekend, she told us about a nearby location that is not well known. 

We decided that we had time to explore one more place before leaving the area, so we found the place our waitress had told us about. We took the unmarked gravel road just before the bridge across the Buffalo River. The road was called Shine Eye Road. At the end of the road, there is a small parking area and one picnic table. We headed down the path to the river. As I stepped out of the trees onto the gravel bar, the beauty of the river and the bluffs spread out in front of me. It was one of the most beautiful scenes I had seen all weekend. 

We took our time soaking in the beauty, slowly walking along the large gravel bar as far as we could. A group on horseback came riding by, and we saw several canoes and kayaks floating down the river. The views were breathtaking, and I said a little prayer, thanking God for the recommendation of our waitress and the soul-cleansing beauty of the area. As I walk along the river, I hear one of my favorite songs running through my mind. The lyrics to "Creation Calls" by Brian Doerksen seem perfect for the moment. "Listening to a river run, watering the earth. Fragrance of a rose in bloom. A newborns cry at birth. How could I say there is no God? When all around creation calls."

We took lots of photos, but finally, we had to leave. I know that I will be back to Shine Eye someday when I can spend more time. I am amazed that there is an area of such beauty that so few people have seen. I'm thankful that I was able to see it. As I reflected on the beautiful relaxing weekend and how much of God's incredible creation I had seen, I thought of David's words. "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the skies announce what his hands have made. Day after day, they tell the story; night after night, they tell it again. They have no speech or words; they have no voice to be heard. But their message goes out through all the world; their words go everywhere on earth." Psalms 19:1-4 (NCV)

The surprising beauty of a place like Shine Eye speaks to our hearts. Something about the majesty of river bluffs or admiring beautiful fall colors reminds us we are not accidents but are here by design. God uses his creation to show us His power, His grace, and His love. He uses the beauty of nature to tell us who He is, who we are, and how much He loves us. As you go about your day, look for the beauty in your surroundings. Notice the beauty of the flowers in your garden or the birds as they sing. God's creation is all around us.

Gentle Reader, God has given us his creation to show us His grace and love. How often does God give us a beautiful sunset or paint a rainbow in the sky at just the right time to remind us of His love and promises? The next time you're enjoying the beauty of nature, thank the Lord for all He created.  God knows each star in the night sky and each bird in the air. How much more does He care for you? "Ask the animals what God does. They will teach you. Or ask the birds in the sky. They will tell you. Or speak to the earth. It will teach you. Or let the fish in the ocean educate you. Are there any of these creatures that don't know what the powerful hand of the Lord has done? He holds the life of every creature in his hand. He controls the breath of every human being." Job 12:7-10 (NIRV)

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Memories of Buffville

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 3, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

A couple of years ago, I made a trip to southeastern Kansas with my Daddy. He had grown up in the area, and we visited places filled with nostalgia. I had a wonderful time reliving old memories. My cousin, Don, drove us around the countryside, showing us the places where family members had lived. I had a wonderful time reminiscing and hearing family stories.

Memories of the trip came flooding back last week when I received a large manilla envelope in the mail. When I opened it, there were several photocopied pages along with a handwritten note that said, “Richie, I am sending you a copy of this I found in my mom’s things. Thought you might like it.” It was from my cousin Darlene. The photocopies were of my Uncle Lloyd’s letter to my cousin Elsie, dated November 8, 1992. The title, neatly written across the top of the first page, was Memories of Buffville. One of the places Daddy and I visited on our trip to Kansas was the ghost town of Buffville, where he had been born. 

In his letter, Uncle Loyd wrote, “the north shale pit was a thing close to paradise for me when I first came to Buffville in June 1928. It had been abandoned when springs of water made it impossible to take any more shale out of it. All of the boys in Buffville swam in the north pit, and in summer, we would go swimming several times a day. Even after school started, we would go swimming before school in the morning. Since we didn’t have indoor plumbing, it was a very convenient way to take a bath. We boys did a lot of fishing there too; sometimes, we could sell the perch to people for a penny each. The water was so clear we could watch the little fish take hold of the bait and drag them in.”

