Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Thank God for Grace

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 23, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and I am getting excited. We will be heading to Ashland, Missouri, on Thursday morning to celebrate Thanksgiving with my sister and her family. Thanksgiving is such a fantastic holiday. To me, Thanksgiving is a holiday that focuses on family even more than Christmas. I am very thankful for my family.

How we celebrate Thanksgiving in America has its roots in British harvest festivals and U.S. history. In 1620, a group of more than 100 Puritans fleeing religious persecution settled in a town called Plymouth in what is now Massachusetts. The Pilgrims' first winter was so harsh that fewer than 50 survived the season.

The following spring, Native Americans taught them how to get sap from the maple trees and plant corn and other crops. The harvest was successful, and the Pilgrims had enough food for the winter. Plymouth Colony's Governor, William Bradford, decided to throw a harvest festival and invited the colony's native neighbors to take part.

Historians believe this celebration occurred sometime in the fall, though there are few clues to reconstruct the feast. What we know about it comes from a letter Edward Winslow wrote to a friend in England: "Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men fowling, that we might rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They, in one day, killed as much fowl as served the company almost a week. At which time, with many of the Indians coming among us, for three days, we entertained and feasted; and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation, and bestowed on our governor."

I learned in school that this festival held by the Pilgrims in 1621 was the first Thanksgiving. I later found out that it wasn't entirely true—the Pilgrims didn't think of it as a Thanksgiving observance but a harvest festival. The Pilgrims did not hold an actual Thanksgiving until two years later. 

The harvest in 1622 was a poor one for the Pilgrims in Plymouth. The following summer, they were running out of food. The outlook was grim as they were waiting for the fall harvest. The weather was hot and dry, and the crops were failing. The Pilgrims lived on a few grains of corn for days at a time. Their hopes rested on a good fall harvest. But a drought began in June, and they watched as the crops turned brown and slowly withered away. The Pilgrims turned to the only hope they had. They appointed a solemn day of prayer to ask God to intervene.

The Pilgrims assembled one July morning under a hot, clear sky and prayed for nine hours. God answered their prayers the following day. Edward Winslow wrote, "For the next two weeks distilled such soft, sweet, and moderate showers that it was hard to say whether our withered corn or drooping affections were most quickened and revived." 

Later that year, the governor of the colony, William Bradford, issued a proclamation. "Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest, has spared us from pestilence and disease, and has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience. Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, do gather at ye meeting house, on Thursday, November 29th, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings." 

Governor Bradford's Thanksgiving was the first in the English colonies in America, but the custom of marking good fortune with a day of gratitude caught on throughout New England. In 1789, President George Washington issued a Proclamation that called for a day of thanksgiving, and President Lincoln issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation during the Civil War in 1863. Each year since 1863, the president of the United States has issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation.

For the Christian, Thanksgiving shouldn't be a day; it should be a lifestyle. In Philippians 4:4-6 (NET), Paul wrote, "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice! Let everyone see your gentleness. The Lord is near! Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God." He added in Colossians 3:17 (ESV), "whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

The Greek word, translated in the Bible as thanksgiving, is "eucharistia." The English spelling is eucharist. One of the definitions in my dictionary is "the giving of thanks; thanksgiving." The root word in "eucharistia" is "charis." Charis is translated into English as grace. That makes sense. What happens at the beginning of your Thanksgiving meal? Someone says "grace." Saying grace is giving thanks. 

At a British conference on religions, experts from around the globe debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room. "What's the rumpus about?" he asked and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity's unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, "Oh, that's easy. It's grace."

After some discussion, the conferees had to agree. The notion of God's love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, is singularly Christian. Of all the world's religions, only Christianity dares to make God's love unconditional. "For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus." 2 Timothy 1:9 (NLT)

Gentle Reader, Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:15 (NET), "For all these things are for your sake, so that the grace that is including more and more people may cause thanksgiving to increase to the glory of God." What causes Thanksgiving in God's people? It is grace! I am so thankful for God's grace and the gift of His Son that makes grace possible. When you celebrate Thanksgiving, be sure to give thanks to God for grace.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Ehrich the Enthusiastic

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 16, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Ehrich Weiss was a remarkable man. By the time he died, he was famous around the world. But until recently, I had never heard of him. He was born to Hungarian-Jewish parents in Budapest, Austria, in 1874. In 1878 his family came to America, settling in Appleton, Wisconsin. Ehrich's father was a Rabbi and served the Zion Reform Jewish Congregation in Appleton.

