49. I am thankful for the ADVENT Season...

Even though I did not grow up in a local congregation which observed "Advent"--we thought that was too "high church"--we always did observe Christmas.

Only after I entered the United States Air Force, did I participate in "Advent" celebrations in our worship gatherings. I love the anticipation and the profoundly deep meaning associated with observing the Advent season.

I can't remember the Christmas holidays ever being a time of joy in our household. Growing up worse than poor (by today's American standards), it was one of those times of year that came around---every year---and we were glad to see it come, and even more glad to see it go. I can remember many, many times not having a Christmas tree, and even more times, having NOTHING under the tree. That's just how it was....

But, now I realize that God's hand, let me repeat that, GOD'S HAND, has been in my life all along.

The Advent Season reminds me that HIS mercies are indeed new every morning. My friend, Pastor Larry Duncan, says that "before I even wake up in the morning, God has already planned a new way to show me His mercies." I really, really like that concept.

The Advent season reminds me that before Christ came to earth as a baby in a barn, He was very, very active in human history--something my pastor (Erwin Lutzer) reminded all of us in a sermon two weeks ago.

The Advent season reminds me that God really did love this world SO MUCH that He would do something that NO ONE else could have ever done...send His Son to die...the very purpose for the Son's coming.

The Advent season reminds me that when the storms are raging all around us, that "the peace of Christ rules in our hearts...." Christ rules....and when He rules, He brings His peace.

The Advent season reminds me that this God Man slept in a boat, thirsted at a well, walked dusty roads, went fishing, attended weddings, was the "life of the party", and was eventually the talk of the town.

The Advent season reminds me that JESUS IS COMING AGAIN! I long for His return.

48. I am thankful for SNOW

Well, the weatherpersons (wanting to be inclusive here---something I learned in seminary) warned us that we would have snow on the ground before daybreak....between 4 and 8 inches...

Right now, there MIGHT be half an inch on the ground in front of my apartment door---but the "day" hasn't broken yet...and it's only 3:43 a.m. Central Time.

The first big "snow" that I really remember was when I was a teenager---I can remember so many things from my childhood (pre-teenager years), but I can't remember the snow, even though I'm sure we had some, even in north Alabama--and it was on a Sunday morning. We had LOTS of snow that day....lots and lots of it. So much, that our Sunday morning services at the Virginia Boulevard Church of God were cancelled....I stayed home and read the Psalms.

I remember more than one snow storm during my college days in Cleveland TN...getting to and from the cafeteria (well, a MAN's gotta do what a Man's gotta do---EAT) was always the adventure, whether it was up and day the hill or across the streets...but one's hunger was always a strong motivator to "buck it up and get to travelin'...." I didn't injure anyting beyond repair, and I didn't starve, most of the time. I grew to intensely DISLIKE peanut butter and jelly sandwiches during those years....back then college food was a very poorly written "mystery" to most people, including those responsible for repairing and serving such a "mystery"...this was not what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he spoke of "Christ and the church..." No local church could be THAT bad...

Then came ten years in the United States Air Force...living in California--where the Sacramento Valley saw it's first snowfall in almost 70 years....and it didn't even stick to the ground---but it sure made the headlines...

And Denver, Colorado--where we would have rain, sleet, snow, and 80 degrees all in the space of 24 hours---I can tell you the time, and take you to the place...I'm not kidding either.

Then Kunsan Air Base, South Korea where the natives LOVED the snow...They would get green golf balls and go play in the stuff....

Then on to Oslo, Norway where the local GRIEVED over the "lack of snow." I must admit Norwegian snow was the prettiest white blankets I've ever seen. It was just magical....absolutely magical. The "hills were alive" with the beautiful snow coverings...the entire country seem to just "wake up" when the snow started falling. But then again, I'm wondering if some of the Norwegians ever went to bed....

I had a very rude awakening on the Wednesday after the November election day in 1992...I moved from Oslo, Norway to Lubbock, Texas (only the AIR FORCE could have hatched up such a scheme) and that very weekend, we had SNOW....I thought I was moving to TEXAS where it would be warm....how wrong I was...well at least for the next few months....I was sadly mistaken...it was COLDER than cold....

Returning to Cleveland, TN for seminary, I was once again greeted by some snow...and in February 1998, a virtual BLIZZARD...well for Tennesseans, it was a blizzard. It was the first day of the Spring semester (February), and it was snowing to beat the band....no one had expected it, and I can't remember the forecasters warning us of the blankets that were going to fall from heaven....but it was snowy. I was working at the hospital at the time, and got a call to come in, if I possibly could....and sure, I could use the overtime pay...

Then I moved to Chicago....my domicile for the last 10.5 years...I've seen lots of snow here...actually, I don't mind....except when it snows in May---like it did in 2002. Someone had bought a billboard downtown (after an unexpected 3 inches fell on the ground) that read, "Will someone turn that GLOBAL WARMING thing on?"

I was on the city bus when I saw this...I laughed out loud, and then called Hollis Gause (my great, great friend) and asked him why he bought a billboard space in Chicago? He swore that he didn't do it..(well, he didn't swear, but he strongly affirmed...)

Now it is snowing again...and I'm thankful.

That's the news from the Windy City.

47. I am thankful for Warm Coats...

I don't remember ever having a good winter coat when I was growing up, and really not ever having one as a teenager or adult...until recent years.

Yep, we were THAT poor (when I was growing up) and Alabama winters can get very cold.

I look through my closet now and count at least FOUR good, heavy coats...and I'm thankful...

It is NINETEEN degrees outside right now here in Chicago, and the high is supposed to be 30 degrees. We are also expecting between four and eight inches of snow....before midnight tonite.

I'm thankful for God's provision....

46. I am thankful for CHRISTMAS CARDS...

Okay, OKAY...I've been away from my blog for a few weeks....I do earnestly repent of this....I have returned.

I'm doing something today, that I've not done for more than 15 years...I'm sending out about 20 Christmas greeting cards. Why just twenty cards, you may ask...and I have a logical, and profound answer:

First, 20 cards came in the discounted box that I bought yesterday at the hospital gift shop. Second, since postage stamps are 46 cents EACH, this endeavor is already going to cost me more than NINE DOLLARS to mail--not to mention the purchase price of these over-priced relics of years gone by, and finally, I won't have the patience to hand-write more than 20 cards--if that many.

There was a time in my life where I would send out at least one hundred (yes 100) Christmas cards every year, if not more than 100. I'd always start addressing them the day after Thanksgiving, and would work almost nonstop on them until I had greeted "everybody."

This year, I am limiting my "greetings" (card-wise, anyway) to only 20....

But I am very thankful for this "relic" from the past....

45. I am thankful for GOD'S PRESENCE...

This happened ONE YEAR ago exactly (and it is a repost from a January blog):

God, my Heavenly Father, visited me in a profound, unforgettable way.

I had come home really worn out, ate a quick bite, and went to bed early....

Read the "rest of this story" on my January 20, 2010 post....

44. I am thankful for Homemade Tomato Soup....

Even if I did make it myself....I just couldn't bear the thought of opening up a can of "Condensed soup" and consuming it as though it were the "best thing going..." My conscience would not, REPEAT, would not let me do that...

Here's my recipe:

1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes and green chilies
1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes
1 14.5 ounce can of chicken broth (fat-free, low sodium is what I use)
1/2 can of water
1 large carrot, shredded
2 large celery stalks, diced finely
1 tablespoon, dried rosemary leaves, crushed
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cajun seasoning (I use Tony Cachere's).

In a large pot, saute the vegetables in 2 tablespoons of oil (I use olive oil, but vegetable or canola will work just fine) for about ten minutes.

In your blender, combine the two cans of tomatoes, and the rest of the ingredients, except for the chicken broth.

Add your tomato mixture to the large pot with the vegetables sauteeing, stir in the chicken broth. Bring to a boil for about ten minutes or so....

Eat this however you most enjoy it....I like it with crackers.....

43. I am thankful for Gordon Lin...

Or should I call him "Dr Lin"?

Gordon is one very, very special person. His family immigrated from Taiwan back in the 1980s (they did it the RIGHT WAY). He grew up in suburban Naperville--slightly southwest of Chicago. A smarter, more caring person can't be found.

He got a great education from the school systems, and then attended Northwestern University, and Northwestern University Medical School. He is now doing his residency at a local hospital here in Chicago. He is going to be an Emergency Room physician.

But more than that, he is a dear friend to me.

In his late 20s, Gordon was one of my TOP TIER ENCOURAGERS last year when I told him of my plans to become a living kidney donor to my friend Dr Bill George. We spent many hours talking about what all would be happening during the surgery. A few of the things that were my "greatest fears" (which were really nothing to be afraid of, after all) were explained again, and again and again by my buddy, Gordon.

Eleven days after my surgery, I returned to Chicago...and was immediately transported over to Gordon's condominium in downtown Chicago--so he could "look after me"--just in case....

Gordon took wonderful care of me...He gave me his bedroom, set me up with his laptop, and made sure that I was drinking enough fluids, and taking my medicine(s) properly. His great sense of humor kept me wonderfully motivated and encouraged.

But more about Gordon: Brilliant, brilliant man. Marvelous musician--he plays the cello. He is also a terrific cook, and makes some of the very best beef stew I've ever eaten.

He also follows Christ with his whole heart. He models Jesus to me in so many ways...

He married a marvelous woman...Emily Claire (Mattson) Lin...and I was thrilled to be part of this great ceremony....I sat in the congregation smiling with all that was in me....

I could go on, and on...but it's barely 6 a.m. in the morning....Gordon is probably in the ER right now....taking caring of people who need his skills and attention. Caring for people who need to know that Jesus really does matter to him...and them.

I'm very thankful for my friend, Gordon.

42. I am thankful for Dr Cheryl Bridges Johns..

Cheryl Johns is a communicator extraordinaire. She is a real scholar to all the would-be scholars, inside and outside of theological circles.

