Thursday, February 27, 2014

'Til We Reach the Land of Living Beyond the Crystal Sea

Good morning on this cold, still and very dark early morning.  I awoke about 3:30 am and, as usual, songs began to come falling out of my mind and as the lyrics ran through my head, that special touch of God's Hand on the meaning of the songs rustled me fully awake.  The title of today's blog is a lyric from a song, Land of the Living.  A great singer and an even greater man, Gerald Wolfe, wrote this song and introduced it now almost thirty years ago. I had never heard it until about three months ago on a YouTube link.  There are few days, now, I will go through and not find the desire or need to watch that link once more. Never the first time have I watched the trio sing that song that my heart is warmed and my eyes wet from tears of that great message of the song.  Please watch this link at the top of this page and the music begins about 4 minutes into the video.
Many things about that video caress my heart with the first being Roger Bennett's introduction of the song as he plays the piano. See, Roger left this world not very long after these video shot actually shot here in my hometown now in Canton, OH at the Palace Theater.  Roger was dying of cancer when this was shot.  In his comments he comically states a reality; ten out of ten of us will die!  I listened to a great sermon Monday night in a jail chapel service when the preacher said he had preached many funerals and likewise I have sung at many.  He said never the first time as the casket stands open and people pass by did he hear any comments about that person's boats, houses, possessions, etc.  What you hear are comments of about friendship and family and, if a Christian, about the deceased's love for Christ; so very true.
As my sixty-sixth birthday comes next week, it still humbles me to think that God has given me nearly seven decades on this earth.  To sit here typing this and feel no pain, have my mental faculties, a wide range of friends throughout this world, to get to do what I am so blessed to do in so many areas, have a family that is close in every way, five grandchildren that are amazing, in a church home that is an extended family, have a pastor that continues to amaze me Sunday after Sunday as such powerful preaching ... yes, I am blessed and I DO know that.
In the last two days two people in my life have found their lives turned completely upside down in a moment and now, this moment, there is fear, worry about tomorrow, disappointment, anguish, hope and more importantly, God is center of the issues in each life.  There will be those that will read these words and scoff or criticize or simply laugh or ignore.  Let me be very frank from my heart as I share this in jail services every time I speak or sing or in concerts ... There is a Heaven and there is a Hell and where each of you reading this will spend eternity is a choice each of us must make.  That choice has eternal ramification.  Eternity is a long time to have made a bad choice, isn't it?
My heart is beating heavily this moment thinking about the immeasurable number of people I know and do not know that will likely spend eternity in Hell.  I quake the older I get at missed opportunities I have experienced through poor example, lack of guts to speak, too busy to invest in others lives with an eternal view.  I believe reading the lyrics of Gerald's great song is worthy so I will paste in below.
It is my greatest hope that each word of that song will bathe your heart as it has never been bathed before. In the midst of chaos, God reigns!  I think this morning my age and lifespan seem more measured than usual. Perhaps it is the sleepy eyes or the tears that are washing my burning eyes but I want you to know, it is my greatest hope on this earth in my remaining days to be the best God can make me to be and that every word, every song, every thought will be a means to lift someone in my world to a new level of belief in a God that wants us with Him in Heaven. And yes, IT IS A VERY PERSONAL CHOICE!



