Mom has been the sweetest model and influence of love and grace in my life and the life of my other five brothers and sisters.
I have told people for years “Don’t even try to out-sentimentalize me over my Mom!” But it isn’t just sentimentalism, it’s genuine, passionate, heart-felt and heart-held love for her. And it’s gratitude to God for ordaining that she would give me birth and be my Mother.
I often tell her, “Mom, you didn’t just give me life – but you have given me your life. You have lived your whole, entire life for me and for all of us, your children!” Our Mom has sacrificed and given the last 74 years of her life for us since the birth of my older brother inducted her into Motherhood. Mom was always there – and still is – teaching us, training us, instructing us to love God and others, showing by her own example how to be gracious and forgiving, insisting that we use our manners and be respectful, requiring that we be responsible to our word and commitments, stand by and stick with each other through thick and thin, and most of all, praying for us by name to this day that God would make it work in us.
So, Mom, “I love you!” never seems to be enough, but sometimes it’s the best and most I can say. “Mom, I love you!”
I’ve been wanting to tell this part of our love story for years, but am just now getting to it. This is where the marriage chapter of our love story began with my proposal to Debbie…when I asked her to marry me.
What you are looking at here is a picture of the spot where I proposed to her August 11, 1975. We would marry on June 18, 1976.
This is in the Lexington [Kentucky] Cemetery. Yes, I proposed to Debbie in the Lexington Cemetery. Those of you who are familiar with the Lexington Cemetery know that it is not just a cemetery – it is also a park and arboretum of natural beauty and is listed on several historic registers.
Debbie and I had spent many an hour strolling through the cemetery during the months before this. I was pastoring 400 miles away, and so when I had an opportunity to come and visit with her, we would make our way to Lexington cemetery where we could just be quietly together as we admired the beautiful, cultivated landscaping that is one of its distinctive characteristics. During the summertime, as we strolled and conversed together, we would often remark that the rustling of the wind through the leafed branches of the trees was actually the trees ‘clapping their hands’ as they celebrated with us and shared the joy of our newly-awakened and declared love.
The picture is of a small clearing on the bank of one of the small ponds in the cemetery. We had been there before just to sit and talk with one another. It was on this spot right in the center of the picture that we sealed our love commitment to one another.
Back in the day, there was a crabapple tree there. It has since been removed, but it would have stood just to the left of where that first tree is now.
Why a crabapple tree? Well, I was determined that our love story would be as close to a Song of Solomon kind of love story as I could make it. I was reading and meditating a lot in the Song of Solomon. I read in SoS 8.5 [KJV], “I raised thee up under the apple tree…” I also was reading that some commentators speculated that maybe Solomon was reminding his love that it was under this ‘apple tree’ that he had declared his love for her and made his own proposal for marriage. Yes, I know … I also was reading that their ‘apple’ tree was not an apple-apple like we first think of, but rather most probably some kind of citron or citrus tree. But we had none of those within hundreds of miles. And a crabapple tree was the closest ‘apple’ tree I could find, and it was in our favorite spot anyway.
So, a crabapple tree would do! And it did just fine!
So on that day, we went on one of our romantic visits to this familiar spot in the Lexington Cemetery. We parked the car out on the road and walked over the bank of the ‘duck pond’ [as we called them – because there were always ducks on the ponds]. I had my autoharp with me, which was not all that unusual because I would frequently serenade her with songs, some of which I had written to sing to her.
I had written a special proposal song just for this occasion. I titled it “I love you for love’s sake.” That line was very familiar to both of us – and still is.
So that brings up another one of our common interests. We had met for the first time a couple years before when her Dad had invited me to come up from NC to preach in a Youth Conference they hosted in their church. Although it would another year or so before we even began seriously corresponding with one another, from our very first meeting and encounter, we discovered that we both shared a love for poetry, particularly older English poetry/literature. Even when we just ‘buddies forever,’ we would sit up late into the night and read English poetry together and to each other. We kind of had our own little private two-member “Dead Poets Society.”
