Written in the Book

Three weeks ago, I wrote about my dad passing away and the opportunity to baptize him two days before he passed. If you haven’t read about that, you should start here: https://gregarnett.wordpress.com/2020/06/26/a-lifetime-of-planting-seeds/ I am absolutely overjoyed that I got to baptize my dad but it got me thinking about something that many don’t think about very often. It got me thinking about the doctrine of the visible church and the invisible church.

You may never have heard of that doctrine or it may have been a long time since you were in confirmation class. If you’ve been in my confirmation class, you’ve heard me teach that the visible church is countable. It might not be easy to count and you might have to be in several places at the same time, but it would be possible to count heads of those in the visible church. Some examples would be St. Paul Lutheran church members, all of the people in the Christian churches in Caro on a certain Sunday, or total membership of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti. Those are all countable. Sadly, the visible church is also made up of true believers and hypocrites, which God will sort out at the final judgement. The invisible church is not seeable by human eyes but is known by God, and includes true believers from all time and every location. The invisible church includes Moses, Rahab, King David, Peter, Mary Magdalene, and Paul.  Revelation 7:9-10 puts it this way, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” (NIV)

When I baptized dad on June 11th, he entered into the invisible church. In the aftermath of his death and funeral, I wondered about him being a member of the visible church as well. It could have been argued that it didn’t matter because he was already gone but for the sake of those who are still here, it did matter. Plus, there is the official red book! The “red book” is the official church record where we record baptisms, weddings, funerals, and other official church ceremonies. 

Curious about this, I brought it to our Board of Elders. I shared the story of baptizing my dad and made the motion that we posthumously receive my dad as a baptized member of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Caro, Michigan. Even though dad didn’t live here in Caro, I was the one who baptized him and then officiated his funeral. It made sense that St. Paul is where he would be officially recorded as a member. 

Being entered into St. Paul’s red book does not automatically make someone a member of the invisible church. There is a higher authority book that does that. It’s called the “book of life” and is mentioned in Revelation 3:4-6 where Jesus is talking to the church of Sardis. He says, “Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

There you have it in one short passage, the visible church and the invisible church. There were those who were members of the church of Sardis (visible church) but not all of them were members of the invisible church. Jesus promises to the members of the invisible church that he will never blot their name out of his book of life. He then ends with, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (vs. 6) That’s us! We need to have ears to hear and we need to seek to be members of both the invisible church through faith and also of the visible church because that is where God’s word is preached and the sacraments are administered. I am grateful that my dad became a member of both.

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The Wake

The funeral service was ended and as a postlude, I sang the last two verses of “Jesus Paid it All” plus the praise chorus that has been added on to the end.

When from my dying bed
My ransomed soul shall rise,
“Jesus died my soul to save,”
Shall rend the vaulted skies.

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

And when before the throne
I stand in Him complete,
I’ll lay my trophies down,
All down at Jesus’ feet.

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

Oh, praise the one who paid my debt
And raises life up from the dead
Oh, praise the one who paid my debt
And raises life up from the dead
Oh, praise the one who paid my debt
And raises life up from the dead

The pews were emptied, although there were a few people who paid their last respects to Lorna Kline at the front of the church, so I quietly waited behind my music stand. An elderly couple walked up in front of me, emotion written all over their face. I did not know the couple but they knew me. The husband said to his wife, “This is the guitar guy.” She seemed in much worse health than him so I wondered if she just didn’t comprehend that I had led the guitar music for the funeral. However, as the husband continued with his statements, I realized that there was more to his “guitar guy” comment. He continued by introducing themselves, shared that they were from Dearborn, and told me how often Al Kline had spoken fondly of me and the trips that we had been on and the roofs that we had repaired. Apparently, Al had also shared about my guitar playing with this couple. The gentleman, choked up as he said it, shared how much they were going to miss Al and Lorna. Indeed, me too!

It is nice to be acknowledged for playing music at a service but it is far nicer for someone to share just how highly somebody thought of you over the years. To know that you positively impacted their life is humbling, touching, and even motivating for the future. I will admit that it also brought on a wave of grief. Al passed away six years ago and I still miss him dearly. Now, with Lorna passing away, I feel like an era has passed.

With the passing of someone, you can truly measure just how many lives they touched while they were living. In the book Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality, Henry Cloud uses the analogy of a wake that a boat leaves behind. 

