Saturday, February 01, 2014

"So how big did this place get?"

It's funny how an offhand comment or question can sometimes drive me into periods of really deep thought and reflection. That's really not a neighborhood I frequent much anymore, simply because the pressure of getting this done NOW is so much a part of my life. Between church and school there's just not much down time.

The question came from a friend while we were preparing meals to be delivered to people who live in the neighborhoods around the church. I could be there because it was a "snow day" for us at school, so I could help Bunny get the cooking done and then be able to show up at church hours earlier than normal. His job on base let him be there too. The roads were icy, and most people had hunkered down at home, but that didn't mean they didn't need a hot meal. So some of the folks at New Hope turned out including this young man.

He and his family had simply showed up one Sunday and quickly became a part of our church. Their heart for Christ and willingness to serve have just endeared them to everyone at New Hope. And their precious daughter is a sense of endless fascination and joy while we watch her scamper around. It's been a great blessing to have them within our church family.

So his question was delivered while he and I were filling clam shell containers with black-eyed peas and rice. Not a probe, just a curious question. But it's made me think.

I answered him like most pastors would do - with numbers and relating them to the size of our sanctuary and number of seats. It's possible I mentioned some of the factors that have caused those numbers to shrink - but I don't think so.

At any rate we kept filling the containers with food, and another New Hope family member came in with some rolls to add to the meal. Then in a little while another brother came in to help finish up "plating" the meal and help deliver them. And once we got them all filled, we left and delivered them all - 99 meals to people who needed them, and maybe reminding of the fact that God loves them and so do we.

Today as I was taking a look at Sunday's Bible study, the conversation came back to my memory. You have to understand - I've spent over 14 years at New Hope, preaching and teaching the Word, loving and praying for the people, and doing whatever it took at the time to see us love people and reach them with the love of God. There have been times I wanted to leave out of frustration with what was happening, and a couple times I could have left, but I knew absolutely it was God's will for me to move here and though it has been tough at times, He has never released me from this call. So here I am.

Look - we've had more people. Twice as many plus some. We've had some really great folks come and serve with us, and then move away or move on for one reason or another. God bless them all. I'll be forever grateful for what they meant to God's work at New Hope, and what they meant to me personally.

You don't serve with someone, spend time in each other's homes, do funerals for their fathers, mothers, and pets; you don't stand up with their children as they pledge their lives to God and each other; you don't laugh and cry with them - without a feeling of loss when they leave. Not sure many people understand that when you have prayed for a person as their pastor - calling out to God for them by name everyday for years, you grow kind of attached. So yeah...

But you have to understand this too. A pastor does not live in the past, he runs to the future, because that's where his prayers to the timeless God he prays to - lead him. I'm always praying for another chance to see God capture the heart of a child, of a teen, of an adult. I'm always hoping to be there when God mends a broken heart or when He sets one on FIRE for souls. That's what drives me - what keeps me excited about being a pastor.

And right now I'm seeing a rekindling of that fire in the people of New Hope. We may have less people, but we have a group who love, who serve, who give, who want to see the Kingdom come and His will be done right here in a small church in a small town.

"So how big did this place get is?" a question I hope to ask the Father one day. In person.

I really expect to be blown away.

Because Scripture tells me that God can do more than we can ask or even imagine. And I believe it with all my heart.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Cost

Well, it's almost Christmas. The traffic is thicker and our patience is thinner. We're beginning to put one eye on the calendar and the other on the checkbook make sure that one doesn't get ahead of the other. That fear can begin to start - what if we don't have enough? Don't you miss those days as children when you never gave a thought to Christmas' cost? 

My family was not wealthy by any means, but neither were we poor. Like many, we lived from week to week, knew our banker or loan officer well, and while we never lacked, we never prospered. Yet every Christmas that I can remember came and went leaving me filled with the belief that I had been blessed. If I wanted a "Johnny 7 One Man Army Gun" badly enough, it seemed to find its way to the tree. If a "Model Motoring by Aurora" racetrack caught my fancy, well, apparently Santa knew that too. 

