The Last Visit

The old man entered the funeral home with the assistance of his son and a walker. His hair was gray and mostly gone, his shoulders stooped, and his steps even with the walker slow and cautious. He looked at me through the dim sight of his thick glasses and said, “You be Mr. Ivan, last time I saw you when you came down to the press with Mr. Raley that be a long time ago.” I smiled took his hand and introduced myself to him and his son saying, “Yes it was a long time ago. Dad retired some twenty years ago. It is wonderful to have people who worked with dad come to visit.” He said, “That be true Mr. Ivan, but I be coming to pay my respects not cause I work for him but cause he led me to Jesus.” That was very shocking, not that my father wasn’t a Christian but that I never knew of him doing any witnessing on a one to one basis. Also it was really hard for me to picturing that since my father was such a quiet man. You could put all the words he said on his most talkative day into a very small sack. I responded to his statement with, “That has to be a great story. Tell me about it.” He began, “It be no story Mr. Ivan. Mr. Raley was a good boss, he be straight with all of us folks and he be nice to us even when we messed up and somebody done something wrong. Your father he just be such a good man and nice person that I wanted to know why, cause I wanted to be like that. Then I find out it be cause he loved Jesus. So I went to church and loved Jesus too. I told him about my being saved and he come down to the river on the day they baptized me.” I turned so that he would not see my tears, and then hugged him and his son. That was my memory of dad as well; He was a good and gentle man.

Ivan

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Published in: on September 30, 2011 at 12:02 am  Leave a Comment  

Cindy

Cindy stood in my office door tears rushing down her face, hands shaking, and voice so low that I had to go to her in order to know what she was saying.  The story was not new to me but it was to Cindy, cancer. After a struggle to discover what was wrong the worst possible news dropped on her like a great unmovable stone. Her only child was in college, her husband had left years before, her parents were deceased, and she felt abandon by all that made life dear.  So began our journey as friends for the next three years. Surgery, wills, bills, tears, fear, and all the elements of a Hollywood drama. But this was not a film, and the ending would not be enchanting.  There were times when life seemed like a burden too heavy to bear. The chemo was destructive; its cost was almost as terrible as the cancer. There were days when life was not worth getting out of bed and days when I was sure she would never walk again. Her will was not to live forever in the torn and broken body but to live until that final moment when He would call her name. She wanted to see her daughter through school and she wanted to have enough of herself left at the end of the battle to say goodbye to those whom she loved.   Cindy saw her daughter graduate from college and attended her wedding to a great guy. She dug her faith deeper in the Word and became a great witness of the joy of living. When people visited they left more blessed than when they arrived. I am sure some would say she lost the battle.  But I knew that Cindy had won more than a victory, she had won the war. Her last words were, ‘He is still here.’  He was.

Ivan

Published in: on September 29, 2011 at 12:03 am  Leave a Comment  

Time to Say Thank You

Sometimes it seems so unfair to me that some get so much credit and praise for their service and others go unnoticed. I know that the Lord is the final judge and presents the greatest reward of a ‘well done’ but I still have a sad heart sometimes that I see those who have done so very much, been so completely faithful, and serves with such integrity and received almost no notice and recognition. I have know Jimmy since we were both small children; we are cousins and while I am a bit older my memory goes back to those days of childhood when we played together while our parents visited. For the past fifty years he has been an example of what a pastor, father, husband, and servant of the Lord should be. Faithfully he has served a couple of small churches as their bi-vocational pastor for more than 50 years. Kept a full time job took care for his family, helped his father with the farm when he was living and served the people of the church as a faithful minister and spiritual guide. I doubt if he has heard many ‘Thank you’ from all of those visits at the hospital, funerals, weddings and visits in the home when hurt filled the hearts of his ‘people’. If he has ever served in any state church position I am not aware of it, nor do I know of any awards, and honor that the Baptist of Tennessee have paid him. Yet while working at a ‘regular’ job he served his Lord with honor taking care of the flock as the Bible calls upon pastors to do. So today the best I know how I want to thank Jimmy Clay for being a man of God who did the work of God and did it well. I realize that my thank you is of little if any value but it does my heart good to hold him up before those who read this and say without fear of being wrong, “Well Done Jimmy, Well Done.” I am sure that there are hundreds of others like him across our state and thousands across our country but I did not watch them last week as I preached. I did not see the faithfulness in their eyes as he took his precious time to come and listen to an old friend. Like me time has invaded his body and the years can be seen in his stand, but still he stands tall, faithful, and willing to go the extra mile and give the extra gift of his time to honor an old preacher. Thanks Jimmy thanks. God has your crown of rightness but until then know that I was blessed by your gift of time.