The history of ghost towns is not always easy to trace. Most ghost towns originally grew up around some business venture. Buffville, Kansas, is not any different. In 1903 the Kansas Buff Brick Company opened their plant just a couple of miles south of Altoona. Buffville’s history starts with an identity crisis. It was first known as Buff City, but in February 1910, the name changed to Buffton. Starting on September 2 of that year,  it was known as Buffington for ten days, then back to Buffton for one day, and finally it was called Buffville from September 13, 1910, until the post office closed on October 31, 1943.

Even though the town’s birth can be pinpointed to either 1903, when the Kansas Buff Brick Company started operation, or 1910 when the Post Office opened, the death of the village was not quite so clear cut. Kansas Buff Brick sold out to the United Brick & Tile Co. in 1929, and the plant closed not long after. The Post Office closed in 1943, and the last students went to school there in 1950. By the 1970s, there was no evidence of the thriving community of Buffville.

In her book, Opal Lawry Vega’s Memories, my Aunt Opal wrote, “Grandma and Grandpa moved to Buffville. Grandpa Reeve went to work at the brickyard. All the people who lived there worked at the brickyard. There was a small store and a rooming house. My father stayed at the rooming house. Mom and Aunt Lola delivered milk to the boarding house, and Daddy began talking to them and then walked home with them and then would sit on the porch and talk. Mom and Daddy were married on September 30, 1927. Daddy had been married before and had a son, Lloyd, about nine years of age. 

We lived in Buffville until the brickyard closed down. I was born there. Daddy did whatever he could find to do, mostly on farms. Of course, it was the depression years, and no one had much. We lived in a farmhouse near Buffville when Delbert was born. Daddy and Grandpa were in Colorado harvesting broom corn at that time.

That house burned down while we were all away. I was barefoot, and my shoes burned up. We lived with Grandpa and Grandma in Buffville for a while. Daddy and Uncle Pete made a living by driving to Joplin, Missouri, to buy fruit and vegetables to sell door to door. We later moved back to Buffville. Grandpa and Grandma still lived there and a few other families and Fred’s Store. We had a cow, and sometimes Daddy would let me ride her when he took her to the shale pit for water. Bob was born there. We called him Bobby Bill as they couldn’t decide what to call him, Bobby or Billy.”

My Daddy’s family was part of the Buffville community for several years. My Grandpa and Great-Grandpa worked at the brickyard. In Uncle Lloyds letter, he wrote about the work. “The south pit was used to supply shale to make brick. My Daddy, Ben Lawry’s job was to load small metal cars with shale and push them on a narrow-gauge track to the bottom of an inclined ramp where a power cable would pull them up to the place they could be dumped. Each car held one half cubic yards of shale, and Daddy got twenty-five cents for each one he loaded. It was hard brutal work. Grandpa Urban Reeve ran the dry pit where the shale was ground to a powder for brickmaking.”

Buffville holds so many memories for my family, but today there is nothing left to identify the community other than the shale pits. Even though there is nothing physical left, the memories live on as long as there is someone to keep them alive. Civil rights activist Rosa Parks wrote, “memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others.” 

Gentle Reader, be grateful for the places and people who have been special to you. Cherish your memories and take nothing for granted. Remember that many things, like the community of Buffville, disappear from view. But memories are the only thing that no one can destroy. Lucy Maud Montgomery put it this way, “nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.” But if we don’t remember, things can be lost. It is vital to exercise our memories. “So be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you don’t forget the things which you have seen with your own eyes. Don’t let them fade from your memory as long as you live. Teach them to your children and grandchildren.” Deuteronomy 4:9 (GW)

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

A Case of Nerves

My An Arkie's Faith column from the October 27, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The leaves on the trees along Highway 270 are glowing in the early morning sunlight, displaying muted colors of orange and gold. Autumn has begun painting the landscape with a slow grace, giving me a preview of the vibrant yellows, orange, and scarlets that will soon blanket the hillsides. I take some notice of the beauty surrounding me, but my mind is preoccupied. I am on my way to Hot Springs for a doctor’s appointment. 

For the past year, I have been suffering from leg pain. My orthopedic surgeon scheduled a nerve conduction study to try and find the cause of my symptoms, numbness, tingling, and pain. I am not looking forward to the procedure. A nerve conduction study measures how fast an electrical impulse moves through your nerves and can help identify nerve damage.

