Frank Deford (1938-2017)

I was saddened to hear of the death of sportswriter and commentator Frank Deford at his home in Key West, Florida, at the age of 78. There were many reasons why I admired him. To begin with, he was a marvelous writer. One doesn’t win “Sportswriter of the Year” six different times for sloppy writing about “safe subjects.” He was willing to tackle controversial subjects, and even though I often disagreed with him, his arguments were always logical and well thought out.

While often writing about serious subjects (apartheid in South Africa, for example), he could also let his hair down as he did in this Miller Lite commercial with Billy Martin and Marvelous Marv Throneberry:

“The” commercial

The reason that I admired him most, however, was his willingness to openly share the pain he experienced as he cared for his daughter, Alexandra, and the grief that haunted him because of her death to Cystic Fibrosis in his book, “Alex: The Life of a Child.” As the father of a child who had that horrible disease, I was helped tremendously by knowing that there were other people who felt many of the same emotions as I did as our family walked that lonesome valley. Thirty-five years later I still pull that book off of the shelf and read it from time to time, and I admit the tears flow almost as readily now, as they did the first time that I read it. After Alex’s death, Deford picked up the mantle and from 1982-1999 served as the Chairman of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, bringing greater awareness to that often misunderstood disease and raising countless funds for research to combat it. The following is a snippet from his book that may give one a hint of his prowess as a writer, and his willingness to share some of his most personal memories to help others. This is his description of a conversation he had with eight-year-old Alex when she asked him if she was going to die:

“ ‘Well, sure,’ I said, as casual as I could be myself. I’d been prepared for this for a long time. ‘You’ll die sometime. But I’ll die, too. If there’s one thing we all do, it’s die.’ 

“ ‘But you’ll be real old,’ she said. 

“ ‘Not necessarily. I mean, I could die in an accident anytime.’ 

“Alex threw her arms around my neck. ‘Oh, my little Daddy, that would be so unfair.’ 

“ ‘Unfair?’ I said. Unfair is just what she said. 

“ ‘You don’t have a disease, Daddy. You shouldn’t have to die till you’re real
old.’ ”

Thank you, Frank, for your love for your family, and your service to many others in need. And, furthermore, I, for one, am glad that the Lord saw fit for you not to have to die until you were “real old.”

 

 

 

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Memorial Day (Thinking about Bubba)

bubba williams

Today those of us in the United States will celebrate what has come to be known as Memorial Day. It was originally named “Decoration Day” and there is some question as to the actual beginning of the observance. Women in the South were decorating the graves of the Confederate dead before the end of the Civil War, but the first official observance came with the declaration of General John Logan (a Union general) when flowers were placed on the graves of Confederate and Union soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1868. The northern states and southern states celebrated Memorial Day on different days until the end of World War I, when the observance “remembered” all those who gave their lives in service for their country, not only in the Civil War, but in all wars. Until 1971 it was observed on May 30th, but then Congress changed the timing to the last Monday in May to insure a three day federal weekend holiday.

I was well aware of Memorial Day as a child because it was celebrated on my Mom’s birthday, and in the 1960s, with the Viet Nam Conflict raging across the Pacific, it was not unusual to see newspaper stories of local guys who were killed in action. However, Memorial Day really hit home for me when we received news that Marine Staff Sgt. Benjamin D. Williams, along with two others had been killed on June 20, 2006 in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. For me his death put “a face” on Memorial Day. It became more than a generic day of remembering but a personal day of sadness mixed with profound gratitude. I had watched Bubba (that’s what many of us called him) grow up and although by then I had been separated by many miles and many years from him and his family, his death was a grim reminder of the horror of war. Every Memorial Day Bubba’s life and sacrifice is one of the first thoughts that comes to my mind when I rise on the day when most of America is barbequing, picnicking, and celebrating the coming of summer and the end of school.

I would encourage everyone to take some time today to remember the sacrifice of the many that paid the ultimate price for our freedom, and those family members who feel anew the grief that never really goes away completely. Thank you, Bubba, for your sacrifice; you and your heroism will not be forgotten.

 

Dark Providence

dark__mysterious__mystical_moon_by_pixie_aztechia-d59kciy

Catechism on Catechism

James Fisher was an 18th century Scottish Presbyterian pastor who, with his father-in-law, Ebenezer Erskine, was involved in the founding of the Associate Presbytery. He came to mind this morning not because of his church founding or his marital relations, but because he wrote a book on the Westminster Shorter Catechism entitled, “A Catechism on the Catechism.”

