Wednesday, July 26, 2023

The Double Rainbow

My An Arkie's Faith column from the July 26, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

A few raindrops began to fall as we pulled out of the parking lot. Off in the distance, the skies looked dark and foreboding, and the thunder rolled. We were headed back to Arvada, Colorado, after spending the afternoon at my great niece's wedding rehearsal and dinner in Campion. Before getting on the highway, we drove through our old neighborhood. We moved from our house on Hankins Lane to Mena, Arkansas, over forty years ago.

As we drove through Berthoud and Longmont, the rain intensified, and the clouds were dark and angry to the south and east, with occasional lightning. But to the west, the sun was shining brightly on the mountains. I snapped a quick photo through the windshield while we were stopped at a traffic light in Longmont. With the dark grey skies to the south and the apartments on the east side of the road lit brilliantly by the low angle of the evening sun shining from the west, the contrasts made a striking photo.

The rain continued to fall, and before long, a rainbow's fuzzy, muted colors appeared in the sky. A few minutes later, the colors had intensified into one of the boldest and most colorful rainbows I had ever seen. We pulled off the road to try and get a photo. While I was taking pictures, a faint second rainbow appeared. After taking several images, I returned to the truck, and we tried to get back on the highway. The traffic was heavy, and it was impossible to cross the road to go in the direction we needed. We could merge into traffic headed in the direction we had just come from.

We drove to the next intersection, where we turned left and then pulled into a parking lot to get turned around. By this time, two complete rainbows were arcing across the sky. I had never seen a double rainbow that filled the sky from horizon to horizon. I stood in awe of the beauty before me. 

A rainbow is a natural phenomenon that occurs when light is refracted or bent as it passes through water droplets in the air. It is seen as a band of vibrant colors, including red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. The colors of the rainbow are arranged in a specific order and are caused by the different wavelengths of light being refracted at different angles. Double rainbows are formed when sunlight is reflected twice within a raindrop.

Rainbows always make me smile, and seeing a double rainbow was a fantastic experience. Seeing the double rainbow made it worth going through the rain. It was a moment in time that I will never forget.

Do you like the rain? I tend not to like rain very much, especially if I have an outdoor activity or work planned. We don't like rain unless we have crops that need water. 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. "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)

And God is telling you the same thing. Don't let fear of failure keep you from doing great things. Don't let the threat of rain keep you from being all God wants you to be.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a very personal poem titled "The Rainy Day." The poem's first lines read, "The day is cold, and dark, and dreary; It rains, and the wind is never weary." He personalizes his thoughts in the second stanza, "My life is cold, and dark, and dreary; It rains, and the wind is never weary; My thoughts still cling to the moldering Past, But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast, And the days are dark and dreary." But Longfellow doesn't leave us in his dark place. The final stanza says, "Be still, sad heart! And cease repining; Behind the clouds is the sun still shining; Thy fate is the common fate of all, Into each life some rain must fall, Some days must be dark and dreary."

Into every life, a little rain must fall. It's what we do with the rain that makes the difference. Rain can be a force that destroys our lives and washes away hope, or it can become a tool God uses to bring healing, growth, and new life to our hearts.

What are we afraid of when the rains of this life come our way? Are we afraid of getting wet? Nowhere in the Bible does God tell us that we won't get wet. Pain in all its forms is the standard universal human denominator we all share. Your pain and difficulties differ from mine, but we all have them.

We see this concept in Matthew 5:45 (GW): "He makes his sun rise on people whether they are good or evil. He lets rain fall on them whether they are just or unjust." God doesn't tell us that we won't have rainy days. He says, "Even if it rains, I will be there for you. You may get wet, but it will be OK." And sometimes rain brings a beautiful rainbow. "When I see the rainbow in the clouds, I will remember the eternal covenant between God and every living creature on earth." Genesis 9:16 (NLT)

Gentle Reader, God displayed a visible reminder to me of His everyday grace with the double rainbow. It reminded me of His promise to extend a common grace to all living things. How often do we take that promise for granted? I know that often the busyness of my life makes me lose my focus on God even though the evidence of His daily grace is all around me. This week, I pray that I will not lose focus but instead remember the rainbow and God's promises.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

The Photophone

My An Arkie's Faith column from the July 19, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The phone call came from Porter Memorial Hospital in Denver, Colorado. My wife and I were racing along Interstate 70 in Kansas, headed to Denver. My father-in-law was in the hospital, and the prognosis wasn’t good. On our way across Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado, we made and received four phone calls to get updates on Dad’s condition. I still remember opening the cell phone bill the next month and being shocked at the additional charges of over one hundred dollars for those four calls.