I researched the procedure on the internet and found that the doctor would stimulate my nerves with electrode patches attached to my skin during the test. He would do this by placing two electrodes on the skin over my nerve. One electrode would stimulate my nerve with an electrical impulse, and then the other electrode would record it. He would repeat this procedure for each nerve he tested. The doctor’s office told me that the study would take more than two hours. A friend of mine had experienced the procedure, and his description was not easing my mind. I am not fond of medical procedures, and everything about this one was outside of my comfort zone. 

When I arrived at the hospital, I found a parking spot, put on my mask, stepped out of the car, and headed towards the building. It took me a while to find the proper entrance to the St. Vincent Medical Building. I was nervous as I stepped into the elevator and pushed the button for the 5th floor. After finding my way to Suite 505, I took a deep breath to calm my nerves and opened the door. I filled out all of the necessary paperwork, and then after taking my vitals, the nurse ushered me into a small room. In the corner was a computer station with a maze of wires connecting the equipment. 

When Dr. Kramer came into the room, he spoke with a calm, reassuring voice, explaining what would happen. I’m sure that many of his patients are nervous about the procedure. He told me that he would locate and mark the nerve to be studied. Then he would attach a recording electrode to the skin over my nerve, using a special paste. He would then place a stimulating electrode away from the recording electrode at a known distance. “A mild and brief electrical shock, given through the stimulating electrode, will stimulate your nerve. You may experience minor discomfort for a few seconds,” he explained. He also told me that we could take a break for a few minutes if it was ever too painful. That information didn’t make me feel any less nervous.

The first few “mild and brief electrical shocks” were unsettling, but I soon knew what to expect, and as we settled into a routine, I was able to relax a bit. But then the doctor told me that he would be applying the “mild and brief electrical shock” ten times in rapid succession. I was relieved when each series of ten shocks, referred to as repetitive nerve stimulation, ended. When the doctor had finished testing the nerves in both legs, he told me that we had one more procedure, which would only take fifteen minutes. “Almost done,” I thought. But then the doctor explained the procedure. “It is called electromyography,” he said. “It is more involved and may also be a little more uncomfortable. Electromyography uses an electrode on the skin. However, the test also uses a thin needle that penetrates the skin and goes into your muscles. I will ask you to relax and contract your muscles, giving you instructions on how and when to tighten the muscle I am studying.” 

“Great,” I thought, “he saved the best for last,” but I didn’t have any choice but to continue. My anxiety surfaced again as the doctor explained the procedure. I gritted my teeth as the doctor started inserting needles into my left leg. When he inserted each needle, I felt a small sting, but it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. After the tests on my leg, I rolled onto my side, and he began inserting needles into my lower back. I was very relieved when the doctor finally said, “all finished.” All of the tests were completed, and there was no longer a reason for me to be nervous. 

Dr. Kramer tried to explain what he had learned from the testing, but the only thing that I understood was that my nerves were damaged and not operating as they should. He told me that I should follow up with my orthopedic surgeon as soon as mutually convenient. As I walked out of the medical building and called my wife, I realized my anxiety hadn’t been warranted. I had imagined it to be much worse than it was.

I was filled with apprehension during my two-hour drive to get to my appointment. Psychologists use the term “Negative Anticipation” for these moments. I had forgotten the words of Paul found in Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV). “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  

Paul didn’t tell us that when we pray, God will magically fix things. Instead, he tells us that God’s peace will flood our hearts and minds. Paul didn’t rebuke or criticize us for our anxiety. Paul is saying, instead of being anxious, ask God to give you peace.

Gentle Reader, when you are anxious and have a case of nerves, God wants to give you peace. When you look forward to something with “Negative Anticipation,” the answer is to “turn all your anxiety over to God because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7 (GW) God tells you, “don’t worry, because I am with you. Don’t be afraid, because I am your God. I will make you strong and will help you; I will support you with my right hand that saves you.” Isaiah 41:10 (NCV) When you have a case of nerves, claim God’s promise of peace. You can count on Him.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Sky Pilot

My An Arkie's Faith column from the October 20, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

It was over ten years ago when I listened to my first podcast. While researching a history topic on my computer, I found some information I was looking for, but it wasn’t written. I had stumbled across the podcast Stuff You Missed in History Class. I enjoyed listening to the podcast and was able to get some information relevant to my research. I didn’t think about podcasts again until I got an iPhone.