Later, as our affections began to deepen, our common interests gravitated to the love poetry between Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, especially her “Sonnets From the Portuguese.” Her Sonnet 14, “If thou must love me…” was one of Debbie’s favorites:
If thou must love me, let it be for nought Except for love’s sake only. Do not say, “I love her for her smile—her look—her way Of speaking gently,—for a trick of thought That falls in well with mine, and certes brought A sense of pleasant ease on such a day”— For these things in themselves, Belovèd, may Be changed, or change for thee—and love, so wrought, May be unwrought so. Neither love me for Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry: A creature might forget to weep, who bore Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby! But love me for love’s sake, that evermore Thou mayst love on, through love’s eternity.
She had sent me this sonnet, insisting that if I was to love her, it must be ‘for love’s sake only’ – and not for any other physical trait, appearance, or characteristic that could change and thus un-work the love that had been professed for its sake. “If thou must love me, let it be for nought except for love’s sake only … But love me for love’s sake, that evermore thou mayst love on, through love’s eternity.”
I was already committed to loving her ‘for love’s sake only.’ And, in fact, I had often sung for her the other old Irish Thomas Moore song:
Believe me, if all those endearing young charms, Which I gaze on so fondly today, Were to change by tomorrow and fleet in my arms, Like fairy gifts fading away, Thou wouldst still be adored, as this moment thou art, Let thy loveliness fade as it will; And around the dear ruin each wish of my heart Would entwine itself verdantly still.
It is not while beauty and youth are thine own, And thy cheeks unprofaned by a tear, That the fervor and faith of a soul can be known, To which time will but make thee more dear. No, the heart that has truly loved never forgets, But as truly loves on to the close As the sunflower turns on her God when he sets The same look which she turned when he rose.
So I was already all in for loving her ‘for love’s sake only,’ for the beautiful, noble, gracious, godly woman I knew her to be and whom I had come to love so deeply and truly.
But, I have digressed here, I know.
Getting back to the proposal song I had written to sing to her under the crab‘apple’ tree, “I love you for love’s sake”…
I wrote these proposal lyrics and sang them to the tune of another love song that was popular at that time, “Eres Tu”:
I love you for love’s sake, Yes, I do! Yes, I do!
I’ll love you forever and a day!
I strive for expression, but all I can say is:
Debbie, Oh, Debbie, I love you!
I love you! I want to be with you forever-
I love you! My fairest Dove, my Chosen One,
I love you!
I no longer doubt it, No, I don’t! No, I don’t!
I’m sure now forever and a day!
I just can’t be happy if you are away,
Because Debbie, Oh, Debbie, I love you!
I’ll keep you here with me in my dreams – in my dreams!
I’ll keep you forever and a day!
There’s no place so distant as to keep you away,
Because Debbie, Oh, Debbie, I love you!
I want to take refuge in your heart, in your heart!
And rest there forever and a day!
So, Debbie, I pray thee, do not turn me away –
Because Debbie, Oh, Debbie, I love you!
I love you! I’ll give you all my love forever –
I love you! I wait to hear, my Debbie dear,
“Do you love me, too?”
And so, that day, there in the Lexington Cemetery, I “raised her up under that crab‘apple’ tree” with the words of that love song, and she graciously consented to receive the promise of my ‘love for love’s sake’ and share hers with me.
The crabapple tree may be long gone, but our ‘love for love’s sake’ is going on.
I have developed these Five Simple, Essential Questions to Ask of Every Text by teaching and training myself over years of daily Bible reading, study, and meditation. These are the questions I have asked of the text as I sought to better understand the mind and will of God through His Word and apply its truths to my life. I just instinctively ask these questions and am searching for the answers to them as I read the Scriptures.
Yes, at first, I read the Bible mainly just to know and familiarize myself with the content of Scripture: historical, theological, doctrinal, etc.
But the more I read, the more I came to recognize and experience the immediate Personal interaction God has with us through His words [Hebrews 4.12-13; 1 Peter 1.23-2.3; et. al.]. Also, 1 Corinthians, chapter 2, was a pivotal and transformative Scripture to that end.
I have adopted these five goals that I’m always asking God for:
I have shared these Five Questions at least verbally with every ministry of the Word I have ever been privileged to have. But only recently have I written them out. This is only a brief sketch of all the exercises that go on in my mind and heart as I read the Scriptures.