Ivan

Published in: on September 28, 2011 at 12:16 am  Leave a Comment  

What Could Have Happened

The mid afternoon August heat radiated from the black asphalt road like waves of fire over her worn out body. She hated this town, this heat, this long walk to the store in the middle of the day but most of all she hated her life. This place had been a pit of darkness for her and while she had left a dozen times life had always forced her back to this small town horror. Her mother had always said she would be nothing, just a tramp, failure, looser and she had been right. Her father treated her like a tramp and she hated even the thought of him. Yet back to this dark hole life continued to drive her. She would get to the store, spend the few dollars she had on what she had to have and get out without running into any of her ‘friends’. Not that she had any; friend was a poor choice for a word to describe anyone in her life. Sure she had been popular with the guys in junior high and high school but it was a trashy popularity and she knew it. She was sure she held her class record for ‘made guys’ some record, and certain with her five marriages under her belt she held the class record for former husbands. Not that she really had a ‘class’, she had dropped out in the first part of her last year to have a baby, the first of too many. She hated this place and all of its memories. Get to the store, get out, don’t see anyone, and get back to the dump she called home, those were her thoughts now as this August afternoon tried to burn her body as well as her soul. She noticed him out of the corner of her eye as she left the store with her one package of needed supplies. She was sure she didn’t know him but she was certain that he was watching her. She put her free hand in her pocket and felt the pick she always carried; one sudden move and he would be missing an eye. “Excuse me Miss”, she heard him say, “I was wondering if you might have a drink of water you could spare me on this hot day?” She turned to look at him and said, “Do I look like a well to you or a kitchen faucet? Go away.” “Sorry”, he said, “Just thirsty and thought maybe you had an extra bottle of water in that bag.” “I bet.” She responded, “I know what you really want and I ant’s giving so beat it, go away. I don’t buy bottle water; I drink out of my faucet. Do I look like I got bottle water money?” He turned and asked, “Maybe I could go home with you and your husband would give me a nice glass of that tap water?” “Go away, crazy man, I ant got no husband and you ant going no where with me.” She answered quickly. “I got enough problems without you so get, just get.” She said as she picked up the pace and walked toward the street. “You are right you know. You don’t have a husband, you have had five but at the moment you are just living with a guy.” He said with a tone of concern and not judgment. “How do you know that? Who are you and why all this concern with me? Who has been telling you about me and way?” She spoke with a fear in her voice as she stopped her walk and looked toward him. “You have a lot of questions?” He answered, “In fact you are troubled about a lot of things and even a bit fearful about some things.” She tightened her grip on the pick in her pocket and said, “You are a crazy man, I won’t you to leave me be. Sure I fear some things. Some nights when I am trying to fall asleep I fear not waking up and having to meet God, I do fear Him, but I don’t fear you crazy man.” With that she pulled the pick from her pocket and looked fearfully at him. “I will leave.” He said, “But I might have had the answer.” He turned, walked away then over his shoulder he said, “By the way I am He. You really don’t have to fear me. Just get to know me.” With that he turned the corner and vanished.

