I will never forget the expression on her face. I wish I could find a way to describe it. It’s been thirty some odd years now, and I can still see her eyes just as plain as if it was yesterday. Black as onyx, filled with young life and yet haunted somehow. Unforgettable, that’s for sure. In all my life, I don’t think I have ever seen anything as lovely or as awful as those eyes. They filled me with hope and dread at the same time. Now how do you do that?
She was staring off into space with that newborn on her lap. She looked like she knew something that no one else did. Yeah, I know all new mamas look kinda like that, but there was something else; something that gave her a wonderfully secretive smile; and Lord have mercy did that smile set off the tears in her eyes. Never has there been nor ever will there be anything more beautiful or more tragic than those eyes. I will never forget them. They’ve haunted me for over thirty years now.
Oh, I’ve kept up the best I could over the years. I mean it ain’t everyday a bunch of angels tell you where to go. That kind of thing sticks in your mind, you know. Not to mention seeing the baby, but it was those eyes, those eyes that captured me somehow.
I remember praying for that little girl as I headed home that evening; praying that she could find some peace somewhere, find something to take that terrible sorrow from her eyes.
I understand her boy has gotten Himself in some trouble as of late; started speaking the truth. Young’uns, they’ll do that sometimes. It takes a bit of livin’ to understand that the truth makes folks uncomfortable. Heck, it makes ‘em mad. It threatens ‘em more often than not, especially a truth like His; but He was sent to tell them, so tell them He did.
I’m just glad I wasn't there to witness the kangaroo court and the beatings. Just watching them raise up that middle cross and drop it into place from a distance was enough to tear me up. The sound of that cross dropping carried all across the city. It rang out like an angry clap of thunder. It broke my heart, as old as I am. Even the sheep fell silent around me.
It rained all that day and on into the evening. About sunset things calmed down a little and by nightfall all was quiet; all but my mind, that is.
I couldn't sleep to save my soul that night. Every time I lay down, my mind would return to those haunted eyes from years before. Only now the smile had faded, and the tears of sorrow and pain were all that lingered.
It’s been three days now since they pulled Him off that cross, and I slept pretty good last night. I just got up once or twice. I can tell you this though; I do believe I saw the prettiest sunrise I have ever seen this morning; not a cloud in the sky. I hope His mama was up early enough to see it.
Have a blessed Easter.
Love, Pastor Tony
A few years back on Good Friday several tornadoes worked their way through our fair state doing a great deal of damage. Because the damage was scattered, a lot of us didn't know about it; but because of my work with disaster relief for the Church, I was aware, so on Monday morning I took a tour of the devastation. The ERT, Early Response Team program of South Carolina, was just getting off the ground back then. In that the ministry fell under my purview as UMVIM-SC chair, I wanted to see how they were doing in their work. I also needed to assess what further work was needed to get those folk’s affected by Mother Nature’s rampage back on their feet again.
It was during my drive down near Aiken, Beech Island to be exact, that I came across a little community that was extensively damaged by an F2 tornado that focused its fury upon it. Some of the homes were heavily damaged, but still standing; some were completely blown away and a few looked pretty good, exclusive of some minor roof damage. Nonetheless the community itself was so desperately affected that it was indeed a miracle that it recovered. The name of the community is Petticoat Junction.
In spite of the destruction and loss that those folks suffered, the federal and state governments decided that not enough people were adversely affected by the tornadoes to offer any aid and assistance. No aid whatsoever was rendered to the families that lost their homes, their livelihoods, and their sacred mementos. F.E.M.A. and the state have a complicated equation that is used to determine such things, and Petticoat Junction simply did not fit into the equation.
While I may consider that process flawed, I suppose you have to have some way to figure out such things; and I do believe that they do the best they can, but what do the folks in need do when the government leaves them high and dry?
They do what people at the end of their rope have always done. They call upon Christ and His Church; and as always Christ’s Church responds. It took a while but between the Methodists, Baptists and a few Mennonites, that community was brought back to life again, not for glory or fame, but simply because Christ has taught us to help those in need. Call it the ‘Good Samaritan’ syndrome if you wish, but when all else fails the faithful don’t.
As I was driving home from Aiken that evening, my mind kept flashing back to one of my favorite television shows when I was a kid. You guessed it: “Petticoat Junction.”
My mind drifted back to the old Shady Rest Hotel, Uncle Joe, and those three pretty sisters peeking out over the top of the water tower. As I drove I became homesick, and I began to pine for the time when television consisted of shows that were for the most part wholesome; a time when traditional Christian values were still viewed with respect and Christian living was still a sought after commodity. I hungered for those days when we as a nation and as a Church stood firmly on the side of Christ and His teaching about home and family, about right and wrong, about love and respect. My mind wandered back to a time when we, as Christians, were more concerned with what Christ taught than we were with what the prevailing culture thought. It is amazing what can happen to a neglected culture in fifty some odd years, isn't it?
Petticoat Junction, Uncle Joe and the girls are gone now, blown away by the forces of secularism, the me first society, and an unhealthy desire to please folks at the expense of preaching the Gospel of Christ.
