Monday, February 6, 2023

Leadership Thought: The Passing of My Dearest Friend and Lover Jean. 

Dear Friends.  

Early this morning death finally conquered the body of my dear wife, but thankfully it never conquered her spirit and her soul.

Parkinson may have robbed her body of life, but it could never crush her indomitable spirit. In these last few years, she not only battled Parkinson, but she endured breast cancer surgery, four painful years of Shingles, three months of Sciatica and several painful bouts with UTIs.

In spite of all these ailments, she joyfully endured to the very end, and she never once gave in or gave up as she looked forward to her new life in heaven that Jesus had promised her.

She spent her last days surrounded by her family and friends who loved and admired her.

The Sunday before Jean passed, we had gone to Outback, something that she was determined to do, although she could no longer walk. And as difficult as it was to move her from her home hospital bed down the second-floor stairs and then to the car and to the restaurant and then back home again, she gave it her all. In retrospect, I am afraid she didn’t have much left when she arrived home, but in doing so she had accomplished a feat which she had hoped and planned to do and something we all thought was next to impossible.

Many of us were privileged to climb into bed with her and wrap our arms around her, as we reminded her of just how much we loved her and how proud we were of the wife and mother and friend she has been to all of us.

Although lying in bed and seemingly unresponsive, I trust the words we whispered in her ears were heard and received as wonderful reminders of the legacy of love she has left each of us.

She lived those final hours surrounded by children and grandchildren who were personally present or who shared their love for her through face time.

We laughed and cried as we gathered around her, listening to Christian music and enjoying remembrances of her life, laughter and love.

We played and sang some of her favorite songs “You’re My Best Friend,” Don Williams, (a song we loved to sing together when we were driving in the car); “Raise a Hallelujah,” and "The Goodness of God," Bethel Music; “How Great Thou Art, ”Carrie Underwood;  “Amazing Grace, ”Alan Jackson; "Jealous of the Angels," Jenn Bostic;  and “You Are My Sunshine” which she loved to sing to her little ones.

Again and again during those final six months of her life she shared with many of us how she was ready and longing to go to heaven. She was well prepared for eternity and to meet Jesus whom she loved and longed to see.

Paul asks, “O death where is they sing, o grave where is thy victory?” And then he triumphantly answers his question as he replies, “Thanks be unto Christ who gives us the victory.” She well knew the culmination of that victory that was soon to be hers.

I have never cried so hard or hurt so much the past few days, and while she was always ready and looking forward to being with Jesus, I confess I was selfish and struggled with the idea of letting her go. But in the final few days when most all of my tears had dried up, and I was able to release her to her heavenly Father.

In spite of our loss, I am encouraged knowing that I will see her again, along with all those others who have also put their trust in Christ and who have raced on ahead to welcome her. Praise God that those of us who are left behind, and who have surrendered their lives to Jesús will never have to say their final goodbyes, just “so long, I’ll see you later.”

As I mentioned, I struggled with the thought of giving her up, but I couldn't help thinking of those who die with no hope of heaven. If it was so hard for me to suffer the loss of my precious Jean, even though I know she was bound for heaven, I can’t imagine what it would be like for those who have no hope of heaven, but only await the sentence of death and final judgement.

Knowing this, I plead with you who have never experienced the joy and peace of personally knowing Jesus and His power to transform death into life to accept his offer of life eternal by putting your faith and trust in Him.

Paul writes, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has passed away and the new had come." (2 Cor 5:17).

Jean has entered into that new and everlasting life, and I have too, and because of that I believe I will see her again.

This new life only comes by accepting what Jesus has done for us upon the cross where he cancelled our sin’s debt and freely offered us the way to eternal life.

It is as simple as saying your ABC’s Admit you are a sinner, Believe Christ died for you, and Confess He is the Lord of your life.

If you have never done this, please don’t put it off. Click on the link below for a full explanation of how to inherit eternal life.

Right now, plans for Jean’s Celebration of Life have yet to be determined, but when they are determined, I invite all of you to join us as we remember and celebrate this special wife, mother, sister, grandmother, and dearest friend.

No more lying on the raft in Henderson Harbor, eating Trader Joe's chocolate covered Hand Cones, looking for her phone or the TV changer, holding babies in her arms, something  which she loved to do, and no more asking me to "Please clean out the fridge." or repeat again and again, "What did you say?"  

