Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Music Is In The Clouds

It is my absolute favorite time of year and the weather today is perfect for me. It's November, cloudy, cool and breezy. I'm not sure why I love it so much. Most people I guess would consider it dark and gloomy, but to me there is a hidden beauty in the gray skies and soon-to-be bare trees. The somber autumn days make me think of Coffee Obsession and Cape Cod (I sit here and wonder what it must be like at Bourne Farm on a day like today). The coolness in the house (we haven't turned on the heat yet - trying to save the money) makes we want to grab a blanket, curl up on the couch and watch some football. Sadly, baseball is gone until spring, so football will have to suffice (go Pats).

After further consideration, I think the reason I love these cloudy days is that they make the sun that much brighter when it takes its turn. The blue sky is sharper and the sun is more brilliant. All of it reminds me what the Bible says about giving thanks in every circumstance and considering it joy when I go through various types of trials. I know that I will be stronger and closer to God when I come out the other side.

So... thank you God for the clouds. Thank you for cold wind. Thank you for the bare tree limbs. Thank you, most of all, for the light that I know is coming. The light of Christ in my heart. May that light ever shine.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

We Lead By Example

A couple weeks ago we sent child #2 (John) off to Truett-McConnell College. The next week the eldest (Ashleigh) left for her final semester at Charleston Southern University. That means our baby (Jessica) is now, in her words, an "only child". She is loving life. No more sharing the television (except when dad wants to watch football). No more sharing the bathroom. No more sharing the ice cream or worrying that someone else will scarf up the last brownie. All this change has made things a little different around our house. It's also made me stop and think about what type of father I've been. When I was driving John to college on move-in day I tried to explain to him how hard I had tried to be a good dad. I tried to make him realize that I knew I wasn't perfect, I knew I had made mistakes, but that I did the best I knew how.

I suppose when you get down to the heart of the matter, being a dad is nothing more than being a leader, and one of the defining characteristics of a good leader is that you lead by example. One day last week my daily Bible study time centered on 2 Thessalonians chapter 3, verses 6-9. Forgive me while I quote from the commentary . I use a little personal devotion guide called Open Windows. It's the same guide that my grandmother McKinney used. Hey, it worked for her....

"People watch how you and I choose to live. Whether we like it or not, we are constantly evaluated and critiqued based on our actions. Often, we call this pressure unfair. the apostle Paul understood this pressure, but he saw it as a privilege. He knew his example to other Christians counted significantly. In one sense, he knew people were scrutinizing him. In another sense, he knew that his example was a grand opportunity for others to be inspired, seeing what faith in Jesus looks like. His example of faith was all he had to give and just what God wanted him to offer. Our example counts, too! it's all we have to give and exactly what God wants us to offer. We must choose the course of each day in light of how we will reflect the faith of Jesus. Our example is powerful - not because of ourselves but because Jesus inhabits our actions and shines through our lives! He's the ultimate picture of hope for a world trapped in hopelessness."

Now that John is on his own, I pray that I was a good enough example for him to follow. Best wishes to you, son, for a wonderful and successful college career. I love you!!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Land of Make Believe

This past weekend I was, for no apparent reason, rummaging through some boxes that we brought with us to Kennesaw. Much to my pleasant surprise, I came across several music posters that used to hang on my bedroom wall when I was in high school. I have no idea how or why they were moved to Kennesaw. I suppose I had assumed that my parents had long ago discarded it all.

Also in the box was a treasure. In almost perfect condition there was a program from a concert I had attended at the old Ovens Auditorium in Charlotte, NC. On a winter night in the late 1970's, I went with a group of friends to see Chuck Mangione and his Quartet (Grant Geissman on guitar, Charles Meeks on bass, James Bradley, Jr. on drums, and Chris Vadala on "everything"). Those guys totally blew me away (anyone ever see a bassist bend a low F at the first fret?). The talent on stage was incredible, but the one thing that stuck with me from that night was the passion and feeling with which these guys made music. You could not only hear the music, you could feel it, and you could see their hearts. Admittedly, the only Mangione tunes I knew before the concert were "Feels So Good", from radio play, and "Chase the Clouds Away" and "Land of Make Believe", from drum corps. But afterwards, I was hooked and for the rest of high school and most of college I listened to anything Mangione I could get my hands on.

