Thursday, May 22, 2008

In the Presence of the Lord

One of my favorite fiction authors is Janice Holt Giles. I have read all, or nearly all, her books (at least all that our local library had.) Most of her novels are set in the Green River area of Kentucky, and were written in the 1940’s.

My favorite of these is one titled, “Miss Willie.” Although it has been 20 years or more since I’ve read it, it remains very dear to me.

“Miss Willie” begins with a small boy - 5, 6, or maybe 7 years old - who is enamored by the wondrous sound of the birds singing every morning. He is very close to his mother who shares this love with him. Since none of the “men-folk” ever mention the birds, he is convinced that only he and his mother can hear them.

As the story goes, his mother dies during one summer leaving his father with several children, with this lad being the youngest. He has a very difficult time with the loss of his mother, and an even harder time going to school in the fall as there is a new school teacher - Miss Willie.

Miss Willie isn’t “from around here” as we would say. She is a “do-gooder” missionary woman who has come to the hills to teach at this school.

The young fellow (I don’t remember his name) is even more disturbed when his dad begins to “court” Miss Willie - and then when they eventually marry, he is even more upset and vows to “never love her” although her love for him is clearly evident.

I don’t want to give away the story for those who might want to read it, but one line from the book is etched in my mind (and heart.) Near the end of the book, as the little boy is engrossed in listening to the birds one morning, Miss Willie comes up behind him and says, “Aren’t they beautiful?”

He turns, and with a gasp says, “Oh Miss Willie! You can hear them, too?”

I think of this often when I think of my love for God, and my awareness of His presence. The following is one of the prayers, for one of these times…

You have brought me to a place, Oh Lord, of dizzying heights; a place where my breathing quickens and my heart beats a little faster. I just can’t get my mind “wrapped around it.” It is… I don’t know how to describe it… hyper-awareness of Your Presence and Spirit. I just seem to be engulfed by Your very Being.

Oh God! Even as “life” goes on around it - the washer, the dryer, the telephone - the “spell” is not broken. I am thankful that it is not like the elusive butterfly, where the slightest movement causes it to flutter away. No, Your Presence is all encompassing, ever present, ever near. Thank You for allowing me to be aware of Your Presence - Your Spirit.

God, sometimes I think I’m crazy. Does anyone else in the world sense You as I do? I’m nearly afraid to speak of it; afraid to get “that” look. Either the “look” is a glassy-eyed stare of incomprehension, or a pitying look of condescension. It’s either “I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about” or “You poor thing. You really believe that, don’t you…?”

Yes, I do believe it, God. And I pray, my Father, that You will give me words to explain it.

In Jesus’ Name - Amen.

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Friday, May 09, 2008

Meditation on Psalm 19:1-4a

Did you ever notice how active and vocal the birds are very early in the morning? From about 5:45am to about 7:00am or so, it seems like every bird in the universe is singing!

It sounds like an orchestra tuning their instruments before a performance. They are not in tune, nor playing together, but each lost in his own world of preparing.

The birds are like that,too. They are each singing, and seemingly “testing the range” of their voices.

Around 7:00am or so, the singing seems to trail off, but is never entirely silent through the day - for always a few continue to sing - or at least “trade off” singing with one another.

I’ve often thought about that… as to why so very early in the morning it seems like they’re all singing, and then on up in the day you can only hear one or two, now and then.

I’ve come to the conclusion that they simply start their day with praise - and then they “go to work.” And the “daytime” singing? Ah, who can truly go about their work without a “song” of praise on their lips and in their hearts?

Psalms 19:1-4a says (with my commentary added in)
V.1 The heavens are telling of the glory of God (overall); And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands (specifically.)

V.2 Day to day pours forth speech, (bubbles up as from an inexhaustible spring) And night to night reveals knowledge. (Which in turn leads to the day, then on to the night, in perpetuity.)

V.3 There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. The literal translation in the Hebrew (which can be very blunt and to the point) reads, “No speech, no words. Not heard - their voice.” This of course means “not heard in literal words, but…” then verse 4.

V.4a Their line (overall thought or precept) has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances (specific words) to the end of the world. NASB

“Nature” cannot “say” a word, but it speaks volumes about God’s love, power, grace and presence in all of Life. In Romans 1:20 Paul says, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

So, the next time someone hands you a line about, “Well, what about those people who’ve never heard of Jesus… Is God going to condemn them, too?” Just smile and say, “Oh, they’ve ‘heard’ about Him, alright. Believe me, they’ve heard!”

