Friday, December 31, 2010

A New Year Thought...But Not Mine

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!”

For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.

You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning:

in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!

Psalm 90:1-6, 12-14, 16-17

("A Prayer of Moses, the Man of God ")

Happy 2011!


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Grace in the Darkness

Having just pondered here a season of darkness for me, I wanted to illustrate how those days were not *all* dark. With a head fake too; you've been warned...*smile*

Almost immediately after renouncing my faith (or trying to...) some friends in town showed up within just a couple of days. It was *very* awkward for them; what does one say when tragedy has struck a family & you walk into it? Here's what they said: "'re going to hang out...wanna go?" I recall looking @ Mom, & seeing her smile & say "you should go." So I did. I can't tell you how absolutely great that gesture was, & how much it me. I have no recollection of exactly where we went or what we did; I just remember being amazed at how much fun it was just to hang out & do normal stuff again. Basically, a reminder that life goes on, even when we don't really see how it could.

These guys were just some of many HS friends who stepped up large in December, 1974, and during the weeks & months after. Beach trips. Concerts. Waterskiing. Meals. Ice cream. Pranks. (both on me, and with me as a participant). Yards rolled. (Guilty! And we were pretty good at it, I must say.)

Some of those HS friends then are still friends now, and I remain ever more grateful for their friendship & encouragement then and now. I am still rather amazed that so many would hang with an angry, confused, self-centered, flaming...jerk like me back then.

Basically, those friends helped me see that, though it seemed the world went gray in 12/14/74 when Dad died, it really hadn't changed. There was still laughter & beauty & fun & music &...(etc.) An invaluable blessing to me back then.

One of those guys actually went on to room w/ me in Broward Hall @ U. of FL. We had a blast, despite me being perhaps the worst roommate in the world. A couple of others also went to UF. Unlike me, they all got it done in the classroom part. But they helped me laugh & learn & have a blast & keep on recovering & moving forward. Thanks, Jim...Barry...Cyndy...Rick...

Fraternity. I learned so very much there, much of it good & valuable info to know. (Well, some things, not so valuable...but the valuable stuff was great!) The good stuff learned was endurance...patience...getting along with others...pursuing a common purpose...discipline (for me a latent piece of knowledge, but it started there in the LXA house)...sacrifice for the good of another. (I still remember one guy tying another guy's shoes every morning, because the one guy had crippling arthritis.) And of course, I learned a lot about good music.

As a related aside...One guy is an IT type down in S. FL...another is an aerospace engineer...another teaches engineering in college part-time when his full-time gig as TX Instruments allows...another is an accountant in GA...another is a senior guy w/ one of the Federal financial institution regulatory agencies. (Among other success stories from my friends back then; I'm proud to be associated w/ those guys!) And some are still in contact & are friends today, after all these years.

Enjoyment of college sports. I already did, but it was elevated there, despite some epic-ly awful Gator teams. The football record one year was 0-10-1...brutal. And I still loved the games!

Scuba diving. Got certified @ this w/ yet another fraternity brother. Which led to some of the coolest life experiences ever! Ginnie Springs...the Manatees' home harbor down there in SW FL...diving off Key Largo...

Junior college. Academic redemption. For the first time in a *long* time, I discovered that I could, in fact, succeed in the classroom as a student. Went to juco w/ a friend who, like me, needed to re-boot his academic life. He now a retired military officer with a Master's degree, and is one of the senior managers of a hospital system in south FL.

Alabama. Roomed w/ my cousin Gary. By which I mean, he & I shared a room in an apt. Again, I was likely the world's worst roommate, and yet Gary hung out me & loved me & demonstrated faith to me by the way he lived. And there were others, who showed me how to have a *blast* without getting intoxicated. (Sadly, that was a big revelation for me.)

Plus, there was this coed who lived upstairs across the breezeway...26.5 years ago, she put a ring on my finger in a small church in SW AL.

The college & young adult class @ Hopewell Baptist Church. The pastor, Billy Austin. I started singing the hymns again (see previous entry for back story). The young marrieds class @ First Baptist Church. The pastor, Rick Lance (now director of Alabama Baptists). *Great* preaching! Richard & Lori, our Sunday School teachers. Don Bennett, Director of the Baptist Student Union.

The three professors @ UA that I've written about in this space before.

Just a sampling of countless bits of grace I received...

So, you see, even in the midst of great spiritual darkness, there were grace notes added to the symphony of my life, as God wooed me back to Himself. I would not have chosen the path, but I now cherish it. And *that* is how I can sing w/ the southern Gospel song "I wouldn't take nothin' for my journey now."

I am so very blessed, and was during those 10 years of denying it. I am so grateful for the people & places & events of those years. I am so very humbled by the love & grace they showed me.

And now for the head fake. Read back through this. Think it was about me or about people & circumstances from back in the day? Think again. While I am eternally grateful for the people and for those events & circumstances, this entry was really about you & your future. Notice in these examples how VERY easy it is to be a huge blessing & grace note in the hands of the Master Composer in someone else's live. Go thou & do likewise!

Thankful for much grace in the darkness...and in the light,

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Darkness...and Light

36 years ago today, I abandoned the Christian faith.

