Monthly Archives: May 2009

JESSE AND TED (Part four)

 

            When my son, Paul Timothy, joined the Navy, I was very sad. Proud, of course, and grateful for the way they turned a boy into a Man.  But I was very sad then.  He was so young, and I’m so doggoned sentimental.  We didn’t get into a tearful, hugging farewell, but when he left for basic, he was leaving a big hole in my life.  Where love has welded hearts together, even temporary partings are painful.  After I got back from the “send off” at the recruiting station, I found a hand-written note Tim had left in a place so I couldn’t miss it.  I kept it in my wallet, quoting it as I had occasion, until I wore it out. Tim’s note contained this quote from Richard Bach:

            “Don’t be dismayed at farewells.  Partings are necessary before meeting again.  And meeting again, whether it is after moments. . . or a lifetime. . . is certain for those who are friends.”  I’m convinced of the truth of that sentiment. . .especially for those who are united in Christ. 

            The years and miles drove some distance between Ted and me.  Feeling I’d disappointed a lot of people, and “busting my own chops” mercilessly, I intentionally dropped off the radar.  After I left the Church, and felt the Church had given up on me, I guess my defense was to build some walls around me.  And a moat stocked with hungry, angry alligators.  And piranhas. No imposing castle, to be sure, but I found if I were isolated and insulated I would not have to be vulnerable to anyone.  I wouldn’t have to do any explaining, or defending or apologizing .  Disappointed idealists make the worst kind of skeptics, and that was the mantle I took upon myself as I entered some sort of self-imposed spiritual exile.  If anyone wanted me, they’d have to find me.  With unlisted numbers, no forwarding address, etc., it would have been quite easy for most to forget “old Whassisname.”

            But time and love have a way of mending lives when necessary, and reuniting us with some who’ve played important roles in our lives.

            Ted Weeks (Remember him?) had something come up which made him feel like he wanted to see  and talk with an old friend.  I don’t know whom he asked.  I do know he had some pretty resourceful, relentless sleuths tracking me down.  They found me  (A lotta good that federal witness program did!  Ha!  Just kidding! Honestly.  That’s a joke!).  We finally got back in touch with each other.   He was at Duke University Hospital when we were finally able to talk with each other by telephone.  Doctors and nurses were hovering compassionately, but the prognosis was grim.  Ted took it like a champion.  

            As soon as possible after the telephone conversation, I went back to Greensboro for a few days and spent time with him and Pat, just before Ted had to re-enter Duke Hospital.  Believe me when I tell you they did far, far more for me than I did for them.  We talked, and remembered, and laughed, and hugged like we hadn’t seen each other in a while (In fact, we hadn’t).  But, suddenly, it seemed just like old times!  Yes.  We wept.  I’m not ashamed to admit it.  But he and Pat did, too.  And I’ve done it several times since, remembering that wrecked life I’d seen that morning so long ago and comparing that memory with the man I see now. 

            Nothing glassy-eyed or fanatical about what I observed.  Just a guy who has faithfully sought to love and follow and serve his Lord Jesus of Nazareth.  Now nearing the end of his “tour of duty,”  he is as calm, confident, dignified and rational as he could possibly be. He “knows whom he has believed and is persuaded” that he’ll  actually soon be in the presence of the Lord Christ.  He was telling Pat about someone whom he might have overlooked but that he’d like for him or her to be able to attend his “Home going Celebration.”  I just got tickled and laffed and said, “Ted, have you set a date yet?  You thought about selling tickets?  Or maybe having a double header?!”

            Is there such a thing as being joyously serious?  Or seriously joyous!  In the presence of such beautiful expressions of courageous faith, I am simply at a loss for adequate expressions!

            But one thing is certain to me:  Ted has his bags packed, his ticket punched, and is ready to ride!

            Quite a change from the first time we met.  I concluded it had to have been a “New Birth.”

            My mind tracked back over three decades and more, and I recalled that cold night after Christmas when the call came telling me about Jesse.  I can see that part clearly now, and follow the logical flow to Ted. I know in God’s wisdom and love there’s much, much more to the story.