I share them with you with the prayer to God that it will help you to “Do you understand what you are reading?” [Acts 8.30].
FIVE SIMPLE, ESSENTIAL QUESTIONSWE SHOULD ASK OF EVERY TEXT
#1 / What do the words say?
Exercise: Reading [w/Praying & Meditating]
Read 1 Corinthians 2
Lead words & follow words
Primary words & subordinate words
Main words & support words
#2 / What do the words mean?
Exercise: Understanding / Interpretation
Hermeneutics & Exegesis
Contextual ‘re-creation,’ Linguistics, & Logic
NOTE: we are not asking “What do the words mean ‘to me’?” but rather “What do the words mean ‘to God’?” because God says what HE means, and HE means what HE says – and that’s the meaning we must seek [see 2 Peter 1.19-21]
Pray & ask God for His Divine Authorial Intent
Read Acts 8.26-35 [always look for the ‘Christ Key’]
#3 / What will it look like when I do the words of this text?
Read 1 Thessalonians 2.13 & Acts 1.1
#4 / Am I doing what this text teaches?
Read James 1.22-25
#5 / If I am not, when am I going to start?
NOTE: NOT “If I am not, WHY not?” because there is NO excuse, reason, or justification for disobedience; but rather “WHEN am I going to repent and start obeying?”
Read 2 Timothy 3.14-17
HERE IS AN EXPANDED VERSION OF THE ABOVE OUTLINE SUMMARY. I was asked to deliver it in a service and prepared these Lesson Notes…
Shirley was [and still is and will be forever] my dear sister in Christ, treasured friend, and faithful fellow servant of the Lord and our church for decades. Her matriarchal and motherly influence extended far beyond her own large family and blessed us all. It is my honor to give a tribute to her and her Savior on behalf of so many who love her. Pray for her precious family.
Since 2015, I have made it a practice to adopt and practice what I call “My One-Word Resolution.” Instead of trying to remember and implement a number of resolutions – which all too often I can’t even keep them in mind, much less apply myself to practice them – I distill my strongest aspirations into “My One-Word.” Inevitably, the other resolutions I want to make and practice will grow and flow from it anyway.
You can find my story about how I discovered and learned this spiritual exercise here.
[Or you can read the full text of these posts here.]
The “My One-Word” resolutions I have strived to practice and grow into are:
2015 – REST
2016 – DELIGHT
2017 – FOLLOW
2018 – ABIDE
2019 – CONQUER
2020 – CONQUER / ‘LOVE’
2021 – CONQUER / ‘FIGHT’
2022 – INCREASE
Here in 2022, “My One-Word” is “INCREASE.”
As always, “My One-Word” grows from convictions and aspirations that are inspired by the Word of God. Certain Scriptures, even more so than all the others [2 Timothy 3.14-17], will grip me with the burden that “I must focus on this/these.”
The word “increase” will be expressed also ‘in other words’ like:
progress [both noun and verb]
make every effort to supplement
still bear fruit in old age
ever full of sap and green
bear fruit / more fruit / much fruit
more and more
You get the idea. Every one of these words inspires me to keep growing and increasing in the life and service of Jesus Christ. To improve more and more.
I will turn 71 years old here in a few weeks. The Lord has led and transitioned my life and ministry into new venues, roles, and ministries that are in many ways different than those I have pursued in previous years. I know also that, given the normal life actuaries, I’m fulfilling the finishing stretches of my course.
But rather than accepting my age and stage in life as an excuse to relax, let up, slack off, coast, or ‘decrease’ in my service for our Lord, I not only want to just complete my life course and finish well, I want to ‘increase’ in my usefulness to Christ and my effectiveness in ministering to others in whatever ways He will be pleased to assign to me and privilege me to fulfill.
In other words, I not only want to finish well, I want to finish strong! Wherever and whenever my ‘finish line’ is, I want to stretch every remaining nerve and muscle and reach that finishing line knowing that I have maximized every grace, every gift, every opportunity Christ is pleased to allow me to exercise. I don’t want to stop growing. I want to continue to ‘increase’ until I die and can do no more here.