But more importantly, Dr Cheryl Bridges Johns is a loving, humble child of the Living God. She has shown me what JESUS looks like on more than one occasion. She has reminded me that CHRIST really does love me, and that I have a "place" in His service...regardless of where I am. (She's not the only person who has ever affirmed this in my life, but I AM writing about her...so let's keep the focus there...)

Twelve years ago this past March, she so graciously allowed me to "assist" with one of the great events I can recall: The first joint meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies and the Wesleyan Theological Society--held at our seminary (where I was a student at the time). What a glorious, glorious event! I offered my assistance in whatever ways I could be of use, and it was a most fulfilling, rewarding experience for me. Cheryl definitely kept me busy...and I pray that my contributions were worthwhile.

She and I disagree on a lot of things, but we agree on a lot more...she causes me to think, ponder, muse, meditate. My friendship with this wonderful woman of God has caused me to look at a much larger picture of the Body of Christ...and to realize that "every single member of this Body" has an important part to play.

She is a devoted wife, mother, and DOTING Grandmother--we must not leave that part out---and rightly so. She is a wonderful cook (have eaten at her house a couple of times), a brilliant speaker, writer, and dedicated servant of the people of God.

But, she is my friend. She has inspired me in ways that only Heaven will reveal.

I'm most thankful for her and this friendship from which we have both (hopefully) benefited.

41. I am thankful for Sunday Mornings...

I have always loved the church family--or in my case, families. I was telling someone yesterday that the reason my local church means so much to me, is because this group of people (wherever it has been) is my "real" and "primary" family relationship base. Sunday mornings are the normal "gathering time" for the family, and I'm always delighted to be included.

I have almost always loved Sunday School. With few exceptions, I've always been involved in the Sunday School hour...and it happens at 8:30 a.m. at The Moody Church for me (www.moodychurch.org). There is a second Sunday School hour at 11:30 a.m. after morning worship....but I am an "early riser"--and so I do the 8:30 a.m. session.

I love being with God's people. I love seeing folks who are gathering in, greeting each other, and coming to worship Jesus!

I love shaking hands, hugging necks, laughing, crying, and sharing. I love the "touch" of people who genuinely care about me...and touching those people that also mean so much to me in so many ways.

I love the great congregational singing...the marvelous organ ministry of Dr Paul Satre, and the phenomenal piano ministry of my close pal, Scott Griffin. I love water baptisms, baby dedications, the public reading of the Scriptures--which we do responsively in our Sunday Morning gatherings...

I love the PASTORAL PRAYER....this is probably my "favorite" part of the Sunday Morning worship gathering...this is when my "earthly shepherd" brings the needs of the whole church to the GREAT SHEPHERD on my behalf...there is just something about hearing my pastor "pray"...that strengthens and blesses my soul beyond description.

I love Sunday Mornings.

40. I'm thankful for "Skills"...most of the time...

My great friend, Dr Jackie Johns (www.jackiespeaks.blogspot.com) recently honored (and humbled) me by writing about his thankfulness for me. It was a very entertaining post, humorous, thoughtful, historical, and well....

I'll get right to the point: Cooking is not my only "skill" or ability--or at least I hope it's not my only skill/ability. But that seems to be the thing that always "rises to the top" when someone asks about "Phil Hoover."

Example: A very close friend of mine at The Moody Church was introducing me to someone new the other week. We were making pleasant talk, when my friend told the 'new person'--"Oh yes, Phil is a marvelous cook....make sure you get an invitation to his place some time soon." I grinned, and was heartwarmed...for a few minutes....But then I started thinking, "surely I can do other things OUTSIDE the kitchen....surely I can. I served in the Air Force, I attended Seminary, I have some decent musical skills, and I consider myself to be an intelligent being....is COOKING going to be my legacy with all the people who know me?"

Well, for now it will be.

The Executive Pastor pretty much confirms this. My friend, Dr Hutz Hertzberg, once told me, "Brother, we have musicians, and theologians, and teachers galore in this church....They are a dime a dozen...but NO ONE can run a kitchen like you can...you are the BEST in this church."

Where is God in all of this?

Jackie Speaks: I am Thankful for my Friend Phil Hoover

Jackie Speaks: I am Thankful for my Friend Phil Hoover: "There are friends and then there is Phil Hoover. I first met Phil in the mid eighties. David Horton was the Minister of Music and I was the ..."

39, I am thankful for Men's Fraternity...

Yep, going on SEASON THREE, "The Great Adventure", I am deeply involved with the Men's Ministries of The Moody Church, a program called "Men's Fraternity" www.mensfraternity.com

This is, WITHOUT HESITATION, the very BEST program for men's ministries that I have ever encountered. As you will see on the website, it is VERY ENGAGING...

And the men in this "adventure" are THRILLED that I'm involved also....

I'm the "Kitchen Chief" every Thursday morning. I'm always at The Moody Church by 5:15 EVERY THURSDAY morning (without fail) when "MF" is going strong. I'm the guy who decides what the other 75 (give or take a few, here and there) will have for breakfast every Thursday morning.

I'm the guy who makes sure all the food is ordered, prepared, served...and most importantly that GALLONS of COFFEE is available...I would not ever face these men without CAFFEINATING them first!

We are having our "Man-sized, MONSTER" breakfast this morning (I'll be at the church at 4:45 AM with several others arriving shortly thereafter to help with the preparations.) So the menu will be:

Homemade Biscuits with gravy
Scrambled Eggs
Homemade Hashbrowns
Fresh Fruits
Fresh tomatoes
Orange Juice

Ya'll come!

38. I am thankful for CHURCH PICNICS

Yes, you were reading it correctly: I am VERY thankful for Church picnics...and especially the ones we have here at The Moody Church in Chicago. Our FIFTH annual picnic was yesterday (after the morning worship service), and it was great.

So many faithful people showed up in Lincoln Park to help with this great feat--and it's over.

Every single person who committed (to me) to show up and help with the grilling--they showed up, and we had a great time. We fed almost 2000 people in less than one hour (going through the lines), and not a single person (at the grills) was burned or injured.

I've done this now for five years...and next year, I'm taking a break. Someone else--maybe my friend Vincent Ramirez--can be in charge of the "grill" neck of this picnic forest....I'm taking a break next August, Lord Willing.

This was a great time of fellowship for our church family, and for those who wanted to come out and enjoy the gorgeous (but too humid) weather.

Whoever requested "veggie burgers" (and yes, we did have some)....is a very, very sick person. I tasted one of the patties, and it was AWFUL---almost an abomination.

But, I am very thankful for Church picnics.

37. I am thankful for HISTORY...

Ten years ago today, I moved from Cleveland, Tennessee to Chicago, Illinois. And what a ride it has been!

Four dwelling places, two churches, six different employers (including my present one), two very minor surgeries and one major surgery, nine years wearing contact lenses--and now back to glasses, a MULTITUDE of people who love me....gaining about 20 lbs, and losing 15 of them, only to gain them back....what a great adventure this has been!

And TGIF: Today, God is Faithful.....He has been faithful to me throughout the last ten years....there have been times of fear and depression and concern....But there has also been many times of great rejoicing, great worship to the LORD, and great fellowship with so many people who dearly love me, and I dearly love them.

Many tears, but triple that amount in laughter....

Yes, I'm thankful for history....

36. I am thankful for DIRECT DEPOSIT....

For the life of me, I can't understand people who still prefer "paper checks" in their grubby little hands on pay day....and YES, those people still do exist. I've worked with them.....and haven't quit trying to understand them.

I started my new job on August 9---my last post (and I really should make more effort to post more regularly)....and I received my very first paycheck today...VIA Direct Deposit.

I became acquainted with Direct Deposit when I entered Active Duty in the United States Air Force 24 years ago (September 23, 1986)....and I've not "turned back" since that time. Actually, I think I've only had one job in that time frame that did not offer Direct Deposit....and Lord willing, I'll NEVER work for that organization again---and NO, it wasn't the MAFIA....

I'm most thankful for Direct Deposit.

35. I am thankful for my NEW JOB

Yep, I've been a slacker in my postings as of late...and I really haven't meant to be---and I have a million excuses, but no good reasons.

But in a few hours, I will report for duty at Rush University Medical Center as one of their newest employees. Last Friday, I accepted an offer to become a full-time employee in the Guest Relations Department.

This HAD to be God. There's no other explanation for it.

After approximately 45 interviews this summer (from early April through last week), it seemed that GOD had just put a "stop" to everything that I was hoping for--and I might have to look elsewhere. My greatest fear was moving from my beloved Chicago to some other place. This was my "Isaac that had to go up the mountain" and see what God was going to do with "my sacrifice."

On Thursday, July 29th I was in my bedroom, talking to the LORD about "my Isaac" and asking HIM what the next steps would be. I was FLAT BROKE (less than $100 in my bank account), and knew that I would have to take immediate action of some sort.

Less than 30 seconds after I finished praying, my cell phone rang. My friend at Human Resources from Rush University Medical Center was calling, asking if I could come in the next day for an interview to a position which I had long sought---but there had also be hiring freeze affecting. Of course, I said "yes" and promptly planned to be there early on Friday.

Friday morning, July 30th I show up at the Rush Human Resources Office, thinking this would be the "run of the mill" interview.

Boy, was I ever so wrong! There would not be one interview, but THREE---and each of the department managers WANTED me, and wanted me as soon as I could start.

The HR employee bid me adieu (after I met with each of the managers individually), telling me that she would be in touch with me very, very soon....more than likely on the following Monday. Before I could get home on the bus, HR called, offering me a position. I was elated.

Absolutely ELATED....marvelously elated! (Of course this had happened before, but this time, it would stick...) I had been scheduled for my employee healthscreen for Monday, August 2. That occurred without incident.

On Thursday, August 5 I received a call from the Human Resources department informing me that a BETTER offer was on the table, and it was mine for the taking or rejecting. This would be a non-union full-time position, instead of the unionized part-time I had accepted previously.