Even though I knew from my trips to the stores that such things had prices, I never concerned myself with the cost. 

Yet there was a cost - a sacrifice for my parents - every year. As I grew older, I'd catch snippets of conversations about the bills, and their struggle to pay them. "What are we going to do?", I'd hear my Mother say with worry and fear coloring her voice. "I don't know, but they are going to have Christmas," replied my Father, somewhat more hopefully, but still unsure. And off they'd go to the Western Auto, or to Sears, or to somewhere else they could buy toys and pay on time. 

Gradually I realized that my Christmas gifts cost them dearly. In time, in energy, in stress. My mother would cut corners - patch jeans, save pennies. My father would work overtime even after his regular swing shift. So somehow, every year there'd come Christmas. It came with a cost. 

It always has. 

That's why we have communion on Christmas Eve. To remember the cost.

My prayer is that as we celebrate the birth of Christ tomorrow, we remember that He came to pay the price for our sins.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Whenever You Hold A Child

Christmas time always causes me to rummage around in my closet of memories. If you're like me, you've got stuff in there.

For me, back there past the 3rd grade report card I'm still grousing over from one December past, or the memory of the time the heat pump went out when I was 2200 miles away from a freezing Macon, GA, are memories upon memories of Christmases.

Some examples?

One Christmas when I was a child, I received a toy helicopter with a broken windshield. A note affixed read "sorry, dropped off the sleigh. - Santa". I come by my sense of humor genetically, obviously.

Another found Bunny and me walking away from a guitar store, not buying, but selling my guitar to pay for Christmas for the boys. We had smiles on our faces, thinking about how they were going to enjoy the toys. No regrets, only memories of their joy.

Really, most of my memories of Christmas revolve around children. I get excited every year to see the little ones as they begin to anticipate the day's coming. When I read the Christmas story, I remember what it's like to hold a newborn son. Joy floods your soul as you cradle this new life - full of promise, bathed in love, fresh from the arms of God. This time last year we were joyously but anxiously awaiting the birth of Aiden Brann Wilson, our grandson.

So when I read Zachariah's "song" and see this, it touches me.

And you, my child, "Prophet of the Highest,"
will go ahead of the Master to prepare his ways,
77Present the offer of salvation to his people,
the forgiveness of their sins.
78Through the heartfelt mercies of our God,
God's Sunrise will break in upon us,
79Shining on those in the darkness,
those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way, one foot at a time,
down the path of peace. Luke 1:77-79

When I visualize this scene, I see a man holding his son. Maybe John was sleeping - you like them to get in that routine early. Or maybe he was looking up at his daddy, fist in his mouth, or with arms outstretched. I can see those dimples on the backs of his hands, and his little bitty toes. A baby, held tight in the arms of love.

Zachariah, unlike most anyone else, had a clear understanding from God directly about what the result of his son's life would be. That passage is God's announcement of just what the life of John the Baptist would mean.

But remember, Zach and Liz couldn't just kick back and not do the work of being John's parents - just the opposite. God's plan for John's life required Zachariah and Elizabeth to do what they only could do, and that is to "train up a child in the way he should go..." Before John could show anyone else the "path of peace", he had to be taught the "way".

Friends, when you hold a child, you are holding God's investment into the future of this world. You are holding one of His masterpieces of creation. Snug within your arms lies the continuation of God's purpose and plan.

That child you hold may be someone like John, who will show many people the way.
That child you hold may be someone like Mary, whose life will be used to change the world forever.

Your part in that isn't just to hold them, but to mold them into people who grow up to live for Jesus. Whenever you do, you are touching generations yet to come with His love.

So this Christmas, why not take time each night to read the Christmas Scriptures? Talk with your kids about God's love for the world expressed through Jesus. Let them pretend they are shepherds, wise men, Joseph and Mary. Let them enter into the wonder and experiences that surround Christ's birth.

Make their memories of Christmas include Jesus.

And give them a hug for Bunny and me.

