Pop Pop Epistle #93 – About My Story

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Dear Grandkids,

I don’t think I’ve ever told you my story of how I came to be a Christian. Since my story is a defining part of your story  let me tell you a bit about how I became a part of God’s story.

I was born into an awesome family. Both my mom (you know her as Bett) and my dad (who died when I was 13) had been raised in Jewish families. I would not say that either of them were devoutly Jewish but it was very much a part of their upbringing and heritage. I was born in Columbia SC, where my dad’s family lived and my mom and dad met. They loved each other a lot – until they didn’t. And as happens to many families, my brother and I became children of divorce when my folks split up when I was about 6 years old. My mom and dad turned out to be really good friends – they were just not good at being married to each other.

At this point my mom, my brother, and I moved to Aiken, SC which proved to be a very significant life event for me. This was primarily because it removed me from any Jewish influence upon my young life. Really from any religious influence upon my life as we spent many a weekend playing tennis rather than attending any kind of religious service.

When I was 10 years old we moved across town into a house next door to the England family. Chuck and Byron were about my age and we would become really good friends. They were very involved at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Aiken. When I was 14 they invited me to go with them to their youth group. So I started going pretty regularly for two reasons: 1) they made it sound fun, which it was, and 2) there were girls there that I was hoping to get to know better. Admittedly my motives were not spiritual but God has used worst motives to get a person’s attention.

The pastor of the church was a man named Jerry Robinson. His son, Tim, would also become one of my best friends and I would spend a lot of time at their house. In many ways Mr. Robinson was like the dad I’d never grown up with (and remember, by this time my dad had already died). It was at First Presbyterian that I began to be exposed to the gospel. Up until this time I really knew nothing about Jesus and who He was and what He had done.

Now during high school I had a lot of things going for me – at least by worldly standards. My family life was good. My mom did a great job of raising us as a single mom. I had a lot of good friends. I lettered in 3 different sports. I was a straight A student for the most part (graduated #3 out of over 600 students). And even though this was a culturally crazy time for our nation (it was the early 70’s) I was a fairly well balanced kid. And yet I knew that there was a level of discontent that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

As I hung around 1st Pres over the next few years I began to hear things that resonated with my soul:

  • There was a God and He was holy. The idea of God made perfect sense to me. My analytical mind reasoned that there had to be a beginning to creation and therefore there had to be a Creator. And the way the Bible explained this seemed perfectly plausible.
  • The world was broken because of sin and a refusal to live according to God’s blueprint. This also made perfect sense not only because of what I saw happening in the world around me but also, and especially, because of what I knew was going on in my own heart.
  • There was nothing that we could do to fix the mess of our own making – but because of the immeasurable love that God had for the people He created, He sent His Son to bear the weight of our sin and to reconcile the broken relationship between us and the Father. The mystery of the cross still amazes and astounds me but to me it is undeniable proof of that great verse in John 3:16 that begins “For God so loved the world.”
  • The only “requirement” that God has for us to experience and enjoy this new life of fellowship with God is to trust that His ways are indeed right and good, to turn our backs to sin and our faces toward God, to trust that His Son has indeed brokered this new life for us through His life, death, and resurrection, and to trust that everyday is a new day to demonstrate our love for Him – for as the Scripture says, “we love Him because He first loved us.”

Screen Shot 2020-01-24 at 7.32.08 AMSo sometime during my junior year in high school I intentionally placed my trust in Him. I did not fully understand all that this meant at the time but it seemed like the prudent thing to do. And while I experienced many bumps and bruises and ups and downs over the next few years as I was getting my “faith legs” under me, I knew that I had made a decision that would change my life forever. I have never regretted that decision in the 44 years now that I have been a Christian and know unequivocally that my life would be much much worse for the wear had I not become a follower of Jesus.

There are more stories to tell of how God shaped my life in the years following my conversion but I will save those for other Pop Pop epistles.

Never forget that you are very loved!

