Friday, September 26, 2014

Unbroken

What stays with you latest and deepest? Of curious panics, Of hard-fought engagements or sieges tremendous what deepest remains? ~ Walt Whitman, "The Wound-Dresser"

A friend joined me at the cabin in Maine last month. We fished a little and talked a lot. I think we would both be considered "readers." I think we read fairly widely when it comes to genres. Through the years we have recommended books to one another and then enjoyed the deepening camaraderie that comes from discussing what we have read. Such conversations are sacred gifts. I've learned a lot from my friend, Hill.

While at the cabin, Hill insisted that I read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (She also wrote Seabiscuit). It's about a forty-five minute drive to Bangor, and Books A Million, but we went, and I picked it up. Before I read a word, I knew Zamperini would find freedom, because he just recently passed away. But the POW's story took me prisoner. During our five days at the cabin, whenever we weren't fishing, kayaking, talking, or eating, I had my nose in the book. And by the light of a headlamp, as the sound of the Penobscot flowed by the front of the rustic cabin and owls hooted at the night, I read it with fascination. Each morning, as we sat drinking coffee, Hill and I would discuss it. Our conversations were often short, because the story is so overwhelming.

However, being the poster boy for ADHD that I am, and my constant practice of reading three to five books at a time, Unbroken became one of many in the fan-shaped half-circle of books that always cover any flat surface around me (I have three to five books going at three different locations in the house). Once I got home, my brain jumped the tracks and I never finished it.

Last week, Hill and I met for lunch. "Have you finished the book?" he asked. "Shoot! I put it down once I got home and haven't finished it." I told him where I had left off. "Zamperini is free." I said it in such a way as to suggest that I had probably read the best part. "It gets better." he said. "Not possible. He's been rescued!" was my response. "It gets better. Trust me." Hill promised. "Man, I need to get back on that book!" So I did.

It got better... I just finished it. Some of it through tears.

The dedication, six words on the white field of a single page, invites you into Zamperini's story: For the wounded and the lost. 

It's one of the best books I have ever read.  


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Heart of the Young and the Young at Heart...

This evening I will be at First Baptist in Phenix City, Alabama. Usually, forty or more from the student ministry gather along with several others who are young at heart. More importantly, God has been there too. Over the last several months eighteen have professed Christ as their Savior. The majority of those have followed the Lord in baptism, or are about to be baptized in a couple of weeks. It's enough to make you smile!

I have a challenge for them... 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Just Enjoying It...

Fickle skies, once streaked with dark threatening clouds and lava-like bands of blue, are now unbroken and clear. A dome that will do nothing to dim the stars covers The Shire. Humidity is dropping, and the air temperatures are idyllic. Barely a breath of air stirs the leaves and pine quills.

Bases of the trees are enveloped in shadows, contrasting with the treetops that glow as they collect waining streaks of sunlight. Their green is no longer as brilliant. Beyond the edges of the wood line, little creatures scamper around, and a deer--I never did see--blew its warning when it caught my scent.

Orange and yellow blossoms in the raised flower bed circle two soaring pine trees, and a hummingbird flits from bud to bud trying to syphon and savor a few drops of sweet nectar through its needle-like beak. Otherwise, no deer feed in the pasture or coyotes slink along the forest's shadows.

Ghostly ground fog collects and eerily rises from the trough of the northeast pasture. As I write, I can watch it lift higher and higher obscuring more and more of the landscape. It accentuates the emerald lawn that spreads out toward the white board fence. So picturesque is the quaint guest cottage nestled among the trees, I just stand on the porch appreciating it, enjoying it, and offering up a sincere prayer of thanks.



  

Fall Is Here...

Behind me, in the east, the horizon is dark. Low hanging clouds drizzle rain. The smooth surface of the pond is disrupted and pocked with a million dimples. To the east, there is another layer of white, a strip of light blue, and then another layer of gray that is perforated with cerulean openings. Tree tops, that form a serrated edge against the horizon, are cloaked in shrouds of mist and fog. A lone crow passes above squawking.