None of those things will be important nor necessary for in heaven she will want for nothing as she sits at the feet of Jesus, while listening to those of us she left behind singing the words from Jenn Bostic's  "Jealous of the Angels."

Yours in faith and friendship,

Tom

What are the four spiritual laws? | GotQuestions.org

Monday, January 30, 2023

Leadership Thought: A Non Devotional on the Ways That Friends Can Minister to You in the Midst of Your Sorrow.

Dear Friends,

Did you ever finish an e-mail, click send, only to wish you could immediately retrieve what you sent? That's the way I felt last Friday after sending an update on Jean’s health condition. I never would want my Leadership Thoughts to be about me or my family, and I was embarrassed and very uncomfortable after sharing the message I did.

But the response to that e-mail on Jean’s health was so overwhelming that I felt the need to provide a follow up.

I started to respond to those calls and e-mails from so many of our friends-friends and loved ones from so many of the churches Jean and I have served over the years, but it simply became overwhelming and with limited time due to her needed care, and frequent visits of nurses, and friends, I gave up.

I can’t begin to tell you how overwhelmed I was by the outpouring of your love, and when I woke up this morning, I felt like I had to write and say "thank you," "thank you," "thank you" for your care and concern for Jean and me. Yes, again I say thanks from the bottom of my heart.

It is one thing to comfort and encourage those going through a health crises; it is another thing to be on the receiving end, but in doing so I have again been personally reminded of just how and therapeutic such love can be.

Yesterday a dear friend from Fort Lauderdale called. She is the kind of person who would  take the time to saran wrap your wife's car, and then secretly move it to the senior pastor’s preferred parking space. My poor wife spent hours searching for that car which she knew she had left in her regular parking spot.

Yes, Margie was that friend and she called yesterday and then sent "pirate" pictures of the time Jean and some of her friends dressed up as pirates, and drove again and again to the Crispy Creme window, each time securing free doughnuts that were offered that day to anyone dressed up as a pirate.

We laughed and laughed at some of the capers a trio of Jean and her friends were involved in while we served at Calvary Chapel, Fort Lauderdale.

As we closed our conversation, Margie knowing that we were planning to try and take Jean to Outback, reminded us to make sure someone takes a purse big enough to "stuff away all that delicious brown bread they provide with  dinner." 

I can personally attest to the fact that laughter and love have significant therapeutic value to the one who is going through a difficult time.

I have cried far too much in the last few days, but the best remedy I've discovered to dry my tears is to remember the love and laughter I have shared with so many of our friends who have taken the time to call or write.

I am reminded of the Psalmist who wrote, "Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves" (Psalm 126: 6TLB).

God has the incredible capacity for restoring life beyond our understanding. He can sow seeds of sadness  and from them produce a harvest of joy. When burdened by sorrow, we can be assured that even our times of greatest grief will end, and we will once again find joy. 

I won't ever divulge whether we followed Margie's procedures for 'bread larceny' but I can tell you that when I and my three daughters wheeled Jean out of Outback yesterday, we all had  smiles on our faces, for what greater joy could anyone experience than the joy of being with those you love, sharing stories of life and laugher, and knowing that, in spite of your pain, God is still in control and that one day He will wipe away every one of our tears.

Yours in faith and friendship,

Tom 

P.S. "A teardrop on earth summons the King of heaven." Charles Swindoll.

Leadership Thought: Thoughts on the One Who Is the Love of My Life.

Dear Friends,

As many of you know the greatest treasure, I possess is now lying in a hospital bed in the upstairs bedroom of our  home. 

For the first time in 54 years of marriage we are now sleeping in separate beds as her 7 year battle with Parkinson has entered a new stage, one which has stripped her of her independence and stolen the energy and vitality that once made her the most popular girl in her high school senior class.

Yesterday was an emotional day for me. Earlier in the day, I collapsed in tears as I tried to wake her from 11 hours of sleep. Getting no response to my efforts, I panicked and in desperation called Hospice for help. Fortunately, by the time they arrived, Jean had opened her eyes and wanted to know why I was crying. 

Through my tears, I blurted out "I thought I was losing you and I am not ready to let you go."