Ain't God good? I'll continue this story later.

34. I am thankful for Small Portable Transistor Radios

About nine years ago, I bought a small transistor portable radio (AM-FM) at a Walgreens' for about $7.00 I think. This small contraption uses 4 AA batteries that I replace about twice a year.

I have had this small radio in both occupations that I've held since my purchase of it on Chicago's west side back in late 2001. It still plays wonderfully well (when I keep good batteries installed), and I take this radio with me just about everywhere I go, if I can. It's so small, I can put it in a coat pocket.

Right now, I am listening to Moody Radio Chicago (aka WMBI-FM 90.1) and was listening to National Public Radio (WBEZ-FM, 91.5) earlier in the day.

I grew up listening to the radio...and I'm thankful for the radio....one of life's simple pleasures.

33. I am thankful for the SETBACKS in life...

This has been a week of "drama" in my life. Lots of drama--most of it unexpected and unwanted.

I left my good-paying job back in mid-March (I felt this was what the Lord was directing me to do), so I could prepare to start nursing school this Fall. I diligently sought other employment opportunities, and had about 20 interviews between mid-March through the end of April. I felt good about these interviews.

Two of these positions were particularly promising--to the point that I was offered employment by both facilities, with potential starts at both.

Those start dates have come and gone (more than one time). The agencies were simply waiting for the "position funding" to be approved. I was using all of my savings from my IRA to pay the monthly bills/obligations. I made sure that I was giving to the ministries of my local church also. I was excited about starting a new job, and starting a new phase of life.

I found out a few days ago (Thursday actually) that both positions are a "no-go" now. One position was eliminated because the "funding" (by a federal agency) was completely eliminated as of July 1st. The other position is the victim of an agency-wide hiring freeze.

So I am back at Square One. I have spent all of my savings (wisely, I hope) to pay the bills and not be a burden on anyone. Now I am down to my last $100 bucks, and find myself needing to pay bills again.

I have arranged for 3 interviews next week...and I've already had one emotional meltdown this week. I just know the LORD will provide a job, and resources...but may I ask you all to please FERVENTLY pray for me? I want to "trust and obey"---something the Lord reminded me of late last night...a song I learned in the second grade..."Trust and Obey, for there's no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey."

I'm thankful for the setbacks in life....even when these setbacks leave me scared and uncertain.

32. I am thankful for VICTORY in Jesus...

One of my very favorite songs is "Victory in Jesus"...having grown up in the Pentecostal tradition, this was one of many songs that we sang with great gusto, and with tremendous assurance. We sang it like we really did "have victory" in Jesus....

I was just sitting here listening to the Perrys sing "Victory in Jesus" on YouTube (as part of another song they have recorded), and just realized "again" what a precious, precious thing this "victory" really is to those who are redeemed.

When I couldn't find my way to God, He sent His Son Jesus to find me...to "plunge me beneath the cleansing flood." I was only a bit more than six years old, but I remember the very night when Christ called me to Himself, forgave my sins, and washed me with His blood.

I am thankful for this victory in Jesus....that when all around us is dreary--and even depressing--that we can look UP, and know that HE is still our victorious Saviour! (For all of you preachers--actually both of you--that is SHOUTIN' MATERIAL).
I am thankful for those subtle and poignant reminders that I am not alone, nor am I forsaken or abandoned....the VICTOR still calls me the "apple of His eye."

I am thankful for Victory in Jesus.

31. I am thankful for FREEDOM...

On this Fourth of July, 2010 I want to stated unashamedly, I am thankful for my FREEDOM. I am an American citizen. Born in the United States of America, and thankful for God's grace and provision in this "land of the free and home of the brave."

But, I am even more thankful for my FREEDOM in Christ....God's only Son. I am so thankful that the "Cross is my Statue of Liberty...it was there that my soul was made free..." Yes, indeed, the Cross is really my Statue of Liberty. When my soul is heavy-ladened with cares, sins, despair, and fear--I know where to find FREEDOM...the JUDGE at the CROSS still hears my case--every time. I can rest my case at the CROSS, knowing that He hears it...and He will settle it.

"Unashamed, I'll proclaim that a rugged Cross is my Statute of Liberty!"

Amen and amen.

30. I am thankful for CARDINAL FITNESS...right down the street...

At the time of this writing, it is 4:50 a.m. on Thursday, July 1, 2010. I have a midterm examination that starts in 13 hours from this very moment...I am up early reviewing for it...

I am also up early, because I want to get over to the local CARDINAL FITNESS center that is one block from my apartment building. This place is my friend....many, many times a "severely neglected one" but a friend nonetheless.

I was so excited two years ago when this place was "moving into" the neighborhood. Now I was going to get into "shape" (and yes, ROUND is a shape...just not the one I prefer), and stay in shape....

All for only $19.99 a month.

Last year, when the transplant team in Birmingham told me that I needed to "lose about 10 lbs" before I could become a living kidney donor, I was in that wonderful place, on the treadmill, faithfully at least five mornings a week. I walked about 45 minutes each time, somewhere between 3.5-4.2 miles an hour, at 4.2% incline, on the "Fat Burn" setting. It was GREAT. Exhilirating most of the time, actually.

I've never felt better. And the months ensuing, since the surgery...well, let's say that I'm glad that "gym neglect" isn't a crime....I'd be in SERIOUS trouble.

As a matter of fact, I AM in serious trouble. All the weight that I lost....it has reappeared....and now, I must "do away" with it again.

Oops, the gym is now open, and I'm late...so let's go those "New Balances" on, and get on that treadmill...

See ya...

29. I am thankful for the "hurts" in life...

This is the "hardest" reason to be thankful--to date. But I am so thankful for the times of pain and hurt in my life, both deserved and those times when it was undeserved.

I remember almost five years ago when someone I dearly loved perpetrated great emotional harm to me. Lies were told, propagated, and enhanced against me...and it devastated me, emotionally.

I cried many long days, and even longer nights. I felt my heart literally being ripped out of my body, and I lay bloodied on the ground. (While all of this is very figurative, it would not have been any more painful, had it been literal, in my opinion.)

About 2:30 a.m. one Friday morning, I woke up, and heard the voice of the Holy Spirit say, "Let it go. Give it to Me, and let Me handle it. I will take care of it. I will take care of you. But leave it alone and let it go."

I knew, then and there, that I had no choice but to "leave it alone." And by "leaving it alone" that meant that I couldn't say anything more about it...to anyone...that I would intentionally bless those who had harmed me, and would ask God to help them, no matter what happened to me.

To this day, I pray for this person, and love them more and more--even though I'm never around them anymore.

I look at the pain that Jesus bore for my salvation. I remember the Cross, and remember that I am called to come and die...

28. I am thankful for INTEGRITY...

INTEGRITY is defined as "wholeness; uprightness; honesty or soundness of moral principles and character." That pretty much sums it up, huh?

Well, not exactly. I agree completely with the definition as rendered. Last night, I had the great blessing of three different people (who don't know each other) remind me of my obligation (before both God and humanity) to be a man of integrity. These three people challenged me to "be what I say I am" and to "live as I claim to live" not bringing a reproach on the worthy name of Christ.

I am thankful for all three of these people. I am SO GRATEFUL for all three of them, because I know the LORD sent them to me last evening. It was GOD--the ultimate Example and Definer of integrity--who caused them to contact me, reminding me that I must "walk worthy."

I've not always walked worthy...and that is a story in itself. But suffice it to say, that I was reminded last evening, on Father's Day, by my Heavenly Father, to be a man of integrity.

I needed these reminders. I'm thankful for them.

27. I am thankful for FATHERS in my life.

Yep, you read it right, I used the plural word, "Fathers"....because I have so many. I am thankful for every single one of them. Let me explain:

My biological father pretty much abandoned me when I was a baby (after he and my biological mother separated and eventually divorced). I grew up without parents who were regularly in my life in a meaningful and profound way. My father's mother, my Granny Hoover, raised me, for the most part.

She had a lot of help. Help that she never asked for, but also help that GOD Himself (the PERFECT FATHER) knew that she (and I) needed.

Even though my biological father was/is an alcoholic (among other vices), God knew that HE Himself would bring very loving and wise men into my life--who would show me what GOD the Father is really like.

I think of these precious, godly men who loved Christ, loved me, and helped me see that my Heavenly Father is FAR superior to anything my earthly father could ever be in my life. I don't want to start naming them in this post, because I'm sure that I will inadvertently leave someone's name out. (And since this post will show up on FaceBook, I'd rather not stir the "good ire" of any of these men in case their CHILDREN were to read this on FB and see that I left out "their" father--someone special to me.) Now that I've danced around "the naming of names", I simply want to be thankful.

I grew up backward, awkward, and clumsy. I grew up with NO idea what it meant to become a "man"--not to mention a "man of God." I had no "father" in my life--a man who would take the time show me how to become the "man" that God had designed me to be.

But, I have learned this "process" slowly over the years. So many wonderful, gracious, and good men have loved me with the "love of the Father" and the love of "a father." I could never repay such a debt to these awesome friends.

I've done my best to call some of these "giants" in my life, already. Most of them have no idea what "FaceBook" is, nor do they really care. But they have shown me the "face of Jesus" many, many times. And His face has been seen clearly through them.

Some of the precious saints are already in their eternal residence. I miss them terribly. I know that we all have "more to go to heaven for than we had yesterday."

Thank God for my "fathers." I am so grateful.

I am thankful for the PROMISE OF HEAVEN

26. I am thankful for TECHNOLOGY....

It seems like modern technology is coming on the scene at an "earth-shattering" pace...I was planning to use the word "warp"--but I'm not sure what "warp" (in this context, at least) would mean. It seems like yesterday that "personal computers" were becoming all the "rage." And now, people carry their "personal computer" (aka iPhone) in their front pockets....

