Monday, December 14, 2009

The End...of 2009

Looking back over 2009, this has not been a good year. I lost two men that were extremely dear to my heart, men that were both friend and mentor to me, yet neither of which I ever got a chance to really express my love and appreciation to.

Wayne Joiner, Jr. actually passed from this life in February of 2008, yet not having seen or heard from him in a long time, my search for him (including the internet) increased, ultimately leading me to the painful discovery of his death almost a year previous. I met Wayne 20+ years ago, when I was a cocky little 21-year old who just thought I could play the piano. After hearing Wayne, I practically swore off, stating that I would never touch a piano again. Fortunately, Wayne was kind and gentle, never arrogant or condescending, and he took me "under his wing" and shared with me many of the tricks, runs, hot 'licks' and styles that he had developed through the many years he had been playing professionally. Although I last saw him in Nashville, TN in 1991—shortly before my departure from the military—I kept the thoughts of Wayne close to my heart, and his music close at hand. In the time that I had known him, I considered him one of my dearest friends; I always considered it one of the highest compliments when folks, after hearing me play, would ask, "Did you ever know a guy by the name of Wayne Joiner? You play just like him..."

Rev. Carlton Watkins opened his heart and his church to my family and I back in 2001, when we were bruised and bleeding from a disastrous first pastorate at a notorious "family-owned-and-operated" church in north Texas. He never attempted to correct me through discipline or harsh words, but he loved me and accepted me as I was, understanding that God was in the process of molding and shaping my life. He was my Pastor, in my eyes, yet he always treated me as a peer, as a man, as a minister, even when I wasn't displaying the character of a man of God. The internet can be a source of much information, but it's not the place you want to discover that you have lost the man you always turned to in time of trouble and heartache. Reading a "tweet" about Bro. Watkins' untimely death was shocking to me, and when I called his cell phone—frantically hoping to prove someone wrong—and Tommy Craft answered, I broke down into sobs; if Bro. Craft understood a single word that I tried to say, I don't know how, but he acted like he did, and offered his consolation. I didn't know then, and still don't know, whom I will turn to when I need a Pastor, or a shepherd, to speak to, but I always took comfort in just seeing "Carlton Watkins" there in my cellphone name/number list.

As silly as it may seem to many, the pain increased with the loss of my sweet little KitterKat, the furry little darling who had been with me for over 17 years. I know guys aren't supposed to get this attached to animals (especially cats! for some reason, guys are always expected to be a 'dog person', never a 'cat person') but this little sweetheart had been with me since before I married and had children. She was not just a "pet"; she was a member of the family, almost like another child (although certainly less trouble!). My wife and I still laugh (often through tears) at how predictable we had become in our routine: KitterKat knew when it was coffeetime every morning, she knew when it was time for us to watch our Netflix shows in the evenings, and she knew when it was time for bed. She would often lead the way, and if I stayed at my desk past the time when I should have been going to bed, she would often jump up and parade back and forth between me and my keyboard, looking at me as if to say, "Umm, I believe it's your bedtime; you wanna turn this thing off, now?" Not only would she inform me when it was bedtime, but she would follow us to bed, and wait for me to turn out the light, before circling around my head, then nudging the covers with her nose. When I lifted them, she would slip down under the covers, curl up against my stomach, and would spend the night there sleeping against us. Several years before she passed, we purchased one of those self-cleaning litterboxes, the automatic kind that churn noisily after the cat uses it. It was always funny (and still is, when we allow ourselves to think about it) to hear three predictable flushes right at bedtime: first, when my wife used the restroom, then when I did, and the third "flush" was KitterKat's litterbox running its cleaning cycle after she used it.

It's been a...painful...year, albeit with some new friends and wonderful memories made. We were blessed, miraculously, to get a week-long vacation in Jackson, Wyoming at the home of some friends (a dear young lady whom we'd known for years, and her husband whom we'd never met). We also met a precious church family who become "our" church family, although we're miles apart. Bro. & Sis. Neal, and the Star Valley Apostolic Church of Alpine, WY, have become wonderful friends, and I feel that a connection was made that, hopefully, will last for many years to come.

We came home from our trip to Wyoming feeling as though God had given us clear direction for the future of our life, and even went so far as to start packing the house for what we thought would be an immediate move. Unfortunately, God's timing is not ours, and we still sit here in Austin, TX, waiting on God to open all the doors. He has told us He would do so, however, and so we know it is merely a matter of being patient, and waiting on His timing. In the meantime, stacks of U-Haul boxes sit in the garage, waiting to be moved to a much nicer climate (sure, it's a bit chilly there right now!) and unpacked, hopefully for the final time.

"There are many adversaries..." This was prophecied over my wife and I some eight years ago, in December of 2001. I believe the portal has been revealed to us, and I believe that, as Paul stated, it is a "great door, and effectual" to what God hopes to accomplish in me. However, the adversaries have been many, and they have railed against us continually, almost from our arrival back here in Austin, after our trip to Wyoming. I confess that I have fallen; I have failed; I have stumbled; I have been wounded in the battle, yet time and time again, God sends an encouraging word telling me to rise up, and I hear the cry, "To the battle yet again!" Do I ever think of giving up? Of course; I am human. But God is supernatural, and He is Almighty, Omnipotent, All-Knowing, and "able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we can ask or think". It is not my battle unless I choose to make it so; if I lean on Him and allow Him to guide my hand, my eye, my sword, I will win this fight, and I will be an effective minister in His Kingdom.

