Monday, June 26, 2006

Level Ground

Psalm 143:10 Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.

In the last two years, level ground has become very important to me.

There was a time when I'd skip the elevator when making visits at the hospital. I never thought twice about climbing the steps, even if it was four or five flights.

I loved the mountains with their hiking trails that wander left and right, up and down, over rocks, across streams. I loved the drop of temperature you feel as you step closer to the rush of a waterfall, even on a hot summers day.

I loved to walk deep into a forest, far away from the paved roads and the sounds of steady traffic, to find a flattop rock, or a low hanging branch, or the broad root of a large old oak to sit upon while I lean back against the trunk.

To sit still, relax and slowly let my heart rate slow from its exertion. As the beating slows and the breathing quiets, I willed my sense of sight and sound and smell to their sharpest. To eventually be able to match the rustle in the leaves to the movement of a ground squirrel, to not only hear the screech of the angry blue jay, but also find the limb from which he fussed.

To look up through the branches and leaves as the breeze moves them to form constantly changing patterns of light across my face.

But in the last two years, level ground has become very important to me.

Two years ago is when the MS reared its head with a vengeance to dim my vision and drown my voice, to sap my strength and make me stumble. I used to take a walking stick on my hikes in the woods to steady by step over uneven ground. Now, some days I take a cane to walk straight on flat pavement.

Yes. Level ground has become very important to me.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

A Satisfying Sound

Micah 7:18-19 Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. 19 You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

The Terminix man's schedule always has him arriving at the church just a couple of days after his last treatment wears off. How do I know? My office is on the same leg of the hallway that houses two restrooms and the closet with the janitorial sink. From somewhere in the depths of their building code required floor drains emerges a couple of large, black, creatures from the Carboniferous era of 280 million years ago -- cockroaches. I'm not talking about little black bugs. I'm talking about roaches that we try to saddle and go cattle roping on.

The 1960's era building has your ubiquitous 12 x 12 tiles laid in a pattern on a concrete slab…a nice, hard concrete slab. The walls are painted concrete block, the ceiling, sprayed. In other words, an echo chamber.

When these six-legged blasts from the past have their two or three day "free period" before the next chemical attack, I use the old fashioned "shock and awe" approach keep them under control. I shock them by introducing them to the sole of my size 9 1/2 Rockports which bear my 190 lbs. of weight and then listen in awe as the resulting CRUNCH echoes up and down the hallway. It is an deeply satisfying sound.

Roaches are gross…but they're a reality demanding our attention.

Our sins are gross…and they're a reality demanding God's attention.

We can't eliminate the roach's grossness without eliminating the roach. When we stomp the roach, the whole roach is dead. Our sins require death, as well, but we thank God that by His grace, through the gift of His Son, the only thing He treads underfoot are our sins and not us. I bet it's a satisfying sound. Don't you?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Sand Dollars from a Web Beach Walk

In the category That'll Preach…

Thoughts from a grad student in philosophy at Notre Dame. From all I've seen on his blog, his head is deep in thought and study, his feet are firmly on the ground and his heart is turned toward God. Sensitivity warning...

Why David didn’t kill Saul in the port-o-potty


A Christian Century editorial shows us that the further the left gets from the right, the closer they get together. Both can be very ob"gnostic"ious.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Universal Love

Psalm 103:10-12 He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

As best as people who know how to guess can figure, the big bang blew around 13 billion years ago. Assuming the force expanded equally in the shape of a sphere, east and west would be separated by about 26 billion light years. Light travels a little more than 187,000 miles per second. So...26 billion x 187,000= .... uh ... mmm ... well??? ... gimme a sec ... I'VE GOT IT!


Saturday, June 17, 2006

An unusual song recipe

Take 1 Lutheran hymnwriter - 348 years old
Add 1 Melody written by a 38 year old Blogger/Minister/Musician
Combine using American Folk music instruments

Results: Anabaptist Monk's Oh, That I Had a Thousand Voices

Thanks, I Needed That...

Jim Martin's thoughts are worth your time.

