Friday, June 9, 2017

Passed By Naval Censor

On the anniversary of D-Day I received a serendipitous text and blessing. My cousin, the son of my father's sister, Helena, contacted me. Jerry had letters from my dad his mom had kept safe for decades. Jerry sent them to me and they arrived today.

Dad enlisted in the U. S. Navy as a sub-mariner at 17 years old (he had to have his parents sign a waiver). I've been perusing them, imagining the voice of my father as a teenager. Post marks on the first of the letters date back to 1942 and were sent from Portsmouth, N. H. where dad began training. Seventeen years old... how does one of such naivety and innocence prepare to wage war in a world that is at war?

Letters began back-and-forth around Christmas time.H e was a homesick teenager far from his hometown of dirt roads, pastures, and potato fields. Tremendous melancholy washed over him when he heard the song "White Christmas." Several times he referenced the Christmas season as "White Christmas." He used the word "awful" a lot. In one of his letters, the man's genuine gratitude and humility (which he never lost) comes through as he thanks Helena, who is older than him, for sending him a pen and pencil set. "He was awful thankful." Up to that point he had been borrowing a pencil from a friend...

As the war raged on, dad and Helena continued to write. By 1944 he was fully engaged in warfare. From a steel tube beneath the waves of the Pacific Ocean and China Seas dad's sub played a big part in finishing a fight the Japanese started. They would receive a Presidential Citation for Bravery.

In the lower left corner of each correspondence between dad and Helena during 43-44 was a hand-stamped circle that read, Passed By Naval Censors. Every correspondence was screened. Loose lips sink ships.

Seven decades have passed... Dad has passed... But today he spoke again...


Monday, May 15, 2017

Judge Righteously

Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. ~ Proverbs 31:8-9

Today, out of the blue, I found myself at a Detention Center. There a man, who has been in the U.S. for more than two decades, is incarcerated. Scooped up by ICE. I had never met him before.

Yesterday, I preached on the text in this post. It's human origin is a bit of a mystery. It was penned by a king named Lemuel. It is the only reference to such a person. It is the only time such a king is mentioned. There is no king Lemuel to be found in the line of kings in Scripture. The Divine author of those words is God himself. I'm confident He has not changed His mind on the subject.

Two words in the passage smack me--judge righteously. This man of whom I speak has a family he has faithfully supported, a history of integrity, and none of criminality. At the very least, he is as "American" as any ever born on our soil. But he is behind bars--not the kind with neon lights and shelves full of distilled spirits.

Me, at the present, I'm stuffing down absolute rage. I'm old enough and wise enough to know there can sometimes be a great gulf fixed between "law" and "righteous judgement." His incarceration is devoid of righteous judgment.

I open my mouth and scream on his behalf, but my voice at the present is barely a whisper. I open my mouth and cry for justice, but my words don't have the ear of the Powers to Be.

So what can I do? I cry out to the One who hears me on behalf of the destitute. I call upon the One who can defend the needy. That is not a cop-out. It's the response we, as God-followers, are commanded (not suggested) to do.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Little Travis

The day before Sandy and I left for China, in 2011, Erika and Justin told us they were pregnant with our first grandchild, the Amazing Wyatt (aka Wolf Cub). His arrival was nine months away. When the little guy entered the big world we were still in Asia, so it was bittersweet. But we have learned to trust God's Providence. Now, in a little more than a month, Justin, Erika, and Wyatt are moving to Cataula, GA.; two miles from The Shire! But that is not all. Erika just gave birth to baby Travis. Wyatt is now a big brother!

Sandy flies to Boston tomorrow; she is beside herself! We are so grateful she will be able to see newborn Travis fresh out of the hatchery! Our newest Shorey boy is as cute and cuddly as can be; steady streams of pictures have been arriving via cyberspace. In a few weeks I fly to Boston and help Justin pack a U-haul for the move to their new home in the southeast! It seems too good to be true.

Already my mind is swirling with the prospect of being "Papa" to those two little guys! Acres and acres of woods and pastures await them. Just as I was with Wyatt, when he caught his first fish out of our pond, I hope to see Travis glow with excitement when the fish line goes taut and a bass thrashes on the surface! Rites of passages must take place: it is time for Wyatt to pass down his electric F150 pick-up truck to little brother. But new adventures await the Wolf Cub!

In the meantime, I'm finding it difficult to focus on anything else...

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Little Is Much...

I do not know who originally coined the words, Little is much when God is in it. But this morning exactly 100 people gathered at Hamilton Baptist Church to focus on and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For us, it was like one of Jesus' miracles during his incarnation--the multiplication of the five loaves and two fish.

How So?

Two years ago about twenty of us gathered in the sanctuary on Easter morning. I think there were five little ones in children's church and nursery. Since then a handful of those people stayed by the stuff, prayed, and believed God could resurrect His church in Hamilton, Georgia.

