Monday, September 13, 2010

Stand By Me


"When the storms of life are raging, Lord, Stand by me."

It is with sadness in my heart that I write today's post. Life has been difficult this past week and there has much to take before the Lord in prayer.
Many of you may have heard over the news broadcasts, or perhaps read in the newspapers, of the murdering of five people in Kentucky. The gunman killed five adults, then turned the gun on himself and took his own life. The gunman was my cousin, Stanley Neace. My heart is aching today over these events.
I recall playing with Stanley as a child. He was bright, funny, and made me laugh all the time. He had a wonderful imagination and could tell a story like no one else. He had big, beautiful blue eyes and curly brown hair. When he smiled, and he smiled a lot, his whole face would light up. I found myself smiling with him simply because he was enjoying himself at the moment. He was a joy to be around.
As a young teenager, Stanley gave his heart to the Lord. At Stanley's request my father, "Uncle Russell" to Stanley, baptized him and prayed with him that God would protect him and keep him safe all of his life. It was a wonderful day. You could just see the glow of God's presence on my cousin's face. It was, indeed, a true conversion of both heart and mind.
As an adult, Stanley faced the hardship of seeing his parents divorced and his family torn apart. His faith held him in good stead for a while, but he gradually became bitter towards our Lord and blamed God for allowing these things to happen. His bitterness turned him against God and it wasn't long before his faith was lost---lost to a broken heart and a life without a true family unit.
The last time I saw my cousin, he was a broken man. He had developed mental illness and had begun having seizures. Medication helped somewhat, but he had also become dependent on alcohol as well. Life for him had become unbearable and he sought escape in drugs and liquor. He never considered the possibility of renewing his relationship with God. He never stopped blaming God for the hardness of his circumstances.
I was traveling back from a women's conference in South Carolina when my father called and gave me the news of Stanley's death. My pastor's wife, Susan, was driving and when she asked me what was wrong, I could find no voice. I could only see, in my mind's eye, the little boy with the big blue eyes and the dimpled smile. I wept for his death and the deaths of those he murdered. I tried to imagine the sorrow that was sweeping through the families of the victims. Stanley was the son of my mother's brother, Paul. An additional sorrow to me was concern for my mother and how this would burden her heart.
I relate this awful circumstance for several reasons. First, and foremost, I ask for your prayers for myself and for my family. We are grieved beyond measure. I ask also for prayers for the families left behind to grieve the untimely deaths of their loved ones. Grief is such an awful monster of the heart---please pray that God will comfort us in this time.
Secondly, we never know when life will hand us more than we feel we can bear. We must cling ever more closely to the Lord and lay our cares upon His shoulders. He cares for us so deeply, loves us so dearly, stands ever near in the time of trouble. Our relationship with our blessed Savior must be nurtured and secured in our hearts so that, in times like these, we can lean heavily upon Him.
Thirdly, we must always trust that God knows what He is doing. Nothing comes to us that He does not allow. Nothing happens in our lives that our gracious God has not considered and said, "She/He can handle it. I'll be there to help". In the scriptures, Timothy was encouraged by the Apostle Paul to endure hardness as a good soldier. If these awful situations, if these sorrows of the heart, if these grieving moments, will moved me closer to the One I serve, then I can do no less then serve Him in the bad times as well as the good. I want to be a good soldier of the cross.
I know my God will bring healing from the loss I feel. I know He will be the lifter of my head, my strong and mighty tower. I know I can run to Him and be safe. I am certain He will guard my heart and grant me peace. My most gracious thanks to all of you as I know you will be praying for me. May God bless you so very richly.

In Grace,
Marie

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Passion For Souls



This is Rev. Oscar Wagoner, the man whose ministry helped lead me to the Lord.

As I have said before, I have been privileged to meet so many wonderful ministers and their families during my years as a pastor's daughter. I have heard so many truly gifted speakers whose words would touch my heart and inspire me to move forward in my walk with God. Of course, to me, no one could speak quite like my Daddy. His rich, baritone voice seemed to bounce off the rafters as he ministered the gospel. His understanding of the Word of God always amazed me and, even to this day, I marvel at his grasp of the scriptures. He remains my first and foremost mentor.
There is, however, another minister who became so special to me, both as a young teenager and as an adult. Rev. Oscar Wagoner (pictured above) was my father's Assistant Pastor and our Youth Leader for many years. His faithfulness and devotion to the cause of Christ served as an inspiration to all of who knew him. His service and loyalty to my parents as he served in the church cannot ever be forgotten. I am reminded, as I write these words, of his unfailing love and support of the Body of Christ. What a great man he is.
When I first met Rev. Wagoner and his sweet wife, Brenda, I was only 14. He and his wife had not been married long and they had just had their first child---a lovely little girl named Joanna. He was gifted with an anointing that made his sermons come alive. Indeed, his preaching would, many times, bring the Bible so to life for me that I felt I was right there with the saints of Bible days. I hung on his every word and always looked forward to his preaching. He was, and is, one of the best ministers I have ever heard.
Though Rev. Wagoner was a fine speaker, it was his passion for souls that defined him. His obvious caring for the lost and his prayers for their salvation, permeated each altar call. His preaching was convicting, allowing the hearer to see the need for Christ in their life. But, oh, it was his desire to see each and every soul saved that propelled us to the altar of God. It was his rejoicing over each one's repentance that convinced us we had made the right choice. Many times I have seen him stay at the altar, in prayer with those who had given their lives to the Lord. He became someone we all looked up to.



Rev. and Sis. Oscar and Brenda Wagoner

Always by his side was Sis. Wagoner, "Bren" as we often heard him call her. Sis. Wagoner never failed in her support of her husband and his ministry. In addition, she played the piano and sang beautifully. When I was learning music, I had no one to help me until she came along. I had learned the chords by that time, but Sis Wagoner helped me put it all together. When "Bren" played the piano, her fingers barely seemed to touch the keyboard---she played so softly yet so beautifully. There were times when I would see her smile when she played and I knew she was enjoying herself immensely. I can still, in memory, hear her lovely music.
I recently received an email from Rev. Wagoner in which he asked me a few questions about my music. He then reminded me of a poem I had written for him years ago. Our youth group was honoring him and his work he had done for the youth of our church. I wrote the poem to show our gratitude for his teaching and for helping direct us in our walk with God. I was touched beyond measure to find that he still had a copy of it and still considered it "so beautiful". I could not hold back the tears as I thought about him still reading what I written.
I am so grateful for the great men and women of God who have come into my life. I have been so blessed to have been instructed, encouraged, and uplifted by so many voices. Though each of them have a place in my heart, Rev. and Sis. Wagoner hold the most tender spot. Hardly a day passes that I do not think of them. Always, I am thanking God for their patience, their teaching, and their caring for a young pastor's daughter who had trouble finding her way. Because of them, I am secure in my faith and my calling. Their influence upon my heart has never failed but, rather, has grown deeper with the passage of time.


Oscar and Brenda Wagoner, 2006

To say, "Thank you", seems so feeble in comparison to the love and support they have given to so many. Let me add "I am grateful", and that I think of them often. When I do, I remember a black-haired minister and his lovely wife. I remember his passion for souls and I remember that I am one he helped win to Christ. Thank you "Oscar and Bren", thank you from my heart. I love you both so very, very much.

On Grace,
Marie