Right and wrong have been replaced with “whatever suits you,” good and bad with ‘if it feels good, do it.” It will be a miracle if our culture survives.
In spite of the damage done, the government will not step in to help in the cultural recovery. All too often those in power make matters worse anyway. So what are we supposed to do?
Well, I suppose there is nothing left to do but roll up our collective Christian sleeves and get to work. If we claim to be Christians, we need to start acting like it. We need to begin rebuilding the cultural foundation that has been undermined by those who would scoff at the Word of God.
We must find the courage to stand for Christ and Christ alone at every opportunity. We must defend His teaching with no fear of the world and with no thought of retreat.
It won’t be easy. As evidenced by recent events, to stand for Christ and His values places us in the crosshairs of a world that would rather destroy the messenger than accept the truth. That being said, we cannot back down.
Christ Jesus stood up for us to the point of being nailed to a cross. Today the time has come for you and me to stand for Him with similar courage. If we fail to stand as individuals and as a Church, then the cultural blood stain will fall upon us, and a nation built upon truth and justice may very well become a footnote in history.
I challenge all of us to live for Christ in a world where such a life is ridiculed. I challenge all of us to stand for Christ when the winds of unhealthy change blow across the nation. I challenge all of us to live for Christ no matter what the consequences. I challenge you and I challenge me to call upon the Holy Spirit for the courage to stand up for Christ Jesus just as He stood for each and every one of us.
We must never retreat or surrender.
Our children, our grandchildren and their children yet unborn will benefit or suffer from what we do today.
I have struggled with what I should write this month. I’ve been dealing with on e of the nastier bugs that has been making the rounds lately and I think I may h ave strained my brain a bit during one of my coughing fits. No matter how hard I try nothing is springing from that fountain of imagination that is usually so reliable.
My gray matter has gone black. The synaptic thunderstorm in my mind has become more of a gentle rain shower, nice for cozying up to the fire and pondering the simpler things of life, but not so great for writing an engaging and thought provoking article.
So what to do? What to do? Listen to your wife, that’s what.
“It’s February,” she said, “Write about love. You know the sappy, soppy, slushy type of love that you men claim you don’t like.”
So I figured, why not? So here it goes. Some scattered thoughts on love.
Love has a screw loose. It is downright crazy, isn’t it? It ought to be fitted for a straightjacket. It hits you like a ton of bricks, and it completely takes you over. You can’t sleep. You can’t think. You just sit there and moon.
I seem to recall a young man back in the seventies who would drive a 150 mile round trip each and every week in a 1964 Valiant with no air, no heat, no speedometer and not much of a roof just so he could be with his love. Sometimes he would make the trip twice just to see a ballet that she was in; and trust me when I say that is true love.
Love is nuts. True love is virtuous insanity, but it is insanity nonetheless.
When you find that certain someone, reason takes a hike and mental illness and emotional instability move right on in. Y’all stop me if I get off track. I mean what wouldn’t you do for the ones you love?
Just saying it, if it’s real, is never enough. It isn’t so much that the lover needs to see some tangible evidence, as much as it is that the lovey needs to display something tangible.
If you love somebody, I mean really love somebody, you want the world to know it and to see it. Am I right?
Love is a thousand yellow ribbons, it’s Marvin Gaye singing “Ain’t no mountain high enough.” Love is a single red rose resting in a crystal vase sitting on a sidewalk in mid-February. Love is never leaving, always caring and being true. That is what true love looks like isn’t it?
Love is kissing your daughter’s tears away and hiding yours when the time comes to give her away. Love is enduring a sixth grade orchestra concert, a third grade choir and the heartbreak of a losing season. Love holds through thick and thin, sick and well, young and old, good times and bad.
Love sleeps all night on a little girl’s floor just to make sure the monster is dead, and love gently brushes the hair of the woman who doesn’t know your name but forever remains a part of you.
Love is a mountain top where everything is possible, and love is a heartache so desolate that only God above can offer comfort.
Love is a gift. Love is a curse. Love is life with all of its glory and loss, all of its joy and sorrow. Love is the marrow, the essence, the substance of life. Love is life.
Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.
1 John 4:16
She was working her way up toward the ceiling, and having a time squeezing herself through whenever she came to a place where the top of the glass panes got too close to the screen. If the old jalousie windows had been closed she’d have done fine, but it was hot, mid-July, and open they were. The air was still. There was no breeze to be had, even this late in the evening; but having those old porch windows opened offered hope that something would stir and cool me off a bit. I watched her for a while, but then my six year old mind drifted to something else; besides, katydids were a dime a dozen on the panhandle of Florida in mid-July.
I was having trouble falling asleep. I wasn't quite scared; maybe nervous, a little uneasy is the best way to put it I suppose. You see this was my first night sleeping solo on Granny’s front porch, and when the world got quiet, my imagination came to life.
Before this Mike, my older brother, had been sleeping out there with me, and to my mind at least the presence of an eight year old tended to keep the monsters at bay; but now here I was, six years old, naked, exposed and more than a little bit concerned for my well-being.
