Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Les Miserables - December 13, 2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the December 13, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


When my wife learned that the musical theatre production of Les Miserables was coming to Little Rock, we made plans to attend. We had attended a production of the show around twenty years ago and had enjoyed it very much. We asked my Mom if she would like to go with us and she was excited to be able to attend. She had studied Les Miserables in French class when she was a girl.

The December day that we traveled to Little Rock to see the production was a warm 75-degree day. After some Christmas shopping, a great meal at Cantina Laredo, and seeing an awesome sunset, we headed to The Robinson Center in downtown Little Rock. As we were driving, we watched the dramatic supermoon rise over downtown. The state capitol was striking with Christmas lights outlining the building.

The Robinson Center was a bustle of activity as we made our way to our seats. The set with its towering buildings on either side of the stage, made us feel like we were in France in the early 1800's. The audience of the sold-out show waited in eager anticipation for the performance to begin. When the first strains of music started, a hush fell over the theater. For over three hours the performers held the audience in rapt attention. Every line of the musical is sung through, so there is no spoken dialogue. Across the board, the vocals were amazing. The vocal power displayed by every member of the cast kept the audience enthralled.

The musical Les Miserables is based on a French historical novel by Victor Hugo that was first published in 1862. It is considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century. The novel tells a story of broken dreams, sacrifice, and redemption. It is an examination of law and grace, and a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit.

Victor Hugo wrote in the preface; “So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age—the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night—are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.”

The musical revolves around the story of two men; Jean Valjean, who was imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family, and Inspector Javert who is always looking for Valjean and seeking to arrest him after he breaks his parole.

To me, the most intriguing part the story of Les Miserables is the different way the main characters deal with law and mercy. The story starts when Jean Valjean is released after 19 years in jail. Valjean is rejected in every place he seeks refuge until he finds a priest who gives him food and a place to sleep.

Jean Valjean steals all the finest silver from the priest. He is caught and brought back and made to admit his sin in front of the priest. The police are ready to put Jean Valjean in jail when the priest stops them. He explains that he did give all of the silver to the man and, in fact, the man forgot to take the most precious silver. As the priest hands over his valuable candlesticks, it is clear that his grace is greater than Jean Valjean could have ever imagined. Having experienced such forgiveness, he spends the rest of his life trying to replicate the grace that was given to him.

Javert is the legalist, and he holds strictly to the letter of the law. There is only one way to treat others, and it is by strict justice. The story leads up to a climactic scene when Jean Valjean has the opportunity to kill Javert. But instead of retribution for the lifelong struggles and pain Javert has inflicted on his life, Jean Valjean shows him mercy, cuts his bound hands loose, and sends his enemy off as a free man.

The mercy shown to him by Valjean sends Javert, the legalist, into a tailspin from which he cannot recover. For him, mercy proves to be an unsolvable problem. He sings, “I am the law, and the law is not mocked! I’ll spit his pity right back in his face!” And then continues, “my thoughts fly apart. Can this man be believed? Shall his sins be forgiven? Shall his crimes be reprieved? Does he know that granting me my life today, this man has killed me even so.” After experiencing unmerited mercy, Javert the legalist jumps off a bridge and kills himself.

The power of Les Miserables is the way it contrasts the life of the merciful with the life of the merciless. The merciful have faced their guilt and been broken. The merciless have faced their guilt and hardened themselves like steel.

Gentle Reader, Les Miserables is a story of the contrast in how sinners respond to the offer of free mercy. At a profound level, this is the story of two responses to mercy: one man is broken and lives, and one man is hardened and dies. Titus 3:5 (NIRV) tells us that “He saved us. It wasn’t because of the good things we had done. It was because of his mercy. He saved us by washing away our sins. We were born again. The Holy Spirit gave us new life.” Don’t be an Inspector Javert and refuse the mercy that is shown to you, be a Jean Valjean and live a life showing mercy to others because of the mercy you have been given.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Rumble Seat - December 6, 2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the December 6, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


Last year, the Chamber of Commerce asked us to drive my Dad’s Shay Model A in the Christmas Parade with Santa Claus riding in the rumble seat. For those who are too young to know what a rumble seat is, it is an upholstered exterior seat which folded into the rear of a car. Rumble seat passengers are exposed to the elements and receive no protection from the regular passenger compartment top.