Adam and Shonda, bring us Aiden please. :)

Friday, November 29, 2013

29,999 hits +1

There was a time, back in the days I was writing more, I used to check my blog's statistics often. I'd write a post and then check to see how many people read it and even where they came from. No, I can't tell exactly WHO reads it, just the general geographic area. Remember, I'm SBC, not NSA. My goal was to try to help people see the love of God reaching out to them in the everyday. So I'd check to see if it was reaching anyone at all.

Last week's sermon, though I suspect everyone else has forgotten it, is still pinging around in my brain. I guess you could say it reached - me. I've having trouble getting past the idea that we have no idea, really, of just how much God loves us. The trigger for that was pretty simple, really. Thinking about all the ways God has shown His love to me, I focused on the beauty of nature around me. My Mother invested in me a love of flowers in general and I've always loved wildflowers for their simple beauty. So as I thought - prayed, really - prayers of thanks to God for His gifts, it came to me.

God created gazillions of wildflowers, most of which few humans will never see. And yet, there they are and as the Bible says "Solomon in all his glory

I'm writing this on Black Friday, where this year's reports rolling in indicate that people are many times willing to suspend the love for neighbor in favor of fighting to get that just right gift for themselves or someone they love. They'll punch, craw, snatch, and grab just so they can prove their love.

In sharp contrast, God IS love.

Everything He does comes directly from His deep, deep love for humanity. 

I wish I could help everyone to see that. This week has been full of moments when His love was so real. Like this one. 

So dear reader, thank you. I'll try to do better at this writing thing which sits in the middle of a crazy busy life.

Monday, November 04, 2013

God never quits reminding us

It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never gotten tired of making them. It may be that God has the eternal appetite of infancy.
G.K. Chesterton 

One of the things I fight about growing older is the tendency to fail to remember everyday the miracle of life. Every day we take about 20,000 breaths and every single one is a gift. Our eyes, one of the most intricately designed parts of our body, do the amazing work of recognizing, translating, and communicating what's in front of us. Our ears discriminate music from the background noise. Our nose picks up the molecular traces that we call smells. We're able to grip a baseball bat and hold a newborn.

We live in a miracle, AS a miracle. 

So on the way to work, God placed several patches of daisies to remind me. They appear in late September and continue their work until late November, when other flowers take over. Every year I look for them and every year God rewards my search. They are simply beautiful. They drive me to thank God every time I see them for being so good.

You know as tired as we get with it all, I am convinced that God never does. For all the fuss about our needing to get in touch with our inner child, God simply never forgot what it means to love something for what it is. Not for what it does for Him, or what it could be if He changed it - like we so often love - but for God, a daisy brings joy because it simply is.

Newsflash - He loves you the same way. 

I am dead serious here.

There is nothing you can do to earn His love.  Nothing you could do to make Him love you more. Sure there are things you and I both do that don't please God - some which may even make Him angry at the sheer foolishness of our rebellious ways.

But friend, He'd do it all again.

And He does.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

When It's All Said and Done

Bunny and I spent a few minutes today looking at pictures of the most fascinating person in the world - Aiden Brann Wilson - our grandson. Perhaps I'm getting a bit easy to move emotionally as I age, but looking at those pictures, I remembered those days when I held Aiden's father in my arms, and many of those moments that mark a life forever. I remember how my heart would swell with joy as he slept on my shoulder and I felt his heart beat and heard those little coos as he breathed.

Meeting the woman of my dreams, our first kiss, beginning life together - it's all still there. Bunny being pregnant with Adam, enjoying him immeasurably, and then being blessed with Sean to boot. Then came so many years of joy as we raised two incredible boys, surrounded by our families in the community we grew up in. Our church families at Bethesda and Mt Zion Baptist both provided us with strong support and deep understanding of what it means to be a church family. The conversations we had and the times we shared still warm my heart decades after the fact.

And here I am tonight finishing a sermon as I have done so many times... I'm wondering.

Have I done what God wanted me to with my life?