            And I also thought about an organizational meeting for a Union Meeting!  Of all things!!  Surely you jest!!  That, friends, is the way it happened and to this present moment my heart is filled with joy to have been a witness to such a wonder!

Awestruck, ~donkimrey

 ~God’s servant, your friend, brother, and fellow student

JESSE AND TED (Part three)

 

            After Ted left, I settled back in to try to complete preparation for the service I’d be conducting soon.  Before long, the telephone rang again.

            A lady at the other end of the line was crying, trying to talk.   Doing more crying than talking.  Now, you should probably understand that I had (and still have) some friends who are “wild and crazy guys.”  One,an entertainer, in particular, could never  resist “pulling one over” on the “preacher.”  I fell for his pranks more often than not. I always sort of had to be on my guard.  In order to understand how vulnerable (not just gullible) I was, you’d have to know this:  The guy was a fantastic onstage performer, but he could have also been a stand up comedian. He was (and is) a consummately skilled practical joker.  He had so many authentic voices and caught me off guard so many times that I always had to wonder.  Plus, anyone who’s ever served as pastor of any church of any size knows that every church has at least one member who isn’t “laced together too tightly.”  I never knew when my friend might be “setting me up,” so I had to take ever call seriously. . . while being also aware he’d like nothing better than explosive laughter on both ends of the line.

            Pretty soon I realized this was not my friend.  Instead, it was a lady from another town.  After she told me her name, I wondered: “Whom do I know who lives in that town who’s so upset with me she’d call?  Crying.”

            She was, she told me, a long time friend of a new acquaintance of mine: Ted Weeks.  She went on to say she’d been praying for him for years, loved him like a son, and he’d just called her a few minutes ago to tell her: “I’ve accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior.”

             She said she just wanted to call and thank me.

            Thank me?!  Thank ME?  Did she have any idea I was the one who should be offering thanks.  Wow!  That was the kind of fuel my engine ran on. That was a main reason I’d said “Yessir! When I felt called to be a minister.  She wanted to thank me for doing what I was called to do?   What ministers are supposed to do?!  We’d both had a privilege of participating in something God Himself was apparently doing!   That (her call and Ted’s) had made my day!  Maybe my entire week! 

           I was wanting to THANK HER.  And Ted.  And God.  And anyone else who’d listen to me express my own joy.  It sort of reminded me of the scene I saw on television the year the North Carolina State basketball team won the NCAA  title.  It was so beautiful.  Jimmy Valvano (one of my all time favorite people) was so deliriously exited that he was running around all over the court, just looking for someone to hug, or thank, or thank and hug!

 

            My heart was light when I went skipping home to grab a bite to eat before the prayer meeting.  I got back and was standing out in front of the Church just aa  few minutes before the service was to begin.

            While standing  there, talking with some of  our members as “Prayer meetin'” was about to start, a couple with a young son came walking over from the parking lot.  They  were obviously visitors.  I almost didn’t recognize him.  Ted Weeks!  The guy who’d come out to see me earlier that same day.  I almost didn’t recognize him.  He was clean-shaven.  Dressed up. Smiling broadly.  I would almost say he was “glowing,” but that could have been razor burn from shaving a ragged three days growth with a dull razor. And, if he were trying to do that while looking through bloodshot eyes, he may have “nicked ” himself a few times.  He introduced me to his wife, Pat, who had a smile a mile wide!  And little Timmie. Ted had taken my suggestion, gone home, told his wife what he’d done ,and invited them to go to Church (on a Wednesday night!).  He’d also taken time to call Mrs. Godwin, who’d taken time to call me. And here they were.  From clear across town, they decided they had found a “home.”

            The very next Sunday, they joined the Church.  From that day, until the time I sadly left the Church, I could not have asked  more faithful members or friends. To this moment, years afterward, I cannot name anyone whom I know who more convincingly than Ted consistently demonstrates the power and validity of The NEW BIRTH!  If Jesus had been looking for “Before” and “After ads” for any kind of conversion campaign, Ted would have been an excellent choice!