While I was learning about what I could do with my iPhone, I saw the podcast app. When I opened the app, I searched for Stuff You Missed in History because it was the only podcast I knew. I listened to the current episode and enjoyed it, but the back catalog intrigued me. I listened to every episode in a few weeks. During one episode, I heard the hosts mention another podcast, Sawbones. I started listening to Sawbones, and before long, I had caught up on their back catalog. I was hooked on listening to podcasts.

Since that time, I have listened to podcasts almost every day. I listen in the car, while I work, while I mow the yard, anytime I can. I am obsessed with this form of communication. Most of the podcasts I listen to are history-related, and I learn so much new information that my friends and family get tired of me sharing my newfound information with them.

One of my favorite podcasts is Ridiculous History. The show’s tagline is, history is beautiful, brutal, and often ridiculous. While listening to a recent episode while working, I heard the show’s hosts, Ben and Noel, talking about Frank Higgins. Something that they said made me stop what I was doing and listen closer. Had I heard correctly? Had they said that Frank Higgins was a sky pilot to the lumberjacks in Northern Minnesota in the 1890s? There were no airplanes in the 1890s, so how could he be a sky pilot?

As I listened, I found that In 1895, Frank was a student pastor in Barnum when a church member invited him out to a logging camp. The lumberjacks made fun of Frank, asking him to preach on demand. He did so, and his impromptu sermon impressed them. Frank kept ministering to lumberjacks and eventually resigned his pastorate to become the first full-time missionary to loggers. He moved to Bemidji, which had a reputation as one of the roughest towns in the North Woods. Bemidji was home to many saloons, brothels, and gambling joints, and Frank was determined to make a difference. For decades he traveled from his base in Bemidji to the frozen logging camps of Minnesota with his trademark pack of Bibles, hymnals, and Christian literature strapped to his back.

Life in logging camps was difficult. Logging was done during the winter so that the logs could be loaded onto frozen rivers and sent downstream during the spring thaw. Men huddled together in cold bunkrooms during logging season. Lice were a certainty, and illness and injury were likely. The work was demanding and very dangerous. Most of the men had lost contact with their parents and siblings as they traveled from state to state for work. Men who were married rarely, if ever, saw their wives and children.

The lumberjacks accepted Frank because he seemed like one of them. He was physically imposing, and his friends said he had no problem standing up to men who confronted him. He was well-prepared for the cold winters. At first, as he traveled across northern Minnesota from camp to camp, he used snowshoes or skies and carried a heavy pack on his back. He soon realized that a dogsled would make it easier to haul his materials. He also used his dogsled as an ambulance for taking injured lumberjacks and pregnant women to the hospital. Frank and his sled dogs became an iconic image in the North Woods.

But why was Frank Higgins referred to as a sky pilot? Frank claimed that the lumberjacks gave him the name sky pilot. The men were living a brutal existence, and Frank would come into the camp holding religious services and tending to the needs of the men. The lumberjacks asked, “what are you doing here, and why are you enduring such hardship coming out here?” Frank answered, “I want to pilot your souls to the sky.” So they started referring to him as a sky pilot. Soon the term was used for any clergyman ministering to the lumberjacks. 

The term sky pilot was already in use among seamen before Frank started his ministry in Minnesota. The Reverend Thomas Stanley Treanor prefaced his 1894 book “The Log of a Sky Pilot” in 1894 with these words. “The term ‘Sky Pilot’ is applied sometimes by sailors to clergymen. No doubt the expression is chiefly used in jest, but behind the jest, there lies a solemn conviction that a Sky Pilot is what he wants and just what the minister of Christ should be. History is full of expressions originally given in derision but adopted and glorified by the very persons to whom they were at first contemptuously applied. Surely it is our high calling to lead and help our fellow voyagers to the skies.”