I recounted this story to my teenage granddaughters while we discussed the advances in technology. They had never heard of a bag phone. I told them how we upgraded from the bag phone to a handheld Nokia phone that was almost as big as a brick and seemed heavy. When we upgraded from the Nokia to a Motorola Razor flip phone, we thought we had achieved the pinnacle of phone technology.

But the part of my cell phone history story that shocked my teenage granddaughters was when I told them they had both been born before I saw my first iPhone. They had never considered that they had been born before there were iPhones. Smartphones have become such an integral part of our lives that they couldn’t imagine life before them.

A few days after my conversation with my granddaughters, I watched a documentary about the inventor Alexander Graham Bell. Although Bell is best known for inventing the telephone, he pursued hundreds of projects throughout his life. He created early versions of the metal detector, built hydrofoil boats, and giant tetrahedral kites. He served as president of the National Geographic Society and made the first aircraft to fly in the British Empire. But Bell considered his most important invention the first wireless voice transmission technology that he dubbed, Photophone. 

In 1878, two years after patenting the telephone, Bell read an article by scientist Robert Sabine on how the electrical resistance of the element selenium changes with exposure to light. He realized that this effect could transmit the human voice via light beams. Bell soon began work on a device he called the photophone. 

The transmitter of Bell’s new device consisted of a parabolic mirror like a satellite dish and gathered and focused the sunlight beam from the transmitter onto a piece of selenium which was connected to a battery and telephone headset. The light falling on the selenium changed its resistance, creating a modulated current that the headset converted into sound. In 1880, after a couple of successful messages were relayed indoors, Bell and his assistant transmitted a message from a rooftop to the window of the laboratory, 700 feet away. It was the first demonstration of wireless communication, predating the development of radio by over 20 years.

After the demonstration, Bell told his father, “Well, I have heard a ray of the sun laugh and cough and sing. I have been able to hear a shadow, and I have even perceived by ear the passage of a cloud across the sun's disc. You are the grandfather of the photophone, and I want to share my delight of my success.” 

Wireless communication and fiber optics are so crucial to our modern ultra-connected way of life that Alexander Graham Bell was not exaggerating when he declared that the “Photophone is the greatest invention I have ever made; greater than the telephone.” The invention that he considered his most important was so advanced that it would take nearly 100 years for the technology to catch up with the concept of the photophone.

In her article, “Alexander Graham Bell’s Photophone Was an Invention Ahead of Its Time,” Mary Bellis wrote, “Although the photophone was an extremely important invention, the significance of Bell's work was not fully recognized in its time. This was largely due to practical limitations in the technology of the time.

That changed nearly a century later when the invention of fiber optics in the 1970s allowed for the secure transport of light. Indeed, Bell's photophone is recognized as the progenitor of the modern fiber optic telecommunications system that is widely used to transmit telephone, cable, and internet signals across large distances.”

Long before Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone and the photophone, there was wireless technology that worked flawlessly. The 19th-century Canadian minister A.B. Simpson said, “Prayer is the link that connects us with God.” And the apostle Peter wrote, “The Lord watches the righteous, and he pays attention to their prayers.” 1 Peter 3:12 (ISV) Christians always have a wireless connection available. We can talk to God anytime and don’t need a tower, receiver, or transmitter. We simply need to talk to Him anytime and anywhere.

Through prayer, we voice our requests and concerns to God, giving Him thanks for His many blessings and praising Him for His incredible love. Through prayer, we get to know God better. God promises that if we pray, He will answer. King David wrote of his experience in Psalms 66:19 (NKJV); “Certainly God has heard me; He has attended to the voice of my prayer.”

Gentle Reader, God will certainly hear you. There is nothing too trivial to talk to him about. Corrie Ten Boom, who survived a Nazi concentration camp, said, “Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be made into a burden.” Jesus told his disciples, “Whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” Matthew 21:22 (NKJV) The best thing about prayer is that we don’t need to use Alexander Graham Bell’s photophone because God is always listening.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

The Ishtar Gate

My An Arkie's Faith column from the July 12, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Light filled my hotel room as I rolled over and looked out the window. I reached for my phone on the bedside table to see what time it was. The screen showed 4:30. “How can that be,” I thought. I rolled back over and tried to go back to sleep, but sleep wouldn’t come. It was my first morning in Germany, and I was excited to be there. A half-hour later, I was dressed and walking out of the hotel to explore Alexanderplatz, the largest public square in Germany.

Today our tour group will be going to the Pergamon Museum, and I was looking forward to seeing its striking reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate. I knew from my research of the museum that the Ishtar Gate was a passageway to the inner city of Babylon, constructed by King Nebuchadnezzar II in about 575 BCE. The gate was a part of the city walls of Babylon and was considered one of the original Seven Wonders of the World.

