Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Finding Jake

My An Arkie's Faith column from the June 29, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse. 

The weather outside was hot and muggy as I packed for my summer vacation. Bright and early the next morning, Daddy and I were driving to Dallas to catch a flight to Berlin, Germany. Earlier this year, Daddy had asked me if I would go on an overseas tour with him. He showed me a tour company brochure and told me to pick any tour I wanted. I chose a history tour of Germany. After months of waiting, it was finally time to go. When my suitcase was packed and I was sure that I had everything I needed, I was able to relax. 

Before I left, the plants and flowers needed to be watered. When I went outside to water, the dogs went with me; my two dogs, Maggie and Tucker along with my granddaughters’ dog, Jake. Jake is a large, hairy, white dog with a black head and lots of black spots. His size and bark are intimidating, but he is a lovable, goofy, gentle dog who considers himself a house pet and spends as little time as possible outside. If he thinks there is the smallest chance of a raindrop, he refuses to go out.

Jake was staying with us while his family vacationed in Colorado. In just a few hours they would be here to pick him up. As I started to water the plants, I could hear the rumbling of thunder in the distance. I said, “Jake isn’t going to like this.” Jake is extremely traumatized by storms and will find a place to hide when he hears thunder. A few raindrops began to fall, and I put my dogs in the house. But Jake wasn’t there. I walked around to the backyard looking for him, but he wasn’t there. I expected to find him at the back door wanting in the house. “Jake, here Jake, come on Jake,” I called. But he didn’t come. “Where can he be,” I wondered.

My wife and I looked through the house. Maybe he came back in the house. We looked in every room and in every closet and hiding place, but he was nowhere to be found. By this time the thunder was louder and there were streaks of lightning in the distance. I knew that Jake had a history of becoming frantic during storms and running from them. We knew that he wasn’t in the house and he wasn’t in our yard. I walked up and down the street calling for him, but he was nowhere to be found.

I started driving up and down the streets in our area. As I slowly drove past each house and looked in the yards, I wondered what people thought. I kept looking, slowly expanding the radius around our house, but there was no Jake. While I was driving the car and looking, my wife went to neighbors houses and was looking under decks and anyplace she imagined Jake could hide. When our neighbors learned that Jake was missing, they helped us look for him. Some were on foot and some were driving. The whole neighborhood was looking for Jake but with no success.

After searching for an hour, we took a few minutes to post on Facebook and ask for anyone who might have seen Jake to call us. There was one comment from someone who thought they might have seen him on Bethesda Road. I had searched that area several times, and I knew that the neighbors had looked there, but I drove back to look again. By now we had been searching for two hours and we began to give up hope. Where could Jake be? There continued to be occasional thunder and lightning, a now it was raining. A friend who lives a couple of mile from us saw our Facebook post and let me know that he was going to search the area between his house and Bethesda Road. We appreciated all the help that friends and neighbors were giving us, but it seemed we were no closer to finding Jake.

As night fell, we knew that it was pointless to continue the search. I continued to drive up and down each street between Hwy 71 and south Bethesda Road, but I didn’t see Jake. About the time I returned to the house with a heavy heart and a feeling of hopelessness, my friend who had been helping me search called and told me he had called the search on account of darkness. He held out hope by telling the story of a dog of his that was also afraid of thunderstorms. In a similar circumstance, his dog ran away during a storm and he couldn’t find her. When night fell and he had to give up the search, he turned on every light on his property. When the storm subsided, his dog found her way home. “Don’t give up hope,” he said.

That night when my granddaughters arrived, Jake was still missing. They and their Daddy searched for Jake, calling his name. But we had to call off the search and go to bed. When we got up in the morning, Jake still wasn’t home. We discussed options such as making fliers and notifying the police. There were sad faces and heavy hearts as we discussed what our options were. My wife was preparing breakfast when she let out a squeal as exclaimed, “it’s Jake!” There he was limping across the back yard. The back two thirds of his body was wet and dirty, and the pads of his feet were raw. When he walked into the house, Jake was immediately smothered with hugs of affection. The mood in the house changed in an instant.

Are you looking for the lost? Are you celebrating and rejoicing when they are found? In Luke 19:10 (NRSV) Jesus says that He “came to seek out and to save the lost.” And the same Jesus who came to seek out and save, tells us in John 20:21 (NIV), “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” The focus of too many Christians is pointing out the sin in others. Daniel Darling states, "we must not allow our protest against values with which we disagree to overshadow our responsibility to show Christ's love for the world. It may very well be the person who offends us the most whom God is in the process of saving. And our gracious response might be the bridge that the Spirit uses to usher him from death to life.”

