Final Act of Faith

We are in the midst of the third Holy Week since Honey died. Since then, it seems as though every year during Holy Week a single, but specific take-away sneaks up on me. I don’t remember that happening all those years I was in local church music ministry, perhaps because I was otherwise preoccupied with typical musical goings-on, events, logistics, etc., tied to that week. Looking back from this distance, that’s not something I’m particularly proud to admit. Contributive to my richer experiences in recent years has been closer attention to the entire Lenten season -- Ash Wednesday through Holy Week -- and attendance at related church services. Holy Week services -- Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, then Good Friday services set a wonderful stage for celebrating the Risen Christ on Easter Sunday and the four together make for a very meaningful spiritual journey at just the right time.

This year’s take-away was Jesus’ final -- according to Luke’s Gospel -- of seven sayings from the cross -- “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” That was the focus of the lesson at Sunday’s Sunday School class I attend when my schedule allows. In His first three utterances, Jesus took care of others:

  • “Father, forgive them…” -- his forsakers and crucifiers
  • “Today you will be with me in paradise” to the dying thief
  • “Behold your son; behold your mother” to his family

Sayings four and five show His humanity:

  • “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
  • “I thirst”

The sixth seems to be transitional between this world and the next:

  • “It is finished”

Then His release:

  • “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit” addressed to none other than God.

Some time and for some reason after Honey died, I wrote that death may well be the believer’s final act of faith. I couldn’t prove my hunch nor explain it very well, but watching Honey live while dying one day at a time over several months, it just seemed right. I still can’t prove it but contemplating Jesus’ words from the cross sheds good light and makes the notion clearer. Jesus’ ministry on earth complete and His humanity on full display, His final act was one of unwavering faith in His Father -- “into Thy hands I commit my spirit.” Luke goes on to say “And having said this, He breathed His last.

I don’t mean to over-spiritualize what I’m about to say nor exalt Honey inappropriately, but in the middle of Sunday’s class I realized that though the circumstances were very different, her death followed much the same pattern as His.

In the months and weeks leading up to her death, she completed some long-standing tasks, took care of people, and said things to family that needed saying. About a month before she died, she stopped talking about the grandkids which signaled to me she was already gazing beyond; and her humanity was certainly evident. But at the end I believe she -- not unlike Jesus -- committed her spirit into her Father’s hands -- her final act of faith. (see Notes From Susie, p. 337, paragraphs two and three.) I hope that’s not heresy, and I can’t prove it, but it just seems right.

Perhaps the week called Holy holds added meaning for me now because we buried Honey just two days before Holy Week 2015. I thank God for His timing.

Here is an old hymn Honey loved and that my sisters and I sang in three-part harmony at approximately ages six and eight or maybe even five and seven. It seems appropriate for today mid-Holy Week.

My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine;
     for Thee, all the follies of sin I resign;
     my gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou;
     if ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.

I love Thee because Thou hast first loved me,
     and purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree;
     I love Thee for wearing the thorns on Thy brow;
     if ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.

In mansions of glory and endless delight,
     I’ll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright;
     and singing Thy praises, before Thee I’ll bow;
     if ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.

Words – William R. Featherstone, 1864

Jesus showed us how to die and Honey obviously followed His lead to the very end. Indeed, death is the believer’s final act of faith!

- Mark

Doing What We Can

You may remember a couple of weeks ago I wrote about the shawl knitted and given to Honey by a Brentwood UMC “Knit-Pickers” as their pastor adoringly calls them. There’s more.

This year’s Lenten sermon series at that steeple centers around pre-Triumphal Entry events in Jesus’ life as recorded in the Gospel of Mark. Sunday’s installment was about the woman in Bethany who anointed His head with “very costly perfume of pure nard.” You remember the story, how some of those sitting around were indignant about her wasting what they contended could have been sold and given to the poor. Jesus’ response to them was “Let her alone… she has done a good thing to me… she has done what she could.”

