A Moving Journal-Day 5

 

Welcome to Jeopardy, Randy.  “Thanks, Alex, I’ll take Chaos and Stress for $1,000.”  And the answer is:  “This picture is what it feels like.”

48897152 - stressed businessman with broken mechanism head screams

Yes, Randy:  “What is the feeling you have when the moving truck will be here in 2 days?”  Correct!

Well, today started like usual.  Packing some more, taking some more to the curb, headed to the office, and the Funeral.  Debbie and I had visited Wynette in the hospital the day before she conquered death.  Watching her struggle to breathe reminded that about a month ago I watched my own Mother struggle to breathe.  God was faithful, not that I doubted Him, especially in a time such as this, and He gave me words to share with her Family and Friends that both honored her memory, her life and The Good News.  A trifecta, if you would.  The graveside portion was about an hour and a half away.

Then I returned to the church for one last team meeting before we leave.  It was the Finance Team.  Within my first year here, I was confronted with the fact that the accounting system was, well, what’s a word that I could use in a Christian blog?  Chaotic to the Nth degree.  Nothing illegal mind you, just poor accounting practices.  Nothing balanced and I promised the Finance Team that before I left, everything would be in order and balanced.  Thanks to my Office Manager, Samantha, she brought in a friend who loves accounting, loves numbers, loves problem solving (though I think this episode may have broken her from wanting to solve problems).  Jennifer committed and donated her time and skills for the past 6 months.  She managed to balance 2017, and set up a new system so they could say goodbye and good riddance to a system called Shelby and a new and easier to understand system (ACS) is up and running CORRECTLY.  I kept my promise.  I didn’t promise I would solve the problem, but would get the problem corrected!  Thank you Samantha and Jennifer.  After the meeting, I said goodbye to Samantha, who is more than a staff member, and she informed me I was like a big brother to her.  These words coming from an only child–priceless.  Samantha, you are like the younger sister I never had!  I wish I could get rid of my older sister and have Dad adopt you.

So, what have I learned today?  I’m so glad you asked:

  • Keeping your word is important.  Whether it is to a congregation, at work, with family, your neighbors, or even a stranger, keeping your word matters.  In this era, words of promise are casually thrown around, such as, “Oh yes, I’ll pray for you.”, only to never mention it in your prayers to God.  Well, maybe once.  When I make a promise, that is the same thing as making a commitment.  It’s true for you, too.
  • There’s always “stuff” that needs to be thrown away in our hearts.  Tonight I made more trips to the curb because tomorrow is pick-up.  I did not want to leave anything on the curb for my replacement.  And I didn’t want to just leave it here for someone else to deal with.  Cleaning out, or in a more biblical image, purifying the heart isn’t a one time thing.  And it’s more than a thing to do every 4 or 5 years.  Guard you heart from collecting stuff–stuff that doesn’t matter to the Kingdom of God–and matters even less to Jesus.
  • People matter and need to be appreciated–TOLD they are appreciated.  What else can I say about this?   Nothing!  If you can’t understand this….you are seriously messed up.
  • Even in dark times–there is still Good News!  Less than a month after Mother’s funeral, I would have had a good excuse to say no, or just put in a minimal effort into today.  But Jesus did not give his minimal effort for me, and it was infinitely more difficult for Him to do what He did, that what I was called upon to do.  The result was exactly what God promises–that good comes out of evil–for a time I forgot my own grief and God used my tears to bring hope to others.  Our circumstances do not dictate whether or not it is a time for the Good News.  Any time, especially dark times, is the perfect time for the truth that there is Good News.  Seems like that there’s a story in the Bible about the best news ever coming from a cemetery.

Well, it’s time to take my medicines, and hopefully sleep all night.  Now that would be great!  But if I don’t….God has this, and He has me!  Good night, John Boy.

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Moving Journal–Day 2

Well, Day 2 has come to an end in this adventure of preparing for the move.  Today I preached my final message at this church.  It was indeed a mixture of great joy and sadness.  Hugs were everywhere–tears offered and tears fought back.  Over these many years of preaching, the Spirit always challenges me and inspires me to speak about the future.  Since at least 1984, the passage was always John 2–Jesus turning the water into wine.  This miraculous sign tells us that the best is yet to come when we keep our focus on our purpose.

