Sunday, November 25, 2012

All I Want For Christmas

I was there in my office at New Hope on a rare day off from school and spending some time getting reacquainted with the place. For years I spent hours a day in here, arriving at 9 and leaving at 5 or thereabouts. Then we realized how much it was costing to heat and cool a building for one person and I started to work at home, coming here when Bunny came up to teach piano. She'd be here two or three hours most days. It still felt secure, safe - a place that I had filled with prayers, labored over words and the Word, and met with people to counsel or just talk.

I loved my office. My study. And to a large extent, it was my sanctuary.

But now?

I feel like a visitor. The books who were loyal and true friends seem distant, like people from my home town that I used to know well. The collections - of unit mugs from different military units, things New Hope people have given me over the years that I treasure, toys I kept on hand for the kids who would drop by, all just seem like stuff. I don't spend enough time here for it to feel the way it did. My bivocational status as a teacher means I am making a difference in the lives of the students at Eglin and still reach out and care for people through New Hope. It is a big help financially for the church, and an opportunity to show that the preacher is practicing what he preaches. But it is a different type of ministry and I'm still adjusting to it.

For thirteen years I have preferred New Hope Baptist Church - the people that have made it up and the mission God has given us - over everything else in my life save my wife and family. I came here because I believed that God was sending me here to work with Him and His people to make a difference. And we have - we are. Just last week while Bunny and I were gone, the people of New Hope worked together to produce and deliver a Thanksgiving meal for everyone they could find in our community that needed one.

And I believe that Bunny and I are doing everything we can do to see God's church move forward and reach more people in years to come. But the last couple of years have been tough and tougher. I sit here on a Sunday night praying that God will draw near and let me know how I can see His name glorified again in a growing church. The people I dearly love need that. I need that.

I know what I want for Christmas. I'm praying that Jesus will come alongside each of us and give us what we need to reach others in our circles of influence with His love. I'm praying people who have cooled off, tuned out, or been turned off to religion come to New Hope this Christmas season and see what a church family that's directed by God's will and sold out to making a difference looks like.

If you're reading this and that fits you, then come. Come worship with us. Come serve God and your neighbor with us. Come and experience the grace that is New Hope.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

God Isn't On Vacation

Bunny and I walked back to the hotel feeling a little down. We were away from home, missing family and friends, and even though we are enjoying the rest and the city, well, you know. We got back and the room hadn't been cleaned which is very unusual, so we called to find out when they were coming. The desk clerk said she'd send someone right up. That someone was Jaime R. (last name withheld for privacy)

Jaime moved here from "the country" where her Daddy helps launch boats on the bayou. She moved here for work, and she's still working out a 90 day probation  So she was efficient but a little stand-offish when we tried to reach out to her. She didn't want to talk about holidays or family. But Bunny and I kept at it, and got her to talking. When I said I was a pastor, she sort of seemed moved emotionally. 

It turned out she had more than homesickness going on.

She asked for prayer and Bunny and I gathered her hands in ours. That's when we found out that she is having a sonogram due to a possibility of breast cancer on December 8th. Her Mom had an aneurysm earlier in the year which she survived and Jaime did not want to tell her about the cancer, but needed to tell someone. And we were God's choice. 

God's timing, friends.

God's provision.

Pray for Jaime Richardson. Pray that she might be found cancer free. Pray for her family, for her job here at the hotel. Pray that God would show her every day in every way just how much He loves her.

I guess God doesn't do vacations. :) Or maybe He does. :)

And I guess we know why Bunny and I were here in New Orleans today.

Think of all the things God aligned today so that Jaime might know she is loved and we might know God can use anyone, anytime.

What could He do for you?

What could you do for Him?

May He richly bless your Thanksgiving tomorrow,

still amazed at God's work -

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Memorial message for Bill Standifer III

A friend passed away recently and I was asked to speak at the memorial service here, and at one later in Marietta Georgia. It was the first time I have ever done two messages for the same person and I wondered what to do. Should I simply repeat what I had said the first time, write a new message, or blend the two ideas. In the end I chose to approach using different Scripture but use some of that which I had written previously.