This year the Chamber of Commerce once again asked if we would drive Santa in the Christmas Parade. The Shay Model A had been driven very little since last year’s parade. I decided to get it out and drive it over the Thanksgiving holiday to make sure everything was in good working order before the parade. My granddaughters, ages twelve, ten, and seven, spent several days with us at Thanksgiving. They loved to ride in the rumble seat. Since only two could ride at a time in the rumble seat, there was always a discussion about who would ride there. The adults also enjoyed riding in the rumble seat. The two youngest granddaughters were riding in the front of the Model A when they looked through the tiny rear window and caught their parents kissing in the rumble seat. They thought that it was gross and very funny at the same time.

Whenever you drive an old car, you have instant friends. People will approach you and ask about the car. While I was driving with my granddaughters, we pulled into the gas station to put gas in the Model A. The station was busy, and we had to wait for a pump. My granddaughters were very animated, laughing and giggling in the rumble seat. The lady at the pump next to us came over to talk to us. She commented on the car, and how cute the girls were. She told me that the woman with her in the car was ninety-five years old and that she had been very excited to see the old car with the rumble seat. She remembered when she had ridden in rumble seats when she was young and told several stories about her rumble seat experiences.

When rumble seats were commonplace, most people wanted to ride in the front of the car, and the rumble seat was considered second best. Although rumble seats were fun and somewhat exciting to ride in, rumble seat riders were exposed to the wind, the noise, the bugs, the rain and the sun. People jokingly referred to the rumble seat as the mother-in-law seat. John Cougar Mellencamp included the song “Rumbleseat” on his 1985 album, Scarecrow. He sang, “I am a pitiful sight. I can't even get one thing right. I know just what it's like to be riding in the rumble seat.”

After seeing the Model A’s rumble seat, a customer at my shop told me a story about her own rumble seat experience: "I remember when I was teaching at a one-room school with all eight grades. My beau came courting one night, and after we had gone about a half-mile from home, I heard a slight noise which caused me to look through the rear window of the car. Grinning like a Cheshire Cat and peeking through from the other side sat my little brother, who had hidden in the rumble seat. Would you believe that my beau took him home instead of dumping him out and making him walk?" My cousin tells a similar story about his Dad. The difference in the stories is that his Dad was kicked out of the car and had to walk three miles back home.

Why is it that we get nostalgic when we see old cars. Why do those who remember rumble seats smile when they see one now? Nostalgia is a feeling of pleasure and sometimes slight sadness at the same time as you think about things that happened in the past. Nostalgia is selective memory. We remember the good things and don’t think about the bad. Nostalgia removes the rough edges from the good old days.

God wants us to leave the bad things that have happened to us in the past. He wants us to look to the future, but he does want us to remember. Psalms 105:4,5 (ICB) says, “depend on the Lord and his strength. Always go to him for help. Remember the wonderful things he has done. Remember his miracles and his decisions.” When we forget what God has done for us in the past, we aren’t likely to have a close relationship with him. In Psalms 78:11,12 (NRSV) the Psalmist wrote about the Ephraimites, “they did not keep God’s covenant but refused to walk according to his law. They forgot what he had done, and the miracles that he had shown them.”

The nineteenth-century American writer Ellen White wrote, “we have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us.” It is good to remind ourselves daily of our own experiences of God’s past protections and the ways He has rescued us. As we look forward to the future, it is helpful to remember how God has been there for us in the past. “Remember the old days. Think of the years already passed.” Deuteronomy 32:7 (NCV)

Gentle Reader, most of us tend to dwell on our current difficulties, whatever they may be, and to forget the many times that God has helped us in the past. In the Bible, we read that God regularly urged his people to remember the many ways that He had provided for them, or helped them, in the past and to believe that He would do so again. “Hold on to the Lord and do what He asks you to do. He has helped you before, and He will do it again” Joshua 23:8 (EECW) “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6 (NLT)

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Kalalau Trail - 11/29/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the November 29, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


Last month my wife and I hiked the Kalalau Trail on the Na Pali Coast of Kauai. The Na Pali Coast is a seventeen-mile road-less expanse along Kauai’s North Shore. It is an area filled with dramatic cliff faces, pristine beaches, and incredible beauty. Most people experience the Na Pali Coast by boat or helicopter, but the most adventurous experience it up close and personal by hiking the Kalalau Trail.

