Saturday, July 27, 2013

Seeking the Joy!

I find myself watching less and less TV news for an array of reasons. It continues to amaze me when I watch a live speech or action on TV and then watch as the day goes forward to see clearly the slants and biased introduced to the new viewers detached from the original viewing by the news producers and writers.   As I see more and more of this I find myself convicted of investing far too much time due to my insatiable need to understand what is happening and why on the emptiness of television.  To go through over 300 channels to record something of an iota of value for my wife and I to watch later  is more and more frustrating.  Am I whining this morning? Would have to say, yes!
Let me move on.  Given the context of the opening paragraph, this week has afforded me several flavorful portions of joy from an eclectic tray of morsels.  Being part of five worship services at my church for our Summer Bible Conference was exhilarating and uplifting on a grand scale.  Being with hundreds of friends and fellow worshippers made the experience rich.  The four preachers, including our own pastor for one evening, brought messages that burned into my heart in a most unique way. I felt this overwhelming call to more action in my Christian walk and as I sit here on this rainy Saturday morning, I find the slow burn of the messages still churning in my heart.
Thursday night was a powerful adrenalin pop as my quartet, The Pathway Quartet, conducted a concert at a local assisted living facility for several elderly people.  Many could see and hear the singing and some were too infirmed to be able to hear but not see.  But the power of the Holy Spirit was so evident during that time that I left lifted but exhausted.  What a blessing and yes, what a JOY to be able to do that sort of ministry to a hurting and oft times forgotten people.  The Quartet will be singing in several similar audiences in the next few weeks and I cannot wait to feel the Holy Spirit work powerfully.  I love singing with these great men of God, Dave Richards, Norm Farley and Bob Park; what a JOY!
Today, this afternoon, my wife and I will attend the wedding of a son and daughter from families from our church.  In light of my week as outlined above, I know this wedding will only add to my JOY-account in someway. I usually do not care to attend weddings but am believing God has special anointing on this event that I will get to witness.
I will keep this blog short but as importantly as that shown above as my heart feels overflowing, I also know there are so many people I know and know well that are hurting and worried about events in their lives that are not experiencing the raw, wonderful bounty of JOY this day.  I also realize just how instantaneous that JOY can be snuffed away medically, emotionally, financially and on and on.  I ache for my friends that are going through the fires of worry and doubt and those I mean know that when they read this.  God is in control of this valley and well as the mountaintops. We all have and will experience both poles as this life unfolds; that is, after all, life. The issue is not the poles but in how we choose to deal with the journey to or from the mountaintops, right?
I wish each of you a JOY of special portion this day. Tomorrow will be an extremely busy Sunday for me for I will be giving my testimony at my church to include two songs that bookend my journey of life "Thus far.."  To know my family is safe and loving our Lord is JOY unspeakable. To know the work I get to do is a blessing to so many. To know that if I did not see the end of this day on this earth and that I would spend eternity in Heaven is, well, JOY unspeakable and full of mercy. That is what I call the Blessed Assurance!  My former students updates and seek for my input is a special JOY to me and I appreciate each of those great young people more than I can imagine; a JOY!
Seek the Joy!!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Killer Angels

One hundred and fifty years ago, the Battle of Gettysburg was concluded 3 July 1863.  Three days of hell were played out in the rolling ridges and hills of that small township that was tactically flawed but strategically vital for the United States of America. I have just read the last page of Michael Shaara's classic, Killer Angels. Three hundred forty-five pages that I could not stop reading; amazing.
The movie, Gettysburg, was made in 1986 and was shot on location on the Gettysburg battlefields and the Shaara book was the foundation upon which the movie was put together.  It was amazing to me having seen the movie numerous times and having walked the fields myself written about and filmed about this great battle that changed the world forever.  As I sit here today, I long to return to Gettysburg and stand on the eastern crest of Little Round Top where my relatives from Alabama were repelled by the 20th Maine and the infamous Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. I have stood behind Devil's Den and found the location where my great grand father and his two brothers fought and were fired down upon behind Devil's Den down a slight hill by a New York artillery battery as they moved south to ascend Big Round Top as part of the 15th Alabama; but repelled in a blood bath.
This blog is not built to lift praises to the movie, the book nor the great battle but rather to focus on the horrific realities we face today in this nation on so many fronts. The American Civil War was fought for several reasons with states' right being at the top of the mountain from the Southern perspective.  The amazing reality for me in 2013 is realizing how powerful the forces and similarities are today as they were in the early to mid nineteenth century that led to the horrific War.  It was the sense of the Southern states that were generating nearly 80% of the United States Gross Domestic Product with tobacco and cotton industries for export to Europe that were feeling more and more like subordinated, minor states to the Federal rule and arrogance of the Northern States.  One can, even today, understand the anguish and anxiety that such a situation would trigger.