The Pastor’s closing illustration making his point of “doing what we can” went something like this:

“On the Sunday we left for Amman, I told a story about one of our women who knitted prayer shawls. She had passed away the week before we left. We took some of her shawls to give to some of the Jordanian refugees we would meet on our mission. After the 8:15 service that morning, one of our men -- I don’t think he’s even a member -- drove home and picked up one of those prayer shawls that had been given to his wife in her last days. He brought it back to church and said, “She would want it to be shared with someone in need.” It was our joy to give that shawl to an Iraqi family. They’re followers of Jesus, who have known great suffering. The husband had seen his mother & sisters killed right in front of him. ‘Jameelah’ he said. It’s Arabic for beautiful.”

When it dawned on me he was telling our story, it wiped me out. Having read my recent Facebook post, sweet Anne, my nearly octogenarian pew mate the past few years, also caught on early into the pastor’s story and gently patted me on the knee just as she used to pat Honey or reach for Honey’s hand when the pastor spoke about personal trials, sickness or suffering. (“Pastor Anne” has a nice ring to it, ya think?)

So Honey’s treasured “beautiful” shawl is now comforting an Iraqi family in Amman, Jordan. Would that please Honey or what! Oh my soul! I can see the bright smile and total delight on her face from here.

Following the meaningful sermon, we came to the Lord’s Table sharing Communion remembering that Christ had done for us what only He could do.

From that service I drove downtown for a later service where our pastor was preaching on Jesus’ pre-Triumphant Entry claim that “I am the resurrection and the life.” To reinforce that truth for us today, the congregation sang these fine words from the Celebrating Grace Hymnal:

When sorrow floods the troubled heart
     and clouds the mind with fears,
     affliction presses from the soul
     the bitter flow of tears.

God’s weeping children raise the prayer:
     “Almighty God, how long
     till tears shall cease and silence break
     and grief be turned to song?”

The voice is stilled, no words express
     the pain that lingers on;
     our prayer becomes a silent sigh;
     all mortal speech is gone.

The Holy Spirit groans in us
     with intercession strong;
     when tears have ceased and silence breaks,
     the Spirit stirs a song.

The sting of death cannot forbid
     the child of God to sing.
The scars we bear may long remain,
     but resurrection brings
     the healing of the broken heart,
     the righting of the wrong.

Our tears shall cease, our silence breaks
      in Christ, the living Song.

Words – Rebecca Turner and Paul Simpson Duke, 1989

So the morning was one of seamless worship – celebrating Honey, celebrating Communion, and celebrating Resurrection.  And the evening – dinner with long-time friends, Don and Janice. “…what have I to ask beside?”

- Mark

Here’s a pretty cool after-thought -- that shawl of Honey’s is having a bit of resurrection itself.  It was “dead” lying safely in the “tomb” (cedar chest at the foot of our bed) for a time but has now burst forth with new life, once again doing what it can. Alleluia!

Excerpt: Faith Runs Deep

In this week's post on the Notes From Susie blog, Mark Edwards features an excerpt from the book followed by a new postscript reflection on the passage. 

Someone characterized people's Christian faith as either simple or complex. Honey was the former, and I say the lucky one. I'm the latter and have to think through it all, try to modify it, massage it, and work at it. Not Honey. She was a "what He says we will do and where He sends we will go, never fear, only trust and obey" person. She didn't consider herself a good Christian witness, mostly due to a narrow view of "witness" pretty much limited to buttonholing nonbelievers and converting them. Honey wasn't going to buttonhole anyone for any reason, but she certainly was an effective witness.

Honey was a pray-er although she didn't like to pray aloud, much less in public. She used the time writing notes to people as an opportunity to pray for them. I often saw prayer lists around the house tucked away in safe places. I know she prayed for me, our kids, grandkids, and a host of others all the time. It was private but very personal and regular.

Her faith ran deep, borne out of her spirit of profound gratitude that produced joy. She always remembered provisions made for her -- a birth mother who chose life over death, a family who adopted her, Jesus who died for her, a husband who loved her, good job, friends, family, our house and home, and the list goes on. Getting sick was a downer for her, but it provided whole new group of friends and professionals. And the interesting thing was that she didn't have to work at interacting with people or being grateful, that's just they way she was.

