Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I am Thankful for Zyrtec

I have had seasonal allergies all of my life: all seasons, all allergies. If you don’t eat it, I’m allergic to it. When I was young I would wake up sneezing every morning, at least during spring, summer and fall. We didn’t have air conditioning and so we slept with our windows open. One window fan pulled air with bits and pieces of creation in every window and through the house.

We had chicken houses with thousands of chickens. Every twenty weeks they had to be cleaned out; we shoveled the sawdust and manure compost into the back of a pickup truck by hand and drove it out into the fields and spread it by hand. There were two houses 30 feet wide, and 300 feet long with six to eight inches deep of compost. Once all the manure was out we spread fresh sawdust throughout the houses, all by hand.

With every shovel full of manure, dust would fly. With every breath inhaled, you get the picture. And I sneezed, and sneezed, and sneezed. As I approached adulthood, we moved to Alabama away from the chickens and the sneezing subsided to be replaced with constant drainage. (Now that’s a gross thing to have to read about.) With the drainage came a constant irritated throat, sinus infections, and bronchitis. It didn’t matter where I lived, Alabama, Tennessee, Illinois or later on Kentucky, the cycle was the same. Several times every year I would get pretty sick. The exception to all of this was our three years in North Dakota. Imagine my surprise when I discovered a sore throat wasn’t normal.

By the mid eighties we were in Cleveland and the cycle was getting the best of me. I gave in and sought out an allergist. I completed a series of shots, two every week for over a year then gradually reduced in frequency until completed after three or four years. I drove to downtown Chattanooga for the shots. In the stress of life I told myself the routine trips to Chattanooga were one thing I was doing for myself. I relaxed and read magazines just for pleasure. Every week I looked forward to getting my shots.

As the series progressed the vicious cycle ended. I was pretty healthy for over a decade, but gradually my allergies worsened and the cycle returned. I have been back on shots for the last decade, two every month for the last year or two. But in the last couple of years my symptoms have worsened even with the shots. I often wake up sneezing and can begin a series at any moment. Anything can set me off, pollen and perfume are the biggest culprits. Zyrtec has proven a good supplement for the shots.

Last week I ran out of Zyrtec and kept forgetting to pick some up. Tonight, I road over to the church in order to sit in on the youth group meeting. As soon as I walked into the building something triggered the worse allergic reaction I have ever faced: itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, and a dry scratchy throat. I left and went to CVS where I purchased a year’s supply of Zyrtec. Within a couple of hours I was feeling pretty good. [If you have read all the way to this point you deserve a reward or else you are a masochist.] I am thankful for modern medicine, especially OTC Zyrtec.

Cleveland, Tennessee
September 29, 2010

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I am Thankful for God's Sovereign Protection

None of us knows how close we have come to death by accident. Even those who have survived horrible events are clueless about the myriad of near misses. This month I have had two near accidents on 8th street here in Cleveland.

We live in the country on the eastern side of Bradley County. The city of Cleveland is oblong running north and south. We use to live on the northern tip of town. Our drive to work near the center of town was seven miles and took twenty to thirty minutes due to traffic and signals. Our current house is the exact same distance but requires ten minutes or less to drive. We have two stop signs and no traffic lights going and coming. The five miles closest to the house are on country roads. Our last mile going to work is on 8th Street.

8th Street is a narrow city street through one of the poorer and older subdivisions in Cleveland. Coming from either direction is a moderately steep climb to a hill top. The intersecting streets run north and south. Several are blind intersections due to shrubs. Each of the intersecting streets has a stop sign. Twice this month drivers have run their stop signs right in front of me. Both were talking on cell phones. I had to slam on my brakes to avoid them. It was not that traumatic; I was in my truck once and Cheryl’s car the other time. If we would have collided there would not have been life threatening injuries, probably.

The scary thing about those near misses is that I often am on my motor cycle and not behind collapsible metal and an airbag. Most motorcyclists who are killed or seriously injured are only traveling about 35 miles an hour when someone pulls out in front of them or T-bones them.

I have only had a few near misses on my cycle. One was my fault going around a curve in the mountains. We went off the road and over a log.  We were actually air born, but God helped me to keep the motorcycle upright and come to a stop. (Just call me Steve McQueen.) Here in town I have had two thoughtless drivers do a u-turn right in front of me. With both I almost laid the bike down, but didn’t. If you like to ride a motorcycle and you want to live, you will learn to anticipate people doing idiotic things.

Still, my most traumatic near-misses have been in cars. On a Sunday morning in the spring of 1972 I was driving a little over the speed limit on back roads going to church during a light rain when a pack of dogs ran out in front of me. I locked my brakes and fish tailed all over the road before getting my Pinto under control. By the grace of God there was no oncoming traffic. Even as I was still swerving (read that right, "swerving" not "swearing") with my heart pounding in my chest, I said to myself, “Jackie, you fool; no dog is worth killing yourself over. From now own I won’t risk my life to save an animal.” I’ve had a few opportunities to keep that promise.

My most horrible near miss was in late winter of 1978. We were driving home to Minot from church in Butte, North Dakota when I topped a hill and hit some black ice. I was going way too fast for the conditions and once again fish tailed all over the road. This time I had Cheryl and baby Alethea in the front seat of our Oldsmobile Omega with me. When I stepped out of the car forty five minutes later my knees buckled under me. I knew how close I had come to losing the two people who meant the whole world to me. That’s the day I became a truly conscientious driver.

I am thankful I have only had two relatively minor accidents in my life. I am thankful I was not at fault either time and more importantly, no one was injured. I am thankful for my near-misses; they taught me a lot about safety. I am also thankful for all of those near misses I missed; that is, I wasn’t even aware I came close to death. Since I don’t know about them, I can’t write about them. What I do know is that in my youth I sometimes drove with wanton disregard for safety and I have been kept safe by the hand of God. I also know I have been on the highways with others who have less of a regard for safety and even less skill than I have and by God’s grace we have not yet met. Thanks be to God. I’ve almost convinced myself to stay home tomorrow, but I am addicted to that pay check.

Cleveland, Tennessee
September 28, 2010

Monday, September 27, 2010

I am Thankful for The Rain

It has rained for the last couple of days. The showers have been perfect, a moderate soaking rain. There has been zero runoff evidenced by the fact our pond still has no standing water. Everything has turned green. The days are a little cooler. It is glorious and God alone deserves thanks.

Cleveland, Tennessee

September 27, 2010


Sunday, September 26, 2010

I am Thankful for a Rebuke from God

In the fall of 1972 the old auditorium at Lee College soon became a familiar place; we had chapel there three times a week. I had established my normal place near the back on the right hand side of the main floor. God had blessed me with a love for the college. I felt I was thriving, I certainly enjoyed my experiences, but I was struggling with clarifying my call to ministry. Chapel was a mixed bag; there was a lot of enthusiastic singing and most of the sermons were engaging on multiple levels. Sometimes I felt the music was a little too formal and a sermon a little too stilted, but mostly I was enriched by chapel, especially Sunday evenings when Dr. Charles Conn, as College President, preached.