As my daughter and I stood beside her bed last night, I prayed that God would miraculously cure this debilitating disease. But if He chooses not to heal her, would He at least slow down the progression to give us as much time as possible to laugh and love together.

Hopefully Jean will have months and even years ahead of her, but when the time comes for God to call her home she is ready and prepared for the journey. In fact she has assured me that she is looking forward to the trip to heaven where she knows there will be no more earthly pain.

Yes she is ready, but the problem is that I and my children are not prepared to let her go.

There is a poignant song by one of my favorite female country artists, Patty Loveless titled “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye.”

"How can I help you say goodbye? 

It’s OK to hurt, and it’s OK to cry

Come, Let me hold you and I will try.

How can I help you to say goodbye?" 

It is never easy to say goodbye to the ones we love and it was not easy for Jesus who conquered death itself

We see him shedding tears of sorrow as He stands beside the grave of his good friend Lazarus. His tears were real, genuine and heartfelt and because they were we can be certain that He knows and understands the same pain we are going through as we confront the loss of our loved ones.. 

"Jesus promises that "There are many homes up there where my Father lives, and I am going to prepare them for your coming. When everything is ready, then I will come and get you., so that you can always be with me where I am. If this weren't so, I would tell you plainly. And you know where I'm going and how to get there."

"No, we don't, said Thomas. We haven't any idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?"  

"Jesus told him, I am the way- yes, and the truth and the life. No one can get to the Father except by means of me" (John 14:1-6.TLB).

Letting go of loved one is one of the hardest things we will ever have to do, but it is made easier when we know where our loved ones are going, for as Thomas Moore has written. "Earth has no sorrows that heaven cannot heal.".

Yours in faith and friendship,

Tom

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Leadership Thought: A Message and Some Mango Juice and a Ministering Member.

Dear Friends.

I often remind church members that ministry takes place from the pulpit to the pew and from the pew to the pew and from the pew to the pulpit.

Ministry takes place from the pulpit to the pews as the pastor shares a message that hopefully encourages and inspires those members sitting in the pews.

Ministry takes place from the pew to the pew as members express their love and concern for one another, sometimes called body life ministry.

And finally, ministry takes place from the pew to the pulpit as members find ways to encourage and serve their pastor.

It is easy to forget that ministers need ministry as well as members. Sometimes ministry can be hard and demanding, and yes, even at times, discouraging.

As ministers, we are generally more comfortable being on the giving end than on the receiving end. But sometimes it’s important, yes, even necessary for us to be on the receiving end. 

Last week was particularly challenging for me.

Addressing the decline  in Jean’s health as she continues battling Parkinson’s, has necessitated a change in my schedule, resulting in my having to work almost exclusively from home.

Care giving can be emotionally and physically draining, something I have discovered in caring for my precious wife. I was feeling this way last week. I was worn out, and discouraged, and then they arrived.

At my front doorstep was a message in the form of a personal poem written to Jean and me, and along with it there was a bottle of mango juice.

The one who left it knew I loved Trader Joe’s mango juice, something he discovered at a recent meeting at his house.  I had been sharing my love for mango juice, and hearing me speak about it, he proceeded to lead me to a kitchen closet. In opening the door I discovered what must have been at least 50 half gallon bottles of mango juice lined up on his closet shelves, which, like me, he had purchased at Trader Joe’s.

Since then, like connoisseurs of fine wine, we have often talked about our love for "our juice."

Along with that that bottle of mango juice, I noted an 8” x 11” piece of paper with a picture and some typed words. They were not just any words, but words my friend had crafted into a personal poem. The poem was brimming  with love and appreciation for Jean and me. His words were too flattering to share lest I be accused of making this message self-serving, but I can tell you that tucked away in that four-stanza poem were words I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Yes, my friend knew that ministry takes place from the pulpit to the pew, and the pew to the pew, but on that day when his pastor needed a spiritual and emotional lift, he knew that ministry takes place from the pew to the pulpit, from a member to his minister.

We sometimes need to be reminded as one pastor commented, "That stained glass windows are a lot like pastors. They're really good at hiding stormy weather. They may appear to be immune from the roughness of life. But they’re not-unless they're well protected."

My friend left some juice and a piece of paper with a few typed words on my doorstep. However, he may never know their value of that bottle and those words, gifts of love and kindness that this pastor will never forget.