You see Mike and I had been given the option earlier that evening of either staying at Granny Tharpe’s house or heading out to the beach cottage to spend the night with Grandmother Rowell. Now I have always been quick with my words, often to my detriment, but this time my speed came in handy. Before Mike’s first word had cleared leather, I called dibs on Granny’s house, sending him to the sand-spur and palmetto bug capital of northwest Florida: Panama City Beach in the mid-sixties. No harm no fowl though; Mike has always enjoyed having more sand than mud underfoot while I have always preferred the contrary, so Grandma and the beach cottage suited him fine.
That left me alone on the front porch with my overactive imagination and the aforementioned katydid. For the record, it is startling just how loud one of those critters can be in close proximity; but that has no bearing on this story in that my katydid was concentrating on her climbing and kept her own counsel.
As a town settles in for the night and all goes soft and quiet, it is curious how the smallest of sounds can travel distances unimagined during the day. As the darkness deepens and the silence grows, an eerie echo ripens and somehow attaches itself to those previously insignificant sounds. That unearthly echo gives the sounds power, and heady with their newfound authority, they can reach deep into a young boy’s psyche to produce unimagined terrors.
A beagle’s noontime bark becomes the yowling of a dozen hell-hounds deep in the night. The wail of a policeman’s siren becomes the screech of a newly released spirit fresh from the grave. Before long a young mind given free rein is peopled with apparitions and phantoms untold.
As I mentioned though, in spite of my imaginings, I was more uneasy than scared. Even at that early age, my mother’s desire to raise independent children was bearing some fruit in my life. So as the unconstrained spirits shrieked and the hell-hounds bayed at the moon, the little island that was Tony Rowell drifted off to sleep.
I sat bolt upright in bed as the deafening trumpet blast shattered the night air. The heaving light confused my senses and the quaking under my bed completed the trifecta of terror that seemed to be coming at me from all sides.
It lasted but a second, and I know that as the fire engine continued its frantic way down 17th Street its heroic tenants were unaware of the traumatized boy they left behind; but traumatized, I was. To this day the sound of a siren late in the evening rekindles this memory, threatening the stillness within.
I lay back down no longer uneasy, but rather terrified and trembling; and it was then that I felt the eyes, those thoughtful eyes, watching me. My grandpa was sitting in an old rocker, cup of coffee in hand, watching over me. I have no idea how long he had been there, but when my eyes met his, he grinned. He never said a word, he just gave a sly smile and nodded; and while my trembling continued unabated for a time, my fear, my terror vanished in an instant.
As the years have passed I have often pondered over this reminiscence of mine. I never asked him and grandpa never offered any explanation as to why, in the middle of the night, he sat sipping coffee while watching over his sleeping grandson. In truth, this occurrence, so vivid in my mind, was never mentioned.
Was grandpa really there, or was my young mind simply seeking comfort in its own imaginings? Was grandpa really there, or did something mystical and amazing take place?
I have no idea, but this I know. As this New Year dawns, there will be struggles; there will be sorrows and when things get tough and fear threatens to overtake you remember the words of the psalmist.
I lift up my eyes to the hills — where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip — he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The LORD watches over you — the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The LORD will keep you from all harm — he will watch over your life;
8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
Happy New Year
Since childhood I have pondered the difference between dressing and stuffing. For the past fifty or so Thanksgivings, the subject has crossed my mind. Is it simply a matter of location or are they actually different? Maybe it’s a cultural thing or perhaps it’s a regional thing and semantics are to blame for the confusion. Personally, if I were to be given a vote on the matter, I would go with dressing. It is certainly more appealing to say that this food or that makes the entire meal fancier than it is to imagine ingesting something that emerged from the dark internal recesses of a turkey unprotected by shell. Yep, I’ll go with “dressing.”
And then there is cranberry sauce. Before I go any further I will confess a bias against the substance.
When her children were young, my mother found it interesting to have her progeny try different things. In my case she found a great deal of pleasure in watching me sample various culinary delights. To a casual observer it would be obvious that the less delightful I found the delight to be, the more delightful my mother found my facial contortions to be. I have yet to decide if this side of my mother arose from a loving desire to expand my horizons or from the Mrs. Hyde within. Personally, if I were to be given a vote on the matter, Mrs. Hyde would win, but that’s just me. One way or the other, Mom’s shenanigans stopped when the ambrosia forced upon me at the tender age of seven was returned to sender via airmail. I think the enjoyment was diminished a bit for Mom after that.
One of these experiments dealt with cranberry sauce. I distinctly remember being confused. Was this substance in my mouth a solid or a liquid, animal or vegetable, good or bad, dead or alive? For the life of me I couldn’t tell, and that lack of certainty remains with me to this day; and, in turn, I cannot bring myself to revisit the experiment.
Now the Thanksgiving turkey, I understand. Let me explain.
First of all there are two basic entrées associated with Thanksgiving and Christmas, at least according to my reckoning. As a rule, depending upon the holiday, either a turkey or a ham makes up the bulk of the meal.