This year it was the Luke 7 passage about that “sinful” woman.  I couldn’t figure it out, but the Spirit finally got through my thick skull.  I challenged them with this question:  “What do you do with broken people?”  The future of any church is hopeful and bright when we deal with broken people the way Jesus dealt with this “sinful” woman.  Maybe I will post that message here some day.

At the end of the service, there were more tears–a faithful follower of Jesus and a great friend had just died after an extended illness.  I grieve her loss because she was an encourager in my life.  So now, we are planning a funeral probably Wednesday.

And being Father’s Day, I heard from all my children and grandchildren today.  And I was thankful to be able to call Dad to say “Happy Father’s Day” to him.  It was just about a month ago when I said my last “Happy Mother’s Day” to Mother.  It was the last time she knew who I was–so even more gratitude from me.  Oh, one more thing, one of our friends and his family took us out to eat, and shared a great time around a table.

So, what have I learned at the end of Day 2?  So glad you asked me:

  • Life and death still happen as we make our various journeys through life.  At the early service I was blessed to perform an infant baptism service.  And at the close of the second service, I was confronted with grief with the death of Wynette.  In the midst of changes, everyday things still happen.
  • I learned that God moves in different ways at different times.  He wouldn’t let me preach my standard “farewell” message.  Instead, He had a timely and timeless message.  I have to be more careful when I start thinking that God moves the same way and does the same thing every time.  God loves to surprise us.
  • And I learned today the value of friendships.  It is our friends that are holding us up at this time.  It is my Band of Brothers that has my back and will fight for me against The Enemy.  And time around the table, with a meal, is a sacred and holy time that should be cherished and like it says on shampoo bottles:  “Lather, Rinse, and Repeat”–especially that part about repeat.  The food where we ate is noted for being excellent–but somehow it tasted even better because we shared that time with Dennis and his wonderful family.

I didn’t sleep well at all last night.  I don’t know if it was the “Last Sunday” jitters or dread.  But I know God has been with us throughout this day–and He will be with us again, tomorrow.

The Big Lie!

old new clothes

Yesterday afternoon I was at the Opening Session for our Tribe’s thing called “Annual Conference”.  It was my 43rd consecutive Conference.  For “outsiders”, Annual Conference is this thing that when all is said and done, more is said than done.  Bishop Sharma Lewis preached for our opening Worship, and normally I would have considered it a great and powerful message.  She chose the passage from Colossians 3, verse 12 and it was about putting on the new clothes of love and she presented us with a great question:  What are you wearing?

Normally, I know there’s nothing normal about me in many folks eyes, but that’s their problem, I would have really been inspired by the message.  I mean, what’s better than wearing the new clothes of love.  Or, as The Message puts it:

Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. 

But this crisis that the United Methodist Tribe is facing, has caused me to have this deep-seated thought that Bishop Lewis was only telling half of the story–literally a half-truth.  And a half-truth is at its root and core, a lie!  As I was talking to God about this “disappointment” in my heart, it hit me.  She, like so many in our culture today, didn’t talk about the first part of Paul’s letter.  Yes, be clothed in God’s love–after all, it’s His personal label.  But….

But these new clothes don’t fit or look well as long as you keep wearing the “old” clothes underneath them.  He starts off in Verses 1-2

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

It’s one of the few things I remember from my cemetery, excuse me, seminary days–that a text without its context is only a pretext.  Bishop Lewis never mentioned verses 1 and 2.  And there’s more to the context, and it’s summed up in verse 5

And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God.

Our Tribe is being asked to change our church polity and order to accommodate what is now called “Progressive” theology.  We are being asked to give up the traditional view of human sexuality in order to not only accommodate our culture–but here’s the BIG LIE–but because of God’s love, it’s OK to be “gay”.  Progressive theology on human sexuality says that God created some people “gay”, ergo, it’s no longer a sin.  Just wear love!

Yet how can anyone put on God’s love, wear these perfectly fitting clothes, IF we continue to wearing the old clothes?  The truth is, the painful truth is, you can’t!  In the south we would say it like this, and for you poor unfortunate souls who aren’t in the south, I will help translate this for you:  Put a silk dress on a sow (NOUN: a female pig) and she’s still a sow, and she’ll get that silk dress muddy.  And we cannot wear God’s New Designer Label of Love until we get rid of the old clothes of sin.

I say this not from the “high ground” of being morally superior to others, but from the “low ground” of realizing that I still have sin in me.  I admit that I’m broken and am always turning back to God to help put shed off the old clothes so that I can be fitted with the right clothes.  Those who insist that sexuality outside of the husband (man) and wife (woman), in other words, being “gay”, is their identity.  There is no offer of personal transformation into the identity that has nothing to do with sex–but everything to do with The Creator.

