Sunday, January 10, 2016

"There's Nothing Like it"

When our son, William and his wife, Mary Kate announced to us their pregnancy we were thrilled to say the least!  Our first grandchild!  No, wait, there’s two?!? Twins!

For months we have been anticipating their arrival and entering into that holy fraternity of GRANDPARENTHOOD.  Dozens of already established members of this wonderful society told us repeatedly, “There’s nothing like it!” or “If I had known it would be this much fun I’d have had my grands first.”

I can now say, “THERE’S NOTHING LIKE IT!”  If you follow me, Susan, William, Mary Kate, Ragan or any other relative or friend of ours you have encountered numerous pictures posted to the wonderful world of Facebook.  Gone are the days of photographs with film and having to wait a week for development.  Praise be to God!  Today there is instant gratification and sharing.

Some have heard the account of January 3, 2016 from our perspective.  It began like any other Sunday just like yours.  You know; you wake up, stretch, drink your coffee, have some devotional time, walk and feed the dog, shower, dress for church and find a flat tire on your car!  So, Susan and I take my loyal Toyota truck to church.  Having just returned from some extensive time with families in Virginia and Alabama, and an extension of our time in Alabama to help with Susan’s mother who fell and broke her hip, we were greeting folks at church as we entered.

William had made for me and gifted me at Christmas a “two peas in a pod” lapel pin which I chose to wear on my suit coat for the first time.  Susan and I met our pastor, Bill Ireland in the hall and he inquired into Susan’s mother’s condition.  He then asked about William, Mary Kate and the babies.  We told him the news we received at Christmas that a date had been set for the C-section: February 2nd…and my phone rang.

On the other end was William.  The timbre of his voice was higher than normal and syllables were flying by.  What we understood him to say was he had just preached the 8:30 service at his church, had an urgent text from Mary Kate, another minister copied his sermon and told him she would cover the 11:00 service.  He would keep us informed but would be going to the doctor or the hospital to check to see why Mary Kate was so sick.  (Keep in mind the scheduled date was a month away and that was even early.)

Our pastor assured Susan, the Minister of Music, that she needed to do whatever she needed to or wanted to do for her family.  Susan, the wife and expectant grandmother told me, “Go get the flat tire fixed!”  So, off I went, back home, change clothes, put air in a tire and see what it needed.  Ragan, our oldest son was finishing up his Christmas vacation with us and was still at the house getting ready to come to church.  He drove behind me to find a tire repair shop.

Before we could get to a tire shop, I received a text from William, “You’re going to be a ‘Tom Tom’ (hopeful name they will call me!) today!”  Susan received a different text, “Holy Smokes!  Fully Dialated!”

This all transpired while Susan was preparing the choir to lead in worship.  She kept her phone with her and advised the pastor of the progressive nature of the news.  Everyone encouraged her to go ahead and leave, but remember, she had no vehicle.  We had communicated that she would leave whenever Ragan could arrive at church.

I found no place open to repair a tire on Sunday and made the decision to drive my truck to Richmond and not take a chance on the tire, which was holding air.  I turned on the radio knowing that our church service was being broadcasted.  Here’s where it gets good!  At 11:25 a.m., the choir begins singing the anthem, “Benedictus (Blessed is the LORD).”  I am driving up the highway back to the house and those words open up the dam of emotions…at 11:25 – 11:30 a.m.

The pastor begins his sermon from Matthew 2, the account of the Magi’s journey to see the promised one.  He states, “What a joyous day today has already proven to be.  Susan, Tommy and Ragan are now beginning their journey to go see those promised precious babies.”  Again, the emotions well up inside and then out!

Sweet Adeline Charlotte Deal and Dorothy Hope Deal were born at 11:28 a.m. and 11:29 a.m. respectively.  The
exact moments that God Himself appointed for their earthly journey to begin, for the choir to sing “Benedictus” and our pastor to verbally pull it all together.  “Blessed is the LORD!”


Having now begun my journey as a grandfather, I agree:  “There’s nothing like it!”  (Rest assured:  more will come!)

Thursday, December 3, 2015

“I bring you good tidings…”

These words are familiar to most of us, particularly at this time of year.  These are the words of the angel announcing the birth of the Messiah.  I’ve never actually heard angelic voices, but I know good sounds when I hear them.  Some have even said someone “sings like an angel.”

I think we all know what that means; don’t we?  Hopefully, it is a compliment, basically applauding one’s rendition of lyrics and melodies that convey a message.  I love to sing.  I love good singing.  I loathe bad singing.  The Psalmist reminds us to “Make a joyful noise to the LORD,” and honestly that is all some of us can do.

