Dear Hudson…Thanks for Being My Very Best BUDDY

Happy birImage-1thday Scooter! Over the weekend (6/22/19), we all gathered and celebrated your 5th birthday. It hardly seems possible that you could be 5 years old…but you are and you’ve been preparing me for this day for at least 4 months. Measuring time is not a concept you have quite mastered just yet — don’t worry, I have trouble with it as well. It seems the older I get the faster time moves. I know that at 5, you see it from a very different perspective. Ever since Nanna celebrated her birthday in March, you’ve been reminding me that your birthday was next and that you would be 5.

Watching you over these 5 years has been one of the greatest joys of my life. You love life and you help me see the world in a much different way when I’m with you. That’s a good thing because the older I get, the more cynical I tend to be. So thanks for keeping the little boy alive in Poppo! I just know 5 is going to be a great year for you.

Each time I write one of these letters to the grandchildren, I try and think of some life lesson that I would like to pass on to you. Now that there are 4 of you guys — you, Harper, Ellie and Benjamin…I’m trying to share things with each of you that I hope will help you as you grow and mature. This year I want you to focus on FRIENDSHIP.

Early on in your life, you told me that I was your buddy! I just love that. We’ve been buddies now for 5 years.  I know we are buddies for life, but you have a major life event taking place this year that is going to change our relationship just a little. You are going to SCHOOL! You are already excited about that and excited about meeting new friends.

One of the things I have noticed about you is how well you get along with others. It seems regardless of how old or how young the people are — you have a way of including everyone. One of your favorite things is to go to Chick-fil-a and play on their playground. My favorite thing about Chick-fil-a is EATING! But you like to socialize. No matter who is in there, when you come out — you’ve made new friends. You don’t always know their names, but you tell me all about the fun you are having with “my friends.” That makes me happy. 

As you start to school, you are going to meet lots of new friends. You will enjoy spending time with them and playing games and just getting to know new people. That’s a special time. I just want you to remember one thing. Don’t forget to include those who might be a little shy or they might be a little different in some other way than you. Not everybody is as outgoing as you are so it will be important for you to always be aware of what’s going on around you and if you see someone by themselves — invite them to join your group. I know you are going to do that because I already see that in your personality.

I know it’s hard to imagine, but Poppo hasn’t always been the loud-mouth, outgoing person I am today. OK — I probably have always been loud-mouthed, but I remember being excluded a time or two when I was a little boy. It wasn’t fun for everybody to be involved in something fun and I was on the outside looking in. I’ve never forgotten what it felt like and I’ve tried to do my best to look for those folks who might need an extra measure of encouragement along the way. I hope you will do the same.

I don’t know what you are going to be when you grow up. Right now, you want to be a police officer who catches poachers who are trying to kill the dinosaurs. I’m not sure there will be much of a market for that as you get older, but you never know. I do know that you are one of the top negotiators I’ve ever met in my life. No matter what anybody suggests, you always have a “better idea.” And you usually win the argument — especially with Poppo. I pray we can harness that skill and use it for good. Who knows — you may one day write a book entitled “The NEW AND IMPROVEDArt of the Deal.”

I realize that as you grow older, you will have more and more friends in your life. That’s the way God intended. But never forget…you’ve got one buddy who will always love you and will always be in your corner…cheering you on to become exactly what God has planned for you.

I love you Scooter. Thanks for being my BUDDY!

Love,

Poppo

Encouragement in THIS HOPE

“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” (I John 3:2-3)

In July 1986, Edna and I moved to the Bentonville Community of Johnston County where I began to serve as Pastor of the Pauline Baptist Church. I was a mere 24 years old — still in seminary and clueless as to what being a pastor meant or would mean to me over the next 30 years.

I had barely gotten started in this new ministry when I received a phone call one afternoon. The voice on the other end of the phone was one of my church members and he wanted to know if I would mind coming over to his house. I jumped in the car and made my way over to Terry and Sheila’s home. When I got there, I quickly realized this was not going to be a fun social call. Instead, Terry (who is my age by the way) explained that in a doctor’s visit that day, it was discovered that he had testicular cancer. Terry, Sheila and I stood in their living room that day and we cried and we prayed. We prayed that Terry would be healed and we prayed that God’s will would be accomplished in our lives.