For one of the weekday morning chapels it had been announced that Dr. Hollis Gause, Dean of the College, would be preaching. I was taking Greek from Gause and I had a high level of respect for him but I wasn’t expecting a barn-burner. I had a test scheduled for that afternoon and so I slid up to the balcony where it would be safe to study during chapel.

Dr. Gause began his sermon and I slipped out my notes to begin reviewing for the test. I had no idea what he was preaching about, but I heard the voice of God, “You call yourself my servant and you won’t even listen to my Word being preached.” I repented and made a promise to God, “From this day forward, I will listen to Your Word when it is being preached.” I sat up straight, put my notes away, and began to listen. It was the most wonder-filled sermon on the cross. With rapid-fire staccato he traced the beauty and glory of the cross through the Scriptures. I had never heard anything so powerful, exhilarating and convicting.

Hollis Gause is known as the chief of theologians for the Church of God, and that he is. But on that day I discovered him to be equally the prince of preachers. I have tried to keep my promise to God. I have since heard some very good sermons, many great sermons by Hollis. I have heard some very bad ones (by others) as well. The truly pathetic ones are those delivered to impress the audience with the preacher’s gifts rather than communicate a word from the Lord. On par with them are those that distort the Word of God to serve the preacher’s personal agenda. Still I listen, endeavoring to honor the Word of God and discern His presence.

As for me, I consider myself a good preacher, not a great preacher. I love God. I love His Word. I love His people. I endeavor to respect all three and bring them together in my sermons. I want God’s people to encounter Him in His Word. Sometimes I succeed. In recent years I am honored on most Sundays to preach to Hollis Gause. With him present, I am content to speak the truth of the Bible, not say something idiotic, and get one chuckle or at least a grin. He humors me.

Cleveland, Tennessee
September 26, 2010

Saturday, September 25, 2010

I am Thankful for the Hope of Rain

For the record, I believe human activity is contributing to global climate change. All of the stuff we are pumping into the atmosphere combined with deforestation has to be destabilizing the climate. I also believe there are “natural” cycles and atmospheric events that cause changes to weather patterns. These human interventions and natural occurrences are systemically intertwined making it impossible to determine the extent humanity should be blamed. What is clear to me is that we must do everything within our power to be good stewards in the care of creation. If we do not we will be judged by our negligence.

Here in east Tennessee we are living with climate change. Four of the last five years have seen drought conditions. In the other year we had over fifteen inches of rain above normal. It is the end of September and until today the daytime highs have been in the nineties. At our house we have had less than a half inch of rain since the first of August. Our grass is brown. My pasture is barren. Shrubs and trees are dying. My pears only grew to a quarter of their normal size. Most of the figs swiveled and died on the bush.

The meteorologists have stated we have a good chance for significant rain this evening, tomorrow, and Monday, up to 70%. But eastern Bradley County is the Bermuda Triangle of rain. Time and time again we watch the showers to our south or to our north. They just seem to slide around us. Often it is like Moses parting the Red Sea as the radar shows a system splitting and going around us. Earlier today it not only split, it dissipated over us in order to reform to our east. Other than a few sprinkles, we were a doughnut hole of dryness.

Tonight, we hope for rain. And hope is a good thing. It makes the heart merry. I am thankful just for the hope. But Dear Lord, if You read my blog, I will be even more thankful for a couple of days of slow steady rain.

Cleveland, Tennessee
September 24, 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010

I am Thankful for Dried Baby Lima Beans

Cheryl fixed me a late birthday lunch today: dried baby lima beans, brown rice, and club steak. I grilled the steak. I don’t know what I did right but this is the first time in almost thirty six years of marriage that Cheryl has cooked dried baby lima beans. I love dried baby lima beans. I have since I was a child.

My mother was a great cook, Southern cuisine. We always had meat on the table and multiple vegetables. Dinners were never a surprise. The meat was almost always fried steak, fried ham, fried chicken, fried fish or fried pork chops. There was the occasional roast or fat back and rice, but something fried was the norm.

White rice was always on the table (except for breakfast) and some type of bean or pea. There are many types of beans and peas in a southern kitchen: dried black-eyed peas, fresh black-eyed peas, field peas (with snaps), purple hull peas, speckled butter beans, speckled butter peas. Most of these we grew ourselves. We didn’t grow white limas but we had dried baby lima beans at least once a week.

My mother loved dried baby limas, but she had a problem cooking them. They take a long time to cook and she often waited too late to put them on the stove. On top of that she had too much faith in her children. “Kids, I’ve got to run a quick errand; don’t let my beans burn.” You would think she would have learned the futility of that kind of assignment, but she never did.

Scorched baby lima beans are not pleasant to the palette. It’s a unique, sour and bitter flavor. Mom would apologize to my Dad, “I scorched the beans again.” Dad would take a bite and respond, “Umh, just the way I like em.” I opted to coat my scorched beans in black pepper. That’s the way I like them, rice, smothered in beans, smothered in black pepper.

I am thankful Cheryl made me dried baby lima beans today. She didn't scorch them either.  At this rate, I’ll next enjoy them on my ninety-third birthday.

Cleveland, Tennessee
September 24, 2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I am Thankful for Teaching Graduate Students

I taught undergraduate students for three years after which I resolved to not do that again. I made one exception when Lee was going through an accreditation review and needed to bolster its roster of part-time teachers with persons having earned doctoral degrees. The reason I did not enjoy teaching college students was their immaturity. Some were brilliant with a clear sense of call and purpose. They were a joy and a challenge, sometimes wanting to know more than I could teach them.

The Bible College, like Lee University, had an open admissions policy, meaning that if an applicant had a high school diploma they would be accepted. During my last year at Northwest we were instructed to assign grades based on the Bell Curve, “an established academic procedure.” I knew this wasn’t true and so I researched the bell curve and naively sent the Academic Dean a dozen articles from academic journals denouncing the use of the Bell Curve for assigning grades. My cover letter with the articles listed more than a dozen reasons why the Bell Curve was especially inappropriate for our Bible College. Among the reasons was the fact that our student’s SAT and ACT scores formed a perfect inverted Bell Curve; I had gotten the raw scores from the Dean’s office. Our students tended to be of very high academic ability or of very low academic ability. Based on their competencies we should have been giving a lot of A’s and F’s. I am sure this had nothing to do with our departure from North Dakota at the end of that school year.