Pop Pop

Pop Pop Epistle #92 – How Much More

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Dear Grandkids,

I think you already know this but one of the ways that I have found to express myself to God over the years has been through poetry and songs. Every now and then I come across a phrase in Scripture that captures my attention and I will often ponder the implications of that phrase by writing a song. Or at least the words of a song. Someone much more musically inclined that I will have to write the music. I am just a lyricist. Perhaps it is one of you that will one day put my lyrics to music. That would be pretty cool.

Anyway, I came across Luke 12:24 one day… “Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds.” The phrase “how much more” caught my attention and I turned it into a song. So here it is – for you to begin thinking what the music behind the words should be.

HOW MUCH MORE

How much more could Christ have done than what He did so long ago?
And yet today He fills my heart with  joy that overflows.

How much more could He have done than when He set this captive free?
And yet today I taste the fruit of His awesome victory.

How much more could He have done that when He rescued me from sin?
And yet today He gives me hope and helps me find my strength in Him.

How much more could He have done than save my soul eternally?
And yet I find that in this world I live with joy and power and peace.

How much more, O how much more could He do in you and I 
If Christ alone became the greatest treasure in our lives.
How much more, O how much more could He really do in us
If our hearts could fully grasp the mighty power of His love. (Refrain)

How much more could He have done than break the chains of doubt and fear?
And yet today when I despair I find that He is always near.

How much more could He have done than to create new life in me?
And yet He fills my soul with songs that I cannot help but sing.

How much more could He have done than make things right with God again?
And yet today He walks with me as if I am His greatest friend.

How much more could He have done than prove His love at Calvary?
And yet today I am reminded of His faithful love for me.

How much more, O how much more could He do in you and I 
If Christ alone became the greatest treasure in our lives.
How much more, O how much more could He really do in us
If our hearts could fully grasp the mighty power of His love.

Never forget that you are very loved!

Pop Pop

Pop Pop Epistle #91 – Happy Birthday Bowen and Clemson Football

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Dear Bowen,

Happy Birthday # 5 my young grandson! And it just so happens that your birthday comes the day after a huge game for Clemson fans like you. And unfortunately after a loss for the national championship. But here are a few takeaways from Clemson’s loss and the Tiger’s season that might help you as you look forward to many more birthdays.

1) It’s awesome to win. But your true character will be revealed when you lose. Coach Swinney did a good job of congratulating LSU on a great win and a great season. He didn’t whine about losing. He didn’t make excuses. He was thrilled to have been a part of an epic battle.

2) The shared experience that this team had over the course of the season will be remembered long after the sting of the loss fades away. As you grow up you will learn that shared experiences are much more enjoyable than solo experiences. I am looking forward to some awesome shared experiences with you in the years to come.

3) Last nights game was a metaphor for what life is all about. It can be incredibly exciting. It is undeniably hard and grueling at times. It can be very disappointing. It is often a fight just to make a little progress. At times people will be cheering you on to succeed. But there will be others who delight in seeing you fail. Mistakes will be made. There will be lots of victories along the way – as well as lots of defeats. You will experience a lot of pain in this life. But you will also find much joy. And there is always the anticipation of next year.

4) Clemson had a great year. And it was fun to watch them play. And it is fun to be a fan these days. But never forget that there are much more important things in this life than football. Never forget that you are a child of the King. Never forget that you have been created for His purposes. Never forget that He is much more deserving of our worship than a football team. Never forget to remember the cross and what Jesus did to offer you true life.

And never forget that you are very very loved!

Pop Pop

Pop Pop Epistle #90 – 2019 By the Numbers

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Dear Grandkids,

Here at the beginning of the new year I like to do a “by the numbers” post to review some of the highlights of the previous year. Numbers often have stories behind them. So I will try to tell you a few stories as I share the numbers.