The Kalalau Trail is an 11-mile trail that provides the only land access to the rugged Na Pali Coast. The trail traverses five lush valleys and crosses above towering sea cliffs before ending at Kalalau Beach where it is blocked by sheer, fluted cliffs. Backpacker magazine has included the Kalalau Trail in its list of the ten most dangerous hikes in America. The magazine article states that the footing is treacherous after the island's abundant rainfall turns the track into a greasy slip and slide–not amusing when you're edging along a 300-foot cliff that spills straight into a rocky surf. But despite such dangers, tons of visitors continue to make the 11-mile (one way) pilgrimage to Kalalau, one of the world's most beautiful beaches. Kathy Valier, a Kauai resident who has written guidebooks on hiking the island, writes "the trail bed is narrow and crumbly, and I've talked with many people who have either fallen off the trail or seen it happen."

The day before we hiked the trail, we saw the Na Pali Coast by helicopter. The tour was incredible and gave us dramatic and up-close views of the emerald-hued cliffs with razor-sharp ridges that tower above the Pacific Ocean, revealing beautiful beaches and waterfalls that cascade to the lush valley floor. As amazing as the helicopter tour was, we were only able to spend a few minutes near the Na Pali Coast. I wanted to see more and made plans to hike the Kalalau Trail.

To be able to hike beyond the two-mile point on the trail, you have to purchase a permit from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. The number of permits issued is very limited and must be purchased well ahead of time. Not that it mattered, because I was not prepared for a 22-mile backpacking trip. I didn’t have the time, equipment, or the physical stamina. But I dreamed of hiking the trail. I knew that was an impossible dream, so I set my sights a bit lower. I wanted to hike the trail to the first vantage point where I could get a good view of the Na Pali Coast.

We set out to accomplish our goal of walking a mile on the Kalalau Trail. That seemed like an easy goal. But the trail was steep, rocky, muddy and slick. The other hikers that we met on the trail were all much younger than us. We took our time and carefully made our way up the trail. There were places with steep drop-offs beside the trail. We hugged the rocky wall to the inside and continued to make our way upward. From trailhead to the first vantage point, the trail gains almost 800 feet in elevation. It is a strenuous hike. As we made our way upward, the hikers that we met coming back down encouraged us and told us how amazingly beautiful the view was.

It took us about an hour to carefully climb our way up to that first glimpse of the Na Pali Coast. We were not disappointed. There is no way to describe the view. Even though I had read descriptions of the scenery and seen photographs that were taken from that very spot, seeing it with my own eyes surpassed everything I had imagined. We stayed there for about fifteen minutes, taking photos and visiting with other hikers. That moment was a highlight of my vacation.

Since we have returned home, I have been obsessed with the Kalalau Trail. I have been reading anything I can find about it, and have watched scores of YouTube videos that people have made of their hike. The views from the hike are some of the most beautiful in the world, and there is no way to see them other than making the 22-mile hike. It is still a dream of mine to hike the Kalalau Trail, but I realize that it is all but impossible for me.

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I have something to look forward to that is even more exciting than the Kalalau Trail. God has made many promises in the Bible, and each one has been or will be fulfilled. But the return of Jesus is one of the greatest promises of all. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 (NKJV) gives us this promise, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

Gentle Reader, I realize that my obsession with the idea of hiking the Kalalau Trail should pale in comparison to my eagerness for the return of Jesus. I wonder how I can spend so much time looking forward to earthly joys such as the beauty of the Na Pali Coast and spend so little time thinking about and anticipating the second coming of Jesus. “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.” Philippians 3:20 (NLT) Are you eagerly awaiting the return of Jesus?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Kilauea Sunrise - 11/22/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the November 22, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


On my first morning in Kauai, I woke up early and slipped out of the condo before anyone else was awake. I headed out in the rental van looking for a place where I could watch the sunrise. As I headed east out of Princeville, I looked at the map on my phone, and it seemed that the nearest place that I would be able to see the sunrise would be Kilauea Point.