The last two years of her life when I would put her to bed, she would always say, "Thank you for everything you did for me today," and she meant it. Often she would continue, "We are so blessed," then rattle off a list of things that came to mind. All our married life, she would adapt to whatever the circumstance and be okay about it. She could honestly sing with the hymn writer, "Whatever my lot, Thous hast taught me to say, 'It is well with my soul." It really was in life and it certainly is now.  

Beginning to develop the Notes From Susie book, I wrote that piece only a few weeks after Honey died. Two years and one week later, I see the truth of it even more clearly. The first part of this week, I tended the Celebrating Grace booth at a union meeting -- actually a church music conference -- during which several people made it a point to speak to me reporting how much they were blessed having read the book (and even following this blog.) All of it only confirms the point I was trying to make in the first paragraph -- Honey was, indeed, a powerful witness to her Christian faith that ran deeply even though it spoke quietly. It also reminds me of one definition of a saint -- “someone who never stops doing good.”

This old hymn certainly carries the freight of Honey’s quiet witness to her deep faith. 

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word
     what a glory He sheds on our way!
Let us do His good will; He abides with us still,
     and with all who will trust and obey.

Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,
     but our toil He does richly repay;
     not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
     but is blest if we trust and obey.

But we never can prove the delights of His love
     until all on the altar we lay;
     for the favor He shows and the joys He bestows
     are for those who will trust and obey.

Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet
     or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
     what He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
     never fear, only trust and obey.

[All together now…]

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
     to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Words – John H. Sammis, 1887

Thanks, Honey, for witnessing to us all.

- Mark

Happy Anniversary

Early church Sunday was very meaningful even though school spring breaks in full bloom resulted in lower attendance in every respect, although I don’t fret about such like I used to. Making a point in this installment of his Lenten sermon series -- “whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant” -- senior pastor Davis mentioned that he and a half-dozen others were leaving that afternoon to go to Amman, Jordan on a mission related to the refugee crisis in that part of the world. “We’ve talked about this situation long enough; we want to try to DO something about it!” That was one example of being a servant, but not all acts are or even need to be of that magnitude.

Later he reported that long-time BUMC member Elizabeth Hill died last week and her memorial service was Friday. Elizabeth’s ministry was making shawls for people who were ill or otherwise needed to sense the warmth of God’s love or the support of God’s people wrapped around them in times of crisis. She and several other women would gather at the church one day a week to knit shawls and pray for persons in need. (Davis affectionately refers to that bunch as “The Knit-pickers.”) He said the Jordan mission team would be taking eight of Elizabeth’s shawls to Amman this week to share with some of the refugees, extending her servant heart that expressed itself in specific action.

That’s when it hit me -- Honey received one of Elizabeth’s shawls when she was sick; one of the pastoral care ministers had brought it to her. Honey loved that shawl and was so touched by their kindness and inclusiveness. After the service I rushed home and found the shawl, laundered and stored in her cedar chest at the foot of our bed. I scribbled a note, put both in a bag and returned to the church. The contemporary service in progress in the sanctuary, Leslie, the church’s Executive Director happened to be in her office adjacent to the narthex. I handed her the bag, shared the shawl’s history, and asked her to see if she could get it in one of the suitcases bound for Amman later in the day that “Honey would be all over this!” (All of us who knew Honey well would readily agree.) Leslie’s face lit up as her eyes filled up. I explained that this week -- actually Friday -- is the two-year anniversary of Honey’s death and sending her treasured shawl to a refugee halfway around the world would absolutely delight her and be the most appropriate way to remember and celebrate who she was.

(The most amazing part of this whole incident is that I put it all together. Maybe I AM beginning to catch on to some of this.)

Leaving worship Sunday a text from daughter Weslee reported that Jonathan (12) and Andrew (9) had made their professions of faith at their church. Their child-like faith has been blooming for some time, they have been talking about it awhile and have decided to follow Jesus. Whoa! Can anyone else besides me see Honey’s wide smile from here? If schedules can be worked out, the boys’ two grandfathers will baptize them. Will that be cool or what!

