“When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing.” Psalm 126:1-2a
We were coming home. From August 1977 to August 1980 we lived in Germany while serving in the United States Air Force. Our time there was incredible. We saw windmills in Holland, the alps of Switzerland, the famous horse-fountain in Salzburg, and ate real pizza in Italy. Where we lived was much like living in the middle of the Shawnee Forest—large rolling hills and lush green forest. We loved it.
Some hard times happened while we were there too. Those were the days of no internet, no cell phone and no overnight delivery from Amazon prime. Landline phone calls were rare and expensive and snail mail was all there was. I remember Judy receiving a letter that opened, “I guess you heard about your dad’s heart attack.” Turns out right after we left for Germany he had a massive heart attack and almost died. One night about midnight or so, a knock came at our apartment door. It was an officer from my squadron. He said I needed to call the Red Cross immediately. My mother was dying. They connected me to my sister-in-law in Florida. Her words were simple and direct, “If you want to see Mom alive you have to come now.” We made it home the day before she died.
So, our time in Germany was divine but difficult. The bottom line at the end of three years we were more than ready to come home. As the time neared and preparations were underway for our leaving and returning we started counting down. Everyone did. We would say, “25 days and a wake up. 13 days and a wake up. Three days and a wake up.” Finally, we woke up, got on a plane and came home. There was no place like home. There is no place like home.
I can remember picking our VW van at the airport (we had shipped it home) and driving. It was marvelous. We could read the signs and we could understand the people. Instead of four dollars for a gallon of gas it was 69 cents. I stopped at a market and got a fried apple pie. I can almost still taste it. For lunch we stopped at McDonald’s. No big deal right? Not at all unless you had spent the last three years explaining a cheeseburger and fries to someone who didn’t speak English. And, instead of a few dollars you paid almost twenty. As I ordered at the counter, speaking English and being understood…I wept. I apologized to the young lady and explained we had been away for three years. And I explained…there is no place like home.
Well, after too many weeks away, church families in Illinois will have the opportunity to come home. Sunday we will be gathering as a corporate body to sing, pray and preach. Now whether you are reading this in real time or months later it doesn’t matter. There is no place like home. My time in Germany taught me several things and one of them is you appreciate the simple things. A fried apple pie and a McDonald’s cheeseburger never tasted so good. My family never looked so good. Driving the roads of America never felt so good. Reading the billboards never seemed so interesting. By the way, did they ever find out who shot J.R.? Smile. Somethings were different but it was still…home.
So coming back to church is like coming home and I am almost giddy. When the Israelites realized they were coming home after 70 years in Babylon they were just a little more than giddy. Here’s what one of their songwriters wrote, “When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing.” In those words you can almost feel their excitement. Things were going to be different when they got there but that didn’t matter. They were going home.
So this weekend, and every weekend after, when you walk into your place of worship and things are just a little different, remember how it felt to come home and the different things won’t matter as much. When “Bob” irritates you at church after you’ve been back a while, just pause and remember how good it was him the first week. When the sermon seems too long, and the music too loud and the room too warm…yup…just remember how good it was…how good it is to be home. And, in a few weeks, when something fearful pops up or something rubs you wrong…just remember the time He brought you home, when you rested in Him, when you realized He’s got this. And dream. And sing. Be like the ones who knew the Lord turned our captivity. Because He has.
A person’s steps are established by the Lord, and He takes pleasure in his way.” Psalm 37:23
We were so close and yet so far away. It was 1977 and we had recently arrived at our new USAF assignment in Germany. We had purchased a 1967 Volkswagen station wagon which turned out to have virtually no floorboards just floor mats. We found that out the first time it rains. It rains a lot in Germany. Anyway we named him Herman. He wasn’t fast, he wasn’t pretty. But he would go…most of the time.
Our friends that lived a couple of hours away invited to come over and spend the weekend with them. We lived in Sambach which wasn’t too far from Sembach where I worked. You can probably already tell that things can get confusing in Germany. So, we had been in country for about 10 days, we had our international drivers license which meant I paid someone $15 dollars, and we had Herman. Not to sound like Gilligan’s Island but we started out on “a three hour trip…a three hour trip”.