One of my favorite things to do is sit on the aft deck of a boat going across the ocean and just watch the wake. It is such a beautiful, ever-changing creation as the ship continues on its path. You can tell a lot about a ship as you look at its wake. 

If it is in a straight line, you get a feeling that the boat is steadily on course, and that the captain is not dozing at the wheel, or that an engine or a shaft is not somehow out of whack. But if it is wavering, you begin to wonder. Also, if it is smooth and flat, you know something about the speed of the boat, and if it is steep, you can tell something about its drag. In other words, what the wake looks like can tell you a lot about the boat itself…

With people, the same thing is true…

We leave the effects of our interactions with people behind in their hearts, minds, and souls. We leave a wake of people behind us as we move through their lives and their organizations…

Are a lot of people out there water-skiing on the wake, smiling, having a great time for our having “moved through their lives”? Or are they out there bobbing for air, bleeding, and left wounded as shark bait?

I am one of the many people who have been affected by Al and Lorna Kline moving through my life. I have been inspired to a deeper faith by how they lived their lives. I enjoy being in their wake. Proverbs 10:7 puts the concept of a personal wake very succinctly, “The memory of the righteous is a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot.” (ESV) I think that is a very applicable verse for Al and Lorna’s lives. Although I miss them greatly, their memory is a blessing. It is good for all of us to consider how we are impacting those that we will one day leave behind in our wake.

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Not Alone

Not Alone

2:24 AM, from my personal journal:

“I feel so alone in my grief right now, like all supports have been washed away…I woke up with this all on my mind and realized that God is ultimately the only place I can turn. As soon as I had that thought, I realized that I was singing Josh Garrels’ song ‘Good Friday’ in my head and specifically the part where Christ is calling out in Aramaic ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani.’ Indeed, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

You can check out the song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzEMk5sF-Lw The section that I am referring to is at 5:06.

Seven times in the book of Psalms, the psalmists talked about the foundations being stripped away. The psalmists knew about sorrow and grief because about one-third of the psalms are psalms of lament. Specifically, the psalm that Jesus quoted from the cross was Psalm 22, which starts with those words, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus spoke Aramaic and I believe that these words coming out of Jesus’ mouth impacted the gospel writers so much that they had to write it down exactly as Jesus said them before they translated them into Greek. “At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’)” (Mark 15:33-34, NIV)

One mode of therapy that I respect very much believes that all psychopathology stems from having to face the challenges of life all alone. It also claims that healing comes from the sense of not being alone anymore. In my grief over losing my dad, nobody can specifically take my load from me, but they can come alongside me so that I don’t feel so alone on this journey. 

Maybe the most excruciating pain that Christ felt was that he felt completely alone. Even God the Father turned away from Jesus and made him endure the sins of the whole world…alone. He did this because He loves us that much. Plus, now when we feel alone, when all supports are gone, He understands, He will be with us. God has said that he will never leave us nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6, 31:8; Joshua 1:5; and Hebrews 13:5). I ended my journal entry like this, “Christ understands aloneness to a depth that I never will. His are the everlasting arms underneath.” 

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A Lifetime of Planting Seeds

This is a blog post that I never wanted to write. Yet, when I started this blog, I made a commitment to myself that I would not hold back what I was really experiencing. As I practice that today, I hope that you find some sort of blessing in your life because of what I write.

The bone biopsy procedure is guided by an x-ray machine and during it, they found out that my dad had a broken L4 vertebra. That explained the terrible back pain that my dad had for the two weeks prior to going into the hospital. After a couple of days and getting my dad’s platelet level to an acceptable level, they did vertebroplasty to glue his broken vertebrae back together. Dad said that this greatly relieved his back pain. 

On Monday, June 1st, my dad went into the hospital because he had fallen at home and his right side was cold to the touch. Our fears were that he had a stroke. Instead, it was discovered that he had a blood clot in his leg which was cutting off the blood flow. Although we were glad that he didn’t have a stroke, blood clots are no laughing matter and can be very dangerous. When they started to do additional blood work in the hospital, they found dad’s numbers to be all over the place. As the doctors explained all that was off it made our heads spin. They were concerned and also wanted to do a bone biopsy. 

