What a visit it was, just last week! He was one of my Dad’s best friends. He was one of my brother’s heroes. During my teen-age years, he was one of my greatest encouragers. Now he is ninety-nine years old and on hospice care. Gone are the days of his distinguished military career as a bomber pilot with the 93rd Bombardment Group in World War II. Gone are the days of his athletic skills. Gone are the days of his deep solo voice. Preceding him in death were his wife and two daughters. A remaining daughter is now his caretaker. “I’m ready” he said, “ready to go tonight or stay around for my 100th birthday, whatever God wants.” His voice was soft, interrupted occasionally by a breathing treatment. He spoke of memories of my Dad, and my brother, and I reminded him of my first sermon – a well-rehearsed and practiced thirty-minute sermon that lasted all of eight minutes. He replied with the same encouraging comment he had used at the conclusion of that sermon, so many years ago – “I like short sermons.” Words from Janet Paschal, quoted by my brother, at my father’s funeral, seem appropriate once again:
”Strike up the band assemble the choir
another soldier’s coming home
another warrior hears the call
he’s waited for so long
he’ll battle no more
cause he won his wars
make sure heaven’s table
has room for at least one more
sing a welcome song
another soldier’s coming home.”
He’s almost finished his course. He has most certainly kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7). We often speak of great saints arriving in heaven to hear God’s welcome of “‘well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21). God does not lie. Not everyone who enters heaven will hear these words. Only those will hear “well done” who have done well. Only those who have served faithfully, will be called “faithful servant.” While not everyone will hear these words, I am convinced that Glenn Martin will hear them, perhaps soon. Well done, my friend. Well done!
I had been writing this Monday Morning Manna for more than a decade but had never heard this particular mispronunciation. In commenting on my writing, people often pause, trying to remember what it is called. “I appreciate your Monday Morning . . . thing” they will say, or “I read your Monday . . . stuff.” But this sweet lady was so sincere, when she said, “I love your Monday Morning . . . Mania.” What a difference a few letters make. Wikipedia says, “Manna is an edible substance which, according to the Bible, God provided for the Israelites during their travels in the desert during the forty-year period following the Exodus and prior to the conquest of Canaan.” Every Monday morning, “Dr. Dan’s . . . Manna” is a one paragraph spiritual jump-start for the week – spiritual food to hopefully help get one through the week. But what about “mania”? Wikipedia describes mania as a “maniac-like syndrome.” According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a maniac is a “mad man, a lunatic,” but it is also “a person characterized by an inordinate or ungovernable enthusiasm for something.” That’s me! At least I possess the ability to laugh at myself, and I laughed at the idea of my “Manna” being called “Mania,” especially since I could be described as having an “inordinate or unforgivable enthusiasm for something!” The Psalmist said of God, “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh” (Psalm 2:4). I can just picture God having a good belly laugh at the idea of me being likened to a maniac. O well, have a good week and enjoy a laugh at the expense of a mania-like maniac, manna writer.
I was recently faced with a major decision concerning my future. I realized that the older I got the fewer options I had, and this one was complicated because it involved financial issues. In the midst of the decision, as I was listening for God’s directions, I read Isaiah 30 as a part of my daily Bible reading. When I got to verse 21, I had to pause, as if it were written just for me. “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it’.” “Behind,” I wondered. It sure would be easier to know God’s will if He would speak to me in front, rather than behind. However, this was not a first-time experience for me. Several times in my life I have been forced to make a decision without a clear understanding of God’s direction. Each time, I made the decision based on the best understanding of the situation and what I thought, but did not know for sure, God would have me do. Each time, almost immediately following the decision, God affirmed my actions. In other words, God spoke “behind” my decision rather than in front of it. Perhaps this is what the Danish philosopher, theologian, and religious author, Soren Kierkegaard, meant when he said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
I am preparing to speak to another group of Senior Adults. There was a day when most of my preparation time was devoted to young adults – college students, seminary students, young congregations, etc. With the passing of time comes the changing of the audiences. I still speak to younger groups, but increasingly the invitations are to share with my own age group, and older. I’m not complaining. I still have audiences, the joy of preparation, and the satisfaction of presentation. From group to group, the truth principles are the same, but the illustrations must be adjusted. I remember the church that had three Sunday morning services – the first was a traditional service (I was one of the younger persons present), the second was a blended service, and the third was a contemporary service (which I think is a Greek word meaning loud and repetitive). I used an illustration of the S&H Green Stamp book to explain redemption. It worked well in the early service, but as the morning went on, I had to do more and more explaining, to more and more, blank faces. I used to quote a little poem when teaching my seminary class on church growth evangelism – “Methods are many, principles few. Methods often change, principles never do.” So we live in the present, learning from, but not living in the past, looking, but not longing for the future. The native Indian tribe known as the Inuit, had a saying, “Yesterday is ashes. Tomorrow is green wood. Only today does the fire burn brightly.” God said it this way in Isaiah 43:18-19, “Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing.” So, like the Psalmist, live and rejoice in the moment. “This is the day the Lord has made . . . rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).