After walking three-quarters of a mile from our hotel and standing in long lines, I finally entered the museum. After months of anticipation, I would see one of Europe's most important museums. I walked through several rooms, taking in the bas-relief sculptures, statues, and other artifacts from thousands of years ago. As impressive as they were, I was not prepared for the visceral reaction I had when I walked out of the room into the Ishtar Gate Processional Way.

The vivid colors of these 2600-year-old blue, yellow, and green tiles leave a lasting impression. The Ishtar Gate Processional Way is a red and yellow brick-paved corridor, initially over half a mile long with walls on each side, over 15 meters tall. The walls were decorated with over 120 images of lions, bulls, dragons, and flowers, made from enameled blue, yellow, and brown tiles. This processional way led to the Ishtar Gate and the temple of Marduk. 

My thoughts propelled me back to ancient Babylon, and I wished I could have seen the entire structure. The blue walls around me whispered of the souls and history of Babylon. As I walk down the hallway, stopping to take photos and inspect the deep rich color of the ancient tiles, I am in awe of the fantastic artistry of the Babylonian artisans.

But as incredible as the Processional Way is, when the room opened, and the Ishtar Gate appeared, it took my breath away. The same stunning colors appeared on the walls, but the imposing size and height of the gate were astonishing. Standing before the gate, I could feel its powerful presence at the core of my being. Passages of scripture came to my mind. 

When the Babylonian armies surrounded Jerusalem and conquered it, “King Nebuchadnezzar ordered Ashpenaz, his chief officer, to bring some of the men of Judah into his palace. He wanted them to be from important families, including the family of the king of Judah. King Nebuchadnezzar wanted only young Israelite men who had nothing wrong with them. They were to be handsome and well-educated, capable of learning and understanding, and able to serve in his palace. 

Ashpenaz was to teach them the language and writings of the Babylonians. The king gave the young men a certain amount of food and wine every day, just like the food he ate. The young men were to be trained for three years, and then they would become servants of the king of Babylon. Among those young men were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah from the people of Judah.” Daniel 1:3-6 (NCV)

I thought of the captive Daniel seeing these gates as he was being marched into the city of Babylon. Babylon was a spectacular city! Nebuchadnezzar oversaw a vast building program and improved the city’s walls, including the Ishtar Gate, raising its magnificence to new heights. When Daniel lived there, it was the largest city in the world, covering over four square miles with 200,000 people inside its walls.

As Impressive as the city was, Daniel and his Judean friends never abandoned God to worship the grandeur that was Nebuchadnezzar and the city of Babylon. The impressive gate, with its vibrant blue color and jewel-like shine, was integral to the ancient Walls of Babylon. It was considered one of the original Seven Wonders of the World, along with the Hanging Gardens of the city. But the wealth and grandeur of Babylon couldn’t convince Daniel to abandon his faith.

Located between the Tigris and Euphrates in Iraq, Babylon was made magnificent by King Nebuchadnezzar II in the 6th Century BC. He made it one of the wonders of Mesopotamia by building large structures and decorating them with expensive glazed bricks in vibrant blues, reds, and yellows. Ancient texts describe the many splendors of Babylon, which at its time, was the most significant city in the world.

King Nebuchadnezzar II was one of Mesopotamia's most influential and transformative kings. It was his vision to create a central powerful cosmopolitan city. He beautified Babylon with building projects and art, focusing on intellectual pursuits and enlarging the army and territory. 

His inscription on the Ishtar Gate reads: “I laid the foundation of the gates down to the ground water level and had them built out of pure blue stone. I covered their roofs by laying majestic cedars lengthwise over them. I hung doors of cedar adorned with bronze at all the gate openings. I placed wild bulls and ferocious dragons in the gateways and thus adorned them with luxurious splendor that people might gaze on them in wonder.”

Gentle Reader, no matter how impressive we find any person or thing, they are not worthy of our veneration. Too often, we are more impressed with celebrity and wealth than with our Creator and Savior. The Bible says, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” Colossians 3:2 (NKJV) “For where your treasure is, there your heart [your wishes, your desires; that on which your life centers] will be also.” Matthew 6:21(AMP) 

At one time, Babylon was the most fantastic city on earth, but there came a time when it was said, “Babylon is fallen—that great city is fallen! She was clothed in finest purple and scarlet linens, decked out with gold and precious stones and pearls! In a single moment all the wealth of the city is gone.” Revelation 18:2,16-17 (NLT) Don’t be dazzled by the treasures of this world. “We must keep our eyes on Jesus, who leads us and makes our faith complete.” Hebrews 12:2 (CEV)

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

After the Storm

My An Arkie's Faith column from the July 5, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

A light drizzle began to fall as I pulled out of my driveway into the inky blackness of the early morning. The headlights of my S-10 pickup struggled to pierce through the veil of darkness. It was 4:30 A.M., and once again, I was driving to De Queen to pick up a load of windshields. For the last week, my early morning trips to pick up glass had been an almost daily occurrence. 