There’s a place of dazzling beauty

No human eye has ever seen

With gates of pearl and streets paved with gold

It’s a land of milk and honey

Oh it’s more than just a dream

It’s a land of life beyond the crystal sea



It’s land of life where living is forever

And where the sting of death will claim no victory

And we are nothing more than just a passing shadow

Till we reach the land of living

Beyond the crystal sea


The sun is nothing but a legend

In this paradise of dreams

The Lamb will be the only Light we’ll need

Its soothing walls of jasper

Built by God’s own Hand

It’s a land of life beyond the crystal sea




Till we reach the land of living

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Father's Pride

In about an hour my whole family will gather, in surprise, to celebrate an amazing accomplishment of my son, Taylor, in finalizing his dream to finish a doctoral degree in Ministry. He has now completed all work for his Doctor of Ministry from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  
Many emotions have moved through each of us, the family, since this journey began for Taylor. Much prayer, words of encouragement, assisting with child care, tears, smiles; all parts of a journey that has touched each of us, the family, in a unique manner during the grueling process. All of that only adds value to the experience. But as the father, my pride, devotion and hope for what this all means is manifest as we gather together to celebrate this accomplishment.
Taylor, our youngest, has always displayed unique elements of his personality. Often times as a little boy he would like to sit with older men in our church wanting to talk, to listen to their words of wisdom.  When he got to college, it was Campus Crusade for Christ that became the impetus that what would be a significant turning, educationally, to what he intended would be a vocation. I wanted him to work for Goodyear returning to Europe but that was not what God had planned for him. 
Taylor, like his dad in so many ways I realize time and again, is geared to accomplishment via drive and challenge.  When nothing comes easy, overcoming and staying in the fight of the issue is not a choice for choosing to shirk and, while less painful in the near term, never provides the essence of leading for people are always, always watching to see if you will just quit under fire. I have never seen Taylor quit!
Watching him push himself in the gunfire of adversity, taking positions on issues that needed to be taken and staying focused on the horizon of a better way forward, seeing him endure physical and emotional scarring for the greater good are traits of my son that inspire me most. We all watched the times of angst, frustration, disappointment that come with matriculating for a terminal degree and while it would hurt me to feel so powerless to ease the load; all I knew to do many times was to back up, calm and pray for my son.  This journey with Taylor has brought me closer to God in those times of praying for him when I had not clue what else I could do.
As the frolic and joy of celebration begin soon, we will soon see the worry dissipate to warmth of accomplishment. I hope we never forget the investment in so many ways required to complete this challenge.  But as the dad, I began praying over the last few weeks for God to show quickly the answer to the question, now what? My son is a bastion of capability. He is likable. He is respectable. He gives of himself on a scale that I cannot understand at times but still he gives so much of himself even when he is beyond going which most will never see.  I love those rare moments of sitting in his office for a few minutes to just listen for I realize my greatest offering to Taylor is my active listening. That is hard for me for I am a Fixer and always thinking about how to make something happen.  Taylor needs his dad to listen so I have sought to enhance my skill of listening to him and more and more, to others.   
Today is a time of celebration for my family. As the patriarch, words are not written yet that can express that quality of love I feel for my son.  I know God has a plan for him now with this piece of paper and  over three years of experience to show for it. I long to see that plan unveiled but the great news is knowing Taylor will embrace that plan with grace, with wisdom and with fullness of himself just like he has done with everything in his life. He is my joy. He is my inspiration. I am proud to call him my son!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Russia 2015 Forward

