Friday, May 31, 2013

Father and Son...Rewind

Sandy and I have been in vocational ministry our entire adult life. She was nineteen, and I was twenty-one when we married on September 10, 1977.

In Waterville, Maine, and then Ellsworth, Maine we were on staff at two fledgling church plants.


In 1983 we sold our home in Ellsworth, Maine, and moved to Presque Isle, Maine, in Aroostook County. We were commissioned to pick up the pieces of a failed church plant there. Starting in the living room of the old farm house we lived in, we had less than a dozen people (that would include Sandy, Justin, Josh, and me) in our first gathering. After a slow first winter the church began to grow exponentially.


When we opened the doors to our new building, two years later, there were three hundred people attending regularly.

Rewind...

Justin and I just spent a father-and-son weekend together in Maine. Our plan was to work on the cabin, cutting up fire wood, and burning brush. One of the days it rained so hard that we couldn't do anything outside. Justin said, "Dad, let's go up to Presque Isle!" Three hours later we were parked outside the church. The property looked really good, but the old farmhouse, that was once our home, was gone. We took a picture of Justin grinning and hunched up against the rain on the very spot where its foundation once stood.

For about thirty minutes we defied the rain and walked the property while talking about old times. New Life Baptist Church is surrounded by hundreds of acres of potato fields. Between the vast stretches of tilled ground and lines of potato rows there are strips of wooded areas. Those oasis' are the habitat of the largest snowshoe rabbits you have ever seen. Believe it or not, the boys at our school (first through fourth grade) used to bring their shotguns to our house. I would lock up the guns and later, after school, I would take them hunting for snowshoe rabbits. There were immeasurable safety standards in place, and it was truly a part of their education. We never failed to return to base camp without the boys dragging a couple of the big white rabbits behind them. There was a family in the church with eight children, and they loved the gift of our bounty!

No one was at the church, so we went further north to Caribou and drove by some places that were our old haunts. After a while we headed back to Presque Isle. Once again, we pulled into the church parking lot, but this time there was a pick-up truck parked in the yard. We knocked on the door, but no answered. Then we began walking the perimeter of the building and peering into the windows to see if any one was there. Once we got around to the back of the building we knocked on another door; the door opened. The first words out of my mouth were, "Hey, I know you!" I introduced Justin to John Kennedy. From around the corner, and to our left, his wife, Jane appeared. I had married them when I was their pastor! John, Jane, and their son, Ryan are still faithfully involved in the work.


Just another serendipitous event from the hand of the Giver. Hopefully, we will be returning to the County, for a reunion with a lot more of our friends from the Crown of Maine!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Locusts and a Roadside Diner...

 In 1998 we bought a piece of land on the Penobscot River. It's a parcel that is just under three acres, and we had a cabin built on the lot. It is spartan--not a lake house--too rough and tumble for a lot of people. Wood stove, gas lights, gas cook stove, gas refrigerator, and an outhouse are all the amenities. One more thing...there is an endless supply of running water if you don't mind climbing down the steep river bank.

We love it!

In the past one of our favorite things to do was to go a little south on Route 2 to a gas station/convenience store, that was most famous for its old fashioned atmosphere and great breakfasts. It was a delightful place, and if you were a regular, Denny, the owner took your picture, framed it, and hung it on the wall. Whenever we vacationed at the cabin we were regulars and were esteemed the elite. Our pictures proudly graced the "Wall of Fame." At Burr's, everybody knew your name and your business. When Burr's closed its doors we all sensed we had lost something that could never be duplicated. For at least two years we would drive by the empty lot and sigh.

Ahh, but there is a new place (actually it's an old place) going north on Route 2; my high school buddy, Brent told me about it. I tried it out the day before Justin arrived. Eureka! Honestly, I ate my breakfast, listened to the thickly accented banter of the regulars, watched them take trip-after-trip to the coffee pot and refill their cups (you can keep your own cup there if you choose), and grinned from ear to ear as I took it all in! It is 1950's Americana! The food is great. The servings generous. The appointments are dated. It is absolutely charming! One gentlemen, wearing a green John Deere ball cap--the regulars called him, Beecher, was the subject of the good-natured harassment by the gathering of seven or eight diners. I silently observed for a while, but then I just had to jump into the friendly fray in a joshing manner by taking to Beecher's defense. In a matter of minutes I had Beecher absolved of half the accusations, and won the whole crowd over! I was "in!"