All of these variations of ‘increase’ will be found in the words of the anchor Scriptures I have noted here. I will also commit these Scriptures to memory. These ‘increase’ Scriptures will also express just some of the primary exercises and activities of my life and ministry that I want to ‘increase.’ These anchor Scriptures are not in any particular order either of attention or application; rather they will all complement and coordinate with each other as I seek to pursue them.
All of these resolutions will in some way interface with ‘increase.’ ‘Increase’ will serve as a kind of hub of the wheel of my life as I want to live it over 2022, and the other resolutions will serve as the spokes to give my life direction, movement, and strength.
This will be my keynote and watchword:
“For if I these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” / 2 Peter 1.8
Here then are a few of my challenging, motivating, encouraging, and guiding Scriptures with the ‘Increase’ resolutions that they inspire me to reach for and fulfill…
INCREASE in my love for the Word of God – nurtured to savor and enjoy Christ more!
1 Peter 2.2-3: Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the LORD is good.
RESOLVED: I will increase to love the Word of God more passionately, study it more deeply, and search for Christ more intently!
INCREASE in the amazing grace of knowing Christ!
2 Peter 3.18: But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
RESOLVED: I will continually increase in the knowledge of Christ by the grace of Christ as much as I can here and now … and as long as I live! This amazing grace of knowing Christ [eternal life / John 17.1-3] calls and allows for unlimited and continuous increase and eternal growth … because He is! This will be the vocation of Heaven forever.
INCREASE in every grace of personal character and Christ-likeness!
2 Peter 1.5-11: For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if I these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
RESOLVED: I will develop, cultivate, and practice the daily habits and personal disciplines [‘make every effort to supplement’] that are necessary to increase in all these graces of Christ!
INCREASE in the cultivation, use, and exercise of the gifts Christ has given me!
1 Timothy 4.14-16: Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
RESOLVED: I will increase my pursuit and use of all the learning opportunities, tools, and resources that are available to me to cultivate, develop, and apply my understanding and ministry of the Word of God and the Gospel! [This will follow up and continue with some ‘continuing education/training’ courses I have started in 2021]
INCREASE in my worship, service, and usefulness to Christ – especially in my local church!
Psalm 92.12-14: The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. 13 They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. 14 They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, 15 to declare that the LORD is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.
RESOLVED: I will increase in giving myself to every opportunity to serve Christ, witnessing to His faithfulness, and encouraging my fellow brothers and sisters in the fellowship and community of my local church – especially to those who may be my peers in sharing the treasures and trials of these ‘golden’ years of our lives!
INCREASE in my loving and following Christ in ministering to others – wherever, whatever, and to whomever this ministry may be!
John 21.16-18: Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to Him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”
RESOLVED: I will increase in my ministering to others regardless of the time, place, or circumstances where Christ may lead me, place me, and give me opportunity to serve. When Christ says, “You…follow me!” – I will … more and more!
INCREASE in the holiness of love for God and others!
1 Thessalonians 3.11-13: Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.
RESOLVED: I will increase in all my expressions of holiness by my love from my heart and in my actions toward all! This will call me to increase in patience, forbearance, forgiveness, sympathies, encouragements, and hospitality toward all!
INCREASE ‘more and more’ in pleasing God!
1 Thessalonians 4.1: Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.
Verse 10… for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more.
RESOLVED: I will increase my intentional sensitivity and willingness to test every thought, word, and action by this rule: “Does it please God?” “Does this represent Christ well?”!
INCREASE in my evidences of discipleship after Christ: fruit, more fruit, much fruit!
John 15.1-8: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”
RESOLVED: I will increase in my commitment to abide in Christ, bear the fruit of His in-dwelling life being lived out through me, and doing all that I do in prayerful dependence upon and obedience to Him.
INCREASE in confidence, contentment, and thanksgiving in Christ!
Colossians 2.6-7: Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
RESOLVED: I will ‘decrease’ in my discontentment and complaining and increase in my faith and confidence in Christ to grow and abound in all these resolutions. I will increase also in my thanksgivings to Him for the will and strength to faithfully continue and grow.
“For if I these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” / 2 Peter 1.8
In a day when there is so much conflict, division, and brokenness in all our relationships with one another, Paul’s personal appeal to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus still rings so true as a guide and model for redemption, reconciliation, and restoration.