Although we could now check one thing off of the “fix dad” list, his blood work was still not good and we also found out that the first bone biopsy was no good because of dead material in the sample that they took. A second bone biopsy was then ordered. This brings us to Tuesday, June 9th. On that Tuesday, they diagnosed dad with acute myeloid leukemia. We were told that chemotherapy would not cure him but that it might prolong his life. This was a blow to the whole family. Chemotherapy itself is a very tough treatment and I was not sure that I would subject my dad to that even though it might prolong his life by an unknown measure. Dad was still mentally sharp and decided for himself that he wanted to proceed with chemotherapy. We were now expecting that we would ride the ups and downs of his physical condition because of chemotherapy for the rest of his life, however long that might be. 

Then on Thursday morning, I received a phone call that no one ever wants to receive. Linda, the palliative nurse, called my cell phone and said, “Your dad has taken a turn for the worse. The doctors are saying that we either intubate him or we’re talking hours.” I immediately felt the bottom fall out from underneath me. Even though we had already talked through not doing any heroic measures with dad, and this was also his wish, I had to say the hardest words that I think I have ever said in my life. I said, “Do not intubate my dad.”

We got to the hospital as quickly as we could, the whole while not knowing if we would make it before he passed away. I may have sped just a little on the way over to Kalamazoo. I remember saying to Cathy, “Damn it! I don’t want to say goodbye to my dad!”

When we arrived at the hospital, although groggy, dad was still mentally aware of what was going on around him and able to communicate. We were able to give him hugs, run our fingers through his hair, hold his hand, and verbalize our love for him. Within the hour, Nathan and Ben also showed up in the hospital room. We hugged each other and did what we could to keep dad comfortable.

It had been heavy on my heart that I needed to talk to my dad about faith as his earthly life was slipping away. I said, “Dad, we need to talk about faith. Faith is not about what we’ve done or what we do, it is about what God has done for us.” He was looking me in the eye as I continued, “Just like your grandkids were all baptized on the day that they were born, you can be baptized on the day that you die, because faith is not about what we do, it is about what God does for us.” Then I asked, “Dad, do you want to be baptized?” I thought he said “yes” but he was hard to understand and I wanted to make sure of his answer. So, two or three more times I asked dad, “Do you want to be baptized?” Every time it was “yes, yes, yes.” So, in a hospital two miles from the hospital where I was born, on June 11, 2020, I baptized my father into the Christian faith with the simple words, “David Own Arnett, I baptize you in the name of the Father, in the name of the Son, and in the name of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” 

Dad was able to talk with us for just a few more hours after his baptism. Then he slipped into a sleep where all of his energy was used just to breathe. Two days later, my dad passed into eternity at home on hospice. His hospital bed was placed right where his chair had always sat. Dad passed away surrounded by his family, his wife of 57 years, hearing the sounds of his home of 51 years, and as a baptized child of God. Faith is not about what we’ve done but is all about what God has done for us.

It took a lifetime and tremendous physical ailments to bring my dad to that place where he was emptied of himself. But faith reached out to a God who is all-powerful. It was a lifetime of planting seeds with my dad. I am reminded of the parable of the sower. 

Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (Mark 4:1-9, NIV)

It might seem like God is a foolish farmer. It seems like He is just flinging seeds all over the place without care of where they might fall. We might be tempted to say, “How wasteful!” But God knows better. He understands that one seed that falls amidst the rocks just might take hold. We’ve all seen trees that grow in seemingly impossible places; God sees even greater examples of “impossibilities.” God knew that one of those seeds would one day fall upon my dad. God knew and we just had to wait and see what he would do. I prayed for almost 40 years for my dad’s salvation; God was more patient than me. 

I am neck-deep in grief over losing my father. There is a hole in my life that no one will ever fill just like my dad did. There is just no other way to describe it. Yet, going forward, I am convinced more than ever to keep on scattering the seeds of faith with extravagant generosity and not to worry about where they fall. One of those seeds of faith took root in my father and I am eternally grateful to God for that. One day, when I enter into heaven myself, my dad will be there waiting for me.

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Walk in the Direction of Reconciliation

This week has been overwhelming in so many ways. I, like everyone, have watched the news and have been overwhelmed with the images I’ve seen. It seems like the world is on fire right now. I’ve talked with black friends and they’re scared, I’ve heard the concern for police officers, I’ve even read where my friend from Haiti is praying for America because of his concern for us. Two and a half hours of my three-hour online class this week were spent talking about black lives matter. During my DCE meeting it came up and, in a nutshell, here is what I shared with them.

