Thursday, December 31, 2009

December 31

"Father God, I thank You for Your kindness and mercy which has allowed me to see the end of still another year. Certainly, there have been moments in my life which have pleased You, but far more have, no doubt, caused You to shake Your head in disappointment. So, even as I thank You, I ask once again for forgiveness for those moments of living which have been less than what they should have been. Help me, Father God, to live up to Your expectations and to be about Your agenda in the places where You have put me.
But, more than this prayer for myself is the prayer in my heart tonight for so many others whose lives have intersected with my own. They have intersected because of the way You have enabled our paths to cross over the years. I remember so many of them tonight and ask Your abundant blessings upon them. I ask You to encourage and help, to forgive and to love. I pray for those who continue to struggle with chronic family problems. I ask for Your healing powers to rest heavy on those whose bodies are broken. I pray for the ones whose hearts have been shattered by the undesired circumstances of life. And, I pray, too, for each church to which You have sent me and ask that You would grant a powerful season of spiritual renewal.
Carry us all forward into Your future and into Your will. Give us grace to receive what touches our life from Your hand and such an awareness of Your Holy Spirit that we are never tempted to turn aside from the way of faithfulness. In Jesus Jesus name...Amen."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve is filled with so many traditions. It is interesting the way some things become tradition for us. At first we do not recognize it is happening. It is only after years have passed and we begin to see how something has become tradition that we are truly able to recognize it and call it by name. When I was in seminary I was given a book entitled "The Christian Year with Charles Wesley." It was written by John Lawson, one of my professors. As I recall he gave those of us studying with him an autographed copy. Every year on Christmas Eve I read some of the selected writings. This year has been no exception.
There was a time when I would offer three services of communion and prayers on Christmas Eve. After people were served communion, I would move back along the rail, place my hands on the heads of some of the family members, and offer a prayer for that family as they knelt on Christmas Eve. It was not a long prayer, but it was a very personal and powerful moment of intercession for me. As the congregations got larger, such a service became impossible for me to do. It has always been one of the things I miss doing on this holy evening.
Between those services, while waiting on the next crowd to gather, I would take Lawson's book with me and read from it. It has been my companion on my many a Christmas Eve. One verse from the Christmas Eve meditation says, "To men of simple heart, The Savior still reveal, The Welcome news impart, Of joy unspeakable; To us who here our station keep, To us a child is given, Who wait to find, while others sleep, The Lord of earth and heaven." Far beyond my seminary days has this man blessed me.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

December 19

It has been fifty-four years, but still this date is remembered as a day my life changed. My Father left home in the early morning, spoke a word as he was leaving, and was gone forever. It was in the early evening when the Air Force chaplain and some others came to tell my Mother he had been killed in a mid air collision with another plane earlier in the day. Those moments are etched so permanently in my mind that remembering makes it seem like yesterday. Life changed for my family and for the other families involved in that December tragedy. My own life has been, and in some ways, continues to be shaped by the loss of my Father at age seven.
At first there were more questions than there were answers. And while there are still some unanswered questions, they are no longer the consuming things they once were. I do know that the tragedy of the day caused me to look heavenward for the first time. Two years after my Father's death, I was baptized and my journey of faith began. It was something my Father started, too. It is good not to have any questions about that issue. He had never been a church go-er, but in the months before his death, he became aware of how God was seeking him and was making plans for his own baptism when death interrupted them. At first I thought the story of his plans for baptism were said by family to make me feel better, but then I found words written by a chaplain who knew him that spoke of his changed heart. I am grateful for those written words and even more grateful for the assurance of my Father's faith in Jesus.
I have wondered how my life might have turned out had the tragedy of that day been averted. Of course, there is no way to begin to imagine. I do know that God stayed with each of us through those days of darkness and still abides in our hearts today. I do know that the path may not have been the one anticipated, but He has surely been directing it all along. I have come to understand in recent years that this same thing was surely true for my Father who left this life when there was still so much life to live. For this I am also grateful.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Small World

Lately, I have been visiting Mrs. Anne a good bit. For awhile she was in the hospital and now she is in Hospice care. At age 89 and brimming over with faith in Christ, Mrs. Anne would not want us to worry about the length of her days on earth for she is confident that she will soon be with Jesus in heaven. The other day I entered the room and she told me, "I've been listening to angels sing." I had no reason to doubt it. My only regret is my failure to ask what she heard them singing. On another visit I walked in the room to see six or eight of her family standing around her bed. I went because word had come that she was near death. When I went in the room, there was hysterical, hold-your-belly laughter. She had roused up from a light dozing sleep, saw them and said, "Ya'll still here? I thought this time I'd see angels!"
Today she told me a story of her first days as a nurse at the hospital in Waycross,. Ga. "It was February of 1948 and they assigned me to the nursery to help care for a set of premature triplets. One of them named Skeeter came to see me yesterday. I have been wondering why God has not taken me yet. Maybe it was so I could see Skeeter." When she finished I asked her how long she worked in the nursery. "About a year," she said. Her eyes really got wide when I said, "Well, I came into that nursery in June of '48 so I guess you took care of me, too."
It is indeed a small world. Long years ago Mrs. Anne offered care for me. Today I am blessed by God to be in a position to offer care to her. Only God could write such a story. I pray it was as much a blessing to this dear woman to see one of her babies grown up as it was for me to meet someone who held me with such care as a baby.

For Just One

This past Sunday night was our annual "Festival of Lessons and Carols." For those who might be unfamiliar with this worship service, it is a blend of selected readings and music of the Advent and Christmas season. Through Word and music we are reminded of the sinful nature of humanity and our need for Jesus who is our Savior. The service which is held here on Sunday afternoon is not always as well attended as worship planners would like, but this year was different. The Sanctuary was full with folks even sitting in the balcony.
What was most interesting was the appearance of David. He showed up here an hour or so before the service. First, he went to the chapel for prayer. His presence was announced by someone who came rushing into my Disciple group to tell me someone was praying in the chapel. Of course, there was something special about David. He was a soldier, awaiting immediate deployment to Iraq. By the time I caught up with him, he had left the Chapel and was in the Sanctuary waiting on the service to begin. He told me, "I saw the sign out front and wanted to attend worship tonight. It will be my last opportunity to worship in the United States before going to Iraq later this week."
Now sometimes we plan worship thinking about all the folks who are going to come. We want to be ready and prepared for everyone. We think about the 300 and not just the one. After talking with David, I found myself thinking, "God thinks differently than us. He surely sees the value in offering something for just one." If someone had told us ahead of time, "Only one person is going to come," we would likely turn out the lights, lock the door, and declare it not worth the effort. Ah, but then there is God whom Jesus says is like the shepherd concerned for just one. More than just chance was operative this past Sunday afternoon. God was at work and decided to use us to care for just one who belonged to Him. Amazing!