I loved those students, all of them. But it was a challenge to engage them all at the same time. Most were at the school with a strong desire to know and fulfill the will of God for their lives. Too many were not serious about study as a critical component in discovering and fulfilling God’s will.

My limited exposure to Lee students was far more discouraging. The course I taught was actually a good experience. It was comprised of young ministers who commuted in for the class. It was my experience as a guest lecturer that turned me against ever teaching undergraduate students again. There were simply too many students who had no interest in studying God’s Word or doing Christian ministry. Worse of all, there was an attitude of entitlement by some. They were paying good money for their education and it is the teacher’s job to get them through the course. I just didn’t like their attitude; “the customer is always right” and they were the customer.

Well, it’s 25 years later and yesterday’s undergraduate student is today’s graduate student. I love our students. They are some of the most wonderful people in the world. Most are highly capable and committed ministers. Yet, there is a growing sense teachers exist to serve the whims of their students. This has been accentuated by technology. For example, last year Cheryl was sent an email by a student in the middle of the night. She received another email before 9 A.M. wanting to know why she had not responded to the first email.

I’ll complete this one later.

Cleveland, Tennessee
September 23, 2010

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I am Thankful for my Friend Phil Hoover

There are friends and then there is Phil Hoover. I first met Phil in the mid eighties. David Horton was the Minister of Music and I was the Minister of Christian Education at the Westmore Church of God. David, whose full-time job was teaching at Lee College, was preparing a special service at Westmore with the Campus Choir from Lee. Phil came with David to help set up some of the equipment. As best as I recall, it was a brief meeting, but if you ever meet Phil you will remember him.

Fast forward a dozen years and I met Phil for the second time. After Lee, he had spent a decade in the United States Air Force after which he enrolled in the Church of God Theological Seminary. I best remember him in my course “Foundations for Christian Formation.” We sang at least one song each class and I discovered Phil’s encyclopedic knowledge of church music with a special emphasis on all things Gaither. I also discovered his proclivity for details and his obsession with narrative.

While he was at the Seminary, Phil became one of Cheryl’s “lost boys.” That’s the name Alethea and Karisa gave to the single male students their mother adopted. They perceived Cheryl to be a cross between a super mother figure and Peter Pan, hence the “lost boys.” In this period Phil’s other dominant trait surfaced, he knows everybody. When you first get to know Phil you might be tempted to think he suffers from an inferiority complex that expresses itself in chronic lies about knowing prominent people; lies which are bolstered by outlandish descriptions of the places where he has traveled with those prominent people. But you would be wrong; he has been there and he does talk regularly by phone to all those people.

If I might digress, he is a phenomenal cook. His biscuits laugh at the charlatans you get at the Cracker Barrel. He channels your Great Aunt Bessie when he whips up a banana pudding. There ain’t nothing in the kitchen that boy hasn’t mastered and improved. Julia Childs looks down from heaven with envy.

When Phil decided to move to Chicago he called and asked if he could store a few things in our basement. My mother didn’t raise no fool, I advised him he would need to get Cheryl’s permission. I would let him store whatever he wanted in the loft of my barn but Cheryl decided what was stored in the house. He called her and she agreed. After all it was just for a couple of weeks and it was only a closet full of stuff. That was some closet; it filled one of our basement rooms. And two weeks turned into five years. Another five years after that and there’s still a closet full down there. But, what are friends for?

Phil’s the kind of friend who would give you his kidney. In fact, he did. One of our mutual friends, Bill George, was on dialysis. Phil felt impressed he was to give Bill a kidney. Sure enough when he was tested he was a match. Bill and Phil are doing well. I don’t know many people who would do that. My mother had chronic kidney problems and if she had gone on dialysis I believe I would have given her a kidney. If Cheryl, Alethea, Karisa, Charlie, Camdyn, Peanut, or one of my siblings needed a kidney they could have one. Shucks, my grand kids could have both of mine, but I would have to hear from God to offer one to anybody else. I’m just being honest. Not many of you have offered an organ to a non-family member either. On the other hand, maybe Phil just asked Bill to store it for a few weeks.

Phil calls often. We’re busy people and usually not here to get the calls. It’s when I do get his calls that I am most appreciative of Phil’s friendship. I don’t know if he remembers that my introduction to the telephone never blossomed into the romance most people seem to have with theirs. I never even courted mine. Most of the time I can't even tell you where my cell phone is.  I am a phone-a-phobe; phones are necessary nuisances. I don’t like them. I need to see faces when I talk with people. When Phil calls he asks the pertinent questions, tells me something to make me laugh and excuses himself. Now that’s my kind of friend.

Cleveland, Tennessee
September 22, 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I am Thankful for Betty Baldree

Today, Cheryl and I attended the funeral of Betty Baldree. Until she retired not too long ago, Betty was the switchboard operator and receptionist at Lee University, a position she had held for nearly fifty years. In Cleveland she was affectionately known as “the voice of Lee.” Pastor Kelvin Page used that theme in his eulogy. He observed that Betty had a voice that communicated a smile. Indeed, she welcomed everyone into her presence and with her onto the university campus, even if only by phone.

Betty was a special friend to us on two personal fronts. First, she was the wife and widow of Dr. J. Martin Baldree. Martin was our professor, mentor and friend. He was one of the first Pentecostals in the world to earn an accredited doctoral degree in religion. I had met Martin’s father at a Lee family reunion when I was a kid. Martin’s maternal grandmother was a Lee from Billy’s Island in the Okefenokee. She was my Great Grandmother’s sister, I believe, at least they were closely related.

On a second front, in the mid eighties we lived in Martin’s and Betty’s house for two years. Martin took a leave of absence from Lee College (University) to help Oral Roberts University start a master’s degree in Christian Education. That was a special two years, Karisa was a baby in their house. We felt at home there.

I don’t know a lot about Betty personally. I know she loved her family, her work, Lee University, and her church, the Westmore Church of God. I know a few details about her life but mostly I know she made me and thousands of others feel like we were important to her. She smiled on everyone she met and I am thankful for having known her.

Cleveland, Tennessee
September 21, 2010

Sunday, September 19, 2010

I am Thankful for Our Microwave

I bought our first microwave oven in December of 1977. It was my Christmas present to Cheryl. The primary purpose for the purchase was to make warming baby food for Alethea more convenient, but it was simple fun to discover what the modern marvel could do. That oven lasted well over twenty years; one day it just burst into flames. A good Southerner would have made space for it on the front porch next to an old couch, a rusty refrigerator, and a ringer washer where it could have helped keep watch over a couple of old cars set up on blocks and greeted company when they dropped by. But we don’t have a front porch and I didn't have the right tools to cut the top off and make a front yard flower pot out of it.  (Southerners recycled before recycling was cool.)  So we sent it to the dump. The new one is about twelve years old now. We use it just about every day, mostly to heat leftovers. Tonight it warmed a bowl of Cheryl’s chili. I don’t cook in the microwave except for a couple of chicken dishes. It is a tool of convenience, not preference. But in this day and age convenience seems a necessity. How else could we justify our self-importance? I am just too needed to waste time heating water on the stove top for my tea. The world would fall apart if I wasted time popping corn the old fashion way. Just think, it wasn’t too long ago we had to let butter get to room temperature by letting it sit for a while at room temperature. How quaint was that?

