His name was Billy Graham/TWT for 2.27.18

“Abraham lived 175 years. Then Abraham breathed his last and died at at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people.” –Genesis 25:7-9(NIV)

I was at a church conference when I heard the news. Rev. Billy Graham had just died hours earlier. He hadn’t lived 175 years as Abraham had, but a solid 99 years at any rate. All but the last few saw him fully engaged with life. He once was said to have had an offer in Hollywood to become an actor. His reply was he wouldn’t do it for even a million dollars a month; quite a sum back in the 1950’s.

My earliest memories of him were of a man who sold out Madison Square Garden 16 nights in a row, who would rent “all three networks” on the same night for a revival (Some will remember when three was all the tv stations there were.), and many a time did I remember seeing him in front of 100,000 or more bringing the message of Christ to a hurting, seeking world. He was a pastor to every president in my lifetime, a friend to thousands and an evangelist for the ages.
I couldn’t get Rev. Graham out of my mind for more than a few hours these last several days. I only knew 3 or 4 people who ever say him in-person. One was a female priest, now in her 70’s. Liz saw him lead a revival at Newell Field in Jackson, Mississippi. As she was walking home with her mother it was that very night the elementary student told her mother she was going to be a preacher one day. Her mother told her there may come a day when she could be a preacher. It never occurred to her that she’d be anything else. Indeed she would become a fine preacher.

Nearly all of us will never be known or remembered like the prophets from Scripture or the evangelists of today. I think what matters about the lives of these two is that both lived through good days and bad, both were blessed beyond imagination and both gave you and me examples of faithfulness and compassion, judgement and empathy, hope and a vision of what could be.
I don’t know about you, but it also reminded me of the ones in my own lifetime, long since in the Kingdom Triumphant, and how they made me smile, laugh, cry, suffer, thrive and know what love can look like in the eyes of a child; those prophets in our lives.

Quoting this ecumenical evangelist: “I’m not going to Heaven because I have preached to great crowds. I am going to Heaven just like the thief on the cross who said “Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.’”
Rest in peace, preacher; on to paradise. “Flights of Angels take thee to thy rest.”

Tending the vineyard,
Tom Welch

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Cable Guy/Tuesday with Tom for 2.20.18

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”

-James 3:13(NIV)

Several weeks ago, I finally had my cable service installed at my new place. You’d think it would be a routine deal; waiting on hold for quite a while, then going through the extensive features, determining the terms of contract, the works. Early on I felt this cable guy had something to share himself. As I look back on it I still don’t understand all that went down that evening.

I had been through a long day. The cable guy on the phone was Michael from Albany, New York. As he was asking things about me I found myself asking a few questions as well. I learned we were both dads. He’s 46, married 26 years and has six children. With that news I said: “You must have a full buffet of blessings.” He wanted to know what I meant. I replied: “That means you probably have one you’ve always known would be the one to come wipe the drool from your chin when you’re in the nursing home, two that have become the typical “Normal Rockwell” life, one who’s had run-ins with the law, maybe even a special needs child and another who has said “Dad, I think I’m gay” and my hunch is those last two have shown you what unconditional love is all about. How’d I do?” The line was quiet. I asked was he still there.

He said I was “six for six.” When I asked him what he had learned from those last two I looked up at the clock. Almost six minutes later he was done. It was an amazing conversation with a total stranger. He spoke of how elementary an understanding of limitless love he had until these last two, how they showed him the simple joys in life, not only how to live with the shortcomings in others but how to thrive from them and how he wished every parent was as lucky as he was.

Who would have thought a call for service would have taken so many turns? How many times do we pass up a chance to connect? How many times could we gain wisdom, deeper understanding simply by making those who are a function of the day become part of the day with a little soul?

Tending the vineyard,
Tom Welch

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

A Child’s Prayer for Body & Soul/TUESDAY WITH TOM for 2.6.18

“Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” –Matthew 19:14

I journaled for a number of years almost daily. In recent years they haven’t been as often. In the midst of a recent move I came across them and some of these meditations. “Tuesday with Tom” began in 2004 and has continued nearly every week since then. This week I want to share with you excerpts from 2005 and the thoughts of my child who was only seven then; a 2nd grader.

In January of 2005 a baby boy at my parish died, just one day after his first birthday. With multiple cardiovascular problems since before he was born his little body just couldn’t work any longer. He did what his mother asked of him; that being they could celebrate his first birthday together as a family. That he did. It reminded me of another child’s death at my parish. She was only four when she became deathly ill and died in a manner of days.

