Feb. 7, 2016

While in college I was given several opportunities to participate in what my faith tradition called revivals. This was a series of meetings at the church house where a visiting preacher was invited to come preach several sermons in hopes of witnessing some kind of emotional response from the congregation that would bring a renewed spiritual commitment on the part of the congregant. Probably the biggest anticipation was to see someone experience being convicted of their sins and during the "invitation" time at the end of the service while the congregation sang hymns to aid the person feeling this conviction to step out into the aisle and walk to the front of the church auditorium to take the preacher by the hand and become a Christian.

Because I was being trained in music in college I was often asked to lead the singing in these kinds of meetings. I recall very well going to a small church located on the Mississippi Delta. I had to drive from my college campus each day the revival service was being conducted. At the time I did not have a steady job. For a college student relying on family to provide financial support, including gas money, made my commitment to participate in this series of meetings more of a challenge. 

Each afternoon we would arrive at the church and be instructed which church family was responsible to feed the revival preacher and the song leader before the actual service began. I recall telling the revival preacher that I did not have any money to buy gasoline for my car to make these afternoon trips to participate in the meetings. That particular afternoon we were having supper with a farmer and his family. The Mississippi Delta, if you don't know, is some of the most fertile farm land in the southeastern United States. At any rate, after we finished supper the farmer invited me outside and asked me to back my car up to this metal drum that had a rubber hose attached to it. Once I had backed my car he began to pump five gallons of gas from that metal drum into my car. All the time he was doing this I was protesting that he didn't need to do that. Then he pulled out his wallet and handed me a five dollar bill. Once again, I protested indicating that he didn't need to do that but reluctantly I took it.

Well, it got back to the revival preacher how I had protested this gesture of good will. It wasn't long before I was getting some much needed counsel from the preacher regarding my inability to be gracious in accepting his gift. He told me that in not graciously accepting his gift of love that I robbed him of the blessing in giving. All of a sudden the revival meeting took on a whole new meaning for me. Soon the revival meeting was concluded and life went on. The only thing I don't remember doing was giving thanks to the farmer for his gift.

Its amazing what life can teach us if we are willing to learn. its also amazing when life brings you full circle to take care of some unfinished business that you didn't realize was unfinished until you got to a place of better understanding. That was the case I experienced some thirty-five years post the revival I mentioned earlier. It went something like this. I left Mississippi after graduation and as I developed my abilities to serve my training took place in Florida, Alabama and Kentucky over a thirty year span. I had no idea I would ever be back in Mississippi except maybe to visit. 

Serving as a hospital chaplain in Mississippi I received a call one day to visit a particular patient. I did not recognize the name but made the visit as part of my responsibilities. As I entered the room it became apparent that I had crossed paths with this person before. There lying in that hospital bed was the Mississippi farmer to whom I had fellowshipped around his table and to whom I had reluctantly accepted his gift of goodwill.

Staring me in the face was my opportunity to say thank you for the gift he had given me some thirty-five years earlier. The gasoline and the five dollar bill had grown over that span of years. What he taught me was the importance of giving love and showing kindness to those in need. What he taught me was the value in giving of one's self to those whose paths we cross because we reflect the love of our Heavenly Father. 

He was diagnosed with cancer and he was dying. I spent some much needed time with him expressing my gratitude for what he had done for me. We never really know where the next lesson is going to come from. My hope is that we all will be sensitive and open to be the blessing we were created to be.

Feb. 5, 2016

It was my college senior year. I didn't have a job at the time and excitement was building about the next chapter life would begin writing concerning future decisions. It was early on a Sunday morning while living in one of the dormitories on campus. I was invited to lead the music for a church revival service. For a college student with no employment I was looking forward to a payday but I didn't know the extent this payday was going to play in my life.

I was reading a book regarding prayer. I recall a particular chapter that dealt with the idea that within Psalm 100 was a protocol for entering the very throne room of God. The author related the notion that before one would enter the place where the King sat they must first enter his gates and then pass through his courts. The psalm reads, "... enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into his courts with praise." I recall entertaining the wonder of what it would be like to actually make my way to where God was enthroned using the suggested protocol I discovered. So, I said to myself, "I'm going to try this." 

I knew that later that morning I would be participating in a church worship service. My college roommate indicated that he was going down the hall to shower. Just after he left I got down on my knees beside my bed and began offering a prayer to God using the protocol of thanksgiving and then praise. I had no idea what was suppose to happen. What did happen however continues to be the absolute apex of spiritual thought, experience and encounter that to this day defies verbal expression to describe. I began to notice a warm sensation in my stomach. It was noticeable but not very intense and then all of a sudden this sensation radiated throughout my entire being. With tears running down my face all I wanted or cared to do was to praise Jesus Christ. Even the words I use to describe this experience represents only a shadow. I remember thinking that I hope my roommate stays away a little longer so this experience will continue. 

Soon the experience subsided but the spiritual reality continues to be for me the most loving embrace I have ever known. A lot of time has passed since then with a lot of opportunity for meditation and reflection. It occurs to me the description Jesus gave the woman at the well recorded in St. John chapter four is exactly my encounter. It says, "if you knew who it was asking for a drink of water you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." "Whoever takes a drink of the water I will give him shall never, no never, be thirsty any more. But the water that I will give him shall become a spring of water welling up within him unto ageless life." I am of the belief now that what some have called an infilling of the Spirit was really an outpouring because He was in me all along!

Feb. 5, 2016

With careful eye the brush he grips
To set at ease their trembling lips.
Some strokes are vast and deep and wide
And some are faint, they nearly hide.

What picture gaze on canvas rough
Awash with color, is it enough?
Alas and did the artist know
The life he painted to and fro.

Day after day the hours fleet
The master paints he does not sleep
To bring the image plain and spit
A master's piece so fully fit.

With peace of heart and quiet hush
The soul becomes his painting brush!
He sets in motion every life
Experiencing turmoil, pain and strife.

But in the midst of all this pain
A masterpiece becomes so plain.
With every stroke of reflected Light
The canvas glows with new insight.

What picture gaze on canvas rough
Awash with color, is it enough?
The painter's brush attuned can be
A wounded heart alas set free!

Written and Copyrighted by Al Carden