Today, it was all hands on deck. Rural churches do not have the luxury of bulging budgets and multiple paid church staff. At HBC, even their pastor is tri-vocational. But everybody was prayed up, their sleeves were rolled-up, and they pitched in. Folks we had never before met gathered for brunch preceding the Worship hour at 11 a.m. Shortly after the bell in the steeple rang out children's church was at high capacity. Volunteers cared for them and ministered to them. Our worship team sang songs exalting Jesus Christ. At times, I was overwhelmed with emotion--the words blurred, and I was left speechless. As the Word of God was read and delivered listeners were tracking with the message. It was a special gathering.

We concluded with the Aaronic Blessing found in the Old Testament and prayed over God's people for millennia:

The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His face on you and give you peace. ~ Numbers 6:24-26

Indeed He has...

The LORD blessed us
The LORD made His face shine on us
The LORD was gracious to us
The LORD looked on us and gave us peace

Little is much when God is in it, and today God made much of little...

Saturday, April 15, 2017

We Will Gather

Swirls and turbulence disrupt the calm surface of the pond giving evidence the recently hatched brim are being chased down by hungry bass. Larger humps, preceded by smaller humps give away the presence of turtles who make three acres of water their home. Birds continue to sing and flit from branch to branch, and bank to bank.

A group of us spent much of the day preparing food, setting up tables and chairs, and grooming the landscape around the nearly two-hundred hear old building which provides a sanctuary for worship. Tomorrow will be the highest attendance we've experienced in the two years I've been leading the congregation of Hamilton Baptist Church. No one will write books about us, but we believe our presence in a small southern town of barely more than a thousand matters. We will break bread at 9:30-10:30.  At 11 a.m. the tiny hands of one of our children will grab the thick rope that reaches up into the bell tower. Pulling with all their might, a deep gong will ring out as the bell sways and the clapper strikes the sides. The entire town know we are gathered.

Most importantly, God will know we are gathered. Inside, we will settle into one-hundred year old pews. Poetic lyrics, written by contemporary Christ--followers as well as hymns written in the 1800's, true to the record of Jesus' resurrection will be sung. There will be prayers beseeching God's help--we always need His help. Scripture will be read aloud and declared to be God's Word, not man's. To some it will resonate. To some it will encourage. To some it will raise questions. To some it will mark a new beginning. But to whomever God sends His Word it will not return empty.

This Pastor will do his best to stay out of the way of the Spirit's work.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Pot Bellies

Have you ever driven down a street and had a squirrel run into the road in front of you? What do they do? Answer. They zig and zag forwards and then backwards in reckless confusion. Miraculously, most of the time, they avoid our tires.


Put bird feeders in your yard and you will see the exact opposite; they have an unconquerable and undeterred will and plan to get to it!

At The Shire we feed deer, hummingbirds, cardinals, and flocks of migrating birds headed north and south. Deer corn is scattered across the pasture, thistle hangs in socks, and black oil sunflower seed rests in feeders. Our intention is not to feed squirrels; there are enough acorns and pine cones for them to forage to fill my pick-up truck bed.

But, no...

Those furry little acrobats have a genius for pilfering second to none! Today, after my friends left with a mess of bass and brim from the pond, I sat and watched a band of the grey robbers shimmy slippery steel poles, leap from flimsy branches onto the feeders, latch on with one paw and with a fury of swipes, bat seed onto the ground.

That's when I first noticed--in spite of the incredible amount of calories they must burn--ours have so much food they have pot bellies! No lie. As they sat on their haunches stuffing sunflower's future prodigy into their cheeks, their profile is shaped like a light bulb.

I just sat back and laughed...  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Dirt Therapy

It's only Tuesday and I have gotten a lot of the outside work on The Shire completed. For me, it's dirt therapy. Porches and decks pressure washed, weed-whacked about a half-mile of fence lines and lawn edges, mowed acres, raked up enough branches to build a debris hut, made dinner the last two nights, and worked on messages for the next 8 weeks.

Now I'm sitting by the pond. A deer meandered along the dam to the south and calmly slipped down into the hardwood bottom. Birds keep the evening cheerful with their chirps and peeps. Frogs chime in. Beneath the willow tree bass bust the surface and chase down brim. My understanding is that brim hatch every full moon. Look up at the night sky and you will see it's dinner time for predator fish. Contrails of jets leave their signature white lines slicing through the dimming blue sky then disappear into banks of grey and silver clouds. The sun has dropped behind the horizon; my computer screen grows brighter.

Resurrection Sunday is just days away, and I'm looking forward to gathering with friends to worship. In the meantime I'm working on a new series of messages: Chain Breaker. It's a great privilege to follow-up the Passion Week series with the hope that Christ's rising from the grave conquered the last enemy--Death.

Speaking of friends; a couple are coming by Friday morning to help reduce the bass and brim in our over-populated pond. Hard working guys who love the outdoors and never at a loss for words. Wish them luck.