Ivan

Published in: on September 27, 2011 at 12:05 am  Leave a Comment  

He Is Coming

Bright eyes cheer the heart; good news strengthens the bones.  Proverbs 15:30

I watched as they waited for the plane to arrive and the passengers deplane and come through the gate. The small girl with her mother looked to be about six and seemed so very excited. She kept asking her mother, “Is he coming, is he coming now?” Her mother with love and patience responded each time with “Not yet, it will be a few minutes more”. Now we all know that to a child a few minutes cannot be explained or understood so on the questions came until all of a sudden you could see her eyes light up as large as moon beams and the smile crossed her face filling the entire area with joy, she had seen her father, he was coming home.  The room was dark and the small frail body of the terminally ill lady was swallowed by the hospital bed. I held her hand and knelt beside her bed as her daughter patted her head and assured her that she was there. From those lips almost closed forever came the small broken question. “Is He here, is He coming.” “Yes”, both her daughter and I said, He is coming, not just yet, but he is coming.” The night grew later and the question repeated itself several times then as if the room was aglow she begin to give out a small smile and her eyes began to glow and the frail voice said, “He is here, I see Him, He is here.” With those final words the frail body grew limp and the tears of the daughter joined mine as we realized that He had come and she was now at peace.   All of us have rejoiced when we saw our child or another looking at us with those big bright eyes. There is just something about that which reaches out and grabs our hearts.  Have you considered that God would like to see that in our eyes as we kneel before Him in prayer? Eyes bright with joy, heart filled with excitement all because we were coming to see our master in prayer.  Maybe we never experience that because we never seek Him with such a heart and wonder. One of the things I miss about my dog Louie is the way he would jump and barks and get so excited when my car pulled in the drive. Now we really should be smarter than dogs and we certainly should be more excited than they to meet our Master.

Ivan

Published in: on September 26, 2011 at 12:01 am  Leave a Comment  

Keep on Keeping On

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Galatians 6:9

Like most kids I started a lot of projects when I was young. I raised rabbits, man I had a lot of rabbits in a very short time but got too attached to them and didn’t want to kill them to sell to the market that said they would buy them, dead and cleaned. So I just ended up with a lot of rabbits and a large feed bill. I once raised pigeons for the New Southern Hotel, of course dad had to do the dressing of those and they are not really nice birds in their bathroom habits, A lot of upkeep and very little money in pigeon farming. I raised butter beans one year and had a fight with a mother hen who encouraged her chicks to dig in my beans. She won the battle by flogging me. Butter beans are not worth a flogging to an eight year old boy. Then I decided to raise radishes one year and planted them in a very nice place in my back yard. Being about ten at the time I was very anxious for them to grow so I kept pulling them up to check on them and make sure their progress was good. By the time harvest came I had only a few that had not been ‘killed’ by my effort to encourage them to grow. I am certainly please that God does not do us that way. I am sure there are times when He wishes to snatch us up by the hair, but thankfully, He gives us another day and another opportunity. In a world that is unfair and where we see people who are doing wrong come out like they are the ‘good guys’ it is very easy to become discouraged and give up, just stop. Join the crowd and let our stand for right either change or be hidden. His word says don’t stop: keep on and in time the harvest will come. God give us opportunity after opportunity, His love and His kindness is wrapped in His forgiveness and time after time He allows us to start over. ‘I want to thank you Lord for having loving patience with me and not giving up on me when I am difficult and unprofitable and not worth the effort, because if you did I would not have a chance at being your child.’

Ivan

Published in: on September 23, 2011 at 12:05 am  Leave a Comment  

He Wins

He has sent me – to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. Isaiah 61:3

Like you I become weary of all the bad news, the fighting of our leaders, and the sad deaths of those who stand between us and the enemy. I want to weep; I want to shout at the TV and say, ‘Stop this insane inside fighting and turn and face the real enemy.’ My heart and head are filled with despair, but despair is a victory for Satan. Our economy seems to be made of eggs, fragile and easily broken. One day a fix is on the way and another the market is like a broken egg unable to be put together again. I know that Satan will not win in this war of life but I must not allow him to have victory in my heart. I have read the final chapter, seen in my prayers the final victory, and thus I know that Jesus wins. My failure is that I am looking for the wrong victory. I am looking for a victory of ‘things’ and Jesus promises us a battle with this world, ‘things’ but a victory in His world. I want to win in the ways of man but Jesus does battle not with man but with Satan and the powers of evil we cannot fully understand. We can proclaim victory, the crown of beauty and the oil of gladness and wear the garment of praise. We do this as we give our heart and soul to Jesus and each moment of our life live that gift in actions for Jesus. The End will not change for Jesus is both the Author and Finisher of our faith. Thank you Lord.