            In a world filled with “counterfeits,” it is a source of great joy to encounter genuine, authentic, powerfully persuasive, genuine spiritual currency!! 

           I realized this was just a beginning.  But it sure seemed to be a brand new, authentic beginning!  

          There’s more to this story, and it begs to be told.

God’s servant, your friend, brother, and fellow student  ~donkimrey

JESSE AND TED (Part two)

 

         If you felt I was excited about becoming Chaplain for the Fire Department, you guessed correctly.  Some of my fondest memories have the GFD imprint on it.   Firefighters are, understandably, some of the best cooks (and eaters) in the world!  At the time, we had sixteen stations in Greensboro, three shifts, 365 days a year.  And they invited me to have lunch on a regular schedule with them!  If I counted correctly, that was free food (good, and lots of it), at least once a week for forty eight weeks!  I taught those guys how to play table tennis in “off hours,” and chess.  They may dispute who the teacher was.  But, “legend in my own mind” that I am, there really is no doubt!

         The first official responsibility I had, as Chaplain was to offer an invocation at the organizational meeting of a newly formed union of Firefighters.  Right.  Now, I didn’t fall off the turnip truck coming into town a couple days ago.  I know about Unions and Management. But I had this feeling in my Church that I was Pastor of the entire body.  Those who liked me.  Those who didn’t.  I was their servant.  Same thing about the Department.  I felt as if I belonged to all the Department, “labor and management.” They’d asked me to be their Chaplain.   So I went.  And offered the invocation.

         In all honesty, there wasn’t anything noteworthy about that.  And no fist fights broke out in the meeting hall that night.  One young fellow, particularly,  stood out and was recognized as the “honcho.”  He could get stuff done.  The infant organization elected him right away as their new President.  Somewhere about that same time, “higher-ups” in the administration recognized some talent and started courting and cultivating it.  Before long, the young ‘firebrand’ was tapped for leadership, and rose steadily in the ranks of the Officers until he held the top office:  Frank Jones, Chief, GFD!  That night was the first time I met him.

          At the meeting that evening I was introduced to a lot of the Firefighters.  Another whom I remember didn’t really “stand out” immediately.  In fact, I can’t even remember for sure whether  he introduced himself at the Oaks conference room that night.  However, the next day was Wednesday and I went to my study as usual to prepare for the mid-week service I’d be conducting later that day.  Somewhere about mid-morning, the telephone rang, and on the line was a gentleman who said he’d met me the night before.  At the Union Organizing meeting.  He told me he was Ted Weeks.  And he wanted to talk.  He really wanted to talk with me.  Could I arrange that sometime soon?  Although he sounded concerned and convincing, I didn’t know at the time just how concerned he was.

         I said, “sure,” and we met about an hour later at a local Ice Cream parlor.  

         He would not be insulted if I told you he looked bad.  Really bad.  Used.  Tired. He really looked beaten down.  Big old barrel chest.  Frazzled.  That’s it.  He looked frazzled. And unkempt.  Worry creased his brow and was evident in his voice.  With what looked like a Fu Manchu mustache, he looked the part of an “old timey” motorcycle gang member. 

        We got a booth in the back and he ordered a milkshake.  I wasn’t too concerned in those days about my waistline.  I really liked hot fudge sundaes and we sat  for a while, just talking.  It became apparent almost immediately that Ted’s interest wasn’t in the milkshake.  He needed to be free to talk and he didn’t need to be doing that in a public place. So I suggested that we go for a ride.

         I don’t really remember where we went, how long, or how far we drove.  But Ted opened his heart to me that morning.  By his admission, he was in a deep mess.  His world was caving in.  Drinking had taken him by the snout and was leading him around. My Father was an alcoholic, so I didn’t need to ask details.  As he wept freely at times, he didn’t hold back any punches.  He was at the edge of losing his job.  He was about to lose his family (Pat later told me she had her things packed, and she and little Tim were edging toward the exit.).  Beyond that, he’d lost himself.  He said that himself, clearly, unmistakably.