In this passage from Matthew Jesus simply prays for the children, laid His hand on them, and “departed from there.” Think about that for a moment. He made the time to pray for the children, among the children and left. There’s always something magical and mystical about children. They show us simple things in which we have forgotten to find joy in our adult years. They make simple profound statements that give us pause. This is especially so when we “just don’t get it” because we see a circumstance so differently. A child has a trust we are taught….as we grow into adults….not to trust. I suppose one reason I try to make the time to routinely be around younger people is to see the joy they find in the world that I’ve somehow gotten sidetracked. Do you find times like that?

The day after this little boy died I told my seven year old about him. She knew and loved him well, as she did his parents and extended family. Were it not for my making the time to write her words way back then I couldn’t share them with you now. She said, and I quote: “Dear God, I know Baby _____ is in Heaven tonight. I can just see him laughing as he swings in one of those little baby swings being pushed by the grandfather he never got to meet here on earth. I bet they are having a ball. Bless his parents. I know they must miss him some kinda bad. I think you just wanted to take him back early, and that’s okay. Help his parents understand and to remember the good times they had with him. Amen.”
Oh that we would have, could have, the understanding of a child again. Complete trust in the Hand of Jesus whose understanding surpasses anything adults can imagine; but what children often do. Perhaps we need to come as a child again, sit in His lap or at his feet, and let Him pray for us again. The prayers from his Heart for our heart and soul can do a body good.

Tending the Vineyard,
Tom Welch

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Clean Sweep/TWT for 1.30.18

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me. Then will I teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.” -Psalm 51: 10-13(NIV)

Several years ago I heard a remarkable story of forgiveness return one to Christ and bring the other to Christ…. the redeeming of a grieving mother and a coldblooded killer. This lady of color was from the Mississippi Delta. Her only son left the small town for the big city of Jackson. When you’re from a town of 1,500 Jackson looks “big.” Somehow her son got in the wrong place at the wrong time and was murdered by a white supremacist. The killer went to spend the rest of his days in prison.

Years past. The grieving mother continued with her anger over the loss. She eventually became blind. Blindness brought her new life. After years of anger and rage at the murderer she began to ask God to create a pure heart in her. She told of these words from Psalm 51. She knew she had to give this pain to God. She told how she wanted God to “restore to me the joy of your salvation.” She said God put it on her heart to go meet the killer in prison, that He would put the words in her when they met and that she would have to trust Him with all of this.

She talked with her family. They weren’t too wild about the idea. She prayed and prayed. One day she arranged to meet the killer. He said he would meet her if it would make her feel better. When they met there was an awkward silence. She said she had waited a long time to meet him and had they met some ten years earlier she’s quite sure she wouldn’t be saying what she would that day. The killer asked what was on her mind. She told him she was now blind and wanted to know could she touch his face. He paused and said “sure.” They had been given a room to meet rather than through a glass window and speaking on a phone.
Her fingers trickled over his face. Tears came to her eyes. After holding his face in her hands she said she decided that forgiving him wasn’t enough. She told the killer since she had no son to love anymore that she chose to love him. The man asked how she could love him. She said because love changes things and how she wanted him to know Jesus loved him too and He wanted her to love him as if he were her own flesh and blood. The killer fainted, dropping to the floor. A friendship began and lasted until her death.

She had a chance to “teach transgressors the love of God” and the sinner, this murderer, came to “turn back to you” O God. They both experienced a clean sweep. If that could happen to them, what have we to give to Him in hopes of creating a pure heart ourselves?

Tending the vineyard,
Tom Welch

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Delta Dawn/TUESDAY WITH TOM for 1.23.18

“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied off its power.”
– 1 Corinthians 1:17 (NIV)

One of the greatest examples of prayer changing the world comes from a true story my friend “Outlaw” shared some years ago. During one of the Gulf Wars he was a contractor for the Department of Defense in charge of cafeteria management at some work sites that employed 3rd world labor. One of the laborers from India took a likin’ to this friend from a small Mississippi Delta town. At the end of the day they would often talk of their cultures and religions. Religion was a topic that could get you in trouble over there, particularly if you spoke of Christ.

One day they took a drive, just the two of them. The conversation again turned to this man making inquiry about the Christian faith. At one point Outlaw asked the laborer where the bones of Mohammed lay to which the man replied, “it is believed not too many miles from this region where we are talking.” My friend told him the bones of Christ were never found because they never stayed here on earth after his crucifixion, that He ascended into Heaven and it was well documented.

Several days passed and his buddy came back to see him with very sad news. The laborer’s son had fallen ill, was getting worse and would very likely die anytime. We’ll call his friend, Saba. Saba said: “Will you pray to your God that my son will be healed?” Outlaw asked him to write his son’s name on a piece of paper and not only would he pray for him, but he’d ask his wife to do so as well. The very next day Saba was called to another site. True to his word my friend sent an email to his wife and her circle began praying for Saba’s son. My friend hadn’t given it much thought after that, but his wife and her friends were faithful.

