The Long Journey Home

What a wonderful morning with the Athens church of Christ! Maggy and I found this family of believers to be warm, encouraging, and very interested in the condition of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It was a joy to meet the elders and to have a great meal with them following worship time. It was a very positive trip and I am grateful to have met some of my brothers and sisters I have not known before. I was especially grateful for the elders calling me to the pulpit at the end of the service and praying with me about our work, my personal ministry, and the great task before us.

After lunch we headed for home, figuring to stop somewhere along the way for an overnight. Our anxiousness to return home increased with each mile, though. So, we decided to just come all the way home. Thanks to God’s grace we made it home safely.

I hear that Lynn Griffith did a great job preaching at Central today and we had several visitors present. I hope that the Nashvillians had a safe trip home. Other Nashville folks who were present at Central during our absence was the Robert Lingle family. I’m sorry I missed seeing them. Our teens had a great time at the teen retreat at Gulf Coast Bible Camp. It was good to hear that things went well while I was gone!

If you get the feeling that all is well on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, take a moment to read THIS STORY from Saturday’s Mississippi Press.

Also in the newspaper are several advertisements for a local church of Christ having a “Gospel Meeting“. I know what that is, but I wonder if the average citizen of Jackson County knows what that is. That’s not a criticism. Since we are having an event coming up the first week of December, I’m trying to think of the best way to communicate to the non-religious public exactly what it is that we are encouraging them to attend. I’ll tell you more about that event when the last few details have been settled. I’m waiting for a communication from my contact that is arranging things on the other end.

Well, Monday is about to arrive, so I’ll post this and get some rest. Thanks for reading!

Saturday in the Smoky Mountains

Yesterday we explored some back roads in Athens, TN. Today we explored some other back roads, unintentionally. My friend Tim Gunnels gave me good instructions on how to get to Pigeon Forge, but as I looked at the map I thought that I knew better. So I chose a different route. Somewhere along the way I’m sure the route wasn’t clearly marked, because we ended up in Knoxville! We were driving along and suddenly there was the UT stadium and we were downtown! Fortunately we were on a road that ran directly into Pigeon Forge. We enjoyed a fried apple pie at the Apple Valley complex. We also looked around in the Christmas store. Then we drove home … yes … the way that Tim told us … and it was much more picturesque as we drove across Wears Valley Road to near Cades Cove and back through Maryville and Engleton to Athens. We have some members of our church who are from that area (Hello Bobbie!). This is one place I have visited that leaves me with the same feeling each time…I don’t want to leave.

Just after we returned home we went to the home of Tim and Kristin Gunnels (Tim is a faithful blog reader,  he informed me tonight!). We met Tim when he came to Mobile about a dozen years ago, before he married Kristin. Our acquaintance was renewed after Hurricane Katrina as he was the minister for the Elba, Alabama church of Christ. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the Elba church was so active in supporting and helping us because they had suffered through three floods in the past. They knew what we were going through. Their beautiful assembly hall had even been flooded. One of their elders, Tom Mattox, has had a cancer surgery and chemotherapy since the time when they helped us. Please say a prayer for him and his family. The Elba church was so kind to us when we visited there earlier this year.

But in June of this year, the Gunnels moved to Athens, Tennessee. They have a beautiful home and fed us a delicious supper tonight. We enjoyed meeting their two precious daughters, Emma and Ella. We also went to the building where the church meets and enjoyed a tour of their facilities. I’m looking forward to speaking there tomorrow morning.

 It brings me joy to hear Tim and Kristin speak so highly of the Athens congregation (they will have a new website up soon), and especially the elders. In fact, they speak highly of all of the churches they have served. As we talked about Tim’s ministry tenure, he told me a really great story that involved his father being supported many years ago by the Alpine Hills Church of Christ in Mobile (now known as University Church of Christ in Alpine Hills). That was when Tim was just an infant. Little did they know the seeds that were being planted for the Gospel’s sake in that family. Tim would later serve that same church as Campus Minister. The current minister there is Marshall Underwood. Marshall is a wonderful gentleman who has a great heart full of kindness and grace. University is the only church that Marshall has served as preaching minister. Tim expressed great admiration for Marshall. I admire both of them.

