Saturday, July 25, 2009

Beautiful Santorini Greec

Was Santorini really the lost continent of Atlantis?

I had always wanted to see Greece since it was one of the few places in the Mediterranean I had never visited.

However, after visiting Athens and the surrounding area for a few days, we ventured on a weeks cruise that was one of the most beautiful we have ever taken. We had been sailing the Aegean Sea for a few days and had ported in a number of the islands that had left us spellbound to their beauty. But after an all night sailing, we had been told that this day would be the highlight of the trip as we visit Santorini. Well, from the sea you won't confuse Santorini with any of the other islands of the Cyclades.

As we came within view of the island we saw the most a spectacular harbor that's part of the enormous crater formed when a volcano blew out the island's center around 1450 B.C. In short, this is physically one of the most spectacular islands in the world. Santorini's cliff-faced crescent isle graces tourist brochures and posters in Greek restaurants the world over. The real wonder is that Santorini itself meets and exceeds all glossy picture-postcard expectations. Like an enormous mandible, Santorini encloses the pure blue waters of its crater. Even their whitewashed houses from a distance resembles a dusting of new snow on the mountaintop.

To this day, some scholars speculate that the destruction gave birth to the myth of the lost continent of Atlantis.

As we approached the island by tenders little of the city actually shows above the cliff tops but a string of white villages looking like teeth on the vast lower jaw of some monster. Still, the island was called Kállisti, "Loveliest," when it was first settled, and today hordes of visitors find its mix of vaulted cliff-side architecture, European elegance, and stunning sunsets irresistible.

Since the houses and shops are all on the top at more than 400 feet we had three options to get to the top after landing in the port; walking over 400 steps up a winding way, ride donkeys up the same way, or to take a cable car up. After some cool discussions with our wives, my friend Richard and I had been vetoed out by our wives, so we took the cable car from the port to the top of mountain. Even above the screams we had a beautiful ride.

After a long day on this fabulous island, the gals sorted their buys, discussed where they had shopped, and feared the ride back down. I can still remember the way they held their breath all the way down with an occasional “O-o-o!”

The boats back to the ship were waiting and after a long tiring day we gladly boarded after buying our tourist hats that said, “Santorini.” I am still trying to pronounce it correctly.

Back aboard the ship we rushed to the main deck, found chairs, and watched the western sun on the houses atop the island. My how they glistened as the sun began to set. As the darkness began to cover the area we looked west to see the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen. I have always wanted to impact and leave such a ray of light to some sojourner.

Was it the lost city of Atlantis? I doubt it.
But there is a city yet to come whose builder and maker is God that has a beauty that will far surpass what I remember of this marvelous island.

Matthew 5:14
“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.”

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Salzburg, Austria

The Other Sound of Music in Beautiful Salzburg, Austria

We have visited Salzburg, Austria on a number of occasions and always see things missed the time before. Many people of renown have lived in the city and its history and beauty add to the luster of the place.

The city is located on the banks of the Salzach river, at the northern boundary of the Alps. The closest alpine peak - the 1972meter high Untersberg - is only a few kilometers from the city center. About 100 kilometers on the distance side of the mountain is the famous Eagle's Nest well known as Hitler's retreat in nearby Berchtesgaden, Germany.

The inner city, or old town Salzburg, is dominated by its baroque towers and many churches. The city is approximately 150kilometers east of Munich, Germany and 300km west of Vienna, Austria.

The first settlements at Salzburg were apparently begun by the Celts. Around 15 BC the separate settlements were merged into one city by the Romans. At this time the city was called Juvavum and was awarded the status of a Roman municipium in 45 AD. Around this time, first records of Jewish settlers appear.

In 1077 a fortress was constructed under the order of Archduke Gebhard called The Festung or Hohensalzburg Fortress and stills guards the city with its very presence.

The mightiest fortress of central Europe, a powerful castle sitting in a prominent position, undoubted Salzburg’s prime attraction and most dominant feature of the city’s skyline. The lights from the sun or evening express a beauty unequaled as it appears to guard the city.

Salz is the German word for salt, making the name literally mean "Salt castle". A variant English form of the name is 'Saltsburg'. The town's river was a main artery for transporting salt mined in nearby mountains.

The city has had its periods of discomfort. It was in the winter of 1731, the 214th Anniversary of Martin Luther's launching the Reformation by nailing his 95 Theses of Contention to the Wittenberg Church door, an Edict of Expulsion declaring that all Protestants recant their beliefs or be banished. More than 21,475 local citizens professed on a public list their Protestant beliefs.

Land owners were given three months to sell their lands and leave. Non-owner farmers, tradesmen, laborers and miners were given only 8 days to sell what they could and leave. The first refugees marched north through the Alps in desperately cold temperatures and snow storms. Goethe wrote the poem Hermann and Dorothea about the Salzburg exiles' march. Protestants and even some non-protestants were horrified at the cruelty of their expulsion in winter, and the courage they had shown by not renouncing their faith.