I remember my first encounter with a personal computer. I was active duty in the United States Air Force, stationed at Beale AFB, California. The office where I worked had just received a large "workstation" whereby we could input information and transmit it to the agency's headquarters in San Antonio, Texas. This was approximately 1988. Or it could have been 1989.

I thought I was "hot stuff"--because I was learning to use this "workstation"...I'd no longer be sentenced to do all that "paperwork" by hand...I could just do it on the "workstation." That was the "ticket"....the secret of my success...the blessed workstation.

Fast forward a year or so...and I'm being relocated to KunSan Air Base, South Korea....and back to doing "everything by hand" once again. NO workstation????? WHAT KIND OF PLACE is this? But I "re-learned" to do everything by hand...

Fast forward to January, 1991, and once again I move...this time to Oslo, Norway to AFNORTH (Allied Forces, Northern Europe), and again, everything was done by hand. However, we did have one very small "computer" in the office---and I was one of the few people who knew how to use it.

So, I'm very thankful for all the advances we've made in technology. And this includes ALL technology, not just computers. I'm thankful for medical technology, particularly.

God bless all of these SMART people who are far more brilliant than I could ever hope to be.

25. I am thankful for Great Hymns of the Church...

I grew up singing, and loving "Southern Gospel Music." It was and continues to be a GLORIOUS heritage for me....songs that tell the stories of God's faithfulness, guidance, love, saving grace, and almighty power--and how we mere mortals have experienced it....GREAT, GREAT testimonies...

Somewhere along the way, I also fell in love with the rich hymnody of the English-speaking church. I'm not sure if it was my early college years, or my later college years...but somewhere in that time frame, I began this romance with the hymnal...and the "fires" are still burning!

While many congregations have "transitioned" into singing the "ditties" and the "jingles"...(or as one of my friends now calls them, the "7-11s"--seven words, 11 times each), some places (The Moody Church being one of them) still sings the great hymns of the Church....

No one can sing "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" like the saints of The Moody Church (www.moodychurch.org). Every time we sing this wonderful song of praise and testimony, I am just about ready to bawl my eyes out....What a marvelous reflection of just how GREAT our GOD is....and it's all put to music.

The very first song I ever sang in public was one of the great "hymns" of the Church. My great-grandmother Branum (who died when she was 105 years old, in 1970) played a mandolin, and taught me these precious words, line-by-line:

"And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own..." I remember standing up on a piano stool in a small Pentecostal church when I was only 5 years old, and singing all three verses to "In the Garden..." Of course, I forgot many of the words to the third verse....but I have NEVER forgotten the fact that JESUS walks with me, and talks with me...And He still does! Praise His name!

And what greater song of victory and testimony can we find than these words,
"Long, my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature's night,
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray, I woke, the dungeon flamed with light!
MY CHAINS fell off, my heart was free! I rose, went forth, and followed Thee!"

And the most lovely words in the English language---from the anointed pen of Isaac Watts:

"When I survey the wondrous Cross
On which the Prince of Glory died!
My richest gains, I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride!"

More than 23 years ago, my friend Michael Cork (who was then Minister of Music at Denver First Church of the Nazarene) gave me a "hymnal to use" in my devotions. He told me to keep it, since the local church was planning to buy new ones anyway.

I LOVE THAT HYMNAL. That sacred book has followed me all over the world. Next to my Bible, it is probably the book I read the most...and sometimes even more than my Bible...

I am thankful for the great HYMNS of the Church. My heart will keep singing them!

24. I am thankful for UNCERTAINTIES....

This one is just HARD for me to admit. What else can I say? The only thing CERTAIN in this life is that GOD knows and sees and controls everything aspect of the universe.

I was pretty sure that I would be "working" by now. After all, I accepted a job offer back in late April--awaiting a starting date. The starting date was postponed...and then postponed again...and yet again. So I still have started this job. I've had other interviews, and haven't heard anything back from most of them either.

I'm getting VERY ANTSY right now. I have just about exhausted my personal resources...and I need to be able to pay the bills for July...

I just don't see it happening...but I am CERTAIN that God knows what is going on. So, even in my faithlessness, He is a good and faithful God. Of this I am CERTAIN.

In all of my uncertainties, I can be certain that He is in control. Now if I can just get my head and heart to both acknowledge this at the same time.

23. I am thankful for the STRUGGLE...

Some of you think I have probably lost my mind...."thankful for the struggle"...how can it be?

I often ask myself the same question....and even at this ungodly early hour...I am sitting here at a friend's laptop (I'm in New Mexico at this very moment, visiting some dear friends), thanking God for the "struggle"....

Because I know that in every struggle, I can go to the Rock....that Rock is Jesus. In every struggle, I know that all my tears are not in vain.....God washes my eyes with tears, so I can see His Son more clearly.

The "struggle" reminds me that this life isn't all there is....that a far better day is coming. A day when all the toils, cares, heartaches, disappointments, setbacks, and defeats will be ended...eternally.

The "struggle" reminds me that I can't live life alone...I need the love, fellowship, communion, and grace offered by a lot of other people....and they need it as well....we are in this thing together.

The "struggle" reminds me that all the feelings of inferiority, insecurity, and unworthiness are just that: feelings. God has already validated me with the blood of His own Son. Sometimes the real "struggle" is in remembering this most important of FACTS....

The Perrys sing a wonderful song, "I Rest my case at the Cross"----and when I bring it all to the Cross, I can give my "struggle" to Him. He does indeed "champion" my cause. He hears my case....He renders His verdict...and He declares that I belong to Him.

Even in the "struggle."

22. I am thankful for DOWN TIME...

I know far too many completely FRENZIED people. Always working, always entertaining, always going, always serving, always "doing"....just "always" something or another....

I used to be one of those people. But lately, I'm not among that "cast of characters" for the time being.

"Down time" is a precious, precious gift God intends for us to have...it is our for the taking....but it's always up to us.

There is nothing holy or spiritual about being "constantly tired" or perpetually exhausted....and I learned this lessons the hard way. When I was close to a nervous breakdown (about 12 years ag0), I discovered that I didn't have to be at every single activity of my local church, and every extra-activity of graduate school, and accept every invitation that was made....in other words, the WORLD would survive without me "constantly being there"....but I might not, if I didn't discover some "down time"---and do it rather quickly.

Now, I'm just thankful for the "down time"....the times when I can "detox" from all the "busy-ness" that can crowd out life.

I enjoy staying active and busy....but now I want all the "activity" and the "busy-ness" to serve a purpose other than just "taking up time."

The Scriptures tell us to "number our days" and "apply our heart to wisdom"....and sometimes the wisest thing I can do is take some "down time."

21. I am thankful for AIR TRAVEL....

I had my first airplane ride when I was 18 years old. My pastor (at the time) was also a very experienced pilot--he had his private pilot's liscense before he ever got his drivers' liscense.

I will always remember that flight. We are started at the Cleveland airstrip, and flew over the Smoky Mountains...it didn't last long, but it was fun.

My next flight would come some four and a half years later. It was Thanksgiving Day, and I flew from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Boston, Massachussetts on the now defunct Piedmont Airlines. The entire trip (with two nights in a hotel room in Boston) was only $99.00 I will never forget that trip.

I had a 6 a.m. flight (my friend Tim Stone) took me to the Chattanooga Airport. It was stormy, and very stormy. The flight was "bumpy" to say the least...and I had no idea what to expect. I was just praying that we would get wherever we were going---which at the time was the Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, North Carolina. (The old airport, not the new one). As soon as I got off the plane, I walked in the terminal, and looked like I had just been through a really bad winter....

I'm not sure who the wonderful gate agent was...but she saw how frazzled I must have been, and I was almost in tears....and I had a 3-hour layover in this airport....but she found me a flight that was leaving in 30 minutes...and I would be on my way to Logan International Airport in lovely Boston, Massachussetts. That flight--smoother than a newborn baby's butt. It was lovely...very, very lovely.

Since that weekend (25 years ago this Thanksgiving), I have literally flown around the world, and all over the world....The longest single flight being from San Francisco, California to Seoul, Korea--nonstop in January 1990. There have been some very short flights...from Sacramento to San Francisco....that same day....I think it took about 25 minutes. No coke, no peanuts....straight up, and straight down....

I am thankful for air travel. I can't imagine life without it. I'm glad I don't have to stretch my mind like that anymore.

I am thankful for THIS MUSIC

19. I am very thankful for Vacation Bible School

My great friend, Dr Jackie Johns (www.jackiespeaks.blogspot.com) wrote a marvelous post about his brother-in-law Mike. He mentions, frequently I might add, how "hyper-hyper-active" his BIL is...or was...possibly still is...(I don't remember meeting Mike-he didn't stand still long enough for me to meet him)....but I digress...

I was a pretty "hyper-active" child. But then again, "normal children" (in my humble opinion) are supposed to be "active"--maybe even "hyper"--that's the reason they are young. God did waste "youth" on the young, obviously.

One of the blessed respites for my sainted Grandmother Hoover (who raised me) was the local Vacation Bible School. And there were always at least THREE in the vicinity--she made sure that I attended every single one of them, without fail.

Of course, I've always loved school--except in my waining years (now)--and the thought doesn't terrify me, but it does CHALLENGE me to "continue growing" mentally. But again, I digress...

Vacation Bible School meant that I would be with other "children"--teenagers--whatever for at least five days, consecutively. VBS always meant that I would learn about Christ, in a very interactive and fun manner. VBS meant that I would learn a new "craft" of some type. I may even still have some of those "projects"--like the "praying hands" that we made out of some type of cement/clay materials, and then painted...(okay, I confess...I can be a packrat.)

But Vacation Bible School was always fun. It was just fun...FUN, I say.

For this little "orphan" boy who was being raised by his grandmother, it was a break for her, and a chance to "learn" for him. Both were always needed.