When I accepted God's call - when I said "yes" to God, it also meant I was saying "no" to a lot of what made our life so rich for so long. I left a great job with a future, a great church with awesome friends, left family and familiar surroundings for the great unknown - at least unknown to us. Just as I've always told people who are getting married that no one can really explain what it's like, serving God as a pastor comes with precious little in the way of a road map. There have been others who entered the ministry after me who have left it already, good men who I respect for their faith and character but who ended their service in leadership to return to a normal life. It always causes me to wonder what happened. Was the pressure too great? Were the strains of "herding cats" while keeping a church's focus on Christ instead of preferences too telling? Did the toll on their family prove so much they just decided "enough - I've done enough."

There have certainly been some detours and road closed signs during the time I have served at New Hope. Many times discouragement and doubt have caused me to want to hang it up or leave. Yet the Lord has always given me the grace to make it another day. These last three years, as I've worked as a teacher along with trying my best to care for the people God gave me to love have been a roller coaster ride of feeling great about our impact one day and not so great the next. Still, grace has always been enough.

So tonight as I'm preparing to preach in Acts Chapter 20 tomorrow, where Paul is following God's call into an uncertain future, I get a chance to hear a clear message directly from his heart to mine. From one man who left it all behind to follow Jesus to another.

And you know what?

When it's all said and done - His grace is enough.

I can look back and see God's guiding hand again and again. I can feel His presence even now as I write this, letting me know He is with me and that no matter how feeble and unworthy I might feel at times, His Spirit will supply what I need to fulfill His purpose for me until the day He calls me home. I'll try to be faithful everyday, and rely on Him to live out this verse.

David did God’s will during his lifetime.  Acts 13:36 (NCV)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Day We Said Goodbye - Remembering the Heart of a Dog

It was 4 years ago today when, on a day gray, dark, and pouring rain, my son and I knelt beside one of the best friends we will ever have, our big Great Dane named Henley. We were waiting for the veterinarian to come into the room with the Xrays that would confirm what we really already knew. Cancer was working hard to bring our big boy down. It wasn't the first time we had been in that room.

A few months earlier, Henley had fallen desperately ill with an infection. We stood in that same room as one of the vets told us that there probably wasn't anything to do except either to wait for him to die, or to put him down. We brought him home, carrying all 155 pounds out of that office on a quilt. Thanks to the skilled help of another vet who was a friend, and all our our complete dedication to his care, we pulled him through, only to find ourselves 6 months later being told the same thing as before.

Due to the chance that the leg bone, riddled with cancer, might snap and plunge Henley into instant and torturing pain, this time we gave away a few days or months of chances to love and be loved, and held him close as he fell to sleep and then away from us forever. I hope he knew how much he was loved, and that what we did was the hardest thing we have ever done.

There are still times when I come through the door and think about his greetings. 155 pounds of complete and utter joy mixed with love as he pranced and wiggled his big form, all the while making that "woo woo woo" love growl that we all loved to hear. Still times I see that big collar of his and wish he was in it. Our Airedales are awesome and we love them fiercely. But I have to confess that there's nothing like a Dane.

From the first moment Bunny and I saw that face, already impossibly big for a dog his age, we were smitten. He was our dog and we were his. The years that followed saw us share lots of adventures and a few hardships - but every time I came through the door, I knew that greeting was coming. We took him with us on trips to Dallas, to Savannah, and many times to Macon. It was always funny to see the looks from people in small towns along the way when out of the back of our Kia Sportage came "the horse." One time in Colquitt a family made a complete circle of the Hardees just so their kids could see Henley again. What I'd give to see him again.

That's the only flaw in Great Danes, really. They are subject to the same mortality as we are, even more so as their lives average 7-10 years. We had 7, and they were the best.

So thank you God, for such an amazing gift. I'll continue praying that out of your mercy, you'll see fit to let us see him again, and experience the joy of that reunion.

“You think those dogs will not be in heaven! I tell you they will be there long before any of us.” 
― Robert Louis Stevenson