Ivan

Published in: on September 22, 2011 at 12:10 am  Leave a Comment  

Going Back

Going back has some very wonderful moments and yet it also has those sad ones. I have returned this week to a church I pastored some forty years ago and in so many ways it has been great. Seeing that the church is healthy and has renewed itself over the years, from the building and additions to the changes inside and outside the building, unlike me, has improved with age and is an honor to the congregation that has risen to the occasion to make certain that the Good News has a place of prominence and a reminder to all in the community that His work is important and that the people who worship in that building not only love God but love them by providing the very best for their community. The warmth with which I have been received is a testimony of their love for the Lord. All of those things have made the week wonderful, however there is another side. Forty years ago many of those whom I am seeing today were in their teens and even younger. Do you realize how much a ten year old changes in forty years? Wow! It is hard for me to focus and to believe. My mind is flooded with struggling to put everyone in place and to separate 1970 from 2011. Then, this has blown my mind, those who were near my age when I left are still near my age and suddenly I realize how much older I am in body than in mind. Then I look across the worship center and see the seats that use to be taken by those in leadership now occupied by someone new and I find my old friends in the cemetery next door. How many names did I count as I walked through that holy ground, names of those who taught me, who gave leadership to the church and guidance to this young man as a pastor? I have both tears of sadness and tears of joy. Tears for those whom I see only in the shadows of that place of my younger years, and tears of joy for those who have stepped up and filled the leadership places, made sure that the heritage they received will be passed on to others. Going home is not easy, not even really possible, and yet it brings comfort to an old heart and strength to a failing body. I have done little in sharing revival with them but they have done much to share in renewal for me. Thank you for allowing me these moments to glance back while looking forward.

Ivan

Published in: on September 21, 2011 at 12:09 am  Leave a Comment  

Doing for Others

Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2

I saw them standing by their car looking like the final hope of life had left. This little family of Mother, Father, and small daughter, were in some kind of need so I spoke to them and asked if they were having trouble. The father said the car was broken and he had arranged for someone to pick it up the next day and have it repaired but he and the family had to be in Memphis by eight the next morning for school and work. He went on to tell me that they could catch a bus in Nashville going to Memphis if they could get to the station by 10:00 PM, I said well let me move some thing over in my car and we can get to the station on time. Their joy was great and they hurriedly got their needed items and with a bit of throwing items in the back of the explorer we were on our way and soon in downtown Nashville at the bus station. As they left the car for the door of the station I reached in the back and pulled out a teddy bear, I keep a couple on hand most of the time, and asked the little girl if she would take him to Memphis and give him a home because he disliked living in the back of my explorer. She smiled, grabbed the bear and hugged my leg. They all thanked me and as they left for the door I hear the girl ask her mother, “You think he was an angel?” I did not hear the reply but you know and I know that I am not an angel. More likely they were angels and I entertained them. You know that might have just been it.

Published in: on September 20, 2011 at 12:05 am  Leave a Comment  

Saying Goodbye

Friday I said goodbye to an old friend, it was painful and difficult. My long time friend, Louie left this world at 9:30 Friday morning. Louie, as many already know was my 14 year old to be on Christmas day cocker spaniel. He was fat, spoiled, and for the past several weeks has struggled to make the burdens of each day come through. Down in his back legs, unable to hear, almost blind, and then captured with a battle to survive that destroyed his appetite and made it impossible for him to eat and thus continue his journey. I will miss Louie, he was always waiting for me to arrive when I was away from home, happy to see me and anxious for me to get out of the car and pat his head and give him a treat. But for two weeks the treats have been uneaten, the eyes lost there brightness and the excitement to see me vanished. On Thursday night I carried him in my arms from under a bush in the back yard, got him to drink a bit of water, and then put him in his bed. He somehow struggled to move to the floor beside my bed in the night and with morning I could tell that my old friend was almost gone.  I told him what a good dog he had been and held him as the doctor provided relief for his pain and freedom from his suffering.  Louie liked to sit on the side of the hill and look out to the East; he would just stare for long periods of time at the Easter view, so I buried him on that hill and let his body rest where he often spent his time just looking into the distance.  Now he is part of that distance and I will not discover him at the door waiting for me when I get home from the revival I am in now in Halls. I don’t think I will fully feel the lost until on Thursday when I drive into the yard and there is no Louie standing at the door saying with all of his body language, I have been waiting for you, Welcome Home.

Ivan

 

Published in: on September 19, 2011 at 12:32 am  Leave a Comment