Monday, December 25, 2006

There Is No Place Like Home

We are back in Georgia. We were in Maine to celebrate my parent's 60 years of marriage. Everything went off without a hitch! All my siblings, their children, and their children's children attended. Many of our relatives and long time friends showed up to offer their congratulations. Even Old Man Winter recognized my parent's milestone -- he delivered a mild 45 degrees evening! After the anniversary party all the family got together at my sister Barb's house and exchanged gifts (Sandy had Barb's name and I had my sister Brenda's name). Everyone had a great time.

Mom and dad looked particularly well this trip, even though mom was recovering from a viral illness. Dad has finally quit working and he looked rested. One afternoon we watched videos (converted to DVD's) with them: footage of family reunions, our boys when they were barely school age, Sandy with big hair, and Meagan right after her birth. We even had some 35 mm footage taken 40 years ago. Sandy got to see my grandfather I was named after. It doesn't seem possible that so much time has passed.

We are back in full swing. Sandy is preparing lesson plans -- she begins teaching on January 2. Meagan is on her way to a spiritual retreat in Kansas City. I am ministering to my church family. It is almost time to close the door to 2006 and step into a brand new year.

We are blessed and thankful.

Celebration Over?

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:13-14

Today we celebrate the Savior's birth! For all who have received His gift of life -- real life will never end. That truth has caused me to ponder a single question over and over again, "Why then, as God's people, do we miss so many opportunities to celebrate our new life, but instead, surrender to the pressures and standards of a life so transient, so destructive, so . . . lifeless?"

The Scriptures reveal a detailed record of Christ's birth, but Christ himself never told us to give much attention to his birth. Instead, Jesus constantly said "Watch and follow my life and you will learn how to live." He knew that, at the time, his life seemed small and narrow to many. Few wanted his way of life -- few were looking for such a life. That broke his heart, yet never deterred him. He strode toward death, full of life, joy, and celebration.

Is all of our attention given to a time of spiritual birth -- His and ours? Have we given little attention to life -- His and ours?

In just a few days the chronometers will roll over to 2007. Once again, the ingrained rhythms of "turning over a new leaf" gain a pulse. Is it time to leave the broad trail we have been on for the risk of one seldom used? Is it time to look forward to a Life, rather than backward at a Birth?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sixty Years

My mother and father were married 60 years ago on October 20th. This December 23, all of their children and grandchildren will gather in Maine to celebrate! My parents had six children. They had to grow up fast -- as most young couples from their generation did. Their third child was with them a short time -- Glendon died of cancer at the age of three and a half. I was one and a half years old at the time of his death. Surviving are my two older sisters and two younger brothers; all of them live in Maine.

My siblings agree that our parents are two of the most unselfish people we have ever met. Over the years that rare characteristic has never been compromised. None of us have ever doubted -- not once -- that my parents would make any sacrifice necessary to help us along the way.

My father always had the reputation of being the hardest working man anyone who knew him had ever met. It took a hard working man to provide for the needs of five children in the difficult economy of Maine. He often took extra work to make ends meet. He is a very gifted man and studied art for a time, but had very little time to pursue it. In his younger years he was a good athlete. Back in the day, fast pitch softball was a popular sport, and the level of competition was extremely high. My father was a left handed, windmill style pitcher. The ball came out of his hand like a bullet -- he was very good. I know he did lose games sometimes -- I just can't remember them. Some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around watching his games and learning to catch for him. My mother always fretted when I was crouched as his backstop, because the velocity of his pitches would take the glove off my hand. During my teen years, we played in some games together. I don't remember losing any of those games either!

My mother prays with more results than any person I know. Now that her children are adults, we realize that her prayers have had an incredible effect on our lives. Two of us spent more time than we are happy to admit in the Prodigal's company. My mother, in particular, never let heaven enjoy a moment of quiet until we returned. Mom is a happy person -- she has always been an optimist. Heartbreak is not a stranger to her, but she never lets heartbreak become a manipulative friend. She always turns to God for strength, guidance, and peace. She, too, did everything she could while raising five children. It seems like she was always cooking, doing laundry, cleaning, and providing childcare for even more kids!

Mom and Dad have left a legacy of faithfulness to God. They have always been a blessing to their pastor and any community of believers they have been associated with. Changing times have not made them petty and demanding within Christ's church. Commitment to truth has not prevented their being relevant as believers, even in advanced years. My father has been a very solid voice of reason as a deacon and leader. My mother has always served God's people with whatever strength He gave her.

