Friday, November 26, 2010

Thankful for the past, confident in the future

Driving through the sage dotted high desert of northern New Mexico brought a flood of memories to our minds. It was late at night and soft-filtered light of a nearly full moon only occasionally broke through the high cumulus clouds. After leaving Albuquerque's busy freeways and bright lights, we were cruising along a very familiar route on the eve of Thanksgiving.

Every year on the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving, Judy, Kresta, Melissa and I would hop in the family sleigh - whatever it happened to be that year - crank up Christmas music and drive through the sparsely populated landscape of the New Mexico desert toward Los Alamos to spend Thanksgiving with the Wallins. Steve, Julie, Mark and Scott had become close family friends, the kind you can pick up with right where you left off. God had allowed our paths to cross during the first months we lived in Las Cruces and from the first meeting, we knew we would be fast friends.

Sometimes, the laughter would be so intense we would be crying. At other times we would drift into deep theological discussions or the challenges of raising adolescent children. There was always a very competitive game of cards ("big strong men" versus the "Little women"), a calorie burning, L-triptophan clearing hike through the Anasazi Indian ruins at Bandalier National Monument, and always a huge meal produced by committee.

All those memories have been dancing around in our minds as, once again, we have spent yet another New Mexico Thanksgiving (replete with hot green chile in the turkey dressing).

Usually those Thanksgiving trips included the short trip down the hill, past native American pueblos and pinon forests to the historic and beautiful city of Santa Fe. This year was no exception although this time Judy and I found ourselves making this drive the day after Thanksgiving and by ourselves. We were headed to the wedding rehearsal dinner of another dear and old friend of mine. Gil Pinon was the Youth Minister at First Presbyterian Church in Las Cruces while I was the Senior Pastor at Northminster Church there. Somehow, we struck up another of those lasting friendships. After all these years, Gil was getting married and he had somehow convinced his bride to be to ask me to perform the ceremony.

As we drove this familiar route, we marveled at the rich colors of a New Mexico sun beginning to set over the tall mesas and jagged, rocky outcroppings. The golden late afternoon rays of the sun had turned the mountains a deep burnt orange and gradually turning to purple. The sky was a deep aqua blue turning to an indescribably beautiful salmon color as sky met horizon. In some ways, we felt we had never left the Land of Enchantment. This was not only familiar but incredibly nostalgic as we relived all these visceral moments. This land had been our home for over 13 years, and in some ways, it still felt like home.

All these memories of the past have caused us to remember with gratitude that today, Judy and I are who we are because of the people and the places and the experiences God has allowed in our lives. Friends, moments in time, places, sights, even smells (there is nothing like the smell of smoke from a wood fire kindled with pinon pine or red chile and corn tortillas wafting through the crisp, clear air) all have caused us to be grateful that God had allowed us to experience all these things and people because they have all had a part in shaping us.

At the wedding for Gil and Dana yesterday (which by the way had the most beautiful music performed by members of the New Mexico Symphony)I spoke to them of Jesus' first miracle - the turning of water into wine. The guests at the wedding in Caana were surprised that this wine Jesus had provided at the end of the party, was the best. And that is what the Lord is always in the business of doing: producing for us the new wine of God's love in our lives and surprising us with the fact that the best is always saved for last. In other words, in Christ, God's love doesn't run out or cheapen over time, it just keeps getting better and better. The Lord is in the business of turning ordinary into extraordinary blessing as we experience the abundance of his grace and love.

And so I am thankful. I am thankful for the paths and the places and the people who have been a part of my journey thus far. They are all special gifts of God's love and grace that have come to us because we belong to him through Christ. Yet God never wants us to simply live in the past because there are always new horizons, new blessings, and new expressions of his love and grace that he has saved for now.

Now, this morning as I write this before going to church, the sun is just beginning to rise over Santa Fe Mount Baldy signaling the beginning of a new day, new opportunities, new challenges, new wine. "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; His steadfast love endures forever."

Friday, November 5, 2010

A story for my grandsons

Judy reminded me this week that our daughter Melissa had asked us to write our stories of faith - how we became Christians; what the Lord has meant to us over the years; etc.
She did a masterful job telling her story in just a relatively few short words. As I began to write my story, I realized it was impossible to tell that story in a few short words. Those who know me or who have heard me preach are all saying AMEN to that. Paucity of words is not my forte; especially given the fact that I just turned 60 - that is 6 decades.

That having been said, I cherished the opportunity to write my story. And even though it was long (Davis, my grandson, said it was long and he was "wiggling" so he'd have to read page two the next day), it was a very moving exercise for me.

Looking back to some of the high water marks in my life, I was reminded of God's faithfulness to me, even when I wasn't faithful to God. I was reminded of the loving, supportive people God placed in my life - family, mentors, friends, pastors and teachers - who made an impact and led me closer in faith to Christ. I was also reminded of moments - seemingly frozen in time - that were epiphanies of grace. A Communicants class; a youth group meeting; a college dorm room discussion; an evangelistic service; a life-changing, body shattering accident; an Elder retreat; a spontaneous outpouring of song among a group of African believers or a quiet, candlelight Communion service; All were, by eternity's time reference, but a micro-second of time. At the same instant, those were moments when God showed up and made a life time of difference.

What is your faith story? How has God led your path? As Moses began to restate the commands of God to the people of Israel, he told them to teach these things to their children. Sitting, standing, walking along the way - wherever and whatever the circumstances - we all have a story of God's faithful leading in our lives that is best passed on personally to our children and grandchildren.

I don't know what this will mean to my grandsons. But I do know what it meant for me to remember. Overcome with gratitude and humility, the footprints of God are so evident throughout the course of my life. Even though I didn't always recognize the Lord walking so closely with me, nonetheless, God was there. At times carrying me; other times pushing me; sometimes gently steering me; always protecting me.

I encourage you to take some time for this exercise. Write a retrospective of your life of faith that you can share with your posterity. Part of the blessing of covenant is that our children are blessed through Gods' blessing to parents.

Timothy was a young cohort of Paul's. But the Lord was at work in Timothy's life long before Paul came along. I II Timothy 1 Paul writes, "I am reminded of your sincere faith which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded now lives in you also. Of all the legacies we could leave our children and our children's children is the legacy of authentic, dynamic faith and the gracious love of God through Christ that guides us in our journey of faith.

Don't keep that to yourself. Remember it. Write it down. Share it with those you love. And in the process bless the Lord for "all his benefits to you." (Psalm 103:1)