Friday, May 18, 2012

What's In a Name?

To the right of my desk at home hang two documents that I treasure much more than their monetary value. They are each nearly 150 years old. I inherited them from a cousin over 30 years ago and the older I get, the more I appreciate them. They are the Civil War promotion and discharge papers of Smith Povenmire, my great great grandfather. Smith served with the 179th Ohio Infantry in the Union Army. I’m hoping my dear old friends from Louisiana will be able to overlook that fact and read on.

I’ve done some research on Smith Povenmire. By all accounts he was an honorable husband and father. I have a couple of pictures of Smith that I’ve come across over the years. While they tell me little about the man himself, they do serve to put a face with the name. His son, John W. Povenmire, my great grandfather, had two daughters and four sons, one of which was my grandfather, John Orville Povenmire. While my grandfather died when my dad was just a small child, his brothers, my great uncles Smith, Ira, and Otis, all left lasting impressions as men of strength and integrity. I remember them as a boy as grandfather figures whom I admired greatly.

Growing up, my mother used to tell me to never "smear the good name your father gave you." I didn’t realize it at the time, but that "good name" had been passed down for many generations. I’m thankful for the name, and as I’ve grown older, realize the influence of men I never knew that set a standard for living that I’ve tried to uphold.

Psalm 78: 5-7 tells us that God

"...commanded our ancestors
to teach their children,
6 so the next generation would know them,
even the children yet to be born,
and they in turn would tell their children.
7 Then they would put their trust in God
and would not forget his deeds
but would keep his commands.

You ever think about what message you are sending your grandchildren, your great grandchildren, or even your great great grandchildren? I hope some day my grandchildren and their children and so on will read what I had to say in these blog passages. Not because they’re great pieces of literature, but because they somewhat reflect what God has done in my life. They’re part of my testimony, if you will.

I’ve gone to funerals before where the minister conducting the funeral read from notes written in the margins of the diseased’s own Bible to eulogize the person. The notes represented how God had spoken to those particular people at various times in their lives, and they served as a voice from the grave to those gathering to remember a loved one or friend.

I suppose everyone wonders how they will be remembered. I’d like my descendants to know I came from good stock, tried to uphold the name, and most importantly, trusted my life to God through belief and acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord of my life. That’s the influence and legacy I’d like to leave.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Five Cups Overfloweth

On the outskirts of Lima, Peru lie poverty-stricken areas where thousands live in conditions that, to most of us, would seem unimaginable. They are communities that exist outside the peripheral view of the mainstream, literally carved into the mountainsides. Houses there are built from whatever material is available, primarily concrete block and sheet metal roofing. It was in one of these communities, known as the “Mirador,” literally the Viewpoint, that God blessed my wife and me last July while serving on an evangelistic mission team.

We split up into two teams of five, going from house to house all afternoon sharing the Gospel of Christ. Each team had a couple of Americans with interpreters from Ecuador and Chile. The Lima church we were working with ran a satellite church on the Mirador, and two sisters in the community served as the church’s missionaries. They were blood sisters as well as sisters in the Blood.

It was these two sisters who arranged many of our appointments that day on the Mirador. You see, they had been witnessing through word and deed to the people of their community long before we arrived. For instance, on a daily basis, the church sent simple breakfast food up the mountain, for children of the poorest of poor. The sisters coordinated this effort and many others for the people of their impoverished community. They made our efforts easy, as people were readily approachable, largely due to relationships these godly servants had established with their neighbors.

We saw person after person come to Christ that afternoon on the Mirador. There was Juanita, a woman who sold groceries out of her home; Roberto, a man making repairs on his house, Jovanna, a woman who’d resisted becoming a Christian before, but called upon the Name of the Lord that day...and on and on it went.

At one point, one of the sisters led us to her own home, where she’d arranged for three other women to meet with us, all nonbelievers. As we walked into her square, concrete block house, I was met by the sight of two nursing mothers, awaiting our arrival. While our culture calls for this to be done with discretion, this was not the case on the Mirador. Trying to mask the surprise of the situation, I asked my wife how I should proceed.

“Look ‘em in the eye and tell them about Jesus.” And, so I did. A few moments later, we celebrated three new sisters in Christ.

We continued visiting several other homes that afternoon, as the Holy Spirit moved about the Mirador. Each time someone said yes to Jesus, the two sisters cried out with joy. We witnessed some thirty-two commitments to Christ and, at the end our visits, we returned to the missionary sister’s house to rest and reflect on our day. The other team was still out on the mountainside.

The sisters seated our team of five at a well-used table and chairs in one corner of the house and went to work serving us refreshments of saltine crackers and coffee. They arranged the crackers on a chipped dish in front of us, brought the coffee out in a stove top percolator, and placed five mismatched cups in front of us. Their graciousness and hospitality were outshone only by their enthusiasm. It was quite obvious that this was a rather big event to be hosting. The warm fellowship they demonstrated toward us made their simple offerings as satisfactory as a grand feast.

Shortly after, the other team arrived and the sisters invited our team to the opposite side of the room to be seated on an old sofa and a few other metal chairs. The other team was seated at the table to receive the same royal service. From my seat, I noticed the sisters quickly, almost frantically, washing the five cups we’d just used for coffee. Hurriedly wiping them dry with a tattered towel, I surmised that those were the only five cups they possessed. Sure enough, the same cups were placed on the table to serve the second team.

Material wealth can easily be measured in earthly standards. By the world’s estimation, bank accounts, real estate holdings, and other physical assets make up a person’s personal worth. That afternoon on the Mirador, we witnessed genuine richness from two sisters that served their Lord with all their heart, soul, and mind...and to their name, they only owned five cups.

Friday, May 4, 2012

All Dogs (and Cats) Go to Heaven?

Atop wall shelves in one corner of our den are the pictures of four dogs and three cats. In the middle of the pictures is a card with a simple phrase that explains their meaning. The card reads:

"We’ll never forget good friends"

You see, the seven animals pictured on those shelves are pets that we’ve loved and lost over the last twenty years. There’s Callie, a Calico cat that we had for nearly 17 years; Jess, a boxer mix that was as ornery as he was lovable; Sophie, a lab/shepherd mix that was fiercely loyal and a bit too jealous at times; Luke, our first Black Lab who was as close to perfection as a dog could be; Ms. Kitty, a fat ball of furry love who we lost all too soon; Bobbi, our first tuxedo cat who ruled the roost for over 15 years, and Tillie, a spunky, beloved cocker/pomeranian who often battled Bobbi for head pet in charge.

Sadly, we’ll be adding an eighth picture to the group. Last Wednesday, we lost Duci, our second tuxedo cat, whose beauty was recognized this year in a cat calendar where she’ll appear as "Ms. November."

Duci was only six years old, but was suffering from feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), an incurable, fatal disease. Ms. Kitty had succumbed to it a few years ago. On Wednesday past, I made the decision to end Duci’s suffering. It was really a no-brainer, but still difficult. Pets in our house have always become part of the family.

The pain of losing a beloved pet feels a whole lot like the pain of losing a human loved one. When I lost my father in 2004, I felt sadness that seemed unbearable. I’ve felt similar feelings about losing pets, but there is a difference. The grief over a lost pet should be somewhat temporary. Not because we didn’t love them, no. But the relationship that we form with them isn’t to be on the same level of the relationships we form with people. That was never God’s intention when He gave us the animal kingdom to oversee. I still miss my dad greatly, but when he passed, I didn’t go out and start looking for another father that I would love just as much. All the pets on our memory wall have been "replaced" by other animals that we love just as much as we loved them.

I look forward to one day seeing my dad in heaven. I know that he was saved by his confession of Christ as his Lord and Savior. The Bible says that all who "call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Romans 10:13). That remains our greatest hope as Christians. Some like to be comforted when they lose a pet by thinking perhaps the animal will be waiting for them in heaven.  Someone's even conjured up the notion of a "rainbow bridge" that supposedly pets cross over and await our arrival in a field of daisies, or something.   I’ve checked my Bible pretty thoroughly and can’t find the passage that talks about that rainbow bridge.

I’ve heard arguments, both pro and con, about pets being in heaven. Billy Graham says, "God will prepare everything for our perfect happiness in heaven, and if it takes my dog being there, I believe he'll be there." I’ve read books on the subject, arguing biblical passages supporting the theory. And, I’ve heard theologians cite scripture they claim rules out the possibility. After carefully examining both sides of the issue, I can conclusively say...who knows for sure? There’s absolutely nothing definitive about the subject. I do know this, heaven is a perfect place, and whatever the situation is, we’ll experience joy and happiness there that we’ve never felt here. There’ll be no complaint department, nor a need for one.

My conclusion on the matter is this: God’s plan of salvation was to send Jesus to die on a cross for the sins of mankind. Our role on this earth as Christians is to bring others to the foot of Calvary’s cross so that they, too, may receive the loving Grace that we’ve experienced. Whether our furry friends meet us in heaven or not isn’t the issue. Our real focus is our own salvation, and the salvation of the people we encounter every day.

Meanwhile, I’ll miss Duci...