And if someone says that they don’t know how you can “see” God in nature, again just smile and say, “Don’t you wish you could?”

“This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears, all nature sings and ‘round me rings the music of the spheres…”

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Decoration Service Prayer

First of all let me say to those who check in to this blog, I apologize that it has been over a month since I've posted. (Man, time gets away doesn't it?)

I have been extremely covered up with work in my business ( and in other studies as well. I am currently writing a study on the travels of Paul which I will be teaching on Wednesday nights. I hope to post these after a while as well.

Today was "Decoration Day" at the church where I grew up. The cemetery which belongs to the church is where both my parents are buried, as well as my sister, my maternal grandparents, and one of my aunts.

Last year I did the devotion for the service, and this year I just did the opening prayer.

First I will post this year's prayer, then I will post the entire service from last year because as I was searching for prayers online I found that (seemingly) only folks in the South have "Decoration Day" services! And finding anything online was near to impossible. So, I want to make it easier for the next person searching!

2008 Decoration Day Service Opening Prayer:

Oh precious and loving God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Creator of all that is, we lift up Your Name in praise this afternoon as we gather in this sacred place.

It is sacred Lord, not because of the building that it is, but because of the prayer that has hallowed it. It is Your House, and it is a House of Prayer.

We come this afternoon Lord as a time of remembrance, lifting to You our prayers of thanksgiving for our friends and loved ones who are in Your Holy Presence.

Oh Father, we call to mind times and places, words and faces, and sometimes tears sting our eyes as the memories flood our hearts, but, we also come Lord, as a time of reminding, a renewing in our souls of the promise of the resurrection that is to come.

As all of nature bursts forth with new life after the death of winter, so we are reminded of the new life that shall burst forth at the appointed time, when the dead in Christ shall rise.

In this hope, then, let our hearts be found holding fast to You, for You alone are faithful in Your promises, and just in Your judgments.

In the Holy Name of Christ who was the First Fruit, the First Born from the Dead, our Sustainer and Redeemer - Amen.

2007 Decoration Day Service

Huckleberry Springs United Methodist Church
Cemetery Decoration Service
May 6, 2007

Welcome to the Huckleberry Springs Cemetery Decoration Service. As we share in this brief service, may we laugh together, and cry together; may we reminiscence and rejoice together. May we sing songs and hear stories that fill our hearts with memories and our spirits with happiness.

Opening Prayer:
Almighty God, in Whose church we gather for this service of remembrance, bring to our minds, precious memories of Your saints; not perfect persons, not faultless individuals, but striving people, and those who worked in faith to serve Your kingdom here on earth.

May we see them as You saw them, forgiven sinners, and searching pilgrims living in faith in a fallen world.

And may we honestly see ourselves the same way, not as having achieved, but as hungering and thirsting after righteousness. And then, as You promised, may we be filled.

In the Name of the One Who brings fulfillment; in Jesus’ Name - Amen.


I want to look briefly at a portion of scripture found in the book of Joshua - if you have your Bibles, turn to Joshua chapter 4.

A few years ago I was asked to fill in on Memorial Sunday. I really didn’t think much about the date, and prepared a sermon, hymns, prayers, and so forth for the service.

On Saturday night, about 7:00pm, I began to feel a leading in an entirely different direction. I said, “Lord, surely not…” but “surely” so and I kept hearing “memorial, remember, don’t forget…” “memorial, remember, don’t forget…” over and over in my mind. And what I ended up with was a scripture from the last chapter in the book of Joshua. But it seems that a lot of the book of Joshua revolves around memorials, and remembering.

So, for our scripture this afternoon, let me set the stage for you. The children of Israel have spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness. Only two men, who were above 20 years old at the time of the Exodus, are still living. These are Joshua and Caleb.

Moses was allowed to climb to the top of Mount Nebo and view the Promised Land, but he was not permitted to enter before he died. Joshua is now the leader, and they are encamped on the East side of the Jordan River, getting ready to cross.

During most of the year, the Jordan River was about a hundred feet wide; but at the spring flood season, the river overflowed its banks and became a mile wide. But yet, God told them to cross. They aren’t to look for a bridge, or begin building a bridge, or wait until the waters recede a little. They are to cross then, and there.

The Levitical Priests carried the Ark of the Covenant ahead of the people, and when the Priests’ feet touched the edge of the water, the water stopped flowing and stood like a wall about twenty miles away upstream, more than half way to the Sea of Galilee, and then as what was left flowed on toward the Dead Sea, soon the riverbed was dry as far as the eye could see.