We were heading to a small city called Zweibrucken where our friends lived. The Air Force had a small airbase there where he worked and since Zweibrucken means “two bridges” I assume they had those also. It was simple. Get on this highway with your car named Herman and with no floorboards, drive about an hour or so, take a left and head toward Zweibrucken. Not a deal. Right? Well, not so fast.
Soon Judy and I were traveling along, excited for a new adventure. We had no traveling experience in Germany, it was raining, remember it does that a lot in Germany, so we had miniature swimming pools for floorboards and the antique wipers were just keeping up with the rain. After about an hour we came to a large directional sign. It said Saarbrucken straight ahead. Well, Mr. “I’m a man who doesn’t get lost” looked at his sweet, dear “Don’t look at me, I’ve never been out the country before either” wife and said, “Uh was that Saarbrucken we were looking for?” You know, if you’ve seen one “brucken” you’ve seen them all.
Well, I couldn’t remember, she couldn’t remember so we kept driving and it kept raining. We drove for quite a while and suddenly found ourselves in Saarbrucken which happens to be on the French border. We also found ourselves on the verge of having to learn French. Since we hadn’t mastered any German either we decided we had best turn around before we started an international incident.
I did a quick turn around and headed back the way we came. We were disoriented, discouraged, and disappointed. We drove back about 30 miles or so and there we saw a sign: Zweibrucken. I remembered, she remembered—sweet Zweibrucken. Hallelujah. We exited off the autobahn (which is German for “you can drive fast if you don’t drive a Herman”) and as we exit we see our friend just pulling away. He had come to look for us and was just about to give up. We saw him, he saw us. We laughed, we embraced. We had made it. “Guten Tag.” Guten Tag, indeed!
We still laugh about that crazy story. Two young people who didn’t know better driving in a foreign country, taking off in a too old Volkswagen station wagon with swimming pools for floor boards, getting lost and unable to ask directions. Yup, life was good. Now knowing me, I was probably frustrated, discouraged, and discombobulated. I’m not exactly sure what that means but I am sure I felt it that day. But the bottom line is, we had fun. Even then we laughed at the hot mess we were in. It was a story we would tell our kids one day. Well, we have and it still brings a smile to our lips.
I know there is so much craziness today. So many missteps, so many “I don’t knows,” so many “Saars” when it should have been a “Zwei.” But remember this. There is a God who is writing this story called your life and He is a God who loves a good adventure. And the things that we count as disruptions just might be one of His great adventures purposely put in our path for our ultimate good and pleasure. David, in Psalm 37:23 writes, “The steps of a good person are ordered [directed, planned] by the Lord. And He delights in that path.” In other words, God has a plan and it is a plan that He has written just for you. I know I sometimes question my GPS when it takes me down some crazy roads to save a minute or two but I am learning to just enjoy the journey. I wrote a few days back that Judy and I love to drive around and try to get lost. One of my friends said, “Come on down to Pope County. I can get you lost.” I think I’m gonna take him up on it. I’ll have my trusty GPS on standby and my friend won’t be too far away so it should be a great adventure. I’ll just go along for the ride and rest in Him. After all, He’s got this. Guten Tag.
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:10
They were all heading straight for disaster and they didn’t have a clue. I was walking on our local bike path the other day. It was early morning but not so early that the sun wasn’t already hot. It was going to be warm one—especially for May. As I was walking I looked down and saw several, no many, earthworms on the bike trail. They were trying to make it across.
I know, you’re thinking, “Why did the earthworm cross the bike path?” The answer is “I don’t know but it sure wasn’t going well.” Some had already bit the bullet and others were in the struggle of their wormy lives. Most were squirming…doing everything they could to make it to the other side. The only thing is, I could see what they could not. They were a long way from home.