Cleveland, Tennessee
September 19, 2010

Saturday, September 18, 2010

I am Thankful for Weddings

When I was a kid I didn’t like weddings. Why in the world would people want to get all dressed up, go to church, sit still and quiet, and watch the preacher read from a little book while the bride and groom either said “I do” or echoed some words back to him/her. Church was supposed to be exciting, hand clapping, hallelujah shouting, preacher prancing, soul saving, story telling, reach up and touch an angel, say amen and give the Devil a black eye kind of event. Weddings were anything but exciting. Weddings were too formal and too impersonal, all ceremony and no Spirit. I guess they were beautiful by some aesthetic standard but not the one common to boys.

For my own wedding I was on a quest for meaning. Cheryl and I wanted the ceremony to have spiritual and theological significance and so we pushed the envelope for our time. We wrote our own vows, had communion with the wedding party and seriously considered have a congregational song. Perhaps most outrageous was simply the fact that we took charge of the ceremony rather than just go through the established motions. It was our wedding.

As a pastor I have always had a few personal goals for every wedding. First and foremost, the ceremony must be viewed as a worship service and therefore it must pivot around a sound theology of marriage. I tend to view weddings in three categories. “Church weddings” are those that meet the standards of two believers uniting in marriage as a statement of faith in God’s will for their lives. Weddings “at church” are for person’s not necessarily active in the life of the church but who desire their marriage to begin in the context of Christianity. Weddings in other settings may fit into the first category (a church wedding, just not at the church) but are most often nominally Christian (the couple want a pastor to perform the ceremony but without a real sense of commitment to live as believers). If I perform a wedding, regardless of setting, it must be viewed as an act of worship where the word of God is expounded (concerning marriage).

Therefore, a wedding must also be more than a ceremony. The various components should be presented in a meaningful way. There is a specific purpose for the “I do” portion and another purpose for the “repeat after me” section. The first is a declaration of intent (does this couple know to what they are committing themselves, a Christian marriage) that authorizes the minister to proceed and the second is an exchange of vows (the actual commitments they are making to each other).

Weddings should also be personal. No two weddings should be the same. Two unique children of God are entering into a lifetime covenant relationship. God, the minister, and the congregation are witnesses and participants in the creation of something new (a marriage) that is greater than the sum of its parts. As sacred as the ceremony is, the truth is that the ceremony exists to join two people together; the two people do not exist for the ceremony. It is the role of the pastor to make certain the couple understands the commitments they are making and to make the ceremony express their personal understanding of the commitments.

I tell the couple it is their special day and they should design it to express who they are and what their covenant means to them. If they are believers it should express their faith. I have core requirements that must be included, but they can set the tone and add anything they desire as long as it doesn’t violate the Scriptures. I determine the “Do you …I do” section. They can write their own vows if they wish. The style/language can be traditional or contemporary. It should reflect what they want, but mostly what she wants. In our culture, it is her day.

I love weddings. When I officiate, I always feel I have preached an important message from God’s word. I get to be a part of one of the most significant days in the two individual’s lives (not to mention their families) and in that I am joined to them for as long as we three shall live. Perhaps most significantly for me, I get to help create something beautiful and powerful, a marriage. Marriage is the cornerstone of civilization, the promise of a healthy family in which children can be born and grow. Marriage is God’s design for humans to thrive and it is hope in the promise of full redemption for creation. In marriage we find a context ripe for healing and a partnership designed for personal fulfillment. I believe every marriage is a creative act by God and we get to be helpers in heaven’s kitchen.

This afternoon the kitchen was in the backyard of a modest mountain home. It was a glorious day and I am thankful.

Cleveland, Tennessee
September 18, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

I am Thankful for Birthday Cake

This evening we had a strategy session for the Free Our Church of God Women to Serve group. Cheryl brought a birthday cake for refreshment in celebration of my 57th birthday tomorrow. There is just something special about a classic birthday cake. The icing is rich and sweet with a unique texture, smooth with a hint of sugary grit. The cake is light and fluffy. The deceptive delicacy screams “you’re not eating much, I’m all air.” It is so easy to ignore the fact that the icing is nothing but sweetened fat.

Never-the-less, birthday cake is perhaps the best dessert in the world. “Birthday” says we are celebrating life. “Cake” says all American dessert. “Birthday cake” proclaims shameless pleasure. Not since Adam and Eve ate the apple has human kind found a better way to ignore the guilt (calories laden with heart clogging fat) and enjoy naked pleasure.

Cleveland, Tennessee
September 17, 2010

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I am Thankful for Ring Side Seats, Not

Dad didn’t watch TV very much. If he was home during nightly news he watched Walter Cronkite. That was the only time we had to be quiet around Dad. He also liked to watch the wrestling matches on Saturday afternoons. The only problem was that we were usually working on the farm on Saturdays. The good news was that my grandfather also like the wrestling matches. Every other day of the week lunch was at or near noon, but on Saturdays we broke for lunch at 2 P.M. Coincidentally, wrestling came on at 2. My Holy Ghost filled grandmother also got into the matches from time to time. She would pull her chair up close and yell at the TV “watch out Eddy, he’s coming for you.”

On a couple of occasions Dad took us to the Jacksonville Coliseum for live wrestling matches. It was the age of the Cold War. The clean-cut Eddie Graham was the blond all-American fighting for freedom and Democracy. His arch enemies were a Russian, a German, and Japanese. They all fought dirty. My favorite match was a cage match, Eddie against the Great Malenko. Inside the chain-link cage Eddie was being beaten badly; Malenko had retrieved what appeared to be brass knuckles from the lining of his shorts and battered the middle-aged blond mercilessly. He lay bloody on the mat at the Russian toyed with him. The crowd was silent in dismay when from thirty rows back a silver-haired grandmother jumped from her seat, raised her umbrella, and ran down the aisle shouting “I’ll help you Eddie.”

The best thing about the Coliseum was Milk Duds. I seldom bought them anywhere else (I’m a Butter Finger, Baby Ruth, Snickers guy), but they were my favorite at the matches. I could chew them one at a time, stretching the flavor out for several matches. Whenever I see one of those little boxes of chocolate delights I always think of the wrestling matches and my Dad. Those few trips were after all the only sporting events to which he ever took me, if you don’t count the demolition derby. We never had ring side seats.