         After a while we found ourselves out in the parking lot at the Church.  I said, “Ted, it sounds to me as if you need to let Christ into your life.  Is that right?”

         He said, “Yes.”  So we went then into the sanctuary, and sat down front in a pew. As clearly as I could, I told him about how we’d all sinned.  Every one of us.  And there wasn’t a thing we could do about that problem.  The path we’d chosen was going to lead to death, sooner or later.  Not just physical death.  Spiritual death. But Jesus Christ had taken our guilt on himself when He died on the Cross.  And, if we believed that, and asked for forgiveness, he would save us.  He would forgive us, clean us up, and make us new.  That was why people called this transaction being “born again.”

         He said he believed what I had just told him.  We knelt and I led him in a little prayer, since it didn’t seem like that was his ‘shtick” at the time.  He was a pretty quick learner, and soon he said some things on his own.  We said both said “amen” and got up.

         Before he left, I asked if I could tell him a couple more things which would help “seal” his decision.  When he said “o.k.,” I told him God doesn’t usually have “secret agents” or undercover disciples.  Christ wants us to make public declaration of our loyalty.  I had a hunch someone had been praying for him.  He hadn’t just popped into my life by accident.  Assuming that was the case, I suggested that he call that person and tell them what he’d just done.  It would serve two purposes: (1.) It would probably thrill the person who’d been praying for him, and (2.) It would be a pretty simple, effective way of confirming in his own mind the decision he’d made.  It was a very simple way to “fix” it in his own mind.

         The second suggestions I made was that, as soon as possible, he should go find himself a good Church, and get involved.  Learn what it is to worship, and grow.  Learn about “fellowship” and Bible study.  That will be good for you, but it will also be an encouragement to others who try to follow Christ.  We need each other.

         With that thought and prayer, I went back to my study to finish preparation for the Mid-week prayer and Bible Study.  At the time, it didn’t occur to me that the tragedy of Jesse Gray’s death would set in motion a chain of events which was beginning to unfold that soon after the accident.  Sure, I’d probably quoted Romans 8:28 sometime during my attempt to minister to heartbroken friends and family.  And, very frequently I quoted Joseph’s statement in Genesis 50:20 in funeral services I conducted or when I tried to help anyone who was dealing with hardship which seemed to have no reason and certainly no good outcome.  But, at that time with tragedy still fresh in my mind, I could see no connection between what had happened to my friend, Jesse, and what was taking place right in front of me, before my very eyes.

         Little do I know.

God’s servant, your friend, brother, and fellow student  ~donkimrey

 

 

 

 

A TRUE STORY

 

JESSE AND TED

            If you’ve checked this site before, you’re probably aware of a couple of things.  One is that I’m committed to simply studying Scripture.  Hence, the name of the blog. Another is that I’ve been concentrating on a project which has taken up most of my time and energy lately, but only temporarily. You’ll probably hear more about that if you “stay tuned.”  I’ll also have a bit of information on a website we’re hoping to develop: Godscomebackkids.org or .com or .net.  (God bless Rick Taylor and my sons Mark Jonathan and Paul Timothy for trying to get me up to speed.  I’m trying to get the hang of the computers.)

            One of the things I’ve been considering is what I’ll tell you about in the next couple of posts.  It isn’t what I’d call a “Bible Study.”  Unless you mean by that an examination of how I believe God works.  Quietly.  Unnoticed.  In ways we hardly could have expected.

            When you’re closely involved in something,  and perhaps reeling from circumstances, it’s difficult to think logically and clearly.  Often it takes the perspective of some distance in time before you can begin to realize:  “Maybe He was working, and I just didn’t see it at the time.”  Two sentences in the Bible are what I feel has been illustrated to me in the circumstances I’ll try to describe.

            “AND WE KNOW THAT ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD TO THEM THAT LOVE THE LORD, TO THEM WHO ARE THE CALLED ACCORDING TO HIS PURPOSE.”