Like many of you, I seldom answer or even use my home phone. For some time now, its most important function remains as a repository for telemarketing messages. Sure, I check it when the message light is blinking but nine times out of ten it is someone trying to sell me something. They have no idea what a waste of time that is. However, getting dinner together one night last week I noticed the blinking light feverishly signaling a message -- this one from Nettie Hunt.  NETTIE HUNT! Holy smoke, that’s Honey’s chemo friend who became like a sister to her. You may remember reading about Nettie in some of Honey’s early Facebook updates that made their way into the Notes From Susie book. They loved each other, they were about the same age, and those gals had a big time traveling a hard road together. I called Nettie when Honey died but today she was calling me to see how I was doing coming up on March 24. We had the nicest visit, she’s doing fine, I sent her a copy of the book, and we committed to stay in touch. What an unexpected blessing!

I’ve never been particularly good at celebrating anniversaries, but celebrating Honey on this second anniversary of her death is off to a good start -- two grandsons declaring their faith, reconnecting with Nettie, and a shawl shared with a Jordanian refugee. Add to all that a visit to the cemetery last Saturday with my brother and Nathan coming to town later this week that includes catfish on Friday, the words of hymnwriter Fanny Crosby come quickly to mind – “what have I to ask beside?”

While we’re at it, we might as well sing the rest of Fanny’s hymn; sing it with me, you know it –

All the way my Savior leads me;
     what have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
     who through life has been my guide?

Heavenly peace, divinest comfort,
     here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know whate’er befalleth,
     Jesus doeth all things well.

All the way my Savior leads me;
     cheers each winding path I tread,
     give me grace for every trial,
     feeds me with the living bread;
     though my weary steps may falter
     and my soul athirst may be,
     gushing from the rock before me,
     lo! a spring of joy I see.

All the way my Savior leads me;
     oh, the fullness of His love!
Perfect rest to me is promised
     in my Father’s house above:
     when my spirit, clothed immortal,
     wings its flight to realms of day,
     this my song through endless ages:
     Jesus led me all the way.

Words – Fanny Crosby, 1875

Happy Anniversary, Honey!


Days of Darkness

Last week began on the negative side of my mental ledger. Of late, several things in which I’m involved have not been going particularly well or as I had planned, so already by Tuesday morning clouds outside and within had blown in -- one of those “days of darkness” the hymnwriter talked about. During the second half of my life I’ve become a fairly positive person, but the early part of last week, I was just plain sad.

I have never forgotten one point our pastor Frank made in his sermon the Sunday after 9/11, the essence of which was “when things in life are dark, keep your routine, doing what you know to do, and look for a handle to grab onto…” His text was Psalm 25, what my Bible calls an “Acrostic Prayer for Instruction.” Each stanza of that psalm begins with the letter in order of the Hebrew alphabet. That day Frank surmised that the psalmist may have been in the midst of a dark day or perhaps a national crisis – as we were post 9/11 -- and grabbed a hold of any available handle on which to hang his personal routine.

Normally on Tuesday mornings my Belmont Bible study group meets but with several of our seven being out, we didn’t meet last week. Some of you know my recent routine has included walking a couple of miles inside Cool Springs Mall before heading to the office nearby. So, sans Bible study I decided to keep the morning walk ritual secretly hoping I might encounter one of my new mall friends or even make a new one.

Periodically, I had noticed and waved to a gentleman who always seemed to walk alone and whom I had not met. Monday (the previous day) I had seen him again, waved cordially across the divide when the thought crossed my mind that, for whatever reason, he may have never connected with any other mallers and perhaps our paths would naturally cross one of these days at which time I would break the ice.

Sure enough, the very next day -- dark Tuesday -- halfway around the perimeter of the food court on my first of four laps, through the outside door walked this gentleman whom I greeted and fell into lockstep never breaking stride. It couldn’t have been choreographed any more seamlessly…and I’m not making this up.

Meet Reece. He is retired from mostly the retail and wholesale hardware business so with my liking of hardware we had a lot to talk about. I enjoyed a short history of the hardware business in downtown nearby Franklin. In our early days in middle Tennessee the kids and I even bought a few things in his store and he may well have waited on us. He is a long-time member of Walker Memorial Baptist Church in Franklin and knows my friends Jana and Tommy, both of whom are former music directors at his church. We both remembered fondly Jana’s daughter Laura, whom, apparently, Reece’s wife taught in preschool Sunday School and later as a real smart Vanderbilt student sang in the Sanctuary Choir at our church downtown after I retired. One morning during worship Laura sang a solo I’ll never forget -- not the song, but her authentic delivery of it. It was a simple, childlike song -- just right for her voice and spirit. I didn’t hear or need anything else that morning. After church she told me it was her first time to sing a solo in worship.