Response to President Calderon

My sentiments EXACTLY....I'm glad that SOMEONE in this nation has the FORTITUDE to stand up for AMERICA.....

18. I am thankful for the VOICE OF GOD in my life...

One year ago this morning (approximately 9:15 a.m.), I received a much-awaited telephone call from the Renal Transplant Center of the University of Alabama-Birmingham. This was the call that I had been wanting to receive for at least 20 days. It would tell me that I was a "suitable match" to be a living kidney donor for my friend, Dr Bill George. I was sure this would be the case. Let me explain.

On Tuesday before Easter (2009), I was on FaceBook for only the second time...and saw a posting saying that my former Missions professor (Dr George) needed a kidney transplant. I was praying, "O Lord, somewhere in this big family of Yours, there's got to be a kidney...Lord, someone has to be a match." Almost immediately the LORD spoke to me, "You are a match." Immediately I said, "okay, I'll do it." There was no crisis moment, no drama, no tears, and no discussion. I simply wanted to see where the Lord would lead me in all of this.

On April 28, 2009 (approximately 3 weeks earlier) I took a vacation day from work, went to my physician's office and did the "blood tests" that were immediately Overnighted (UPS) to UAB for lab results. The lab director in Birmingham told me that I would have results in approximately three weeks. As soon as I finished the blood work at the doctor's office, I left the hospital, and immediately called Bill George at his office in Cleveland, TN. He was just a bit concerned, and a bit down-trodden. The LORD clearly spoke to my heart, and I said, "Well, Bill, let's just see what the LORD has for us in all of this." I had never used that sentence with him or anyone else before, to the best of my knowledge. But I knew what GOD had spoken to me...

So, as soon as I receive the telephone call from UAB, I start typing an email to my friend Bill, in TN....saying, "I'm a match...call me..." He calls about 90 seconds later and immediately said, "Phil, this is a terrible joke." I assured him that I was NOT joking...and that I was still on the phone with UAB, and that I would call him back immediately--which I did.

I'm thankful for the voice of God in my life. This is just one of "several times" when I knew the LORD was clearly speaking to me....and I'm grateful for His wisdom and grace given so that I could obey Him.

I humbly ask Him to continue speaking through His Word, His people, and by His Spirit.

17. I am thankful for the "Usual Places..." in life...

My wonderful friend, Kay Horner, preached a message a couple months ago at her home church
(www.peerlessroadchurch.com/media) about the cripple man in Acts 3...on the man who had not walked for more than 40 years....

So laying near the "gate" was a usual place for him.

This made me think. What are the "usual places" in my life? Why are these the "usual" places, and what makes them special---more than just "usual"?

I've been very blessed in life to grow up "in the church"....a "usual place."

I've been very fortunate to sit in the pew and sings the songs of Zion...a "usual place."

I've been enriched in knowing the power of "praying through at the altars"...another "usual place."

I've was trained at an early age (in the Church of Christ, for starters) to LOVE the "Sunday School hour"--and almost always have attended, with few exceptions. Sunday School is my "usual place."

But Christ has always been there....I've never known a time when the "usual place" wasn't a special time....the "unusual things of God"....healing, deliverance, peace, comfort, conviction, and strength.....all from the hand of God...in these "usual places."

I'm thankful for "usual places."

16. I am thankful for Refrigerators...

It is no secret that the "Food Network" is probably my very favorite thing on Cable Television...thus, I do not have "cable television" in my home....but I do watch every possible "food show" that comes on all the "free channels", particularly PBS.

And I have identified with the old joke, "The only LIGHT in my life is the one in the refrigerator..." Thank the LORD for refrigerators.

But, in the interest of honest disclosure, I must say that I have always had this "thing" with the largest appliance in the kitchen: the most blessed refrigerator.

I remember, as I was growing up, that we kept most of the "food stuff" in two places: the cabinets in the kitchen (usually out of my reach, also) and the refrigerator. I learned early on that one MUST keep butter, milk, cheese, sour cream (notice the "dairy" theme) and all meats in the refrigerator.

Of course, I can remember my sainted Grandmother Hoover (now in heaven for almost 18 years) telling me how the "ice box" had literal blocks of ice to keep the food stuff cool and edible. (I've never understood why we don't just say "eat-able"...but I'll surrender to the tyranny of good grammar.) I"m glad those days are over...REALLY glad those days are over....

I look in my refrigerator now, and see all kinds of "interesting" things: Tomato paste that I opened about two months ago--now with mold on it; the four different kinds of Polish mustard that I have in the door (and all of them are YUMMY); the three different kinds of BBQ sauce I have in the door (I usually put BBQ sauce on my baked AND fried potatoes); and then there is the "healthy stuff"--the dietary police would have no reason to give me more than a "simple warning" ticket (most of the time, any way).

There is the lemonade (sugar free, and calorie free, just as advertised); the two dozen eggs that I will eventually use; the gallon of milk that I am trying (with all my might) to use before it "clabbers" and all the other stuff. Down in the vegetable drawer: two bags of carrots, some cauliflower, broccoli, and some left over onion in one of those plastic grocery bag thingies...

Oh, but BLESS THE LORD for the automatic icemaker. I have always wanted an AUTOMATIC ICEMAKER. God is so good! Never, not ever (well as long as I live in this same apartment) will I have to put those tedious ice trays in the freezer, and wait for them to "make ice." I marvel at God's creation...and that of Amana...in that order, I might add.

And yes, there is the frozen pie crust that has been in my freezer since Thanksgiving 2008...maybe I should either use it or just throw it away. And in the freezer door, there is the ice pack (that can also be used as a "hot pack") that I used on my shoulder January-March when I was doing "physical therapy" twice a week. That "life saver" cost me $9 at WalGreens...I'm not ABOUT to throw it away.

And I haven't even described all of my roommate's stuff in the blessed Stainless Steel.

15. I am thankful for TODAY

Gloria Gaither stated it so well,

"Yesterday's gone, and tomorrow may never come; We have this moment today."

Even when the day seems wasted, I am still thankful for it. I am thankful that GOD woke me up this morning...that HE gave me breath all day long. I am thankful for the people that I've encountered today---even those who don't like me or what I may believe to be true.

I am thankful for HIS mercies that are "new every morning" (Lamentations 3), and that today I have lived, according to the mercies of our Lord.

I am thankful for the Pasta Bolognese (homemade in my kitchen) dinner that I shared with my great friend (and roommate) Joe Misek. I am thankful for the ability to make a wonderful meal. I am thankful for every bite of that food today....

I am thankful for TODAY....there is no promise of tomorrow...and yesterday is HISTORY....

And the writer of Hebrews reminds us, "Today, if you hear His voice..."

Today. TODAY, I am thankful.

14. I am thankful for FACEBOOK...

Second only to my friend Joe Misek (www.joemisek.blogspot.com), I was the most hesitant person I know to jump on the "FaceBook" bandwagon....(and thank the LORD, Joe has finally joined as well...just a few months ago). But I am so very glad that I did "see the Facebook light"...

It has been a wonderful "family reunion" for me in many ways. Just this very evening (it's about 10:45 p.m. CST right now), I was able to "reconnect" with someone I've not heard from in almost 30 years. Her brother was one of my "best friends" in middle and high school. Donna is a precious, precious woman, and still loves Christ. Her brother (my friend) Michael, is still somewhat "unsure" of his own spiritual walk, even though I remember when he was very much in love with the Saviour, and wanted to follow His will in life. I still think and pray for him often.

I've been able to reconnect with friends from high days, and even earlier than that. Some of these people I've not heard from since the 4th grade, which makes it all the sweeter to me.

And GOD used "facebook" to give my great friend Dr Bill George, my left kidney last October...you can go back to the May-October blogs on this forum and read the "storyline" of how all this transpired. It truly was God's doing.

I know that I can post a "prayer request" on FaceBook any hour of the day, and that my friends all over the world (from Russia to New Zealand, and all points in between) will be praying for me. That is more precious than gold of any amount.

So, let me close by saying, I am very thankful for FaceBook.

Joe is too. He just doesn't realize it yet.

13. I am thankful for BABY DEDICATIONS

During our morning worship gathering yesterday, The Moody Church family witnessed seven young children being "dedicated" to the LORD. It was a precious and very blessed time.

I am always delighted to see families bring their small children before the LORD and the congregation to perform the public act of "dedicating" these small ones to God's will and care.
We fully realize that their is no "salvific power" in this ritual, but rather a commitment on the part of the parents to raise their children in the fear of God, and to teach these children the ways of Christ.

One of the most sobering parts of these ceremonies is the challenge to the local congregation to "commit ourselves" to nurture and cherish these children and their parents in the ways of God. A proper baby dedication ceremony (in a place of worship) is not just for the children and their parents. It is also a time for the local congregation to commit themselves to these families.

After all, the local church is called to be the "family of God."

12. I am thankful for CLOTHES (I seem to have plenty of them).

I am amazed at how some people treat their personal closets....I mean, really! When I visit my Grandmother Fields, she will often say "I don't have anything to wear to...."

That's true. SHE HAS FOUR CLOSETS full of "anything to wear..."

What she means is tha she wants something new to wear....

I grew up unspeakably poor, and really didn't have very many clothes. But I am thankful for what I did have.

Now I have a closet full...but it hasn't always been that way. I remember when I only had three pairs of pants, and three shirts, and one pair of shoes.

Every time I think of how Jesus said His Heavenly Father "clothes the lilies of the fields" I am immediately thankful for every piece of clothing I have. I have plenty, and I'm very, very thankful for them.

11. I am thankful that GOD LOVES ME.

Listening to Paul Washer (www.tenindictments.com) tonite, I have been profoundly reminded of how blessed and fortunate and RICH I am to know that the Sovereign God of the universe loves me. He really, really does love me.

You see, I grew up with no parents in my life...or should I say no "consistent parents" in my life. My biological "producers" abandoned each other, shortly after my birth...and then abandoned me. My paternal grandmother raised me...and the LORD Himself made sure that I survived.