For those of us in our fifties and sixties, when we hear the word, "Russia," many images crawl out of our brains.  Nuclear drills in grammar school, Sputnik,  Stalin and Lenin and on and on. Russia was the great enemy of the East that was our antagonist in what became known as the Cold War. I never really understood the meaning and implication of that strange term but I knew it was not good.  I vividly remember a sense of dread and fear about anything that sounded like Russia.  As I lived in Europe and worked in Poland for nearly a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall, I learned the degree of fear and hate the Russians generate in the Poles.  Working with Russians during that time, I never felt them trustable but rather argumentative and arrogant on a grand scale.  
We have watched from afar the Russian revolution that led to the Empire of Russia breaking apart painfully shortly after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 all spurred by the Reagan / Thatcher / Pope trifecta of leadership that exploded the decade of the 1990s.  Russia saw her major wealth generator, oil, collapse and she faced major debt issues, internal strife and dissension.  Then there was Mr. Putin! We had all watch the drunks in leadership, the massive military weaponry parades through Red Square, knew the Black Sea Fleet was supposedly in shambles with the nuclear capability in some state of disrepair and nobody knew how nor who was controlling the key to it all.  Russia through all of this faded into the mist of time as 9/11 exploded onto the global news and attention was shifted farther East and the terrorist networks, Iraq and Afghanistan.  Yet, we learned, after the fact to a degree, that Russia was fighting its own War on Terror with some of her breakaway republics such as Chechnya even after their debacle in Afghanistan for a futile decade. Still the Russian Bear was seemingly in hibernation and clawless; seemed as such but ... !
Last night I watched the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympiad with all its grandeur, homage to Russia and her march through history and the beautiful expose of the landscape and scenes of this massive, ancient nation that ran before the ceremonies began. Threading through it all was, what seemed to me, was a "speech" with cheerleaders on the greatness,  power, drive, leadership of Mr. Putin. It was even called "Putin's Games." Then when he entered the stadium I found my memory of films of the Berlin Olympics and watching Hitler and the ovation that ensued on his appearance.  Then when the Russia Olympic team entered the stadium and the ovation ensued and I watched Putin standing, you could tell he felt he had taken his place among the great leaders; perhaps the greatest leader on the earth today.
Then I watched the POTUS interview with Bob Costas; wish now I had not watched it. I saw our POTUS in the context of the greatness of the Games and where they are being played being rather "cute" and aloof about no real US leadership at the Games, poking fun at Putin's public persona, etc. I felt this sense of quiet embarrassment for my nation, frankly.  I saw all those national presidents both major and minor countries, sharing the lights with Putin but not an American in sight. I found that, well, disappointing.
And as I told my wife during all of this amazing architecture, choreography, execution and with the billions of dollars spent by Russia to get the Games and the grandeur they displayed, that all that had been done during a period of relatively cheap crude oil; the mainstream of Russia's Gross Domestic Product.  I add that little point to make a point. Imagine, now, Russia in her glory under the lights of the Olympics and Putin elevated in stature as never before, should oil prices spike high and Russia's oil wealth escalates dramatically ... then which nation will exact strategic direction and reaction for a generation? That would be Russia as I view it as America sinks more quickly into the sunset of history as the global power.
Perhaps that is a good thing. Perhaps, as some of my readers indicate in comments to my posts, that it is time for somebody else to be the Beat Cop for the global village.  Perhaps the BRIC, Brazil Russia, India and China actually will be the confederation of global power projection and dominance in the 21st Century.  Perhaps the key cog in the BRIC will not be Russia and, oh by the way, where did America go? All of this can happen very quickly and as I watched the young girl walking through the history of Russia into the future in the great stadium, my mind projected to this which I have written.
For me I saw a weak, uncaring, disconnected President of the United States on a global news feed basically joke and laugh about something that carries a much deeper and darker implication. Please remember that I am the great optimist when I write that. I believe Russia a corrupt, Godless nation with a powerful nuclear force with a cold leader that is not bashful about taking any step to insure Russian government control over the economy AND maintaining "influence" still over all the republics that broke away just a few years ago.  These are now more scary times with Russia's new found spotlight. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Mother