Now my Mom, being Mom, liked to shake things up from time to time with the likes of raw oysters or burritos, but I think we can all agree that Mom had a culinary screw loose.
For those of you who prefer adventurous gastronomy, my Mom’s forays into the epicurean wilderness would have been enchanting; but for those of us who prefer plates with little compartments to separate our dressing from our stuffing and our cranberry sauce from everything else, Mom’s wanderings were a certifiable nightmare. But like my mother before me I find myself wandering. Let me return to the subject at hand: ham or turkey?
From my observations I have discovered that in most cases, ham is reserved for Christmas while turkey is for Thanksgiving with the leftovers spanning the month in-between. I have often wondered why these two foods were chosen for such honorable tasks. I think I may have found the reason.
Christmas, Santa Claus aside, is designed to be a celebration of one miraculous and beautiful event: the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Christ and His incarnation is why Christmas exists. Without Christ there is no Christmas, and no I don’t care what anyone says about it. Christ is Christmas and Christmas is Christ.
The humble ham is a relatively boring, if not tasty entrée. There is just so much you can do with a ham. From my experience ham tastes pretty much the same no matter from where you take a bite. From the outer edge to the bone the ham is relatively unchanged. It tastes like ham. It looks like ham. It’s ham.
Ham is the perfect food when only one thing is being celebrated. There are few distractions when you sit down and eat a ham. There are few decisions to be made when a ham is set before you; thin or thick slices, that’s about it. I love ham; it fits well into my entrée compartment.
Now the turkey is another matter altogether. From the dark meat to the white meat, from the breast to the leg, from the neck to the giblets; the turkey has many facets, many tastes, and many textures to revel in and savor. Now in that Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate the myriad gifts that our Lord has rained down upon us; the turkey is the perfect Thanksgiving table centerpiece.
I love Thanksgiving. I love it for several reasons, but for me at least the main reason is family. In my line of work the Christmas season is very busy, and while others enjoy some time off with family and friends, I am often occupied with the various duties that are specific to my chosen vocation during the holiday season. So Thanksgiving is the time when I bask in the glow of family.
Thanksgiving is that one day a year, when I can look around the table and marvel, without distraction, at all of the blessings that surround me. Not only that, but I also marvel at the blessed memories that return those long since gone back into the familial fold; as the matriarchs and patriarchs of the past populate the family portrait in my mind.
My prayer for each and every one of you is this:
I pray that on this Thanksgiving, no matter your circumstance, no matter your station, you take the time to reflect upon the wonderful gifts God has given you in this life.
I pray that we all can take the day, this one day and be thankful and joyous. We can all return to the pushing and shoving, to the angst and anxiety, and to the incessant clamor of the world later. On this Thanksgiving Day I pray that you enjoy your family, enjoy your friends and give thanks to the God of peace and love who makes it all possible.
His beady little eyes looked at me curiously and dared me to move. As he stood on the bank and glared at me his slathering lips smacked a bit on whatever piece of trash he had picked up. It looked like it might have been a piece of old rotten garfish, but I couldn’t be sure. I didn’t really want to find out, but he was so close and seemed to be enjoying the thing so much that I got curious. So, I leaned in to get a better look and then his breath hit me square in the face. Yep, rotten garfish. Once you’ve smelled it you never forget it.
It was back in the mid-sixties, and I was sitting in an old plywood fishing boat at Willis Landing. Willis Landing was a nondescript little establishment situated about half way in-between Port St. Joe and Wewahitchka Florida on the banks of the Chipola River. I was waiting on Granny to come back after paying the fare and buying a cricket or two when this hog, not a regular hog mind you but a boat landing hog, I think they’re bred for the purpose, sauntered up to my boat panhandling. He was pretty adamant about it too. It was obvious he didn’t plan on leaving my company empty handed, but all I had on me that morning was a couple of cans of Vienna Sausages, and trust me when I tell you that, even to this day, I will fight you if you mess with my Vienna Sausages. So, he and I were in the proverbial Mexican standoff as we stared at one another. He had the advantage, being a hundred pounds heavier than me, but I was wiry, scrappy and hungry to boot, which balanced the scales.
I really was in a pickle though. Other than diving into the river, I had no effective retreat, and having caught all sorts of interesting things out of that river; I had no interest in meeting those critters on their home turf.
As he and I pondered the situation with no solution in sight, the sound of a twelve-gauge cutting lose somewhere in the woods over on the opposite bank drew our attention away from one another for a second or two, but as the sound faded, we went back to our posturing and pondering.
Little did I know that the demise of some poor raccoon was to be my salvation; for as the raccoon began his transition from coon to cap, the left over shot from the blast began to rain down on me and my belligerent companion. For a minute there the river, my boat, my person and my beady eyed visitor were getting peppered pretty good as #8 shot rained down from above.
This happened from time to time at the landing and was more a nuisance than anything else, but apparently a particularly hot piece of lead landed on a particularly sensitive part of my new-found friend. For as his expression change from terrifying to terrified, he started screaming like a little girl piglet and headed for cover. Not liking my vulnerable position, I saw my opportunity and sprinted for the bait shed, Granny and higher ground.