But, what about those shepherds that night?  Out of nowhere shows up something (the angel of the Lord) they had never seen before blasting an announcement with the force of what we could imagine as a rock band-type sound system volume.  And the first words were:  “Fear not!”  If I was a shepherd back then, I probably would have said, “Yea, right!” as I high-tailed it away from there.

After this grand introduction the voice said to them, “I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”  In today’s vernacular, I imagine the angel saying, “Hey Dudes!  Listen up!  Have I got something to tell ya!”

And…they listened.  Shocked and in awe the shepherds were the first to know that the Savior of the world had come.  They heard; they believed; they did something (they went to see); and they spread the news.

As we are in the Advent season, all the world is eagerly waiting the celebration of the coming of the Christ.  ‘Tis the Season for hustle and bustle, for shopping and feasting, for music and laughter, for giving and receiving of gifts.  So many things to do, see and experience, that when it is all said and done, I wonder if we might miss the whole purpose?  Perhaps, there is too much noise and we do not hear what we really need to hear.

Are we so busy that we miss the voice calling out, “Hey!  Listen up!  There’s something more to this.  Don’t miss it!  It is for everyone!”


“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

Monday, November 2, 2015

Lazy, Hazy Days of Summer
October 31, 2015

As I drive around the beautiful and spectacular Blue Ridge Mountains I am reminded of the work of God’s hand.  The vibrant and lush colors of Autumn are popping out; the clear and cool air allows for some awesome views from overlooks.

However, as we have gone into the autumn season, I am reminded of a final summer experience Susan and I had.  On Labor Day, we drove to Blue Ridge, Georgia and up the Toccoa River where we stepped into the cold (yes, cold!) flowing waters and tubed the Toccoa.  What began as an overcast morning, turned into one of the most beautiful, sunny mornings that afforded exactly what our bodies, minds and souls needed—nothing.


Not exactly “nothing,” but for two and a half hours we did “nothing.”  This “nothing” of an experience, however, reminded me of a few lessons. 

One, we all need respite.  We live in such a fast-paced, winner-takes-all society that if we do not stop, rest and retool, we will quickly burn out.  Once I plopped down into the inflated pink (yes, real men do wear pink!) inner tube, I didn’t have to decide much of anything.  I rested in physics to take me where I should go.

Second, as song writer Jack Johnson put it, it is better together.  As we checked in we were given an additional strap to tether our tubes so that we could stay connected.  We realized that we were on this journey together, and together it would be fun.  Drifting apart would have meant more energy to attempt to reconnect or catch up.

Third, goes along with “second,” the momentum of one helped when another got stuck.  Invariably an obstacle, usually a large rock, protruded out of the swift moving water and would catch the one in the front. While this manned inner tube sat there paralyzed against the fighting forces of rock and rushing water, the tethered inner tube would gently float around and find the current’s flow around the rock.  Being tethered the “free” tube would persuade the other to follow.  And this happened time and again.  It didn’t matter which one got stuck, the other was there to urge forward movement.

Fourth, life vests are for a purpose.  For the most part, I didn’t need this designer orange floatation device for its purpose, so I used it as a pillow.  Which by the new definition fulfilled its purpose!

Last, relying on others, particularly strangers, is important.  While we did not actually hear “Dueling Banjos” playing, several times I did wander if the tubing company would actually pick us up at the end and return us to our car.

Conclusion: 
Respite is not only a good thing, it is God-ordained.  Take it when you can; make it happen for your spiritual, emotional and physical health. 

Life is a journey that cannot and should not be done solo.  Find those whose life resonates with yours and tether together.  You won’t drift apart and when you get stuck, their momentum will help you along. 

If you cannot fully utilize something for its designed purpose, maybe there is a secondary function you can use it for. 

Relying on others requires trust.  Trust others around you and those whose paths you cross today to help you achieve today’s goals.

Mostly, go enjoy this adventure called life.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

For Such a Time as This

When my friend asked me to read and review his new book, I was first surprised and amazed! 
Surprise was because I had not received such an invitation before.  (I have read and reviewed books that have been “around for a while” and others had shared their insight; but not one just being published.)  Amazement was due to his trust in me to give some constructive thoughts and encouragement that might draw others to read.

For Such a Time as This…Aligning Church and Leadership for Missional Ministry by Ircel Harrison is a short, concise book which seeks to encourage the Church – God’s representation in our society; my church; your church – to BE what it is to be.  Use of the term “missional” is seen throughout the book speaking of “missional churches” and “missional Christians.”  While this is a fairly new term, it is one which simply means that one is involved in God’s mission – the redemption of the world.  It is not one program or set way of doing anything.  It is being a redemptive presence in the world in which one finds itself.