Months passed. My friend often thought of the conversations he had with Saba about his faith in Jesus. Suddenly one afternoon he saw Saba come jumping off a bus full of laborers. Saba fell at his feet, kissing his dusty boots and giving thanks for his prayers. Kissing the feet of another was a symbol of the highest homage one could pay in his culture. Outlaw asked him to get up and tell him what on earth was this all about.

With glee in his eyes and unbounded joy Saba began to tell him that he told his wife and the village about the prayers my friend and his wife back in the USA were offering for their son. In a few days their son was completely healed. The wife and village wanted to know more about this man Jesus and how prayers to Him worked while all else had failed. Before it was over this man, his entire household and the entire village had been baptized and accepted Jesus as Lord. Saba was convinced it was the prayers to this Jesus that saved his son and everybody in the village wanted to know more about Christ.

This weekend I was flying over that rich Mississippi Delta dirt and this story came to mind. I knew I was to share it with you today. Those women from different churches in that rich land of faith, my home, not only had prayed for the boy’s healing, they had taken it a bit further. My friend told his wife of the good news of healing and how the entire village was now Christian. Only then did she tell her husband that her women not only had prayed for the child’s healing but that by his healing the village might come to know Christ. You’d have to know my friend to understand he’s not the most eloquent in speaking and he surely has a face for radio…not television. Yet he didn’t hesitate to talk of the Jesus he knew in a way that was not threatening to a wondering soul. That soul trusted my friend enough to give Saba up to Outlaw and his God. And so my friend gave Saba to a group of wise and faithful women.

And from those Delta ladies cane a bright dawn for a new body of believers. Now that’s a Delta dawn I’ll never forget.

Tending the vineyard,
Tom Welch

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Who’s Calling, Please?TWT for 1.16.18

“I did not call you,” Eli said. “Go back to sleep.” -1 Samuel 3:5

These first several verses of the chapter tell of Samuel going to his priest, Eli, when e was hearing a voice in the night. Someone very dear to me once said they were asking for a sign from God and there I was no sooner than she had asked it. I hope what she sought and what she found were two different things. Ha!

Just recently I heard of a person being moved to tears nearly every time they say the Lord’s prayer. In this conversation it reminded another with us about the “very thin wall” a Harvard Divinity School professor speaks of; that wall between the “here and now” and Heaven itself. It was the “thin wall” Samuel heard in the night, I believe. A deep sens of “knowing” someone familiar was calling to him. I my adult life I’ve tailored myself to spend time with Morning Prayer and to listen to that “small still voice” I see in scripture or hear from others as we pray. Sometimes I actively try to listen in the depth of my sleep. Have you ever been stirred from rest answering a call only to find there was nobody there?

Perhaps I’ve been listening at the wrong times. Perhaps the voice of God is really being heard through a friend, through encouragement, through the affection of others, right before us in the middle of the day. Might the words we hear be coming from behind that thin wall through our friends in the here and now?

Rather tan say “who’s calling, please” we should as Samuel did a few verses later say: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Tending the vineyard,
Tom Welch

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Eye-to-Eye/TUESDAY WITH TOM FOR 1.9.18

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” –Matthew 3:13

You know, many things happen in the readings from Christmas day through the next few weeks; the holy innocents are slaughtered, the magi make it to Bethlehem, to Stephen being stoned. Here we find the Son of Man coming to be baptized.

I don’t have the training to speak to the theological nature of this story. There are a couple of things that do pop into mind as a parent. Just as time moves so quickly in scripture from the birth of Christ to his baptism, so it is with raising children. My father once said it was very odd “how long the days are yet how short the years become” when raising children. Imagine for a moment how quickly things must have gone for Mary and Joseph. One example is when they lose Jesus only to find the child in the temple talking with the elders. Here’s what strikes me about this story from Matthew: Jesus knows who he is and what his life will be about. Yet he also knows how important it is for us to see him as fully human and the example he gives to us for life eternal with the Father.

Imagine the look on the face of his cousin John when Jesus came to the River Jordan to be baptized. The humbleness each must have had on their faces as they looked at one another; one of complete acceptance and obedience in the same glance. One of the things I think that does for you and me is let us know how deeply Jesus feels for us and with us in our human experiences of life. So, dear reader, when we have those moments from complete joy to utter rejection at the circumstances in our days we must remember that Jesus made himself fully known to us as one of us. When he did, we got to look at him eye-to-eye…..and he understands us completely.

Tending the vineyard,
Tom Welch

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment