A Morning Story

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Confession: I woke up cranky today. I was impatient with my kids, griping about what they had or hadn’t done and short-tempered with inanimate objects like a box of cookies that wouldn’t easily open while I was packing lunches. I was stomping around and sighing deep and bitter sighs over an accidental apple juice spill when the Holy Spirit tapped me on the shoulder and reminded me that it wasn’t my kids’ fault I stayed up too late and then overslept as a result of it. It wasn’t my kids’ fault that I was feeling anxious about spending most of today in a dentist’s chair (). It wasn’t my kids’ fault that I hadn’t gotten my ideal morning routines done, but it certainly was MY fault that I was behaving badly and starting their day off with Grumpy-Mom. He reminded me of gentleness, patience, and self-control. He reminded me that it is my job to teach them what it looks like to reflect Jesus even when emotions don’t measure up and circumstances aren’t perfect.

I stopped fighting with the uncooperative box of Oreos and apologized to my children. Without hesitation, they forgave me. They were sorry I was having a hard day and they wished me a better morning. They loved me so well in their compassion. Their kindness humbled me — and showed me a glimpse of God.

This is His way, to not only forgive – but to forgive with abounding love and mercy, encouraging us to move forward in His grace without condemnation lingering on our hearts. His forgiveness is whole and His redemption power fully covers our sin.

So, all that to say- if you happen to have started today or this week (or even this year!) on the wrong foot — stop. Take a breath. Make the apologies you might need to make, to your people and to the Father. And then move forward in His grace and in the unfailing kindness of His love. Know you are forgiven and it’s the next moment that matters. Leave behind what has been and press on, trusting that He is ever-transforming us into His image if we keep surrendering our hearts, our minds, and even our crankiest of mornings into His keeping.

I am grateful today for mercy. I am thankful for love that keeps on loving, never giving up on us.

“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness.”
-Lamentations 3:22-23

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Together We Follow: Genesis 5

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On a day that I’m feeling the weight of a hard week, it is good to remember God’s faithfulness. It’s good to remember that when He makes promises, He keeps them. It’s good to remember that if we center our lives on Him and seek Him with all our hearts, He will be with us in every circumstance, He will stay with us in every unexpected place in our lives, He will complete the good work He started in us…He will make a way for things to work out for our good, even when we can’t see how it’s possible.

This family tree we’re reading today reminds me of all that.

We see a lot of family trees recorded in scripture. It’s a lot of detail, I know, but it’s written there for us. The beautiful purpose of every preserved name, noting every generation that follows the first man and wife, shows us the fulfillment of God’s promises that the enemy would be crushed by the seed of Adam and Eve.

We can see that God’s faithfulness kept going and going, through every generation. We can see that He knew every name – He was present with His people. We see that He delighted in their friendship — for Enoch, a man who sought after God with His whole life, God bypassed death. Because he invited God into his every day, God was there. He came to where Enoch was and walked with Him…and when the time came, He simply took Enoch from the Earth and brought him into the heavenly kingdom.

I don’t know if you might have a heavy-heart today or if all is well…either way, we have the same truth that this passage reveals. He knows us…He is unfolding the fulfillment of the promises He has made to us with every passing day. He has already come to where we are…and He didn’t leave. He is with us. From this life to the one-day of His Kingdom that we will see with our own eyes and walk with our own feet, we are invited to abide in Him. He is our safe place. He is our refuge.

This is the written account of the descendants of Adam. When God created human beings, he made them to be like himself. He created them male and female, and he blessed them and called them “human.”

When Adam was 130 years old, he became the father of a son who was just like him—in his very image. He named his son Seth. After the birth of Seth, Adam lived another 800 years, and he had other sons and daughters. Adam lived 930 years, and then he died.

When Seth was 105 years old, he became the father of Enosh. After the birth of Enosh, Seth lived another 807 years, and he had other sons and daughters. Seth lived 912 years, and then he died.

When Enosh was 90 years old, he became the father of Kenan. After the birth of Kenan, Enosh lived another 815 years, and he had other sons and daughters. Enosh lived 905 years, and then he died.