When Justin and I showed up on Saturday morning, the same group was there and one of them said, "Beecher, your Public Defender is here!" The men roared with laughter. His wife cackled, and said to me, "O Dear, you should have joined the Prosecution! The man is a pain in the butt!"

Once again, I bravely stood by my client!

The owner of the place, who also worked the grill, is Barb. She is a jovial person, always smiling, and not at all ashamed to identify herself as a Christian. Her husband was tragically killed at one of the wood mills a few years back. When I got ready to leave and was paying the bill, I started up a conversation of chit-chat with her, and told her how happy I was to find her place. She just smiled and said, The Lawd is good. and He has blessed me. He saved me from a lotta sin."

I lowered my eyes, so she wouldn't see me tear up, and told her that I knew her God. He had saved me too. My life is blessed.

As silly as this may sound, the little hole-in-the-wall restaurant is another instance of God gifting us in a special way. Over the past four years Sandy and I experienced a lot of losses. Significant losses. Now we are in a time when God has determined to "return to us the years the locusts have eaten." Nearly every day some serendipitous event transpires. Some gifting has been nearly miraculous--like a beautiful home to live in with a bass pond, and east/west vistas. Sometimes it's been something as simple, yet no less appreciated, as a little roadside diner in Passadumkeag, Maine.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Little Fledgling...

This morning Sandy and I were sitting on the back deck having coffee. Toward the east there is a line of wooden fence and on several of the fence posts are moss covered bird houses. One of them is home to a mating pair of bluebirds. As we sat talking, all of a sudden there was a lot of commotion on the ground under one of the houses. At first we thought it was mom and dad bluebird doing the wild thing--bluebirds may have as many as three hatches. Well, they weren't starting another family. No, all the flitting and tumbling around was an anxious mom and dad trying to figure out how to get one of their babies--that had tumbled out the front door--back into the house!

Chick-a-pedia (Sandy), immediately went online and researched how to save a baby bluebird and get it back into its nest. She relayed the instructions to me. I got a small towel, slowly crept up to it, and dropped the towel over the little one. But before I did, I gave the baby some time to get used to me standing over him. He looked so pitiful and frightened. The dew on the morning grass had pasted its fine blue feathers every which way, and pieces of grass--from my weed whacking a couple of days before--speckled him like green dandruff. His tiny little frame quivered as he hunkered as close to the ground as possible.

I draped the small towel over him and he hardly moved. Carefully, I felt for the outline of his body and gently picked him up. Tiny talons tried to cling to the grass beneath him. Pulling back the edges of the cloth, I could see his pointed beak that resembled the tooth of a comb, and his tiny black eyes. Slowly I eased him back through the round door and into his house.

Standing back, we watched to see how mom and dad would respond. Within minutes they joined him! All is well in bluebird-ville; little Fledgling is safe and sound. Sandy is happy! I believe God is smiling. Yes, I truly believe He is! 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Mama B

God places the lonely in families... ~ Psalm 68:6

Sandy and I are early risers--around five a.m. each day. Our routine: have coffee together, chat for a while, and then go our separate ways to read and journal. After thirty or forty minutes we get back together and kind of compare notes. Today, Sandy shared with me the text from the Psalms. It immediately struck a powerful chord with both of us, and launched another conversation that recounted how God so graciously gave us a family and home away from home during a terribly lonely time.

Sandy and I taught together in China until she got sick. I have written about it before, so I will be brief: she was deathly ill, and if she had gone just a short while longer without the care she received in the U.S., I could very well be a widower. So for Bill and Sandy--Team China China--was out of the equation. Out of necessity I did return alone for another six months.

During my absence, Mama B became like a mother to my Bride. Mama B has a second home that is connected to her primary residence by a carport and she made it available to Sandy. Mama B is eighty years young. The "B" stands for Bedingfield, but I say it stands for Brilliant. She has a keen mind, and an incredible ability to catalogue things, and like my own mother she uses technology. I truly believe she has all eight decades of her life, and every significant event in the life of her husband, her children and their spouses, and her children's children neatly bound in journals and portfolios! Mama B comes from a godly heritage. Her parents were missionaries in China (Manchuria) during the 1920's. I have read letters, seen pictures, and handled the heirlooms from their adventures there. It is fascinating. It is Providential. Mama B's husband, Jim was a decorated hero from WWII. As a marine he was battlefield commissioned several times, survived Iwo Jima and every major hot spot, received several purple hearts, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the Gold Star, and citations from some of the most powerful men of his era. My favorite picture of him is the one where he is holding up his helmet that has a bullet hole through it!