In life I often feel I have a ring side seat to social wrestling matches. Often they are nothing more than egotists sparring for preeminence. Occasionally they are neurotics struggling for prominence. My preference would be to stay at home and watch “America’s Got Vanity” on Trinity Broadcasting, but in life you sometimes cannot escape the craziness of public rivalries and other self inflicted indignities. You are chained by circumstances to a front row seat. All you can do is ask for a towel and some sanitizer and pray its only sweat and spit flying your way. Of course you need to pray that none of the amateurs get seriously hurt. On those occasions, which seem more and more frequent these days, I am thankful I am watching and not locked in the cage of self promotion fighting the fear of irrelevance.

What? The marquee says what? I'm match # 2 against who?

Cleveland, Tennessee
September 16, 2010

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I am Thankful for Financial Stability

We are living in a very difficult economic time. Unemployment is high at over 8% in the USA. Underemployment is even higher. The realities are settling in that this may be the first generation in American history to not retire better off than their parents did. In addition to that, employment has entered a permanent state of instability. Long gone are the days of expecting to work for the same company from young adulthood to retirement. Even worse, the youth of our time must plan on making two or three changes in their type of employment during their working lifetime, each requiring extensive reeducation.

I will soon celebrate my fifty seventh birthday. I have been a credentialed minister for thirty eight of those years. I have taught at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary for twenty five years (ten as an adjunct professor and fifteen as a full time professor). Cheryl has been a full time professor at our seminary since 1986. We have served as pastors of the New Covenant Church of God for over twenty one years. Our employment history is about as stable as it gets and our income is sufficient to meet our needs. We are blessed.

Yet, I freely note that we are not well off. Our debts are way too high for two professionals at our stage in life. This is the cumulative effect of being called to theological education. (As I noted in an earlier blog I once calculated our doctorates cost us $270,000.00 in expenses and lost revenue; money that would never be recouped.) We have for thirty six years of marriage been grossly over employed and significantly under paid. Last week I heard a report on the benefits of getting a bachelors degree; according to that report the average person with a four year college degree today makes more than we do with doctorates.

While I am in the mood, let me tell our woe-is-us story. We’ll skip over the Wheaton days; you wouldn’t believe me any way. I got my first full time ministry position in 1976 as a teacher at Northwest Bible College. My salary was $7,200.00 dollars for the year. That’s $600.00 per month. We rented a mobile home from the college for $200.00 per month. Our car payment was $137.00 per month leaving $263.00 to pay tithes, pay our educational loans, pay car insurance, and, oh yes, buy groceries and have a baby (without insurance). To be fair, Cheryl did make a few hundred dollars the first year teaching part time and our income doubled the next year when she was hired full time.

After three years we returned to school and our income dropped to part time employees. Then in 1984 I was hired by the Westmore Church of God as Minister of Christian Education. My salary was over $16,000.00. I made more money that year than we had ever made together in a single year. In 1986 Cheryl was hired full time at the seminary and things got even better. Putting it under a different lens, until he retired my Dad made significantly more money every year than mine and Cheryl’s combined incomes.

I am really not inviting you to my pity party. I’m setting the context and creating the drama. My point is that most of my adult life has been marked by very close finances. We have juggled payments, borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. We have sweated getting pay checks deposited quickly to cover written checks and not always making it in time. Like most Americans we have lived just slightly beyond our means and accumulated unsecured consumer debt (It’s all on very low interest.) Cheryl’s car is eleven years old and has over 327,000 miles on it and my truck is going on ten years old.

But in recent years we are watching our debt go down at a steady pace. Our house should be paid off in six years or so. We have a small emergency fund set aside. Our retirement accounts are smaller than we would like but on track to provide a middle class standard of living when we retire, provided we continue to contribute and we get out of debt. Barring any major setbacks we should retire better off than our parents.

What I am thankful for this evening is that we have a steady income that is sufficient to meet our needs and provide a comfortable living. I cannot remember the last time I bounced a check or was late on a payment. I do not have everything I want (Goldwing, Silverado), but I certainly have abundantly more than I need. I am aware that we are only a few months from bankruptcy should one of us to lose our job. But I don’t have to worry about the electricity or the phones being disconnected, at least not before my contract is renewed next July 1. My concern is losing weight, not whether there will be food in the house. I am blessed and I am thankful.

Cleveland, Tennessee
September 15, 2010

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I am Thankful for Ivo Cantrel

[This piece first appeared in my other blog in January of 2009.]

We have all met a few ministers who are less than stellar in their character. I have personally been lied to and lied about by fellow ministers. I have grieved as some have treated individuals and congregations with contempt, using them as stepping stones for personal advancement. Too many charlatans have risen in our ranks. Their carnality casts a shadow over the entire church. But let us not forget those thousands who quietly serve in the beauty of holiness as beacons of righteousness.

I have been privileged to know some exceptional servants of God, who accepted the call to preach, publish and defend the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Among them I would name Garland Mills and Larry Higginbotham under both of whom I was blessed to serve as Minister of Education. I would also name Eddie Williams and O’neal McCullough whom I have drawn strength from their example and marveled at the respect they garnered. These men are/were not perfect, but they certainly set a good standard to live toward.

The vast majority of the Church of God ministers I have known fall with me somewhere between the goal posts. We are confident in our call to preach the Gospel but uncertain about ourselves, our abilities. Why did God call us? At its best this reflects humility; at its worst it reflects self disdain. Everyone deals with this tension between call and confidence differently. Some attempt to cover-up their insecurities with an air of competence that comes across as arrogance. Others mask themselves in false humility. Most bounce around between the two extremes. Few are confident enough in their own personhood to truly be themselves with others. Transparency is a worthy concept as long as we’re looking into someone else’s glass house.

Ministers are caught in the dilemma of the already/not yet. We have tasted of the kingdom of heaven but we still eat the realities of this life. We proclaim a truth greater than ourselves but we then have to live with ourselves. What we know struggles with what we are, creating uncertainty in what we do. I am not here talking about sin or immorality; although that may indeed be the consequence of the struggle. I am instead referring to the more subtle questions of how pleasing am I to God?

I am convinced the central issue of life is, how faithful am I to the heavenly vision revealed in Christ? This makes the central question for all believers, what is the will of God? What does God desire for me to be, know, and do? The best of us struggle with this question. All of us will answer for how diligently we struggled.

Ivo Cantrel was the kind of man others wanted to emulate, at least those who desire to live a Godly life. I met him in September of 1980 shortly after moving to Louisville, Kentucky to pursue my doctorate. Larry Higginbotham was gracious and offered me a part-time position at the Dixie Valley Church of God. Brother Cantrel , who was retired at the time, had been helping Larry with some pastoral visitation. It didn’t take long to recognize Ivo as a choice servant of God. His life was marked by the fruit of the Spirit.

