Friday, July 27, 2007

Christian Man, Christian Love

My wife is away for a few days, having taken the younger three with her to spend some special time with grandparents in Michigan. Funny how the older I get, the more I miss her companionship when it's not immediately present. Yesterday morning, when the hummingbird hovered by the hanging basket of petunias on our front porch that she's always tending, I noticed a pang when I was not able to show her. I feel a bit like I'm riding a tandem bike by myself. Yeah, I might be able to get around, but I'm pedaling hard and not nearly enjoying the ride as much.

This hit home when I pulled a book off my shelf and had a note card she had written many years ago, serving as a now forgotten bookmark, fall out. She had written the following quote to me when I was going through a struggle in the ministry. Though again I felt that pang of her absence, reading it again encouraged me and made me thankful for the little sermons she preaches in her quiet way that no one else but me gets to hear. Yet I will share this one with you. Yes, it is from the mouth of another, but you can understand how passing through her heart and lips into mine sweetens its message.
The Christian man ought to be of a courageous spirit, in order that he may glorify the Lord by enduring trials in an heroic manner. If he be fearful and fainthearted, it will dishonor his God. Besides, what a bad example it is...Moreover, unless your courage is kept up Satan will be too much for you. Let your spirit be joyful in God your Savior, for the joy of the Lord shall be your strength...Moreover, labor is light to a man of cheerful spirit; and success waits upon cheerfulness. The man who toils, rejoicing in his God, believing with all his heart, has success guaranteed. He who sows in hope will reap in joy; therefore, "beloved," be thou strong and very courageous. -Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, May 11th.
By the way, she also put the "beloved" in quotes just like that for me. Hard to be down for long with love and exhortation like that.

How I hope you have Christian love - be it a spouse, a parent, a mentor or a friend - exhorting you on like this in your life.

And please hurry home, Miriam.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Laughing at Limericks

Not much time to blog these past few weeks, so why not share a summer laugh or two?

One of our family's summer highlights was our church's family conference known as Covfamikoi (the name is a loose acronym from "Covenant Families" with the beginning letters of the states in our presbytery tacked on the end somehow). Along with the great teaching, hearty psalm singing, and rich fellowship, the 400-plus conference participants enjoyed such things as recreational activities, a concert by New Song from Geneva College, and a talent show by the conferees themselves. The conference also sponsored a limerick contest, with the submissions and winners read at the talent show.

The winner was Anna Roberts from Bloomington, with this clever turn-of-phrase poking fun at the RP family tree (she gave me permission to share it here):

The Reformed Presbyterian family tree
Is very close-knit in its ancestry.
Everyone is related,
Our cousins have dated;
So what's your connection to me?

Somewhat out of character (at least for those who do not know her dark side like I do), my wife also got into the act. Her inspiration came from some posters that suddenly appeared all over campus one day. You see, at last year's conference a close-up picture had been taken of Dave Long thoroughly enjoying an ice cream cone. Head cocked to the side, tongue extended, eyes dreamily half-closed - you "get the picture." Some of the college students enlarged this flattering picture of their mentor into posters and pasted them everywhere. So Miriam's following entry took third place:

There was once a pastor named Dave,
Chocolate ice cream cones he did crave.
Yet one day while a-lickin'
The camera was a-clickin,
So now in public, Dave tries to behave.

These laughs reminded me, as a math teacher turned pastor, of one of my all-time favorite limericks:

There was a young fellow from Trinity

Who found the cube root of infinity.
But it gave him such fidgets
To add up the digits,
He chucked math and took up divinity.

Have any limericks you would care to submit?

Friday, July 06, 2007

A Little Help Singing the Psalms

I must have been sleeping when they made the announcement. And it must be my lack of web-savvy that kept me from finding it on Crown & Covenant's website. So I'll ask you. Did you know that all the tunes for The Book of Psalms for Singing are in digital format on the internet? If you did, why didn't you tell me?

Thankfully my pal Ed Blackwood finally did. So in case you were in the dark like me, be sure you are awake now and are paying attention. Even if you have trouble finding things on the internet like me, you can do this. All you have to do is either click here or type in on your browser line and - voila! - all the tunes are at your disposal.

What a great service! Families can get help singing them in their home in worship. Presenters can become proficient in their skill. Pastors can readily hear whether their congregation can handle a tune come Sunday morning.

And just for a little further encouragement in not only properly pitched but balanced a capella psalm singing (distinguishing between public and private acts of worship, being charitable toward those who differ, etc.), how about this gracious quote from Spurgeon on Psalm 144:9-11?

"The Old Testament dispensation abounded in types, and figures, and outward ritual, and therefore music dropped naturally into its place in the “worldly sanctuary”; but, after all, it can do no more than represent praise, and assist our expression of it; the real praise is in the heart, the true music is that of the soul. When music drowns the voice, and artistic skill takes a higher place than hearty singing, it is time that instruments were banished from public worship; but when they are subordinate to the song, as here, it is not for us to prohibit them, or condemn those who use them, though we ourselves greatly prefer to do without them, since it seems to us that the utmost simplicity of praise is far more congruous with the spirit of the gospel than pomp of organs. The private worshipper, singing his solo unto the Lord, has often found it helpful to accompany himself on some familiar instrument, and of this David in the present Psalm is an instance, for he says, “I will sing praise unto thee,”—that is, not so much in the company of others as by himself alone. He saith not “we, but “I.

So sing with joy unto the Lord!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Mourning atop a Blue-Green Hill

The late morning breeze carried the scent of the bright bouquets to those assembled under the canopy sitting atop one of the many blue-green hills of western North Carolina. The coolness and smell of the flowers were welcomed by the group seeking refuge from the sun in the shade of the awning. Men stood quietly while they pulled on tight collars. Women shifted their weight from one high heel to the other. And a sister, seated with her son and other close family beside her, stared blankly ahead at the casket before them.

The preacher began speaking, and told of a life that began in the days of the Great Depression. Though she had witnessed the rise of what many consider modern advances in this new "Age of Convenience," he testified to how she had never forgotten her roots and the simple pleasures found in a life lived for others. Keeping her house tidy and welcome. Sitting around the dinner table on a Sunday afternoon visiting with friends and family. Giving bottles of Avon products to her brothers' and sister's children at Christmastime (the perfume well-used by the nieces, the bottles of cologne untouched by the nephews). Attending church and then, when the arthritis crippling her body made it impossible for her to go, giving warm welcomes to those visiting from her church family. At points a sob could be heard; at others a chuckle of remembrance.

As the pastor continued, the son turned in his chair and glanced sideways at his mother, whose dulled expression seemed unaffected by the words or the event. "He could add to the list that despite her own pain, Aunt Mary called Mom every day all these months to try to encourage her out of her depression," the son contemplated. "What will Mom do now without her?" As his thoughts returned to the Psalms being read, the words both encouraged and troubled his heart. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want...Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me...Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise." The joy of an aunt being in God's immediate presence contrasted sharply with the pain his mother's condition brought to him. As he closed his eyes for the final prayer of committal, his own unspoken words ascended heavenward with those of the preacher's. "Oh, Lord, surely I mourn the living who are dead far more than the dead who are living. Hear my cry, O my God."

As he opened his eyes and sat in the post-service silence, the pile of red, Carolina clay to the side of the casket brought to mind the words read earlier in the service, "From dust you came, and to dust you shall return." In the quiet moment, he considered that the only dirt more red, a testimony that this all-encompassing epitaph can be erased, was the blood-splattered earth of Calvary. With a heavy sigh that died within like the fading cool of the breeze, he rose from his seat to help his mother.

You can read the obituary here.