As I sat in church earlier today and the preacher was readying for his wonderful sermon, for some reason like a light flash, memories of my mother came flooding through my heart.  Mother passed away just a few years ago but as the years go forward for my life, I find myself thinking and dreaming about my mother.  I was honored to get to sing and to speak at her funeral; a memory I will never forget.
The value of a mother is incalculable for that value is passed into future generations at times blatantly and at times subtly but passed.  My mother, Mary Frances Keith Williams, was a woman of drive, of giving but more than any other descriptor from my perspective, my mother was a protector.  Mother was from a family of four sisters and a baby brother. Her home life as a child was scarred by the poison of alcohol addiction in her father.  Mother was the one that chose to fore go a high school education to leave home and find work to support her siblings seeing each of the younger ones graduate with honors from high school.  Mother was always so proud of her younger brother and sisters as we all were in my family.
As World War II came and the men left their jobs at the huge Republic Steel plant in Gadsden, AL, mother found employment as did thousands of other women doing the work of the veterans fighting in foreign fields. She ran an overhead crane in a machine shop and from many that have shared with me, she was an excellent and very careful crane operator. Certainly of no surprise to her eldest child and only son which would be me.
When the War was over and the men returned, mother, like millions of other women, were forced out of their jobs to be replaced by the men.  So many times I heard mother vent anger and frustration about having to leave the only decent job she ever had. I was too young to understand any of that at the time but as I have aged I now understand fully for her work was her pathway to economic freedom which she always longed for.
So now being jobless in 1945, she set about working multiple jobs, living modestly and paying for her siblings to go to high school and finding them weekend jobs arriving on bus transportation on those weekends.  My heart swells now when I think of all she gave so that others could have better!
With what turned out to be my father returning from WWII and back into the Steel Plant, he began a barrage letter writing campaign  I heard about many times trying to get mother to date him. She did and from that and the ensuing marriage, I arrived in March of 1948.  But the life she chose to give up her drive for economic freedom via marriage became a replay of her childhood life but this time from my father and his alcohol addiction and not her father.  It is not my intention to be vindictive nor whine about life growing up but suffice to say, I hate alcohol to this day more than any other poison Man has found to ingest into the body God created. But a family we were with me the eldest followed by two younger sisters as well as a miscarried child all between 1948 and 1955.
My mother was a woman worn by the harsh realities of life.  She was tough but never harsh. She was lovable but not warm and fuzzy loving. She had temper that would rage frighteningly when ignited but she could be in a state of quiet silence and enjoying what was around her.  She enjoyed music and later sang in a church choir. She always loved for me to sing to her so singing at her funeral was an extension of this life for a few sweet minutes.
The memory that flowed this morning at church was in realizing that I was probably twenty-five years old, married and a new baby when my mother quietly had gone about completing her GED for her high school education; she was in her fifties.  She was running a day care with large numbers of kids of various ages single handedly.  But someway found time for the course work for the GED.  I was completely unaware of this for I was busy with life and career and graduate school; a blur still in my mind.  But then came the day for her high school graduation held at Etowah High School in Gadsden, AL.  I was so excited to attend this for her and with her for I had no idea of what she had had to accomplish for this amazing feat.  Yet that joy was quickly quenched when the reality that my father refused to attend the graduation which she so badly wanted him to do as well he was actually mocking her for having done it and accomplished it.
That is the day etched in my brain as I went to my home where I was raised and confronted my father about this. I felt so unbelievably proud and yet so sorry for mother for she was deeply hurt which translated to me being very angry.  It was the first time I had so vehemently confronted my father on any issue and there had been myriad issues that needed confronting through my childhood. But this was a case worth taking a position with him and assumed it might turn negative and physical for he tended to want to be a bully anyway. I did not care for Right is Right and Wrong is Wrong and his behavior and attitude was just Wrong!! Let me just say that I was so angry after the confrontation which he still refused to attend and celebrate her accomplishment that I remember very little of the ceremony other than tears of pride flowing from my eyes. for mother.  I was never more proud of my mother for she had accomplished something most would have assumed she would not nor could not accomplish!
I have never put those words together until now so you can know. But today during church I felt it time to put to words how much I loved my mother. I honored her. I was never disrespectful of her.  I sought her input and advice. She was a woman of few words but when she put the words out, she stood by them.  She was a prophet of tough love which, of course, many times I needed in my growing up years. She was a rock in the middle of an avalanche and there were many of those in my life at home. But she never wavered, she never bolted and she never quit. Those three traits are three I believe have found their way into my DNA as well as a powerful work ethic. I love her for giving me rich example of all of those.
So what is a mother? My mother was a maker of opportunity and drive. My mother provided and protected those she loved from those than would do harm or injure those she loved. She was not articulate but there was never a question about what she wanted done. When she said it, she meant it!
I know mother is with Jesus and long to spend more time with her when my time comes.  She will probably want me to sing to her some more so that will be a joy to watch those black, piercing eyes twinkle and tear up in her abundant silence.  She was a good person and I only hope I can get close to that in my life that is left remaining.