When Kenan was 70 years old, he became the father of Mahalalel. After the birth of Mahalalel, Kenan lived another 840 years, and he had other sons and daughters. Kenan lived 910 years, and then he died.

When Mahalalel was 65 years old, he became the father of Jared. After the birth of Jared, Mahalalel lived another 830 years, and he had other sons and daughters.Mahalalel lived 895 years, and then he died.

When Jared was 162 years old, he became the father of Enoch. After the birth of Enoch, Jared lived another 800 years, and he had other sons and daughters. Jared lived 962 years, and then he died.

When Enoch was 65 years old, he became the father of Methuselah. After the birth of Methuselah, Enoch lived in close fellowship with God for another 300 years, and he had other sons and daughters. Enoch lived 365 years, walking in close fellowship with God. Then one day he disappeared, because God took him.

When Methuselah was 187 years old, he became the father of Lamech. After the birth of Lamech, Methuselah lived another 782 years, and he had other sons and daughters. Methuselah lived 969 years, and then he died.

When Lamech was 182 years old, he became the father of a son. Lamech named his son Noah, for he said, “May he bring us relief from our work and the painful labor of farming this ground that the Lord has cursed.” After the birth of Noah, Lamech lived another 595 years, and he had other sons and daughters.  Lamech lived 777 years, and then he died.

After Noah was 500 years old, he became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Together We Follow: Genesis 4: 17-26

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Today, we’re reading about two lines that descend from Adam and Eve.

The first begins with Cain. The last time we saw him, he’d just received mercy from God. Even though he shattered his family — even though he killed his own little brother, breaking the hearts of Adam and Eve, he was given the chance to go out into the world and make a life for himself.

The book of Romans tells us that the kindness of God is to bring us to repentance — but this chance to humble himself, this undeserved chance to change does not seem to alter Cain’s heart. We can see this in the unfolding of his lineage…although we see how he builds a city, how his family focuses on skills and crafts, how they seem to make their names known – we don’t see any mention of offering, of sacrifice to the Lord, of worship. We don’t see that Cain teaches his children or their children about the Creator. We do see that one of his descendants, Lamech, is not afraid to break the pattern God into place for marriage and takes two women as wives. We also get to hear how he boasts to his wives, Adah and Zillah, about his murderous act to kill a young man who has injured him. Instead of showing distress at this violence, he refers to the mark of God’s mercy placed upon his forefather Cain, multiplying for himself the vengeance promised to anyone who would touch him.

This does not sound like a generation taught to be grateful for God’s grace. This does not sound like a generation taught to live wisely, but perhaps to take mercy for granted…perhaps, even, to exploit it. This sounds like men choosing their own way, their own needs, and their own pride.

We will see, as we continue into the next chapters, that these generations descend into evil and violence. We will see that their greed and disregard for God leads to a world unsafe and a Creator with a broken heart.

On the other hand, the third son that is born to Adam goes a different way — we aren’t shown, in this passage, a long line of descendants. We’re told that he had a son, named him Enosh, and that they began to call on the name of the Lord. Without much detail, it’s easy to see — Seth taught his son about the Lord…and he had this knowledge because of his parents.

We will soon see that this knowledge mattered – as it set the course for their own personal lives, their own relationships with each other and with God…it also mattered for the course of humanity.  As the generations unfold, we will come to a righteous son whose knowledge of the Lord, in the middle of a time with every other heart turned toward doing evil, will be the bridge to a new covenant with the Lord.

I want to remember that this difference between the two lines didn’t happen all in one swooping action. We’ve already seen that Cain’s crime wasn’t an abrupt change of character…it was a series of decisions that led to that fatal hour in the field. It was a series of choices that led to a family not seeking God’s face…just as it was Seth’s choice to raise up a son who would know the Lord.

It’s in the day-to-day, in the routine hours and minutes that we decide – is my heart set on God? Am I honoring Him on this random Tuesday night? Is praise on my lips when I wake up in the morning? Do I show His character to my children when we are scrambling to get ready for school, taking care of chores, getting through homework? When I am out in my neighborhood, in my town -do I show His love to the people I meet?

Are my moments lived in a way that adds up to a life reflecting my Father?