Our pastor preached a message from Philippians 1 yesterday morning looking at the Apostle Paul’s view of God’s providence. Even though there were those who were preaching the Gospel in order to cause pain in Paul’s life while he languished in prison, all that mattered to him was that the Gospel was being preached. He was able to trust God and rejoice in the midst of what the Puritans used to call a “dark providence;”which brings me back to James Fisher.

In his “A Catechism on the Catechism,” he presented fifty-five questions and answers (we Scottish pastors have a tendency to go overboard from time to time) explaining question and answer #11 of the Shorter Catechism:

“QUESTION 11: What are God’s works of providence?

ANSWER: God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.”

As one who has experienced some challenging times lately, his forty-fifth question and answer caught my eye:

Q. 45. Are not some dispensations of providence very dark and mysterious?

Yes; his ways are many times in the sea, and his paths in the great waters, and his footsteps are not known.”

The providential ways of God in our lives are often “dark and mysterious” to us, but it is important to add that they are not “dark and mysterious” to God. He knows exactly what He is doing and he knows exactly what His purpose is, and it will not be thwarted. God does not have to show me why He has permitted trouble into my life; He is God, and I am not. As Pastor Nick said yesterday, I don’t have to ask, “Why, me? Why, now?” I just need to trust what He has told me in His Word that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Is that easy to do? No. Does it make the pain go away? Absolutely not. What it does, however, is give me hope. It gives me hope that my life has a purpose that is bigger than me; bigger than my sufferings; bigger than my personal darkness. Somehow, in His “dark and mysterious” ways, He is using me in the building of His kingdom, and that always works out for my eternal good.

 

Happy Mother’s Day!

Mom, Dad, and I (1990) 001

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day, but since it is also the Lord’s Day, my mind will be focused on other things: the Father’s grace, the Son’s sacrifice, the Holy Spirit’s work, and the gathering of God’s people to worship the Triune God. Today, however, I will take some time to wax nostalgically about the woman that I called, “Momma.”

Ruby Mae Jordan was born May 30, 1919 (making her one of the four million Social Security “notch babies”), not more than a couple of hundred yards from where I live now in Pine Ridge. She and her six siblings were raised right across the road from the Pine Ridge Baptist Church during the throes of the Great Depression, thus, experiencing hardships that most of my generation will never be able to appreciate.

She married my Dad on May 22, 1939, in Portsmouth, Virginia, putting on her marriage license that she was twenty-one, even though she was only nineteen (the things you do for love); the only time I ever knew of her not telling the truth.

mom an dad marriage license

(As an aside, when I was a Senior in high school my boss, Mr. Arthur Black [of Orange Black’s Floral], asked me to work on Valentine’s Day delivering flowers, meaning I would have to “skip school” to do it. I asked Momma to write me a note saying that I was sick and she refused. Even if it meant an unexcused absence and all that accompanied it, she surmised that if I “do the crime, I should have to do that time.” The Assistant Principal, Mr. Dauphine, did have mercy on me, if anyone cares).

She was more the “Ordinary” Christian of Michael Horton, than the “Radical” Christian of David Platt. She did the “ordinary” things that Christian women do: loved her husband, loved her kids, cooked scratch biscuits during the week and yeast rolls on the weekend (okay, maybe that isn’t ordinary), faithfully worshiped her God every Lord’s Day, read the Bible with the family every night, supported her children when they failed and succeeded, and the list goes on and on. I’m not sure why the Lord allowed the dementia to make the last years of her life so painful other than the fact that God’s ways are higher than our ways, and we live in a fallen world (I will save that question for heaven because the “Judge of all the earth will do right”); but I am so grateful for the Christian Mom that shaped my life.

Her children rise up and bless her; her husband also, and he praises her.”

P.S.–Mom, I am sorry about skipping school and going to Cow Creek that time. You never would have known if George Hayden wouldn’t have spilled the beans when we were thirty-five years old. Thanks for not grounding me then, because I had many pastoral duties to attend to.