As it turned out, my friend had a family; and as I headed for the shed, his kinfolk began boiling out from underneath the place. Man, he had a lot of mouths to feed, and all those mouths were followed by a sow whose bulk and expression made my erstwhile friend look sweet and cuddly in comparison. Not wanting any of that, I turned back to the river and the relative safety of my boat, but by now my old friend had regained his composure and had out flanked me. I never knew pigs worked in concert, but this crowd had done a fine job of herding me into the woods where I assumed they were gonna run me down and turn me into bacon.
Now it was my turn to scream like a little girl piglet. As I sprinted toward the woods yelling for Granny, I caught sight of her out of the corner of my eye standing on the bait shed’s front porch watching the festivities with a bemused expression on her face. I don’t know what I expected Granny to do about the situation, but I will admit that the smile was a little off-putting.
Laying my hurt feelings aside, I focused on the task at hand and ran as fast as my little bare feet could carry me toward the woods, praying for a tree with a low hanging branch. Turns out that wasn’t needed, because as my entourage and I tore past the bait shed’s farthest corner I heard Granny holler “outhouse,” with a little concern in her voice this time, I might add. It warmed my heart. It warmed my heart and changed my direction because at her word I noticed that off to the left and about ten or fifteen feet past the tree line sat an old greenish brown outhouse. It could have used a coat of paint or two, and as first choices go, it had a lot to be desired; but any port in a storm as they say, so I dove right in.
So, there I was trapped in an old outhouse on a hot summer’s day surrounded by a bunch of pigs with ill intent in their hearts toward my person.
I only thought I was in a pickle before, but now I knew I’d had it for sure.
Because on top of everything else, when I dove in and slammed the door, I irritated my new-found hosts and a low, irate, ominous hum began to vibrate the boards under my bare feet. As it turns out the business end of the outhouse was filled to capacity with an odd combination of yellow jackets, honey bees, wasps and an assortment of multi colored blow flies, as we used to call them.
It appears that I disturbed their midday siesta, and the whole motley crowd was unhappy with me on account of that. So they started this unremitting buzzing. I’ll admit that the sound was somewhat alarming, but it was the effect on the atmosphere, intended or otherwise, that was startling.
The air in a Florida swamp in midsummer can be a little thickish sometimes. The air in an outhouse in a Florida swamp in midsummer can be well-nigh solid. The air in an outhouse in a Florida swamp in midsummer with a thousand bees stirring up that air with their angry buzzing, can make a young boy yearn for the fragrance of a little rotten garfish.
After weighing my options, I figured I had a better chance of survival with the pigs. So, I sighted the front porch through the gaps in the sideboards, and flinging the door open, with head down, I hit the ground running for all I was worth and ran smack into Granny, knocking her down and into the mud. She started laughing on the way down, and I started crying from sheer relief.
It appears that my tormentors had grown tired of toying with me. They were all gathered under the porch squealing and grunting and besmirching my good name, I have no doubt.
As I sat in an old rocking chair on the front porch, Granny did something she seldom did. She felt so bad about my exploits that she went to the old store and bought me my own, and I might add my first, little jar of Tupelo Honey, made on the premises. It even had a little label. “Florida’s Best Tupelo Honey. Made at Willis Landing, Enjoy!”
Later that night as I sopped up every last bit of honey on the plate with one of Granny’s biscuits, it occurred to me just how close the proximity between the outhouse, the pigs, the bees and the honey was; but it was too late to make any difference. I was already hooked.
The message is simply this: Life can be a mess sometimes, but be patient. God has a plan. Remember that no matter how messy or worrisome things get in your life, or in the church’s life for that matter, He’s got this. If God can turn an outhouse, a troublesome hog, an outraged sow and a thousand angry bees into honey, He can do anything.
Love, Pastor Tony
The day my granny lost the tip of her finger is one that will forever stand out in my memory. She didn’t lose the whole thing mind you, but just enough to remind her to be more careful in the future.
As so many of my memories begin, I was down on the panhandle of Florida on the Chipola River fishing with Granny and Grandpa Tharpe. It was a Wednesday and everything was just perfect. The sky was just the right shade of blue, with beautiful white puffy clouds running across it; you know those clouds that make you see things like Mickey Mouse or Abe Lincoln in them. The water lapped gently against the side of the old rented jon boat we sat in, and the shade was more inviting than usual, it was so inviting, in fact, that we had accepted the invitation.
We were sitting under the arches of an old cypress tree with our cane poles fanned out in every direction waiting for the bream and shell cracker to come to their senses and have a taste.
The first thing to hit the line that morning, hit on what my Granny called her taut line. That is a line coming off of a rod and reel with a number ten hook on the end. Above that were two slip leads sitting on top of a split shot and no cork.
She always had her taut line set out on the oft chance that a big channel cat would succumb to its charms. She usually put a big worm or a piece of liver on the hook and let it sit just off of the bottom.