The Priests walk out to the middle of the river, and all the people begin crossing over. And we begin reading in Chapter 4… (read 4:1-9; 15-24)

Let us pray - Father, as we pause on this Sunday afternoon to remember this place and the people who have gone home before us, roll back the curtain of our memories to grasp the pure and true things that we have learned here, and then help us to build a monument so that when our children ask, we will have the stories to tell them. In Jesus’ name - Amen.

If these walls could talk, what stories would they have to tell? We all have an abundance of memories of this place. Even for those of you who’ve only been here a few times, even you have memories of this place.

I have over 50 years of personal memories, and even a few more of things that I’ve been told I said and did. When I was about 3 years old, Mr. Roy Huffaker commented on the pretty ruffles that I had on my socks… where upon I raised my dress tail and showed him “other” ruffles I had as well…

I remember coming from a Sunday School class and sitting with Jean Craig on the back seat before preaching… and my Mother promptly took my hand and led me a few rows closer to the front. Mr. Cox told her, “Why, she’s a good girl. She won’t hurt a thing sitting on the back seat…”

My Mother replied, “As long as I raising her, she’ll not sit on the back seat…” And I haven’t to this day…

Memories… I’m sure you have as many of them as I do about this place and the people who touched your hearts here. I can’t tell you what it did to a 6 year old’s heart when I peeped out the door before a Christmas program and saw my favorite uncle (who I never remember going to church) sitting in the audience, all because “Bets” had asked him to come…

As we’ve been cleaning out Mother and Daddy’s house, I just kept coming across pictures, hymnbooks and Bibles… “Pictures, Hymnbooks, and Bibles” - Someone said I should write a poem about that… I just may do that one day…

But stuck in a lot of these hymnbooks and Bibles were scraps of papers and old bulletins. On these were folks names, and every one evoked a memory.

(Share a few…)

God told Joshua to tell the 12 men to carry the boulders from the middle of the Jordan River to the town of Gilgal and build a monument as a “conversation-starter” so that when the children asked what they were there for, then they could tell them the story of the crossing, and what led up to it.

The Jews were good for that, or at least God was good at prompting them to do that. We read numerous times where they are instructed to “teach the generations…”

And I think we’re called to do that as well. We come together on this Decoration Sunday, one day out of the year, to “Decorate” the cemetery, and to remember. Now, I dare say that most of us don’t spend a lot of time in cemeteries. We know that our loved ones are not there, only the shell that housed their souls and spirits.

And, to be quite honest with you, I am touched more often by memories of Mother and Daddy at, what I call “odd-ball” times - times when “something” sparks the memory. Like on Saturday mornings when Joe says “are you hungry?” Daddy used to say that when they’d be out running around together.

Or once when I was driving down Riverside Drive and came upon a pear tree in full bloom, and I just erupted in tears, because Mother and I had often discussed that tree when we were making the weekly trips to the hospital.

These are the things that touch my soul, but you do that a time or two and your kids will think you’re crazy. And so, I think, cemeteries are actually for future generations. They are our “stones of remembrance.” They are the things that spark our memories of people and places in our lives. They are “conversation-starters” for our children. And oh, if those stones could speak… what stories they could tell…

A few years ago I spent a whole Saturday afternoon with Joe’s niece and nephew traipsing through cemeteries all over East Knox, and Sevier Counties looking for the graves of ancestors. Do you know where your ancestors are buried? Have you been there lately? But, more importantly, do your children know where your ancestors are buried? Do they know the stories - the good and the bad?

The Bible is a real book, and no one’s life is “white-washed.” Our families were real people, there’s no need to be cruel, but there’s no need to gloss over the past either.

When I think of this cemetery, I think of this church. Now I know that many of the “saints” of this church aren’t buried there, but still it reminds me of them. And it reminds me of their impact on me and my faith walk.

At Jack’s funeral, Edna and I were talking of how folks were related. She knew some things that I didn’t, and I knew some that she didn’t, and so that prompts me to issue this challenge to you.

If each one of you will write down, just the names of the people that you know who are buried here at Huckleberry, and how they’re related to you, if they are, and get it to me, then I promise to have something compiled for you by Decoration next year.

You don’t have to write a long story or a genealogy, although anything you want to add will be helpful, but just names and relations. We have a “history” of sorts that was shared at homecoming last year, but that was just about the building and things about it. I think it’d be pretty cool to have something with “names” on it; something that makes the walls, and stones actually speak.

Will you do that? Let us share how these stones speak to us today...

Let us pray.

(closing prayer)

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