I was so loved by God that He drew me to Himself through His Son, Jesus when I was just a very young lad. On a Tuesday night at the Greenfield Church of Christ in rural Madison County, Alabama I came to Jesus...just as I was...a young kid...but realizing that I needed a Saviour. Jesus was that Saviour then...and He is still that Saviour today, more than 40 years later.

Psychologists tell us that our "view of God" is initially formed by our relationship with our earthly fathers. Mine wasn't formed that way...because my earthly father was never there...except when he would occasionally "drop by" for a few minutes. I soon learned that my Heavenly Father wouldn't just "drop by" for a few minutes. My paternal great-grandmother Brannum taught me a song when I was just a young, young child--and it was about God. Some of the most precious words I've ever heard, and that I have ever learned are these:

"And He walks with me, and He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own!
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known."

Such simple words, and a simple song. But for this young kid, it was profound truth that my 105-years old Great-Grandmother wanted me to always remember. I can't begin to count the times the Holy Spirit has reminded me that God is walking with me...and that I belong to Him.

When I felt so insecure (and sometimes...many times still do), this loving Father God says to me, "Let's walk and talk...I still love you."

I'm thankful for those times.

10. I am thankful for MY PASTORS...every single one of them...over the last 40+ years

Pastors are very, very special people. That is the way God designed (and called) them. The "pastor" is the undershepherd, representing the GREAT SHEPHERD Himself. This GREAT SHEPHERD is the pastor's role model and example.

And since I grew up "without a father" (for all intents and purposes), my "pastor" has always been a "father-figure" to me, in most cases. One dear pastor wasn't...and never could have been: Sister Roden just could never have been a "father" to anyone...but a "mother figure" to many, many people.

Let's see if I can remember all of the people I've called "pastor" since I've started this wonderful "walk with Jesus":

Tommy Rosenblume (introduced me to Jesus and baptized me the same night I was converted).
David Sain
Dewey Smith
Billy Nettle
Raymond Wallace
Mildred Roden (went to heaven the summer after I graduated from high school, on a warm Sunday afternoon in July 1980).
J E Brisson
Sam Clements
Glenn Rountree (kept my membership in TN while I was in the Air Force for ten years)
W Donald Wellman (now in Heaven)
Chris Losey and Travis Robinson (Air Force Chaplains)
Gary Piepkorn and Larry Hendon (Air Force Chaplains)
Ivar Overgaard (Norwegian pastor, and now in heaven)
John Donneberg
Randal Ross
Tim McCaleb
Mitch Maloney
Erwin Lutzer
Al Toledo
Erwin Lutzer (returned to the Moody Church in 2005)
** The people served as "Senior Pastors" in the local churches where I was a regular worshipper. Many of the "pastoral staff" have become precious and wonderful friends. Pastor Charles Butler, who directs Shepherding and Men's Ministries at The Moody Church is one of the dearest "role models" of what it means to be like Jesus that I have had in a long, long time.

I am very, very thankful for my pastors. God called them, and I'm so glad that HE did.

9. I am thankful for the privilege of Serving...

I have to admit it right up front: I am MADLY in love with my local church family. Unashamedly, unabashedly, irrevocably, MADLY in love with The Moody Church family. And one of the many things that "evokes" my love with this great congregation is the privilege I have to "serve" among them as we seek to love Christ to the very best of our abilities, individually and corporately. Some of the very finest people in the city of Chicago are in this "Moody Church family" of mine. I'll write more about them in another post, I'm sure.

But like every church, there is almost always a "shortage" of people serving in all the places where "people are needed." That FACT seems to be REAL in every congregation. And ours is no different.

When I returned to The Moody Church in November, 2005 (after a 3-year hiatus in another congregation), the first thing I wanted to do was find "places" to serve...to do whatever I can to further the kingdom of God, and the ministries of this local Body of Christ.

God has MORE than answered my prayers! I am always finding "things to do" and "ways to serve." I am so THANKFUL for these. Whether it is preparing food for the "Men's Fraternity" gathering on Thursday morning--meaning I have to be at the church not later than 5:15 a.m., or assisting the Music Department in getting the "food things" ready for their major productions three times a year, or setting up the Coffee/Tea/Water/Beverages Services for the Sunday Evening Gathering, so people will have something to "wet their whistle" before and during the worship gathering. I also serve in the Women's Ministries as the coordinator for all the "male volunteers" for luncheon functions and the like. It is my HIGH HONOR to 'serve" in this manner. Being involved in three or four SERVING activities every Sunday was nothing unusual for me at all....and it was beginning to take its toll on me. One of the pastoral team members refers to me as his "first-round draft pick" anytime there is a need for someone to "serve in the kitchen" or get "food items" ready for an event.

For some crazy reason when someone at the church needs something in the kitchen--or needs to know someone about the church kitchen--my name always seems to be in the mix...somewhere, and somehow. Betty (Crocker) and Martha (Stewart) and Paula (Deen) would be proud, I'm sure.

Last year (2009), I was so burned out from all the "serving", that I knew the LORD was leading me to take a three-month sabbatical from it all. My great friend (and pastor) Charles Butler was the first that I shared this "leading" with, since I wanted him to help me discern if this was God or just my own exhaustion. I remember calling him on April 1, 2009 and saying, "Pastor, I have decided that I am going to take June, July, and August OFF from all the extra-curricular stuff at the church. If it is already on my calendar as of today, I will honor that commitment. But NOTHING else is going on my calendar for those three months. I need a break."

"Yeah, well I'll believe it when I see it," replied one Pastor Charles Butler. So I made a pact with him. Every time someone asked me to "do something" at the church, I would run it by him first. I would be completely accountable to Pastor Charles concerning my "over-serving" and my sabbatical requirements. I fully intended to "not do any of the extra stuff" for three months.

From June 1, until August 30, 2009--I KEPT MY WORD. I turned down an average of 4 different requests every week for ministries at the local church needing "assistance" with an activity of some type. But I knew where my temporary boundaries were, and they were not to be compromised.

But August 30th, I was out in Lincoln Park organizing the "cooks" and the "grillmeisters" for the Church-wide picnic. The "four of us" (three other guys and myself) grilled enough hamburgers and hotdogs to feed more than 1800 people. Everyone moved through the line in less than ONE HOUR....this was a record time for these events. We were so happy.

But, I am grateful for the privilege of "serving." I learned many years ago that when I am "serving" that I must always offer my "gift of serving" to the LORD before I ever offer the "product of service" to those whom are being served. Whenever I am in the kitchen at the church, I want to remember that I am serving the LORD first and foremost. Then, I am serving His people to the very best of my ability.

This is a high honor and a tremendous privlege in my life. I wouldn't trade it for anything else.

8. I am thankful for CELL PHONES

Okay, I'll admit it. I remember when we had the "dial phone" consoles sitting on our nightstands, and the "dial phone" attached to the wall somewhere in the kitchen. And then we graduated to "touchtone" phones....

And now, it seems like EVERYONE has a cell phone...even some people who shouldn't (but that is another post for another day). I first saw these "wonderful items" about ten years ago when I first moved to the Windy City. I was downtown in the LOOP, and saw people walking around seemingly talking to themselves...I was certain that one city couldn't possibly have THIS MANY "mentally unstable" people...and then someone explained the "earpiece" and the cell phone technology to me....back in the Fall of 2000. Almost ten years ago.

I swore I'd never be so vain as to have a "cell phone" with me at all times. Well, I must admit that I am addicted to my "vanity"...and my cell phone goes everywhere with me, 99.99% of the time.

I am thankful for CELL PHONES because I can pick up my phone (which is never more than 2 feet from me 24 hours a day, seven days a week) and call just about anyone I want to talk to...or at least leave a message. Or, I can be "really post-modern" and send a text message...

I remember the days of "public lines" versus "private lines" and how the ringing would be so loud, it could wake the dead. Yes, we've come a very, very long way.

My cell phone goes EVERYWHERE with me. I can put it on "silent" or "vibrate"...or just about any other setting that I choose. I can be connected almost as quickly as I can open my eyes, and get my fingers to digitizing. Maybe that is just a bit "too connected"--but you get the point.

So yes, I am thankful for cell phones.

7. I am thankful for FIRST-TIME VISITORS at Church

We had a literal busload of "first-time visitors" to The Moody Church yesterday morning. These wonderful people were on their way BACK to Savannah, Georgia and stopped by to worship the LORD with us here in Chicago. It was a THRILL to have them--all 35 of them!

Most of these folks were in their early-mid 60s, and some well beyond that. But each was a delight to my heart, as I had the time to stop and talk with them ever so briefly.

One of things I enjoy doing (most Sunday mornings) is standing in the main lobby (Clark Street entrance) of our local church facilities, and seeing people gather in for our time of corporate worship. Since The Moody Church enjoys the diversity of more than 68 nationalities as regular parishioners, it is always a joy to "meet and greet" people from literally all over the world, united for one purpose: worshipping Jesus!

But, I am also reminded of what it means to make "good impressions" the first time someone comes to "visit" our "family." I've been a visitor on more than one occasion in local churches other than "my own." There were times it was a "real treat" for me to see others in the "kingdom of God"--translated, I was welcomed and would return to worship with these people if the occasion ever presented itself.

There have been THOSE TIMES (thankfully and mercifully FEW in number) when I swore I would never return to that church if it were the LAST PLACE on earth to gather with God's people for worship. I'd start my own first. That reminds me of a story (but as I've stated elsewhere, MOST things remind me of a story. I'll spare you this time). The "meal" may be good, and good for you, but if the first "taste" is bad....good luck with the "rest of that stuff."

So what made a good "first-time visitor" experience for me?

