Month: November 2017

Thanksgiving

Gratitude should come naturally to us, but it doesn’t. We are a most blessed people in our great country, but that does not generally lead us to be as thankful as we ought to be.

We learn this from our earliest years. I do not remember a time, when we took our children for a shot at the doctors or a visit to have their teeth cleaned at the dentist, when they told us “thank you” afterward… even though we took time to take them, drove them to the appointment and paid for it. They didn’t understand anything but the discomfort.

Children generally are not thankful when they have to eat food they don’t like. We force them to eat broccoli (child abuse)… or in the case of my son, fish sticks. These little frozen delicacies or some other bag-to-oven fish meal would not have met with more resistance if it had been a live rattlesnake. He hated fish, and would often engage in a battle of wills with his mother when she served it. It was good for him! But he never thanked us for making him eat fish.

We can find ourselves in the same predicament as children of a gracious Father who brings gifts both delightful to receive or difficult to understand. Yet we owe Him gratitude for the bitter gifts as well as the pleasant ones. Why? He knows best what we need, though sometimes it feels like we’ve been served fish sticks with a side of broccoli.

I don’t know what may be on your plate today. I am learning to say thanks even for bitter providence. I certainly received the “good and perfect” gifts eagerly enough and not often enough with thanksgiving. It’s hard to squeak out a “thanks” with a mouthful of vile weed.

The people of Israel would gather for their Passover meal, served not only sweet dates in a mash, but “bitter herbs” that reminded them of the bitterness of slavery in Egypt and the hardship of the wilderness. Psalms of thanksgiving were spoken whether they enjoyed the sweet… or endured the bitter.

Today I truly hope your thanksgiving celebration is sweet… but whether it is or not, “give thanks to the Lord… for He is good.”

Always.

Reminders

I just returned from Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, where the 2017 Florida Baptist Convention gathered for its annual session with the theme, “Eyes on Eternity.” It was a rich time of worship, God-anointed singing and deep preaching. It was also a time to be reminded.

I was reminded, first, that my family is far larger than I sometimes remember. In this meeting, I talked with, prayed with, was embraced by and wept with men and women who had held my family close in the past months. We sometimes forget that our family far away are also precious and needed by us and care for us.

I was reminded further, that the impact we make through our Florida Baptist Convention family is far deeper than we could ever make alone. Florida is a huge state… and a largely lost one; “without hope and without God.” To our furthest points south, we are partnering with church plants, ministries and missionaries seeking to reach to “the uttermost parts” of our state.

I was reminded, most of all, that we do not do this ministry, win this mission field, or walk through this life alone. Our Baptist “family” is a good clan… not without fighting or disagreements, not without differences of approach and opinion and not of one “race” or “color,” social class or language. We were reminded by Jacksonville pastor H.B. Charles that there is only one “race:” the human race. And we are all afflicted with the same terminal “disease:” sin. And there is only one solution, one Savior, and His Name is Jesus.

I was reminded this week. Important reminders that we sometimes let slip. And I drove away with a memory I hope I will not forget:

We. Are. Not. Alone.

Tribulate

“I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Jesus made some amazing promises. He has kept, is keeping or will keep them all. Most are encouraging, life-giving, and filled with hope. A few, however, have an edge to them that is darker… more blunt.

Such is the promise in John 16:33 where He promised, “in this world you will have tribulation….” As one older, mountain pastor interpreted it, “when Jesus promises tribulation, you are going to tribulate.”

We solemnly nod our heads in assent to that homespun wisdom. We will “tribulate” in this world. If you haven’t you will. “All God’s chillun got troubles.”

We are sometimes stunned, however, by the forms that tribulation takes.
This past weekend, a Sunday-morning worship service at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, was shattered by the sounds of gunfire. Rounds of ammunition fired by the hands of a madman ripped through the small, family church.