Mama B's family share a closeness you will rarely witness, and we know it was a "God thing" for them to open up the family circle and make us their adopted kin. My family in Maine would have done the same, but couldn't, because Sandy was teaching here in Columbus, GA. Mama B nurtured Sandy and gathered her beneath her wing like a mother hen gathers her brood. Mama B's family did the same. There is not a day that passes without Mama B coming up in conversation, and we know we could never adequately express to God, or Mama B and her family, the gratitude we feel for being Providentially placed in such a wonderful family during such a lonely time.




Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Not A Trickle...

I pray that you will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding...may you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation--the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ--for this will bring much glory and praise to God. ~ St. Paul

Most every day I take a walk and follow a road that gradually descends into bottomland and the cool and dappled shade of sweet gum, oak, and pine trees. At its lowest point, Standing Boy Creek, a tributary of larger waters, slowly twists and turns and meanders along steadily but unhurriedly. Following Standing Boy I mosey along, always on the lookout for Native American artifacts and wildlife. Whilst ever vigilant to watch out for timber rattlers and copperheads. The bottomland is rich sandy loam that has just enough muscle to influence, to some degree, the boundaries and contours of Standing Boy's journey south. But a while back we had some significant rain in these parts, and Standing Boy swelled, pushed aside its boundaries, overflowed its banks, and with its hydraulic energy carved hundreds of new rivulets. But each time Standing Boy recedes, it changes the landscape in a positive way--the beige tones of winter turn to lush hues of green. Wherever it overflows it brings life.

Now, like a rambunctious child winding-down for a nap, Standing Boy is in one of those times of rest and a sleepy pace. Quietly it zigs and zags under the shade of the tall sweet gum, oak, and pine trees. Nothing remains of its outburst except for the veins that once carried water are dry and etched in the soft sand. It's in a docile season now, but not stagnant. In the days ahead the rains will fall and Standing Boy will once again become a force of nature.



Standing Boy, in the natural world, can be spiritual metaphor for anyone of us. We are never to remain stagnant. Though not always as dynamically effervescent and overflowing, the Spirit of Christ should forever be evident. That great source of the Spirit is meant to spill out and bring life and vitality to all it touches. That is the norm--not the exception. True, we like those meandering times. We need those meandering times. God ordains such meandering times. And make no mistake, God will be sure to give us our times in green pastures of rest. He will lead us beside still waters. He will restore our soul. But we should anticipate that the Life and Love of Christ in us will flow out and be a world-changing spiritual force of nature.

So Paul prayed that the the love of God and the character of Christ would fill us to overflowing and know no boundaries: I pray that you will overflow more and more...may you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation. The righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ--for this will bring much glory and praise to God. 

Not a trickle of life, but filled to overflowing.

Enjoying the Adventure,

Bill






Sunday, May 12, 2013

Everything...


Sandy,

Every good word I know...
Every beautiful thing I see...
Every pleasant sound I hear...
Every sweet thing I taste...
Every delicate thing I touch...
Every fragrant bouquet...
Reminds me of you...
Happy Mother's Day!

I love you!

Bill

P.S. When we were listening to all those love songs, these words from a Brad Paisley tune caught me ear, and my heart. He's not nearly the poet I am, but I included him in the Mother's Day Wish... 


She's the voice I love to hear
Someday when I'm ninety
She's that wooden rocking chair
I want rocking right beside me
Everyday that passes
I only love her more
Yeah, she's the one
That I'd lay down my own life for

And she's everything I ever wanted
And everything I need
She's everything to me
Yeah she's everything to me

Everything I ever wanted
And everything I need
She's everything to me

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Happy Mother's Day

Mom, thank you for being such a wonderful wife to my father, grandmother to our children, mother-in-law to Sandy, and mother to my siblings and me. You have lived your life for your Lord and others. Your love for all of us has stood the test of time. Never once has it faltered. Never once have we received from you anything but kindness and love. Never once have we seen anything in you other than a life worthy of imitation. All of your family knows there have been times when the fervency and energy of your prayers have carried us, kept us together, and pulled us through.

I am so happy that in just a few days I will see you again, and even happier that Lord willing, you will celebrate Thanksgiving with us in Georgia! When you get here we will wet a line and catch some large mouth bass out of the pond, sit by a fire and reminisce, enjoy the beautiful night sky above, and I will prepare scrumptious meals for you and that beautiful lady in the picture!