A couple of weeks ago the expanse of the pasture was mowed. Now, blades of grass have recouped from the churning and whirling of the giant clippers drawn by a chugging tractor and respond to the sun and rain. Regenerating, they reach out to the weakening sun as a new fall gains momentum. Paving stones wet with precipitation glisten. Sweeping paths curl around the ivy and ground cover. Moss, that withstood summer heat and its parching sun, is turning greener.

From the eaves of the farmer's porch water droplets yield to gravity and fall to the flower beds and shrubbery. Leaves drop, too. On the north side of the giant pines, their callous skin of bark is darkened by rain that has been driven against their ragged exterior. Acorns fall on the tin roof of one of the outbuildings and bang loud enough to startle me.

Out on Holland Road, cars carry their passengers east and west. I can see them, but they can't see me. They create the only sights and sounds of a civilized world beyond The Shire. Bluebirds have returned, if only for a few days, and the Japanese Maple reminds me that summer is over. Its foliage is a mixture of diminishing greens and increasing reds, yellows, and orange colors.

Bow hunting is now legal, and the seldom seen deer are aware that the once quiet forest has an added danger. I watch them. Every noise raises their suspicion. Ears, like radar dishes, turn to receive maximum sound. Through my binoculars I can see their nostrils flare to pick up non-woodsy scents. Their senses are on full alert.

I look forward to the temperatures dropping and wood popping in the outdoor fireplace. Kindling has been gathered. A neatly stacked row of firewood has been drying throughout the summer. Soon, flames will crackle, as their hungry tongues lick up the stored energy and reflect off the placid surface of the pond. Light will leap and dance as night sounds echo beyond its influence.

Fall is here...

Friday, September 19, 2014

Writer's Block


In 45 minutes it's midnight o'clock.
I've searched for verse but found writer's block.

My creative side still longs to be fed
I've tried, I'm tired, I'm going to bed


The End...



















Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Happy Anniversary!




My beautiful bride!
In Dallas, Texas around 6:34 pm, at Marsh Lane Baptist Church, Sandra Joyce Staton and William Vernon Shorey repeated their vows. It was September 10, 1977. 

Our honeymoon was a scenic ride back to Maine. Nothing exotic. Part of it took us through fog in the Blue Ridge Mountains as thick a pea soup! Along the way we by-passed the modern and sought out the rustic. We were kids. We had a blast! We've been back over that trail more than once! Today, Sandy I have been married for 37 years, and God has lavished on us the opportunity to to see a lot of this world. From the playgrounds of the rich and famous to the battlegrounds of the poor and forgotten….

We had no idea what to expect from our union, except that God would see us through the unexpected. Sure enough, we have seen the "for better or for worse and in sickness and in health." But you know what? we wouldn't trade our adventure for anything!

Each season of our journey--from starting out, to raising children (all three of them are wonderful like their mother), to an empty nest--has taught us a lot about loving God, loving others, and living by faith. We have not received the grace of God in vain. Troubled waters and living springs have flowed together carving away the sands of our lesser selves and leaving us with a foundation of rugged tenderness.

Thirty-eight years ago, our lives converged in Springfield, Missouri. Have we done everything right? No. When we haven't we have trusted that to God's grace, too. But we have done a lot! And as best we knew how we followed God's leading to Texas--to Maine--to Massachusetts--to Georgia--To South Carolina--to China. Along the way, thousands of people have loved us and spoken into our lives. And we have always tried to do the same.

When Sandy and I look at our lives through earth eyes the greater part is behind us. But when we look through the eyes of faith--eyes that will never close or fail--the greatest adventures are ahead. Yep, we really believe that!

We've never stopped!
  

Sunday, September 7, 2014

It's Beginning To Rain...