The means to fill the expanded export market needs to generate the great wealth of the South and thus the United States treasury was the terrible issue of cheap labor to farm the products for sale; slavery.  Slavery was a very normal, horrific yes, but normal way of life for millions during that period of our history.  But that awful way of life formulated a second strategic initiative for the initiation of hostilities by the South at Fort Sumter in 1861. Nearly 700,000 dead Americans later across the next nearly five years, an assassinated President, destroyed national infrastructure that had to be rebuilt and our posture in the global village demeaned and destroyed for nearly another fifty years formulated the terrible logarithm of the time.  We have the history in word, in film, in papers, in letters, in novels, in song to affirm what it written above. Sad but so very true!
The really sad but so very true prism is that in 2013 the same demons abound on a grand scale. The parallels are striking and startling to me at times.  The most recent glaring example resides with the simply terrible Trial of Zimmerman and the aftermath.  The trial was conducted fairly, fully and ruled by a most competent judge.  The jury that was selected by both the defense and the prosecution and they were apparently stellar in their attentiveness, their deliberation detail and their professionalism  during the awful sequester.  The jury rendered a verdict!
Some of the same people I watched and listened to that were praising the greatness and fairness of the selected jury before the verdict are not attacking the jury, the decision, the process, the prosecution ... and I seek to step above the whole matter and try to understand the great Why!  The great Why, I believe, resides in the metaphor of the opening paragraphs of our nation at almost one hundreds years of age, your remember the "four score and seven years .."  that is eighty-seven years Lincoln referred to in his Gettysburg Address!
Being a Southern born and reared man, I recall vividly the great Civil Rights battles and issues of the age in Birmingham, Selma, the Freedom Riders, the Mississippi killings, the burned buses in Anniston, AL, and on and on; clear, real, tangible realities of the 1960s in the South. To this day it elicits a sense of hurt and embarrassment to me but it is not the 1960s anymore, is it?  Certainly not and I am not stupid enough to believe racism is a dead issue in any state  or county or city or nation for that matter.  It is a horrific blight on mankind. This blight has been made fervently clear to me personally with our precious adopted grand daughter from Ethiopia we have been blessed to have in our family for just over three years.
As a family, we have seen the "looks," the "stares," the "whisperings" and some not so polite comments my son's family have experienced as well as my wife and me. With each I find myself more proud, more honored and more blessed that God delivered this child destined to die in an orphanage in Ethiopia due to lack of food that has changed every person in our family in many different hues and shades.  Her glowing smile, magnetic personality, unbounded energy and her unique way of making everyone she encounters smile is unbelievable.  We are blessed!  But the blessing I realize more and more is how God has used that precious child to ferret some feelings and beliefs and stereotypes that I held and would have fought someone if they had brought them to my attention. Ms Hope has brought a mirror to my soul about other people that are different that me in a way I could never have imagined. Thank God for that mirror!
My concern for our nation is at fever pitch on the whole issue of race. When I was in my mid teens I was too dumb to really grasp what it all meant. Now in my mid sixties I believe I fully grasp the issues that reside and resound due to life, maturity, experiences, living.  Racism is STUPID!  As this "after the Trial" battle tries daily to be ratched up as a Civil Rights issue by those from the 1960s that rode the coattail of Dr King, a great man, I have come to realize, with the shadows of the 1960s rhetoric we hear loudly today, I would have hoped we as a nation had move farther along the pathway. I believe many have but not all and certainly not enough!
The American Civil War was fought to, in essence, legitimize the young nation and our Constitution.  Here we stand one and one-half centuries later fighting the same ghosts, inhibitions and deterrents to real societal improvements and growth. It is my prayer that the same images in the mirror of the 1860s do not ultimately have to be rendered or evaporated with civil and / or military force. But the clouds are there!!  But lest we forget we are the greatest economic force on the face of the earth and not an 1860s loose grouping of states / colonies.  No, we are the huge elephant in the refrigerator and the world is watching as are our enemies.  As a nation, we are weak diplomatically, politically, militarily, economically and societally and where there is weakness, there is danger; NEVER forget that!!
Are we better than this? Absolutely!  Our future as a nation, as a democracy and as a People reside in large part on how we reconstruct ourselves an a nation screaming for reconstruction and there is certainly no pun intended for Reconstruction is a dismal period of our post Civil War period far too many have forgotten. We are better than this but the world is watching!!!!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Defining Joy!

Well believe it or not, the sun has come out ... for now! So with that inspiration, I found myself thinking about the "joy" in my life and began to put the wallpaper of reality to be able to reflect in real time what comprises joy.  I think that is important for there is more than abundant evidence in our world, our city, our own families that read this that would dispel the positive force that goes with "joy." 