At the end of the carnage, twenty six people had died. Many of them children and among those, the pastor’s fourteen-year-old daughter. Bodies quickly overwhelmed the small coroner’s office, and the attention of the nation and much of the world turned to this sleepy corner south of San Antonio, Texas.

Tribulation. Not just a bad day, or a long line of traffic blocking your way home to or from work. Tribulation is ugly. Unfair. Unjust. The agony of this day will live in the minds of many until Jesus wipes all tears from our eyes.

Ann Voskamp wrote, “There is no fear in letting tears come. Sadness is a gift to avoid the nothingness of numbness, and all hard places need some water.”
In this world we will see, feel and know tribulation. It is heart-shattering to think of the dozens of funerals that will have to be attended, and to see a church try to dig out of the rubble of this past weekend.

But the rubble may be present in your life too. Life’s challenges and frustrations, difficulties and anxieties crowd in on us and we cry out, “How long, O Lord?” As I write this on one device, I am helping a friend confront those very realities on another. He is “tribulating” (my spellcheck doesn’t like that word… but neither do I).

When it’s your turn to tribulate, make sure you add these two elements to your experience:

  1. Pray that this suffering that God is ALLOWING will not be wasted. Pray that your endurance may be a testimony even in the pain. I pray that for the church in Texas.
  2. Remember. Remember. Remember that this verse promising tribulation does not end there, but with an assurance that Jesus said, “But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.”

In tribulation, despair or joy… He has promised His abiding peace.

The Journey Continues

(This blog post was written three months after Pam’s death)

I’m on the road again this week, though this time not alone. I am traveling into some really cold weather with our happy group of about 50 traveling senior adults. They’ll be alright until the temperatures dive into the low 30’s tonight! We are going north, back to Kentucky, to visit the Creation Museum and the Ark Experience in northern Kentucky, near Cincinnati, Ohio, where it’s cold. Where it’s snowing… in OCTOBER!

I am traveling as the official “chaperone” of group and as the “camp pastor.” So far they are easier to keep up with than the last youth trip I found myself on. But I travel with an empty seat beside me. I wish Pam were on this trip. I really do. She loved fall weather and fall foliage. I know today she sees much more beauty than I do… far more than I could “think or imagine.”

And yet, I miss her. Every day. Every night. The house is full of empty echoes. Places where she should be. I walk into rooms expecting her to be there. Sometimes, as I listen to music or have the TV blaring aimlessly in the background, I imagine I can hear her voice.

I have moments of clarity when I can fully embrace that she is gone and I am still here, and life goes on. I’m told it gets better. I’m sure it will, though there are days that I wonder. So much of my adult life has been lived and seen through her eyes as well as my own. I haven’t figured out yet how to sit at the kitchen table and eat a meal by myself. I guess I don’t want to accept that this is “normal” now.

Social events are becoming more complex. I am beginning to experience the “fifth wheel” occasions which many who are single or widowed talk about. And I’m still trying to find my “fit.”

Even church is hard, though it’s wonderful to walk for a few hours with the “family of God.” I’ve learned in the past six or seven months the depth of what it means to have such a family to walk with through the fire and trials that come to us all. But church was something “we” did together… and every corner and every song holds a memory.

A death is not much different than an amputation. You try to use an arm or leg that has been lost or removed, even though you know it isn’t there. Your whole life was oriented around having two hands, two feet, and now, there’s only one. So everything feels different, disorienting. Like having to learn to walk and feed yourself all over again.

And though I usually can contain or compartmentalize them, memories come sometimes at a furious speed. Some are wonderful and I weep. Some are hard and I want to forget, but they all seem tied together, so I can’t cauterize one without doing the same to the others.

As I suspected, memories are tied inextricably to tangible things. Last weekend, on campus we had several pastors and their wives from partner countries and cities where our church has gone on mission trips. Two of the wives (I judged) were approximately Pam’s size and I also knew they would appreciate some of the clothing in Pam’s wardrobe. So accompanied by a good friend, they came to my home (I wasn’t there) and had “Christmas” as they went through clothing and shoes in Pam’s closet. Pam had actually talked about sending some of her things as a donation to Haiti so this was even better as they came here to select what they wanted. They sent me pictures wearing some of their favorites from Pam’s wardrobe! It was both joyous and hard.

