Thursday, May 7, 2015

Passing of the Parting

Recently, our congregation said goodbye to Michael Auxtinee. You might know Mike for his golf shop on Brentwood Blvd, which he owned for a long time. Mike came to Mt. Calvary many years ago during a 6 am Bible class. (Obviously, that was before I was here.) Mike sat in the back of church and would always call me “Reverend” in a sharp, raspy voice. Mike and I had great conversations, and one day he even showed me his YouTube video – Mike the Golf Ball Guy. Mike was passionate about mentoring others, and while he had his past struggles in life, he intended to use those for good. Mike was in AA and had been sober for 30 years. All this helped to shape his foundation and trust that Jesus could & would restore people. Mike was loving and caring, but had a sharp personality. Usually at a funeral, only a couple people share remarks about the person, but at Mike’s funeral, numerous people shared their stories, including some young men that he mentored.

I was in a vulnerable position. As a preacher, it is much easier to do a funeral when the people attending know you. When the people don’t know the preacher, he is often judged on what type of connection he had with the deceased person, and for me, this usually includes a judgment on my age. At Mike’s funeral, most of the people attending didn’t know me. While this can be a good thing if I shock them in the end, it is challenging in the beginning. I put a lot of pressure on myself to get every detail right leading up to the service to establish trust and minimize potential doubt. People who know me know I love the stories of people, so I watch and listen carefully for any details that help me get to know them better.

Mike was passionate about golf, but even more passionate about Jesus. That passion showed in his conversation and actions. Mike had even ministered to me earlier in the year with cards and things. My final moment with Mike was when I went to visit him at the old veteran hospital on Grand. This was my first time at that hospital. I was there around 8pm on a Thursday night – after visiting hours. The front doors were locked so I headed through the emergency room doors. I crossed over the marked off hallways where they were doing construction, and headed to the check in desk. They directed me to the elevator. The elevator started like an old car – first it jutted then it moved. It even stopped so abruptly that I had to grab the railing. In most hospitals, the ICU floors have some type of security. I show them my pastor card, and I get right through.  This night there was no security and it threw me off. Like a boy on the first day of school, I stood there waiting for a nurse to help me and assure me I could go in. With little question of who I was, the nurse brought me to Mike’s room. She started working frantically as I made eye contact with Mike. I could tell immediately that Mike recognized me, and sense of peace came over him as we embraced hands, then he closed his eyes again. The nurse moved me to the other side of the bed and proceeded to try to wake up Mike, not knowing that Mike and I had already made our connection. The next several moments (in spite of the nurse’s distractions) I got to share with Mike that God was with him, that Jesus would carry him through this, and that God’s peace was with him. I left Mike wondering if that was the last time I would see him.

Over the next several days I met Jim. Mike’s family was not overseeing the process of his arrangements after he passed. Jim, a good friend, was doing that. Mike had given Jim many details he wanted followed after he was gone, like a specific song by Tony Bennett played at the funeral service and having bag pipes played at the graveside. Jim and I spent the next several days putting together the details. Jim was also instructed to pay off his granddaughter’s student loans with the sale of Mike’s house. Jim was on a mission to follow his friend’s instructions. It’s a hard task to take the desires the parting one shared and try to carry them out to the fullest. Jim’s task was indeed tough, and he wasn’t even family.
The disciples had a similar experience. A story like Mike’s is probably the only way for us to understand what was going on. The disciples watched as Jesus died, rose again, proved He was living, and then headed to heaven with a charge of what they were to do next. Now, it’s one thing to be in charge of someone’s estate, but can you imagine being sent with the charge given in Jesus’ parting words – take the world the most important message they will ever hear! I imagine they felt a lot of pressure at the ascension. Jesus is leaving, yet telling them to share His story with the whole world! Granted, they had the Holy Spirit to help them, but it was definitely intense. We, too, have that charge to share Jesus with the world! We also have free will to make our choice. Like Jim in my story, he could have easily slipped pieces of Mike’s money into his pocket. But Jim was faithful, even to the tiny details of what Mike wanted. God gives us a great blessing, allowing us to share the very best of His estate with the world. His estate is living with His riches forever! Let’s share that gift of eternal life!

Test of Love

Every year I take Mindy’s grandpa to the Schlafly Oyster Fest. You may be like so many others that ask how does a 34-year-old man fall in love with oysters. Well my friend, it is simple. While I was in California I was exposed to many foods. Yet even as a young boy I loved crab the first time I tasted it, and I have never looked back. A number of Father’s Days have included me steaming crabs. I have some great memories of Jacob asking if he could look at the crab’s eyes. Next week my buddies come in town for a conference, one we have gone to together ever since we all graduated from seminary.  Since I knew one of our members at Mt. Calvary works with a foody (a guy who cares way to much about what he eats – like I do), I asked for a recommendation.  He pointed me to this crab/lobster shack, the kind you’d see in a movie and dream about going to. There are so many great seafood choices at this place!  I am not sure how my buddies and I are going to choose! Perhaps we can all order different things and share a bite here and there so we can taste a wider variety of great seafood.

Now, let’s switch subjects (bare with me – there is a point). Mindy’s love language is gift giving.  Occasionally, I’ll stop by her school and drop something off for her. It is no secret that my wife lives on Diet Orange Sunkist. Water is poison to her, so Diet Orange Sunkist is the way she makes it through life. This is often part of the little surprise, and the other things I bring depend on what she likes at the moment. I try to pay attention to her likes and dislikes, and the way they change, so at a moments notice I can drop by and give her something special. As I have mentioned before, early on in our marriage I didn’t pay much attention to this. However, over the last several years I have learned how important this is to her and our marriage. Learning the love language of Mindy is my job as her husband. This weekend I did a wedding for Mindy’s cousin.  This cousin’s dad was the one who set Mindy and I up on a blind date. It was the first time Uncle Tim (who is a pastor as well) and I have done a service together.  It was amazing to be back in the same place where Mindy and I got married – the Seminary chapel!  It reminded me of all the things that have happened in our marriage in the past 7.5 years. I am so thankful for my relationship with my wife today. I know her better, and now I can be a better husband.

Okay, seafood and being married to Mindy, what do they have in common?  Perhaps not much, other than the fact that I love them both.  It is like that with our lessons for this Sunday.  I love the story of Phillip helping the Ethiopian Eunuch (the first reading for this Sunday from Acts 8), but I also love testing the spirits (the Epistle reading from 1 John 4).  Rather than picking just one to write about and preach on, we are going to let both of them share with us their truths about walking as Extraordinary Servants.  It is kind of like my buddies and I will do at the crab/lobster shack next week – sampling great seafood and letting the mouthwatering flavors mix together for a great meal.

Back to the marriage analogy, couples beginning their life together may wonder what their spouse needs from them and how they are supposed to figure that out.  Years later they learn that by listening and watching their spouse they find out those important details about them. Likewise, Christians often wonder how they know what God wants them to do in a certain situation, or just in life in general. After years of Read 1(reading God’s Word) we grow to know Him better, falling in love with scripture and His love for us. But how do we know if it is truly God prompting us to do something? A challenging question, but in the richness and depth of both of these texts, we see an example and an explanation. This week we take time to test the depth of how God is building love in us. He guides us to be His people and live that out, and often prompts us to share His love in unique moments, just as He did when He prompted Phillip to talk to the Ethiopian Eunuch about the scripture passage he was reading. We test to see if it is really Him by listening and watching.  Does the prompting proclaim Christ crucified? Sunday we take time to see how Easter’s impactful message will help us to listen to God, and move us to learn, know and trust His voice!