When I reached the small town of Kilauea, there was a gas station open, so I stopped to get a drink. It was still pitch-black outside. The cashier was a friendly older woman who struck up a conversation. Everything about me said that I was a tourist, down to the camera that was hanging around my neck. “You are sure up early this morning,” she said. “What do you have planned for today.” “I am going to find a place to watch the sunrise,” I told her. “I’ve never watched a sunrise,” the cashier answered. The idea that she had never seen the sunrise puzzled me, but I didn’t say anything.

There was no one else at the gas station, and I visited with the cashier for a few minutes. Her family had lived in the area for over one hundred years. She could remember when there were no tourists and almost no roads. Life hadn’t been easy for her and her family even though the area looked like paradise to me. As I walked out of the station and got back into the van, I was a little bit sad for this woman who had never watched a sunrise.

The drive out to Kilauea Point was less than two miles. There is a small parking area there, so I parked the van and got out, anticipating my first sunrise in Kauai. It was no longer pitch-black; there was just enough light so that I could see the surroundings. From my vantage point, I could see the dim outline of the Kilauea Lighthouse out on the point to my left. As I waited for the sun to come up, I was able to see many birds. Kilauea Point is a national wildlife refuge, and home to thousands of birds. I saw albatross, red-footed boobies, brown boobies, red-tailed and white-tailed tropicbirds, great frigatebirds, and shearwaters. The cliffs around the point were a bustle of activity. I also saw several nene, the native goose that is the state bird of Hawaii. The nene are endangered with fewer than one thousand left in the wild.

As the sky began to lighten, the clouds off to the northwest started to glow with color. I began taking pictures. The beauty of the area along with the sunrise filled my heart with joy as I soaked it all in. During the hour or more that I stayed there, only two other people stopped by. As I got back into the van and headed back to the condo, I once again thought about the woman that I had visited with earlier. She had lived her whole life within a few miles of here and yet had never experienced the sunrise. I hadn’t been on the island for twenty-four hours and yet I had just had one of the most enjoyable mornings of my life. Once again I felt sad for her.

I remembered the lyrics to a song by the folk singer Melanie. “Why sleep when the day has been called out by the sun. From the night 'cause the light's gonna shine on everyone. Why sleep when the sleep only closes up our eyes. Why sleep when we can watch the sunrise. Take you an apple and take you a song and watch a baby day be born.” When I see the sunrise, I think of new beginnings. Sunrise brings with it a new day, with new possibilities and new potential. Yesterday has been put to rest and a new day is born.

Recently I have gone through some very painful experiences in my life, but at the same time, I have been encouraged by people who had no idea what I was going through. The experience has helped me focus on the positive and try to leave the negative in the past. The prophet Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 43:18,19 (NCV), “The Lord says, ‘Forget what happened before, and do not think about the past. Look at the new thing I am going to do. It is already happening. Don’t you see it? I will make a road in the desert and rivers in the dry land.’”

God does not want us to focus on what had happened in the past; going through life looking in the rear-view mirror. But we so often can't help ourselves. We remember how people have hurt us and the mistakes we made. We need to look ahead and focus on the future. God wants to do new things in our lives.

Gentle Reader, a sunrise holds so much promise: a new day, a new opportunity, a fresh start. If the night has been difficult, get up and watch the sun come up. Witnessing a sunrise is a soul-healing process. As the intense colors emerge from the horizon and break across the sky, think about what Jesus said in Matthew 6:34 (TPT), “refuse to worry about tomorrow, but deal with each challenge that comes your way, one day at a time. Tomorrow will take care of itself.” Don’t be like the woman who lived her whole life on the beautiful island of Kauai and yet never witnessed a sunrise.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Warning Labels - 11/15/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the November 15, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


In my occupation as an auto bodyman and painter, I have painted many unusual things. One of the most unusual was a Bandit Wood Chipper that I painted for my cousin. Wood chippers have powerful feed systems with large chipper openings that allow you to break down limbs and branches. One of the things that I had to do before I could paint the wood chipper was to remove all the decals and stickers. So that I would know where to put the new decals when I finished painting, I took pictures of all the decals and locations for reference.