Gentle Reader, do you have compassion on those who are lost? Many people who claim to love God don’t have genuine love for other people. But 1 John 4:8 (NKJV) tells us, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” I challenge you today to see the lost the way that Jesus sees them and to rejoice with Him whenever one of his lost sheep comes home!

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Love at First Sight

My An Arkie's Faith column from the June 22, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived a lonely boy. In that same land, there lived a girl with beautiful golden hair. One day as the lonely boy walked into history class, he looked across the room and saw the girl with beautiful golden hair. His heart jumped, and he knew this was love at first sight. He knew he had to get up the courage to talk to this vision of loveliness with the beautiful golden curls.

The lonely boy was too shy to talk to girls, so it was almost a year before the girl with the beautiful golden hair had any idea that the lonely boy was interested. The good Lord knew that the lonely boy needed all the help he could get, so the Lord made it so that the lonely boy and the girl with the beautiful golden hair crossed paths in several ways that year.

The history teacher selected five students to work together each week, producing learning packets for history class. The girl with the beautiful golden hair and the lonely boy were in the group meeting in the library each week to create the history learning packets. They both worked at the furniture factory. The lonely boy worked on the dresser jig, and the girl with the beautiful golden hair made drawers. The lonely boy would spend his break time with the drawer makers, but the girl with the beautiful golden hair still didn't catch on.

It came time for their high school graduation, and the lonely boy still had never gotten up the nerve to ask the girl with the beautiful golden hair out on a date. Finally, the lonely boy mustered up every ounce of courage he could find and asked the girl with the beautiful golden hair if she would march with him at the graduation. The girl with the beautiful golden hair told him that she would like to, but she had already told another boy that she would march with him. If the lonely boy talked to the other boy and it was okay with him, she would march with the lonely boy. Once again, the lonely boy summoned up every bit of courage he had and spoke to the other boy, who was very gracious and bowed out. The lonely boy was on cloud nine. The girl with the beautiful golden hair would be walking down the aisle beside him when they graduated.

This fairytale had a delightful ending. After a year of a long-distance relationship, with five hundred miles separating them, the lonely boy and the girl with the beautiful golden hair were finally in the same place at the same time. Then the lonely boy knew that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with the girl with beautiful golden hair. On a wonderful June day, they were married in a fairytale wedding.

Most fairy tales are not true, but I can assure you this one is true. I was that lonely boy. If you ask me if I believe in love at first sight, I will tell you I do. I also know that God believes in love at first sight.

The Bible tells us that "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8 (NKJV). And 1 John 4:19 (NCV) says, "We love because God first loved us."

God created you as an object of his love. David understood this when he wrote, "You made my whole being. You formed me in my mother's body." Psalms 139:13 (ICB) He made you so that He could love you and so you could love him. God's love for you is the reason you are alive.

God has loved you longer than you can even imagine. It wasn't love at first sight; it was love before you were even born. Ephesians 1:4 (NLV) says that "even before the world was made, God chose us for Himself because of His love." God tells us, "Before I formed you in your mother's body I chose you. Before you were born, I set you apart to serve me." Jeremiah 1:5 (NIRV)

Just like a marriage relationship has its good and bad days, so does our relationship with God. Some days our hearts are full of love for God. Some days we are rebellious and angry with Him.

The story of Job is fascinating and complex. When he lost everything and everyone he loved, Job's anger is understandable. "I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer me; I stand before you, but you barely take notice." Job 30:20 (NCB) I don't believe that harboring blame and anger toward God is a good thing in itself. But our emotions don't scare God, and we must be honest about them. Despite his anger, Job rushes to God  – not away. He has a dialogue with God. 

The good news is that God loves you on your bad days as much as he loves you on your good days. He loves you when you are angry with him. He loves you when you can feel his love and when you aren't sure that He even exists. "The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love." Psalms 103:8 (NIV)

There is nothing you can do that will make God stop loving you. In Romans 8:38,39 (NCV), Paul wrote, "I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor ruling spirits, nothing now, nothing in the future, no powers, nothing above us, nothing below us, nor anything else in the whole world will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Gentle Reader, are you lonely and looking for love? God has already chosen you. He loved you before you were even born. If you love Him back, He has promised you a happily ever after. In John 14:2,3 (VOICE), Jesus tells us, "My Father's home is designed to accommodate all of you. If there were not room for everyone, I would have told you that. I am going to make arrangements for your arrival. I will be there to greet you personally and welcome you home, where we will be together." Don’t be lonely. Jesus wants you to be with him.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Celebrate Love

My An Arkie's Faith column from the June 15, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

This week marks our forty-seventh wedding anniversary. Because our anniversary falls in the middle of a hectic week, we celebrated our anniversary a few days early by going to Hot Springs. We have visited in the past, and I am intrigued by the history of Hot Springs. After a wonderful lunch at our favorite restaurant, La Hacienda, we toured the historic bathhouse row in Hot Springs National Park.