Finally, in 1732 Lutheran King Frederick William I of Prussia accepted 12,000 Salzburger Protestant emigrants, who settled in areas of East Prussia that had been devastated by the plague twenty years before. Their new homelands were located in what today is northeastern Poland, the Kaliningrad Oblast, and Lithuania. Other, smaller groups made their way to the Banat region of modern Romania, to what is now Slovakia, to areas near Berlin and Hannover in Germany, and to the Netherlands.

But not all was European because on March 12, 1734, a small group of about sixty exiles from Salzburg who had traveled to London arrived in the American colony of Georgia seeking religious freedom. Later in that year they were joined by a second group, and by 1741 a total of approximately 150 of the Salzburg exiles had founded the town of Ebenezer, Georgia on the Savannah River, about twenty five miles north of the city of Savannah. Other German speaking families - mostly Swiss Germans, Palatines and Swabians - also joined the Salzburgers at Ebenezer. In time, all of these Germanic people became known as "Salzburgers"

In 1803, Salzburg became politically a part of Austria, and so it remains to this day.

In 1965, the movie The Sound of Music was filmed in Salzburg and area. The movie was based on the true story of Maria von Trapp, a Salzburg-based nun who took up with an aristocratic family and fled German occupation. Although the film is relatively unknown to Austrians, the town draws a large percentage of visitors who wish to relive the movie by visiting the filming locations. After the exit of the von Trapp’s, the family later takes residence and her offspring maintain a resort near Stowe, Vermont where she is buried.

Besides the von Trapp’s, the city boast many notable citizens, namely the famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who was born and raised in Salzburg. His house of birth and residence are popular attractions. The church where he wrote many of his songs is one of the leading places to visit while there. As we entered it we could seemingly hear the ringing of his music from the walls of this glorious church.

Another that has affected the weather forecasters of the world was Christian Doppler, an expert on acoustic theory, was also born in Salzburg. He is most renowned for his discovery of the Doppler Effect. Josef Mohr was born in Salzburg and together with Franz Gruber; he composed and wrote the text for Silent Night. These are a few we Americans would have heard of.

Located in the beautiful Alps, Salzburg was a candidate city for the 2006 and 2010 Olympic Winter Games. It lost out to the city of Torino, Italy and Vancouver, Canada.

The visit to this area always reminds me that I must flavor the world with His Love.

Matthew 5:13
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt has lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

Matthew 5:14
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.

It is a wonderful place to visit as one views the surrounding and culture of the area. The only place that beats this city is the place we call home.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Butterball: Cutman Par Excellent

The only thing Ray Rodgers and I have in common is we are both 71 and classmates of the Class of 1955 at Conway High.

In fact this week, we talked by phone while he was in Louisville, Ky., when some mutual friends from here found out we were friends, and that he had mailed me a funeral program of another classmate who lost his battle with cancer a couple weeks ago.

For years I did not know his real name, because like many of us in elementary school we were a little pump, so everyone called him with affection “Butterball.”

In our youth we have dreams, so he took up boxing and so did I, but a few nose bleeds is all I wanted. But “Butterball” continued and has spent 60 of his 71 years in that sport.

Today my friend is chairman of the board of the National Golden Gloves, and president of the National Silver Gloves. He runs the mid-South regional golden gloves, and the Arkansas state golden gloves. To say he likes boxing is an understatement.

He believes it's his destiny. "I come from a good heritage," Rodgers says. "I am the son of Hall of Fame Boxing coach Ray Rodgers and the Great grand nephew of country music Hall of Fame member Jimmie Rodgers. It is in my blood so I really didn't have a chance. Some things in life you can choose, some you can't. I feel like this was my destiny."

“Yes. I want to die at ringside, but no time soon. I’ll be 72 next October, and I hope I can do this every day of my life, working with kids and being involved in boxing,” my friend continued.

Besides being active is boxing he is a professional “cutman.”

In the sport of boxing, probably the most underappreciated yet vital member of a boxer’s team is the cutman. Ray Rodgers happens to be one of the best. He currently handles the corner duties for Undisputed World Middleweight Champion Jermain Taylor. In the past, he has also worked with heavyweight contenders Phil Jackson, Iran Barkley, Wayne McCullough, Hector Camacho, and, most notably, Tommy Morrison.

He has been Tommy Morrison’s cutman throughout his career. “We had a lot of fun. Tommy and I laughed a lot together. He used to tell me jokes and I’d tell him jokes, and we kept each other loose. When I learned the kid had a big heart was when we fought Joe Hipp, I think in 1993,” Ray said.

“He just got almost dismembered. He broke his jaw, broke his thumb, had a cut under his left eye, had a cut over his right eye, and still knocked Hipp out in the ninth round.”
“I got the cut under control and I think it took 22 stitches. It was a big one. That was one of the most memorable and exciting moments with Tommy. Of course, one year later when he out boxed George Foreman for the world title that was a highlight for us both. I worked a lot of fights with him, 30 or 35 over almost a 10 year period, and I always enjoyed it.”