I hope you have a great Sunday … and say a prayer for us as we begin our journey home tomorrow afternoon! Thanks for reading.

The Son Came Out

We have made it to Athens, Tennessee. It is a chilly 30 degrees outside as I type this. The low tomorrow night is 27 degrees. That’s a bit cooler than it is on the Coast, but we are enjoying the climate change. I talked with Tim Gunnels on the phone tonight and we look forward to a supper with his family on Saturday night. Tomorrow we will likely rest a bit, look around town some, and who knows … maybe drive over to Pigeon Forge to eat apple fritters at the Apple Valley Restaurant! (I’m still awaiting the arrival of my South Beach book…don’t worry…that day is coming soon!)

I’d like to take you back to last night at Central for this post, though. I decided that since we had these wonderful tables in our auditorium (donated by Healing Hands International), we could have each table do their own Bible study for the night. As I explained what we were doing, I looked around and to my right was a table with three folks that might be classified as ‘visitors’ or ‘newcomers’ …. many of the classifications of people have been blurred over time. God knows who His people are … and we are to love all people anyway. But these three were at a table by themselves. I do not want to sound mean spirited about these three, but they are probably the most unlikely to be gathered together for a Bible study. I determined that I would sit with them, since it just so happened that none of our ‘members’ did. (Note to self: Self, Let’s do a blog on ‘membership’ sometime.) I do not think this was intentional … but it happened just the same. The only way to perceive the irony is to tell you a bit about each one of them.

One was an elderly gentleman that I have known for years. His recent strokes, however, have left him very quiet … but he never misses coming to any assembly. Next to him was a lady who claims to be the last living wife of Elvis Presley, who lived in Pascagoula under another name, but passed away last year. She’s a brassy, talkative lady who sometimes lives in our world … and sometimes not. She told me she had spent the last few days in jail, but she didn’t tell me why. And last but not least, next to her, was a lady that I first met when she asked me to exorcise a demon from her through prayer. I did pray for her … although from what she describes I know that her “demon” is really a medical condition. However, she is so convinced that it is a demon she will not seek out medical help. At one point she thought that an alien inhabited her apartment and wanted me to call the Department of Defense. Her chain smoking and bladder problems have left her with a strong odor. Yes, these are three ‘characters’ and then there was me (and anytime I’m the most normal person at the table, we are in trouble!). I want to be clear that I’m not making fun of these folks … there’s much more to tell about each of them … only God knows what they have been through in their lives to bring them to this point. And Katrina brought them to us. The story I’m about to tell is dependent upon you realizing what kind of folks are sitting around this table.

We worked our way through the Bible study, and the great serendipity of these studies is that subjects you couldn’t have planned come up in conversation. Somehow in studying about Zacchaeus, discussion turned to the days following Katrina. The elderly gentleman was asleep – and I feel very gracious about his sleep – not offended at all. It was all he could do to be there. But the two ladies… as they talked about the days following the storm, a very perceptable change overtook their features. The lady with a demon had the most precious smile on her face as she related that each morning she would get up early and go outside just to watch people help each other. Elvis’ widow was also smiling as she talked about how everyone treated one another with dignity and an attitude of acceptance – something even I noticed. It was such a magic moment….a God-thing … and the SON came out after the storm …. and here He was shining at this table where no one wanted to sit.

The last activity was a group prayer. The older gentleman declined to word a prayer, but the one lady said she would. And the lady with a demon / alien / acid reflux looked at me with such an expression on her face and said, “I am trying to learn how to pray.” She was so humble about it, really childlike. Then she said, “I’ve been learning the Lord’s prayer.” So I asked her if she would say that for her prayer, and she said she would. We held hands at that table while these two ladies prayed … ladies that really do not always have a grip on reality … who live in made up worlds sometimes … but who want and seek a REAL relationship with a living God. Their prayers were precious to me, and I closed us out with a prayer as well.

