Wednesday, June 28, 2023

The Murnau Incident

My An Arkie's Faith column from the June 28, 2023, issue of The Polk CountyPulse

The public address system on our train car crackled to life, and a scratchy voice announced, "nächste station, Murnau." "That's our station," I said to my wife and sister as I got out of my seat and started getting our luggage. Each one of us had a suitcase and a backpack. I grabbed my wife's and my sister's luggage and gave it to them. They headed for the train doors while the car was still moving. When the train came to a halt, I was grabbing my luggage off the overhead rack.

With my suitcase in one hand and my backpack in the other, I rushed down the steps from the train car to the doors. My wife and sister stepped onto the train platform as I ran for the door. There was one man between my travel companions and me. I stepped toward the door but was suddenly jerked back as the straps of my backpack caught on the railing beside the two steps down to the door. I turned around to free my backpack as the door closed. I frantically pushed the open-door button, but the doors would not open. In a few seconds, the train started moving out of the station.

Through the glass panes on the train door, I watched as my wife and sister stood on the platform, and I moved away from them on the train. "I can't believe that just happened," I thought. "What am I going to do now?" 

I have been traveling through Germany with my wife and sister for the past week. When I planned the trip, I researched the German rail system and decided we would travel by rail. I purchased rail passes that allowed us to take as many journeys as we wanted on Deutsche Bahn trains. We had already used our passes to travel from Frankfurt to Hannover, Hannover to Berlin, and Berlin to Erfurt. 

Today we were traveling from Erfurt to Oberammergau. After changing trains several times, our last change was in Murnau, where we would get the train to Oberammergau. But instead, I was still on the train headed to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and I had the rail pass with me. My wife and sister were stranded at the train station in Murnau, and I needed to figure out what to do.

As I thought about my options, I remembered the advice I had read on the blog Brian's Guide to getting around Germany. "Make sure you are ready to jump off when the train arrives at your destination-- remember that at some stops, the train only stops for a minute or two. If you're not ready, you may end up taking an unscheduled diversion to Germany's Timbuktu. As the train pulls into your station, be standing at a door, and when the wheels grind to a halt, open the door and leap off. To open the door, look for a green button. As the disembarking passenger, you have the right-of-way over people trying to clamber aboard but be prepared to shove your way through any Teutons who aren't minding their manners."

"Well," I thought, "here I am on an unscheduled diversion to Germany's Timbuktu." I took out my phone to see where I was going and my options. My friend Bernd had taught me how to use the Deutsche Bahn app, and I quickly found that the next stop was in the small town of Ohlstadt. If I got off the train there, I could board a train back to Muranu in a little over an hour. "That is my best option," I thought. A few minutes later, I stood in front of the train door with my luggage in tow as the train stopped in Ohlstadt. I quickly pushed the open-door button and, a few seconds later, stood on the deserted platform beside the train, watching it leave the station. 

No one had boarded the train, and I was the only one who had disembarked. I looked around at the surreal scene. The train station was a small shelter beside the train tracks with several benches. I sat down and took a moment to look at my surroundings. I was in a beautiful small town in the Bavarian Alps. Fantastic mountain views surrounded me, but I couldn't take the time to appreciate the beauty around me in every direction. I had to figure out what to do.

I checked the train schedule once again. It would be an hour before another train arrived. I pulled up my maps app and clicked on the transit button. I found the app very useful in navigating the city streets of Berlin and Erfurt and checked to see if there were any options here in the Bavarian countryside. I saw that in ten minutes, there was a bus going to Murnau. But to my dismay, the bus station was on the other side of town from the train station. I decided to try to catch the bus.

I started walking as fast as possible with my bad legs, backpack on my back, and suitcase bouncing down the cobblestone streets. I can't imagine what people were thinking as they saw an older man with a backpack and suitcase half running through their sleepy little town. I reached the bus stop with a minute or two to spare. I had just enough time to snap photos of the incredible scenery surrounding me. As I boarded the bus, a sense of relief washed over me. It was going to be okay. I would reunite with my wife and sister in a few minutes.

That evening as we walked through the quaint town of Oberammergau, I thought about the day's adventures. Our journey started by walking from our apartment to a tram stop a half mile away, where we took the tram to the Erfurt Hauptbahnhof. We took the train to Munich, where we changed to a train headed to Murnau. After the Murnau incident, we finally arrived in Oberammergau at about five o'clock.  


Gentle Reader, in Revelation 22:11 ISV), the Bible says, "Let the one who does what is evil continue to do what is evil. Let the filthy person continue to be filthy. Let the righteous person continue to do what is right. And let the holy person continue to be holy." This scripture is a dire warning regarding death and the end times. 

People who reject the gospel do not receive a second chance for salvation if they die. Eternity does not change anyone's status. The person who dies in an unsaved condition will be unsaved throughout eternity, and the saved person will be saved throughout eternity. Someday it will be too late for the unsaved to change their destination by repenting and believing in Jesus. Don't let the doors close on you before you can change your destination.  