I find myself sometimes crying at inconvenient times. On a bike ride. In the gym. I miss her, and sometimes that thought overwhelms me like an ocean swell. And then, mercifully, it subsides in the same way and just as unpredictably.

I miss her when I look into the face of my granddarlin’. McCail, as you know, was the apple of Pam’s eye, and Pam’s greatest sorrow as she realized she was not going to recovery from the cancer was that her granddaughter wouldn’t know her. I promised her that every time McCail looked in a mirror, she would see her grandmother’s eyes looking back! But it is also true that every time I see or spend time with my sweet grand baby, I see her Mamaw looking back at me.

They say you can’t hug memories but I wish I could. Saturday I found myself back in St Augustine for the first time since her passing. We have so many great memories in the oldest city; restaurants we enjoyed, places where we would go for an overnight getaway, stores she like to shop.

I went there to be part of a wedding for a young man I deeply love. The wedding was great, but it reminded me in very vivid ways that I am alone. My wedding ring reminds me of that constantly, even as it reminded me of my love and commitment when she was with me. But Pam is no longer by my side. My bride has gone to an eternal home where I know… I know… I will see her again. But until then, I’m alone.

And yet, I am not lonely. My children have been wonderful to keep me forward focused, making me plan for outings and events. They include me in their plans, and I am daily reminded how great it is to be a father and grandfather, and that life must go on. I have many in our church family who regularly touch base in person or electronically, and friends around the globe who love and pray for me. I am lonely. But not alone.

The One who promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” is faithful to His Word. He has never left me… and this I also know. He has never failed one moment to walk with me “in the valley of the shadow of death,” and no matter how dark it has gotten He still comes to bring light… and life… and hope.

And so, in response to you and the many who ask, “How are you doing?” I continue to respond, “I am grieving well.” But I miss her. I’m learning to “walk on one leg.” I’m finding “new normal” a piece and a day at a time. Some days I fall, but I try to fall forward and not backward.

And with God’s help and your prayers, I will… and my family will… keep walking.

With great love from your pastor,

Tim

By Faith

What does it take to please God? Is He waiting for us to do some benevolent deeds, to meet some pressing need, to “up our game” on church attendance? Does He want us to promise to read our Bibles or attend another Bible study or give more money? Does God sit in Heaven impatiently waiting to be pleased by our obedience to morality or to treat people more nicely or to commit to a mission trip?

Just what is it that God is waiting for us to do so He can say to us, “well done good and faithful servant?” The solution to our quest is right under our collective noses. It is planted in stories and sentences in Old and New Testaments, in letters and Gospel accounts and even has a full chapter in the Bible devoted to it.

The answer? God. Wants. Faith.

“Now wait,” you may protest. “FAITH? All God wants, amid all the good things we could be involved in, God just wants faith?” Well, I didn’t make the answer up. I didn’t set the standard. I’m simply asking myself and you, if you are interested in such things. Jesus brought the answer to the floor in a passage where He asks and answers the question for us.

“When the Son of Man returns (that’s Jesus) will He find FAITH on the earth?” In all the ruins left behind; when the game tapes of our lives are replayed for evaluation Jesus is sorting through the rubble looking for one shining treasure. Our faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please God,” the inspired writer of Hebrews says.

It is by that faith that salvation becomes a reality to us. It is by that faith that our righteousness is determined. Not by works that we can do. Those are all… ALL… polluted by our self-serving and fleshly need to boast. We live by faith. “We walk by faith and not by sight.” Can you think of other verses that reinforce that truth? I’m confident you can.

So what does it take to please our Father in Heaven… to make Him rejoice in us and be pleased with our lives? That answer is now a given.

He wants a people of faith.

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