When he was 13, Ehrich moved with his father to New York City. There, he became interested in the trapeze, calling himself "Ehrich, the prince of the air." Ehrich also tried his hand as a professional magician and renamed himself, Harry Houdini. I am sure you are familiar with the name Houdini. He was not successful as a magician, but he soon drew attention for his feats of escape using handcuffs. In 1893, he married fellow performer Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner, who would serve as his lifelong stage assistant, Bess Houdini.

Ehrich, as Harry Houdini, became the highest-paid entertainer of his day. He drew tremendous crowds across America and Europe. Houdini's feats would involve the local police, who would strip search him, place him in shackles and lock him in their jails. He constantly upped the ante from handcuffs and straight jackets to locked, water-filled tanks and nailed packing crates. He was able to escape because of both his uncanny strength and his equally uncanny ability to pick locks.

On March 10, 1904, the London Daily Illustrated Mirror challenged Houdini to escape from a unique pair of handcuffs they had prepared. There were six locks on each cuff and nine tumblers in each one. Seven days later, 4,000 spectators gathered in the London Hippodrome to witness Houdini attempt to escape from the handcuffs.

As the show began, Houdini was handcuffed, then stepped into an empty cabinet that came up to his waist. Kneeling, he was out of sight for a full twenty minutes. Then Houdini stood up, smiling. The crowd applauded wildly, thinking he was free. But Houdini was still in handcuffs. He asked for more light. The lights came on brighter as Houdini knelt out of sight. Fifteen minutes later,  he stood to his feet. Applause broke out, but again it was premature. The handcuffs were still on his wrists. Houdini told the crowd that he just needed to flex his knees.

Houdini went down into the cabinet again. Twenty minutes passed slowly for the murmuring crowd before he stood to his feet with a broad smile. Loud applause quickly stopped as the audience saw Houdini was not yet free. Because the bright lights made the heat so intense, he leaped from the cabinet and twisted his manacled hands in front of him until he could reach a pocketknife in his vest. Opening the knife with his teeth, Houdini held its handle in his mouth and bent forward until the tail of his coat fell over his head. He grasped the coat, pulled it over his head, then slashed it to ribbons with the knife between his teeth. Throwing aside the strips of his heavy coat, he jumped back into the box as the audience roared its approval and cheered him on.

Down went Houdini, but this time for only ten minutes. With a dramatic flourish, he jumped from the box, showing the crowd that his wrists were free, and waving the bulky handcuffs over his head in triumph. Once again Houdini had achieved what seemed impossible. 

Afterward, Houdini agreed to an interview. Everyone wanted to know why he had to interrupt the process of his escape as often as he did. With a twinkle in his eyes, the magician admitted that he didn't have to interrupt the process. The interviewer asked why he kept standing up before he was loose. Houdini confessed it was because he wanted the audience's applause to keep up his enthusiasm!

Enthusiasm is powerful. Athletes feed on it. Salespeople are motivated by it. Teachers count on it, and students fail without it. Enthusiasm is essential to athletes and performers and is also necessary for ordinary people like you and me. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm."

Few characteristics are more contagious and more magnetic. An enthusiastic person believes in his ability to transform things and make them work. It is not success that brings enthusiasm. It is enthusiasm that brings success. A genuinely enthusiastic person can be more productive and dedicated to whatever he does. 

I think enthusiasm is one of the most remarkable words in the English language! It is derived from two Greek words, en and theos. Theos is the Greek word for God, so "enthusiasm" literally means "full of God." Maybe that's why enthusiastic people are so often creative and joyful! I'm convinced that one of the reasons God gives us so many personal promises in the Bible is to stir up our enthusiasm.

God wants enthusiastic followers. "He gave himself for us to set us free from every sin and to cleanse us so that we can be his special people who are enthusiastic about doing good things." Titus 2:14 (GW) But often, we find ourselves in an environment where our enthusiasm gets siphoned off. For example, if you are constantly in the company of negative people, your outlook will become negative, and your reactions to people and events will be negative.

God wants to fill us with enthusiasm that isn't affected by the economy, politics, the weather, negative people, or our circumstances. He wants us to be enthusiastic about our relationship with Him. Paul tells us how to do this in Romans 12:10-12 (NLT), where he writes, "love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying."

Gentle Reader, we can choose enthusiasm. We can stop saying discouraging, hateful, negative, and critical things. Choose enthusiasm! Talk it, live it, pray it, act it! The Bible tells us in Ecclesiastes 9:10 (NLV), "whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might." Whatever you do, "work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people." Ephesians 6:7 (NLT) God wants terrific things for us. Let's show our enthusiasm!