Dr. Thomas Virgets, former trainer of Morrison said of Rodgers, “Ray had stopped cuts that usually stop bouts without even being noticed. He is simply the best!”
Little Rock’s TV Channel 7 recently said of my friend, “At 71, boxing Coach Ray Rodgers still has the self-discipline that made him a scrappy lightweight 60 years ago.
The broadcaster showed why amateur boxing in Arkansas would be in big trouble without Rodgers--and how all of us would be without one of our most likeable characters.
Ray was asked about one of his toughest fights. He answered, “One of the toughest fights I ever had was with Iran Barkley in Germany, roughly 10 or 11 years ago, when he was fighting Henry Maske, who was the light heavyweight champion and a very precise puncher. At the end of the bout, it took 63 stitches and two and a half hours to sew Iran up.”
He said he never wanted to be a trainer. “I coach at the local level. Let me tell you having one professional boxer is like having six step-kids. Can you imagine that? They would worry you to death.” “Being a cutman is just something I do. I’ll fly out there a couple of days ahead of a fight, which gives me a chance to rest. On the day of the bout, I go into war mode. I start thinking about a fight just like a fighter does. I’m focused. After the bouts over, I have post depression. And I go right back to work on Monday. It’s just like a walk in the park.”
Life is full of people with unusual professions. To some my role of ministry may be different. Like Ray’s mine was also a destiny and calling.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,” Luke 4:18
My Lord was cut, bruised, punched, whipped, beaten, and a spear pierced his side, but no one was able to care for that body because if was done for our salvation and sacrifice. It was the ultimate price and He paid it for you and me.

“He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.” --Isaiah 53:5

His note to me this week said, “Alton: Great to hear that you are feeling some better. Hang tough, and Praise the Lord! Your friend “Butterball.”

The last 54 years of proclaiming the good news has been great. I hope to share with the Apostle Paul, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:”-- 2 Timothy 4:7

Sunday, July 5, 2009


I took a trip but never left home

As is my daily morning custom I checked my internet for any emails and “bingo” one flashed loud and clear—“Stan Toler elected 39th General Superintendent!”

I have known him for many, many years and have watched how God has used him in so many roles in his denomination. I rejoiced with tears when I read of his election to this high and precious position. Weeping, I blurted out, “God has done it again!”

Dr. Toler used to always sign his card or message to me with “You are loved” and now the fruits of his humbleness and blessings to others is rewarded by this selection by his peers. The Church of the Nazarene denomination has honored a great man whose ability and love for Christ will be evident in the functions he will perform.
Over the years I have seen so many moved to higher leaderships who did not aspire to the role, but God in His wisdom placed His servant to roles where servant leadership was needed.
Our first meeting is not remembered, whether in the college were he went (One I have spoken at a number of times), a Christian bookstore owned by my denomination in Columbus , Ohio , or in a seminar I held at his denominations convention at his church. Where ever it was, it started a sincere and close friendship that has transcended over the years.

Later, when I became the President/CEO of Randall House Publications and General Director of our National Sunday School and Church Training Service department, I introduced Stan to my group allowing him to be used in a national forum and other venues. I know many in my ranks are probably expressing the same warmth for him that I am today.

Stan has been used in countless other religious bodies over the years and has the respect of so many outside his own movement.

From a West Virginia family, his family like many others, moved to Columbus , Ohio . His father passed away when Stan was 11 in a construction accident and he and a younger brother were raised by his widowed mother in a small holiness church in the downtown section where the world would have concluded, “This is no hope for this family.”

But the two sons she had been raised right both became successful ministers. Terry, Stan’s bother, is an outstanding song writer with my favorite being “Just Thinking about Home” with countless gospel groups recording it. Terry is a Vice-president at Southern Nazarene University. Both went on to receive doctorates in their fields of endeavor. Stan’s mother was remarried later and to that union came another son and the three have sung in many areas as the “Toler Trio”. These three came from less that a modest home but today all three are ministers of the gospel looking for a city “whose builder and maker is God”.

The thoughts of this new success to the Toler family caused me to remember a book printed by Scripture Press Publications, where I once worked, entitled, “God Can Use Nobody’s.” And He still does. Many have risen to great heights that had little to start with but were faithful to God’s plan for their lives.

I was honored to write in the introduction of three of Stan’s 70 books he has written. His talent has been seen by many other denominations and now by his own.

At the breakfast table I shared the good news with my wife after she saw my tears which I told her were from rejoicing.

So today I took a trip down memory lane stopping in various places during the 40 year trip. I was great I did, because it was a great one.

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion , Thy God reigneth!” -- Isaiah 52:7

“And how shall they preach, except they be sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” --Romans 10:15