And newest in the new category that I am calling That'll Preach..., here's John Frye's insight into a lesson from Jesus.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Goodbye to another friend

LaVerne Dewey Vickery, 84, slipped from earth June 11, 2006, to be present with the Lord. Born in Savannah, GA, August 12, 1921 to Clarice Annelle Bonner and George Dewey Vickery as the eldest of three sons, he would spend his first six years there before the family moved to LaGrange, GA. He spent his school years there and graduated from high school. While “Vick” was working at Callaway Mills, Pearl Harbor was attacked and he enlisted in the Navy January 30, 1942 to answer his country’s call, as did many of our “Greatest Generation.” He served as a Pharmacist’s Mate Second Class at the Naval Hospitals in New Orleans and Trinidad, British West Indies, then on board the USS LST 722 and USS LST 883, seeing duty in Okinawa. (LST stands for Landing Ship Tank, a vessel designed to be sailed up onto the beach to offload tanks, heavy equipment and troops. According to veterans who make up the US LST Association, LST really stands for Large Slow Target.) A fellow Navy friend James Marshall thought LaVerne should meet his cousin in Hartsville, Hazel Jeanette Tyner. This introduction turned into the enduring love that would last beyond the 33 years Hazel and “Vick” had together. The Lord blessed their marriage with the joy that only He can give and He held them closely as they lost their 19 year old son, LaVerne, Jr., in a 1969 car accident. Hazel preceded “Vick” in passing in 1978 after a courageous battle with cancer. The Lord blessed “Vick” with another season of joy when he married another Godly woman, Ruth Long Hager. Ruth and “Vick” shared a bond in Christ and some happy years before they faced a long battle with illness that would take Ruth home after 23 years of marriage. A member who loved the First Baptist Church of Hartsville for 60 years, “Vick” served as Youth Sunday School teacher in “Miss Jo” Erwin’s Junior Department, sharing his deep love for Christ. He served the Lord as a Big Brother, a Deacon, a lay leader in worship times at Morrell Nursing Home and as a devoted husband and father. He was steadfast in his passion to share the love of Christ with all.

LaVerne Vickery was known by most as Vick. He was a friend that I called “Rooster.” But he is one who will always be remembered as “Guinea” by all the chickens of his coop seated down front this afternoon. He lived for all of the 15 years I’ve known him in what he once described to me as a little bungalow on Home Ave with roses in the front and pecan trees in the back. An immaculately groomed yard and pecan grove lovingly conserved and cultivated, it stands today as a beautiful reflection of his lovingly conserved and cultivated relationship with his personal Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.

Hear the word of God as recorded in:
Galatians 6:7-9
7Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Whether you pronounce it “pih KAHN” or prefer “PEE kan” the pecan tree is about as American as a tree can get. The name comes from the Algonquin word “pacane” meaning “nut so hard as to require a stone to crack.”

LaVerne Vickery faced events and circumstances in life that could have crushed many people but, like the pecans in his yard, Vick was a tough nut to crack. While some of his endurance was derived from a natural, inner fortitude, his ultimate strength was derived from an unfailing trust in the promises of scripture like the one in Galatians 6:8-9, “…the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in well doing, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
In our day, we are losing track of the depth of meaning of a verb that, at one time, folks grasped and understood as naturally as breathing. That is the verb “to harvest.” To gather a crop that has ripened in its season. Most people today equate harvesting with a trip to Bilo or Walmart where we pull food from the shelf after all of the real work of harvest is done.

Sometime around October or November each year is the time to go out and pick up pecans. In the big operations you can see down in Georgia, they have these large machines that go out to shake the trees to release the nuts. When I was a boy visiting my grandparents’ farm we didn’t have anything so sophisticated. It was the grandkids’ job to climb the trees and shake the limbs. But a lot of the harvesting of pecans was of the “bending over and picking up what had already fallen and the squirrels hadn’t gotten yet” variety.

After the buckets had been filled and the buckets filled the tubs to be taken back to the house, the work had only just begun – because pecans have to be shelled. I was always amazed that the adults seemed to know just how to crack the shell in just the right way to free the two halves of the pecan whole and intact – most of the time.
Vick is from one of the last generations to really understand the work that is involved in harvesting and preparing the fruit of the harvest whole and intact. And he brought that understanding of harvest to bear in his passion for the harvest Christ was speaking of in Matthew 9:35-37:

35Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Vick was dedicated to being a worker in the Lord’s harvest field. His greatest joy was to see people’s lives changed by the power of Jesus Christ. Why? Because he had experienced first hand the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – the fruit of the Spirit available to a child of the King. He wanted the wonderful blessing of salvation to be known by all.