Wood chippers are very dangerous machines. I have never used one, but after reading all the warning decals, I have a new found respect for the dangers involved.

One warning label reads “DANGER! STOP TO THINK!! Reaching or kicking into the infeed spout can cause serious injury or death! DO NOT reach with your hand or kick with your foot inside the feed spout. The feedrolls are very powerful. Once your hand or foot is grabbed by the feedrolls, you can be pulled into the chipper. Do not think you will be able to pull yourself out of the feedrolls. They will not let go!” Another one reads “DANGER! SEVERE INJURY OR DEATH CAN OCCUR! UNLESS THESE INSTRUCTIONS ARE FOLLOWED.”

Do you think that Bandit Industries Inc. is serious about their warnings? Are they plain enough for you to understand? The wood chipper was covered with these warnings. I took 30 pictures of warning labels. The manufacturer wants to make sure that you understand the dangers of working with this machine.

The wording on this label made me smile; the company is very serious about their warnings. “BRUSH CHIPPERS ARE VERY DANGEROUS MACHINES TO OPERATE! READ AND BELIEVE THIS WARNING DECAL!” They want you to read and believe. One line on this warning decal reads "There have been MANY ACCIDENTS involving the feed rolls, resulting in the amputation of hands, arms, feet, legs, and DEATH. DO NOT let this happen to you!”

These warnings made me think of the Bible and all the directions and warnings that God has placed in it. In Jeremiah 6:10 (NET) the prophet says, “Who would listen if I spoke to them and warned them? Their ears are so closed that they cannot hear! Indeed, what the Lord says is offensive to them. They do not like it at all.” Why is it that we don't want to listen to the word of the Lord? When I read the warnings on a piece of machinery, I take them seriously, but if I read it in the Bible, I don't want to listen.

It seems that all products come with warning labels. Some of them seem very silly. A can of air freshener has the warning, “do not spray on face or eyes.” That seems reasonable, but I couldn’t quite understand why it contained the warning, “keep out of reach of children and teenagers." Nytol sleep aid tablets have the warning, “may cause drowsiness.”  Vidal Sasson hair dryers want to make sure that you “do not use while sleeping.” A Superman costume comes with this warning; “This costume does not enable flight or super strength.”

Some warnings are very obvious such as, "May irritate eyes,” found on a can of self-defense pepper spray. Or, "do not use orally," on a toilet bowl cleaning brush. A hammer manufacturer thought it was necessary to include the warning, "may be harmful if swallowed." A bag of peanuts has the warning, “may contain peanuts.” But other warnings make you scratch your head and wonder why. Like the bottle of shampoo that contains the following warning; “Caution: The contents of this bottle should not be fed to fish.” Or the clothing washing instructions that say, "do not wear for sumo wrestling."

Because of these often silly warnings, Most of us don’t pay any attention to the warnings placed on the products that we use. But some of them are very important, such as the ones found on the wood chipper that I painted.

The Bible contains a clear warning in Romans 6:23 (KJV).  As clear as the warning decals on a wood chipper. It says "The wages of sin is death." That is clear. Thankfully the verse doesn't end there. It also says "But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

The warnings on the wood chipper were not placed there because Bandit Industries Inc. doesn't want you to have any fun. They were not placed there just to restrict the user. They were placed there for the benefit and safety of the user. God's commandments are like the warnings on the wood chipper. They are not to restrict us; they are for our benefit. They are to keep us safe.

Gentle Reader, many times we look at God's law as a jail. We feel that it creates uncomfortable restrictions. We need to ask God to give us a love for his commandments, to instill in us a desire for the peace and safety of His law. 1 John 5:3 (NKJV) tells us "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” God’s warnings aren’t there to keep us from having fun. It is just the opposite. “Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the Lord. Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts.” Psalms 119:1,2 (NLT)

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Hammered Dulcimer - 11/8/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the November 8, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.