Leaving the mall, the clouds outside were still there but the ones inside had all but vanished. A new friend and remembering a couple of high moments in worship lifted my spirit noticeably -- a helping handle in my routine.

I’m pressing on the upward way,
     new heights I’m gaining every day;
     still praying as I onward bound,
     “Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

My heart has no desire to stay
     where doubts arise and fears dismay;
     though some may dwell where these abound,
     my prayer, my aim is higher ground.

I want to live above the world
     though Satan’s darts at me are hurled;
     for faith has caught the joyful sound,
     the song of saints on higher ground.

I want to scale the utmost height
     and catch a gleam of glory bright;
     but still I’ll pray till heaven I’ve found,
     “Lord, lead me on to higher ground.”

(All together on the Chorus)

Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
     by faith, on heaven’s table-land,
     a higher place than I have found;
     Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

Words – Johnson Oatman, Jr. – 1892

Those are good words to sing and live into, for sure; but the fact remains that, in this life, not every day is higher and brighter and better. But in times of downness, darkness and danger, sometimes in keeping our routine earnestly pressing, praying and aiming for the upward way, the Lord somehow places our feet on higher ground. That day Reece and remembering Laura together was part of God’s lifting me up and helping me stand.

Thanks be to God!

- Mark

A Day of Birth

In recent years March 7 has become a day to remember for me. It is a day of birth:

March 7, 2008 – grandson Andrew was born. Andrew is daughter Weslee’s middle son and has the healthiest head of red hair and corresponding freckles you ever saw. He is one cute kid! Andrew is the biggest of her three and the most tender-hearted. He’s the one that will get up off the floor from watching TV or playing a video game to give me a hug and say “I love you, Papa” or in the middle of something else blurt out of nowhere, “I miss Honey!” Papa loves that not-so-little football lineman boy. Andrew’s special two-year-old friend Anna Kate’s funeral was last March 7, 2016.

March 7, 2010 – the day Celebrating Grace Hymnal was born. After four years of intense, rewarding, joy-filled work, we rolled out that book two consecutive nights at Atlanta’s Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church to a house full of church musicians. We sang the stars down, I’m telling you! I’ll never forget the sight of Tom and Julie McAfee trying to sing through the tears as we all belted out “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.” That book was his dream and it had come to life before our eyes. In his remarks that opening night, Terry York reminded us that the main test of a hymnal is “Does it sing?” and that night did it ever. And it still does! I have had more than my fair share of high moments in music ministry through the years, but none higher than that those two nights.   


March 7, 2013 marks the birth of “Notes from Susie.” Honey’s first surgery just completed, standing in a hospital hall, I noticed my phone flooded with emails, texts, and voice messages. Overwhelmed trying to figure out how I could respond to it all, Weslee calmly said, “we start a Facebook page.” We did, she hosted, and what a blessing it was to Honey and me, both in the writing of messages and receiving responses from people we knew and some we didn’t know. By the grace and goodness of God, that informational vehicle morphed into an almost daily “relief valve” for Honey and me to vent our fears and gratitude, our faith and grief – frequently expressed and nurtured through words of timeless and time-honored hymns. And then came the book!

Here is a hymn in the Celebrating Grace Hymnal written to be sung at the beginning of a calendar new year. But March 7 seems to begin a sort of new year for me, so let’s sing it today. The tune is the one to which we sing “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” (itself not a bad choice for an occasion as this.)

Great God, we sing your guiding hand
     by which supported still we stand;
     the opening year Your mercy shows;
     that mercy crowns it till its close.

By day, by night, at home, abroad,
     still we are guarded by our God;
     by His incessant bounty fed,
     by His unerring counsel led.

With grateful hearts the past we own;
     the future, all to us unknown,
     we to Your guardian care commit,
     and peaceful leave before Your feet.