Bill was a friend, a part of our New Hope family, and I wanted to do the best I possibly could each time. The first memorial service had me in tears, but by the second I was able to do what I was there to do - help the family through the valley of the shadow. Below is the picture, obit and the second message.

“Bill” is survived by his wife of 5 decades, Harriet, three sons, Chip, Ross and Terry, and four grandchildren, Grafton, RJ, Crawford, and Hunter. 

Born in Eufaula, Alabama, Bill had a happy childhood with many friends in Atlanta, Georgia. Bill graduated Georgia Tech in Electrical Engineering and entered the Air Force, where he enjoyed one of his great loves, flying. After two highly decorated tours in Vietnam, and postings in Texas, California, North Carolina, England, Nevada, Virginia and Utah, as an F-4 and F-16 pilot and instructor pilot, he retired to North Florida with 25 years of service. Not easily idle, Bill followed this with another 20-year career at Wintec, Inc, in testing, where he got to regularly apply his engineering, planning, and analysis skills. 

Bill led a happy life of fun and adventure enjoying travel, camping, flying and play, with current annual passes to both Disney and Universal. He never missed a chance to ride a roller coaster – even when there were no grandchildren around to provide the excuse. 

13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, 16 your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Psalms 139:13-16 (NIV)

Here we are, again. For some of us this is our second opportunity to draw aside from the world and its cares and to spend some time thinking about, considering, and honoring the life of  William Standifer III – or as he’d prefer – Bill. And I expect for most of us we are still working to come to grips with what happened. Not that anyone expected Bill to live forever, no one does, here. But even though we knew Bill had health problems, really serious health problems for a long time – problems that profoundly affected the life he wanted to live, taking away some of the things that brought him great joy. We just thought that Bill would work whatever process the doctors gave him with the same relentless efficiency he showed in so many areas and that he’d be here a good while longer.

So when the events of the last few weeks began, and the dominos kept falling, we all prayed as hard as we knew how. At the end he just slipped away from us or maybe more appropriately, he flew behind above the cloud cover. I know this, he fought as hard as he could. He had said “I’m a fighter pilot. We don’t quit until the bullets are striking the cockpit.” His love for his sweetheart and his family was so strong. But while the will was strong, his equipment just failed. And now we are here, today.

As I drove up here yesterday I was thinking about home. Crossing the Alabama line near Lanett and reentering the land of my birth, even in the darkness of a November evening, I felt a difference even if the land didn’t change all that much. Something had. That’s funny in a way, since I have been gone 13 years now. But generations of my ancestors made their home in the red clay hills of Georgia, so I guess even now, there’s a part of me that it calls to as home. And yet for me, I suspect for many of you, and certainly for the man we come to remember and honor today, we live our lives in motion – in pursuit of the goals we have, of the things that matter most to us. 

Our birthplace matters to us, not just as a point on a map, but as writer Sarah Dressen penned:
“Home wasn't a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.”  Sarah Dresssen

Many of you in this church today provided the shelter for Bill Standifer.  No matter where his life took him, you were the “bricks” that God used to build that foundation, that shelter he took with him his whole life. When I thought about his life over the last few weeks, I realized that Bill was always loved. Some of you here loved him for decades. Loved him well. Loved him extravagantly, giving and giving with your hearts wide open. I know Harriet stands at the head of that line, and rightfully so. And certainly their sons are lining up behind their Mother. But look around you and see what a life like Bill’s does. What it calls forth from others.

The Bible tells us that we were loved before we were even a gleam in our Mother’s eyes.
13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, 16 your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Psalms 139:13-16 (NIV)

So that “solid shelter” I spoke of that Bill had around him began even before he was born. God placed him in a loving family, a giving home, and that solid foundation was there for him growing up through childhood.

I sat down with Terry and Harriet a few weeks ago  to talk about how they wanted Bill to be remembered – in the memorial  services in Florida and here, and while we did just that, they did a lot more for me. They went back and charted Bill’s life all the way from his birth in Eufaula, Alabama, his childhood in Pine Lake Georgia, and from venue to venue – or really – from HOME TO HOME - until the end. They shared their hearts with me, and I learned a lot more about the man we remember today. I’m going to share some of what I learned today, because I think it will help many of us put today in perspective. To understand what it was like to move all over the world, but always be AT HOME.