This book is not a resource kit or packaged program one would use to go and “make” one’s church become missional.  It is a small volume filled with encouragement for the church to do some introspection to determine what it is doing well, what it is not doing, and what it is doing that no longer is making an impact on the Kingdom of God.  Harrison writes, “It may mean identifying one thing the church is doing that is no longer needed and invest that time and energy into a new outwardly-focused ministry.”  I paused to reflect how many “things” the churches I have been a part of all my life that continue to do “things” just because.  There is no kingdom impact, no one finds a deeper spiritual journey because of, or other things are not allowed to be scheduled because of it.  What if we were to face the reality that some things we do once had a meaningful, life-changing purpose, but now are just someone’s sacred cow of service?

The author encourages those who wish to align church and leadership into missional ministry to think outside the box.  “We've never done it that way before,” may just be the beginning point of that one ministry opportunity right before our eyes.

Building and empowering leadership is a key the author writes passionately about.  He states that as a whole the church has done a good job of Bible teaching “but little to equip lay leaders.”  This topic is one which not only needs more elaboration, but needs volumes written and seminary courses taught to both new and experienced clergy.  The pastoral call from Scripture states to “equip the saints…” but for many reasons, this role has been overlooked or pushed to the back of the priority lists.  Early New Testament followers were not elected to a position but were empowered to a ministry.  How can we in church leadership shift our focus to empower and equip our membership to do the ministry God has ordained them for?


It IS time for the church and its leadership to align itself with God for the missional ministry only they have been called and ordained to do.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Seasons

After living in Orlando, Florida for ten and a half years, my wife and I longed for seasons other than hot and rainy.  Moving to Dalton, Georgia three years ago this November we were reminded of what we love about this part of the country—four seasons!

Usually my favorite season is whichever one we are currently in.  There is something great about each one.  But to be honest, I love autumn the most.  It is a time of beauty with magnificent colors.  It is a time of spice and wonderful smells; it is a great time for drives to Ellijay and Blue Ridge to enjoy the majesty of our mountains and savor some delicious apples.

Autumn is also called “Fall”.  Just that word conjures up certain images:  leaves gently falling from the limbs of trees persuaded by the wind; lawns needing to be raked; piles of these multi-colored leaves with children and pets tromping through.  Cool, crisp mornings and evenings inviting us to enjoy “the beauty of God’s wonderful world.”

In Holy Scriptures, we read in the Book of Ecclesiastes, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”  The God who created everything, created the seasons as part of His majestic plan. 

The lives we live seem to have “seasons” as well.”  It seems that the “season” I am in is autumn.  That doesn't mean that I’m at the end of my life.  But I do realize that I’m not a “spring chicken” anymore either.  I have lived quite a few seasons and I cherish the many memories I have had.  I have survived the season of growing up;  I completed the education and training necessary for my chosen vocation;  I married and raised a family; my wife and I are enjoying the empty nest and along with that the joy of visits of our adult children.  One day we will enjoy grandchildren, too.

Life as we have been blessed with is to be lived to its fullest.  To each person, that takes on different meanings.  What is it that gives meaning to your life?  What do you need to make that happen?  What season of life are you currently in?  How can you make this season your favorite?


God, Creator of life and seasons, guide us as we go about our days helping us to find those whose seasons are troubling and give us the compassion to offer them a hand and a shoulder to help.  Remind us each of Your promise of "Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow!"  AMEN!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

WAIT!

Celebrating Advent means being able to wait.  Waiting is an art that our impatient age has forgotten.  It wants to break open the ripe fruit when it has hardly finished planting the shoot.  But all too often the greedy eyes are only deceived; the fruit that seemed so precious is still green on the inside, and disrespectful hands ungratefully toss aside what has so disappointed them.  ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

One of my fondest childhood memories is of the brisk autumn days when my cousin and I would play football in the yard.  With ditches and trees as our only boundaries we would play hard with visions of being the next Johnny Unitas or Raymond Berry (Yes, I know that dates me!).  I dreamed of one day wearing one of those fully recognizable white and some shade of gray uniform—this was by the way before color TV.

After many “Hail Mary” TD passes and tackles into the muddy ditch, we would take our “half-time break” under the pecan tree (pronounced Pee-can where I grew up!)  There we would look for a fresh nut to crack open with our bare hands and savor the fruit.  Too many times we tried to rush our fulfillment as the nuts were not quite ready; they were still in the green hull.  Not only were they almost impossible to crack open, they weren’t any good when we did.  It wasn’t until we were much older around ten that we realized we needed to wait until they were ready—the husk turns black, pops open and the nut falls out with minor persuasion (like a football spiral flung up into the branches!)  Then, and only then, were we rewarded with the snack of champions we hoped for.