I can just imagine one of the worms with the gift of leadership shouting to his friends, “Keep going guys. You can make it. Just a little further.” The trouble is he just didn’t have the whole picture…the view from above. From his perspective the end was right over there. From his perspective just a few more inches and they would be home free. Perspectives from ground level are often like that. That is why we need someone with a better view.
One of the things I love about believing in God is knowing that He has a higher, better view. He can see things that you just can’t see at ground level. And when He speaks…He speaks true encouragement because He knows what is around the bend or a few days down the road. God is really good at helping His kids do life. If only we would learn to listen. If only…
See, I talked to some of the earthworms as I walked. I would say things like, “It’s not looking good, partner.” Or maybe, “Dude, you’re not gonna make it squirming like that.” Then, “Hey, why are you crossing the bike path anyway?” I just had to ask. Well, no one listened and on they squirmed. It was going to be hard day for most of them.
And, then, and this is the truth, I would sometimes stop and actually pitch one or two of them into the cool, wet grass. It was a random thing I would do. I would stop, pick one out, and chuck them to the side. While not one of them said “thanks” it was enough for me to save him or her from the dreaded concrete desert. It just felt good to save a life—even if it was just an earthworm. I just hope it wasn’t his cousin I put on a hook last week.
When I thought about this whole perspective and rescue thing I just naturally thought about God. Along with His great perspective, He cares enough to rescue us. He wants to rescue every person from an eternity without Him. I mean He loves us so much…and He loved us before we even thought about loving Him. The Bible says that we love Him because He first loved us. He saw all our warts, all our imperfections, all our bad choices and chose to love us anyway. He loved us before we even promised to try and do things right. A promise, by the way, that we could never keep anyway.
Oh and one more thing. As I said, I would pick an earthworm to save for no apparent reason. I just picked one. God said, “That will never do.” And do you know what, He loved the whole world…everybody…everyone. Now we still have to choose to repent, choose to follow, choose to believe. But when we do…well, the welcome sign is out. Welcome home, son. Welcome home, daughter. And this is the best part. Should we wander back onto the concrete desert, He doesn’t say, “Good grief or good luck.” No He just reaches out, takes us by the hand and pulls us back into the cool, green grass called His presence. You gotta love that. Well, I don’t know if you will ever feel compelled to rescue an earthworm or not. But the next time you see one on the sidewalk on a hot May Day, just remember the time He rescued you. Remember the time He didn’t leave you out in the hot to become a crispy critter. No, He reached down and picked you up. Isn’t it great to have a God that cares? That you can rest in? That’s got this? Yup…I know it’s so.
Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)
I was afraid I had caught it. We have all heard all we need to hear about the corona virus. Regardless of what magazine, newspaper, news program, talk show or person you talk to, eventually, the topic of this pandemic will come up. Nothing has so dominated the public’s attention like this, this, this disaster, this tragedy, this pain in the neck, this maker of our new normalcy…COVID-19. Oh, and I wasn’t afraid that I caught that. Nope…but I was almost certain I had caught its first cousin.
Did you know that the pandemic had a first cousin? Oh yes, it does. It is the dreaded…wait for it…pigdemic. Yup…you read it right. Pigdemic is a new phenomenon that is sweeping the nation. It happens when people are forced to stay at home for extended periods of time, bored out of their minds. In this condition, people eat and eat and eat. They eat things that they love, they eat things they like, they eat things they don’t like and they eat things they have never heard of. The consequences are weighty.
Clothes magically shrink while hanging in closets, mirrors suddenly make people appear shorter and wider, gravity seems to take on added strength when we try to get off of the couch and exercise becomes more difficult, much more difficult. And that is where I made a self-diagnosis. I had the pigdemic. It happened like this.