I hope tomorrow is truly a special day...Happy Mother's Day!

Live A Life That Demands An Explanation

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ's return. ~ Philippians 1:9-10

God's love could not be contained--even by the vast boundaries of heaven. A previously unknown Love spilled out from the unseen world and into the physical world--God became flesh. In Jesus, God became just like us. Lived among us. Died among us. Conquered sin and death among us. Through Scripture He clearly states the driving motive--For God so loved the world.

Christ is that love that takes up residence in us when we receive the love of Christ. His intention is that we become Christlike. His love is transformational--we become like our Redeemer. And for this love that abides in us, the love God in Christ Jesus, our heart is never intended to become a reservoir--a place to accumulate and store profound spiritual truths, blessings, or a sense of self worth. Instead, it is to fill us to overflowing with the same life-giving stream that continually breaches the edges of our soul and gushes out to touch everyone and everything. Our lives become transformational, too. To know this really mattered to Paul. To him it was a pressing matter that his friends at Philippi understand what really matters.

Since I have returned from China, God has made it very clear that I need to take some time to reevaluate what really matters to me. I have spent a lot of time quietly pondering Paul's words. I am not at all satisfied with my life evidencing a trickle of the presence of the love of God. Quite honestly? Living contentedly on the memories of past evidences of the overflow of Gods love from my life, or living on knowledge and understanding or experiences gained in days gone-by is a major trap.

There are people to whom I really matter, and those same people really matter to me. Some of those relationships are maintained face-to-face. Others, are maintained through cyberspace. But in each case, I know that we want to Live A Life That Demands An Explanation. 

So, In the days ahead, friends, you can return here and read about this particular stretch of my journey. Maybe something that God does in one man's life will be helpful, encouraging, and really matter to someone else...

Enjoying the Adventure,

Bill

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Evening Shadows Fall...

I especially love the evenings here. As the day winds down I try to get in sync with the rhythms of nature. The transition from daylight to dark is a fantastic journey. As night descends it effects nature's creatures in stages. Tree frogs begin their high pitched clicking, bats dart above me chasing down their dinner, birds sing their goodnight lullaby to one another, and the coarse, trembling croaking of big ole' bullfrogs begin their stereo communication. As the light fades the treeline forms a dark, but distinctly serrated skyline.

Across the pond our little family of geese have climbed in and out of the water, and from time to time I can hear the muffled honks and squawks of mother and father intended to keep their little brood in line and out of harms way.

Earlier today I watched a magnificent Blue Heron crouch on the bank of the pond and pounce on frogs and brim that came within striking distance. Deer have grazed and browsed on the back end of the pond. They are very skittish--the blasts of shotguns during turkey season have only recently quit bellowing.

Now the first stars are appearing and there is still a little blue in the night sky that has yet to yield to the blackness. Soon all that will be visible will be the heavenly lights--millions of them. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

What Really Matters

So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God...God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.  ~ St. Paul's letter to God's people in Philippi

Picture Timothy, much younger than Paul, on the freedom side of a prison door squinting to see what his mentor was thoughtfully and meticulously committing to a parchment. Letter by letter and then word by word the aging apostle's thoughts became sentences and then paragraphs. Once the Epistle got beyond the greeting of familiar style Timothy noticed it took on a mood unlike the many other communications Paul had scribed; it was extremely personal. The aged apostle was laying his heart bare, and it is was clear that he shared a special bond with the Saints at Philippi.

To go along with some other reading and the context of our present situation I chose to focus on this short letter. For the first time in our journey, as far as material wealth is concerned, Sandy and I could not make ends meet. Honestly, we financially came to a place where we couldn't afford to live in a free house, and that is a prison of its own kind. From our point of view our circumstances are the result of a combination of things. Like so many in our country we were hit hard by an imploding economy and watched our equity vaporized. But also, several years ago we chose to sell, or give away most all we owned, and we moved to China. We did this because we believed God would have us do so. Plain and simple. Obedience, as well as disobedience, can be very costly, and we are comfortable to let time, and the Judgment seat of Christ, have the final say as to what prompted the decision of our deepest heart.

I also turned my heart to the book of Philippians because in our time of greatest need Sandy and I, like Paul, have been the recipients of the lavish love of God through the generosity of friends. We are profoundly grateful to a special group of people. When we needed a roof over our head, Mama B let us live in her second home for free. She also let me use the Tahoe she and her late husband, Jim, received as a Fiftieth Wedding anniversary gift from their children. As I tried to make a go of it in China, Mama B was like a mother to Sandy. Other friends gifted us financially enough for us to eke by. Now we have an open ended offer to stay in a beautiful home that sits on 50 acres with a stocked pond and a guest house.