I have had the privilege of using one of Vick’s Bibles in preparing for this memorial service today. He read, studied and marked his Bible. It is evident that one of the hard realities of the work involved in the kingdom harvest was of great concern to him. Many of the scriptures he marked concern the struggle of good versus evil in our age.

For instance, Vick has marked the parable found in Matthew 13 where we read: (Mt. 13:24-30, 36-43)
24Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27"The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?'
28" 'An enemy did this,' he replied. "The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?'
29" 'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.' "

36Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field."
37He answered, "The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40"As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

Vick was keenly aware that, just as the squirrel is trying to get his pecans before he does, there is an evil one trying to capture the souls of mankind before they have an opportunity to give themselves to the Lord of the harvest. Vick was passionate about winning the lost for Christ. Why? Because he knew first hand what it is to be lost and then found – what it is to be in darkness and then to find the light – to be blind but then to see.

To Vick, it was worth all the effort necessary to bring in the lost. But beyond that, he had the wisdom and compassion to know that bringing them in is just the beginning of the harvest. We all have to allow God to remove our hard shells, to clean away all of the excess debris so that all that is left is the beautifully clean fruit of the harvest.

Monday, June 12, 2006

In the other guys shoes

It's been quite a while since I've had a chance to catch up at blogitch. With our interim pastor away on 3 weeks of vacation beginning Memorial Day, I've been experiencing ministry from a more senior pastoral perspective. It's not the first time and I'm sure it probably won't be the last. I have no complaints because we all need to live life in another person's shoes every once in a while.

I've enjoyed preparing a couple of midweek prayed/bible studies, a couple of Sunday evening messages, a sermon for morning worship yesterday, music & worship for all the services and three funerals - in the last 17 days.

I know that's a light schedule for many of you rev gals and guys. The biggest challenge has been the funerals for these three men - two who died just yesterday. My comments on Bill are posted just below. Tomorrow we bury Buck Goudelock and Wednesday we say goodbye to Laverne "Vick" Vickery. All of these guys were 75+ year old, salt of the earth, mortar of the fellowship men. Each, in his own circumstances, succumbed to illnesses that ate away at their bodies. But the very different illnesses failed to crush their humanity, their spirits, their ability to be Christ to a room full of people all physically stronger than themselves.

It is a real privilege, a real gift to be able to take the lead in guiding the fellowship in thanksgiving and celebration for lives such as these.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

I buried a friend yesterday

William M. “Bill” Griggs, 79, widower of Betty Gainey Griggs, died Tuesday, May 30, 2006. Born in Hartsville, SC, he was a son of the late Charlie Cleveland and Sara Wilkes Griggs. He was a member of First Baptist Church where he served as a deacon and a member of the building committee. He was a veteran of WWII serving in the Navy. He was a long time member and past president of the Rotary Club, served several terms on city council, was a volunteer fireman. He was retired from CP&L and was a former manager of the Hartsville and Cheraw offices. Surviving are his sons and daughters-in-law, Mike and JoAnne Griggs of Columbia, SC, Kevin and Tricia Griggs of Sudbury, MA; sisters, Margie G. Byrd of Hartsville, SC, Mary G. Byrd of Hartsville, SC; brothers, Ted Griggs of Hartsville, SC, Bobby Griggs of Atlanta, GA; faithful and loving friend, Beth Blackmon of Hartsville, SC; grandchildren, Jennifer G. Schulze, Jamie G. Goodson, Ian Griggs, Hope Griggs, Walker Griggs; great-grandchildren, Sydney Schulze, Hudson Schulze, Newton Goodson. He was preceded in death by his son, Steven Griggs.