That visit, just two weeks into my new ministry forever changed my life. Terry, Sheila, Edna and I became wonderful friends. Terry and Sheila had a son, Chase who was just a few months older than our daughter Danielle. Our families spent much time together. Terry literally became like a brother to me. As I walked with him through the journey of chemo and radiation, God bound our hearts together in a special way. Terry was told he and Sheila would probably never be able to have more children. Through all this, Terry and Sheila’s faith was strong and our faith grew as we saw God at work in Terry’s life. (Ultimately, they DID have another child…a beautiful daughter…a true gift from God.)

One year, Edna and I bought Danielle a new swing set for her birthday. Terry volunteered to come over to my house and help me put it together. He was sure it wouldn’t take more than a couple of hours and our kids would be outside playing and enjoying the new swing. We started the project about 10 AM on Friday morning. Sheila and Chase came over and spent the day with Edna and Danielle. Throughout the day, the kids would stand at the back door with eager anticipation wondering when they would be set free to swing and play on the new equipment. Our “couple of hours” project turned into more than Terry or I ever imagined. To make this long story short…at about 10:30 PM that night, the children and their mothers (all of whom were ill and sleepy) finally made it outside to swing on the swing set. Terry and I laughed (which didn’t go over that well with our wives) and for years we have relived that story and wondered how we ever made it through the night.

I was privileged to ordain Terry into the ministry of deacon while I was his pastor and after I left, Terry surrendered to the Gospel ministry and for years has been preaching the Gospel and serving God’s people. God anointed this young man to be an encouragement and inspiration to me even though the years and miles have separated us. We haven’t talked as often as we would have liked, but deep down we both have known there was a bond that was unbreakable between us — put there by God Himself.

Last week, I received news that Terry was critically ill. He has pulmonary fibrosis — a lung disease which was probably caused by the chemo and radiation he endured 30 years ago. My heart broke. I texted Terry to tell him I loved him and I was praying for him. Once again, God used my “brother” to inspire and encourage me. He wrote to me…

“You, Edna and your family have always been family to us. You are all very precious to us even though we don’t communicate a lot, we’re never far apart. We love you all and thank you so much for your thoughts and prayers. My family and I are resting in Jesus and our goal is to please Him on my passing and not to allow one second of victory to death. Because of Jesus, I will suffer as one with hope. I will pass from this life into His eternal victory. Praise Jesus. I love you very much always.”

Very soon, Terry will pass from this life into the next. The Bible tells me that THE HOPE we have is that one day, Christ will be revealed to us and we shall be like Him. The older I get, the more I look forward to that day. I’m not a morbid person, and I’m not wishing to die. However, I’m not afraid of death. Like Terry, I rest in Jesus and my goal is to be pleasing to Him as long as He allows me to breathe. But I also know this…

“And then one day, I’ll cross that river; I’ll fight life’s final war with pain;
And then as death gives way to victory, I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He lives.

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow; Because He lives all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future, And life is worth the living just because He lives.” (Gloria Gaither)

In a few days or maybe a few weeks, my brother Terry will experience the reality of THE HOPE we have. In what may be my last words to my friend, I said… “Save me a seat at the table. I’ll see you soon and we will praise Jesus together for all eternity.”

To God be the glory.

You’ve Got a GREAT Friend…

“When they saw Him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw Him and were terrified. Immediately He spoke with them and said, ‘Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.'” (Mark 6:49-50)

Mark Twain said, “The proper office of a friend is to side with you when you are wrong. Nearly anybody will side with you when you are in the right.”

When you look for a living definition of a friend, you need look no further than Jesus Christ. He is the consummate friend. He is the perfect example of Proverbs 17:17 — “A friend loves at all times.” Jesus never stopped loving His disciples even when they failed to act in faith or when they were in the wrong. Remember when Peter cut off the ear of the Roman soldier on the night Jesus was arrested? The more I study the Scripture, the more I see how in the times when the disciples really needed a friend — Jesus was always there.

In Mark 6, Jesus performed one of the greatest miracles of His ministry — the feeding of the 5,000. The disciples had seen this miracle first-hand. You would think that any doubts they may have had would have been erased after seeing Jesus display such power. But once the picnic was over, the disciples got into a boat going across the Sea of Galilee and their perspective changed. Why? They entered a terrible storm.

Can I just be brutally honest with you? I know that in the times when I have found myself in the midst of a terrible life-storm, I haven’t reacted the way I should. I have often panicked! Instead of remembering how the Lord has been faithful throughout 30 years of ministry and marriage — I have, more times than I care to remember — taken my eyes off Jesus and looked at the storm instead of the Savior. That’s what the disciples did.