So as I said, Bill was born in Eufala Alabama and given that big name – William Standifer the third. I believe it was Harriet that told me that even that decision was one not taken lightly. That Bill even as a baby had tests to pass and passed them. Moving to Georgia brought the family into the American dream and into a growing area with lots of opportunities. Bill’s family did everything they could to make sure he had what he needed to succeed, and succeed he did.  

But from Eufala, to Atlanta, through Georgia Tech and out with a degree in electrical engineering, Bill never forgot who he was. A lot of people do, you know.  But Bill had brought with him his faith in God and he had been blessed to find the one true love of his life – his beloved Harriet.  Most of us who know them think of them together, say their names together, because they were as truly One as anyone we are likely to ever know.  They were going together when he was 18 and she was 17, after he started out dating Harriet’s sister. He soon corrected that mistake and always made the point that “I got the better sister.”

Bill’s upbringing had taught him that a man was measured by his integrity and devotion to what really matters, and he showed that those lessons – even in childhood – were well leaned by making and honoring commitments again and again and again throughout his life. If he said he would do something, you could take it to the bank. So his pledge to “love, to honor, to cherish, until death do us part” was only the last one he lived up to.

The commitment to serve his country was one he certainly fulfilled. He was only going to be in for five years, but once he got into fighters, he met his other passion –flying. And from then on until his retirement the couple’s path began to take them to places all over the world. I absolutely loved hearing Harriet tell about the days a young family spent  “living like the locals” in England, driving all over Europe in an Austin Healey, weekend flights to Paris and back for $25 round trip, and their Europe on $5 a day adventures. What a life! 

When they came back to the States even Terry was a proper English lad who wowed his chums at school when he told them “my dad eats snakes, flies fighter planes, and we just got here from England.” Skeptics were converted when every word turned out to be true. I suspect that wasn’t the only time someone heard about the life Bill, Harriet, Ross, Terry, and Chip had together and wondered if it all could be true. But it was.

In that same Psalm 139 is written this: 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  Psalms 139:7-10 (NIV)

I can’t imagine what Bill saw during his time in the service, but with 100 missions in the Vietnam War where losses were running at 40% of aircraft during the first couple of years flying out of Thailand, I know he lost many friends while carrying out his missions.  Harriet told me there were some songs that were played at the funerals in chapel she still didn’t like to hear. So I suspect there was a lot he didn’t care to talk about either. He was true to his oath to protect the Constitution against all enemies foreign or domestic though, believing that giving the Vietnamese people a chance to make their own choices about freedom was the right thing to do. 

Here at home Harriet did what she could to raise the boys and waited for her love to return. And he always did. But one of his friends told me that there were times when they simply had to trust God with their very lives and fly into “hell.” God went with Bill there too.

7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.   Psalms 139:7-10 (NIV)

The family lived the transient life of a military family while stateside, bouncing from assignment to assignment back and forth across the nation. Everywhere they lived, Bill and Harriet tried to help the boys see it as a great adventure. It surely must have been. Terry told me that those ants his dad ate – well while camping Bill shared that knowledge with the boys. “They taste like cherries” is what Terry told me, but he did say to make sure to get the biggest ants you could find.  Bill would find a way to get an adventure started wherever they were. At Nellis it was hunting for rocks and at Hill it was skiing and hunting for fossils. He taught the boys how to work on cars, and a lot more.

The end of his Air Force career came sooner than Bill would have liked it to. He had hoped to get a squadron of his own, but the glut of qualified people meant a lot of good men had to leave and Bill left as a Lt. Colonel.  There were people at Hill that were upset about his being passed over, and some were upset about Bill not getting his “last flight” in his beloved F-16. They didn’t know that Bill had already taken his last flight. For those of you not familiar, a last flight is where a retiring aviator can take their plane up and pretty much do whatever they want until the gas runs out. I’ve seen a couple of those and they are spectacular. Aileron rolls the length of the runway, pulling back on the stick, standing the plane on its tail going straight up out of sight, or cutting the pylons in the parking lot – most are flashy look at me events.