Sitting beneath the farmer's porch, a stiff wind pushes droplets of precipetation under our overhang and spatters our faces with the fine, cool, mist of hard falling rain. The Shire is engulfed in a surround-sound of liquid white noise, interrupted by the booms and flashes of lightening that crescendo with the power of an air raid. Looking across the pasture, trees on the furthest edges of the wood line are obliterated by opaque sheets of rain. Trees sway as gusts of winds hassle their willowy limbs.

Out in the woods, beneath the humbled water-laden branches of pines and oaks and sweet gum trees, deer and creatures of the forest wait-out the downpour that has descended on us like a tempest. We await the recession of a moody weather front.  

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Place At The Table

Soon the news reached the apostles and other believers in Judea that the Gentiles had received the word of God. But when Peter arrived back in Jerusalem, the Jewish believers criticized him. "You entered the home of Gentiles and even ate with them!" they said. Then Peter told them exactly what happened… When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, "We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life."
~ Acts 11 

It was a problem that began in the Old Testament. The prophet, Jonah, would rather the Ninavites come under the judgment of God than repent and receive the grace of God. Likewise, Messianic Jews in the early church were no less eager to embrace God's grace toward Gentiles. And with good reason. As it was in the past, so it was in the present, the Chosen People were under Gentile rule and a continuing saga of oppression.

Then, God sends Peter into the house of a Gentile to minister, just as His Son had. And now those who for ages were considered unclean and unredeemable were to be received as brethren? That would take some convincing. God chose the fisherman--turned preacher, and the military man--turned seeker to break down that barrier.

In Caesarea, Peter did his part and shared the story of Jesus. God did what only He could do, and gave those Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life. And God did something else... He put an exclamation point on the moment. It had been twelve years since God had poured out the Holy Spirit with the miraculous signs of Pentecost. With conviction, Peter testified, The Holy Spirit fell on them, just as he fell on us at the beginning. Gentile Cornelius, along with his friends and family were gifted with repentance, the Holy Spirit, and a place at the table in the Kingdom.

One more thing to consider…

Peter was a stand-up guy and championed the reception of those first Gentiles into the kingdom. However, Scripture's record gives testimony that Peter fell off the grace wagon lapsing into prejudice toward those unlike him. That's an age-old tendency for all of us to keep in mind. Guarding against consciously or unconsciously closing the door on any people group and giving up on them as unredeemable is every believer's battle.

While here on earth we will never reach an epoch of time when our society is beyond the Gospel's reach.  

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Fisherman And A Swordsman

The men replied, "We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say." Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. 
~ Acts 10:22

The boundaries of Peter's faith were about to be stretched and expanded. Roused from a most unusual vision and a dialogue with heaven, Peter stood before a trio of gentiles. Perplexed, he listened. An angel had given their boss, Cornelius, Peter's address and had sent for him. "You are to come with us to Caesarea." They said.

Peter was thoroughly Jewish. Growing up in a tight community of Hebrews, he followed the religious customs passed down to him (he even took time to enlighten Jesus on that fact), and his father, Zebedee, taught him and his brother, Andrew, the family business of harvesting the sea. As a fisherman his days were spent on or around the edges of the Sea of Galilee. Then one day, Christ said, "Follow me." Peter, along with his brother became landlubbers and fishers of men.

So far, Peter had been casting the net of his new-found faith in familiar waters--to Jews only. Now he would set sail into an ocean of humanity that for his entire life he had avoided. Jesus called him to a risk and a spiritual leap into the unknown. Amid an entourage of his friends and complete strangers he left Joppa. A Gentile household, led by a sword-bearing centurion, would be his audience for the telling of the gospel. The fisherman had to have felt uneasy. Recollections of the incident during Christs' arrest had convinced him he was not a swordsman. But he went, and that was what mattered.