I do not claim to have all of the answers for these complicated times but I do think the Bible points us in the right direction. If we can keep on checking this directional compass, it will keep us headed in the right direction when we are faced with tense situations and moral decisions.

Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5 that we are to be ministers of reconciliation. 

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

(vs. 16-21, ESV)

The Greek word that Paul used for “reconciliation” is καταλλαγή katallagē and it means “restoration to (the divine) favor: — atonement, reconciliation(-ing).” This is the direction compass that I’m referring to; we are to be seeking restoration to God’s (divine) plan. 

But first we must go backwards. When sin entered the world, relationships started falling apart. The biggest separation was between mankind and God. This is indicative of spiritual separation, division within churches, and between churches. The first human separation started with a division between Adam and Eve. This represents division between males and females, strife and divorce amongst husbands and wives, sexism, and the like. The first siblings ended up with one of them dead! This represents murder, violence, jealousy, hatred between people, and even family strife. It didn’t take but four more chapters in Genesis until we read that God was fed up with the whole planet and decided to wipe it out with a world-wide flood. Genesis 6:11-13 records it this way, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” Thankfully, God preserved the human race through Noah and his family. You would think that we would have learned our lesson, but no, we did not. After the flood account, we proceed right into the account of the tower of Babel. This story indicates that there is separation between nations, languages, people groups. When we look backwards, there is a long line of different separations which create deep wounds within individuals, sexes, families, nations, and even the whole human race. It is a sad history that is still playing out today.

If we then jump to the end of the story, we see where we are supposed to be headed. “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’” (Revelation 5:9-10) That is where we are headed, but is it just pie in the sky or does it speak to us today? Does it give us actionable steps that we can take in this day and age?

Understanding the history of sin causing broken relationships in our world (like a bunch of falling dominoes) we seek reconciliation in every relationship that has been broken. When there is strife between nations, we seek unity. When there is tension between races, we seek communication and understanding. Where there is violence, we seek peace. When a marriage is in trouble, we seek harmony and healing. When families are torn apart, we seek healing. Where there is sexism, we seek a lifting up of the oppressed. Where there is alienation from God, we seek forgiveness, grace, and truth. On and on it goes. Wherever there is brokenness, we seek fixing. Where there is bondage, we seek freedom. Where there are burdens, we seek relief. We seek reconciliation. That does not mean that the work will be easy, or that there will not be setbacks, but we know the right direction. Let’s you and I, as God’s ambassadors, walk in that direction.

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Reunited!

Reunited, and it feels so good! Okay, if you grew up in the ‘70s as I did, you’ve got Peaches & Herb’s song playing in your head right now. Sorry…not sorry…for that. But I’m not talking about that 1978, Grammy Award-winning song of the year, I’m talking about this:

It had been 11 weeks since Cathy had been able to hug our granddaughters, Miss K & Miss A. But this past Thursday, the wait was ended! Nathan had stopped by the house, the girls got to check out the sandbox for the first time, and when Cathy got home from town, she got to have this long-awaited moment with the girls. I snapped a quick picture because I knew it was a special moment (and also because these girls are just so stinking cute).

Cathy and I acknowledge that there are grandparents that live much further away than we do from our granddaughters. We think it must be terrible to not see your grandchildren as often as we get to see our granddaughters. Cathy and I have definitely determined that we are not long-distance grandparents.

Eleven weeks seemed like a really long time when it is separation from your granddaughters and in the span of Miss K & Miss A’s short life, it actually is. Yet, there obviously are separations that last much longer than eleven weeks. Families send kids off to college, people get jobs across the country, friends move away, and divorces happen. It seems the worst separation is that of death. When a loved one dies, there is a terrible rending of the relationship and we are left with memories and grief.

Even Jesus left. He didn’t, however, leave us without hope of being reunited. In John’s gospel, Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”(John 14:1-4, ESV) Jesus used a wedding analogy from his day to assure us that we will not be separated forever. 

I remember shortly after my Grandpa Arnett passed away that I was in a Baptist church while we were on a mission trip to Nora, Virginia. At the beginning of the service, two couples went up to the front of the church and started singing songs. They sang one song that talked about how when we get to heaven, we will be reunited with our loved ones who have gone on before us but then that crowd will part and we will see Jesus face to face. As I sat there in that pew, memories of my Grandpa, and the vision of being reunited with him overwhelmed me. All I could do was sit there in the pew and weep. 

