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He is an old “church going” Methodist gentleman.  To do a “Google Search” of his name let’s the world that he has something to do with Twin Church Road and a unit number.  Something about Houston and San Antonio.  An engineer at a power company in Texas if my memory serves me right and somehow by God’s grace ends up in Florence – across the street.  He was one of those come on over and sit on the tail gate of his truck and listen to old farm tales kind of story teller .  When the conversation would take a right turn at some road that leads to the past he would describe to me tales of farming, and a father shoeing a mule, and tobacco.  A God, Home and Country guy, he was!  He was quick to let you know that the American Flag meant something to him and the one that occupied  1600 Pennsylvania Ave should be able to salute willingly the flag that would cause a tear to well up in his eye every time he’d hear the National Anthem.  He is a rare find in the world of “normal”.  OK, I’ll admit I agree with Gene, he is like a father to me.  His ability to listen and then just dole out old fashioned wisdom is a powerful trait of this man with “… hoary head…” which as the Book that never lies calls a “crown of splendor” found in the way of “righteousness”.   He loved his family and his church family.   Sickness and family were the only thing that could interrupt him on Sunday Morning.  I think every morning the rooster took his cue for Mr. Graham not the other way around.  He’d back that car up out of the garage and aim Kathleen, himself and  it  toward Central Methodist.  That’s what “good people do on Sunday”.  I am certain that should I go to the church house and ask, they’d be able to tell me where he sat each week.  He really was “good people”.

Outside of his family, his pride and joy was across the end of my drive way.  He worked hard keeping his house and yard in proper condition.  He’d sit in the carport and wait and watch.  You could throw your hand up to him and he’d wave back. Slowly stroll up his driveway, set the tailgate down as it became the “counselor’s couch”, “political stump”, “a bench for story telling”, and often a place where you could catch one of his “prime time rants” about something going on in our country.  He was an engineer of immaculate detail.  Before he set his task to overcoming prostate cancer, he and his wife would travel.  It would take him almost two months to get through telling you about the trips.  Detailed?  Oh my my my my my… He wouldn’t miss a point. Every time I saw him, I’d want to go across the street and allow “time to stand still” as I’d put my ADHD in neutral and “sit a spell” and was I ever spell bound by this old sweet country gentleman.

I got a call yesterday.  “Jim, this is Carol…”  I instantly knew who it was.  I instantly knew “who” it was about.  I didn’t pick my friend.  We found each other.  A Divine joy of “living across the street” from Mr. Graham and my heart fell in love with him instantly.  We were friends and I was not ready for this interruption.  No one asked me if this worked for me.  It seemed as if Someone needed to go back and reassess.   I hate having to deal with the messiness of the human condition.  Obviously Someone didn’t ask me.  For some strange reason I thought he’d live forever.  Carol didn’t want to make the call any more than I wanted to take it.  However, at his request she called.  I immediately made my way to his bedside at the hospital as I will do again this morning.  There he was, that grand stately statue of a man weakened by the loss of blood yet thankful for the men and women who had donated the ten units he had yesterday.  His face was alive and his spirit strengthened by the precious gift from others.  Every time I see someone donating blood, I will be a bit more thankful.  This man asked me about my family.  Can you imagine that?  I answered him obviously to his satisfaction and he started rehearsing his story for me.   My heart sank as he told me that Dr. Spurling and Dr. Pavy had described to him how that they had done all that is medically possible and all that Mr. Graham would allow them to do.  Sometimes radiation takes no prisoners.  In his typical E. F. Hutton way, I listened to his story longing for instruction.  He was captured by this hospital bed which will be in a few days his next to final resting place.  He would have, as he said to me,  no more of this “living on somebody else’s blood”.  This worn out gentleman said he had enough. It is time for him to go home.  I am beginning to believe that the closer you get to that moment the more homesick you become.  This 87 year old giant told me he wanted to have a graveside at Indiantown, a rural unincorporated village in Williamsburg County.  I’ve heard a lot of stories about Indiantown.  I remember the day he asked me to do his funeral.  He planned everything he did with such minute detail and was not about to let that one get ignored.  I would do anything for that grand gentleman. In a few days I will gather up my things and head to a small church cemetery in the country.

In a few days he will stop waking up to talk to us.  In a few days he’ll be homesick no longer.  He’ll be HOME!  There is a tear, mixed with the smile on my face. In a few days I will join his petite beautiful wife, Kathleen, as we, again, prepare to go to church, one more time.  We will lay his body to rest.  However, he will occupy a living place in my heart.

Today, I will go and sit.  No tailgate.  No truck.  A hospital chair.  The same gentle giant… and I will listen and bathe in the presence of a friend.  What grace God gives to us!

There is a place…

“…a place where sin cannot molest – near to the heart of God…”  If you have never been loved then the thought of “getting close” scares the spit out of you, especially if the one you are asked to get close to is God Almighty, the Lord of the hosts of heaven as Psalm 46 describes Him.  It also says there that He is the God of Jacob and our refuge.

Let’s suggest for a moment that you had one of those relationships with your father and you described him as a big teddy bear and you talked about how safe you are in his arms, you stand a better chance of grasping what it means to be in a place where “sin cannot molest near to the heart of God”.  I realize that there is a vast number of people whose relationship to their father may not be health, could be toxic, and maybe even abusive.  How my heart hurts for you.  Missing out on the tender touch of a man is unfortunate.  Missing the big old hugs of a man who can be a reassuring force in your life causes you to have to “rethink” how you can be in a place with someone you love so much and there is no fear of being rejected and tormented… just loved.

I don’t know how it happens but there is a real strong bond between a daughter and her father.  Deborah had been very sick for a very long time.  Her blood pressure placed her in position where dialysis was not a choice.  Since the blood couldn’t be cleansed of impurities then from a human perspective death is the inevitable destination.  Marion was watching his “first born” 50 year old daughter slowly inch toward graduation day, when he turned to me and told me how just a few days prior to what would be her final trip to the hospital, she asked if she could sit in daddy’s lap.  The request was a “physical” impossibility, however, she knew that if she could just get there she’d feel safe and secure.  Marty Evaldi, sang “Tears are a Language God Understands” and I could see the tears of a father who wanted so bad to grant that wish.  Take that sick sick daughter and place her in his lap, “…a place where sin cannot molest…near to the heart…” of her father…

The words uttered by Jesus for the third time “…unto him” “Lovest, thou me?”… that wasn’t said as a preacher standing in a pulpit with the lightening bolts from heaven piercing him in judgment.  These were words uttered in the loving and tender place, yet as only close close people can stand.  In the center of Peter’s heart he was very devoted to the Lord.  The patient questioning of the Lord penetrates the heart until it is moved.  And he just as we responded.  The skill of the patient loving words of Jesus.  HE never questions until the right time.  Cornered in a place where lovers meet, a place where sin cannot molest, up near to the heart of God…lovers talk… and we realize that we love each other more than our words can describe…

I love because I have been loved like that… up close and personal.

 

Always Yes!

Question:  Do you love me?

Sunday School Answer:  Always yes!

How are you supposed to answer that question, especially knowing it came from Jesus addressed to Peter in time and space.  We know how Peter responded to Jesus.  We’ve read the story.  How many times has it been told and preached about from the pulpits and Sunday School classes.

His-story becomes “our-story” – you can’t get away from it.  Those words become in the soul of a person in love.  Perhaps, and I am taking a big risk just suggesting that you consider this story as more than a historical moment.  To suggest that somehow we climb into the rocket ship and blast oursleves back to that place, sit down and instead of it being Peter, we take front and center.  We are all glad that the teacher chose Peter to write about.  His life is front and center and some how in some sick way we are glad it is his chance to “shine” instead of me being called to the front of the class and reviewed by the teacher. Yet somehow that question never stops being asked by folk who love each other.  The voice was Jesus.  The respondant was Peter and we know the story of his response – or maybe his struggle with the reality of this love story between Jesus and Peter.

I love him.  I do.  That is the reality of my heart.  Now the question is for all the religious people (and we all do it, so don’t wig on me) whose noses are much longer than they admit, and want to stick in my business and who are careful to protect the world from seeing their “stuff” as well – how well are we doing as the white hurting heat of that question melts away the dross as we are asked to be honest in dealing with this questions evaluation.  I do love him.  It hurts to be honest.

Thank God He already made up his mind to love me.  That love is settled and no matter how much this old sinner wobbles and gives to the left or the right, I can always come back home into the arms of a God who loves and forgives and lavishes on His grace by the ladle full.  You’d think our Lover is crazy and off his rocker to give that much love to those who name the name, make the claim, and then walk different than they’d like to admit.