First, despite my shrinking clothes, I have managed to walk 2.5 miles, five or six days a week at a respectable 14 minute mile pace. Well, this morning, after walking, my wife was going to ride her bike. I decided I would join her. After all, riding a bike had to be easier than walking. So off we went! I was surprised when she was about 40 yards ahead of me and I was panting like a dog on a hot day. “Hmmmm” I said. She had to stop and adjust her seat (for which I am eternally grateful) and I told her, “I don’t know if it is because I walked this morning or maybe it is those pesky donuts but I am tired. This is hard.” She laughed and kindly said it was probably because I had walked. I was sure it was the donuts.
So we kept riding, I kept falling behind and I was pretty sure I was going to die. I was certain I had the pigdemic. I wasn’t ready to swear off donuts but I was close. Well, I had been hearing a noise on my front wheel (which sounded strangely like a pig squealing) but I didn’t think too much about it. I should have. I finally told Judy I was going to stop and check out the squealing pig sound. I did and it turned out my front wheel was off center causing my brake to be about half on. I loosened the front wheel and centered it slightly and got back on. Two amazing things happened. The squealing pig was gone and suddenly I could peddle a lot easier. A whole lot easier.
It turns out I was not about to die from the pigdemic. It was a brake that was braking when it should have been coasting. I discovered it is amazing when you ride a bike how much harder it is when the brake is on…even a little. A little braking can quickly break your spirit. I decided before I ride again I’m going to check my bike out a little closer and make sure there are no squealing pigs on board.
I wonder if that is what the writer of Hebrews had in mind? He encouraged us to lay aside every weight and every sin that might hinder us from running our race or riding our spiritual bike. I think it might be. The weights are things that may not be wrong for us but are just not helpful. It might be like riding a bike and carrying a ten pound rock in your basket…just because you like rocks. Sin, well, we know what sin is. If you are biking it might be like riding with a flat tire. Not a good idea. Whether it is rocks or flat tires, the bottom line is life is harder when we carry stuff that we don’t need or that can and will hurt us.
So, if you are riding your bike and there is a sound that sounds like a squealing pig, it probably isn’t the pigdemic. It’s probably a wheel off-center causing your brake to brake. If life seems a little more difficult, why not ask God and see if you have a rock or two in your basket or worse, a flat tire. Try praying this prayer from Psalm 139:23-24. “Father would you search me inside and out, run some tests on me, and see if there is anything hindering me, hurting me? Would you see if there is something that I’m doing that offends you? Would you lead me in a way that shows others I am on Your path? Thank-you Father. Amen.” Now that is one prayer that God wants to answer. He wants you to peddle through life with the wind at your back, a song in your heart and no squealing pigs on board. And when you get home you can rest in Him. Do you know why? Yup…He’s got this.
Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” John 15:13
I’m not sure how I found my way there, but I was grateful. During my assignment in Sembach, Germany we had the opportunity to see so much. From Hitler’s hideaway called “The Eagle’s Nest” in Berchtesgaden to the windmills of Holland to the Alps of Switzerland we were constantly amazed at what was all around us. But nothing prepared me for Luxembourg.
We had some friends that we had known in our days at Moody Air Force Base in South Georgia. They received orders to Germany several months before we did. They were only a couple of hours from us so we saw each other pretty frequently. It must have been during one of our forays that we came to it—Luxembourg American Cemetery. It was one of the most hollowed sights I have ever seen.
There, in the cemetery, are 5,075 white Lasa marble crosses and stars of David. Row after row of headstones that mark the final resting place of American heroes. Each one made the ultimate sacrifice for us, for you and me, that we can live in freedom. General George Patton is buried there. Two Medal of Honor recipients are also buried there: David G. Turner and William D. McGee. Twenty-two sets of brothers lay buried side by side throughout the cemetery. Some, 371 in fact, were never found. They are simply listed as missing in action. 102 are just unknown.
This place of honor was established on December 29, 1944. Many of the soldiers died during the Battle of the Bulge…Hitler’s last push to turn the tide of the war in Germany’s favor. It failed but it came at great cost to the Allied forces. It was a harsh winter and because of the urgency of the times many were sent to fight with little or no winter gear. The desperate Germans showed little mercy to those taken prisoner. And, all this occurred just nine months, nine months, before the war ended. So many had survived D-Day and countless days of combat only to make the ultimate sacrifice months before the grand reunion with family.