Bill Griggs is the quintessential example of America’s vanishing Builder Generation. Born in 1927, on the eve of the Great Depression, he and his brothers and sisters lived in a family which, like most everyone else in that day, grew what they ate and ate what they grew. Money was scarce and common sense was a highly valued commodity. Personal responsibility was expected but shared burdens were welcomed. Faith, family and friendship formed the matrix of life. Bill was a young teenager when Japanese bombs fell on Pearl Harbor and when the time came; he joined the Navy to do his part in the cause of world freedom. Some 16.5 million Americans served in WWII. Today, fewer than 3.5 million are still alive with more than 1500 dying everyday. So in a sense, Bill has rejoined this vast band of brothers who fought on land, sea and in the air from Burma to Berlin in the greatest clash of the 20th century.

When he reentered civilian life, the world needed rebuilding. He was blessed to live in the nation now leading the world and that nation, our nation, needed leaders. He and so many others who grew up valuing common sense, personal responsibility and shared burdens, who were comfortable in the matrix of faith, family and friendship, stepped up to the plate as need and opportunity presented itself.

For Bill, that meant marrying, raising three boys, and working to build the infrastructure that provides these lights, drives this sound system, cools this room. He and people like him had the vision to create and the willingness to sweat so that it is now possible for us to take for granted things that were impossible just a few decades ago.

Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the US, had his constitutional cabinet officers to work with but he also had an informal group of advisors upon which he depended more, history tells us. They came to be called Jackson’s Kitchen Cabinet. When I came to First Baptist in 1991, the pastor, Dr. Aubrey Floyd had the constitutional deacon board and committee people with which to work. But he also had an informal group of advisors upon which, I think, he depended upon even more. I called them Aubrey’s Coffee Cabinet. The Coffee Cabinet was made up of men like Lenwood Furr, Howard Harrison, Charlie Burry and many, many others. Bill Griggs was a member of this Coffee Cabinet. I soon learned that this Coffee Cabinet was the place where the head-to-head, heart-to-heart, and sometimes hand-to-hand work was done on the problem-solving needs of our church. These men had a broad base of experience, a wide world of wisdom, and deep well of love for their Lord and His church. And Bill was a critical cog in the machine that kept First Baptist moving forward.

I’m going to step aside from my prepared remarks now to observe that Bill’s role was particularly in these latter years was related to the Building and Grounds Committee and Cemetery Committee. Bill knew every switch box, every junction, and every connection all over this campus. In the planning for the renovation and the new construction, he helped those who were doing the planning on that know where everything was on this side of campus and advised on how best to connect all of the old construction and the new construction to make things work more efficiently. He was instrumental in the placing of the in-ground irrigation we have around the campus. He cared deeply that these facilities were taken care of well, that they looked nice and that they gave glory to God in doing so. He knew every tree and bush and nearly every blade of grass on campus. He wanted them to complement the appearance of the campus. Do those of you who know Bill and his gardening taste, his yard taste, his tree taste, find any irony at all in the irony at all in the fact that he died in a building named after a pine tree and is being buried in a cemetery named after a magnolia tree? He cared not for either type of tree – wanted them gone – and had a hand in seeing many of them disappear, on this campus and elsewhere. Mike, the other day, was reflecting on the fact that he wishes he had listened to his dad’s advice when he built on the lot that was covered with pine trees after moving from a lot that had no trees at all. All there were was pine trees and he said, “But dad, I need some trees.” He said, “Take ‘em all out.” Mike left a few and over the years he’s found himself removing those.

Over the years I’ve had hundreds, if not thousands, of conversations with Bill on all types of subjects. Some lasted just seconds, many for several minutes and some for much more than an hour. There was one phrase that appeared in nearly every one of those conversations. It was, “Let me ask you a question.”

“Let me ask you a question.”

With this statement that has come to represent Bill in our minds, let’s turn to the scriptures to seek a lesson that is taught within its pages and that was demonstrated in Bills life.

Matthew 7:7-12
7"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
9"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Asking and seeking. Let me ask you a question.

The asking and the seeking are two sides of the same coin, scripture tells us. For God encourages us to ask for what we need. Whether it be our daily bread or the care of our health or encouragement in times of struggle, or comfort in grief. But the very next phrase, in all occasions when Jesus makes reference, includes the verb “to seek.” Ask and lay back and wait? No. Surely ask but step out and seek.