Looking out over the sea, they saw a figure coming toward them on the water. Knowing what I know about myself, I suppose it is understandable that they would react to something like this with fear. They thought it was a ghost! But keep reading. Mark goes on to tell us that every after Jesus revealed Himself to them and calmed the storm, they still didn’t get it. In fact, Mark 6:51 says, “They were completely astounded, because they had not understood about the loaves.”

Did Jesus turn His back on them say, “I’ve had it with you knuckleheads”? No — Jesus knew these disciples had much to learn. Jesus was a loving and faithful friend. He continued to teach, correct, and challenge them.

That’s some GOOD NEWS for me today! From time to time, I need a friend who will hang in there with me — even when I am wrong. I need friends who are willing to confront me with the truth to make sure I don’t STAY in the wrong. Pay attention to what I just said. There are plenty of people who believe they have the spiritual gift of telling me I am wrong. I try not to pay much attention to them. They don’t confront out of love, but out of a desire to embarrass and cause conflict. 

I’m thankful for friends who LOVE me and confront because they want me to be a better Christian. I hope you have some friends like that. I hope you ARE a friend like. Just remember this — the GREATEST friend we have is Jesus Christ. You can call on Him at any time — no mater the circumstance and He will be there. I’m so thankful today that Jesus is willing to call me His friend!

Aren’t you?

Remembering a Great Friend…

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a difficult time.” (Proverbs 17:17)

If you are a baseball fan, you already know the statistics…

Major league debut — May 13, 1965 with the Kansas City A’s

Last MLB appearance — September 17, 1979 with the New York Yankees

224 MLB Wins

3.26 Lifetime ERA

2,012 Strikeouts

8 time All-Star

5 time World Series Champion

1974 Cy Young Award

Pitched a perfect game on May 8, 1968

Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987

Jim “Catfish” Hunter was a GREAT major league baseball player. He was one of the most popular baseball players of his time — not only among the fans, but among his peers as well. As a boy growing up in northeastern North Carolina, Catfish Hunter was my hero! I have stood in my backyard on many occasions and pretended that I was Catfish Hunter in game 7 of the World Series. He was larger than life to me. I never could have imagined that I would have such a special relationship with my hero many years later.

In 1994, I became the pastor of The Hertford Baptist Church in Hertford, North Carolina. I was excited to be the pastor of this wonderful church and I have many wonderful friends to this day in that community. I was also excited because I knew Hertford was where Catfish Hunter lived! I remember the night the pulpit committee came from Hertford to hear me preach for the first time. Helen Hunter (Jimmy’s wife) was on the committee. I was surely nervous to preach in front of a pulpit committee — but my nervousness reached an even higher level when I looked out in that congregation and there sat MY HERO — Jim “Catfish” Hunter! I must have done ok that night — they invited me to Hertford and I soon became pastor of that church.

A wonderful relationship began during that time between a little country boy from Potecasi, NC and a MLB Hall of Fame pitcher from Hertford. I learned quickly that he wasn’t “Catfish” — he was Jimmy. Through the next few years, my hero from baseball became a hero in my life. I watched this man as he related to his family and his community. He never was too busy to stop and talk with us and visit. I remember the first time he and Helen came to our house. We had dinner and then played ROOK. When he went home — I looked at Edna and said, “CATFISH HUNTER WAS IN MY HOUSE!” 

More times than I can remember, Jimmy came in my office and would lay an envelope on my desk. In that envelope there would be various amounts of cash. He would then tell me that he wanted me to pay somebody’s light bill or deliver some groceries or just give cash to some family either in our church or in the community. EVERY TIME — he would look me in the eye and say — “Don’t tell them where this came from. If you do, I’ll hunt you down!” Then he would wink and out the door he would go. I never told — until some time later.

On September 9, 1999, I stood beside a hospital bed along with Helen, Todd, Kim, Paul and some other family members as my hero slipped into heaven. We all cried but we rejoiced that Jimmy had gone to be with his Lord and we celebrated the fact that he was a believer in Jesus Christ.