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

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

Visiting Hot Springs today, it's hard to imagine the city as a hotbed for organized crime, such as gambling, prostitution, and bootlegging. But from the late-1800s through the mid-1900s, Hot Springs was a popular hangout for mobsters. The safe, secluded scenic location of Hot Springs made it the ideal hideout. Hot Springs offered Las Vegas-style amenities before there was a Las Vegas. 

One of the most notable Hot Springs features is Bathhouse Row, which consists of a series of eight historic, architecturally unique bathhouses lining Central Avenue. We toured Fordyce Bathhouse. It's the largest and most ornate of all the bathhouses. It was built in 1915 and now serves as the Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center.

The day was hot and sultry as we walked down bathhouse row and then made our way up to the wide brick-lined promenade that stretches across the hillside above the bathhouses. Walking the promenade and looking out over the bustling city was a peaceful contrast to the chaos and cacophony below us. It might have been romantic if not for the heat and humidity that tried to suffocate us. But even with the heat, it was a lovely day, and we enjoyed our time together. 

Love is more than just romance. Many of history's greatest writers, poets, intellects, and philosophers have pondered the nature of love. American science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein wrote, "Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own." I like that description.

What is love? Humans have been trying to describe that elusive, nebulous feeling since the beginning of the written word. It's been the subject of many books, movies, and songs. Yet, love is difficult to define. That makes it a challenge when you're trying to wish your partner a happy anniversary without seeming shallow and mundane. 

Instead of trying to explain my deepest feelings, I often fall back on humor and pestering. If I am annoying enough, I won't have to express the things I don't know how to say. I love this quote from Rita Rudner, and I think it fits me all too well. "It's so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life."

There are many flowery descriptions of love in literature. Elizabeth Barrett Browning's famous words on love are some of my favorites. "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach, when feeling out of sight, for the ends of being and ideal grace." 

The Bible also has many flowery descriptions of love. Song of Solomon 8:6,7 (VOICE) reads, "Love flares up like a blazing fire, a very ardent flame. No amount of water can quench love; a raging flood cannot drown it out."

Even though eloquent descriptions of love have their place, we all know that life in a relationship isn't always lofty prose and romantic ideals. One of my favorite, down-to-earth passages about love is found in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NIRV) "Two people are better than one. They can help each other in everything they do. Suppose either of them falls down. Then the one can help the other one up. But suppose a person falls down and doesn't have anyone to help them up. Then feel sorry for that person! Or suppose two people lie down together. Then they'll keep warm. But how can one person keep warm alone? One person could be overpowered. But two people can stand up for themselves."

This describes the long-term, everyday love that makes a relationship last. And that is what marriage anniversaries are celebrating. A marriage milestone means something. It is not just another day that comes and goes without recognition. It is a milestone on the path of life. As I try to put my feelings about love into words, I always come up short. I have no problem expressing myself on most topics, but my innermost feelings of love want to stay hidden.

Since I can't find my own words to express my feelings, I will use these words from Nicholas Sparks' book, The Notebook. "I am nothing special; just a common man with common thoughts, and I've led a common life. There are no monuments dedicated to me and my name will soon be forgotten. But in one respect I have succeeded as gloriously as anyone who's ever lived: I've loved another with all my heart and soul; and to me, this has always been enough."

Gentle Reader, whether you are in a brand new relationship or celebrating a milestone anniversary, it is something to applaud. King Soloman wrote, "Let your fountain be blessed, And rejoice in the wife of your youth." Proverbs 5:18 (NKJV) and Paul wrote, "on top of all this you must put on love, which ties everything together and makes it complete." Colossians 3:14 (NTE) "Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything without weakening. Love never fails; never fades out or becomes obsolete or comes to an end." 1 Corinthians 13:7,8 (AMPC) Every day is perfect for celebrating love!