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

The Tour Guide

My An Arkie's Faith column from the June 21, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

A light rain fell as Sergio drove the bus from Munich to Schloss Linderhof. I watched out the window as the Alps came into view. I had heard about the Alps all my life, but seeing them was a magical moment. The palace is nestled in a valley at the foothills of the Bavarian Alps. The views as we drove there were magnificent.

Schloss Linderhof was the favorite home of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. He built the palace on the site of his father's old cottage and finished it in 1878. King Ludwig was intimately involved in the design and building of Linderhof, sometimes to the extreme irritation of his architects and artisans. He lived at Linderhof for over seven years. Ludwig was a recluse, often refusing to see to matters of state. He dined alone. Ludwig installed a "magic table" that could be lowered and raised to and from the kitchen. His servants cooked and served meals without ever coming face to face with the king.

King Ludwig was inspired to build Schloss Linderhof by his hero, the French Sun-King, Louis XIV. Traces of the Sun-King's Versailles palace are all over Linderhof's grounds. After touring Schloss Linderhof and the fabulous grounds, including a large reflecting pool and fountains, incredible gardens, and even an artificial cave and lake, we returned to the bus and headed to Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

As we drove through the winding mountain roads, our tour guide, Bernd, filled us in on the story of King Ludwig II. He ascended the throne upon his father's death in 1864. Ludwig was only 19 years old, and his first year as the king did not go well. The shy young king soon left Munich and went into his beloved mountains in the Bavarian Alps. In 1868 Ludwig began a building campaign. Much of Ludwig's fame is associated with his castles: Neuschwanstein, Linderhof, and Herrenchiemsee. 

King Ludwig died mysteriously at age 40 when his body was found floating in Lake Starnberg. He spent most of his reign absorbed in a fantasy world at the expense of affairs of state. When his castle building caused the virtual bankruptcy of the Bavarian state, his ministers accused him of insanity and deposed him on the grounds of mental illness. They had him committed to the custody of Lake Starnberg Castle. 

The day after his imprisonment, Ludwig was found dead in Lake Starnberg. He disappeared while walking and was discovered a few hours later. The death was officially declared to be suicide by drowning, but the circumstances of his death remain open to question. Ludwig was a strong swimmer, and the water was less than waist-deep where his body was found. There was no water found in his lungs at the autopsy.

As we neared Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bernd told us that it was possible that at the next intersection, the Polizei might ask us to take a detour that would add an hour to our trip. Ten miles away, at Schloss Elmau, the G7 summit was underway. Leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.S., and the U.K. were meeting to discuss global economic governance, international security, energy policy, and the response to the war in Ukraine.

When we arrived at the checkpoint, the Polizei escorted our bus to our destination instead of making us detour around the area. As the police cars escorted us with lights flashing, our tour guide, Bernd, leaned over and told me, "See that nice BMW? You should convince the Mena police department to get some of those." As more police cars joined us, I said, "You're getting more important, Bernd." He replied, "No, It's because of you." He said, "The Poleizei say, these Mena people, they need special observation."

Throughout the ten-day tour of Germany in June 2022, Bernd was our tour guide as our group of fifty Americans visited many Reformation and WWII sites. We spent many hours on the bus as we traveled from place to place. He and I became good friends as we visited on the bus. My Daddy and I sat in the seat directly behind the driver, and Bernd sat in the seat across the aisle. When he wasn't talking to everyone on the bus over the P.A. system, Bernd and I would talk and learn about each other's lives.

When the tour ended, Bernd and I exchanged personal information and promised to keep in touch. I was surprised when a few months later, I received an email from Bernd telling me he was coming to Texas and would like to see me and learn more about Mena.

We had a lovely time hosting Bernd and his wife Marion in our home. It felt surreal to have a new friend from Germany visiting us here in Mena. I told him my wife and I had planned a trip to Germany the following year. He was excited about the idea and spent much time explaining the German transit system and showing me all the different rail pass options. He said that when we came to Germany, we must stay with them for a couple of days at their apartment in Hannover.

Earlier this month, my wife and I and my sister headed to Germany for our summer vacation. Our first stop was Hannover, where Bernd met us at the train station, and we took trams and a bus to his home. For the next two days, we had a personal tour guide who showed us all of the sights in Hannover and took us to the village of Gehrden. After Bernd saw us off at the train station on our way to Berlin, he kept in touch for the rest of our trip, offering us local insights. My friendship with Bernd made my vacation even more special.

Having a tour guide for a friend makes things so much easier as I travel in a foreign country. As we travel on life's path, we all can have a tour guide for a friend. The Bible says, "In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling." Exodus 15:13 (NIV)

Gentle Reader, God is not just a guide who points us to a path. He isn't just a person we ask for directions when we've lost our way. He doesn't just hand us a map and walk away. God is a guide who makes the plan, directs our destination, and journeys with us. He walks with us every step of the way and wants us to follow His lead day by day. "The Lord says, 'I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.'" Psalms 32:8 (NLT) It is lovely to have a tour guide as a friend.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Rainbow Cheerios

My An Arkie's Faith column from the June 14, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

When my granddaughter was young, she would ask to listen to "those southern stories" when she rode with me. She was referring to a podcast called Tales from the South that I liked to listen to. The podcast features true stories written and told by the Southerners who lived them, in front of a live audience. One of her favorite stories was "Rainbow Cheerios" by Paul Strack. When she asked if we could listen to southern stories, she often added, "Can we listen to the Rainbow Cheerios story?" 