Not long after our arrival his health began to deteriorate rapidly; it was cancer. I went to visit him in the hospital a few days before his death. His wife and daughter, Reba, were standing guard. It seems some of our fellow ministers had been by trying to pray the prayer of faith which resulted in upsetting Brother Cantrel ; my impression was that he had already accepted it was his time to go. The vigilant women hesitantly gave me the go-ahead to spend a few minutes with him as they stood in the back of the room.

It was clear he was distressed but lucid. He seemed politely happy for my visit. After a couple of minutes of small talk I felt impressed to ask a question, “Brother Ivo, what do you spend your time thinking about while they’re holding you prisoner in here?”

“The Scriptures.”

Trying to guess his response before I even uttered my follow-up, “And what text is on your mind the most?” Anticipating Psalm 23 or John 3:16 or a reference to heaven, I wasn’t prepared for his answer.

“Luke 6:26 -- Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.”

Mild panic hit me. Where do I go with this? Lord, help me? “That’s an interesting verse, why do you think it’s on your mind?”

“Because I am that man. Everybody speaks well of me. But I’m not certain what God is going to say.”

“Why? Is there something you need to talk about?”

“Everybody respects me but I feel like a failure. I worked for the railroad for thirty years* and I planted nine* churches in that time. God blessed every church we started. Every time we got a new church up and going good I had to decide whether to quit my job and go full-time or turn it over to someone else. I had a wife and kids to support and it was always such a hard decision. I fear God is going to hold it against me for not having the faith to go into full-time ministry.”

How does one respond to that? I knew I didn’t have the wisdom and so I prayed a quick S.O.S. and felt the touch of God. “Brother Cantrel, tell me something, when you made those decisions, did you pray about what to do? Did you desire to do God’s will?”

“Oh, yes! I’ve always wanted His will in my life.”

“Then that’s your answer. God is at work in us to ‘will and to do His good pleasure.’ It’s not important that we go into full-time ministry. What’s important is that we seek to do His will each step of the journey. He didn’t say enter in thou good and successful servant. He said enter in thou good and faithful servant. That’s why everyone speaks well of you, they admire your faithfulness.”

I have seldom felt more fulfilled than that moment when the peace of God settled on his face. Brother Cantrel had struggled with the central question of life, am I willing to pursue the will of God and be faithful to what He shows me? His humility gave him a good dose of uncertainty but that was overcome by his testimony. I am confident he heard our Lord say, “Ivo Cantrel, enter in thou good and faithful servant.”

To the extent I know my heart, my desire is to be found faithful.

[*Note: My recollections of this conversation are pretty certain, but I do not vouch for the specific numbers cited. They are in the ball park.]

Monday, September 13, 2010

I am Thankful for Just Feeling Well

Last week I thought I was having severe allergies. It is ragweed season. But I have concluded I had a cold. There is one going around. It all climaxed on Saturday (turn-my-tractor-over Saturday) when besides feeling poorly my blood pressure bottomed out. I don’t understand why that happened. I just know when it does I am listless. It’s Monday evening; I spent the day in faculty meetings. But I feel good. As frustrating as faculty meetings are, they go much better when you feel well.

I take feeling well for granted. I think most of us do. Today, I am thankful.

Cleveland, Tennessee
September 13, 2010

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I am Thankful for the Juniper Tree

Until a few years ago I looked down on Elijah for his sojourn in the wilderness. He had called down fire from heaven, defeated the prophets of Baal, released the heavens to rain, out ran Ahab’s chariots, and then, at the threat of Jezebel, he turned tail and ran away. He went into the wilderness and lay down to die under a juniper tree. An angel woke him up with a prepared meal. He ate and drank, and went back to sleep. The angel woke him up a second time with a meal. He ate and drank and obeyed, traveling forty days and nights to an appointed destination where he received a new and redemptive ministry.

I found myself under my own juniper tree. The wilderness was barren. I had no strength or desire to move in any direction. My instincts told me to get moving but I lay down and told the Lord “I find myself in the wilderness again, but this time I have no reserves, no hope of getting out. I’m going to stay here until you send an angel to tell me what to do or I die.” The shade of the juniper tree was my only comfort. I wondered if God would strike it down like he had Jonah’s vine. And then I realized the juniper tree was God’s gift to me. It was essential to my survival even when I preferred to die. It was a good place to relearn how to trust God fully.

I didn’t get an angelic chef or a keg of heavenly Gatorade. I found comfort in the gift of a small spiritual shade tree and I began to give thanks for it. The wilderness is a good place to die if you have already died to yourself. Unlike Elijah, I didn’t choose my wilderness; it seemed thrust upon me. But I was there none-the-less and my one consolation was that I wasn’t there alone. God wasn’t talking, but He was there and I wasn’t going to leave until He said leave.

It became more and more clear to me that the wilderness is the right place to be when you have the slightest hope that God is going to meet you there and give you a new sense of direction and a renewed call. It’s better to die under a juniper tree than wander aimlessly in search of a city whose builder and maker is not God. I recalled the closing lines of a sermon I had preached decades earlier on Elijah’s victory on Mount Carmel. “Faith is not so much calling fire down from heaven as it is climbing a mountain of opposition to face the enemies of your salvation; it is not so much searching for a city whose builder and maker is God as it is climbing a mountain of sacrifice to offer back to God His greatest gift to you.” I would now add, “faith is not so much climbing a mountain to see fire and wind and the earth shake, or even to hear a still small voice, as it is sleeping alone under a juniper tree waiting for the Angel of the Lord to return with new marching orders.”

I can’t say I ever got a clear sense of direction with a specific rendezvous point. Instead I felt a nudge to travel a little farther with a simple promise I’d find other shade trees along the way. Then there were clusters of trees and an oasis here and there. I have come to a renewed realization that obedience is better than sacrifice. Lengthy sojourns in the wilderness are not meaningless. And besides you might bump into some very significant people there: Moses, Aaron, Joshua, David, Elijah, or John the Baptist, to name a few. Come to think of it, Jesus spent some time there as well.

The juniper tree may just be the sign the angel is on his way.

Cleveland, Tennessee
September 12, 2010

Saturday, September 11, 2010

I am Thankful for God’s Care for Fools

I am a cautious individual, conscientious about safety. Never-the-less, I almost killed myself today. Okay, that’s an gross overstatement. After putting out some hay for the horses and cows I decided to dig out the pond in front of the barn. Things went real well until I turned the tractor over. That’s right, I laid it on its side.

I wasn’t hurt. It wasn’t even traumatic, just a slow motion roll to the side. I think I was a little reckless because it was a small space in which I was maneuvering. My big concern was whether I would be able to get the tractor right side up. To my surprise I was able to “man-handle” it upright. I wasn’t hurt; the tractor wasn’t hurt; no harm, no foul.