I don’t know how things went at the other tables. Perhaps some really special things were shared there. But at our table, I felt that God sat down with us as well and touched each of our hearts in ways we may not yet even know.

And if I may pontificate a bit at the end of this post, I think we all need to think about the widows of Elvis and the demon possessed ladies in our community. These are the people that no church wants. People like James that I wrote about a few weeks ago who knew he wasn’t welcome in the church he had stumbled into, so he offered someone his last $4 to drive him to Central. A couple of years ago it was Keith, who said he was JFK…and his mother was named Rose. A year or two before Keith it was Charles who shook everyone’s hand, said he was a pastor, and unashamedly smiled and clapped during the songs – unaware that he was the only one. Charles was unaware of a lot of things, but he loved Jesus and talked about him all the time.

Maybe all churches have their people like this. I think they have their special angels that watch over them. How do they even make it in this world? I do not know. They may frighten us at times, get involved with drugs or crime or other things at times, and we already know that they will not be the pillars of our congregation. I really believe Jesus has a special place in his heart for the helpless and unprotected. He loves these precious ones with a pure love. We have a lot to learn, but he’s teaching us. For years he has been sending them our way. May our hearts be open to those who can offer us nothing … but the opportunity to minister to Jesus in a special way.

We’re Not The Jet Set

I was remembering a funny old song by George Jones and Tammy Wynette called “We’re Not The Jet Set”. It went something like…

By a fountain back in Rome, I fell in love with you
In a small cafe in Athens, You said you loved me too
And it was April in Paris, When I first held you close to me
Rome, Georgia
Athens, Texas
And Paris, Tennessee

I guess I was thinking about that because we’re all set to head out to Athens … but not Athens, Texas. Athens, Tennessee, where my friend Tim Gunnels is the minister for the church of Christ. Tim was an amazing friend during the days just beyond the storm. I was looking through my picture archive trying to find a picture of him, but I couldn’t see one. I think he was around in those first few weeks, when I wasn’t taking pictures yet….still walking around in a daze. It was during that time that Tim gave me cash to get necessities when they were available. He also set out to raise $10,000 on his own for our church. In addition, he went to an area church and secured a major donation for the congregation. All of this while his lovely wife was near to giving birth to their second child. Of course, as that happened, so his personal involvement in being in Pascagoula was curtailed. He continued, however, to organize groups from his church at the time – the Elba church of Christ. Since then he has moved to Athens and has now invited me up there to give a presentation about our work and to preach this coming Sunday. Margaret and I are going a few days early to enjoy the scenery. I’m looking forward to seeing my friend Tim. If you’re in that area Sunday, come on out and see us!

There’s a lot of great blogging going on out there, if you haven’t noticed.

Dusty Rush is talking about how husbands and wives can be involved in the spiritual journey with each other.

Gary Kirkendall wonders if we haven’t taken the concept of autonomy too far.

Charlie Whitfield ponders the WHY of blogging.

Dee Andrews has the ‘Blahs’. Yes….OUR Dee….we gotta do something.

Larry James Still Needs Our Help.

John Alan Turner reflects on his experience at the funeral of a family friend, Alton Howard.

Jim Martin joins a little girl on the pulpit steps.

Wade Tannehill gets real about life in the ministry.

Tim Archer contemplates what the Bible says.

National Blog Posting Month?

Holy or Unholy Ground … Ben Overby Writes.

Patrick Mead gives a shameless plug.

If that’s not enough, just browse through my list of blogs and find more! If your blog isn’t listed, send me an e-mail and I’ll get it posted as soon as I can.

Now we’re off to beautiful Tennessee … I hear it’s a bit chilly up that way. I like it.

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Mr. Kerry, Stop Digging!

This photo from DRUDGE REPORT.