I pulled up to the drive-thru window at the burger restaurant with money in hand, only to be greeted by a smiling teenager saying, “Your meal has been paid for, sir.” When I asked for an explanation, I was told the person in line in front of me had paid for my meal and left a message to “Pay it forward!” I have no idea who was in front of me, or why they chose to pay for my meal, but I followed suit and asked how much the bill was for the person behind me in line, hoping they had not ordered double cheese burgers and giant sodas for their entire family. They had not, so I paid it forward and left them a message to do likewise. Interesting cultural practice. I have another idea. I have an e-mail based prayer team of several hundred people. (BTW, if you want to join that team, reply with your name and e-mail address and I will add you to the list.) I’m sure some, if not all, of them have prayed for me recently. So I’m going to PRAY it forward. I’m going to start through that list, praying for everyone listed there. Why not? First Samuel 12:23 indicates it is a sin to refrain from doing so – “Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you” and that is just one verse instructing intercessory prayer. My friend and colleague, T.W. Hunt took the time to research, and discovered that 7/9 of the prayers in the Bible, where an answer was given, were intercessory prayers, that is, prayers prayed for someone other than self. Have you been prayed for this week? Surly there is someone who has remembered you in their intercessory prayer – a spouse, parent, grandparent, or friend? In response, you could pray for your family, your minister, your neighbor, or your friends. Why not PRAY it forward?
I was doing some reflection over my years of ministry and made a startling discovery. Many of my best friends in ministry were/are musicians. Not surprising, I come from a long line of musicians, but I am definitely not one. My grandfather used to sing me to sleep accompanied by his banjo (which now sets on the mantle in my den). All three of his children (my mother, my aunt, my uncle) were musicians at various levels. I have musical cousins. My only brother, spent his career in the gospel music industry. Because my father was a pastor, I was expected to sing in the children and youth choirs, as I grew up. I wondered why the directors always seemed to be disappointed when I arrived for choir practice. When I was a teen-ager, my mother, determined to make me a musician, bought me a trombone, and hired a private teacher (I really wanted a saxophone, but she insisted that it was not an instrument I could play in church). The first trombone lesson included the sounds made for each position on the slide. For the second lesson I proudly played a hymn, “Whispering Hope” for my teacher. He promptly quit, insisting he could not teach one who played by ear. The trombone went to the closet, never to be played again, ultimately to be sold in a garage sale. All that said, I love music, and as stated previously, have many friends and family members who are musicians. One told me that I could carry a tune, I just couldn’t release it. Another told me I just marched to a different tune. So I was thrilled to discover the quote by Henry David Thoreau, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” However, I do plan on singing in a choir once again. The book of Revelation describes the heavenly choir as follows: “Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels in a circle around the throne, as well as the living creatures and the elders. Their number was ten thousand times ten thousand—thousands times thousands— all of whom were singing in a loud voice: ‘Worthy is the lamb’ . . .” (Revelation 5:11-12, NET). Surely, in a choir of that size, I can sing my loudest and proudest, and not be heard by anyone – except probably God and my mother.