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Rosie the Riveter

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 9, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The black road seemed to soak up the light from the headlights as the Hyundai wound its way down the crooked northwest Arkansas road. Heavy rain pelted the car as the windshield wipers struggled to keep up with the deluge of water hitting the windshield. I tightened my grip on the steering wheel as I tried to see ahead into the darkness. 

Bright lights shone in my rearview mirror, making me nervous. "Why is that car tailgating me when the conditions are so treacherous," I thought. Occasionally the black of the stormy night was illuminated with streaks of bold light as lightning lit the road for a few seconds. For a moment, I could see just how narrow the road was. There were no shoulders, and trees lined the edge of the road.

As I guided the car around yet another curve, suddenly, I saw a large tree branch across the road. I veered hard to the left and squeezed between the branch and a large tree growing next to the road. As I steered back into my lane, I heard a dull thud and felt something hit the car. The headlights were no longer shining behind me. "Did that car hit me," I wondered? As soon as I came to a house, I pulled into the driveway and stopped. Getting out of the car in the pouring rain, I inspected the vehicle as best I could but didn't see any damage. Breathing a sigh of relief, I continued down the road. 

As we proceeded the final mile to our destination, we tried to figure out what had just happened. We were on our way to pick up our granddaughters from the boarding academy they attended. We were visiting them this weekend because my granddaughter, Autumn, was the lead in the school play. We were excited to see her performance as Rosie the Riveter. The play would be the following evening, but tonight was a time for family to be together and a pizza party at Fratelli's Wood-Fired Pizzeria. 

By the time we dropped the girls back at their dormitory, the thunderstorm was over, but there was still light rain. I returned to our VRBO via a longer highway route to avoid the narrow, crooked roads. The following day, the sun shone as I drove back to the dorm to pick up the girls. We would be spending the day with family before attending the performance of Rosie the Riveter that evening. I chose the same route to the dorm I had taken the night before. When I came to the area where I had swerved to miss the tree, I slowed to a crawl, trying to see if I could figure out what had happened.

When I came around the corner, I saw that the large tree branch had been cut with a chainsaw and removed from the road. On the other side of the road, there were marks on the large tree at the road's edge, and down the embankment were a front bumper, grill, and suspension parts. The car from the night before must have swerved too far to the left and hit the tree. That was the thud that we heard. The plastic front bumper must have hit our car as it flew off after the impact.

As I picked up my granddaughter, she was excited as she tried to tell me the story of the evening before. When I dropped her off the night before, she couldn't believe how quiet the dorm was. Usually, there is talking, giggling, and excitement, but not tonight. "What is going on," she asked. She found out that soon after she left with us for the evening, the dorm was locked down. The lockdown was lifted just a few minutes before she returned. Everyone was shaken up by the events of the evening.

The police had alerted the school that they were pursuing a suspect who was armed and dangerous. The suspect broke into a home and shot someone during the robbery. After fleeing the scene, he crashed into a tree and fled on foot. As I listened to her story, a shiver ran down my spine. The car the night before had been tailgating me because he was fleeing the crime scene, and I was in his way. If we had stopped to see what had caused the thud, I'm sure our car would have been commandeered, and who knows what he would have done to us. I sent up a quick prayer of thanks to God for his protection.

After spending a wonderful day with family and hiking at Natural Falls State Park in Oklahoma, we returned to the school to see the drama department's performance of Rosie the Riveter. From the opening scene, my granddaughter lit up the stage with her portrayal of Rosie. 

As the play opens, it's January 1942, and Eddie, the owner of Eddie's Auto Parts Factory, is struggling now that there is a freeze on car parts manufacturing. His secretary, Rosie, wonders if the factory can secure a government contract and make airplane parts instead if only they can find workers. Rosie is willing to shed tradition, roll up her sleeves and do her part. She recruits women to fill manufacturing jobs and is chosen to become the iconic image that will inspire many women workers to join the cause.

Rosie the Riveter was the star of a campaign to recruit female workers for defense industries during World War II. She became perhaps the most iconic image of working women. The Rosies from World War II had a common enemy to defeat. They rolled up their sleeves and went to work. Just as the iconic poster proclaims, they said collectively, "we can do it!"

