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.
I have been called by many titles. Some of my titles have come by position – Pastor, Director, Consultant, Professor; some by achievement – teammate, colleague, author; some by relationship – son, grandson, nephew, cousin, brother, husband. Next Sunday, when much of the world acknowledges Father’s Day, I will thrill to my greatest title – Dad. Fatherhood is a mixed bag, a roller coaster of adventure. The worst days are when you do or say something that embarrasses or disappoints your children. The best days are when your children are proud of you and show you. Most father’s have experienced both kinds of days and are happy when the scale tips toward the latter, when they can say with the Apostle John, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 1:4). I would give much of what I have to be able to wish a Happy Father’s Day again to the one who helped me see how to “walk in truth,” but my Dad is beyond the hearing my voice. My children, Danna Crawford Presbaugh and James Crawford, are grown beyond my influence, but I pray they continue to “walk in truth” as they have done thus far. Former professional athlete, Wade Boggs, said, “Anyone can be a Father, but it takes someone special to be a Dad.” That was true of my Dad, and I’m still trying to make it true of me. Call me by whatever title the circumstances allow, but I will stand tallest and proudest, when I am called, Dad.
Most of my early heroes were workaholics, and some were also perfectionists. What an amazing, yet deadly mix! No surprise then, that I developed the same two traits. Then I discovered that I was good at multi-tasking. Most of my life, friends seemed to be amazed at how much I could accomplish. I assume, to whatever degree that was true, it was because of the blending of these three ingredients. I had the “disease” of which Nigel Cumberland wrote in his book, 100 Things Successful People Do, “The new disease of our age is being OK doing everything at exactly the same time.” I envisioned myself like the guy at the circus who was able to spin multiple plates on rods at the same time. My secret was to work continually with one plate, until I could make it spin with perfection, then, slowly add plates, until I was spinning as many as the circus performer. As Jesus described Martha, He could have been describing me, “you are worried and troubled about many things” (Luke 10:41). I learned too late the wisdom in Ecclesiastes 4:6, “Better a handful with quietness than both hands full, together with toil.” But I did accomplish a great deal. For that I am both grateful and thankful. No regrets. I was asked the other day, what would I do different if I was eighteen years old again, with my life to re-live. My answer was, “with the exception of a cancelled summer try-out for a minor league baseball team, very little.” As the years of my life add up, one of the things I’ve discovered missing is the ability to multi-task like I used to be able to do. One man said he was fully capable of multi-tasking. He could leave his office, cross the street, read the directions to his next appointment, talk on his cell phone, and get hit by a car, all at the same time. I’m still somewhat of a workaholic and very much a perfectionist, but one thing at a time, please. Anyone else shifting from multi-tasking to single focusing?
The four college-age guys sat in front of me at the professional golf tournament. On the way to their seats, they purchased their second beer of the morning. The special on this par three hole was any birdie made by a golfer caused a two-minute, $2 discount when two beers were purchased. After only a few minutes the guys were rooting for each golfer to get a birdie. When one finally did, they made a mad dash to the concession stand and returned with two additional beers each. One guy exclaimed, “Four beers before lunch!” Another expressed, in a somewhat slurred tongue, “I’ve got to get some food in my stomach before I get drunk.” Not being a beer-drinker, I’m not sure what effect this quantity has on the empty-stomach anatomy. I just think what it would do to me if I had four caffeine-filled Diet Cokes before lunch. In Acts 2:15, Peter was preaching on the Day of Pentecost, when some men began to speak in multiple languages. Not understanding what was happening, some thought the men were drunk, but Peter responded, “These are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day” (the “third hour” meaning three hours from daylight, or mid-morning). In other words, people do not normally get drunk by mid-morning, as four beers before lunch might accomplish, or at least get one well on the way. Yes, it was a golf tournament, and it was hot, and it was college-age guys, and the peer-pressure was strong, but one, like me, has to wonder what the future holds for these guys. Are these future teachers, counselors, coaches, physicians, public servants, etc? Assuming their beer-drinking for the day, had just begun, I just wanted to make sure I was not leaving the parking lot at the same time as these guys.
Several times recently I have heard it said that God showed “favor” on someone or some group. Wondering where this phrase originated, I went to multiple translations of the Bible, until I found in the Holman Christian Standard Bible, the following translation: “May Yahweh look with favor on you” (Numbers 6:26). And why had I never seen this verse before, I asked. So, I went to my New King James Bible, as well as a few other translations and found the familiar words, “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26). Ah ha! In the church where I spent my early teenage years, the choir often closed the worship service by singing this blessing, a blessing passed on by Moses to the children of Israel. The priests were solemnly to bless the people so that they would enjoy God’s favor, as the smile of a loving Father upon His children. In scriptural language, the light of God’s countenance is His expressions of favorable regards, His favor. I didn’t know that, when I was growing up. I just thought it was a nice way to end the worship service. But the choir was pronouncing God’s favor on worshippers. It has been a long time since I’ve heard a choir sing this blessing, but some days, I desperately desire the countenance of God’s favor, and wish it for others.