Romans  8:28

 

“ YOU MEANT IT FOR EVIL. . . BUT GOD MEANT IT FOR GOOD”

Genesis 50:20

 

            I hadn’t been “on the job” too long at my first pastorate.  It was bitterly cold, and I was flat on my back with a fever and the worst virus I ever remember having.  It was the day after Christmas, and very late when the telephone rang.  By the way my wife was talking, even in hushed tones, I could sense someone was having a problem.

             As an idealistic, eager young minister, I had the notion that: when someone needed me, that was when I should be available.  No need to go try to deal with some emergency after the emergency has passed!  The voice at the other end of the line was Greensboro Fire Department Battalion Commander,  “Bull Price.”  Chief Price was imposing as his name sounds.  Big.  Tough.  Determined to get help for one of his family in a time of great trouble.

            There had been a bad accident. Answering an alarm for a fire (which we discovered later was an abandoned, vacant building in a really seedy side of town.  As the truck made the approach, a call came in from Communications advising them to redirect their approach to the fire.  The Driver stopped, quickly reversed the truck to make the correction.  In that instant, a young friend of mine, agile, athletic and quick like a cat, had jumped from his position on the back of the truck.  His responsibility was to unroll the hose, and he wasted not a second in getting to his task.   In less time than it takes to tell it, the truck backed up and ran over Jesse Gray. 

            Attempting to get someone to go with him to let his wife and family know what had happened , Chief  Price had already contacted the two chaplains serving the Department at the time.  It was late.  And very cold.  And they were old and had retired for the evening.  So they declined.  By the time Chief got me on the phone, he was on a mission.  Someone was going with him to Jesse’s family!  I asked him if he’d wait just long enough to get my pants on, and by the time I was dressed he was at my front door with the squad car.  Forget the flu.  I grabbed a coat and got in the car.  “I also had the notion then that, while serving the Lord, I was invincible.

            Anyone who’s ever been caught in such a situation knows there really aren’t appropriate words.  Everyone was stunned and heart broken. Including the Chief and me. I just prayed and hoped that by my being there, Judy, Jeff and Lisa were reminded of God’s presence and the love and support of her Church family.  I hadn’t been in their home long, before a cadre of Greensboro Firefighters began arriving.  You’ve probably seldom witnessed the depth and outpouring of love and concern they displayed for their fallen comrade, his wife and their children. There was a steady flow of firefighters, in  uniform and in civilian clothes. 

            By coincidence perhaps, while we were attempting to deal with this tragedy, another firefighter died.  His fiancé had been attending the Church I served and I’d visited him in the hospital.  She asked me to conduct the funeral.

            Once again, I witnessed an outpouring of loving concern by the Fire Department for their comrade and his loved ones.  Constant and very supportive.  It wasn’t just their huge attendance at the memorial services, or the white gloved, uniformed, full honor guard.  And the beautiful, haunting “Taps” at the conclusion of the burial. These guys really loved and respected each other and were not reluctant to express it.  I was so impressed that afterward I wrote a letter to the Editor of our paper, expressing our appreciation and admiration.

            I don’t recall how long it was after the funerals, but a short while afterward I got another call from the GFD, asking me: “Would you consider becoming Chaplain for our Department?”

            Would I?  Would I!!??  It took me less than a New York Minute to say “Yes!” In fact, I was so honored and excited, I probably stuttered and said it several times!

            They fitted me out for a uniform.  A Badge.  Shiny shoes.  An officer’s cap, and the works.  Man!  In that attire, I could strut sitting down.  To this day, that remains one of the most cherished honors I’ve received in my life. 

            Now, back to the tragic death of Jesse Gray.  I’ve not yet been able to fully understand that, and I know Jesse’s family still have scars.  We sort of lost touch with each other across the years, but still love each other and will always have that bond.  I don’t know how God has worked in their lives in years past.

            But I do know this.  There’s no way I could imagine ever being asked to serve in such a responsible position if Jesse hadn’t been my friend.  And if Chief Price hadn’t called me that night.  The members of the Fire Department knew I loved and admired them and was honored to be their Chaplain.  Some of them, after all these years, still call me on occasion.

            The rest of the story is worth hearing.  I’ll be sharing it soon.

God’s servant.  Your friend, brother, and fellow student.  ~dk