Yes, it's been a rough year. My blog is proof of that, for the scribbles in my heart have been few. It seems the well has run dry. But God will anoint me, and will pour in His Spirit of refreshing, and I will continue the battle.

I will run the race.

I will finish the course.

There is laid up a crown for me, but before I reach that eternal crown, I believe there is a task, an opportunity, a field, a ministry, that will be effective to many, and will be effective in the Kingdom of God.

For God has said, through the mouths of multiple witnesses: "Beyond your greatest imagination..."

And I believe God.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

While You're In The Palace...

Nehemiah was the king's cupbearer, living securely in the palace of Shushan, ever close to the King's presence, always at His beck and call.

Meanwhile, his fellow captive Jews were "in great affliction and reproach" because the walls and gates had been destroyed. Walls were a city's chief defense against enemy forces. The gates, in addition to being a defense, were also a city's identity; in some instances, the gates even represented the "glory" of a city.

With no walls to defend her, the former Jerusalem was easy prey for marauding armies. With her gates burned, she had lost her identity, indeed, her glory. No doubt Jerusalem had brought upon herself this tragic fall from Jehovah's graces; yet there was a man whose heart was not calloused to her downfall. Nehemiah received word about the reproach of his brethren, and his heart was broken. He sat down to weep, to implore God for the plight of his own countrymen, and even to repent on their behalf.

I wonder, while you're in the palace, can your heart still be touched with the plight of those who have brought about their own ruination? Or are you so secure, so comfortable in your own calling as the King's servant, that you scarcely remember those whom you once called "brethren"?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Samson's Last Request

Samson's final request was for vengeance. He could have asked for restoration, but he chose vengeance: "Avenge me this once of my two eyes...". As a result, he died with an enemy he had fought bitterly against for much of his short life.

Who knows what great things he might've accomplished had he sought restoration of his anointing, instead of revenge for his blindness? A blindness that was brought about by his own carnality, lust, and self-reliance.

Is your desire merely for revenge against an enemy that has taken something from you? Are you simply out for one final, but hollow, victory over an adversary that has bound you, taunted your anointing, mocked your ministry?

Or are you seeking restoration to the anointing and power that ultimately brought about all your previous victories?

Do you want revenge? Or revival?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

When The Anointing Flows

A testimony to God's goodness: A few nights ago, I was just sort of meandering over the piano, when my wife asked me to play Timothy Spell's When God Unfolds The Rose. For those who have never heard it, you've missed a tremendous blessing; I suppose I could easily name it among my favorite songs of all times.

Because of how dearly I love to hear Bro. Spell sing this, my initial reaction was, "Oh, no, honey; that's not a piano song; that's a vocal." She replied, "I realize that; I was wondering if you could play it that way...sort of let the piano become your voice."

I could tell she felt hurt by my initial refusal, so I started tinkering with the melody. Before I knew it, I was "locked in", and the words were flowing through my mind even as they spilled out onto the keyboard. I tried to not "elaborate" the song anymore than Tim's original vocal version, but the more I played, the more the message came through my heart: When God unfolds the rose, He always gets it right...

Those who know me personally know that, for a couple years now, I have gone through a period of "waiting"; holding a secular job here in the Austin, TX area, trying to be faithful in the little things, feeling as though I had somehow made God mad at me. I even voiced my feelings in an email by telling some close friends "I feel like I've been fired by God." If you're called of God into any sort of ministry, and you've gone through this period of waiting, you can relate to my anguish.

As I played this song, the message of Hope, the promise that "the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance", rang through each note, each chord, each progression. I suddenly realized that, even in the subdued darkness of my little living room, the Anointing of God was flowing freely, moving on my heart, flowing through my hands, speaking to me (and, I suppose, to my wife who sat listening in the darkness), reassuring me that He's not finished with me.

The Anointing of God...something that I have always craved, whether in my preaching, or ministering in music. Nothing else matters, for nothing else can replace that awesome Touch of God's hand, when a holy God reaches down to touch an undeserving man, and suddenly Heaven and earth meet, and we are ushered into a supernatural realm where Promise becomes reality.

Surely when Bro. Spell sings, he must feel what I felt that evening; as I played the final chorus, the key modulation became the introduction to a crescendo of chords that I spilled my heart into. Although he was hundreds of miles away, has never met me, and knew nothing of what I was feeling, Bro. Spell's voice rang loud and clear in my mind, and I gave the song a voice: the piano sang the melody, felt the passion, and proclaimed the promise: When God unfolds the rose, He always gets it right...

When I came to the close of the song, and the final note had faded away into silence, I turned to my wife, tears on my face, and said, "You mean like that?" She was sitting in the darkness, her back to me, but I heard the tears in her own voice when she quietly replied, "Yeah...something like that."

God has been so good to me. I am never comfortable talking about my own music, my own gifts and abilities, but I do know that God has blessed me with an extraordinary gift to play skillfully unto the Lord. It may sound strange, I know, but I tell you before God, there are times that I watch my own hands, listen to the music that is flowing, and can only weep in a combination of humility and awe, because I know it's God that's doing it.

When the anointing flows, everything else is forgotten. In the quiet darkness of my own living room, I was once again ushered into His Presence, and blessed beyond measure to feel His hand on me again.

I only hope I blessed Him as much as He blessed me.