In scenes exalted or depressed,
     You are our joy, You are our rest;
     Your goodness all our hopes shall raise,
     adored through all our changing days.

Words – Phillip Doddridge (based on Acts 26:22)

I doubt that hymn has made any list of Top 10. But it certainly is good fodder for straddling a pivotal occasion, seeing/celebrating what lies behind and striking out on yet another lap led by God’s guiding hand. 

Thanks be to God for March 7. Onward!

- Mark

Blue Monday

This photo leads me to wonder if yesterday was Blue Monday at Cool Springs Mall.

We couldn’t get Al to stop long enough take off his jacket or to come down from the ladder and show his face.

He said “we have a lot of work to do today.” 

Angelo (center) protested “Aw, Al come on-a down. How long does it take to have-a your picture made? You don’t-a have many people want to take-a your picture every day!”

Betty (age 95) readily parked her rolling basket with jacket and hand weights in the bottom of it long enough to join us and seemed to delight in the photo op.

Ernie -- also wearing blue -- was nearby but he was the party pooper.

In a matter of about 20 seconds everyone was back in stride working, walking, or pooping.

A few minutes later and approaching my exit, Bill Long was just arriving and assumed his pace. I rounded the corner to make another lap, looked up and noticed that he had turned around, held up his pace, and waited for me to join him. We had a nice visit for an entire lap swapping stories about Nashville area churches to which we have belonged. The Longs were long-time members of Crievewood Baptist but have been members at Brentwood Baptist fifteen or so years.  Daughter Gina who lives in Austin TX keeps him up on her friends Tana and Julie all three of whom were in our choir down at First Baptist as younger adults. Good musicians all three and I still love those gals.

How cool it is to think of all the wonderful people who have crossed our path in almost forty years in Nashville. Through those years Honey would often comment how blessed we were in that regard and I would always readily agree. The other day Beth Taylor called out of the blue just to catch up a little. Beth and I were on staff together in my early years at FBC. She was part-time children’s minister and most of that time she and Rubynelle Dixon (part-time preschool minister) shared a too-small office together. Of course, any office would be too small for those gals. Oh my soul, did we have too much fun during those days! Sometimes in staff meeting we’d fight like siblings, but we also loved each other like brothers and sisters. Those two women raising teenagers at that time could say things and tell stories that would make you laugh all day. Sweet Rubynelle died a few years ago and Beth and hubby Bob are not able to come to church much, but thinking about them absolutely God-blesses me still.

I told my Dad the other day that one thing I want to do is think of as many people as I can who have touched my life in a special way and write a page or two about each one. I wish my Dad had done that very thing. I better get started on that project because there certainly are many on the list. Perhaps I’m not the only who needs to do a project like that and hasn’t.

Here is a two hundred year old hymn that still appears in many hymnals today. It is that timeless:

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love;
     the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.

Before our Father’s throne we pour our ardent prayers;
    our fears, our hopes, our aims are one, our comforts and our cares.

We share our mutual woes, our mutual burdens bear;
     and often for each other flows the sympathizing tear.

When we asunder part, it gives us inward pain;
     but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again.

Words – John Fawcett, 1782

Thank you, God, for the people you have placed in our path and the tie that binds us together. And thanks for new people we continue to meet; help us to represent you well to them.

- Mark

(No) Alternative Facts

Surely you’ve noticed all the new terms in vogue skirting the issue of lying. First there was “fake news,” then “alternative facts,” and more recently “incomplete information” was added to the lexicon. (Any day now, I expect “intentional misleading” to burst onto the scene.) The main thing, if not the ONLY thing missing from that last week’s “incomplete information” was the truth. How is one to know what to expect, what the reality of nearly any situation actually is, who is trustworthy, how to plan, on and on amid blatant lying no matter what you call it?

A pastor with whom I worked early on in my music ministry made it abundantly clear to me that the impression left with a parishioner over a particular matter was more important that the actual words said. He was absolutely right and as you can tell, I’ve never forgotten it.

Thank Goodness Christian faith has a perfectly reliable source that neither misleads nor delivers alternative facts. Although the Bible is not inerrant or infallible – there are conflicting accounts of more than one biblical event – still its message is complete, true and trustworthy.

The hymnwriter knew this when he wrote –

Word of God, across the ages comes the message to our life;
     source of hope forever present in our toil and fear and strife;
     constant witness to God’s mercy, still our grace whate’er befall,
     guide unfailing, strength eternal, offered freely to us all.

Story of the wondrous journey from the shadows of the night;
     garnered truth of sage and prophet, guiding forward into light;
     words and deeds of Christ our Master, pointing to the life and way,
     still appealing, still inspiring, ‘mid the struggles of today.

In the tongues of all the peoples may the message bless and heal,
     as devout and patient scholars more and more its depths reveal.
     Bless, O God, to wise and simple, all the truth of ageless worth,
     till all lands receive the witness and Your knowledge fills the earth.

Words – Ferdinand Q. Blanchard, 1953

But even the Bible is not God’s only word or final word. God still delivers His reliable word to people today, sometimes through the Bible, but also by other means and in other ways. Another hymnwriter knew this when she wrote “beyond the sacred page, I seek Thee, Lord.”

Fake news? No. Alternative facts? Not hardly. Intentional misleading? Never.

“All [we] have needed, Thy hand [and word] hath provided.”

- Mark


Recently in this spot we talked a little about one’s outlook on life. Yesterday, I met Exhibit A of the “glass half-full” sort.

Only a few days into my two-month-old morning mall walk routine, Diane, who seems to know all the walkers by name and history, introduced me to Betty, an older woman strolling along at a slower pace pushing a basket cart. That day Diane stopped to visit with Betty and I barely broke stride not wanting to impose on their lady-talk. Since that day I’ve seen Betty off and on, waved and greeted across the other side, and moved on.

Last Monday midway around the “block’ I pulled up beside her and her cart –

“Good morning, Betty. I have a burning question I’ve wanted to ask.”

“Really?” she said looking a little startled and puzzled, but with a smile.

“Are you pushing that thing or is it pulling you?”

Her face relaxed and she snickered, “Probably a little of both.”

“How long have you been walking this mall?”

“I moved here about fifteen years ago and been walking it since.”

“Where did move from?”


“Did you see Atlanta lose the Super Bowl the other night?”

“Yes I did. That was awful, wasn’t it!”

We walked on carrying on a conversation about this and that.  It turns out that Betty’s niece was a member of FBC, Nashville, some fifty years ago and married Robert Denny who, at one time, was General Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance. I knew Dr. Denny only by reputation. Small world.

Betty and I have both lost our spouses. Her husband ended his long battle with depression twenty-nine years ago by taking his own life. 

“Depression is tough battle and losing him was hard for me. I did all I could trying to help him for a lot of years, but there’s only so much you can do.”

Nearing the mall south entrance, she grabbed her coat in the bottom of the basket.

“Are you done?” I asked.

“Yeah, one lap is enough for a person my age.” 

“Oh, you’re not old.”

“Yes I am and I’m not as healthy as I used to be.”

“Aw, how old are you?”


“You’re not 95!”

“Oh yes I am, every day of it.”

“You are remarkable at 95! You have a bright spirit, you’re friendly, you’re out here staying in shape and visiting with people. Good for you!”

“I’m doing what I can and I enjoy it.”

I helped her finish putting on her coat and resumed my walk as she and her trusted cart headed out the door toward the parking lot. My last lap was consumed thinking about this dear soul with enough zest for life even at age 95 to get up before the break of every morning, drive to the mall to get in a healthy walk. I don’t know if she is a person of faith although her countenance makes me think she is; I’ll find out in a few mornings and let you know.

We probably all hope to have a zest for life as long as we live. If the recent NPR life-outlook guest/guru was correct and the scientific research she referenced is accurate, a glass half-full outlook is something we must practice along the way, ahead of the fourth quarter. For some it will come easier than for others.

People like Betty are an inspiration to me. Perseverance is a word that comes to mind; grit is another. With all she’s been through for as long as she’s lived, I can’t help admire her and marvel at the sparkle still in her eyes. 

Here’s an old hymn in the Perseverance section of the Celebrating Grace Hymnal.

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
     leaning on the everlasting arms;
     what a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
     leaning on the everlasting arms.