 Have you ever said something and wished immediately that you could take it back? I think Senator Kerry understands that difficult situation. Really, though, when you’re digging a hole what should you do? Stop digging! I understand it was a “botched joke”….I’ve botched a few jokes in my time as well. Wouldn’t it be easy to admit that you goofed and say “I’m sorry folks” and let your humanity show? I guess it’s hard to be humble in the presence of your arch enemy! It is ironic to me, though, that Kerry wanted to try to dredge up the old “Bush is dumb” rhetoric and in doing so made himself look like an idiot. Both men are highly educated and neither should stoop so low as to indicate that the other one lacks intelligence.

Chrisitans have to be careful about doing this with other Believers. I’ve heard people use expressions like, “anyone who can see through a ladder can see that!” What are they saying? Those who see things differently are stupid. I don’t know about you, but most of the people that I perceive to be more conservative than me are sincere, devout, are involved in conscientous studies of the Bible. Those that I perceive to be more liberal than me are the same. There are always exceptions, but I think most people of conviction arrived to their conclusions through study. The ones I admire most are those who can communicate their positions without rancor and the intimation that if I were as smart as they that I would come up with the same conclusions.

That’s one reason why I like blogs and e-mail discussion groups. It’s never wrong to ask a question and to toss the implications around as we consider the Scriptures. We should not be ashamed to come up with a conclusion that varies from the majority. Sometimes we may be right … other times we may be wrong. But in either case we have given our minds and hearts to the study of God’s word and have been strengthened.

Looking at some brotherhood publications … we can be as guilty as politicians when it comes to making mistakes and being crucified in the press. A humble answer is best. Often pride pushes us into war. We need to stop digging!

That’s a rare political commentary on Out Here Hope Remains! I just couldn’t resist. Tune in late tonight for a regular post submission!

 

And Now For November…

The end of October brings colorful leaves to the trees, and after the cool windy days says goodbye to them. The children have a hauntingly fun time collecting candy from neighbors. It also ushers in the month of November. The temperatures continue to slink downward here on the Coast, although never to the frosty lows described by Bobby Valentine in Milwaukee or Charlie Whitfield in Sault St. Marie. Family plans are made for gathering together to give thanks. The end of November marks another anniversary of my earthly trek, and such a decline in the potential for tropical storms that we signal the end of hurricane season.

Fall leads us into the introspective winter, when cold days are spent indoors… thinking … contemplating the Summer past and the winding down of another year. The naked branches of the trees reaching up into the sky remind us of the losses we have suffered, and the hope of renewal that will come in time. Soon we will rush through the lights and gifts of Christmas and find ourselves staring into the eyes of 2007. We will ask questions of ourselves. We will reflect on the noble goals from only a year ago that long since have been pushed into dark corners and gathered cobwebs.

And along with Jack, we search our hearts and come to the realization that “there’s an empty place in my bones, that calls out for something unknown.” It is in these hours of reflection that the flicker of hope illuminates our souls as we recognize the presence of our only Hope. What will become of those who do not have this hope? It is our privilege to bring this light into their lives.

Jack’s Lament From The Nightmare Before Christmas

There are few who’d deny, at what I do I am the best
For my talents are renowned far and wide
When it comes to surprises in the moonlit night
I excel without ever even trying
With the slightest little effort of my ghostlike charms
I have seen grown men give out a shriek
With the wave of my hand, and a well-placed moan
I have swept the very bravest off their feet

Yet year after year, it’s the same routine
And I grow so weary of the sound of screams
And I, Jack, the Pumpkin King
Have grown so tired of the same old thing

Oh, somewhere deep inside of these bones
An emptiness began to grow
There’s something out there, far from my home
A longing that I’ve never known

I’m a master of fright, and a demon of light
And I’ll scare you right out of your pants
To a guy in Kentucky, I’m Mister Unlucky
And I’m known throughout England and France

And since I am dead, I can take off my head
To recite Shakespearean quotations
No animal nor man can scream like I can
With the fury of my recitations

But who here would ever understand
That the Pumpkin King with the skeleton grin
Would tire of his crown, if they only understood
He’d give it all up if he only could

Oh, there’s an empty place in my bones
That calls out for something unknown
The fame and praise come year after year
Does nothing for these empty tears 

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