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.

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