First, I received a warm, and sincere "welcome" at the front door. Someone was standing there ready to answer my question(s), and assist me if I needed it. Everyone should know where the water fountains, restrooms, and nursery are located...as well as the sanctuary, and when the worship service will begin. This should be "sincere"--not plastic, or "rehearsed." Maybe I'm being a bit "over-sensitive" here, but I am KEENLY AWARE of when someone is truly glad to have me "among them" and when someone is just 'being nice because that is what I'm supposed to be". As a first-time visitor, "sincerity" at the front door means everything.

Second, I always appreciate a good handshake, a smile, and an "Order of Worship" if one is being used. (Not every congregation prints their "Order of Worship" and that's completely fine with me).

Third, I appreciate being "acknowledged" as a visitor in a worship gathering, but not embarrassed. Thank me, publicly, for coming. Tell me where the "Visitors Center" is (if your local church has one), and encourage me to come by after the meeting is dismissed. Don't ask me to stand and tell my name, or where I am from. I can tolerate the "will all our visitors please stand" routine, if this is your normal procedure. But don't just "single me out" unless it is absolutely necessary. And most of the time, it isn't.

Finally, (and this may be self-serving), always invite "me" (or whomever your visitors are) to lunch, or a refreshment of some kind. I remember visiting the Crystal Cathedral (Garden Grove, California) more than 20 years ago. After I had been identified as a visitor, I remember more than 20 people coming up to me, and inviting me to join them for lunch that day. While I wasn't able to join anyone for lunch (because of other commitments that HAD to take precedence), I will always remember their kindness to me.

I trust that our "First-Time Visitors" yesterday (and every Sunday) had a great experience with the people of God gathered as The Moody Church. If they didn't, I hope someone will let us know about it. We want to represent Christ and His people in the very best possible way.

6. I am thankful for RAIN....

I'm not trying to "copycat" anyone, and I do truly feel sorry for the people in Middle Tennessee who are being flooded out of their homes (at the time of the writing). Rain refreshes. Rain regenerates. Rain revives. I'm very thankful for rain.

I made a deal with God about 14 years ago...and I am not one who is always trying to "negotiate" with the Almighty. But I did make a deal with God when I lived in Lubbock, Texas (my years in EXILE--but that's for another post).

We had not experienced rain in almost a year...it was early May, 1996. The fields were absolutely drought-stricken, and the entire area was more dusty than usual. This was becoming a serious problem.

The local church where I worshipped during this time (Trinity Church, Lubbock), decided to have a prayer meeting on a Thursday night, and pray for "rain." Our sole prayer request that evening was for God to send rain. There was NO rain in the weather forecast....but about 2.5 hours into the prayer meeting, GOD sent a "gully-washer" of a rainstorm.

From that day until this one, I have never complained about the rain. I remember how GOD answered our prayers, and sent rain....I still remember.

And I'm thankful.

5. I am thankful for "memories"....

The songwriter was absolute correct:

"Precious memories, Unseen angels
Sent from somewhere to my soul.
How they linger, ever near me
Precious sacred scenes unfold."

It seems like most of contemporary culture gets caught up in the "now" and sometimes "the future" but fails to remember "the past". In other words, we don't learn much because we don't like to "look back."

Those "sacred scenes" unfolding in my life often remind me of God's great faithfulness, and His "ever present in the time of trouble" promises from His Word.

Those "sacred scenes" unfolding in my life often remind me of what it was like to "have less" but to enjoy "life" so much more than most of us seem to enjoy it now. I (we) have found out that "life does not consist in the abundance of things we possess." Seems like I've read that somewhere before. (You all are smart, you know where I've read it).

Those "sacred scenes" unfolding in my life often remind me that I stand on the shoulders of those wonderful people who have gone before me. These scenes remind me that "no man is an island" and that I should never try to be one myself...it is guaranteed failure. Guaranteed.

Those "sacred scenes" unfolding in my life often remind me of times when God's people would sometimes pray all afternoon, weeping before the Lord in the altars of the local church. We stayed there until we "prayed through." As a teenager, I often didn't understand it...but as an adult I LONG FOR IT....those precious, precious times when all that really matters is that "my will" aligns with the designs of Heaven and Heaven's King.

Those "sacred scenes" unfolding in my life often remind me of my Grandmother Hoover's wonderful "biscuits" every morning for breakfast. (And to many of my friends, "biscuits" are a very holy and sacred thing, but I won't embarrass anyone by naming names here...at least not this early in the morning). Every single time I've ever make a biscuit, I have recalled how my precious grandmother (now rejoicing on the streets of glory) made her biscuits....I hope I am doing her proud. Not sure mine will ever be as good as hers, but I think they come close.

Those "sacred scenes" unfolding in my life often remind me of how God has provided HIS FAMILY to be my family....and that will deserve several posts of its' own. I'll write about that later.

Yes, these memories are precious. "Unseen angels" indeed.

4. I am thankful for FORGIVENESS from God (and others)

I'll do my best to keep this post "short in righteousness" (and there are certain readers that I can already hear laughing out loud).

Every day of my life, I am aware of God's forgiveness in my life. I am acutely aware that I would have NO HOPE now or in eternity if God were not a "forgiving God." Thousands of years ago, King David said, "Bless the Lord...who forgives your iniquities..." God forgives.

Jesus said, explaining the Father's love to a group of disciples that just were not "getting it" yet, that the person who is forgiven little loves little (in return). He who is forgiven much (that would be me) loves much. If we still have breath in our bodies, and we know the LORD JESUS as our Savior, we are in the "forgiven much" category. Every single one of us.

Only Biblical Christianity offers humanity the opportunity and blessing of "forgiveness". On the Cross, our LORD's request to His Father was "Forgive them, they don't know what they are doing." I could write many, many pages on how God's forgiveness has changed my life.

I'm also thankful for the forgiveness extended to me by others. I am a less-than perfect person (in case any of you were wondering). I have committed wrongs (both intentionally and accidentally) against others...and for these wrongs I am profoundly penitent. And it has been the "forgiveness" extended by others that continues to show me the "forgiveness of God" which saves my life. Again, Jesus is brought into the picture. His words were very, very clear: "If you do not forgive others, don't expect God to forgive you." It's pretty hard to scramble the meaning of such a straightforward declaration.

Every day I remember the words (born at The Moody Church, by the way), "Pardon for sin, and a peace that endureth..."

Yes, I am thankful for the forgiveness of God. And I am thankful for the forgiveness of others who share this common humanity with me.

3. I am thankful for sleep...

I am about to retire for the evening, and sleep is one of the foremost thoughts on my mind right now...really it is. I remember hearing J E Brisson quote Psalms 127:2 one morning in a sermon, "the LORD gives His beloved sleep..." I've always remembered that....and I try to live by it on a daily/nightly basis.

I did something this afternoon that I rarely ever do: I came home and took a good, long nap. It was about 45 minutes long, and I felt so good when I woke up. I needed that nap.

I am thankful that God so designed our bodies that we MUST bring everything to a halt, and rest. That beautiful four-letter word, "REST".....indeed a lovely, lovely word.

I have very little trouble going to sleep (usually), and within about two minutes of lying down and turning off the reading lights, I am safely transported into "LaLa land." The journey is usually quick, uneventful, and refreshing.

But now, the words of a song come to mind:

"Soon I shall hear a call from heaven's portals, 'Come home, My child, it's the last mile you must trod.' I'll fall ASLEEP and wake in God's new heaven, sheltered safely in the arms of God."

Many, many thanks to the late Dottie Rambo who wrote such powerful songs about Heaven.

But for now, it's time to go to sleep. And as the Apostle Paul said, "If I live it is unto the Lord, and if I die, it is unto the Lord, so whether I live or die, I am the Lord's." (Romans 14:8). I will go to sleep trusting this strong, Almighty, Ever-Faithful God to do as He sees best in my life.

That's definitely something I can find great rest in.

2. I am thankful for SURGERY

Yep, you read it absolutely correctly. I am so thankful for modern medicine, and LAPARASCOPIC SURGERY. Here's what I'm talking about:

Last year, exactly ONE YEAR AGO TODAY, I formally began the process to become a living kidney donor to my good friend, Dr Bill George. (He was my Introduction to World Missions professor at Lee College [now University] more than 24 years ago). I remember that morning very well. It was a Tuesday, and I was preparing to have my small group over for dinner at my place that evening. So, I took the day off, and started the journey with a visit to my doctor's office, to give FIVE tubes of blood. Okay, they were small tubes.

Six months ago this very day, Dr Bill and I were both in the University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital, preparing for my nephrectomy (kidney removal), where I would give my left kidney, and he would receive my left kidney--prayerfully ridding him of the need for hemodialysis for the rest of his earthly life. (He won't need dialysis in heaven, reports have shown).

It seems like yesterday, and then again, it seems like years ago. I can remember it like yesterday,that's for sure. After a parade of people on Tuesday coming by our room to visit (we had been placed in the same semi-private room, because there was "no room in the inn" for private rooms until after our respective surgeries) we both tried to get some sleep. I think I may have slept an hour or so...but then again, I wasn't bothered. I would get plenty of sleep during the "procedure." And sleep I did....not a dream, nothing for the next 4 hours or so.

Down in the "pre-Operative" area, I was honing my skills as a comedian. Not under duress, by any stretch, just a bit of medication which was slowly running through my left arm via the heplock and IV that was being inserted. As soon as I arrived in the area (around 5:15 a.m), one of the nurse put this rather large "hospital gown" on me...that expanded....really, IT EXPANDED...I'd never seen one like this before. The reason for the gown was to regulate my body temperature, and it had a little "control button" that I had a lot of fun with...A LOT of fun, I tell you.

At one point, I asked a few of the nurses a serious question...once I got them to my bedside..."Does this gown make me look FAT?" Oh yes, they were all laughing out loud...the medicine was doing its thing, obviously.

About 6 a.m. or so, I was rolled away from my "stage" and taken down to surgery, where the kindest young lady told me what would be happening...Her name was either Tameka or Shaniqua...can't remember. I began saying, "Bless the LORD O my soul, and all that is within me, Bless His holy name!" She asked, "Are you a Christian, Mr Hoover?" I replied in the affirmative...and then began reciting the words, "He hideth my soul in the Cleft of the Rock..." and was pretty much out....