In the early 1980's I went to see them a second time at the Carowinds palladium, an outdoor arena. The concert was plagued by steady rain, but the group never stopped and we never left. Three hours and three encores later, we were all still there clapping and dancing in the rain to "Main Squeeze". I still remember how much better Chuck's music always made me feel, and I thought at the time how cool it would be to have the ability to bring people a little happiness in the midst of Three Mile Island, the Iran Hostage Crisis and the Energy Crisis.

Saturday morning, as I finished thumbing through the pages of that program, I came to the back cover. There I found a quote from Chuck himself, and I believe the timing of seeing it was divinely appointed.

"When music is honest and full of love, labels aren't important... And people listen with an open mind."

Through the late 70's, Mangione was constantly having to answer critics about his music. Pop radio didn't like jazz and the jazz community didn't like his "crossover" material. I think that for Chuck, that one quote said it all. He did what he did honestly and passionately and tried not to focus on anything else.

I thought about that quote and drew some parallels to the current "hymns versus choruses" debate in churches today. Both traditional hymns and contemporary choruses reflect the honest thoughts and feelings of a sinful, yet sanctified writer toward a holy God. Both the older hymn and the newer song express a passionate love for our living Savior. Keeping in mind that God is our audience when we worship, I think that our labels aren't as important to Him as they are to us. For me, personally, that ultimately means I will try to put aside my own personal preferences and strive to keep an open mind about things and look for the good in it all. As we move forward in our local church, I hope that's what people will see and understand about my ministry.

The music is perpetual. Give It All You've Got. Thanks Chuck!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

How Great Is Our God

Life lessons come in many different ways. Until last week, I had never traveled outside of the USA. I returned last night from a trip to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, organized by Dan Moran Ministries from Birmingham, AL. We spent several days of ministry working in schools, local churches, a feeding center and an orphanage. Honduras is a beautiful country and our hosts and translators were absolutely wonderful. I've spent some time trying to collect my thoughts on the past week. I'm not sure if God will lead me back there again, but if he does, I wouldn't hesitate to go. One of the Christian principles I try to follow is to find out where God is working and then get in on it. God is definitely working in Honduras. It's exciting to see.

I'm not quite sure where or when I got the idea that the USA is the focal point of the planet, but somewhere along the line I developed what became a quiet arrogance that is sadly too common here in my country. We somehow think that since God has blessed our nation so tremendously, that we have somehow become his anointed and appointed keepers of the faith around the globe. After what I've experienced this week, I no longer think that way.

The Church in Honduras is growing rapidly. The message of Christ is being preached and taught all over the nation. Honduran believers are reproducing themselves in an exciting way. I met a young Honduran college student who told me his ambition in life was to own a home so that he could host Bible studies. How different is that from the "American Dream"? Humbling, isn't it?

The local churches in San Pedro Sula are multiplying also. Our host church, Jerusalem Baptist Church, has birthed several daughter churches and they are all continuing to grow and strengthen. (In my own mind, I couldn't help but contrast that with the North American concept of the mega-church. I'm not criticizing the mega-church, only noting the different paradigm.) We spent a day with one of these daughter churches, going door-to-door inviting people to a midweek service, playing games with the children, sharing our stories of faith in Christ, and presenting God's plan of salvation at a late afternoon service. The church had the vision, knowledge and ability, they gave us the direction and we only provided the workers.

The Bible tells us that God is spirit, and we must worship him in spirit and truth. How about 26 North Americans singing "How Great Thou Art" in English alongside a hundred Hondurans, all singing in Spanish? A special experience, indeed. I believe God understood us all and was quite happy with the joyful noise that was raised.

When God decides to move and work, he doesn't need my ability, he only wants my availability. On our last day in country we visited a local market. I got an opportunity to chat with one of the local merchants. I my opinion, it wasn't much of a chat because we spent most of the time smiling and laughing at my version of Spanish. Finally she asked me why I was different from most Americans. She was curious why I smiled so much. I managed somehow to tell her that I had Jesus in my heart and he comes out in my face. Through her broken English and my mangled Spanish, God spoke. "Cristo te ama y yo tombien" - "Christ loves you, and so do I".