We, as Christians, also have an enemy to defeat. But too often, we are taking the fight to the wrong places. Ephesians 6:11 (NLT) tells us to "put on all of God's armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil." "Most importantly, be disciplined and stay on guard. Your enemy the devil is prowling around outside like a roaring lion, just waiting and hoping for the chance to devour someone." 1 Peter 5:8 (VOICE)

Gentle Reader, we can do it! We can make a difference. But we won't change the world by organizing a mob or by railing against the government. We transform the world by living as followers of Jesus. "I ask that you pray for all people. Ask God to bless them and give them what they need. And give thanks. You should pray for rulers and for all who have authority. Pray for these leaders so that we can live quiet and peaceful lives—lives full of devotion to God and respect for him. This is good and pleases God our Savior." 1 Timothy 2:1-3 (ERV) Let's pray for change, justice, righteousness, and love. And little by little, person by person, by God's grace, we can change the world. We can do it!

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

A New Roof

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 2, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

My mini golden doodle, Tucker, was frantic. He didn't know what was happening, but he knew he didn't like it. Loud banging and scraping sounds were coming from the roof over the bedroom. Tucker was jumping and whining. No matter what we did, he would not settle down. He was sure that the sky was falling. 

The noise came from workers on the roof who were scraping off the old shingles directly above the bedroom. On another part of the roof, other workers were nailing new shingles. Even though the activity on the roof distressed Tucker, it made me happy. Finally, after a five-year ordeal, we were getting a new roof on our house.

During an intense thunderstorm five years ago, hail damaged our roof. The next time it rained, we noticed several leaks in the house. I called our insurance company, and they sent an adjuster to inspect the damage. The adjuster decided that the damage was minimal and issued a small check. With the money, I could replace the vent pipe boots, but there was nothing left for roof repairs or repainting the stained areas in the house where the roof leaked.

When I had a roofer inspect the damage, he took over 100 photos documenting it, but when he contacted the insurance company, they refused to reinspect the roof, telling me the case was closed and they would not reopen it. I knew I would have to pay for the new roof, so I started saving for the project. 

By the time we had saved money and were ready to replace the roof, it seemed that everyone in the construction business had more work than they could do. One day, Jeff stopped by our house. Earlier in the year, Jeff had removed some trees from our backyard and had done an excellent job. He wanted to see how the project in our backyard had turned out. When Jeff learned that we were looking for someone to put a new roof on our house, he told us that he worked with an experienced roofer and they would be interested in the job.

A couple of days later, Jeff came by with a 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 six squares of shingles delivered to my house and told me that he would start the work in two days. But instead of beginning work, Jeff called and said that 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 Jeff had conned me. 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. It has been a year, and the police have yet to apprehend Jeff or his accomplices. 

We didn't have a new roof, and we no longer had enough money to hire someone else. But after a year of saving, we started looking for a roofer. Friends of my wife recommended David's Roofing, and after meeting with their representative, Rick, we felt comfortable with the company. When Rick sent us the bid for the job, we agreed and signed the contract. 

Within a few weeks, the David's Roofing crew was at our house, and six guys were scrambling over the steep roof, replacing our 29-year-old roof. As the crew was finishing the job, my wife picked up the fixin's for a taco lunch from Papa's Mexican Café. The crew enjoyed the tacos on our front porch as a light rain began to fall. It took them just two days, and now we had a beautiful new roof. I felt a wave of relief at the sight of the completed job.

I'm thankful to have a new roof. After so many problems and pitfalls, it feels good to know that I don't have to worry about my roof anymore. While I was reading the book of Ecclesiastes, I found this little gem. "When you are too lazy to repair your roof, it will leak, and the house will fall in." Ecclesiastes 10:18 (GNT) The primary function of any roof is to offer protection from the elements for people and their possessions. A good roof gives shelter. 

There is an old hymn that equates God to a shelter. "The Lord's our Rock; in Him we hide. A shelter in the time of storm." Verse two reads, "A shade by day, defense by night. A shelter in the time of storm; No fears alarm, no foes affright. A shelter in the time of storm." God is our shelter and our refuge. David wrote in Psalms 91:1,2 (NLT), "Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him."

Gentle Reader, you need a good, sturdy roof to shelter you from the elements. Isaiah 15:4 (CEV) tells us, "You have been a place of safety for the poor and needy in times of trouble. Brutal enemies pounded us like a heavy rain or the heat of the sun at noon, but you were our shelter." When the rains come, make sure you find shelter under a roof that doesn't leak. Pray the prayer that David prayed, "I come to you for shelter. Protect me, keep me safe, and don't disappoint me." Psalms 25:20 (CEV) "If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home." Psalms 91: 9,10 (NLT) It is essential to have refuge and shelter provided by a good roof. I'm thankful to have a new roof, and I am grateful for the protection that God has promised us.