Tuesday Hymns: “Great God, Whom Heaven, and Earth, and Sea”

Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-1778) was an Anglican pastor who is probably best known for his beloved hymn, “Rock of Ages.” He has been accused of being an “extreme Calvinist” (probably because of his strong-worded criticism of the Wesley brothers), yet, his hymns often present the twin doctrines of the unfathomable glory of God, and His inexhaustible mercy to sinners. Our Tuesday Hymn for this week, “Great God, Whom Heaven, and Earth, and Sea,” is a description of God’s “steadfast love and faithfulness meet[ing],” and His “righteousness and peace kiss[ing] each other.” (Psalm 85:10)

The first and second verses speak of God’s sovereign authority over all of creation, and His wrath upon all who oppose Him, yet, the third and fourth verses speak of God as the “Prince of Peace” and of His universal “reign of love.” If an “extreme Calvinist” is one who calls upon all people to look to Christ alone, and to rest totally on His mercy and grace for the hope of their salvation, I wouldn’t mind being placed in that category. The hymn is sung to the tune, Mendon.

Great God, whom Heaven, and earth, and sea,
With all their countless hosts, obey;
Upheld by whom the nations stand,
And empires fall at Thy command.
 

Beneath Thy long suspended ire,
Let every antichrist expire;
Thy knowledge spread from sea to sea,
And distant nations bow to Thee.
 

Then show Thyself the Prince of Peace,
Command the din of war to cease;
With sacred love the world inspire,
And burn its chariots in the fire.
 

Let earth beneath Thy reign of love
A universal Sabbath prove:
Jesus her peaceful king adore,
And learn the act of war no more.

 

“Hope does not disappoint”

hopelessness

While scrolling through Twitter this morning I came upon this quote which had been posted without attribution: “The poorest people in the world aren’t the ones without money…It’s the ones without hope.” When hope is absent, life is almost unbearable; and there are many navigating through life whose hope has been crushed by the cruel circumstances of a fallen world. They see no end to their suffering.

The darkness that accompanies mental illness, debilitating sickness, broken relationships, and destructive addictions seems deep and never ending. Like Sisyphus repeatedly rolling his rock up the hill only to see it crashing down to the bottom, people often do live what Thoreau described as “lives of quiet desperation.” While admitting that God can and still works miracles, we also know that there are times when we will not see relief from our circumstances in this present evil age. So where is our hope to be found? Paul gave us the answer when he wrote to Timothy almost 2000 years ago:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope.” (1 Timothy 1:1)

Our hope is not to be found in a new product, a new lifestyle, a new leaf, a new way of thinking, a new job, or new friends; our hope can only be found in Jesus Christ. He is the only One who can give us hope both now in this “present evil age,” and in “the age to come.” That is why I love the Reformed faith: the doctrinal truths found in the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Smaller and Larger Catechisms point me to Jesus Christ and the mercy and grace He pours out upon me even in the darkest of nights.

If there is never a “healing,” or a “reconciliation,” or a “deliverance,” in my life, the Christ of the Scriptures is still an “ever present help in time of trouble.” Through our pain and through our darkness our “hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:5)

The pain is real. The darkness is real. Yet, the hope that is found in Jesus Christ is even more real.

Tuesday Hymns: “I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art”

I greet thee, Lord

This past Sunday at Reformed Presbyterian Church in Beaumont, Texas, we sang, “I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art,” directly after our Corporate Confession of Sin and Assurance of Pardon. It is a wonderful hymn speaking again and again of God’s marvelous mercy and grace that has been poured out upon us by what Jesus Christ accomplished through His life, death, and resurrection. The words have often been attributed to John Calvin, but most historians doubt that he was actually the author. The text first appears in the The Strasbourg Psalter of 1545. It is most often sung to Loys “Louis” Bourgeois’ tune from The Genevan Psalter, “Toulon.”

I greet thee, who my sure Redeemer art,
My only trust and Saviour of my heart,
Who pain didst undergo for my poor sake;
I pray thee from our hearts all cares to take.

Thou art the King of mercy and of grace,
Reigning omnipotent in every place:
So come, O King, and our whole being sway;
Shine on us with the light of thy pure day.

Thou art the life, by which alone we live,
And all our substance and our strength receive;
O comfort us in death’s approaching hour,
Strong-hearted then to face it by thy pow’r.

Thou hast the true and perfect gentleness,
No harshness hast thou and no bitterness:
Make us to taste the sweet grace found in thee
And ever stay in thy sweet unity.

Our hope is in no other save in thee;
Our faith is built upon thy promise free;
O grant to us such stronger hope and sure
That we can boldly conquer and endure.