Heroes. It is a word we throw around lightly these days. In a world where everyone gets a trophy we are in danger of losing the value of this incredible word. Hero. Dictionary.com defines it as “a person noted for courageous acts.” Oxford says it is a person who is admired or idealized for courage. Webster defines it as an illustrious warrior or one who shows great courage. Another place said it is a person who at great danger to themselves puts others first.
I went to Toys-R-Us one time and there they had several aisles of super hero stuff. As I turned the corner a sign caught my eye. It simply said, “Real Heroes.” Along that aisle were the soldiers and sailor figures as well as police, firemen, and other emergency responders. If I went to that aisle today it would have to include doctors, nurses and other medical professionals. Real heroes…real people putting others first at peril to themselves.
But there would be one missing. Jesus Christ, the Hero of Heaven, who willingly, who bravely, gave Himself to a Roman cross that men, women and children could be free. The cross was so horrible it was called the death of deaths. It was so horrible it was illegal to crucify a Roman citizen. And yet…He went. Why? He loved me. He loved you.
Amazingly it was not for some of us but all of us. Skin color, economic station, language, nationality, capacity to be bad or good doesn’t matter. The Bible simply says, “He came to seek and save that which was lost.” It simply says, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” It simply says He is not willing for any to perish but all to come home. Anyone—I like anyone. Anyone who acknowledges their need for a rescue will find one in Jesus. And this Hero not only does a meet and greet, He invites you to join His family. How about that! So when you hear the national anthem, place your hand over your heart as a salute to those who paid the price for our freedom. When you see a veteran, thank them for his or her service and sacrifice. When you walk through a cemetery with your kids, point out the graves of the men and women who served and tell them why they are so special. And when you talk to the Hero of Heaven next time, thank Him for forgiving your sin. Thank Him for always being there. Thank Him for giving you a place to rest. And, thank Him for having this….because He does.
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Strange things happen in Africa. For the past 12 or 13 years, our church has made regular trips to Africa. We began in Niger and later moved down to Mali. The last six years or so we have been working in Uganda. Regardless of what country, you can count on Africa to give you plenty of unusual and strange sights. So in some ways I wasn’t surprised.
We were on an island in Lake Victoria, Uganda. On any given trip we visit at least three or four different islands offering free medical care, children’s ministries, ladies ministries and visiting the people in their huts to tell them the stories of Jesus. The point of it all is to let them hear the Good News that there is a God who loves them—a lot. So we were winding down the day. The medical clinic was finishing and four or five of us men were sitting in the shade under the “front porch” of one of the buildings.
So, we were talking and like I said you see some strange things in Africa so I wasn’t surprised when my friend said, “Look, there goes a woman with a peg leg.” Well, I turned around to look and didn’t see what he was talking about. I did see a lady some distance away but couldn’t see her peg leg. I mean, the only peg legs I knew about were in Peter Pan, so my curiosity was peaked.
I turned back around but didn’t say anything. But, it stuck in my mind. After ten minutes or so, I just had to ask my friend about this strange sight. I said, “Tim, did you say something about a lady with a peg leg?” His expression told me I must have missed something. He gave me a perplexing look. All he could manage was a “uh?” I said, “You know, a few minutes ago you said you saw a lady with a peg leg.” He responded with, “No. I said I saw a man carrying a stringer of fish.” Silence. Snickers. Laughter.
Yup. Somewhere in the process of the conversation what was said and what I heard were two totally, and I mean totally, different things. There was no lady with a peg leg only a guy with a stringer of fish. You are probably wondering how I got “peg leg” out of “stringer of fish.” All I can say is strange things happen in Africa. I’m glad there wasn’t a crippled lady but the idea of a peg leg like Captain Cook’s sure did intrigue me.