A few hours later, I was being rolled from Recovery into my private room, where a "band of angels" awaited me. Well, at the time, these people were angels to me. I was pretty much wide awake, which surprised me. (The Nurse Practitioner and Surgeon had both told me the day before that I would be extremely drowsy, sleepy and wouldn't feel like talking to anyone...that WAS not the case at all.) I asked, "Am I in heaven or am I in a hospital room?" Someone replied, "Brother, you are in a hospital room." I immediately said, "We aren't doing this again, are we?"

I could go on, and on, and on with this story. I'm still fascinated by it...even though most of my friends are probably bored....and no, there will NOT be a "made-for-television" movie of it all. (However, being currently unemployed, I could use the cash from the massive royalties that I know would accumulate).

Now, six months later, I am feeling fabulous, and Dr Bill George is also feeling great.

**I would like to thank my dear friend, Dr Jackie David Johns (www.jackiespeaks.blogspot.com) for allowing me to "channel" his very dry, and hysterically funny sense of humor in the telling of this most serious and tremendously gratifying event in my life. Jackie, I hope I did you proud.

1. I am thankful for ACCOUNTABILITY...

One of the current "buzz words" in our culture is "accountability"...seems like everyone wants "someone" to be "accountable" for something....and most have no idea what "accountablity" really means.

Not sure that I have an exhaustive definition, but that's never stopped me before. But anywho, I'm very thankful for "accountability."

I continue to learn how important relationships really are in my life. I have to admit that I have some of the very dearest people on earth in my "big family"--and most of them are not biological relatives either. Many of these folk have known me for quite a while--ten years or more. They know my strengths (both of them), and my flaws (as numerous as the sands of the seas, if I may quote an Old Testament euphemism). Yet, they still claim to love me. I have no valid grounds on which to dispute their claims, or to deny their love for me. I'm thankful for it.

However, these same people also know that I have to be "responsible" in my life. Responsible with my finances, health, job, and most importantly, my spiritual walk with Christ. They are not afraid to "call me out" when I am headed toward a cliff. These are not people who would let me waltz on the ragged edge of disaster without first warning me, and then warning me again.

And some of my friends with less tenure (friends in the 10 years or less category) have been marvelous in keeping me honest, and pure, and upright. We don't always agree on some of the "fine print" in life...but most of the time we do.

For example, my great friends Joe and Alex. Both of these fine men know many of my self-disclosed flaws--and some of the flaws that I haven't bothered disclosing as well. I am convinced that either man would have no problem making sure that I remain "honest" about what is going on in my world, and willing to "assist me" if such need were to arise. Both men have given me wise counsel, and a listening heart in times past. Both men have cried with me, and laughed with me. That means a lot in my life.

When I think of accountability, I do not, repeat DO NOT mean "emotional manipulation." Accountability works both ways. It travels a tw0-way street, and usually observes the speed limit. I'm grateful for those in my life who hold me accountable (yes, Cheryl, I am VERY grateful for you), especially when it makes me uncomfortable...and makes me think.

The "I Am Thankful" Series...

My great friend, Dr Jackie Johns, has written an AMAZING SERIES (and I hope he continues) on things for which he is thankful. You can check it out at www.jackiespeaks.blogspot.com

It is truly wonderful. Much of it is hysterically funny, and some of it is profoundly spiritual. I'll let you figure out which is which.

Beginning on Saturday, May 1, 2010 I have every intention of beginning my "I am Thankful" series here in this very corner of 'cyber space.."

Disclaimer: My series will not be nearly as profound or as deep as Jackie's. I'm not that clever, smart, seasoned OR old. (lol).

This will be a GREAT exercise in gratitude for me.

Two precious saints of God....Rejoicing in the presence of Christ...

Two people whom I dearly love have "made it all the way home" today:

Leonard Kendrick (affectionately known as "Dadda") and Linda Fontana.

These wonderful saints of God are now rejoicing on the streets of Glory...in the presence of the Christ whom they adored all their lives.

I'll write more later.

Truths that have guided my life...

I believe the entirety of Scripture is inspired by God. I want to make that clear from the beginning...no need to be branded as a herectic, unnecessarily. However, there are certain truths and "commands" that have guided my life. I wanted to just share some of those here:

"Greater love has no man than this that he would lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)

"Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep." (Romans 12:15)

"So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity: for God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Corinthians 9: 7)

"Do not be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows that shall he also reap." (Galatians 6:7)

"And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist" (Colossians 1:17)

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs; singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." (Colossians 3:16)

"But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves were taught by God to love one another..." (1 Thessalonians 4:9)

"For the love of money is the root of all evil, for which some have strayed form the faith in their greediness and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." (1 Timothy 6:10)

"Let brotherly love continue." (Hebrews 13:1)

"For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a mature man, able also to bridle the whole body." (James 3:2)

"Confesses your sins one to another and pray for one another that you may be healed. The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." (James 5:16)

These are just some of the New Testament passages that have guided my life. There are many others, and I'll share them in subsequent posts.

What passage(s) guide(s) your walk with Christ?

I've waited all week to write this...

Sometimes, I just have to let what is in my 'heart of hearts" simmer there, and develop, and "mature" (if that is possible) before I put it on this piece of "cyber-rental" property. I've wanted to write "this post" all week long....so here goes.

I was profoundly privileged to spend the Easter Weekend in rural North Carolina with my friends, J E And Linnette Brisson. The Brissons were my pastoral family during my first two years of college. He is, by far, the BEST pastor I've ever had, and the BEST preacher I've ever heard (with the late Billy Nettles and my current pastor, Erwin Lutzer tied for second place). In two years, I heard "Brother Brisson" preach through Ephesians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and through a lot of 1 John. He served the Peerless Rd Church for three years (1979-1982), and I started college in August, 1980. I was honored to be one of his sheep for his last two years at this historic church.

But that's not what I want to write about...that was just some "introductory" material. What I want to detail here is how marvelous a time I had with these precious people over a 4.5 day period.

I was just emotionally tired, and needed a break. I'm not sure I've had a "real vacation" in the ten years I've been in Chicago. Visiting family, entertaining out-of-towners, and having surgery is not exactly vacation...even though vacation time was always used for such events.

I arrived in Raleigh, NC last Thursday (April 1) around 4:30 p.m., and my great friend, Pastor Michael Allen, (from Lee days) picked me up at the airport. We then proceeded over to the Brissons' place...some 25 minutes away. It was a lovely afternoon, and thanks to MAPQUEST, we found our destination with no problems, whatsoever.

I had not seen the Brissons since 1990. He had been my pastor some ten years prior, and a twenty-year absence had taken a toll on my heart. I LONGED to see this precious couple for quite a while. They have meant so much to me for so long...and now my heart was beating rapidly with excitement.

It was just a joyous occasion. Sister Brisson (Linnette) had dinner ready for Michael and myself, and it was just delicious. Some fresh rutabegas, mashed potatoes, barbequed chicken, and collard greens. Absolutely YUMMY.....yummy, I say...let me repeat it: YUMMY.

Brother Brisson showed Michael and myself around the "homestead"and quite a tour it was! I loved just everything...and this would be my "home" for the next four days. Always good for humor, both of the Brissons made sure that our "reunion" was filled with joy and laughter.

But what meant the most to me was the "down time." For many, many hours each day, I had the HIGH PRIVILEGE of sitting and talking with one of the heroes in my life. We talked about everything....people we both knew...all the LORD had done for us in the last twenty years, and all that was happening in our lives and the world at the present time. It was so relaxing for me.

This man--whom I adored when he was my pastor--was so kind and gracious and gentle to me now. He was being a "father" to me...almost like the "father" that I never had. Whether it was walking over to feed the chickens (twice a day) and gather their new eggs, or riding the paddleboat out on the small lake...I had my friend's attention. He gladly gave it to me. He refreshed my soul...and I felt it deeply. Profoundly, personally, and deeply refreshed.

A very special time was our prayer time every morning before breakfast. Before we sat down for the morning meal, we got on our knees and talked to the LORD....how my heart rejoiced! How my heart was deeply moved and encouraged. How my heart was powerfully healed and enriched with this simple, yet important discipline.

When I arrived, the host family immediately informed me that "our world has stopped while you are here...." and they meant it. I felt like crying on more than one occasion. These two precious people loved me, refreshed me, and encouraged my heart...and I badly needed it.

Our "visit" came to a close much too quickly....but the LORD knew what I needed. And J E and Linnette Brisson made sure that I would receive it.

I am moved beyond words at their kindness, generosity, and love to me. Some things never change.

So very thankful...

I am constantly reminded of how very blest my life has been thus far.

I was visiting some precious friends in North Carolina last weekend. At one point, I began to share how I came to Christ as a small child. As I was telling this very true account, it seemed as though it were happening afresh to me. It felt as though it were just a few weeks ago, instead of almost 42 years ago.

Even though I grew up without my biological parents, the LORD made sure that plenty of people were around to "raise me" and to take the most minute interest in my development as a human being. Those people meant the world to me THEN, and they still do. Some things just never change. And they shouldn't.

Looking back, HIS LOVE and MERCY I see....yes, I can clearly see HIS love and HIS mercy demonstrated through HIS people. I am the most unworthy of recipients...but also among the most grateful.

God has a way of reminding us of HIS love and HIS care....His Word, His Spirit, His guidance, and His people....each of these remind me that JESUS does indeed love me. How do I know?

The Bible tells me so. His Spirit tells me so. He faithfully guides me (when I'm willing to follow HIS agenda, instead of my own), and His people demonstrate HIS love in ways that I could never ever ask for nor duplicate.

I'm so very thankful for all of this. I don't deserve it...not in the least little bit, but I am thankful.