On a recent trip to Branson, Missouri I visited the Butterfly Palace. As I walked into the butterfly aviary, I saw hundreds of butterflies of all sizes and colors flying everywhere. As I was taking it all in and watching the butterflies, I heard beautiful hammered dulcimer music. I assumed that music was being piped in through a speaker system. As I walked around a corner, I saw that the music was coming from a woman playing a hammered dulcimer.

I love hammered dulcimer music, so when she had finished the song, I approached her to talk to her and tell her how much I appreciated the music. She plays on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays at the Butterfly Palace and has Cd’s for sale in the gift shop area. Her name is Ilace Mears, and she is an award-winning hammered dulcimer player. In 2016 she was named the National Hammered Dulcimer Champion at the 46th Annual Walnut Valley Festival. As I visited with her, I told her my experience as a wishful hammered dulcimer player.

Several years ago our family made a trip to Branson Missouri to meet my sister and her family. We had a delightful weekend, enjoying everything except the Branson traffic. We especially enjoyed going to Silver Dollar City.

While we were at Silver Dollar City, we listened to traditional mountain music. I like to listen to mountain instruments, especially the hammered dulcimer. There were vendors selling instruments, and I stopped at one of the booths to look at the hammered dulcimers. The salesman showed me the different dulcimers that he had and assured me that with the materials he had, I would be able to learn to play. In the excitement of the moment, I purchased the hammered dulcimer.

When I returned home, I got the new hammered dulcimer out and tried to play it. Somehow I just couldn't get the hang of it. I watched the video that the salesman had included. I still couldn't make music. All I could make was horrendous noise. I read the book that came with the instrument, but it didn't seem to help. I came to realize that I just wasn't musically talented. I would probably never be a hammered dulcimer player. I put the hammered dulcimer with its zippered case and its wooden stand in the back of the closet. The only time I thought about them was when they got in my way as I was trying to get something out of the closet.

Several years later I was in a financial pinch. Among other things, our heat pump was struck by lightning, and I had to replace the compressor. As I was thinking about how I was going to pay for the new heat pump, that hammered dulcimer came to mind. I wondered if I could sell it. I thought about selling it on eBay, but I never got around to it.

One day on an impulse I called the swap shop at noon on KENA radio and listed the hammered dulcimer. I had heard a lot of unusual things for sale on the swap shop, but never a hammered dulcimer. The day went by, and I did not receive any calls about the dulcimer.

That night there was another small crisis at home. The washing machine wasn't working properly. I don't know about your house, but at my house, that was a crisis. Where were we going to get the money to pay for the repairs? We hadn't recovered from replacing the heat pump. Call the appliance repairman I told my wife, we have to get the washing machine fixed. That night we prayed that God would help us out of this financial problem.

The next day around noon I received a call from Waldron. The caller asked, "do you have a hammered dulcimer for sale? I have been looking for one for my daughter, and a friend told me they had heard one for sale on the radio." I assured her that I did, and made arrangements to meet her so that I could show her the dulcimer. When she saw the instrument, she gave me my asking price immediately. It was almost exactly the amount that the repairman needed for fixing the washing machine.

As the buyer was leaving, I told her, "I don't know if you are a Christian or not, but I have to tell you something." I was so excited by how God was taking care of my financial problem that I had to tell her the whole story of the dulcimer and the washing machine. After I had told her the story, she replied, "I am a Christian, and I have to tell you a story. My daughter has wanted a hammered dulcimer for some time. I have been to several music stores, but the cost of a hammered dulcimer is more than we can afford. My daughter has been praying that God would help her find a dulcimer she could afford. I told her that used ones were very hard to find, but she continued to pray about it. Finding this dulcimer at a reasonable price is an answer to our prayers."

I stood there stunned as I realized that the great God that we serve had answered the prayers of two families that day. In Philippians 4:6 (NCV) the Bible says "Do not worry about anything, but pray and ask God for everything you need, always giving thanks.”

Gentle Reader, when we pray, God has promised to hear our prayers and give us good gifts. In Matthew 7:7-11 (NIV) Jesus said, “ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” You can have confidence that God will hear your prayers. “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” 1 John 5:14 (NKJV)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Corn Maze - 10/18/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the October 18, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


Have you ever experienced a corn maze? I recently had my first corn maze experience at Holly Springs Homestead, a local family farming operation owned by Luke and Deedee Alston. Both Luke and Deedee grew up on a farm. The land they farm includes land originally owned by Luke’s great-great-grandfather, and the very land where Luke’s father was born. Holly Springs Homestead is recognized as a Century Farm by the Arkansas Agriculture Department.