It was right after we got home from Dad's funeral. (Dad died of a heart attack as a young 47-year-old)

I snuck out into the back yard, and literally shook my fist at the sky. I said "God, if this is what you're about, I quit! Leave me alone!"

And wandered in a spiritual desert for the next 10 years or so. I'll not elaborate on the details; suffice it to say that I truly lived up to (or down to?) my sin nature.

I was deeply hurt, terribly confused, and quite bitter about Dad's death, and I buried myself in arrogant, selfish immaturity, both spiritually and generally.

I stayed angry at God & at life. How in the world anyone would hang out w/ me back then, I don't know. And how in the round world this beautiful Alabama coed would go out with me multiple times and then accept a marriage proposal from me in the midst of that darkness...grace notes that threaten to overwhelm the entire score!

And yet...right there in the midst of my pouting funk, God kept on dropping grace notes into my life. People...circumstances...and little by little, He drew me back on course. (Yeah...there's quite a long story there...)

When I moved to Tuscaloosa, I would occasionally go to church with Aunt Daisy & Uncle George. Mostly, I went because she'd feed me some great home cooking after...but I went. She told me years later, "Mike, you were so angry that you wouldn't even sing the hymns!" It pains me to see an image of that dear, sweet lady holding a hymnal up so both of us could read it, and then watching me just stare at the words. (I am so very thankful that Aunt Daisy later saw me sing the hymns...and even co-lead the family worship at the reunion!)

Have you ever tried to hug a 3-year-old who didn't want to be hugged? For about 10 years, I was that 3-year-old, rejecting the loving embraces of my heavenly Father.

Basically, I slowly & surely realized a few things: 1) I was a whiny-baby, moping around in the midst of great folks & circumstances. 2) I was receiving grace beyond measure (see, beautiful Alabama coed, for starters). 3) I was like Simba in the Lion King; I was "Mufasa's boy" but had forgotten who I was. 4) The arguments I was making against Christianity were becoming more frantic, as I realized how hollow they were (are!). 5) As Petra once sang, "you can walk 10,000 steps away, but it's always only 1 step back..." 6) I had some work to do, first on Mike Madaris, and then for the King of the Universe. 7) The grace of God demonstrated in Christ's atonement--for me!--is such that words fail, and I have to just exclaim with Paul, "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!" (Romans 11:33)

Paul wrote my life story many years ago. Please read this next part slowly.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Ephesians 2:1-3

(2 of the most significant words in all of Scripture to me personally: "But God...")

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:4-7

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them…But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Ephesians 2:10, 13

I am so thankful for these truths, and for so many more. Just two more here:

Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!

Psalm 25:7

(Quite the prayer there, huh? I am so thankful that He chooses to not remember my sins, but to remember ME. Amazing grace!)

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.
John 10:28-29

(Long a precious passage to me, as I spent some years trying to jump from His very thankful now that He didn't let me...)

So on this day, I remember the self-inflicted darkness that began 12/16/74. And I absolutely rejoice & celebrate that the end of that darkness did indeed come.

...a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light...
1 Peter 2:9b

As the old gospel song says, "I wouldn't take nothing for my journey now!"

Celebrating the season of the Light that shines in the darkness, (John 1:5)

Monday, December 13, 2010

I wonder what went through his mind on this night 36 years ago...

Did he have an inkling that it would be his last night in which eternity was but a dream & a promise out there in the future? The last night in which this world would be all he knew of reality? The last night before meeting his Savior face to face and hearing those magnificent words “Well done, good & faithful servant!”?

I wonder if he pondered the greatness of God, before Whom he would stand the next night. Probably so; a favorite hymn of his was “In the Garden”—“And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own…”

Did he think about his sons’ future lives? Somehow, I think he did, for he thought of that often. I wonder if God’s grace gave him a glimpse of daughters-in-law…and of 5 grandchildren…whose life journeys would forever be inexorably linked to his, despite their having never met him.

Did he think about his beloved wife’s future? I ‘spect he did this too, for he was a man who loved her much and who thought often about what he could to provide for and shape that future.

Did he think about finishing the race & keeping the faith? Overwhelming evidence from the previous 47 years (his lifespan) suggests that he did.

Did he think about the gigantic hole his passing would leave in the lives of so many? I’m sure he had thought of that now & then, as ours is a family that knows how to live life well and how to deal with its end. Regrettably, we have a good bit of experience with that “ending” part. He had that experience too. However, no 47-year-old spends too much time thinking of his own life’s end.

Did he think of Christmas & the Incarnation & family & how all of those seem intertwined? I think so, for on this night 36 years ago, he & his family decorated the tree and fired up the music of the season. He absolutely deplored the ever-lengthening “Christmas season” as cheapening the meaning of itself. Thus, the tree went up about two weeks before Christmas, & never earlier.

Whatever his thoughts on Dec. 13, 1974, mine on the thirty-six Dec. 13’s since have always focused on him. And on the overwhelming influence the 15 ½ years we shared on earth and the 36 years since continue to have on pretty much the totality of my own life and faith and family. And how hard I still miss him on an almost-daily basis. Especially tonight, as I ponder the 36th anniversary of my Daddy's sudden entrance into glory.

And thus, I both love and hate staring at the Christmas tree here late in the evening on Dec. 13…