Well on this particular morning the first thing to take her up on her offer was a little bitty snapping turtle. It wasn’t one of those cute little green things you find at the pet store, but a miniature alligator snapper. The thing wasn’t much bigger than my hand back then, and I was seven or so, so it looked more like a pet than a menace. It was really cute. So Granny was not paying as much attention as she should have, and when she was just about ready to toss the thing back into the deep, it turned and with an offended air clamped down on to my granny’s left middle finger and refused to let go.
I have written before of the time when my Granny washed my brother’s mouth out with soap for daring to say the word “darn” in casual conversation, so it was a shock to me to find out just what she thought about that little creature’s family. I will never forget the tongue lashing that little thing received; and I will also never forget the sound of my Grandpa’s laughter as Granny did everything but jump in the river to relieve herself of the burden which had so recently been placed upon her, but it did not matter one lick. The little turtle hung on with such tenacity that nothing and I mean nothing, that my Granny tried would dislodge him. After a time though he was rewarded for his effort, when with a slight clicking sound his little jaws met one another, and he returned home with a smug smile and tasty morsel of one of the greatest Grannies to ever grace the planet. Granny now being relieved of her burden, dipped her finger in the river to clean it, wrapped it up and joined Grandpa in his laughing; and then got back down to fishing.
I once read that the Christian’s greatest fear is not that he or she will be damned to Hell, but rather that Christ will be overrun. In other words we worry that from the evidence at hand the things that Christ stands for: the love, the justice, the peace, will be overwhelmed and defeated by the powers set up against such things. It is at times such as these that we are called to display spiritual tenacity. We are called to wait upon the Lord. We are to hold on to the last breath in the knowledge that our God is God and can never be overcome no matter how things appear.
The hardest thing for you and me to do sometimes is to wait upon the Lord, but that is exactly what we are called to do. We are called to tenaciously wait upon the Lord, but waiting is not enough. We must also be tenacious in our work for the Lord while we wait upon Him.
No matter what forces are arrayed against us, we must resist the evil, resist the hatred, and resist the pain that this world tends to traffic in; and bring goodness, love and healing to bear against those who would destroy us. Once again that takes tenacity: endurance fortified with the faith that God cannot be defeated.
I challenge each of us to be people of tenacious faith. No matter what the world is doing, believe. No matter how bad it looks, believe. No matter what you are going through, believe.
We must faithfully trust that our God is God and work with Him to over come all obstacles, whether spiritual or practical, to further His Kingdom in Heaven and on earth.
SO BE A SPIRITUAL SNAPPER. NEVER GIVE UP.
Trust that God Almighty is God Almighty. Don’t hide. Don’t give up. Don’t cut and run. Hang on to your faith no matter what the circumstance may say. Hang on and work for the Kingdom.
Give it all you have. Give Christ all you have. Never, never let go! Never ever give up!!
No matter what, believe that our God is God and that Christ, and Christ alone, will see us through the fires of this life and bring us unscathed and joyful into the next. That is what faith is all about!
For coming up on thirty years I have been hauling my carcass all over the world doing mission work of one kind or another. I just love it. I have been on medical missions, construction missions, rescue missions, disaster response missions and disaster recovery missions and have been greatly blessed each and every time I have gone out. For me it’s just as natural as breathing, and I can think of no better way to spend my life than wandering the planet from time to time doing the Lord’s bidding; but I also understand that for many the allurement of mission work is more of a mystery than it is a miracle.
Someone asked me the other day what do you do when you are over there? That I can answer without so much as a moment’s hesitation. We work. We play. We worship. We live our lives with folks different and yet the same as we. We play in an expanded sand box with fellow Children of God. To the best of our ability, we fix it if it’s broken, sooth it if it hurts, bandage it if it’s bleeding, and pray over everything.
Over the past couple of years, my team has been working in the Baltic country of Latvia.
Specifically, in Latvia, we are working to help restore the Church which was devastated when the “Iron Curtain” fell upon it, crushing the institution, confiscating its wealth and property and outlawing its practice.
Through building repair and restoration, we help to rebuild the tradition of the Latvian Methodist church. As the old buildings are brought back to life, traditions, dormant for seventy-five years, have space to grow and blossom once again. Practices outlawed and oppressed for decades are given expression. Institutional memories are revived as structures revered for generations are restored and repopulated with the memories of past matriarchs and patriarchs of the Latvian Church.
Through the simple acts of pouring a concrete slab, refinishing an ancient pine floor and refurbishing a long-neglected fellowship hall, the spiritual lifeblood of the Church is replenished. The fire is fed a bit more kindling, and the Kingdom of God here on earth and in Heaven is strengthened a bit.
Will the actions of a few good-hearted South Carolinians in Latvia be of any lasting value? I honestly have no idea. I do know that whatever we build in a physical sense does indeed have a life span and that in time the floor will need refinishing, the room will need refurbishing and the concrete will become stained and cracked with age. Such is the way of things.
I also know that Christian love has no half-life, for Christian love flows from Christ, and Christ will never tire. Christ and His love are eternal, so the love shared between our Latvian brothers and sisters and ourselves will remain in place to support, nourish and enliven us all forever.