And do you know what? Sometimes I think this happens with God and me. I think He is saying something and I totally miss it. Does that happen to you? I think it’s more common than we think. We think we hear Him say, “You have the right to be mad” and in fact He’s saying, “Forgive.” We think we hear Him say, “Take” and really He was saying, “Give.” Oh, and then we thought He said, “Quit” and He was saying, “Serve.” And it just goes on and on. We hear “Leave” and He is saying, “Stay.” We hear “Go ahead” and He is saying “Stop, wait, don’t.” Seems strange things don’t happen only in Africa. Smile.
So, I’m not sure what caused the totally humorous miscommunication in Uganda. It may have been my hearing, could have been the village noise…who knows. There may not have been a fix for that, however, when it comes to hearing God clearly there is something that will really help. It is His Word. In so many situations (though I’m not sure peg legs are one of them) the Bible gives us clear guidance.
Here is one thing you can count on. The voice of God (what we think we hear God saying) will not, ever, never, contradict the Word of God. If you think you hear Him saying, “Revenge” when someone has hurt you, you probably have “Peg Leg Syndrome.” If you think you hear Him saying, “Be afraid” when circumstances are frightful, you probably have “Peg Leg Syndrome.” You get the idea.
Talking about the Word of God, Paul said that it is good for learning, good for insight about what is wrong in our lives, good for correcting us when we are wrong and good for teaching us about how to live right. The Bible is an amazing Book. It has stood the test of time and, while there are different translations, there is not a version 4.3 because God got it right the first time. So if you are talking with your friends and someone mentions a lady with a peg leg, you might want to ask for some clarification. And if you think you heard God say something that sounds a little not like Him, check the Book, go to the source. Peg leg stories can be funny but withholding forgiveness when it is ours to give, hating instead of loving, leaving too soon instead of staying…well, that can cause a lot of pain. And if find yourself singing and living that 1974 hit “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” it might just be a bad case of Peg Leg Syndrome. Just pull out the Book, read a little and rest in Him. He’s got this.
Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds expressed in your evil actions. But now He has reconciled you by His physical body through His death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before Him.” (Colossians 1:21-22)
It was a moment I will probably never forget. My wife and I love adventures. We look for ways to do things on a limited budget and we’ve actually gotten pretty good at it. A few years back we discovered we could take a train from Carbondale to Chicago, stay downtown at a nice hotel for a couple of nights and enjoy whatever was happening around us.. all on a shoestring budget. We would usually go around Memorial Day or the Fourth of July. It was pretty awesome.
Last year we went the week of the 4th. We grabbed a very nice hotel room and managed to snag a room that literally faced the fireworks display. It was awesome. At Millennium Park they have these incredible free outdoor concerts. Thousands of people from all walks of life gather on the large lawn to listen. Because it is the 4th, the music centers on America. They usually have a section where they honor the veterans by asking them to stand when the theme for their branch of the service is played.
I am a veteran. I served in the United States Air Force for 12 years and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. And that’s the problem. You see, because it was so rewarding I always felt awkward standing to be honored because I felt like I received so much more than I gave. So that night, I knew that part of the concert was coming and I was dreading it. I knew that Judy would urge me to stand, I would say no and she would give me the look. Again. But that night, for some reason, something changed.
It was time. The stirring songs from each branch of the service began playing. Soon, the Air Force theme was playing. I looked at Judy and said, “I’m going to stand just for you.” As I stood something happened. First, I saw others standing that had served in the Air Force and I felt community…I stopped feeling apart and instead felt a part—a part of the family. But what happened next was amazing.
There was a mother with a couple of young boys sitting about eight or ten feet from me. The younger of her sons, probably seven or eight, looked at me and said this, “Mom, is he a hero?” And I watched and listened as she said, “Yes. He served our country so that we can be free.” Then she turned to me and mouthed the words, “Thank you for serving.” Well that was the highlight of the trip for me and it was the day an unexplainable wall fell.
I am certain that I do not deserve the title hero. The men and women with crosses over their graves in all the national cemeteries deserve that. The warriors who came back from the various wars and conflicts bearing the physical and emotional scars of war deserve that. But the one thing that I realized that night was we should be thankful for our freedom. We can and should honor each person who served for their willingness and sacrifice.