1 – This number is significant for several reasons this year:

  • 1 new grand-daughter added to the clan – Ezra joined sister Asher and mom and dad Danielle and Tucker back in March. She is grand-baby  #7 and we are now at 4 boys and 3 girls.
  • 1 new country visited – I traveled to Belarus in July with a mission team from our church. We helped to put on a camp for Belarusian teens and introduce them to the gospel. This was country #46 that I have visited.
  • 1 new job – I still have my old job but back in August, Nona and I began working very part time with our local Chick-fil-A and serving as Team Chaplains. Our role is to care for team members and help them to “nourish their dreams” as they think about life beyond CFA.

7 –  I dealt with 7 weeks of abdominal pain in my core muscles. Until it was all over there was a lot of uncertainty as to the cause. I had an x-ray, an MRI, and a CT scan to rule out the really bad possibilities. Pain finally just went away and realized I probably had some micro-tears in my muscles as a result of an ill-advised game of Ultimate Frisbee with some twenty-somethings. I am evidently not as young as I think I am.

10 – Back in June, Nona and I traveled with about a dozen friends from church to Alaska for 10 days. We spent 3 days in the interior around Denali and then 7 days on a cruise aboard the Coral Princess. We saw pristine beauty that would be hard to match and had an awesome time together and with good friends.

40 – Back in June of 1979 Nona and I met in Galveston, Texas while on a Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) beach project and began dating. So we have officially been together for over 40 years now – 38+ of them married.

52 – My goal at the beginning of 2019 was to get a minimum of 70,000 steps each week (an average of at least 10,000 steps every day). I was able to do that every week – actually averaging more than 80,000 steps per week. This was the third year in a row that I have been able to do this, so actually I have gotten 70,000 steps EVERY week for the last 156 weeks.

61 – I turned 61 on June 14. I know that sounds old to you but it sounds awesome to me. I am now older than my dad and both granddads lived to be. I do not take for granted one single day at this point in my life but am blessed to be healthy and to be able to be your Pop Pop.

As a believer in the Lord Jesus I look forward to the day when I will be with Him. In the meantime, this verse expresses well my sentiment (the picture was taken on our trip to Alaska):

Screen Shot 2019-12-31 at 3.26.15 PM

Never forget that you are very loved!

Pop Pop

Pop Pop Epistle #89 – About The Battle of the Bulge

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Dear Grandkids,

For all practical purposes, the outcome of World War II was decided on D-Day, June 6, 1944. But there was still a lot of fighting that would take place before the war was officially over. 75 years ago the United States was embroiled in one such battle – The Battle of the Bulge, Hitler’s last gasp of the war. It began on December 16, 1944 and did not end until January 25, 1945 – just a little more than three months before Germany would unconditionally surrender on May 6, 1945, V-Day. The Battle of the Bulge had a lot to do with expediting this surrender but it did not come without great cost.

The “Bulge” was the largest and bloodiest single battle fought by the United States in World War II. Some 19,000+ Americans were killed in this battle alone making it the third deadliest campaign in American history. Winston Churchill said this battle was “undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war, and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever famous American victory.” The Battle of the Bulge Monument at Valley Forge Military Academy memorialized  this victory as a “Triumph of Courage.”

There are two things that I want to tell you about The Bulge:

1) My uncle, Alan Reyner, my dad’s brother, your great great uncle, fought in this battle. My cousin, Uncle Alan’s son, wrote a piece about his dad’s experiences. Here are a few excerpts…