Our moments do matter, more than we can know. Our lives matter for this present time and for the generations that will follow us. May our days — our minute-by-minute decisions, our actions, our words, our hearts — stay surrendered to God, so that our lives will point to Him.

Genesis 4:17-24

17 And Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. And he built a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son—Enoch.  To Enoch was born Irad; and Irad begot Mehujael, and Mehujael begot Methushael, and Methushael begot Lamech.

Then Lamech took for himself two wives: the name of one was Adah, and the name of the second was Zillah. And Adah bore Jabal. He was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal. He was the father of all those who play the harp and flute. And as for Zillah, she also bore Tubal-Cain, an instructor of every craftsman in bronze and iron. And the sister of Tubal-Cain was Naamah.

Then Lamech said to his wives: “Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; Wives of Lamech, listen to my speech! For I have killed a man for wounding me, Even a young man for hurting me. If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”

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And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, “For God has appointed another seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed.”  And as for Seth, to him also a son was born; and he named him Enosh. Then men began to call on the name of the Lord.

 

Trains, Planes, and the Way of Delight

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I had some time to hang out with my two-year-old nephew over this past weekend. It has been a while since we have had so much time together and I loved watching him interact with the world around him. What really caught my attention was something that has been a part of his personality all along – what Logan likes, he pursues with passion. He puts his whole heart into what he loves.

The moment he woke up from his nap in my car on the way to my house, he showed me his toy plane (it’s name is Dusty). For the entire evening and next day, that plane was in his hand, in his sight, or he was asking for it. He transported Dusty from room to room. He showed Dusty to strangers at a restaurant. If it wasn’t with him, he thought about it and became upset if he couldn’t get his hands on it. Dusty was his faithful companion throughout the entire weekend.

He has an equal fascination with trains. Thomas the train was the first toy he grabbed out of my son’s toy box and Thomas was his request when the tv was on. He gathered Thomas and his train buddies along with Dusty and lined them up. Carefully, he maneuvered them through the air and onto the various tracks, totally caught up in his play. Nothing else mattered – just the train rolling along and the plane in his hand. Whenever we were in a different part of the house, he inevitably said “this way! this way!”and led me back to the trains. Later in the evening, he asked to watch trains and I pulled up a YouTube video of steam engines. For a good solid 15 minutes or so, he watched footage of steam engine trains rumbling over tracks. With each new clip of a train, his excitement did not lessen. He exclaimed again and again- “train! train!” I was fascinated with his fascination and impressed with his focus…he was committed to what he wanted!

It was no chore for him to play. It was not obligation to pick up his little plane or a requirement for him to watch nonstop footage of steam engines. Logan did all of those things because he delights in his plane. He delights in trains. (And I probably don’t have space here to get into how much he delights in Toy Story!) He can’t get enough of these things right now. They are on his mind. If he goes too long without seeing his plane or a train, he searches for them. For this stage of his life, at least, these things are a part of him. He is excited about them. He chooses them over other toys, other shows, other activities. He talks about them, shows them off to anyone he sees. His singular focus is steadfast because of the joy these toys bring to him.

As I consider all this, I am thinking about how Jesus told us to be like little children – in fact, He said that unless we are like little children, we won’t get into the Kingdom of Heaven. And I wonder if this is part of what He meant…this unselfconscious way kids love what they love and choose it above all else.

They hold onto what they delight in.

Holy Spirit, You are our teacher and our guide. Lead us into this kind of delight.
Let this be us. Above all else, we want to choose You. Above all else, we want to pursue Your kingdom. Let this hold-nothing-back way be ours.

You, Father, have always been a hold-nothing-back God.

Your delight in us, Your passion for us, Your love for us caused Jesus to give His life for us. It was Your plan from the beginning, to pursue us and bring us back close to Your heart…and You never wavered. You never forgot us. You sacrificed for us. You chose us.

What You delight in, You hold onto.

And You hold onto us.