He didn’t attempt to re-engineer, re-tool, or re-package the Gospel. He just called on Philemon to live out and act out the Gospel as he had received and learned it from Paul / verse 19.
Paul appeals to THE GOSPEL, not only in his instructions to Philemon, but also in his very advocacy for Onesimus. Paul directs Philemon’s attention to the Gospel they both believed and preached [verses 1, 17], and he also embodies the Gospel in himself as he exhorts Philemon:
“So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it…” / verses 17-19
THAT is the Gospel of what God has done for us IN CHRIST! [see Colossians 2.13-15]
And not only did Paul know that the Gospel would instruct Philemon in what he should do [verse 8], but he also had the confidence that the same Gospel would work the will and response in Philemon’s heart to respond by the power the Gospel supplies:
“Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.” / verse 21
As Paul wrote in the accompanying letter of Colossians, the Gospel is the message and the means that God has given us to redeem, reconcile, and restore us all to the image of the ‘new man’ that Christ has created us to be…
Here are the Lesson Notes to a study of Philemon that we conducted in our church’s Sunday School.
My Christian Brothers & Sisters [CBS] Sunday School class presented me with this card and message at the conclusion of our Sunday School lesson:
I could not receive a sweeter, richer, more rewarding and fulfilling “Thank You!” than this one.
I want this to be my lasting remembrance and legacy.
This is what I live and serve Christ to do.
This is the way I want to be remembered.
This is the legacy I want to leave with those to whom God has privileged me to minister.
This is the influence I want to have and the mark I want to leave in people’s lives.
I’m not leaving instructions for someone to carve this in my grave marker, but it would do!
As John the Baptist said when his disciples turned to follow Jesus whom He announced and to whom he had pointed them, “Therefore this joy of mine is now complete” / John 3.29.
There was another more material gift that accompanied this note, but it is our mutual loving, learning, treasuring, and savoring of the Word of Christ that is the heartbeat and joy of our weekly fellowship.
Over the course of the past year, I have been engaged in some courses offered through Biblearc.com, developed under the auspices of Bethlehem College and Seminary.
Biblearc is a web-based source for Bible study tools and instruction designed to instruct and train students of the Scriptures to read, study, interpret, apply, and present the Word of God.
Various ‘modes’ or tools are imbedded in the program and employed by the instructors to guide the students to understand, teach, and apply the Scriptures as we seek especially and most of all to seek and savor Christ in His Word.
Most of the courses are ten lessons, self-directed, and can be taken lesson by lesson at the discretion and availability of the student. Others are ‘live’ and are followed on a schedule that is set at the times they are presented. All of the lessons are guided and critiqued by Pastors who offer their personal instruction and encouragement every step of the way.
I have completed the second of these courses – this one is their course on PARAPHRASE. The last lesson assignment was to post a Published Page on their website from a passage in 1 Thessalonians, the Scripture we used throughout the course to practice and apply the Bible study methods and tools we were learning to use.
I chose 1 Thessalonians 4.1-8 as my assignment passage: God’s Clear Call to Holiness and Sexual Purity. Here is a link to that assignment. The page is interactive – that is, if you open the page, you can not only see the modes in which I wrote my paraphrase of the selected text, but you can also open the ‘dot notes’ in which I wrote observations, cross-references, and truths that are taught in that particular verse or word.
Here are the Lesson Notes/talking Points for the studies we have conducted in our Sunday School class from Colossians. There are five sets of Lesson Notes in this one composite paper. I have kept the Scripture text passages and lesson titles that were in our Lifeway Explore the Bible personal study guides to aid our class members to keep in sync with their scheduled study guides. However, the Lesson Notes are from my own personal study and presentation. Also, these Lesson Notes are not intended to be structured outlines or detailed commentary. Rather, they are as we call them: Talking Points. They are topics, subjects, truths, applications, and takeaways that we intend to discuss, learn, and practice in our lives from our study of the Scripture texts.
The themes we emphasized throughout our study of Colossians are the same themes that Paul was presenting and pressing on them: CHRIST’S SOVEREIGNTY, SUPREMACY, AND SUFFICIENCY.
I offer them now to you with my prayer and my hope that God will be pleased to use them for your edification and “that in everything He might be preeminent” / Colossians 1.18.