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Garden of the Gods

My An Arkie's Faith column from the June 8, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Last month my wife and I went to Colorado to visit family. While there, I wandered the streets of Longmont, Colorado looking for the small two-room grade school I had attended for six years. When I turned off Hwy 287, I had missed the area by several blocks, but I eventually found it. The front of the building looked the same as it did fifty-plus years ago when I attended school there. But a large gymnasium had been added to the back of the building. It was no longer a school but now housed a church.

As I got out of the car to snap some photos, I remembered those years so long ago. Grades one through four were on the left side of the school, and grades five through eight were on the right. When I started the fifth grade and moved to the big room, I thought I had arrived. The back of each classroom was windows looking out over the playground and baseball diamond. I would sit in class and look out the windows, dreaming of baseball.

I was obsessed with baseball when I was in the fifth grade. The older boys loved baseball, and I wanted to be like them. I would beg my mom to get to school early because there was always a pickup baseball game before school started. As I sat in school and daydreamed, I was always a major league baseball player delivering a clutch hit in an important game.

Another fond memory of my grade school years was our field trips. Several times we made trips to the Colorado Springs area to visit the Air Force Academy, the Cave of the Winds, and the Garden of the Gods. I loved these trips, especially the grandeur of the Garden of the Gods.

While in Colorado, we attended the memorial service for a cousin in the Colorado Springs area. After the memorial, I suggested we go to the Garden of the Gods before returning to the Denver area. The weather was cold and rainy and visibility was poor as we drove to the park, but I knew that it was the only chance we would have to see the Garden of the Gods, so we continued. 

When we arrived, the massive three-hundred-foot-tall red rocks sticking straight out of the ground were easily visible through the misty, rainy, overcast skies. The magnificent sandstone rock formations were colored in rich oranges and reds, and the rain made the wet rocks even more beautiful than I had remembered. 

We stopped at the visitor center, and while I was there, I learned the origin story of the name Garden of the Gods. The area was first called Red Rock Corral, which seemed appropriate. But the name didn’t stick. In 1859, M. S. Beach and Rufus Cable, two railroad surveyors, were sent to set up and establish Colorado City. As they started surveying the area, Beach thought, “of all the places I have seen on the trip, this is one of the most beautiful.” 

“This is a capital place for a beer garden,” Beach remarked. The place wasn’t lush in the traditional sense of a garden but had a deep earthy feel. “Beer garden! Why it is a fit place for the Gods to assemble,” his partner, Rufus Cable, exclaimed. “We will call it the Garden of the Gods.” The area soon became a landmark in Colorado City and was known by the name the surveyors gave it, Garden of the Gods.

In 1879, railroad mogul Charles Elliot Perkins bought the portion of land containing many unusual formations. Perkins wanted the property to be open to the public for everyone to enjoy. After he died in 1907, Perkins’ family deeded the property to the City of Colorado Springs under several stipulations — one of which being that the park remain “forever free” and open to the public. To this day, there is no admission fee, even though the park became a National Monument in 1971 and is administered by the National Park Service.

We cut our visit short, wanting to return to Denver before the roads got bad from the snowstorm that was forecast. While I was admiring the view from the outdoor deck of the visitor center, large clumps of snowflakes began to fall. Though we didn’t get to spend as much time at the Garden of the Gods as we would have liked, the beauty of those deeply colored rain-soaked rocks will always be etched in my memory.

Spending time in nature has profoundly affected my spiritual life. Something about a towering tree, majestic rock formations, a colorful wildflower, tall mountain peaks, or a rushing waterfall reminds me that my God is incredible! I know Him better the more time I spend in God’s wonderful creation. In Psalms 19:1,2 (NLT), David wrote, “the heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known.” Nature can show us God’s beauty, glory, power, presence, and creativity if we pay attention. In Romans 1:20 (NLT), the Bible tells us that “ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”

Gentle Reader, I love being outside and awed by God’s creation. In our technologically advanced world, we often relegate God to an accessory that improves our lives. We’ve lost sight of God’s majesty. More than 50 years ago A.W. Tozer wrote, “With our loss of the sense of majesty has come the further loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine Presence. We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence.” The next time you are out experiencing God’s majestic creation, whether here in the beautiful Ouachita Mountains, or some other place of natural beauty like the Garden of the Gods, wrap yourself in the feeling of God’s majesty and presence.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Con Men

My An Arkie's Faith column from the June 1, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The well-dressed man walked into the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris. He made his way to a reception held in the ballroom and quickly began mingling with the guests. He looked like a movie star and possessed a hypnotic charm. He spoke five languages and made easy conversation with many wealthy and influential Parisian businessmen. 