Frank Higgins became respected among those he ministered to. Although he was adamant in denouncing sin, he wrote that “the woodsman was sinned against as well as sinning.” He continued, “months pass by every year, and many of these men do not even get a letter or a paper to read. Is it any wonder when they come down in the spring that they feel that nobody cares for them and at once go to the saloon where they are made welcome as long as their money lasts?” He described his own experiences with the lumberjacks, stressing the warm welcome he invariably received. He fought for better working conditions for the men. He fulfilled the directive of Jesus; “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” Luke 14:23 (ESV)

Frank realized that the wild excesses of the lumberjacks reflected their barren lives. He told his fellow ministers that “reform could not come through exhortation alone; these rootless men needed worthwhile interests and normal emotional outlets.” The woodsmen liked and respected Frank not only for what he did but for what he was. He fulfilled the words of Jesus; “You should be a light for other people. Live so that they will see the good things you do. Live so that they will praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16 (ICB)

Gentle Reader, as Christians, we are all called to be sky pilots. In Mark 16:15 (NLV), Jesus tells us, “you are to go to all the world and preach the Good News to every person.” God may not call you to be a missionary to the lumberjacks of Minnesota or the sailors on the ocean. But he has called you to be a sky pilot to someone. The best sky pilots are not the ones who stand on a stage and give instructions. The best lead by example. In the process of their faithfulness, they set an example for others to follow. Be a sky pilot today.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Roxie Moll Memorial Service

When I was growing up, I attended a small church with my family. The small church shared a pastor with another church. Sometimes when the pastor wasn’t there for the mid-week prayer service, those in attendance would be asked to recite a favorite text. Being somewhat of a smart alec, I thought it was amusing to say that my favorite verse was the shortest verse in the Bible, John 11:35 – “Jesus wept.”

As an adult, it has become a favorite verse of mine. I believe the simple words, “Jesus wept,” may reveal as much about Jesus as any other words ever said about him.

I’m sure that you remember the story of Lazarus. When he became ill, his sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, the one you love is very sick.” Jesus chose to wait until Lazarus had died before he came. “When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, he was moved with indignation and was deeply troubled. “Where have you put him?” he asked them. They told him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.”

Let me ask you a question? Why did Jesus weep? Was it because of his love for Lazarus? He knew Lazarus would be alive in a few minutes. Jesus was crying because his friends were sad. Their sorrow moved him. Jesus is painfully aware of your grief. He knows why we are here today. He knows that we are saying goodbye to someone we love. When we cry, He is aware. Psalms 56:8 tells us, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”

I want you to know that it is appropriate to grieve. Jesus understands our grief, and I believe that just as He cried at the tomb of Lazarus, He cries with us here today. But even as He grieves with us, Jesus holds out hope. When Martha confronted Jesus, telling Him that if He had been there, her brother would not have died, Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered Jesus, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus holds out the same hope to us today.

Paul wrote some of the most comforting words found in the Bible in Romans 8:37-39. “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I want you to know for sure today that nothing can separate you from the love of God. Nothing can keep God from loving you. Nothing can keep God from loving Roxie. I want to read that scripture again and personalize it for Roxie.

Roxie is more than a conqueror through Him who loved her. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate Roxie from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In 1 John, the Bible says, “we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” Let’s remember how much Roxie is valued in God’s eyes! We are here today to remember Roxie because we love her. But it is also essential to understand how much God loves her. The Apostle John continues, “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

I love that equation. God = love

One of the most beautiful descriptions of love is found in 1 Corinthians 13. “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not brag, and it is not proud. Love is not rude, is not selfish, and does not get upset with others. Love does not count up wrongs that have been done. Love takes no pleasure in evil but rejoices over the truth. Love patiently accepts all things. It always trusts, always hopes, and always endures.”

I know that no one is here today to hear an algebra lecture, but we have the rule of symmetry in algebra: If a = b,  then b = a. So if God = love, then love = God.

Since love = God, if we were to replace love in the passage with God, it would read like this.

God is patient and kind. He is not jealous, does not brag, and is not proud. God is not rude, is not selfish, and does not get upset with others. God does not count up wrongs that have been done. He takes no pleasure in evil but rejoices over the truth. God patiently accepts all things. He always trusts, always hopes, and always endures.” What a beautiful picture of God this paints.  I hope that it makes an impact on you like it did me.

We want to make sense of suffering. Why does a loving God allow such pain to continue in this world? I know that while there are no words that can stop the pain today, there are words that give us hope. In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul tells us that “we can see and understand only a little about God now, as if we were peering at his reflection in a poor mirror; but someday we are going to see him in his completeness, face to face. Now all that I know is hazy and blurred, but then I will see everything clearly, just as clearly as God sees into my heart right now.”

Even if I only understand a little about God now, there is comfort in realizing that God loves Roxie, and He loves you. There is comfort in remembering how Roxie touched our lives and made them better. And there is comfort in the words Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. “I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”