Sixty years -- it doesn't seem possible. Sixty years -- none of it wasted. They would agree that hindsight is twenty-twenty. There have been mistakes, a few detours, but few regrets. Time is the friend of truth and they have followed the Truth. The prophet Joel promised that God would "return the years the locusts have eaten," for those He loved. Six decades have proven the Seer correct. What matters to our parents -- their children -- will be with them in eternity. Glendon has been there fifty-four years, and the remaining five of us all know Christ.

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Gift

On December 16, 2006 (tomorrow morning), my bride receives her diploma from Columbus State University. Sandy completed a four year degree in three years. As a student she held a 4.0 GPA, got published, won scholarships, studied in Oxford, England, and edited the Arden. She was the president of Sigma Tau Delta, loved and respected by her peers, and made many great new friends.

I married up!

Few people know how God spoke to Sandy's heart during a devotional time three years ago. Sandy received a clear impression that her time had come -- God would open doors for her to enroll in college. The first step in this new adventure required her to take the SAT -- she nervously did so. Sandy aced the verbal -- scored an 800. She scored above average on the math. She cried with joy and relief -- I just cried with joy.

During those three years she explored additional educational options, yet in the recesses of her heart she held a dream and desire to teach at Columbus High School. CHS is the number one academic public school in Georgia, and when positions at CHS open they are highly coveted. At times, she thought her aspirations were nothing more than pipe dreams. I think anyone reading this knows what it is like to protect your heart and not get your hopes too high.

Although I never stopped believing Sandy's desire was God given, as a couple we went through a difficult time. As she was headed down the home stretch, all of a sudden our future in the southeast became unusually cloudy. To quote God's Word, the "thief that would rob, kill, and destroy," showed up to do his dirty work. But once again, God affirmed that when He speaks -- He comes through! Sandy had followed God's leading, and on January 2, 2007 she will begin her teaching career at Columbus High School!

There is one more thing about all this that reveals that God's love is deep, His kindness has no boundaries, His promises are sure, and that He is a romantic at heart -- Sandy graduates on my birthday!

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Unworthiness?

One hindrance in particular tied Luther's tongue: feeling unworthy . . . he could not rid himself of a sense of shame. As a young monk, some days he would spend hours trying to identify every stray thought . . . No matter how thorough his confession, as he knelt to pray he felt himself rejected by a righteous God. His breakthrough came when he realized that Jesus had revealed God's character by offering grace and forgiveness to the foulest of sinners, the least worthy. From then on, whenever feelings of unworthiness plagued him, Luther would view them as the work of the devil and roar back in opposition. (Phillip Yancey -- Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?)

I have been laid up since Monday due to surgery. This healing period has given me the luxury of getting in more reading, praying, and sleeping than usual. I believe God ordained my down-time. I have also battled a familiar enemy -- a sense of unworthiness.

It amazes me how unrelenting this enemy is. At times I have felt like a wounded animal, cut from the herd by a pack of wolves. Like I said, I have been reading -- but have I been reading enough? I have been praying -- but have I prayed enough? I have been sleeping -- but have I slept too much? It didn't matter that I just had double hernia surgery. It didn't matter that the last couple of weeks leading up to surgery the pain had intensified. It didn't matter that it needed to be done -- regardless of the timing. But the voice whispered "This is the Christmas season and there is so much going on at church. You should be there. It doesn't matter what the doctor said." This taunting took place as I prayed and read God's Word. The haunting even hounded my dreams. I could go on and on with a list of questions that were designed to push me away from God's grace.

During these battles I have followed Luther's lead: I have roared back in opposition. Reading about Luther's struggle and transparency has helped me. Like him, I have been to Jesus, settled the problem of my sin, and received God's grace. Like Martin Luther, I also know that the evil one will continue to make the same baseless accusation -- unworthy. Thankfully, his opinions no longer matter!

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

A Solid Soul

Invigorate my soul so I can praise you well, use your decrees to put iron in my soul. Psalm 119 [The Message]

Just like a baseball player can go into a batting slump, we, as believers, sometimes go into a soul slump. The Scripture quoted above reminds us of this truth. The Psalmist reveals that the condition of our souls is exposed by our praise.

Replace the word invigorate with its definition and read the verse again, "Fill my soul with life and energy, energize me. Heighten and intensify my praise of You.

There is plenty of evidence in God's Word that a part of praise is euphoria, and people express that euphoria in different ways. But it is important to remember that praise will always build spiritual strength. Praise, built on the Truth, puts iron in the soul.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Stop!