As an aside...

The same apostle who wrote to his friends in Philippi elsewhere quoted Jesus as saying, It is more blessed to give than to receive. Paul's citing of the Savior's words cannot be found in the gospels, so I am presuming that Jesus gave him that beatitude through some sort of special revelation. I can understand why. Paul was an itinerant Witness to the gospel message. He was what we would call bi-vocational minister--he worked making and selling tents to underwrite his ministry. He had to learn to trust that God would always have those in place who would find it a blessing to help sustain him.

If I may, I would like to turn that quote on its side just a little bit and say this--it is (also) much easier to give than to receive. What I mean is, during the 35 years of our marriage, Sandy and I haven't done everything right, but I can say that we have been generous. For us, to step up and help someone in need--to bless them--has always given us joy and satisfaction. That being said, I can tell you for certain that giving is a lot easier than being in a place of needing to receive. To be dependent on someone to step up on your behalf is humbling and is teaching us an entirely different dependence upon God that we have never before had to lean on.

So to those special people, Sandy and I want to say. It is right that [we] should feel as [we] do about you, for you have a special place in our heart. You share with [us] the special favor of God...God knows how much [we] love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.

Enjoying the Adventure,

Bill










Sunday, May 5, 2013

PRIMAL

I began to stir at about 5 a.m. It wasn't long before the Keurig began its unique groan and hiss and my white coffee mug was a swirling caldron of steam. Now, it's shortly after 6 a.m. and as I write the natural world stirs from its slumber. A single bird begins to sing and others join its chorus. A frog croaks and from across the pond and another echoes a reply. Off in the east the horizon slowly and steadily diffuses the darkness. Even in the space of time needed to write these few words a symphony of sound is rapidly building and tuning itself to welcome another day.

When I awakened my first impulse was to get out a copy of the Scriptures and a book by Mark Batterson titled, PRIMAL. Alternating between the two reads I began thinking of how I would translate my early meditation into an action plan for the day ahead (why bother reading if you are not going to act). Batterson's quote of Einstein caused me to give more than a passing consideration to the words of the great scientist...




The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has it own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity. ~ Albert Einstein

Einstein, I am not, but I can say beyond any doubt that for as long as I can remember there has never been a shortage of questions in my heart that the reality of life has raised. I know for certain that two primal curiosities have never gone away. First there is the curiosity in the mystery of why life sometimes unfolds in such seemingly chaotic fashion? But perhaps the most important pursuit, driven by a deeper belief, is the search for Sovereign structure in it all?

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings. ~ Solomon

Enjoying the Adventure,

Bill

P.S.
After a day of hard rain the sun is out. Fog lifts and rolls across the top of the pond, and the blue sky reflects off its placid surface.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Life on the Farm

Two days ago I was in Guangzhou, China. Today, I am back in the United States of America, in Cataula, a little town just outside Columbus, GA. Before sunrise, Sandy and I climbed out of bed and drank coffee together and gave thanks over and over again for my safe return, and the blessedness of being reunited and enjoying the Adventure together.

We have a place to once again set down roots. Some very generous friends have provided us with a home for as long as we want; no charge. Several times they have told us, "Bill and Sandy, we hope you will be our neighbors for a long, long, time!" Our home is stunning. Before we moved in they completely remodeled it inside and out! I mean completely! Everything in it is new and of the highest quality: the furniture, the appliances, every lamp, the three bedrooms, the security system, the showers and vanities, and the spacious master bedroom and bath with a jacuzzi. Sandy and I both have studies, and in them we both have beautiful desks with hand-tooled leather tops, floor to ceiling bookcases, and over-stuffed chairs. Our new home sits on fifty acres and is surrounded by another fourteen hundred-plus acres of privately held land. At the present I am in my study that overlooks a two-to-three acre man-made lake/pond stocked with large mouth bass. There is also a guest house that is being completely remodeled, inside and out.

All of this was in play well before I went to China, but I believed that I should still go on to Asia. It would take a voluminous book to capture all the discussions that took place prior to my leaving and returning. But in the end I went, and there are no regrets. I have returned, and there are no regrets. That chapter is closed and a new one begins...

Enjoying the Adventure,

Bill