I  believe it Biblical to rejoice when the world that comes to confluence of your own life is smooth and tastes good, smells clean and pure and you can see physical and spiritual evidence. I wish, therefore, to rejoice this early July day.  Those that know me know that I do love music and, well yes, especially, Southern Gospel music. I do not nor will I be moved off that high ground for the message of the songs alone provide the beauty of the song but then you add four blended parts and, wow, how can that be bad, right?  I said that to talk about a "joy" that I have found with the advent of YouTube.
The lift I receive in finding some of my all time great songs being sung by some of the great singers is joy unlimited for me.  I can put my ear buds in and the time literally flies and I go from smiling to tears in one chorus. I can find myself in a place in feeling close to loved ones that have left us and the story of a song matched to that person is precious.  A great one for me is from the old Red Book song, "The Lifeboat."  Most of you have probably never heard it but you can on YouTube by typing the song title and then Gaither vocal band next to it and you will land at a place that brings tears tome each time I think or tell the story of that song.  Last night at my daughter's house as we sat around her kitchen table just enjoying each other's company, we were talking about music.  I began to tell her the story of that song and her grandfather, my wonderful father-in-law.  With in moments I felt the tears welling and I could not stop them; did not try very hard either. 
Mr. Stone gave me his baby girl almost forty-three years ago. He loved music, loved instruments, was a kind, gentle, sweet, servant-hearted man and he loved me in ways I had never experienced before. He was quiet but strong and vibrant.  We used to spend hours around the piano with my wife, his daughter, playing from the Red Book. He taught me that song, "The Lifeboat," many years ago and I always loved it.  On one of the Gaither Homecoming Videos, Eva Mae LeFevre and David Phelps sung this song. Each time I watch it the tears flow for this is the story of that song ...
The summer before Mr. Stone left this world, my wife and I spent several weeks in Alabama with him to give my wife's sister some caring relief.  The Alzheimer's was very present in Mr. Stone which was so sad on many fronts.  One thing I learned that summer is that when you truly love someone as I did Mr. Stone, caring for them, cleaning them, loving them when they are unaware is worthy of the years a person will invest in you. He invested much in me and that joy of getting to be part of his now very different world was a blessing.  
The day came when we had to return back to Ohio so we awoke and busily was packing the car.  Mr. Stone, pretty much oblivious of what we were doing, got up, put on clean clothes quietly and watched up loading, checking the house, etc.  He, with that booming voice, called my name, "Jim."  I went to his side, sat next to him and he said, "Jim, do you remember that song I taught you years ago.?" I said, "I sure do" and we both knew it was "The Lifeboat." He asked if we could sing it once more before we left. Yep, am tearing up already just thinking about it.  I got down on my knees in front of him, held his gnarled hands in mine and we began to sing that song:
We’re floating down the stream of time
We have not long to wait
The stormy clouds of darkness
Will turn to brightest day
Then let us all take courage
For we’re not left alone
The lifeboat soon is coming
To gather the jewels home
Then cheer, my brother, cheer
Our trials will soon be o’er
Our loved ones we shall meet, shall meet
Upon the golden shore
We’re pilgrims and we’re strangers here
We’re seeking a city to come
The lifeboat soon is coming
To gather the jewels home
The lifeboat soon is coming
By the eye of faith I see
As she sweeps thru the waters
To rescue you and me
And land us safely in the port
With friends we loved so dear
“Get ready,” cries the Captain
O look, she’s almost here
He did not recall all the words and I could hardly sing for sobbing for as we sung his grip on my hands grew stronger. I felt "Joy" and that moment that is burned into my hard drive forever.  You see, the lifeboat came to Mr. Stone not very long after that moment.  Let the lyrics ask you the question, are you ready for that hallowed arrival?
In a world seemingly totally out of control, it is hard to find that sense of real "joy" isn't it.?  When you are hurting or have been hurt, it is very hard to find that joy.  When the doctor has shook his head and walked away, it is hard.  When relationships have failed and disappointments abound, it is hard, isn't it?
I think each of you as you read this should take some time and add up your "Joys" and for a few minutes, abandon that dreads and hurts and worries of the negative side. I have some very dear friends just this weekend stumbling through the hot coals of bad choice and decisions and my heart aches for all that are involved. I yearn for "joy" to return to their lives. All I can do is pray for God's Will to be done; and it will!
I will close simply by requesting you take a "Joy" inventory and I bet a smile will return to your face. Now that smile may have to trod through tears of joy but, you know, that is okay too. I have found myself writing this missing Mr. Stone so badly but  as well, I long to have time with my mother that is there in Heaven as well.  But in knowing where our loved ones are makes it bearable, doesn't it?  I want to take this opportunity to again say thanks to Alicia's sister and her husband for the hours of tireless caring they gave and to two my sisters for caring for our mother in those last days.  Those thoughts as well bring "Joy" to my heart this moment.
Be blessed!