The days are different. Some days I find myself with high energy, desiring to accomplish much. Then on other days, I just want to sit on the porch and sip coffee. Carl Sandburg expressed it this way: “There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.” However, Helen Keller countered with “One can never consent to creep when one feels the impulse to soar.” The idea that compares youth to soaring like an eagle, is mentioned several times in the Bible, but its application should not be limited to the young. In Old Testament days, there was a popular idea, based on a rabbinical story, that the eagle renewed its youth (actually, renewed its plumage), in extreme old age. In Psalm 103:5, the psalmist refers to the fresh and vigorous appearance of the bird with its new plumage, “your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” Understanding that belief, Isaiah wrote, “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). While he wasn’t commenting directly on the Isaiah passage, A. W. Tozer wrote, “In almost everything that touches our everyday life on earth, God is pleased when we’re pleased. He wills that we be as free as birds to soar and sing our maker’s praise without anxiety.” So, on your high energy days, go ahead and soar like the eagle, and on other days, creep on out to the porch, and pull up a chair.
I confess that I opted to watch baseball on TV last week vs. watching twenty Democratic want-a-be Presidential candidates debate the issues. I did surf the networks back and forth just to see what was going on among the hopefuls, and I did read the next-morning reviews. I start with my confession only to say I may have missed something in the four hours of debate, but I never once heard a candidate begin an answer with something like, “I would seek God’s will in the matter” or “I would talk with God about this and then make a decision” or “I think God would want me to . . .” To each question, the candidates had their own answers, and their own solutions. No one, at least to my awareness, even acknowledged God as a part of their decision making. I’m not talking about church-state issues, or religious freedom issues, or even one’s spiritual preferences, I’m talking about a candidate acknowledging the importance of communicating with God in decision making. I realize this was not a religious debate, and the questions were not spiritually oriented, but I sure wish someone on the stage would have at least referenced communication with God. This reminds me of Jesus’ words in John 16:24, “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive,” and James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” This is not about Democrats or Republicans or any other group. It is about the absence of communication with God in the discussion of the current issues that concern our society.
We are sometimes like children in that we get frustrated when our “Why” questions do not get immediate answers. Last week marked the one-year anniversary of the death of my younger brother, Bob. He was simply walking his dog when he fell, striking his head on the concrete. He drove himself to the Emergency Room where he spent the night. He slipped into unconsciousness the next day and was admitted to the Palliative Care Unit of Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Ten days later, I stood at his bedside as he briefly opened his eyes once more, then again, a minute later when his wife, Linda, arrived. The next time he opened his eyes, he was in heaven. This has been an extremely difficult year, loaded with “Why” questions, to which there are no good answers. Among other things, this much I have learned – When emotions are tender, perhaps even raw, simple things, that ordinarily would not consume much time, become huge. Things that, in other circumstances, might take only a few minutes or hours of time, suddenly seem to never go away. Stress intensifies. Nerves are frayed. Conduct is affected. An oft used funeral scripture begins with the words of Jesus, “Let not your heart be troubled” (John 14:1), yet in the past year, it has often been troubled. Later, in response to a question from Thomas, Jesus claimed, “I am the . . . truth” (John 14:6), meaning, among other things, He has the correct answers to life’s “Why” questions, and I must be content for now, to leave those answers there. I’m told the second year gets easier. I truly hope so.
Yesterday was Father’s Day. One year, I wrote a poem for my Dad, entitled “Thanksgiving on Father’s Day” in which I thanked him for being a model father, demonstrating for me how to be a Dad, a grandfather, and a great-grandfather. He was so proud of the poem, he actually framed it, and hung it in the hallway of his home. Last year on Father’s Day I was standing in a Palliative Care room of Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, watching the doctor extubate my younger brother, and thinking, how he and Dad were about to have a great, heavenly reunion. I’m going to have a similar reunion one of these days, for I believe, as did they, that “to be absent from the body” is to be “present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). I’m ready, just not anxious. The late American writer, Clarence “Bud” Kelland, could have been describing my Dad, when he wrote about his own father, “He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.” Yesterday, I wished I could have communicated with my Dad again and thanked him for things I watched him do, that I didn’t understand years ago when he died. Someday I will get to thank him again. If your Father is still alive, I trust you thanked him yesterday. If not, there is no better day than today.