One of Bill’s best known roles in our community was that of city councilman. And I’m told in his first campaign years ago he literally went door to door not just asking for a vote but “What do you need the city to do for you? How can city government improve your life? What can you do to improve city government?” And then, gathering those answers, forming those ideas, collaborating with partners, he sought the accomplishement of worthy and worthwhile goals to improve his community, to make it a worthwhile place to live. If he thought a situation needed improving and there was something he could contribute, he was not one to sit on the sidelines and say, “You ought to…” If he had something that he could contribute he would step up and say, “What can I do?” or “This is what I think I can do. Will it help?” What a model. To see that people are safe in their homes from fire, he didn’t sit on the sidelines and say, “You ought to…” He said, “Teach me how and let me stand beside you and do what I can to help.” What a model. What a model.

Opinions strongly held, for sure. One of my favorite things to do was stomp in Bill’s political puddle and see who got wet. Politically, we agreed on very, very little. But our conversations were always such that we would talk about ideas, talk about possibility, challenge changes – and we could do it without looking at each other and saying, “You’re an idiot because you don’t think like I do.” A repectful type of political discourse that is sorely lacking and a model we all need to grasp.

Asking and seeking. In the context of Matthew, Christ is telling us that we can ask the Father but we should seek the fulfillment of that which we ask, that which we learn then is within His will. We should knock upon the door of God’s eternal wisdom and trust in the fact that that door will be opened and that need which we have will be fulfilled by what comes pouring out of that door.

There is one other scripture from Psalms that uses these same two verbs that I wish to conclude our time here with.

One thing I ask of the LORD,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple. Psalm 27:4

At some point in his life, Bill asked the Lord to remove his personality from Lordship and to overtake it with the personality of Jesus Christ. And out of that relationship was sealed his eternity. But that one instance of asking and seeking was not it – that’s not all there was. Though it sealed his place in eternity it was only the beginning for carrying out the model of his Lord and provided the framework in which common sense was valued, in which personal responsibility was expected, but in which shared burden was joyfully shared.

So now, as David said, Bill is dwelling in the house of the Lord forever beholding the beauty of the Lord and seeking Him in His temple.

Will you pray with me?

Father, for this friend we have been remembering
We give thanks
For the model of asking and seeking
We give thanks
For the example of serving and caring
We give thanks
For the results of this life which lives on in this family
We give thanks
For Bill, one more link in an ever progressing line of generations, the passing of values that continues to his sons and his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren – for this
We give thanks.

And now as we move this place of worship to where Bill’s body will be laid, we ask that you would go with us. That you would bridge these two times with your Spirit’s presence. That we would conclude this time of memorial at the graveside with a sense of thanksgiving and victory which is possible through the death and resurrection and enduring life of your Son, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Welcome, SC Singing Churchmen

If you're here, you must really be bored or looking to escape something you'd rather not be doing. Thanks for stopping by anyway.

Continue to hold each other up in prayer as we try to navigate through rough waters. Anger on behalf of injured brothers is righteous but not all words and actions expressing that anger are equally righteous. I think we've all done extremely well in the communications that I've been privileged to read. Let's maintain the high road.

Bravo, Dan Williams! I believe you were Spirit-led in your letter. I failed in my attempt to find the properly measured rhetoric to express my outrage at the injustices endured by Jim and Tom so I edited that section out of my email to "the powers" before I pressed send. You, however, accomplished the goal.

A Plan and a Partner #2

One of the things that made my old workout schedule successful was the coach that taught me how to use the machinery and then helped with a plan that made the best use of those machines.

What kept me on track, though, was having a friend to meet at the Y who worked out at the same time as I did. We enjoyed the fact that we shared in the pain and in the progress that came from the pain. We drove one another to higher goals. We enjoyed sharing in the reward of the muscle relaxing sauna and the rejuvinating pool. On the days when soreness or laziness whispered in my ear that it was alright to not go, the realization that I would be letting a friend down spoke a bit louder in the other ear reminding me that he was depending on me to be there. The joy of the relationship provided the extra motivation I needed to remember the higher purpose behind the hard task. In other words, I had a standing appointment and I was accountable to keep it.

Agree with a friend or loved one to follow a prayer plan. Consider using the plan at Celtic Prayer to see if it helps you as much as it helps me. Pray together or commit to check each other's faithfulness. Be a good enough friend to ask, "Have you prayed this morning?"