Jesus told the story of a man who went away on a journey and left his servants in charge of his household. When he was reunited with his servants after his journey, he spoke a well-known phrase that we often long to hear when we enter the gates of heaven. We long to hear Jesus say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (e.g. Matthew 25:21) Those words in our ear will be like a song in our ears. Those words will feel like a long-awaited warm embrace. 

Even in the midst of this separation, Jesus has not left us alone. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit. He said, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:25-27) This Sunday, we celebrate Pentecost. It was the fulfillment of Jesus’ words. The Holy Spirit was sent to the disciples in the form of a mighty rushing wind and as tongues of fire. Those are powerful images, yet the Holy Spirit doesn’t just bring power, He also brings peace, comfort, and hope. And it feels so good!

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Help Me to Get Out of the Way

“I’ve never told anyone this before.” And then the story of shame flows out of the person in front of me. I’ve had this happen to me with people who just show up in my office at church but more often it happens after I’ve been working with a counseling client for a long period. It has now happened a few times in my Masters of Counseling program as I meet with a homework partner.

I’ve written before about shame (https://gregarnett.wordpress.com/2019/04/19/shame-for-shame/ ) but this morning as I reflected on this phenomenon, I wrote this in my journal:

“Lord, help me get out of the way…(section removed for confidentiality)…These experiences, and what my clients share with me, humble me greatly! I don’t feel worthy to be invited and welcomed so deep into people’s lives. I have thought of the disciples falling asleep when Jesus asked them to stay awake and watch with him for just one hour. And they fell asleep. I know that I will never be perfect but I so want to get out of the way. I can get bent out of shape over petty things. I need to continue to run into my own healing of pain in my life. The deeper I can go with this, the deeper I can go into another person’s pain. So, I will run into my own pain in order to find healing. Lord, heal me…Lord, use me to heal others. Help me to get out of the way.”

Getoutoftheway__54589.1566132778

I am deeply humbled and in wonder that God would choose to do his work through frail human beings. And yet, in the story that I referenced in my journal, even Jesus, who was fully God and yet also fully human, needed other human beings for comfort.

And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” (Mark 14:32-42, ESV)

I recently talked with a client about the privilege of getting to embody grace to each other. Even when we see the brokenness, dirt, shame, weaknesses, and sin of another person, we get to show them that we are still for them, forgive them, want to be with them, and even delight in them. Although we do this imperfectly, we are still reflecting God’s forgiveness. No human being can forgive sins; all we can do is announce the forgiveness of sins that comes from God. But rather than just saying, “Only God can forgive sins, so why don’t you just take it to him?” Sometimes everything in a person’s life is so overwhelming that the other individual is not able to grasp how God could still be for them. When this happens, we get to stand before them embodying the forgiveness, delight, and love of God. They get to see it in our eyes, hear it in our voice, feel it in a hug, and know with all of their senses that it is real.

Announcing forgiveness and love through human beings has been how God works throughout the Bible. He used the prophets to call people to repentance, teach people right from wrong, and to point forward to Jesus. He used the priests, writers, and musicians to lead the people in worship and to proclaim God’s favor. He used kings and judges to protect the people. He has always used fathers and mothers to train, discipline, nurture, and love children. As I am welcomed deep into people’s lives so that God can minister to them through me, I want to embody John the Baptist’s words in John 3:27-30, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” My paraphrase is, “Lord, help me get out of the way.”

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25 Years of Being Formed

Fixin’ Up The Thumb Servant Event turns 25 this summer. Because of COVID-19, we have had to postpone the Servant Event from its normal June dates but, if I have anything to say about it, it will still be held from July 25-August 2. Over these last 24 years, we have worked on 115 different homes (some of them more than one time), spent $192,671.88 on building materials (about 72% of our total budget), had 451 different people attend (many of them for multiple years), and served 20,200 meals at an average of 57 cents per meal, and had 16 different core team members who have graciously given of their sweat and time out of love for the youth servants. It is the people who have really made Fixin’ Up The Thumb what it is today.