How great is our God?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Man Pain and Getting Older

For the last 13 weeks, Cindy and I have been training for the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon on Saturday, November 14. We had originally planned to run the Cape Cod Marathon, which is tomorrow, but we decided we couldn't afford the trip. All this weekend we've been thinking of our friends on Cape. There's the Friday shirt folding, goody bag stuffing party and pizza at the Lawrence School. Then on Saturday we have Aunt Pam's waffles for breakfast, then we pick up our race packets at the expo, tour the course, have fried rice for lunch, then head back to Chris and Pam's for a relaxing evening topped off by pasta for dinner. One year we went down to Woods Hole on Saturday night for a string quartet concert. Sunday would be race day. Nothing like New England in the fall, truly a special place.

So things didn't work out that way this year. However at Chickamauga, we have a chance to do something special. Two of our church friends asked us to help them train and so we are all competing together. The date is special also. November 14 this year will be the 39th anniversary of the Marshall University plane crash. We wrote the athletic department at Marshall, and they sent us official track singlets (tank tops, in layman's terms) to wear during the race. It will be a very emotional day. We are... Marshall, to say the least. To top it all off November 14 is Cindy's late father's birthday. Talk about emotion. Wow...

The fly in the ointment for this training cycle has been my injuries. I've been dealing with tendinitis in my left foot for about two months, and a couple of weeks ago I noticed some pain in my right hip. This hip pain has slowly gotten worse, and on my last two long runs it has affected me severely. I'm usually ok for the first four or five miles, then the pain starts deep in my right groin area and slowly expands outward, until eventually it wraps all the way around to my lower back. Climbing makes it worse, I feel like I'm literally dragging my right leg up the hills. At this point I'm not sure how this will impact my performance on race day. Back on October 3rd, we joined the Chattanooga Track Club for a group training run and preview of the race course. I ran well that day, a 12 mile loop. The pace was slightly faster than race pace and I felt good afterwards and recovered well, so I know if the hip behaves I should do well.

No matter how bad the pain gets, though, I won't quit. We'll be wearing the Marshall colors and I won't give up. Limping across the line is a distinct possibility, but crossing the line is a definite. Music is perpetual, lately so is the pain.

Love to all.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Rev. Noodle, If You Please

This past weekend, I went back to Fort Mill to be be ordained as a minister by First Baptist Church of Fort Mill. According to the dictionary, the word "ordain" means to invest officially (as by the laying on of hands) with ministerial or priestly authority. Personally, I look at the ordination process and ceremony as an outward indication of an inward change, much like the symbolism displayed when a follower of Jesus is baptized by immersion. I supposed I've changed quite a bit over the last few years, and this past weekend was one of the milestone moments of life, a marker that I hope to be able to look back on and draw encouragement from until the day I am called home. Our 3 days in Fort Mill were packed with dozens of tiny blessings. With a nod to an old hymn, I'm taking time to count those blessings for my friends and loved ones who could not be present.

We left Kennesaw before dawn on Friday morning in order to beat the Atlanta traffic. Wise decision. We made it in time for breakfast with mom and dad, and for me and the girls to visit our friend Monique and get our hair cut. Friday night the Wind Ensemble and band from FBCFM had a little dinner party and they invited us to come over. We got a chance to see a lot of folks and spend some time relaxing, chatting and catching up. Saturday night was also a special time. My former bandmates from the Carolina Rhythm Band invited me to sit in with them at a dinner party engagement. We had a blast! I hadn't seen these guys in almost a year. We had fun jamming to the sounds The Drifters, Sam Cooke and The Tams, just to name a few. The guys haven't missed a beat (pun intended) since I left and I appreciated them letting me join in the fun.

Sunday morning we attended Bible study and worship at FBCFM and had lunch with the family. Mom's brothers and sisters had come from out of town (some driving several hours) to be there for the ordination. The years have scattered us all over the map, but we have remained close. It was very meaningful to have them there.