As to why some are drawn by God to exotic places while others are drawn across the street to do the Lord’s work, I have no satisfactory answer for those who question such things. I know it sounds a bit pedestrian, but the Lord has His ways; and I know without a doubt that while I cannot fully understand, He does, and that is good enough for me.
“I don’t know about you,” said the older man with the crow’s feet around the eyes and the gray feathering its way through his temples, “But I am about as tired as I can be of the morals flaming out around me. It seems to me that no matter where I turn, the rights and wrongs have gotten all twisted up. I mean, when I was a chap none of this catting around would be put up with, especially not in the high places; but now it seems that nobody cares anymore about anything or anybody but themselves.
‘If it don’t bother me, who cares?’ That’s what they say. Darn fools.”
He shifted a bit in his seat to keep this part or that from falling asleep, and then dove back into his attack.
“I think I know what the problem is. I think I know why we’re in such a fix, and I think I know how to cure it. You see it’s like this. We are all alone out there. We sit around, side by side, and don’t even talk to each other. We fuss that the morals of this great country are headin’ south, and nobody’s listening. If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a thousand times, ‘Those politicians and judges are taking my morals and my God and throwing Him and them in the trashcan, and I don’t know what to do about it. I try to raise my kids right, but the schools and the T.V. try to raise ‘em wrong and win most of the time. What’s a fella to do?’ That’s what I hear, and I think I know where we’re going wrong.”
“You see it’s like this. Back in my day, just before the Great War we were all doing pretty well. Yea, we heard about the war in Europe and all, but that wasn’t us. That was them and what were we supposed to do about it? Now some among us had kin over there, and they would cry out that their kinfolk were being killed and we needed to do something to help.
Now we weren’t about to go get ourselves killed for their kinfolk, they weren’t our kinfolks. They were their kinfolk, so let them go die for em, not us. But one day, December 7th as I recall, the Japanese flew into Pearl Harbor and bombed our boys. They killed our people. They attacked us. Now it wasn’t their kinfolk, it was our kinfolk being killed, and we had to do something about it.
On account of that horrible day though, something strange and wonderful happened. Because of Pearl we came to life. There weren’t no more blacks, or whites, or men or women. There was just us, and we had to do something to protect our nation and our people. In the flash of a torpedo we turned from a nation of “I” into a nation of “we.” It wasn’t "I" have had it with Hitler and his crowd,’ it was "we" have had it,’ and after that we knew we were going to win. After the “I” became “we,” we had ‘em. Multiply that "we" a million times, and there was no stopping us.”
“Now we haven’t had a Hitler to deal with for a while now and, like men have always done, we’ve fallen to our old ways. We are once again a nation of “I.” I want my rights. I want my way. I want to do whatever I dern well please, thank you, and I don’t care what you, or God or anybody for that matter has to say about it.
But, friend, my God and my morals are under attack just as sure as Pearl was and so are yours. And unless we come together, not as black men and women or white men and women, but simply as men and women all created in the image of God to fight the forces of evil which have the upper hand in this great nation of ours, it appears the United States of America will sink just as sure as did the Arizona.”
“It’s high time that we stop letting the forces which rule the airways and the government tear at the fabric of our nation and at our God."
When they take prayer out of my school, they take it out of yours. When they say that the murder of infants is ok in my town, they say it is ok in yours. When they attack me and my beliefs, they attack you and yours and until we come together as one, to stand up to the evil forces that try to divide us, the destruction will continue. Until we can stand side by side as one, against the forces of selfish desire and immorality, such things will continue to flourish. Until we link hearts and minds and proclaim in one voice, ‘We have had enough,’ this great nation of ours will continue to decay until there is nothing left but the aftermath of evil.”
For a moment, he looked a bit bewildered, then he shifted in his seat once more to relieve this part or that, and with tired eyes he stared out across the crowded Appleby’s and sighed a sigh of resignation with the shadow of fear and longing crossing his weatherworn face.
That old man and I sat next to one another waiting on a table in Appleby’s way back in 1998. Nineteen years ago. I had never met him before, but he asked me what I did for a living and when the word preacher came out of my mouth, his bomb-bay doors opened and out came his story.
I feel sure that he is long gone now, but the truth of his words remains.
I don’t know about you, but I love this country. To quote Merle Haggard, “If you’re putting down my country, man, you’re walking on the fighting side of me.”
You see, I have been blessed, as many of you have, to see a great deal of the rest of the world; and trust me, there is no place I would rather live than right here in the good old USofA.
It is truly the greatest nation to ever grace the planet; but we are in danger.
As love of God and country is being and in many cases has been replaced with love of self, the decay has indeed continued. As we near the tipping point, it is time that we as brothers and sisters in Christ and fellow Americans, stand shoulder to shoulder against the forces that would destroy this wonderful country of ours.
So, on this Fourth of July celebrate. Wear the red, white and blue proudly. Sing the anthem with enthusiasm and pride. Pray for our wonderful country and those who lead it, and do so in public. Let the world see that you are unashamedly Christian and that you are proud of the nation in which you live.
I am amazed when I think that simply writing these words of God and country will be considered radical by some; when to me they are just good old ordinary common sense. (A rare commodity these days)
Happy 4th of July Folks!!