Progressives offer no hope for a new identity–just put on the new clothes of love without ever taking off the old clothes of, as The Message puts it, “doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God.”  I am wondering now, could it be that the suicide rate is above average in the LBGTQI community, especially among teens who feel or believe they are gay, because they are not offered Hope–hope for not just a new identity–but their TRUE identity.  A person’s true identity is found in their relationship with God–NOT with whom they are having sex.

And my heart breaks for the LBGTQI community because they have been told to believe that there is no way to shed their old clothes for the new designer clothes.  As long as we try to wear the Divine Designer Clothes of Love OVER the old clothes doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy you will never be able to wear them as they are designed.

I’m not saying homosexuality is the worst sin.  And it certainly isn’t the only thing that can be called an abomination.  Proverbs 6:16-19 (NLT) describes those things this way:

17 There are six things the Lord hates—no, seven things he detests:
17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent,
18 a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong,
19 a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord in a family.

One time I was asked, “Bro. Randy, what do you think is the worst sin?  Rejecting Jesus?”  I think my response shocked her.  I said, “No, even that’s not the worst sin.  I believe that the worst sin is the one that makes God want to vomit–and that is being lukewarm (Revelation 3:16).  No other condition, no other sin that I can find in the Bible makes God want to puke.  I just noticed something–3:16.  One 3:16 tells us we can have eternal life (John 3:16).  This other 3:16 says we make God want to puke, and thus, be eternally separated from Him.

I am smart enough, wise enough, and humble enough to know that I still have times when I try to wear God’s Designer Jeans over my filthy yard clothes.  They don’t fit, they don’t look good because that’s not the way these “Designer Jeans” are “DESIGNED” to be worn.  We have to put off the old in order to wear the new.  So I pray, pray hard first for me to be sure I’m not trying to wear the new over the old.  Second, I pray hard for the LBGTQI community to stop believing the Great Lie.  And third, I pray for those who are deceiving the LBGTQI community WITH the Great Lie.

Before new life happens–before we can experience the Resurrection Life–there are things that need to, MUST die in all of us.  Otherwise, we’re just an old sow wearing a silk dress.  That’s not how this works!

A Letter

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I’m back to a time and place where I can write again.  Wednesday, May 23 at 6:30 p.m. my Mother went home completely healed of her vascular dementia.  Over the past few months I watched a godly woman suffer.  In the last 2 weeks I watched her suffering intensify.  My prayers, and the prayers of many more, were for her to be released from her suffering.  On Tuesday Hospice told us it was only a matter of days.  My Dad refused to leave her side at the nursing home, so that night I stayed with him.  My wife Debbie came to relieve me Wednesday morning so I could go home a catch a nap.  She called me just a couple of hours later saying I needed to come back.

Surrounded by family, telling her it was OK to go home, her breath left her body and her soul was embraced by the One who had embraced her for nearly 90 years.  This picture was from 23 years ago at their 50th Wedding Anniversary.  They renewed their wedding vows and it was my honor and great joy to preside over that ceremony.  I had already been grieving for Mother and grieving more for Dad.  We went to his home that evening to make ready for the funeral.  I am still amazed at the great strength he has even at 92.  But then, I shouldn’t be amazed because he is a man of great faith.

Earlier in that week my daughter, Leslie Faith, called.  She and her family were about to leave on a family cruise.  They had purchased this family vacation 2 years earlier and did not purchase the “insurance” in case something like this happened.  She asked me, and Dad, her Pappaw, if we would be OK with them still going.  Of course we both said “Yes” because family time was important to Mother.  Leslie called me back and asked if it would be OK if she wrote a letter to be read at Mother’s funeral.  Being a writer myself, I was all over that and gave her my blessings.

This morning, I want to share with you what she wrote, and was read at Mother’s funeral yesterday.  I am proud of Leslie Faith’s gift of writing and would like to think maybe she got this from me.  By the way, we call her Leslie Faith because my Dad and Mother had another child named Marilyn Faith.  She would have been the oldest, had she lived.  The name “Faith” was special to Mother.  Here are words that were formed by the example and teachings of my Mother to us all:

 

In a way this is one of the easiest letters I’ve ever written and in a way it’s one of the hardest.  Finding the words to sum up the life of Helen Irene Gautney Burbank isn’t the easiest of tasks.  She was a loving and devoted daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and friend.  Her love and loyalty knew no bounds.  She led what many today would consider a simplistic life, but she was fulfilled and knew a joy that eludes so many people today. 