The year was 1925, and Victor had recently arrived in Paris from the U.S. He was born in Austria-Hungary on January 4, 1890. Victor described his father and mother as the "poorest peasant people" who raised him in a grim house made from stone. As a teenager, he was a panhandler, pickpocket, burglar, and street hustler. 

When transatlantic travel resumed after the first world war, Victor frequently crossed the Atlantic on luxury liners, looking for marks among the first-class passengers. Dressed like a wealthy gentleman, he displayed impeccable manners and was smooth as silk. Victor made friends quickly and soon was on good terms with the voyage's most affluent passengers. During the 1920s, he lived in America with detectives from over forty cities looking for him.

On the trip to Paris in 1925, he planned a con that swindling experts call "the big store." With contacts he had made at Hôtel de Crillon, he became known in Parisian business circles. Victor printed official-looking stationary, identifying him as Deputy Director of the Ministre de Postes et Telegraphes. He then wrote to the top people in the French scrap metal industry, inviting them to the hotel for a secret meeting to discuss removing the landmark. Absolute secrecy was critical, he insisted, to avoid a public uproar.

"Because of engineering faults, costly repairs, and political problems I cannot discuss, the tearing down of the Eiffel Tower has become mandatory," Victor told them in a quiet hotel room. "The tower would be sold to the highest bidder." Built for the 1889 Paris Exposition, the Eiffel Tower was only intended to stand for twenty years and then be dismantled. In 1925, it was 36 years old and a rusting eyesore. Incredible as it sounds now, many Parisians wanted it gone.

After the secret meeting, offers started rolling in. One dealer was especially eager to win the contract. Andre Poisson asked to meet Victor alone. He explained he was new to Paris and didn't have the insider connections the other dealers did. Victor said that he understood. As a government bureaucrat, he didn't make much money and had trouble making ends meet. But he insisted that selling the Eiffel Tower was a big decision and wanted to get it right. Andre took the hint. He paid $20,000 as earnest money for purchasing the Eiffel Tower and another $50,000 to guarantee his bid would be the winner.

Victor was on a train out of Paris within the hour with $70,000 in cash. He had pulled off his biggest con. Victor spent his entire life as a con man. He traveled with a trunk of disguises and could transform quickly into a rabbi, a priest, a bellhop, or a porter. Dressed like a baggage man, Victor could escape any hotel in a pinch and take his luggage with him. He used 47 aliases and carried dozens of fake passports. He created a web of lies so thick that even today, his true identity remains shrouded in mystery. 

I'm sure that no one has tried to sell you the Eiffel Tower, but I'm also sure that someone has tried to scam you. It seems like scams are everywhere. The internet makes it even easier for con men to deceive you. I hope you have done better seeing through con men than I have.

Last year, Jeff bid to put a new roof on my house. We both signed a professionally printed contract form. I gave him money to buy the 50 squares of shingles needed to do the job. He had one pallet, six squares of shingles, delivered to my house, and told me that he would start the work in two days. Jeff called instead of beginning work and said he and the other roofer had contracted Covid. Many people in our community were sick with Covid, so I didn't see a red flag. After two weeks, I called Jeff to see how he was doing and when work would start on my roof. He would never answer the phone. I called the number of the other roofer, and he wouldn't answer either. 

When I took my contract and canceled checks to the police department, they immediately knew I had been conned. Jeff was well-known by the police, but not by the last name he gave me. I was not the first person in town to be scammed. This is a sinful world, and many people can't be trusted. Con men and women are out there, ready to lie to us and rip us off. 

Lying is popular today. That's because we have believed the devil's lie that truth doesn't matter. Satan has convinced many Christians that there is no such thing as absolute truth, so there can be no absolute lie. The end justifies the means, and there are no lies, just alternative facts. That's the big con, and it started in the Garden of Eden. "The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, "Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?" "Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden," the woman replied. "It's only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, 'You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.'" "You won't die!" the serpent replied to the woman. "God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil." Genesis 3:1-5 (NLT)

Gentle Reader, con men are all around us. But the original con man is the devil. "He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies." John 8:44 (NLT) The Bible advises us to "be sober [well balanced and self-disciplined], be alert and cautious at all times. That enemy of yours, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion [fiercely hungry], seeking someone to devour." 1 Peter 5:8 (AMP) Watch out for con men like Victor and Jeff. They want to separate you from your money. But even more, watch out for the original con man, Satan. He wants to separate you from God.