Lord, help us to understand Your love through and through, deeper and deeper. Let it be our delight to know You, to follow You, to obey Your Word. Let Your name be on our lips. When we wake up, let it be Your face we are looking to see. If we wander, as we sometimes do, let it be Your soul-satisfying presence that we rush back to – “this way! this way!” always back to You. Let there be so much joy in the love between us that it isn’t contained — let it be You shining through to anyone who comes close to us. May the pursuit of Your presence be our single-minded focus, until we won’t take a step unless You have told us to take it. Let us be like Moses, who said “if Your presence isn’t going to be there, then don’t send me that way.”  Let it be in knowing You more that our satisfaction comes. Let it be in You that we find all we need. Let the first desire of our hearts be Your face, Your voice, Your heart, Your will, Your way.

Let us be like little children, pursuing what we love with our whole hearts. Let delight spring up in us.

What we delight in, we will hold onto.

Lord, I am praying that what we hold onto – ever closer – is You.

Taste and See

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My sister and I took our kids to get snow-cones the other day. Our local snow-cone stand has an incredible list of flavors…there are at least 101 different options to try. (Do we want Georgia Delight, Lemon-Lime, Strawberry? Do we want to mix flavors? Half this and half that? And what IS the flavor of Twisted Thunder? There was much deliberating. Important decisions, you know. 😉 )

With choices made and spoons in hand, we sat down. Almost immediately, my sister and my daughter were comparing their choices…and this question started circling around -want a taste? Want to try it? For some it was a no and for some it was a yes.

Either way, it was an active choice.

This same sister and I have been talking a lot about faith over a long while now. We talk about how we want to see miracles. We talk about how we want to be people unafraid to follow God’s leading, even if it is out of our usual lines.

I think we are discovering that faith does start with a simple ‘yes’. Yes, I want to taste….yes, I want something different than I have always had before. Yes, I am willing to change. Yes, I want what You have for me. Yes, I am surrendering this moment to whatever it might bring.

And maybe it’s finding out that this promise is true- He IS good – that leads to the next yes, the next step, the next taste, the next moment that He has for us.

Let’s say yes. Let’s believe that His goodness is what we will find every single time.

“I sought the Lord and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.”-Psalm 34:4-5

When Faith is Made Sight

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To remember my childhood is to remember church and family. Those two facets of life were intertwined – a natural result of two grandfathers who pastored churches and a father who was called into ministry at a young age. I’ve had the rare and wonderful gift of hearing the Word of God from these three men in their pulpits and then witnessing how they’ve lived out that Word in their lives.

So most of my earliest memories are of churches and all that went along with them…pulling on frilly socks to match lace-trimmed dresses, puppets in children’s church, potluck lunches after service (where the dessert table was always my favorite), prayer around the altar, running around with cousins, playing with flannel boards in the Sunday school rooms, falling asleep in the car after late-running evening services. Always, there was music. Many times, it would be an aunt or a cousin on the piano, uncles on guitars and drums, my dad’s voice leading the song. I liked being able to pick out the voices I knew so well during the services…and when we were at my grandfather’s church, either for a family event or when Dad would be the speaker for a revival, my Papaw’s booming bass voice was a vibrant thread through it all.

I was always thrilled when Papaw would take the bass line during a song like ‘Let Us Have a Little Talk with Jesus’ – ever since I can remember, his ability to sing out those deepest notes has amazed me. I was just as impressed when he would preach. His carefully chosen words, his powerful voice, his unfolding of Scripture – it all added up to convince me that my Papaw was absolutely one of the wisest and greatest men on earth.

My opinion didn’t change once church was over. It seemed to me that ‘Brother Bailey’, as everyone called him, was usually talking about things of great importance. When I came into his office at home, it was always with huge admiration of the big desk and the full book-shelves. While my mamaw let me (with wonderful patience) freely look through her book-shelves and read through her collection whenever I wanted, Papaw had a system. It seemed, to me, that checking out Papaw’s books was just as formal as checking out a library book. I carried those volumes (books like Corrie Ten Boom’s “In My Father’s House”) with utmost care. I felt pleased that he would trust me with one of his books. He was working to complete his Master’s degree in counseling for several years, and I could only wonder about how much knowledge he actually had in his head. It seemed like he knew everything.