Maybe inwardly he knew what that pastor wrote: that ministers, like stained glass windows, won't be much good  "unless they are well protected."

Yours in faith and friendship,

Tom

Monday, January 23, 2023

Leadership Thought: Why I Am for the Rights of the Unborn.

Dear Friends,

Yesterday was Sanctity of Life Sunday and many churches throughout our country addressed the issue of abortion from the pulpit.

There is no greater hot button today than the issue of abortion. It has separated family and friends and divided the heart of our nation.

I am unashamedly prolife, and I believe in doing whatever I can to protect and preserve the rights of the unborn, I know there are some reading this who hold a differing view. I respect your right to disagree, but I strongly oppose your position.

It has been said that the most dangerous place to be in America is not the inner city where gangs threaten innocent lives. Or in the prisons where only the fit survives. The most dangerous place to live is in the womb of a mother who is being told if she doesn’t really want her baby, than abortion is the solution.

Abortion is presently the second most common surgical procedure in the nation, only slightly behind circumcision.

The vast number of abortions performed in our nation are performed for social reasons.

Rape, incest, life of the mother, and severe fetal deformity account for only 2 to 5% percent of all abortions. The remaining 95 to 98% are simply casualties of convenience.

Since 1973 when the Supreme Court decided to legalize abortion over 60 million babies have been aborted, 23 times the number of Americans killed in all U.S. Wars

More babies die from abortion each year in this country than the total of all Americans killed in the 12 years of the Viet Nam war. In fact, if the memorial for the deaths of the unborn were built on the same scale as the Viet Nam War Memorial in Washington D. C., the wall would be almost 50 miles long.

In 1993, the Tampa Tribune editorial displayed a cartoon. It showed a lone man shouting at God.

“God, why haven’t you sent us people with cures for cancer and aids, and answers to world hunger and all the social problems?

God answers, “I did.”

And then the man responds, but “Where are they”?

God answers, “You aborted them.”

Who knows what some of those 60 million lives might have accomplished had they not been destroyed in the womb.

A professor at UCLA Medical School asked his students a hypothetical question.

“Here is the family history. The father has syphilis, the mother has TB. They already have four children. The first is blind, the second is deaf, the third has diabetes, and the 4th has TB. And now the mother is pregnant again. The parents are willing to have an abortion if you decide they should. What would you tell them?”

The students respond, “It’s a no brainer. Counsel them to have an abortion.”

“Congratulations,” said the professor. “You have just murdered Beethoven.”

The tragedy of abortion is that those who are being killed can neither represent themselves before a court of law nor defend themselves from sure death.

We hear passionate pro-choice advocates echoing cries in support of a woman’s reproductive rights, but when it comes to choosing between a woman’s reproductive rights and the life of an unborn child, the answer to me seems clear and unambiguous. The innocent child’s life should trump the reproductive rights of a woman.

Proverbs reminds us that “We are to rescue those being taken off to death and save those stumbling toward slaughter.  If you say, ‘Look, we did not know this’-does not he who weighs his heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it? And will he not repay all according to their deeds?” (Proverbs 24:11-12  LBT).

I believe God has a special heart for the poor, needy and vulnerable and who fits that description any better than a helpless child carried in a mother’s womb.

I believe if we as individuals and as churches will bless those who are the poor and weak and vulnerable, those who cannot repay us, He in turn will bless us and our churches.

Yours in faith and friendship,

Tom

P.S. In the words of Dr. Seuss in Horton Hears  a Who, “Please don’t harm all my little folks, who have as much right to live as us bigger folks do!”

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Leadership Thought: We All Need the “Big Mo” in Our Life.

Dear Friends,

Last night I was watching the Connecticut Seton Hall basketball game. For much of the game Connecticut had the upper hand, stretching the lead to as much as 13 points in the second half. But in a matter of minutes this all changed. A couple of steals and several costly turnovers by Connecticut led to easy
Seton Hall baskets and created a swing in momentum that changed the course of the game.

Suddenly Seton Hall had captured the momentum, and their  home court fans were now fully engaged and energized as they watched their team creep back into the game. With two seconds left and a point behind, a tip in by a Seton Hall player enabled them to eke out an exciting one point victory.

What was the key to their victory? It was a momentum shift.