My wife and I made plans to go to Holly Springs Homestead for this year’s Fall Fun on the Farm. It looked like it would be lots of fun. We wanted our granddaughters from Louisiana to be able to go with us, but the timing didn’t work out. We decided to go even if our grandkids couldn’t. The website description of the event tantalized us. “You can get lost in the corn maze, enjoy a beautiful ride through the country and see the sights on the hayride, admire acres of the sunflowers, learn something new at the Crops of Arkansas display or one of our many on-farm educational events, step back in time for some old-fashioned play in The Kids Farm, and experience a real pumpkin patch – see how they are planted, watch them in various stages of growth and take one home!”

The day we planned to go to the farm turned out cloudy, breezy, and overcast. As we pulled into the parking lot, a few drops of rain started falling. We decided to go ahead and experience the farm and the corn maze even if there were a few raindrops. We headed for the corn maze, but at the entrance to the maze, they were getting ready to leave on a hayride. During the hours that the Fun on the Farm is open, there is a hayride every thirty minutes. Since the hayride was ready to leave, we climbed aboard. The hayride travels along the outside edge of the corn maze and through the sunflower patch, the pumpkin patch, the barnyard, and the crops of Arkansas plots where we saw rice and cotton growing.

By the time the hayride was over, the rain had stopped, and the sky seemed to be clearing. We made our way into the corn maze. The maze covers six acres and is covered from one end to the other with winding paths. The corn is very tall, and there is no way to see anything except corn stalks and the path you are currently on. It didn’t take long for us to realize that trying to figure where we were on the tiny map they provided was almost impossible. We ended up going around in circles several times. We thought we were in a completely different part of the maze when we turned a corner a found ourselves at the exit. We had been having so much fun that we turned around and tried to find our way back to the entrance. By the time we found our way back to the entrance, the sun had come out and we were hot, sweaty, and thirsty.

It may sound corny, pun intended; but our corn maze adventure has parallels with our Christian walk. While walking through the maze, we learned to be prepared to change directions. In this life, you are going to have to be willing to change your course. In the cornfield, if we had decided that we would only go straight, we would have never gotten out of that maze. We had to be flexible enough to move out of the area we knew into a new area to get to the end. In the same way, God doesn’t want us to become complacent as we go through life. He wants us growing, and often that means taking us on a new path and learning new things.

It can be hard to understand where you are going when you are concentrating on what is directly in front of you. But when you rise above and see the situation from a different viewpoint, you will be able to see the path you have been taking all along. Once my wife and I found the exit of the corn maze, we were better able to understand the layout of the maze. When we knew where the exit was in relation to the treeline, we had a much better idea of our location in the maze as we made our way back to the entrance.

In Colossians 3:2 (NKJV) the Bible tells us to “set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” We can get bogged down in the worries and cares of this world and fail to see the way God is leading in our lives. The rest of your life is just like a maze. There will be many times that you will have to decide whether to go left, right, or straight ahead. It is important to have a plan, to seek out help. In 1 Corinthians 9:26 (NIV) Paul said, “I do not run like someone running aimlessly.”

If you run aimlessly, make the wrong choices, and choose the wrong paths in life, you will waste part or all of your life. You will be angry and frustrated, and you will never reach the end successfully. But God has given you something to help you through the maze of life. You have the word of God, which is “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalms 119:105 (NKJV)

Gentle Reader, you will be lost in the maze of life without God's word. It sheds light on all your decisions so you can see what you should do. “We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” 2 Peter 1:19 (NIV) The word of God and the prophecies it contains are the signposts that keep you going in the right direction in life. The only way you can successfully navigate the maze of life and have a successful exit strategy is to read the Bible and learn of Jesus, ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand what Jesus has done for you, and love and obey Him.  Jesus says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” John 14:15 (NKJV) Don’t be lost in the maze.