For us contemporary Christ-followers, we are living in a day of decision. Will we, or will we not, be stretched? There is a growing distinction between those who follow the historic tenets of Christian faith and the masses of people we live among. Our calling to engage will unlikely be preceded by angelic visitations, dreams and visions. We have to trust the veracity of Scripture and its testimony that such events did happen and we are to mine the truth those stories hold. There are instances of modern day Corneliuses--people who live in the shadow of church-goers--who are much closer to the Kingdom than we have imagined. Persons who are calling out to God the only way they know how. Individuals who have generous and compassionate spirits that express themselves in their concern for the downtrodden. God is speaking to them. They are looking for God, who, unknown to them, has already found them. God knows them. God is drawing them in. God is causing the paths of those who are in relationship with Him to go to them and tell His story.

Like Peter, we will often feel ill-suited to take our faith across unfamiliar boundaries. Like Peter, we will sometimes dialogue with Jesus about why we can't engage. But let's go anyway. That's what matters.

Like Peter, we can take the risk...










Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Tale of Two Converts (Chapters 9-11~Book of Acts)

By vocation, Saul of Tarsus was considered a holy man--a Pharisee. But true righteousness revealed him to be violent and unrighteous. As a young man he presided over the death of Stephen, and then used it as a catapult to launch a full fledged attack against the fledgling church.

But he was converted. Is it any wonder that his salvation came amid a violent encounter with Christ? Luke tells us that Saul's conversion was not an ambling journey that finally acknowledged the saving merit of the risen Christ. Instead, like a laser guided missile, Christ sent a bolt of light from heaven that left Saul blind and sprawled on the desert sand. How terrified the pharisaical bully must have been when Jesus shouted out his name telling Saul that He took his persecution of His followers as a personal affront. Those of the Way belonged to him. Their pain was his pain.

Saul was a changed man--a 180 degree turn around. Once the scales fell from his blinded eyes and the hands of those he wanted to shackle nursed him back to health, Saul preached Christ's redemptive message with abandonment. His life's work and mission would no longer be accomplished by the point of a sword. Instead, his work and mission would be spiritual. Saul became Paul, the greatest missionary the world would ever know, and the spiritual point of the spear in the worldwide advance of the gospel that would pierce the darkness.

Then there is Cornelius, by profession a centurion--a man of war. We are not sure how this officer who held authority over a subjugated Jewish people became captivated by their monotheistic God. Judging by all that Jesus said throughout the Gospels, Judaism was but a shell of what God had intended it to be.

Cornelius followed the spiritual bread crumb trail, and dim light that he could see, and set about on a journey of devoutness, generosity, and prayerfulness. Even though his reach fell short of his grasp, he hungered and thirsted for righteousness and God saw to it that he would be filled. When he could see but a faint trace of God, God saw his heart clearly, brought Peter and the soldier together through His sovereignty, and saved him. Jesus always looms larger than the institutions that through neglect hide Him.

The single conversion of a Roman centurion announced an opened door for people from every tribe and tongue to one day stand before God fully redeemed.


Monday, September 1, 2014

Good Company


We get some pretty amazing sunrises, too!
We cherish the sense of well-being we received from one another's company this Labor Day weekend. Peaceful and laid back, our setting is perfect for sitting on the farmer's porch in the big rocking chairs and sipping hot coffee. Conversation flowed easily, but often stopped mid-sentence to point out deer crossing the field, or a ruby throated hummingbird peeping and oscillating back and forth in front of someone's colorful clothing. During the day our pistols barked and wax covered targets told the truth about the shooter's marksmanship. Each night the kids went out to the back fields to watch the sinking sun paint the western sky with pastel streaks. Old movies and playing Quelf--their choice--capped off each day. None of us went to bed hungry either!

Now, the shush of the air condition vents and the hum of the dishwasher are the only sounds heard in the house. Josh and Sammy left for Knoxville this morning. Cordelia returned to town. Ben is on his way back to UGA in Athens. None of them wanted to leave.

Between now and Christmas there will be a happy reunion at The Shire.