Mammaw would be the first to say she was far from perfect.  She was an avid collector of things (yes that’s the nice way of saying she was somewhat of a hoarder) and she worried about everyone else so they didn’t have to.  She kept things that most people wouldn’t – be it a drawing on a bulletin from one of the grandkids or some trinket present one of the kids gave her for Christmas when they were little.  They may have been knickknacks or even junk to someone else, but they were treasures to her.  And for reasons that pass all understanding, she could not smile in a picture, although she smiled all the time in real life. 

Although Randy and Jacque might try to disagree for reasons unknown to the rest of us, she spoiled her children.  The grandchildren know we were spoiled.  She encouraged our imagination – who knew that old medicine bottles, wooden swords and capes made from old fabrics could create hundreds of countless hours of fun?  She taught me how to play Rummy and Dominoes.  She tried to teach me how to crochet – if only I had her patience.  She made us clothes when we were little.  She introduced me to Madame Alexander Dolls and the yearly Christmas bears.  There were our Christmas stockings every year.  And what did we want in them?  The latest toys or money?  Nope!  We wanted the oldest jar of pickles she had.  We wanted the homemade hot sauce.  We wanted the butter beans.  The chicken stew.  We wanted what she and Pawpaw made and had made with love.

She was firm in her faith and she loved the Lord her God.  She loved her family.  Unconditionally.  Without fail.  She always looked for the good in people and she refused to see anything but the best in those around her.  If one of us made a mistake, she was the first one to say, “Well, that’s alright!  I know you’ll do better next time!” And she honestly believed that we were capable of doing better and we would do better.  She never let the disappointment she might have felt in any of us overshadow her love for us.  Love, loyalty and faith weren’t just words to Helen Irene.  They were a way of life.  The only way to live life.  She didn’t let the loss of her first child define her or break her.  Yes she was heartbroken about losing Marilyn, even when she talked about it all these years later.  But she continued to make a life for her family.  And she made sure we all knew about Marilyn – that Marilyn lived on through the rest of us.  And just as I am sure about her love for her family, I am sure that she is now rejoicing to be reunited with Marilyn and Mamma Gautney and so many of her loved ones that have been waiting on her. 

The selfish part of me is sad that she’s gone from this earth.  The selfish part of me misses her already.  I miss the meals we had together (especially her mashed potatoes) because no one could cook like her.  It’s something about a homemade meal made with love that you just can’t duplicate no matter how hard you try.  I miss her phone calls.  I miss her laugh.  I miss her calling me “Tinker Bug” or “Mammaw’s Little Angel”.  I miss her.  But that’s the selfish part of me.  The rest of me know she’s so much better off.  That she more than earned the reward that awaited on the other side of Heaven’s gate. 

I have struggled with the possibility of not being there for her funeral.  She was always there for me – made time for me no matter what.  She never once told me she was too busy and to come back later.  But then I think about what she always told me about family.  About how family is there for you no matter what and that you should always take the opportunity to make memories with them.  I have 37 years of great memories with my Mammaw Burbank.  I pray I am making memories with my family now – memories she would be proud to share with me.  I pray I am doing what she would want me to do – what she would do in my shoes.  I pray that I am honoring her memory in a way that she would want.  I pray that as I grow I become more like her.  That I have her faith and her ability to see the good in people.  That I give more second chances and forgiveness.  That I create loving and happy memories with those closest to me.  That I always put God and family first. 

Mammaw always said that she led a blessed life, but I think she underestimated how much of a blessing she was to the rest of us. I know that I was deeply loved by Helen Irene Burbank and I know that she knew I deeply loved her.  She always saw the best in me, so maybe that’s why I always saw the best in her.  I may never be the “collector” she was or the cook that she was (although I do think I’ve got Jacque beaten by a country mile), I do hope and pray that I love my family like she loved hers.  That I am the example to my family like she was to me.  That I have her ability to forgive, to see goodness in people and to not be hardened by the trials of this world.  I hope I can follow the example she set.  I hope that my Pawpaw can look at me and see just a little bit of her in me.  I hope as we can all look at ourselves and see just a little bit of Helen Irene and realize how better off we all are because of it. 

LESLIE FAITH BURBANK SPENCER