I was awed by some little things that have stuck with me all these years – like the way he would drink his beverage after he finished his food  or the way he would send his coffee back if it wasn’t hot enough. For some reason, that act was bold in my shy little-girl eyes. I found the fact that he hadn’t watched TV until he was seventeen a completely fascinating thing. He told me about pretending to be the Lone Ranger when he was a kid and how he used to get in trouble at school (which was pretty hard for me to imagine!). He told me that he hated collard greens, which – on the other hand – was easy to imagine (because I hated them, too). Time spent at Mamaw and Papaw’s house was usually punctuated by Papaw’s voice calling out – “Julia”- when he wanted Mamaw’s attention, which I loved – because I only heard everyone else call her ‘Sister Bailey’.  Every single Christmas eve, he would read out the lovely words from the Gospel of Luke to make sure that we remembered why we were gathered together to celebrate.

And while I did always see him as quite dignified, Papaw was also a cut-up and loved to laugh. I learned, in later years, that Papaw was mischievous. He had many exploits on his resume…and those exploits continued even to shooting unsuspecting great-grandchildren with a rubber band gun.  There was a certain twinkle that would come into those light blue eyes whenever he was about to prove a point or get to a punch line…and the grin that followed made a person grin right back at him.

I never did change my opinion of Papaw as one of the wisest and greatest men on earth.

As I grew older, my respect only grew. I could see how he gave so much of his life to building the Kingdom of God. I could see how he listened to others and how he cared about what was going on in their hearts. Asking him questions meant getting real-to-the-core answers.

With Papaw, it always felt like he could hear deeper than our words – beyond what we were saying to what we actually meant, or those things we might want to hide. Sometimes, especially in my teenaged-years, I would get nervous if Papaw looked into my eyes for too long – because if there was anything less than honorable in my heart, I just knew he could somehow see it. He didn’t mince words and he didn’t budge on what he believed to be true.

He made me want to be the best person I could be.

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When my Papaw was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, he said his future was in God’s hands.

As a family, we prayed fervently for his healing.

A great friend to my Papaw and to our family, Rev. Matt Gunter, told us this: there are four types of healing in the Scripture. There’s a natural healing, healing through the help of physicians, supernatural healing, and healing through the Lord taking a person into that forever-home of heaven…where they are made completely whole.

On Wednesday, September 16th, Papaw was totally healed when he closed his eyes to this earth and opened them to the glory of Heaven.

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There are moments with my family from these last five months that I will never forget.

My mamaw has always taken care of my papaw. Her love has always been plain in how she gives of herself…she is constantly on the go, ready to do something for someone. The way she has loved so faithfully, even (especially) in this hardest of seasons, is beautiful. I watched her, even as I knew her heart was breaking, support Papaw with a strength that left me amazed. Even though I am, technically, already grown up – I still find myself thinking that I want to be like her when I grow up.

And my dad, my aunt, my uncles (and their spouses)…I watched as they cared for Papaw, speaking for him when he couldn’t, becoming advocates and stepping away from their own lives in order to be there when he needed them. In the way they were there for him, I saw the honor and love they felt…and I saw the Godly character of my papaw and mamaw both shining clear through the lives of their children.

When they led the congregation in worship at the funeral – through the words of one of Papaw’s favorite songs, “Amazing Grace”, I was immeasurably proud of them.

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All along, Papaw held firm to the truth that God is sovereign.

He knew the reality of God’s power to change things. He had seen the sick healed…he had seen the dead given life again.

We can’t fully understand why God’s plan didn’t include healing in the here-and-now and we don’t know why Papaw’s journey on this earth ended in this particular way…because it was such a hard road…

but Papaw trusted his life to God’s purpose and God’s plan, no matter what that meant.

So he continued, even during his illness, to speak truth into the lives of others. He continued to share what he had learned throughout his life…when he attended his church back in July, he said this:

“I look back on my life and I’m thankful. God has been good to me. And along the way, what makes it better is I see people once in a while and they tell me I was a blessing to them. And that makes it all worthwhile. If you’re living for yourself, you’re dead already…in this life, nothing’s worthwhile unless, when you come to where I am, you look back and you can say ‘I helped somebody along the way’…and to know that Jesus is your Lord and Savior. That’s all that matters.”