It’s been 14 years since Jim “Catfish” Hunter died with ALS (Lou Gerhig’s Disease). ALS is a horrible disease and we need to do everything we can to help in the finding of a cure. I encourage you to visit http://webnc.alsa.org and donate or volunteer in the fight against ALS. On September 27-29, you can also support the 15th Annual Jim “Catfish” Hunter ALS softball Tournament at the Jimmy Hunter Fields in Winfall, NC. If you would like information about this tournament, please call my friend Joan at 252-340-0210.

It’s been 14 years today since I stood beside his bed and told my friend “so long — for now.” There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about him and miss him. I was one of the most fortunate people in the world not only to get to know my sports hero — but  to know the man who also became my hero.

Today, I remember a wonderful friend…

Image

Are you listening?

“Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

President Franklin Roosevelt once became tired of the smiling superficiality that accompanied many White House receptions. On this particular evening he decided to see whether or not anyone was actually paying attention to what he said. As he shook hands with each guest filing through the line, he smiled real big and said, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” No one even noticed. They just gave the usual protocol, “How lovely!” or “Keep up the good work.” Finally, the ambassador from Bolivia came through the line. When FDR told of his scandalous deed, the ambassador leaned in and tactfully commented, “I’m sure she had it coming Mr. President.”

How well do you listen when someone is talking to you? We are told in Scripture that as believers, we are to “carry one another’s burdens.” One way to do that is by being a good listener. When we really listen to someone, we say to them that their concerns and their problems matter to us. Effective caregivers are people who have developed the skill of listening.

I’ve learned that I’m often unable to “fix” the problems of all the people I meet who are hurting — but I can listen. We can give authenticity to the feelings of those who are lonely or hurt. We can express the love of Christ by simply listening.

At some point in your life, you will need someone to listen to you. Why not begin today to cultivate relationships by listening to others. Today you may need to bear the burden of a friend, but tomorrow you may need that same friend to help bear your burden. 

Some wise sage said, “Talking to yourself isn’t always a sign of old age. In this day and time it may be the only way to be sure someone is listening.”

Have a great Wednesday.

What a FRIEND!

“I do not call you slaves anymore, because a slave doesn’t know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from My Father.” (John 15:15)

Right above that verse in my Bible I have written in great big letters — I AM A FRIEND OF CHRIST! That is such an encouraging thought to me. Here is something I know about friendship — it is not founded on superficiality. True friendship is founded upon intimacy. Most of us have very few TRUE friends in life — you know those people with whom we can share every detail of life, regardless of how embarrassing or scandalous. True friends afford us the opportunity to recover and heal and grow. Jesus elevates us to that level — even though we don’t deserve it.

Joseph Scriven was born in Ireland in 1819. He enjoyed writing poems, most of which he never intended for publication. While living in Canada, Scriven was sent word that his mother was very sick. He wrote a letter to her in order to encourage her. Years later, a friend visiting Scriven discovered the poem and asked if Scriven had written it. Scriven said, “Yes, the Lord and I wrote this.” The friend asked if he might have permission to print it.

In 1875, Ira Sankey (music leader for D.L. Moody) discovered the poem and included it in his first hymn book. Here are Scriven’s words…

“What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer. Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh, what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”

I know I often have a difficult time comprehending the concept that Jesus is my friend, but the Bible certainly is clear that He is my friend! What does it mean then for me to say that Jesus is my friend? Here are a couple of statements that I hope will help you gain a greater understanding of this concept in your own life.

1. Because Jesus is my friend, He loves me UNCONDITIONALLY! I can come to Him with anything. There is nothing I can do that will make Jesus love me more than He loves me right this minute. That also means there is nothing I can do that will make Jesus love me less then He loves me right this minute. His love is unconditional and perfect.

2. Because Jesus is my friend, He is never too busy for me. When I call on Him, He never says, “Hey Keith, can I call you right back?” I never get an answering machine telling me to “leave a message at the tone.” Jesus is never on vacation when I call. He is never too busy to hear me.

3. Because Jesus is my friend, He listens to me. Have you ever tried to talk to somebody who was already looking over your shoulder thinking about the next person they would be talking to? The greatest lesson I learned from Dr. Adrian Rogers was this — always treat the person talking to you as if they are the most important in the world and what they are saying is the most important thing you will hear. I’ve not always been successful at doing that — but I make that my goal. Because Jesus is my friend, He doesn’t have that problem — He listens to every word and hears every cry my heart makes.

Joseph Scriven also wrote, “Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness, take it to the Lord in prayer.”

Hallelujah! Not only do we have a GREAT Savior — we have a GREAT FRIEND!