As I headed south out of Mena, the light drizzle turned into heavy rain. Soon the rain was falling in sheets instead of drops. So much rain fell that the highway began to flood. The visibility was abysmal as wave after wave of rain seemed to crash to earth. The windshield wipers slapped at the rain in a vain attempt to keep the windshield clear, but it was a losing battle.

The rain was relentless as I drove on into the night. Water rushed through the ditches like a mighty river, flowing over driveways as the culverts were overwhelmed with more water than they could channel away. My head hurt from the tension of peering into the darkness and trying to see the road. My hands gripped the steering wheel so tight that I had to remind myself to relax. But then I would hit another patch of water on the road, and the stress would return.

The sky is tar-black and vengeful, with large clouds moving toward me. Suddenly, out of the blackness, came streaks of bold light, illuminating the highway. The wind whipped up into a frenzy, shrieking and rocking my little pickup. While the rain fell in great sheets, lightning flashed around me, followed by loud cracking booms. 

As I drove, white-knuckled, into the storm, I thought about how miserable it would be to load the windshields onto my truck in the pouring rain. I wasn’t looking forward to getting drenched to the bone. But as I neared De Queen, the thunder and lightning stopped. The rain changed from a deluge to a more moderate rain as it let up enough so that my windshield wipers no longer had to be on high, furiously trying to keep the windshield clear. I was thankful for the reprieve. 

By the time I reached my storage unit and began loading the glass onto my pickup, the first light of dawn was pushing the darkness away. The rain has subsided to a light drizzle, and everything smells very clean and fresh. There is a peculiar scent to it that I can’t really describe. My attitude has changed from one of fear and apprehension to one of gratitude and wonder.

With my truck loaded with glass, I pulled back out on Highway 71 and headed back to Mena. The early morning light is turning everything golden, and I am energized by the start of another beautiful day. Steam rises slowly from the grass meadows and the ponds. It rises eerily and drifts mist-like towards the heavens. Through the trees, I can occasionally catch a glimpse of the fiery reds, oranges, and yellows of the sunrise as I look to the east.  

I keep hoping to get a better look at the sunrise because the colors that I can see streaming through the trees are spectacular. As I round a corner, I am greeted by a view that takes my breath away. I pulled my pickup to the side of the road and got out to soak in the glorious beauty of the sunrise. 

Brilliant golds and oranges light up the clouds that not long ago were drenching the landscape with torrential rains. The greatest artist in the universe had created a beautiful canvas for me to see. I pulled out my phone and snapped a couple of photos. The image was so vivid that it stayed with me all the way home.

As I drove away from the magnificent scene, I thought about how my attitude had changed in the hour from the time I had previously driven past this location. I had gone from being worried about the weather conditions and getting soaked to basking in the glory of the Creator and his creation. 

It seems like a day doesn't go by that someone doesn't talk to me about the condition of the world. With the recent world events, people seem very nervous. I must admit that I have my concerns. Fear and worry seem to dominate many people’s thoughts. 

In the past few years, I have noticed that the people I have talked to who have been the most worried are Christians. Many of my Christian friends are sure that doom and gloom are right around the corner. I can't believe that God wants us to live that way. In 2 Thessalonians 3:16 (VOICE), Paul wrote, “And now, dear friends, may the Lord of peace Himself grace you with peace always and in everything. May the Lord be present with all of you.”

I do believe that we are living in the last chapter of Earth's history, but I am puzzled by many of my fellow Christians. Does God want us to worry? In Matthew 6:31 (AMPC), the Bible tells us, “Do not worry and be anxious, saying, What are we going to have to eat? or, What are we going to have to drink? or, What are we going to have to wear?” “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matthew 6:33,34 (NKJV) 

I saw something the other day that puzzled me. I was in a Christian bookstore and saw they had Christian worry stones for sale. According to tradition, a worry stone is a smooth, polished stone that, when rubbed, is believed to reduce one's worries and add a sense of calmness. When the stone is rubbed, the negative energy and worries are supposedly transferred into the stone, and you are left calm and peaceful. I don't think worry stones are what Christians need to reduce their worries.

Gentle Reader, In Isaiah 41:9,10 (NLT), God tells us, “I have chosen you and will not throw you away. Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” Whatever storm you may be going through today, God has promised to be with you and promises you a glorious sunrise when the storm is over.