Papaw lived those words.

As people filed by, shaking our hands at the visitation, I heard countless words about the impact he made on their lives. For over sixty years, Papaw evangelized, counseled, preached, led congregations, and made music for God’s kingdom.

At the funeral service, Rev. Gunter spoke about how Papaw lived as a vessel for God to use – he allowed God to pour into him and then he poured into others. He lived a life of love and service…he lived like the Savior he loved so well, for so long.

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And from here, how do we go on?

I am determined to live out my life in the way Papaw would want – by the Word of God, in service to the Master, loving others, helping somebody.

I have learned – in this hardest of ways – that life is shorter than we think it is. In all of this, the piece of my heart most shattered is the piece that is wishing I’d spent more time with him over my grown-up-with-kids years.  I think he would say that I should learn from that feeling and make the most of my time from here on out.

As usual, he would be right.

We’ve witnessed just some of the effects of Papaw’s life and ministry.  His choices and his willingness to live for the glory of God have made an eternal difference.

This is the legacy he leaves us and it is one we want to honor, one we want to continue.

He still makes me want to be the best person I can be.

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On the night Papaw went before us into our Homeland, the sunset was the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen it. I was driving west toward my family and the sunset was all I could see. My kids were marveling at it from the backseat and, when my sister called me, she had just stepped outside. We couldn’t stop talking about how beautiful the sky was, all lit up in red, pink, and orange. I heard her calling other family members outside with her to look at the glory of it…and I believe we were all feeling the same thing – this heavenly beauty must, somehow, be for him.

It was the first thing I thought of a few days later, when I read this in Psalm 19:

“In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun. It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course, like a strong man to run its race.

Because, oh – Bernie Roy Bailey ran his course like a champion – he fought the good fight and he kept his faith.

And there is no doubt of the rejoicing that took place when Papaw was greeted as a ‘good and faithful servant’ by the Lord Jesus Christ.

He was absent from his body, but he was present with Christ. (2 Cor. 5:8)

There will come a day when we, all who are the sons and daughters of God, will be together with the Lord…Jesus overcame death and the grave on the cross. He gave us victory and everlasting life through His love.

And this is why, even while our hearts were aching with missing him, Mamaw was able to lead our family into the funeral service with hands raised. This is why we could worship even as we mourned. This is why my dad was able to lead us in a chorus of ‘Have a Little Talk with Jesus’ at the graveside. This is why, even while the pain is present, we have hope.

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It is still hard to believe that my Papaw is no longer here with us. This is a separation that not one of us would have imagined even a year ago.

But death will not separate us forever and it did not – even for one millisecond –  separate him from the love of Jesus – no, it ushered him into that eternal Home given by the One who is the Resurrection and the Life.

There, in that Beulah Land, he no longer sees through a glass darkly but by the beautiful Light of God.  That grin is surely on his face as he walks down the streets of gold…that twinkle is surely sparkling in his brilliant blue eyes as he takes it all in, maybe trades thoughts with those men of old he has read about for so many years.

There, he has fullness of life and joy that we cannot even begin to imagine. There, his faith has been made sight.

All the promises he stood upon during this life have been realized, every hope in Christ Jesus has been fulfilled.

I believe he is with his family, fully known, and worshiping together with them. I believe that bass voice so many loved to hear is now singing ‘holy, holy, holy’ around the throne of God.

This was his purpose all along. He knew that this span of life on earth was not the end of the story, but the beginning. Papaw looked forward ‘to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God’…and it is to that destination we, too, set our course.

One of the wisest and greatest men on this earth – my papaw I’ve loved for my whole life — is now one of the wisest and greatest men in God’s great city…and, one of these days, I will meet him there. I told him that I would see him soon…and, in God’s timetable, I will.

In the meantime, may those of us who knew him in this life and those who know of him now, because of these words, remember what he said… life is worthwhile when we know Jesus as Lord and help somebody along our way.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” –Hebrews 12:1-2

(If you would like to know a little more about my Papaw’s life, here’s a glimpse of our memories…)

(Photo credit/graphic to Babbi Moore, Cami Moore Gunn, and BJ Bailey)