I am thankful I wasn’t hurt. I am probably more thankful my tractor wasn’t damaged. (It wasn’t even close that I would be hurt; it was very possible something would be broken on my expensive toy.) What I am freshly aware of is how easy it is to get hurt and how much God watches over us. I am also aware how old I am getting. I am proud I was able to upright the tractor, but I was exhausted afterwards. I did finish my project, but I haven’t done much else today.

Cleveland, Tennessee
September 11, 2010

Friday, September 10, 2010

I am Thankful for Uninterrupted Sleep

I am a night owl by nature; I always have been. Even as a child I would lay awake in my bed trying to figure out how to go to sleep. I would try to remember the last things I did and thought before going to sleep the night before. The frustration of not remembering would keep me awake.

As an adult I have become quite good at going to sleep quickly in spite of my inclination to stay awake to get things done. I can pick up steam as the night passes if the project is interesting. During my doctoral program this came in quite handy. There were more than a few nights I never went to sleep. However, once I go to sleep I am asleep and I am a bear to get up. Cheryl says I would be of no use if an intruder broke in; I would sleep through it all. [That pretty much happened in my youth while visiting my Aunt Mabel’s home.] It doesn’t matter how long I sleep, I am slow to get going on all cylinders when I do wake up. The worse mornings are when my night has been interrupted which doesn’t happen very often.

Last night was one of those interrupted nights. At 3 A.M. I awoke with a horrible stomach ache. I don’t know what caused it, but it lasted for two hours. I didn’t know CBS has news on during the middle of the night. There’s nothing like rooky, liberal journalists coupled with a belly ache to get me wide awake. I don’t know what caused my sharp pain, but I do know what sustained it.

Tonight, I am thankful for all of those nights of uninterrupted sleep and I am hoping for the same.

Cleveland, Tennessee
September 10, 2010

Thursday, September 9, 2010

I am Thankful for Google

Google offers a wide array of free services. This blog is through one of them. I use Google Groups for some of my classes. It usually works great. This semester I have wasted multiple hours trying to get it to work. Some students are having difficulty getting signed on. One of the features I like is that personal photos are easy to add. But it is not working for my students. In spite of all of this it works better than our Seminary system.

Cleveland, Tennessee
September 9, 2010

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I am Thankful for an Evening of Rest

Rest is a gift from God. I have lived my life on the cutting edge of stress. There is always more that can be done, should be done. My idea of rest has often been to shift between projects for a season. Of late, I have reflected on the need to truly rest, to do nothing. [I confess I have actually been working on some course work most of the evening, but at a leisurely pace.] It may be that the best I can hope for is the pseudo-rest of peace-in-work. But I am determined to learn to do nothing and feel no guilt and that as a routine in my life. At least I feel good about that plan.

Cleveland, Tennessee
September 8, 2010

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I am Thankful for the Last Day to Drop/Add

Today was the last day to add or drop a class for the fall semester. One would think that two weeks into the semester all of the students would have long settled into their course schedule. One would be wrong.

After an early morning premarital counseling session, I slid into work on the computer trying to catch up on some online components to my courses and responding to email. Lots of luck. One former student who graduated five or six years ago called. She wants to do further graduate work and needs to clean up her transcript. “Would you be willing to do a directed study in the course I nearly failed because I didn’t turn in my final assignment? The problem is I need it on my transcript by the end of this year.”

Throw in a couple of simple “add/drop” slips to sign for students who had previously mentioned they might want to change their schedule. Add a Doctor of Ministry student who needed an hour-and-a-half to sort through his problems with scheduling. Then there was the D.Min. applicant who needed assistance registering for his first semester. The only problem being he had not completed his application and he was at work when he called. This was not even in my area of responsibility but the director of the D.Min. was teaching a class, his assistant is new to the job, and the director of admissions was out for the day. I gave my best advice; we’ll see what happens.

The last day to add or drop a class is in theory the day of no return, the day when enrollment is settled. Up to now we have been shoving-off, getting settled. Now the mooring lines have been cast off; we have set sail and for the next three months we will endure some doldrums and survive some stormy weather. Students will be thrilled (maybe), bored (certainly), frustrated (probably), and “furnished for good works” (I pray). I love being the captain of the ship in higher education. Okay, it’s more like a raft on the Ocoee, but I have the whistle.

Cleveland, Tennessee
September 7, 2010

Monday, September 6, 2010

I am Thankful for This Day

Today was a memorable day. Nothing spectacular happened; it was just spectacular in its whole. It was cool in the morning when I put out hay for the horses and cows, and I picked up 9 gallons of apples and pears to feed them. Cheryl, Karisa and I drove over to the Blue Hole in the middle of the day. The water was frigid, the air warm, and the sky glorious. When the crowd of smokers came, we left. After dressing at home we drove Karisa to Chattanooga to catch her shuttle to the Nashville airport. On the way down we stopped at Olive Garden for lupper (Somewhere between lunch and supper). It was good to be together. This evening Cheryl and I watched “Fried Green Tomatoes.” Should I go missing... never mind; enjoy the barbeque.
Cleveland, Tennessee
September 6, 2010

Sunday, September 5, 2010

I am Thankful for Another Great Illustration

Wheaton College has not been a bastion of Wesleyan thought since Jonathan Blanchard became President prior to the American Civil War. When we were there in the mid-1970’s it was the flagship of Evangelical higher education with a predominance of Baptistic faculty in the religion department. I think of those great men and women of the faith as Evangelicals-at-large.

When we came to John 17:17-19, Dr. Tenney offered a personal anecdote to explain sanctification. In his New England hometown there was an old abandoned mansion in the heart of town. A wealthy industrialist purchased the house as a wedding present for his daughter. It was “redeemed,” purchased out of its neglected state for the purpose of being re-inhabited, but it wasn’t suitable for anyone to live in. While the couple was away on their honeymoon travels through Europe, the young Tenney observed as workmen came everyday to clean, remodel, and refurbish the old house. The gentleman scholar said it was made to look like new; it was suitable for the newlyweds to occupy; it was “sanctified.”

He continued, “but that wasn’t all. It was clean, but it was empty. Then one day the couple came home and moved into their house. Suddenly the house was full of life. The very reason it had been built, redeemed, and remodeled was now fulfilled. Like that house we must be redeemed, sanctified and filled with the Spirit.”

As a Wesleyan-Pentecostal I rejoiced, and continue to rejoice, in this illustration of my understanding of the order of salvation.