Oh, how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,
     leaning on the everlasting arms;
     oh, how bright the path grows from day to day,
     leaning on the everlasting arms;

What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
     leaning on the everlasting arms?
I have blessed peach with my Lord so near,
     leaning on the everlasting arms;

[Ok, sing the refrain with me…with parts and echoes]

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
    leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

            Words – Elisha Hoffman, 1887

Sunday, the Brentwood United Methodists sang a bit of that hymn like a bunch of rowdy Baptists. Gregg, their Baptist-trained organist turned that instrument inside out sounding like a single-stanza revival meetin’. It was great! Upon completion and en route to the kneeling rails for the morning prayer, the Liturgist (also former Baptist) remarked “something tells me that’s not the first time y’all have sung that hymn!” He was right and we all laughed in assent.

It appears Betty is sweetly walking in this pilgrim way; observing her encourages me to do the same. 95? Holy smoke!

- Mark

Diverse in Culture, Nation, Race

This week, the Notes from Susie blog will highlight a written piece from Randy Edwards, brother to Notes from Susie co-author Mark Edwards, and Minister of Music at Woodland Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas. 

Friday evening, I was working a little late in the church office. Around 6:45 p.m., just as it had gotten dark, I set the alarm and locked the office door, headed for my car nearby. As I got into my vehicle, I noticed headlights slowly coming my direction from Huebner Road. The little black car drove cautiously past me and parked not far away. Emerging from his vehicle, the young man who had been driving seemed to need something. I lowered my window and said, "Hi, there! Is there something I can do for you?"

"Yes, sir, I am looking for the ESL class. Is it here?" The tall, dark young man was handsome and he smiled broadly as he spoke. 

"Oh...well.. uh, I don't think they meet on Friday evenings," I said. Gesturing to the Youth Building, I said, "that's where they usually are." All was vacated and dark. 

We talked about all that for several moments, trying to figure out how he could connect with ESL. At one point, I extended my hand to the young man and asked, "what is your name?"

"Abid," he said, now with a broader smile. 

"Hi, Abid. My name is Randolph."

"Randolph," he repeated, shaking my hand and his head up and down. 

"Where are you from, Abid?"

"Iran," he said, with a hint of uncertainty in his dark eyes. He seemed suddenly a little worried about my response to that information. I took that opportunity to smile broader myself. 

"And how long have you been in the United States?"

"Four months," he replied. 

"Well, that's great! Welcome. Abid, you are already doing GREAT with your English. Yes, you speak English very well."

He smiled again with a hint of pride and perhaps relief to have another foreign encounter successfully completed. I wonder how much pressure that must be, having to navigate in a strange country in a new language over and over again, time after time, every day. 

After exchanged good wishes and some instruction about how to connect with ESL, Abid and I said goodbye and departed in separate directions. 

Leaving 15315 Huebner, I thought about how the world is literally coming to us. What glorious opportunities to be the body of Christ! What great open doors for newfound joy, friendship, relationships, and community. How could anyone not immediately like Abid and not wish him Godspeed as he learns English and finds his place among us? I hope to reconnect with Abid again. It is an honor to be his new friend. 

- Randy Edwards

Randy’s writing here reminds me of a rather new and thoughtful hymn included in the Celebrating Grace Hymnal. Ruth Duck’s words become more and more applicable to American Christians with the passage of time.  

Diverse in culture, nation, race,
     we come together by Your grace.
God, let us be a meeting ground
     where hope and healing love are found.

God, let us be a bridge of care
     connecting people everywhere.
Help us confront all fear and hate
     and lust for power that separate. 

When chasms widen, storms arise,
     O Holy Spirit, make us wise.
Let our resolve, like steel, be strong
     to stand with those who suffer wrong.

God, let us be a table spread
     with gifts of love and broken bread,
     where all find welcome, grace attends,
     and enemies arise as friends.

Words – Ruth Duck, 1991 © by GIA Publications, Inc.

Three phrases grab me –
“lust for power that separates”
“stand with those who suffer wrong”
“grace attends, and enemies arise as friends”

May we be the body of Christ unto those who may feel separated, who have suffered wrong, and who could arise as friends. 

- Mark