Paul starts his story by saying, "Cool – You have Rainbow Cheerios!" He explains that on the night of April 26, 2011, tornadoes hit the Mayflower, Arkansas, area. His 13-year-old daughter learned that the tornado destroyed her friend's house.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charles R. Swindoll writes, "The single most significant decision I can make today is my choice of attitude." Suppose you let negative attitudes such as anxiety, envy, anger, or bitterness dominate your mind. In that case, those attitudes will lead you to make decisions that negatively affect your life. But if you choose with God's help to have a positive attitude, your life will become positive.

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

Our attitudes are an outward display of what's taking place in our hearts. Although enduring problems with a smile and pure joy in our hearts can be difficult, doing so helps us become stronger and opens the door for an attitude transformation. The only thing we have to lose by choosing a positive attitude is a negative attitude.

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

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Conductor Tom

My An Arkie's Faith column from the June 7, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The older Chevy van pulled into my driveway as I installed a windshield. The van's owner, Tom, climbed out of the van and came over to talk with me. He had a problem with the windshield and wanted to see what we could do. We discussed the issue and scheduled a time to work on the van. Tom was very friendly, and we visited for a few minutes after scheduling the work. As we talked, Tom told me he had spent thirty years as a conductor on the Southern Pacific and the Union Pacific railroads. When he spoke about his job as a conductor, it was apparent that he loved it.

When he was ready to leave, I told Tom I had a gift for him. I gave him a copy of my latest book. The book's cover features a photo by Whitley Lind Photography of a Kansas City Southern train traveling on the tracks at the Mena depot just before sundown. I thought that he would like the photo, and he did. As he left, Tom thanked me and said he would see me for his appointment in a few days.

Tom drove the Chevy van to my shop for his appointment two days later. It was a dreary, drizzly day, and had rained most of the morning. I told Tom that because of the rain, I would be unable to seal the windshield on his van, and we would have to reschedule. Even though I could not work on his van, Tom stayed and visited. He said he enjoyed my book and had a gift for me. Tom gave me a DVD of a song titled "The Conductor," written and performed by Sherry Lovan. The song came about from Tom's writing while he was on the railroad. Sherry wove his words and story into a beautiful song.

While visiting, I asked Tom about his duties as a conductor. As a kid, I always liked watching a freight train go by and waiting for the little red car to appear at the end. I knew that the conductor was in that little red caboose. But today's trains don't have a caboose, so I didn't realize they still had conductors. Tom explained to me that the conductor reviews schedules and shipping records. They ensure that cargo is distributed evenly along the train and maintain communication with the train's engineer and traffic control personnel. The conductor monitors any equipment issues or mechanical problems, arranges for repairs, and stops when necessary. Tom said forcefully, "The engineer only drives the train, but the conductor controls the train. He is the boss."

Tom's words made me think about the Christian life. The old song, "Life Is Like A Mountain Railroad," came to me. "Life is like a mountain railroad. With an engineer so brave. We must make this run successful. From the cradle to the grave." Sometimes Christians teach us to let God be the engineer in our lives. But I don't think that is a good analogy. The song's metaphor is a better one. We are the engineer in our lives. We are the drivers. God has set us free to drive our own lives. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Galatians 5:1 (NIV)

If God has given us the freedom to drive our lives, what part does He play? If we are in charge, does that leave God out? Tom's explanation of the conductor's job is also a good explanation of God's role in our lives. "The engineer only drives the train, but the conductor controls the train. He is the boss." God wants us to drive, but we must remember He is in charge. On a train, the conductor ensures cargo is loaded, unloaded, and accounted for properly. He is responsible for the train, the freight, and the crew. The conductor coordinates relationships among the railroad, the shipping company, and the engineer. He must know the train schedules for the railroad to coordinate the loading and unloading of freight. Communicating these things with the engineer is also crucial since the engineer moves the train from one stop to the next.

"For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don't use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love." Galatians 5:13 (NLT) God has given you the freedom to drive your train. Sometimes we look at someone who has made bad decisions and say, "Their life is a train wreck." God has given you the freedom to be the engineer of your life's train, but we need to remember that God is the conductor. In Psalms 119:44,45 (NCV), David wrote, "I will obey your teachings forever and ever. So I will live in freedom, because I want to follow your orders." Living in freedom and then wrecking the train because we won't listen to the conductor isn't much freedom.

Gentle Reader, everyone craves freedom, but what is freedom? I once heard a preacher say, "Freedom is being able to do what you please without considering anyone except your spouse and your kids, the company and the boss, neighbors and friends, the police and the government, the doctor and the church." In human society, chaos results if we consider just our interests. We are the engineers of our life, but we need a conductor. Don't kick the conductor off your train. "Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. Live as servants of God." 1 Peter 2:16 (NCV)