Reyner-1My father was a combat soldier. He was assigned to the 422nd Regiment of the 106th Infantry Division. He was a machine gunner; his rank, private first class. That’s about as basic as it gets. Most of the enlisted men of the 106th were college-age boys who had never seen combat…. In the fall of 1944, when he was nineteen, my father, was shipped to the front to relieve, in his words, the “Ninth infantry regiment of the crack Second Division.” At the time of the commencement of the Battle of the Bulge at dawn on December 16th, 1944, his regiment was the deepest outfit in the Siegfried Line. When the fighting began he was just outside the Belgium village of St. Vith, approximately 30 miles northeast of Bastogne. He was right smack on the front lines. The 422nd and 423rd regiments, as well as the rest of the 106th, were vastly out-manned and out-gunned from the get-go. Combat for my dad began on the way to the front on December 9th, 1944, with the most intense fighting experienced by his unit at the Bulge lasting only four days; but, by all accounts, his last day of combat, December 19th, was really hell. In my father’s words: “Things were getting more and more confused by then. Our own mortars were shelling us, inflicting heavy casualties. It was then that I really saw what a bullet could do. Men were lying all around me, wounded and dying, others were shocked out of their speech capacity, others were simply walking around hollow-eyed. None of us could believe that this was happening to us.” 

He was soon to be captured by the Nazis and put in a POW concentration camp. Now remember that my uncle was Jewish. Because of his religion he was transferred from the POW camp to a slave labor camp – Berga am Elster, a sub-camp of Buchenwald.

More than 20 percent of the American POWs at Berga died within a three-month period. It was simple: the prisoners walked an hour to and from the work site, where the guards forced them to labor ten hours a day digging tunnels for an underground factory, feeding them only a liter of watery soup and a piece of bread a day.

My uncle quickly understood that if he was going to survive that he would have to escape.

My father escaped from camp by jumping in the river at night during a black-out and floating downstream, but after six days was recaptured. His second escape—this time successful—was just seven days from liberation. I am convinced the first escape, while risky, saved his life. While trying to get back to Allied lines, he stole chickens, rabbits, eggs, milk, and vegetables from farmers. He wrote, “We really fared well.” At the time of his second escape and upon his liberation he weighed less than 95 pounds. 

I hope that you will love history as you grow up. When you study about WWII and in particular The Battle of the Bulge you can be proud that a relative of yours helped to secure victory for the Allied forces.

2) The other thing I want to tell you about the Bulge is this: In many ways, as believers in Jesus, we are involved in a similar battle. D-Day for us was when Jesus willingly gave up His life on the cross to secure salvation for all who would believe. His death and subsequent resurrection provided forgiveness of sin, eternal life, and hope in this crazy, broken world.  But even though ultimate victory is assured because of the cross the enemy has yet to surrender. So there are still battles to be fought. There are still casualties as a result of the war. There are still prisoners of war that need to be freed.

But even so, do not be dismayed. Do not give up when the fighting is fierce. Fight the good fight of faith. Hold on to the hope that is ours. V-Day is coming. The enemy will be defeated once and for all and everything will be made right. Stand firm and you will one day be a part of a glorious celebration that will far out do May 6, 1945.

Never forget that you are very loved!

Pop Pop

Pop Pop Epistle #88 – About The Christmas Pig and a $2 Bill

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Dear Grandkids,

It’s been fun spending time with all you guys over these Christmas holidays. And I also enjoyed introducing you to the Christmas Pig. You did a great job of finding him whenever he was playing hide and seek and seemed to really like it whenever he snorted his little piggy grunts at you when you gave him a little squeeze.

IMG_3194Just a reminder about that last game of hide and seek that we played. The deal was that if anyone of you found him that I would give ALL of you a prize. And after looking high and low Grayson seemed especially excited to find his secret hiding place. Upon which I gave each of you a $2 bill with these remarks. Put the bill somewhere where you will see it everyday – a bulletin board, a mirror in the bathroom, etc. And every time that you see it be reminded that Nona and I are praying for you often. I have put my $2 bill on the mirror in my bathroom as a reminder to myself.

My last instruction was this: Bring the $2 bill back to me next Christmas and I will redeem it for a lot more than it is worth. Ask your parents what it means to redeem something and get them to tell you their “redemption” story.

Never forget that you are very loved!

Pop Pop

Pop Pop Epistle #87 – About Faith That Jesus Marvels At

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Dear Grandkids,

Lately I have been pondering my way through the Gospel of Matthew. I came across two verses this week that got me to thinking.