Thank God His answer to the question of His love for me is Always Yes!  When the One that loves me the most asks me to evaluate where I am in regard my love for him, I realize it is a good thing…a healthy thing… for the relationship continually finds healing and growth as we come home to him today!

See How HE loved him…

That phrase blew my mind…

The phrase:  See how He loved him.  The context is Jesus in a cemetery crying or as the KJV says… “Jesus wept”… the first verse in the Bible I ever memorized…  Why did he weep?  I have read commentaries for years that came up with some of the silliest answers but The Book says “…see how He loved him…”

There have been a few people that have been friends who have died and I cried at their funeral.  Judy, Marsha, Glenda, and Steve had a father and their mother who I called Gaggi, had a wonderful husband, who was one more special man to me.  His presence in our church office was wonderful.  Every time he would come to visit he made sure that he knocked on each staff person’s door and spoke so kindly to them and was so special.  I remember when he would invite Nancy and I over to the house when they would have an old fashioned corn shucking gathering.  We would shuck corn, boil it briefly and make it ready for the freezer and we were fortunate to take some of the fruit of our labor home with us.  We would enjoy the corn and think of them all the time.  I was especially of those phone calls that told me that Mrs. Player was making pies…some peach and some apple…fried pies…not the kind you bake in the oven but the kind you make in a cast iron frying pan on the stove with some Crisco or Lard being the base…and the taste… Oh my goodness were they ever delicious… they really were… unbelievable… taste off the chain…

When Glenn died, I cried.  I wept.  I don’t know why Glenn and not others.  There have been others that have affected me like that.  He came to mind as I write.   The man had climbed all the way up in my heart and in the heart of my family and they loved me.  When he died a part of me went with him.  I missed him a lot.  There have been several that have been that way.  I remember when I left Jerry who lived on Midland Park Road.  When I left the Midland Park Baptist Church field to go to seminary and carried my wife and young baby Jason, I had to go to the store where Jerry worked and say goodbye and he wept and I wept.  To this day, my heart hurts that I was unable to return for his funeral and to pay my respects while away at seminary.  Jerry was one of those special people in my life.

I was reminded the other day in some of my reading that it was love that healed Lazarus.  There was no special prayer meeting.  There was no oil.  No arena for him to have the dead body of Lazarus drawn across in front of TV Camera’s for the world to see.  Had it not been for the witness of the Scriptures our world would be left wanting  of this real life event.  There stood a man deeply in love with Lazarus.  Love called out and Lazarus’ dead body responded to the call.

There is nothing in the world like being loved.  Love heals a lot of things.  When Love lives in you then you are able to love.  The direction of that love is so well defined by the Lover himself when he says that we are to love the lord with all…love our neighbors…and love ourselves.  Being loved puts a lot of things in the right perspective.  We can give folk food and not love.  We can give people rent money and not love.  We cannot heal lepers but we can love them.  Yesterday I got one of those text messages that a pastor who has been at it as long as I have gets from time to time.  It was one from a deacon that gave the distinct impression that “dad ain’t got much time left”.  Betty, the wonderful hospice nurse had been loving up on the family (there’s that loving word again…and it is in the active fashion…) and walking with them through the process of Larry trying his best to get to glory.  Larry was a strong man but I am thinking that in this case cancer is much tougher than he.  He has very little time left.  I went to his house to simply “love” on the family and to pray with them as they were loving Larry into glory.

The priceless thing about Larry is he is not alone.  He is blessed with family, friends, co-workers at his business.  He is filled with the presence of the Lord.  The Hospice organization is one of the most loving groups in the world.  I was thinking about all of that tonight and the line “See how He loved him” just came to mind.

Lord, help me not to be selfish with Your love.  Let it leak out all over the place.

It’s a bird feeder for goodness sake… that’s all!  At the moment, however, it is  a gathering place for some of the feathered friends.  A cardinal just landed and systematically ran the wrens out of their place on this cylinder filled with black oil sunflower seeds mixed with some premium select seeds.  As he leaves after gorging himself, he is replaced with the choir of wrens again who seem unbothered by the intrusion.  Two feeders share the single post.  The second resembles a house with a roof and on each end are the blocks of seeds.  A redheaded wood pecker hangs to the cage as it peck away at whatever seed he is trying to dislodge.  At the base is an old wash basin that I found among the things that were at my grandmother’s house following her death… I took it home holes in the bottom and all.  I don’t know she would agree with its bottom being filled with corn, sunflower seeds and various other seeds which provides a gathering place for squirrels.