Cleveland, Tennessee
September 5, 2010

Saturday, September 4, 2010

I am Thankful for Special People in the Family of God

I am currently team teaching a course, Ministry with Special Needs Children and Their Families, with Marcy Williams Webb. Marcy is the primary teacher; I assist. I recruited Marcy several years ago to help me develop this course. She has a Masters degree from our seminary and a Masters degree in clinical psychology from Wheaton College and she worked for many years at the Church of God Home for Children as a counselor/therapist. She also has a doctorate from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

I was moved to create the course after meeting a family here in Cleveland. The father had been the church clerk of a local congregation for many years. The daughter, not yet twenty, was a severe diabetic who had both legs amputated. The mother had terminal cancer. They had not set foot in a church in over three years. I met them through a member of New Covenant, Brenda Hughes, who met with them weekly for a Bible study and prayer.

They had dropped out of church shortly after the daughter’s surgery. On her first Sunday back in church her father had wheeled her down to the front of the church and parked her to one side, out of the way. She spent her whole life in that church and loved it. For years she had sat on the front row. When they arrived the next Sunday the pastor met them at the front door, drew the father aside and pointed to an area near the rear of the sanctuary where they had prepared a place for the wheelchair. Some members had requested she be placed near the back. They were not comfortable seeing the young woman without legs down front; it interfered with their worship. The family left their home church that day and never returned.

I contrasted their experience with the church of my childhood, a church with an honored place up front for a severely handicapped young woman. In 2008 I wrote about her and so I copy that essay here as a expression of thanksgiving for the church of my childhood.

When I was young Gerri Bethune was the most special person at our church, the Springfield Church of God.

When we got to church early I watched the adults move around greeting one another, hoping they would shake my hand, and waiting for Gerri to arrive. Gerri was different from everyone. She had short dark hair; all the other women had longer hair. Some wore it in a tight bun on the back or top of their heads; some had it piled high on top, and some let it hang down on their shoulders. But Gerri’s was short, barely hanging over her collar.

Gerri was different because she sat in a wheel chair. I could hear the men talking as two of them carried her in her chair up the stairs. Sometimes her father would lift her out of the chair and carry her in his arms, letting someone else carry the chair.

Once she was on the sanctuary level, people began to gather around her. The women would hug her, some giving her a kiss on the cheek. The men would grasp her hand in both of theirs. Slowly her father would roll her down the aisle, people talking as they went.

She was always brought to the front of the sanctuary on the left hand side next to the wall, just below the platform. Before the service began almost everyone would walk down front to say hello to Gerri. She was clearly the most special person in church; everyone wanted to talk with her. Everyone loved her.

When I was very young, I was afraid of Gerri. I believe she had cerebral palsy. Back then I didn’t know those words or what they mean. What I did know was that I could not understand her when she talked. Her words were garbled and she would squeal often. Her hands and arms would move in all directions when she tried to talk. She was different in ways I didn’t understand.

I asked my mother why Gerri was different, and she said she had been dropped on her head when she was a baby. I don’t know if mom didn’t understand cerebral palsy or if she was trying to motivate me to be more careful when I played. I was afraid something would happen and I would become like Gerri. At the same time I wanted everyone to love me the way they loved Gerri.

I now know Gerri was loved deeply because God’s hand was on her. She knew God and she loved deeply. She was happy to see everyone. She was a joyful presence in the house of the Lord. She gave more to the people than they could ever give to her.

I am thankful for the Springfield Church of God. I am thankful for Gerri Bethune. Together they taught me God’s love is not based on how we look or what we can give. God’s love is a work of grace; in God’s presence the greatest gifts often come through the weakest among us. There is a special place for everybody in the family of God.

Cleveland, Tennessee
September 4, 2010

Friday, September 3, 2010

I am Thankful for Karisa’s Visit

Karisa is visiting with us for the weekend. She is beginning to show and it is adorable to watch her stroke her abdomen as she lounges on the couch. The three of us had a great time sitting in the den and laughing at ourselves, Okay, mostly at Cheryl. In the process I learned Karisa has always wanted an older brother. There’s not much I can do about that now. She gave us some free consultation about some situations we are facing. She is a great psychologist in the making.

Cleveland, Tennessee
September 3, 2010

Thursday, September 2, 2010

I am Thankful for a Great Illustration

John Wesley said that a man with an experience is never at the mercy of one who only has an argument.

Dr. Cairns gave little attention to Wesley in his Church History class, less than a full session if I recall correctly. He concluded the brief lecture with a personal anecdote. He began by stating that he was a Baptist and that he did not subscribe to the Wesleyan doctrine of sanctification, or Christian perfection as it is sometimes called. But he did think there was something we needed to know. He had attended Bible college decades earlier on the plains of central Canada. There was a motherly, elderly, Godly, Wesleyan saint who lived in a small house on the campus. She believed in sanctification and she was the one all of the young students turned to when they were homesick or had something they needed to talk about.

Dr. Cairns continued, “I will tell you this, I can’t explain it, but when you put your hand on the gate to enter her yard you could feel the presence of God. You were on holy ground and when she prayed things happened.” That’s the kind of Wesleyan I want to be.

Cleveland, Tennessee
September 2, 2010

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I am Thankful for Peanut

As everyone knows by now, Karisa is pregnant. She told us shortly after she found out but made us promise to keep the secret. These little surprises in life are always distinct. When Alethea was pregnant with Camdyn I fretted through the entire nine months. It was like reliving Cheryl’s pregnancy with her only worse. There is a lot that can go wrong in a pregnancy. Both as a first time parent and then grandparent I focused on the negative. I braced myself for the possible crises. Everything went well. It was a little stressful with Charlie, but no problems. I can do this father of the mother-to-be thing.

Then there is Karisa. She is our baby having a baby. I had wondered how I would deal with this since she got married or before. I assumed it would be difficult. But when we heard the news my thoughts were “this is Karisa we’re talking about; She can do anything.” I know there is the possibility of complications. I have been a pastor too long, consoled too many couples, to live in denial. I also have my own life experiences.

When Cheryl got pregnant with Karisa I had an assurance from God that she would be born healthy and she would be a girl. I just knew it. I can’t say I have had any words about Peanut. I have had a calm assurance God is at work and His grace is sufficient. I pray often the same prayer I prayed for Alethea and Karisa and all unborn children. “God may this baby be born healthy and whole to grow up to know You and love You and serve You with all of his or her heart.”

Maybe it is my season in life, maybe it is having been through this several times before, maybe it is a special gift of grace, maybe I have extended the Divine assurance about Karisa to Karisa’s baby. I don’t know. What I do know is I have been less stressed with this pregnancy, more relaxed, and just plain happy about it.

I am happy for Karisa and Johnmark. I am happy for my entire family; we all celebrate this child. I am happy about another promise of God’s life-giving presence. In all of this joy I am thankful to the Creator and Sustainer of all for His gift.

Cleveland, Tennessee
September 1, 2010