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With all of this time at home this spring, I thought I would work on writing the Bible studies for our 25th anniversary of the Fixin’ Up The Thumb Servant Event. I first had the idea for this Bible study come to me right after the 23rd Fixin’ Up The Thumb ended. As I reflected on the people who we have worked for and with, there were several individuals who rose head and shoulders above the rest. Those individuals are Nicole Davis, Al Kline, Lucille Sopchik, Raydean Barrigar, Ramona Cykyski, Nelson Wiley, Carol Baker, Beryl Kern, and the Women’s Abuse Shelter. During the 25th year, we will tell their story but then also tie it to a fruit of the Spirit. Those fruits of the Spirit are recorded in Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (ESV)

Those individuals that I mentioned exemplified those fruits of the Spirit! For instance, when I think of Al Kline, I think of the joy that he would bring to a group. Al would always tell so many stories and that truly was his gift to the group. I remember once when we were on a youth trip down to Virginia, the group took a break and Al started telling stories. Dwain, the other adult heading up the work, went back to work on a ramp without the rest of the group because was Al was keeping everyone engaged with his stories. Finally, when Al came back over to Dwain, he said, “You’re not a very good crew leader.” Dwain asked him why that was, to which Al responded, “Because you just let us keep on talking when it was time to get back to work.” Dwain knew exactly what he was doing and exactly what was most important for the youth to experience! I also remember sharing a rickety old bunk bed with Al in Mexico where we had to prop up the bed with a chunk of PVC pipe so we could sleep without getting seasick during the night. And then there was the story that Al always told about his and Lorna’s first night in the village of Nepal when they were in the Peace Corp. I could go on with the stories, and I will at the Servant Event, but then I would have to wipe the tears off of my computer keyboard. Anyway, that was Al, he exemplified joy!

Today, we as a church are driving by Lorna Kline’s house. Lorna has been battling cancer and is now on hospice. With the COVID-19 situation, we are not able to hug her and talk directly with her, but her family is with her and they have organized a drive-by so that we can show her our love. The last time I talked with her, I had hoped that she would make it to the Servant Event so that she could be there when we told Al’s story. I guess it is okay if she is not still with us because, #1 she already knows Al’s story (better than anyone else!), #2 she knows how highly we thought of Al, and #3 she’ll get to celebrate with him directly. We will be sad to lose her but she won’t be sad!

Hebrews, chapter 11 is the “Hall of Fame of Faith” chapter. It lists Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel. All of them were human, had their sins and weaknesses, but were commended to us because of their exemplary faith in God. The list of people who have influenced us in our faith journey did not end with those heroes listed in the book of Hebrews. Sometimes, the extraordinary example of faith lived out well comes in the form of a German pig farmer and his no-nonsense playground supervising wife.

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Second Line

Over the last two weekends, Cathy and I attended the New Orleans Jazz Fest. Not in spite of COVID-19 but because of COVID-19. The actual festival was cancelled just like so many other events in the past couple of months but WWOZ in New Orleans presented past recordings from Jazz Fests over the two weekends that they referred to as “Jazz Festing in Place.” It was a wonderful opportunity to hear some of the best jazz and blues music! Cathy embraced the feel of Jazz Fest and even made Shrimp Monica one night and Slow-Cooked Cochon de Lait Po’Boy another night. Believe me, it was good! Not only did Cathy embrace the New Orleans cuisine, at the beginning of the Jazz Fest, I walked out into the kitchen and she embraced me. The music was moving us and so right there in the kitchen we danced as if we didn’t have a care in the world. It wasn’t the only time that the music moved my feet.

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That’s when it hit me. One of the things that we have given up during this COVID-19 pandemic is dancing. Before “Shelter in Place,” Cathy and I were going into the backroom at the Brentwood on Wednesday nights for a line dancing class. We had so much fun! For the time being that class is cancelled. Along with so many other things, it seems like we have put away so much joy and happiness. We feel oppressed and deprived. We desire to be restored. We want to come out of our homes. We want to be with friends and family again. We want to worship together in the church building. We want to dance again!

King David was one who was familiar with dancing. Once, when they were bringing the ark of the Lord up to the city of David, David “danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn.” (2 Samuel 6:14-15) Later, David wrote Psalm 30 for the dedication of the temple. It was a joyous time. Listen to what David wrote:

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.
O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.”
By your favor, O Lord, you made my mountain stand strong; you hid your face; I was dismayed.
To you, O Lord, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy: “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?
Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper!”
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever! (ESV)

Did you catch it? “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” and “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing!” We are all going through this COVID-19 pandemic together and yet the sense of isolation may be greater than ever. Maybe this situation is causing your anxiety to go through the roof, or maybe it has caused your nightmares to return, or maybe the temptation to turn to the bottle is stronger than ever. Understand that this is not the end! Joy and dancing are coming once again.