At last I had found peace; peace and quiet and a calmness of spirit that I hadn’t felt for a long time. It was late summer back in 2006, and my ordeal of prostate cancer was almost over. At least the surgery and acclimating myself to the changes in my life were nearly over. That being said, I was still struggling a bit mentally over the physical alterations brought on by the situation, but spiritually speaking I had reconciled myself to the current state of affairs and God’s hand in all of it. The hand of God was evident in the calming of my fears and in the help received as I struggled with my all too evident mortality.
I was traipsing through one of my favorite locales and one that I had last visited the day before heading down to Charleston for the aforementioned surgery. On that day, five or so months earlier, I had gone over to one of my childhood haunts, the old Porth pond, to do a bit of illegalish fishing, a little reminiscing about the joys of childhood and to try and forget about the coming day.
The illicit fishing went well as I recall with a couple of nice largemouth and a catfish or two making their reluctant way to the shore. Being little more than a child myself, the reminiscing was pretty successful as well, but the forgetting part left me wanting.
On this day however, five months later, I was doing fine. The dreadful fear was a thing of the past. The surgery and its side effects were fading, and life was good. My heart was light, my spirit was rising, my body was on the mend and my stringer was filling up with shellcracker and bream. The nightmare was coming to a close.
There are times in this life when the Lord grants His children a glimpse of the peace and joy that awaits them over the Jordan, and this was one of those moments for me. I have always pictured Heaven as a well-stocked farm pond.
Relishing the closing of the day, I listened as the night sounds began. I heard a faint croak over to my left, deep in the reeds, and that was all that was needed for innumerable frogs to start calling to one another in the dusk. How they sort out who is who, I will never know. The crickets and other creepy crawlies of the swamp were in romantic moods themselves, and together they joined one another in their shadowy mating calls.
In some this weird symphony might produce misgivings, but in me it produced calm.
As the sun sank and the shadows lengthened, I daydreamed of summer evenings past. Other such evenings when similar sights and sounds had held me close and comforted me; and as I dreamed I cast my bait about nonchalantly in the hope that perhaps there was one more nibble to be had before the darkness drove me homeward.
All was shadows and silhouettes when to the right and a little behind an old stump the water swelled, wrinkling the surface and sending out the telltale concentric rings which indicate prey. With a stutter step to the left to clear the pathway and an instinctual movement of the wrist I sent my deep blue 6” Culprit rubber worm sailing through the night air with pinpoint accuracy toward the center of those rings. As it took flight, however, an uneasy feeling of impending doom filled my breast for as I moved, a silhouette, previously hidden in the shadows, emerged from the darkness.
The ominous form of a feathery dreidel was hanging from a low lying branch. In slow motion I watched as my projectile entered one side and exploded out of the other. In an instant that silhouette, so peaceful a moment before, shattered into a thousand pieces, all angry and searching for a place to vent. It took a moment, but as one those hornets, now homeless by my hand, discovered the fishing line and following it to its origin, they set their affections on me.
Over the years I have faced black bears, razorback hogs and belligerent parishioners with an aplomb envied by many, but when those enraged hornets balled up and headed my direction, any pretense of confidence, manliness and macho I may have once possessed vanished in an instant. Throwing my Zebco 33 to the side I hiked my skirts and headed for the water just as fast as my legs would carry me. I just about made it too, but when salvation was at hand my foot happened to land on a snake. As the startled snake proceeded to dance about under my feet, and I did all but levitate trying to get off the thing, my mind quickly assessed the situation and realized that this particular snake was harmless. It was just a big old brown water snake.
While all of this was going on, the hornets had paused to watch the show; but just as soon as the abovementioned snake broke free and slithered into the pond, they renewed their advance. As they made their final approach and got into attack formation, my mind said “Jump in. They can’t get to you there,” while my fear said ‘Say what? There’s a snake in there.” “It’s harmless!” shouted my mind. “Don’t care!” countered my fear.
My moment of indecision gave the hornets all the opportunity they needed, and taking full advantage, two or three drove that advantage home into one of the more fleshy parts of my anatomy while another particularly adventurous character managed to get up underneath my fishing vest and go to town. Now that the lesser of two evils had been established, I dove in hat and all.
Later, cautiously emerging, I found that the hornets had headed home to rebuild, the snake had vanished, licking his wounds elsewhere I suppose; and my hat was nowhere to be found. So, with a knowing grin, I sighed and headed home: my peace shattered, my pride tattered, and my rear-end stinging like the devil himself.
Life can be like that sometimes. To quote John Denver, “Some days are diamonds, and some days are stones.” I contend that most days are both. I suppose the key is to make all of the diamonds and all of the stones count, no matter what. They are all gifts from God above, and gifts are meant to be enjoyed. So cherish the peace and laugh at the turmoil. Enjoy the life God has given you, no matter what. You only get one chance, one life on this earth. Enjoy it, make the most of it, and make every day count. Produce no regrets, only cherished memories.
That’s just a little free advice to be taken in a time of need.