Wednesday, April 15, 2015

More Grace - more David Jeremiah

My new wife had been raised as a Catholic and I was a dyed-in-the-wool Methodist.  We were still searching for a church when this woman - destined to become a life long friend, suddenly appeared in our little cottage, all agog about a seminar she had just attended in Dallas, TX, headed by a guy by the name of Bob George.  It was all about Grace, God's Grace, and we tried to listen attentively. What I remember most about that meeting was our guest's young daughter running in and out of our cottage and her Mother never paused in her excitement to tell about her experience.  At first, I was upset about the situation, but the more I watched that young girl, the more I knew we would become friends.

A month or so later, we were on a plane to Dallas and enjoying what we had been led to expect.  The whole purpose of the seminar was to introduce us to Grace, God's Grace - my emphasis.  Looking back, we both learned a lot about their subject, but little did we realize we were becoming friends with a guy who had accompanied us from Orlando, who would eventually marry the lady who had compelled us to listen to her.  We would become part of a new group, led by a Pastor who had never been to "our" seminar, but who insisted we needed to learn more about Grace.  It didn't work out, but the one experience I recall from the experience was the words that came out of the mouth of the youngster who we had met earlier.  I know I was getting tired of the sermons we were listening to, but then one morning, the Pastor asked us a question and the youngster answered and I thought I was hearing directly from God.  I can't remember the question, nor the answer, but I knew then as I know now, she had the greater "message" we were all supposed to hear.

It wasn't long before the new group broke up and we were back in church, a regular church, with an exciting young Pastor who was delivering some inspiring sermons.  And then he left.  Who knows why.  We moved to another church, a much larger church where it was easier to disappear and life moved on.  Unfortunately, our marriage was stuck somewhere between her past and my thoughts about the future.  We had lost our ability to communicate and - after trying to get her attention, I left. Not because I didn't love her, I still do even though she would pass away a few years later.

I found a new "home" in Tennessee where I was about to experience the greatest real life miracle I had ever even dared to imagine.  I had found a job as a night Supervisor at the area Rescue Mission. It came as an answer to prayer as I knew that I knew, I was destined to be involved.  One morning, my phone rang and to my great surprise, it was my Sister who I had not seen since leaving California. She was in Nashville and wanted to see me.  Of course!  She came to see me and we spent the day trying to fill in the gaps in the twenty-five years we had been apart.  Then, came the shock.  Six weeks after I had arrived in Nashville, only because I thought it would be a change, she and our Mother had moved here from California.  She had gone to school in nearby Baxter and after returning for a class reunion, she and Mother had decided to move here as well.

I hoped that would mean I would have a reunion with my Mother after being separated for so many years, but it was not to be.  The walls that had kept us apart for far too many years would not come down.  She passed away a few years later, even though we had talked one time on the telephone, but the die had been cast.  My prayers for a reconciliation were never answered.

I was being oriented in religion, according to the dictates of the leaders of Rescue Mission.  Oriented, but never convinced.  Grace was not only ignored, but it was kept from the ears of the men and women we were supposed to be serving in God's name.  Not that they did not do an adequate job by their feeding daily and providing beds at night.  They did that.  But they also required attendance at the evening "church" service where in spite of the fact that several local Pastors came to deliver a sermon, it was always - "Repent, otherwise you are destined for Hell".  I attended a few, but could not listen because they were missing - in my opinion, the true message of the gospel.

But that was also the case in the hundreds of sermons I had heard during my travels.  What was missing in those sermons was the understanding that when God accepts our pleas to be "saved" it was not to rescue us from Hell, but to empower us with the life that our Lord had demonstrated while He was walking the streets of ancient Israel.  He knew then and knows now, the problem is not just our various sins, it was the life we were wasting by not living as Jesus lived while He was among us. That is the reason He sent His Holy Spirit to indwell us, not to keep us from doing wrong, but to empower us for the task at hand, saving the lost and adding them to the ranks of the army of God.

From my experiences learned during the Korean War, I came to understand that it is not the isolated incidents of bravery recorded whenever there is combat, it is the lessons we learn as we work together to overcome the enemy.  I saw that in Korea.  It was not just the U.S. military that was at war with the North Koreans, but the combined strength of the United Nations forces enjoined in the battle.  Another lesson, unlearned because of man's natural inclination to believe that he does not need help to overcome the trials and tribulations of life in this world that is rapidly being integrated with beliefs that are designed to merely help us get by, day by day.  This is the era of the - quick fix.

God speaks to us in terms of eternity.  It is not just life here today, but we were destined to live on beyond the grave.  Today is our best opportunity we will ever have to take into account, this reality. Grace is the vehicle, God's choice, to help us overcome the fears of not knowing what lies beyond.

Somehow we miss that in our homilies, our religious lectures.  The pulpits were designed to challenge all those of us who are intent on following our Lord, hour by hour, day by day.  Yes, there are days when we do not feel up to the challenge, but then there is His Grace, His empowering force that lifts us up and sits our feet on solid ground.

The hymn writers of the day when life was not as complicated as we experience today, penned verses that inspire us to act.  Strange.  It is those songs that are still recalled in my mind as the organist strikes the first chord.   Sitting next to a youngster recently as we were joined in singing a particular hymn, she nudged me and exclaimed, "Wow, you didn't even need to look at the words."

This thought prompted me to visit the words of a hymn we used to sing, regularly.  I cannot recall the last time I heard it played in church,  "And when my task on earth is done, when by grace the victory's won, He leadeth me, O blessed thought...."

Here I am, 85 years of age, looking forward to the opportunities that will appear before me tomorrow and caring not who wins the 2016 election, nor whether the forces of ISIS and others akin to them will prevail in the Middle East, nor troubled by the wide array of physical infirmities I hear being discussed on my annual visit to my doctor's office, nor worried that I did not accumulate enough resources to last me to the end.  Instead, my eye is on the sparrow and I know He cares for me.

I try to remind folks, it is not the "new age" that concerns me.  It is the numbers of times that others have used the phrase to lure me away from the ages I have experienced and emerged, victorious, not by my wit and skills, but by the truly amazing grace that has ruled my days.

I am pleased to read and recommend occasionally, my brother Jeremiah's book but it reminds me of the literally hundreds of sermons I have heard that started nowhere and ended up somewhere else. All remind me of a class I attended years ago in a prominent church, teaching us how to prepare the proper sermon.  I was an eager participant and even wound up with an opportunity to "preach" at a country church in East Texas.  I left home with every intention to "tell it like I had been taught" only to discover a 3x5 card laying in the pulpit, which read, "Sir, we would see Jesus". My carefully crafted sermon vanished.  But I was there to acclaim the word of God and so, I opened my mouth and let the words go wherever God would have them go.  To my utter amazement, the old fellow in the first row of pews stopped me as we were leaving, "Son, I pray that you will be back with us as that was the best sermon I have heard in years,"

Like my grandfather taught me so many years ago, "God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform, He sets His feet upon the sands and rides upon the storm."

And He is constantly searching for the men and women and youngsters who will embrace His Grace as our guide through the days and weeks ahead.

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