Like Bonhoeffer stated, this “Advent” thing is about waiting—waiting patiently until just the right time.  Our calendars, and way too many merchants, remind us that the “right time” is December 25th.  In all truth, the “right time” was when God chose to Be human kind’s redemption, to enter not triumphantly as expected, to grow and live among us, to pay the ultimate death for sin, and overcame death so that all who believe may receive God’s Grace and redemption!

Oh, and something else happened to me about the same time as the football and pecans—at just the right time for me: I realized my need for this One whom we are trying to celebrate this month.  “Trying?”  Yes, unfortunately we almost overlook the whole Reason for the Season.  It is at this time of year in which we as Believers have the most perfect opportunities to help another whose time is now to believe, if they only had another to witness, testify, invite or encourage. 


May we all see the opportunities before us to help ripened fruit fall safely into the loving arms of the One who came in Bethlehem.

This post originally ran on the ABPnews Blog (www.abpnews.com/blog) & DEALingwithmyworld.blogspot.com

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Trails of Life

Last year I blogged about a “new adventure” I had undertaken—hiking.  Unfortunately I have not kept up with it like I had wished.   However, recently on vacation my wife and I decided it would be a good “exercise” for us.  So, we chose the “short” trail.  Short? Yes, yet straight up! During this short, yet strenuous hike I had several observations, several parallels to life.

Hiking is better with a companion.  If the other person is in the lead, you can watch where they step.  Why make the same misstep?  If you do slip and fall, they can pick you up when you fall.  And probably the best reason: they encourage you to continue.  (“Just a little bit farther.”  “You can do it!”)  We need companions in life, too.  As a Christian fellow disciples help “disciple” others encouraging to walk in Christ’s Light.  There is something strengthening to meet with, gather with, other like-minded believers.  We call this “church.”

 On a trail steps can be treacherous.   What looks like a dry rock can be slippery.  If your companion makes a misstep, you choose to either follow or step somewhere else.  You choose to step in their footprints or take another.  Regardless of steps, no path is straight.  When I considered the actual places I stepped, the path of my footprints looked more like the slithering of a snake.  I ended up at the end of the trail, but due to choosing where each step was to be placed I “wriggled” all along the path.  When a friend stumbles in life, I am there not to judge and condemn, but to lend a hand to help them regain their foothold and to assure they won’t stumble again.  I watch carefully my own spiritual journey and hopefully learn from their mistake.

Path choices can be wrong; you can learn from them.  You need to have an idea where you are going and choose the path best suited for YOU to get there.  After getting deep into the woods and up the mountain it is not real comforting to hear, “I’m not sure where this will lead…” or “It looked “good/right”.  I thought it would lead me to where I wanted to go.”  What does one do when they find they have gone down the wrong path?  Well, you try to correct the error.

A Trail map is mandatory.   Someone who knows this area better than me has mapped out a pretty good guide to use. A well-worn trail map can be your friend.  At the end of the journey you look at it and realize how often you referred to it.  What is the “trail map” I use for my life?  As a Christian, the Bible is my trail map.  Oh, how I wish I referred to it more often!


Using a trail map and noting the well-placed signs along the way are helpful.  They help to confirm that you are still on the chosen path and you haven’t ventured off your planned course.  They are also placed at appropriate intersections to help one determine the direction to go.  There were several times we couldn’t find the friendly red mark on a tree we were to follow so we slowed down until we did.  Life is full of changes and constantly monitoring one’s direction is important to attain one’s goals.


Even though I’ve done this before, I had to start over.  If in my previous treks I had begun to build stamina and/or muscle, they were long gone since I had not kept up with it.  In my Christian life, I fail many times keeping up the “walk” that should go along with my “talk.”  When I do, I realize that I have to go back to the basics and not try to run all at once.  The good news is that I am always welcomed back!


The climb is worth the view.   The sore muscles, the profuse sweating, the racing heart and gasping for oxygen all begin to bring doubt to one’s mind.  Turn around.  You’re a fool.  Go back and have a Coke and a cookie.  With the encouragement of a companion, the signs of direction, the beautiful reminders of God’s beautiful creation along the way you trudge on, hoping that it will be worth it.  You have to rest along the way, but you do not give up.  And when you do reach the top it is confirmed!

You gasp, you soak it all in.  You see, experience and breathe in the “Majesty and Glory of His Name.”


After a time you realize you have to go back.  The trip back down is yet another journey.  And you thought the steps UP were treacherous!