On Tuesday, I read in 7:28 about how the crowds of people that Jesus had been talking to were “astonished at His teaching.” Then on Thursday, I read in 8:10 that Jesus marveled at the faith of the Centurion who wanted Him to heal his servant.

It is not unusual to read in the gospels about people being amazed at Jesus, or astonished, or marveling at things He says or does. But I can only find two times where Scripture tells us about Jesus being amazed or astonished or marveling at something.

Matthew 8:10 records one of those times: “When Jesus heard (what the Centurion said), He marveled and said to those who followed Him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.””

The other time is in Mark 6:6. Jesus was in His hometown of Nazareth. And even though people were astonished at His teaching (v.2), there was a surprising lack of faith – such that He could do very little healing among the people. Verse 6 says, “And He marveled because of their unbelief.”

So this got me to thinking. Would Jesus marvel at MY faith or would He marvel at my LACK of faith?

That question led me to ponder a few other questions which are very humbling when I consider my life as a believer. I will leave them here for you to consider as well as you grow up and seek to live a life that pleases the Lord.

  • What, if anything, do I do in my life that requires faith?
  • What prayers am I praying that are driven by faith?
  • Am I seeing prayers being answered as a result of my faith?
  • Does the way that I spend money indicate a life of faith or a lack of faith?
  • Is my money being used to fund faith ventures on behalf of the kingdom?
  • Would others describe me as a man of authentic faith?

My hope is certainly that Jesus would marvel at my faith and not at my lack of faith. And my hope is that He will do the same for you!

Never forget that you are very loved!

Pop Pop

Pop Pop Epistle #86 -About Your Funeral (and Alfred Nobel)

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Dear Grandkids,

A great leadership lesson to learn early in your life goes like this: Begin with the end in mind. It has a lot of life applications.

For instance, it is never too early to start thinking about what you might want people to say about you at your funeral. I know that probably sounds kind of morbid but the fact is that we are all going to die and people will tell stories about us when we do. If you were a fly on the wall at your own funeral what would you want to overhear?

Now that I am approaching middle age (as a very young 61 year old), it is something I think about. But it is something I hope you will think about early in your life. Let me tell you a story to help you understand why.

At some point you will learn about the Nobel Peace Prizes. These are prizes that are awarded annually by Sweden to people around the world who have done outstanding work  in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace.  At present the award is a $900,000 cash prize as well as enormous worldwide prestige. What most people do not know is the backstory.

Alfred_Nobel3Alfred Nobel was born in Sweden in 1833 and was a brilliant chemist. In 1863, he began tinkering with nitroglycerin, a highly volatile liquid that had been recently discovered. Nitroglycerin remained very dangerous though and in 1864 Nobel’s nitroglycerin factory blew up, killing his younger brother and several other people. In 1867, after much work he discovered a safe way to use a nitro based compound that had many industrial uses. His patented compound became known as dynamite and secured for him a great fortune.

To his dismay, his invention also began to be used in warfare and many people were killed because of its use in combat. in 1887, one of Nobel’s brothers died in France, and French newspapers printed obituaries in which they mistook him for Alfred. One headline read, “The merchant of death is dead.”

Alfred Nobel had the opportunity to read his own obituary and he did not like what he read. So he set out to create a legacy that changed the way that he would be forever remembered. Upon his death in 1896, the majority of his vast estate went to the creation of what became known as Nobel Peace Prizes – a much better way to be remembered don’t you think?

The idea of “beginning with the end in mind” is certainly a biblical one. Malachi 3:16 talks about a Book of Remembrance…

16 Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. 17 “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. 18 Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.

In Matthew 6:20, Jesus spoke of storing up treasure in heaven,  The implication is that what is done on earth is forever recorded in heaven. Our hope is that one day we will all stand before God and hear Him say, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21).

So my dear grand younguns, I encourage you throughout your days to remember this: Begin with the end in mind!

And never forget that you are very loved!