The service Sunday night began with an hour of prayer. The staff and all ordained couples were invited to come and pray with us as a couple. It was an emotional hour for us, especially when my parents came in and prayed for us. Chris and Jen Whisonant got to participate in the prayer time, along with Perry (our pastor at KFBC) and Jan Fowler. The ordination service itself began with two of my favorite hymns, "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" and "Come, Thou Fount Of Every Blessing". Jeff Bedwell (FBCFM pastor) welcomed everyone and Johnny Caruso (FBCFM minister of students) read scripture and made a few remarks. We've been through a lot with Johnny over ten years of ministry. God used Johnny to help me understand my role as a worship leader and a father. I'm not surprised that he got more a little emotional as he left the podium. The emotional roller coaster continued as my father got up to give the ordination prayer. No one thought Jack Newell could say anything in 3 minutes or less, but he did! He did a great job. I'm so proud of my dad.

After a song by the band, I shared a little of my journey and then it was Benny's turn. Benny Wade is the minister of music at FBCFM. He has been a mentor to me and a friend to my family for almost 20 years. He even sang at Cindy's father's funeral 5 years ago. Benny has such an awesome sense of humor that everyone held their collective breath as he spoke. He didn't disappoint. He is truly a minister in every sense of the word. Music is merely a tool that he uses.

Jeff's ordination sermon was a challenge to me delivered in terms of a baseball diamond. For me, it was the perfect metaphor (go Red Sox!!). The batter's box is my Calling; first base is my Character, second base is my Community, third base is my Competence. Home plate brings me back to my Calling, which I will always try to keep foremost in my mind. Without the calling of God, all my efforts are self-directed and eternally worthless.

After a time of prayer, Jeff presented the ordination certificate and Perry presented the ordination Bible. Bart Nicholson, chairman of the FBCFM deacon body, gave us a gift from the church. I know it sounds weird, but that gift was an answer to prayer. Cindy and I had been saving for a new vacuum cleaner, and their gift helped us with the purchase. What a blessing!

As I reflect on the weekend, I think that I am most impacted by the fact that there were people in attendance at my ordination who have influenced every aspect of my life. There were old friends and new friends, former work associates, folks that cut my hair managed the gym where I exercised, folks from Flint Hill, FBCFM and KFBC. As I looked around the room, I saw people who cared for me, counseled me, disciplined me, irritated me, nurtured me and encouraged me. Weaving through that collection of folks is a single, perpetual thread. I love them all so very much.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Girl's (Boy's) Garden

A neighbor of mine in the village
Likes to tell how one spring
When she was a girl on the farm, she did A childlike thing.
One day she asked her father
To give her a garden plot
To plant and tend and reap herself, And he said, "Why not?"

The previous text is an excerpt from "A Girl's Garden" by Robert Frost, from the volume A Mountain Interval, first published in 1916. Today I planted my first flower garden. Trust me, I know precious little about plants, but I'm going to try to learn. A few weeks ago, we received (or I should say the previous owners of our house received) in the mail a catalog from Springhill Nursery. We thought it would be nice to have some color in the front of our house, so we browsed the catalog and selected flowers that supposedly do well in our climate and are fit for abundant sunshine, that will bloom from June until frost.

For the record, we planted Super Shasta Daisy, Little Business Daylily, Wonder of Staffa Aster, Rudbeckia Toto, Isaac House Hybrid Scabiosa and Pink Coreopsis. It's my understanding that deer tend to avoid most of these, so hopefully the critters won't get to them. The catalog also stated that some even attract butterflies.

Perhaps some of our friends and family (Aunt Pam) can help us with some growing tips. I absolutely want to avoid using nasty chemicals (if one can't pronounce it, one shouldn't be using it). But, by the same token I want to make sure I feed them properly (I already sang to them as I placed them in the ground). I look forward to what God will teach me through the process of planting and nurturing these flowers; I'm sure there are life lessons there. The girl in the poem ended up with "a little bit of everything and a great deal of none". I'm hoping we'll get a color splash of white, pink, blue, red, yellow and lavender.

Love to you from Kennesaw...