A train moving at top speed can easily crash through a five-foot-thick reinforced steal barrier. owecere the same trrain on the same track, ifBu But if you place a one-inch block of wood on the track in front of that same train while it is at rest, the train can’t move and inch along those tracks.

Momentum can make the difference between winning and losing in a basketball game, but it can also make a difference in winning and losing in our spiritual lives.

Our Christian life should be active and growing. We should be moving forward and making spiritual progress daily. But sometimes we get stuck in a spiritual rut, and we lose our momentum. We feel like that train  which is stopped by that one inch block. We just can’t get ourselves moving.

There are people who come to know the Lord, and they are so excited, and they start moving full speed forward with God. They build up their spiritual momentum, but them something happens.

They start ignoring those spiritual disciplines and they slowly begin losing that spiritual momentum.

Their quiet time is inconsistent, their church worship becomes irregular, their prayer life is now sporadic, they no longer are enthusiastically sharing their faith, and the fellowship they once enjoyed with others is almost nonexistent.

They have put on their spiritual brakes, and in doing so they have lost their momentum and are slowly coming to a spiritual stop.

But it is never too late to regain that momentum.

If this describes you, God is calling you to confess your sins, repent and  return to the things that produced your spiritual momentum. Luke writes, “Therefore, turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” Acts 3:19

Obedience is the key to reestablishing your spiritual momentum. You must get back to those things that God called you to do. Obey Him in your thoughts and actions and reestablish those spiritual disciplines and  in so doing you will “draw near to God” (James 4:8).

Remember momentum demands movement, so get moving and keep moving toward that glorious finish line.

Yours in faith and friendship,

Tom

P.S. The only place a believer cannot stay; he or she can’t stay put.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Leadership Thought: The Pulpit Perfect Storm-Naked and Unusable.

Dear Friends,

Sunday was the culmination of a perfect pulpit storm.

It was Jean’s birthday, and my son had flown up from Savannah to surprise her. He and two of my daughters spent the day rearranging  our bedroom to make things easier for their mom to navigate with her walker.

Jean and I watched “helplessly” as  the three of them spent the day renovating our living quarters. They moved things, reorganized things, threw out things, all to my dismay and discomfort.

I am a person who admittedly struggles with change, and as I watched the total reorganization of our bedroom, I had the feeling my life was becoming a reorganizational casualty.

It was Sanctity of Life Sunday, and I was scheduled to preach.

In the midst of all this chaos of change, I tried to put the finishing touches on my message.

When I walked into church on Sunday with message in hand,  I knew something was going on inside of me that made me anxious and uncomfortable. I sat there praying as the worship team finished leading us in worship, and when it was time for me to step to the pulpit and teach, I felt totally unprepared and overwhelmed with the challenge before me. My legs were unsteady, my eyes blurred, and I felt naked before the congregation.  And standing there before them I recognized I was unable to share a thing I had prepared to teach.

Embarrassingly I spoke from my heart as I told them what had been going on inside of me the last couple of days, and I apologized for my inability to deliver the message God had given me. I suggested that maybe the best thing we could do was to gather in groups and pray, but I didn’t even have the energy to organize them to do it, and so I simply sheepishly walked off the platform.

And then Pastor Jared graciously stepped to the pulpit, organized our time of prayer, and he prayed that God would use this time to do a mighty work in my life, and in the lives of those who were present for worship. We prayed in groups, and when we had finished, I was suddenly surrounded by the whole congregation who laid hands on me and prayed over me.

I thought of Paul’s words “I am with you; that is all you need. My power shows up best in weak people.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 (TLB)

It’s hard for us to admit our needs and difficult to acknowledge our weakness.  

But God can transform a burden into a wonderful blessing. He can use it to humble us and remind us of our weakness, and in doing so, He protects us from the kind of arrogance and pride that can hinder and undermine our ministry.

Recognizing our weakness makes us more and dependent upon God, something that is critical for all of us to understand and accept.

It is in our weakness that our strength can be provided, for God doesn’t only use our strengths in ministry; He uses our weaknesses as well.

Paul says, “God comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1: 4 NIV)

So, looking back on this pulpit experience, I am glad to be reminded that God will use even the bad stuff in our lives and use it for our good and His glory.

Yours in faith, and still learning and still growing at 81!!!!!!

Tom