Speaking of New Orleans, there is a traditional practice in New Orleans regarding funerals. The website Funeral Wiseputs it this way:

A typical funeral began with a slow march from the home of the deceased to the church or funeral home. During the march, the coffin may have been carried by a horse-drawn hearse and was accompanied by a brass band playing somber dirges and hymns. After the memorial service, the march would proceed to the cemetery and the tone would remain somber until the coffin had been placed in the ground or until the group was out of sight of the church. People on the streets where the march passed were welcome to join in and go along with the mourners to the cemetery. This group was referred to as the “second line.“ The brass band would play a couple more hymns, though these were played with a swing beat, to alert mourners that the mood was about to change, then they would launch into wilder music with tambourines and drums. The music and dancing were both a cathartic release for mourners and a celebration of a life well lived. In this state of jubilation, the group would then march back to the location of their reception.

If you have ever participated in a second line, it is a joyous experience that you will never forget. Dancing down the street, twirling your parasol (okay, I was under an umbrella that our youth group had painted…but you get the point), filled with joy, and singing along with the brass band. Even if in this life we have trials and tribulations, joy is coming. It’s time to lace up our dancing shoes!

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Still, I Write

I woke up early this morning, put on my hunting clothes, and headed out back to see if there were any gobblers in the area. I heard several gobblers but all of them were off in the distance. That’s okay, I still got to see two deer, see a beautiful sunrise, and read from the book of Psalms. It was a beautiful morning and coming off of a good day yesterday, I was very joyful. As I finally came back in and set down to my breakfast, I grabbed my journal and began to count my blessings.

Recently, I finished filling my third journal book. When I finish a book, I go back to the beginning and read all that I wrote within my journal during that time. This most recent book took me about 2 ½ years to complete. It was fascinating to me to see recurring themes, the ups and downs of life, and the life-changing things that have happened during that 2 ½ years! (e.g. I became a grandfather, started my Master of Counseling degree) I believe that reflecting, whether one day, 2 ½ years, or a whole lifetime, helps me be a better person by giving me a larger perspective than just riding the rollercoaster of emotions with all of its twists, turns, ups, and downs. Having this larger and longer-term perspective keeps me from being tossed back and forth in each moment. 

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Although I practice a low-key, low-pressure perspective on journaling, I plan on continuing this practice in the future. I do not journal every day but rather when something moves me to write. I do want to, however, increase the frequency that I write in my journal. I understand the importance of this for myself and therefore discipline myself to write at least twice a week in my journal.

As I was reading in the Psalms this morning, I was struck just how many of the Psalms came to us because someone somewhere was sharing their journal with us. This then continues to inspire us in our journey and towards faith in God in our day and age. The Psalms are filled with just about every emotion imaginable…just like my journal.

This morning I began Book II of the Psalms which begin with Psalm 42. As I literally had deer out in front of me, I read “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” (Psalm 42:1, NIV) Psalm 43 had me pleading for rescue (and yes, I could hear Lauren Daigle singing in my head) as I read, “Rescue me from those who are deceitful and wicked…Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (vs 1 & 5). Psalm 45 swept me up with love, the beauty of a bride, and longing for us, the bride of Christ, to be united with our groom. “All glorious is the princess within her chamber; her gown is interwoven with gold. In embroidered garments she is led to the king; her virgin companions follow her—those brought to be with her. Led in with joy and gladness, they enter the palace of the king.” (45:13-15) Psalm 49 had me pondering the haughtiness of men, had me numbering my days, and had me wondering about the brevity of life. “For all can see that the wise die, that the foolish and the senseless also perish, leaving their wealth to others. Their tombs will remain their houses forever, their dwellings for endless generations, though they had named lands after themselves. People, despite their wealth, do not endure; they are like the beasts that perish.” (49:10-12)  It seemed like a good place to stop and let my mind chew on that throughout the day.

I’m grateful that the sons of Korah (Moses’ cousin) were willing to write these Psalms. It is not likely that thousands of years from now people will be using my journal writing as the worship songs of the day but still I write. Even if it is just between me and God, still I write.

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