Bill’s last flight would have seen tame to those folks, but for him it was the most exciting flight he could imagine. He flew to Enid Oklahoma , to Vance AFB where Ross was stationed and pinned his wings on. That was Bill. He gave himself away. He was building the “shelter” for his boys, teaching them what it meant to be a part of a home so that they in turn would do the same if God led them to do it.

Decorated Pilot, instructor pilot, test director, he moved into the next phase of his life, a stint at Eglin running the test wing and then a short retirement and a long career with Wintec.  I was interested in how that transition went from a sociological point of view. Fighter pilots always seemed to have a certain worldview that sometimes didn’t play well with others. But Bill by this point had a path traced clearly of giving himself away.  No surprise then that he went on there to have an accomplished record spanning 20 years, or that the people he worked with became more than coworkers. At the service in Florida I had person after person tell me about little ways and big encouragements Bill made their lives better.

Bill made people better – made them want to be better. His quiet confidence made you feel as though if he believed you could do something then darn it, you could do it. Harriet talked about her decision to by a plane and learn to fly, and how she had doubts, but Bill would have none of it. She said “Bill gave me the confidence to do things I never would have done.” I could sure understand why someone would feel that way. I know that when we would be over in the fellowship hall on Wednesday nights, we’d get into some spirited discussions about one point or another and Bill wouldn’t say a word. But you could tell he was taking it all in. From my point of view, I felt he was giving me his respect while quietly encouraging me to bring the Truth to target. To where we live. He could be a tough audience there, but quick to laugh over lunch.

The last few years he spent a lot of time with his beloved grandchildren, sharing with them the things he loved to do – flying, shooting, riding roller coasters. He loved his family, was very proud of every one of them. I know having all boys might have seemed to some a loss but Bill always said the best way to have girls in the family was for your sons to marry them, and he was very thankful for his daughters in law. In return, you got a long up close and personal look at just what marriage is supposed to be.  

The Bible says “For this cause a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Terry told me that his Mom and dad “didn’t tell us how to live – they showed us.” Yes they did. They went through times of great joy and times when life seemed very tough. But in doing it all, no matter where the map found their house, they continued building a home.

Let me finish quickly by pointing out this: Bill knew where he was. Because he was grounded by his parents as their only son, and shown the love of God early and often, Bill knew exactly who he was. He was God’s creation, given life by the Creator and offered an opportunity to follow His Son and live a life in freedom.

Bill knew where he was going. Whether it was winning the love of his life, raising three fine men, carving out a dream career as a fighter pilot, helping Wintec – Bill had a plan and he worked it. Well, so did God. There were many times in his life that except for God’s grace he could have been taken. Even in probably his deepest felt loss – not getting the squadron command he had worked for – God was at work. You see Bill had a heart attack at work. But his doctor was minutes away and the help he needed was readily available – which they would not have been had he still been in the Air Force. Bill got some extra years. Many of us got a blessing from those years. And as the end drew near, Bill knew where he was going.

The Bible records Jesus saying: 1 "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God ; trust also in me. 2 In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.   John 14:1-3 (NIV) That place is called home. It’s not tied to a place. 

If one writer said:

"Home wasn't a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together...”  another with a deep Christian faith wrote this. “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now...Come further up, come further in!” C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

Bill has fought his last battle too, and because of what God did through Jesus and Bill's belief in that work - Bill won his battle over death. "O death where is your sting? O grave where is your victory?" Bill is home. He has reached altitude beyond anything we could imagine.

As much as Bill loved you all, as deeply as he enjoyed flying, roller coaster rides, walks on the beach – as much as he loved this life – he is home. Where the One who loved him before we knew Bill – any of us knew Bill – had prepared a welcoming filled with love, peace, and healing. If Bill were here today, he’d want you to know that he’s home. He’s healed. And he’s loved. 

My encouragement to you? Look for a foundation beyond bricks and mortar. Seek for love beyond circumstances or feelings. Embrace the love of the One Who loves you with an undying love and Who will never let time or distance separate you from that love. Trust Jesus with your life and live as one who having received, love, gives it away.