"Stop fighting," he says, "And know that I am God." Psalm 46:10 [TEV]

Do you remember the old television ad that said, "I'd rather fight than switch?" Sometimes fighting is necessary to maintain an allegiance. But in the spiritual realm, fighting may be the very thing that keeps us from being allied with God.

There is a type of spiritual "blind rage" that keeps us from really knowing God in His fullness. In the midst of spiritual warfare we "see red," but never see God. We think we hear the command "charge," but the trumpet really sounded "retreat." Every believer should be able to identify times and places when they stopped fighting, because they finally recognized the voice and authority of God.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Two For The Price Of One

I was released from the hospital before noon. I am feeling great. On the way home, Sandy stopped and bought us sushi for lunch (one of my friends refers to sushi as "bait"). Mmm good!

It turns out that I had two hernias. It being Christmas and all, there must have been a "two for the price of one sale" at the Medical Center. The doctor told me I could do some walking, as long as I didn't overdo it. So I have been up and about since I got home.

This afternoon I have been reading a powerful little book I was given recently, "Intimacy with the Almighty" by Charles Swindoll. I regret I had not read it before I spoke to our church yesterday -- it would have been a good resource. Swindoll's quote of the following passage of Scripture really jumped out at me:

[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him -- that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately aquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding [the wonders of His Person] more strongly and more clearly. And that I may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection [the power it exerts over believers]; and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness even] to His death. Philippians 3:10 AMP

Enjoying the Adventure . . .

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Full And Fulfilling

I hope you got to see the stunning sunrise this morning. The eastern skies were streaked with multiple shades of reds and oranges. Daybreak was just a prelude to another beautiful day in Georgia. Later on in the day, I could see both the moon and the sun in the same sky.

I spent the early part of the day reading and studying for tomorrow's message. In the afternoon, Sandy and I went to Westville Village, an historic tourist attraction. Steven Hawks, the potter, fired up the "ground hog" outdoor kiln. I helped feed the flames with scraps from a demolished house. The kiln is wood-fired; the temperature inside the brick lined oven soared to twenty-five hundred degrees or more. Peering through one of the air vents, we could see many of the nearly one-thousand pieces of pottery glowing and translucent amid the curling flames. Forty pieces of the pottery inside were made by our son, Joshua.

We got home around 4 p.m., and I spent a few more hours preparing for Sunday. The topic tomorrow will be "A Call To Action." The message will be 1 of 13 to support our Adult Sunday school as they go through a thirteen week series on the book of Acts. I am looking forward to speaking.

This evening I lugged an armful of wood into the house and started a fire in our fireplace. As I stepped outside and made my way to the woodpile, I looked upward and toward the east. A white orb shone down on me from the heavens above. It has been a full and fulfilling day.

Friday, December 1, 2006

Once Again

I clearly remember Dr. Nessin saying, "Billy, we will have you back home for Thanksgiving," just before I was given ether to put me to sleep. The appendicitis attack was full blown and the pain was intense. I remember writhing from one end of my bed to the other. Dr. Nessin's words promised relief.

I vaguely remember emerging out of the groggy fog after the my operation. Things did not go as planned. My appendix ruptured before it could be removed. Rather than the pain subsiding, it began to intensify in the hours ahead. My health began to spiral downward immediately. I would need a second operation, but already, there was the growing complication of infection. Now the question became, "Can Billy survive a second surgery?"

I was transported from tiny Workmans Hospital, to a major medical center in Central Maine. The surgeon for the next round would be Dr. Wise; he would have to address severe bowel adhesions and infections. Some of my intestines would have to be removed. Before this new surgery, the physician told my parents, "It is in God's hands. I will do all I can. God must do the rest." Over the next several weeks there were a number of "reentry" proceedures to deal with the infections. It became doubtful that I would make it.

Three months after the first surgery I left the hospital -- I weighed 48 pounds!

All that took place forty-one years ago, leaving my abdomen criss-crossed with truly hideous scars. Forty-one years later I need surgery again. It's nothing serious -- just a hernia. But because of the massive amounts of scar tissue in my abdomen, regular surgeons would not touch it. Specialist Dr. William Taylor will do the honors. If all goes as planned (I don't have a good history in that area), on Monday I will be out of the hospital and home resting a few hours after surgery.

I was recently reminded that once you hit fifty years old, they just begin patching you! For me, last month it was cancer -- this month a hernia. But I am blessed, my good friend, Bill R., will get me rehabilitated and on my feet. My goal is to resume preaching, teaching, rappelling, kayaking, hiking, rock climbing, cycling, and being thrown off horses -- as soon as possible!