You will never hear the birds sing if you don’t listen.  One never sees the beauty of each individual bird unless one looks.  The groupings are never the same and they never repeat themselves… never… unless you are watching birds and listening for them, you miss the music of the moment.  There is much to be said for being still.  There is much character required in putting your agenda aside and stopping your mind long enough to let the moment happen and you become totally “present” in this moment.  There are days when I fight with myself to stay present with someone I am talking to.  The phone will ring.  My iPad will alert.  When that happens my ADHD self kicks in and I want to chase the interruption and when I do I disconnect with what I am watching or from the person with whom I am talking.  Which ever, I just lost whatever happened during the interruption.

When Jesus talked to Zachaeus – he was focused on him.  There was no crowd, no one else around.  He convinced by his presence that He wanted to go home with this tax collector.  Because he was present his life was changed.  The woman at the well would have been what most of us would have considered simple trash, a woman with no moral strength, and hated by most in the community.  However, Christ’s presence with her at that moment totally given to the moment changed her life forever.  Nicodemus, a well known well respected teacher in the Jewish community, was confronted with eternal truth and it was received well simply because when he entered the room, the conversation with Nic was all that was on Jesus’ mind at the moment and life changed forever for Nicodemus.  I suspect that was why Children really liked Him as well.  Children get lost in the moment.

Brother David Steindl-Rast

Brennan Manning quotes Brother David Steindl-Rast (not that I agree with all that Bro. David says… OK?… I like what he said about this… let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater..)and then reflects on that comment.  I was stunned by its honesty at this point.

“No wonder,” says Brother David Steindl-Rast, “that so many marvelous children turn into dull adults. No wonder that their wholeness is scattered and their sense of mystery lost.” The good news is that the child within can be recovered. It can happen right now, with something as simple as giving a little one a piggyback ride or walking slowly down the street and listening to the music of what is happening. “Unless you change and become like little children …”(Matt. 18:3).  Manning, Brennan (2010-10-12). Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God (pp. 160-161). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

I am still waiting for a squirrel to take me up on the corn.  I have skillfully and  successfully kept them from the two bird feeders.  My history with the squirrels is that they can tear a bird feeder to pieces.  I looked up and the choir was back eating and singing and it the sweetest music to my ears.

I wonder what would happen if I decided to give the Lord the same kind of respect and presence that I afford a set of bird feeders?

I share this for those of you who would like to take a minute and remember that He is here!

 

God Is…

Normally I don’t post an entire chapter but this one is so different…

Psalm 46

1 God is our refuge and strength,
always ready to help in times of trouble.
2 So we will not fear when earthquakes come
and the mountains crumble into the sea.
3 Let the oceans roar and foam.
Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!
Interlude

4 A river brings joy to the city of our God,
the sacred home of the Most High.
5 God dwells in that city; it cannot be destroyed.
From the very break of day, God will protect it.
6 The nations are in chaos,
and their kingdoms crumble!
God’s voice thunders,
and the earth melts!
7 The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
the God of Israel[b] is our fortress.
Interlude

8 Come, see the glorious works of the Lord:
See how he brings destruction upon the world.
9 He causes wars to end throughout the earth.
He breaks the bow and snaps the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.

10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
I will be honored by every nation.
I will be honored throughout the world.”

11 The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
the God of Israel is our fortress.

There are times of trouble…there are times when it seems things shake your earth and the mountains that you were climbing crumbled into the sea…the ocean foam… it does happen… fear comes…God is here and he is ready to help…the remedy is that there is a river that brings joy that is connected to the Throne Room of God…the city in which He dwells cannot be destroyed and we are in the city…our peace is in the fact that the King is on the Throne…

You hear his voice and the earth melts…

You end wars

Be still and Know I am God…

Today I feed on those words I have served to so many people over the years and simply resolve to receive from them today the strength of the strong Character of God… I choose to be still…that is so tough for this old preacher…

May He be praised today!