Pop Pop

Pop Pop Epistle # 85 – Happy Birthday Audrey (and About My Heart Transplant)

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Dear Audrey,

Louis Washkansky.

I’m pretty sure that name does not mean anything to you or to anybody else who might be reading this. But it is a pretty significant name in history.

Back on December 3, 1967, Mr. Washkansky, a 53 year old South African grocer who was dying from chronic heart disease, received the first human heart transplant. The surgery was performed by Dr. Christiaan Barnard in Cape Town South Africa. It was a successful surgery but unfortunately he died 18 days later from double pneumonia.

AR_2Yr-50Perhaps you already know this baby girl, but when I was 17 years old I had a successful heart transplant. And 44 years later I am more alive than ever. My heart had been diseased from the inside out and corrupted by sin and I was dying a slow miserable death physically but was already dead spiritually and far far from God.  Ephesians 2:4-5 describes best  what God did to give me a new lease on life (I have personalized the verses):

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved me, even when I was dead in my trespasses, made me alive together with Christ—by grace I have been saved!

Unfortunately my dear Audrey, you have the same kind of heart disease that I had and you also are going to need a transplant. God is going to have to give you a new heart. In Ezekiel 36:26, the Lord explains it like this to his people: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh”

My prayer for you is that you will joyfully accept God’s gracious offer to give you a new heart and that you will gratefully join me as a transplant recipient who now lives each day experiencing life as God created me too.

Never forget that you are very loved!

Pop Pop

Pop Pop Epistle #84 – About Names

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Dear Grandkids,

I actually have 4 names that I am called. You know me primarily by one of those names. My other 3 names, besides Pop Pop, are Shay, Dad, and Rabbi. Most people outside of our family call me Shay. This was the name that my parents gave me when I was born.

The backstory to the name is this as I understand it. My Dad’s name was Charles. They named me Charles after him. (It is my legal first name). But they did not want to call me Charles. My Mom loved the French language so she took the first part of Charles and pronounced it in a French way… Chay – which supposedly comes out Shay. But my grandmother looked at Chay and pronounced it in English like it looks (with the CH sound) so they changed the C to an S. Thats my story and I’m sticking to it.

Your parents all called me Dad. In the fullness of time when I needed a granddad name I decided to go with the name that my grandfather (on my Dad’s side) used – which is why you call me Pop Pop.

It is pretty much around our church that I am known as Rabbi. This is because of my Jewish lineage which I am very proud of. I like the moniker because it keeps me connected to my ancestral roots and distinguishes me from the other pastors on our staff.

Did you know that God also has many different names in Scripture? You are probably most familiar with Father, or Lord, or Jesus. But He is called other names depending on specific roles that He played in people’s lives.

Here are 4 that I really like…

He is called El Shaddai by Abraham in Genesis 17. The name means God Almighty or God the Mighty One. It signifies His strength and power which Abraham experienced when he became a father  and Sarah became a mother in their very old age. When I need God to work in a powerful way I often address Him as El Shaddai.

He is called Jehovah Jireh in Genesis 22 when Abraham was preparing to sacrifice his son Isaac and God instead provided a ram as a substitute sacrifice. The name means God our Provider. I will address Him as Jehovah Jireh when I am asking God to provide in some way for my needs or the needs of others.

He is called Jehovah Shalom by Gideon in Judges 6 meaning the The Lord is our Peace. Gideon needed the peace of God when the Lord called him to do something he was crazy scared to do. I will often address the Lord as Jehovah Shalom when I an feeling anxious and am in need of His “peace which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

Isaiah 7:14 prophesies that “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel“. Matthew 1:22-23 sees the birth of Jesus as fulfillment of this prophesy. Immanuel means God with us. The name Immanuel is a great reminder that no matter what we have to deal with in this world, God will always be with us.

Now that you know a little more about my names and about some of God’s names you might want to ask your folks about your names – and how you happened to get named the name that you did.

Never forget that you are very loved!

Pop Pop

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