So I’m still shy about standing at Veteran’s Day events. I still feel awkward at concerts when veterans are asked to stand. But it’s not because I’m ashamed to say I served. No, it is because I received more than I could ever give back. I was privileged to wear the uniform of my country. And that is pretty awesome. But wait. There’s more.
As I write this story another one is stirring in my heart. It flashed in my mind that this isn’t the only time, the only circumstance, that makes me feel this way. It is also my faith in God. That day when I followed Christ I also received more than I could ever give back. That day I was welcomed into the family of a God who loved me enough to give His Son to a Roman cross. Paul in the Bible tells us that we went from being alienated and hostile toward God to being able to call Him Father. Jesus caused my billion failures to disappear so He could present me faultless and blameless to His Father. We all need heroes. This Memorial Day would you take the time to remember those who bled and died that we could be free? Would you take your kids to the cemetery for your community’s Memorial Day service? I hope that you will. But I also hope you will pause and thank the Hero of Heaven for sacrificing His life so that people like you and me can be truly free. And finally, next time you have the opportunity to stand not as a hero but because of the One, stand proudly and thank Him. Thank Him that you can rest in Him. Thank you because He’s got this.
If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God has arranged each one of the parts in the body just as he wanted.” (1 Corinthians 12:17-18)
Ok, I was just so confused that I needed to tell someone. I know you must think I am goose crazy but yesterday morning was so weird in goose-land at the park or better, maybe it was something beautiful. So, let’s just say the geese were very prolific this year. There are lots, and I mean lots, of baby geese. There are two kinds of geese in the park. Almost all of them are the standard, brownish geese. Then there are also four or five white snow geese. Now trust me on this. In the past the snow geese and the regular geese just didn’t like each other. But something must have happened.
So let me tell you about yesterday. First, there were several of the standard brownish geese families. They were teaching the kids about swimming, eating, how to potty on the walking path…you know the standard things. But then there was something else happening. There were four white geese and they had like five babies and they were one big happy family. I’m sure there was a mom and a dad but there was also at least an aunt and an uncle. They were all doing their family thing. But hang on.
There was also a pair of the standard brownish geese and they had babies. What was different was they had two brown babies and a baby that obviously came from the snow geese. No really. I’m think they adopted one. And you know what? They treated him just like the rest. But that wasn’t quite the end of the story either. So, there was a pair of standard brownish geese and they had five brown babies. They were so cute. I think their names were probably like Larry, Barry, Harry, Terry and Ralph. Anyway, there’s one more thing.
There was one of the big snow geese in the family mix. He obviously had to be a distant, and I mean distant, relative. But he was one tough dude. The little babies were on the sidewalk and mom and dad were standing there. Usually, when I would walk by a family, the dad would hiss at me and I would act afraid. I wasn’t but I was hoping it made him feel better. Anyway, mom and dad were like casual—no deal.
But then there was the snow goose named Bubba. I mean when I got close he puffed his chest out, stretched his neck, glared at me and gave me his best manly hiss. You know the kind those big cobra snakes do in India. The hair stood up on the back of my neck and on my arms and I kept moving. I don’t know who Bubba was but he likes his family—brown or not—a lot.
You know, the more I thought about it… the more I thought it wasn’t weird at all. I thought maybe that’s exactly how it is supposed to be. The geese, regardless of their feather color, came together, formed a family and a community and were doing life. Everyone seemed pretty happy to me. Well, all except Bubba. He had an attitude but I think even that was because he loved and cared for the others.
Someone once said it takes a village to raise a child. It takes all kinds of people to make life work. And do you know what? It takes all kinds to make God’s family work too. If you go to church you know sometimes it can get just a little bumpy. Someone doesn’t like this or doesn’t like that. Someone wears the wrong thing or not enough of the right thing. Someone thinks things are too loud or too soft or too hot or too cold. Well, I think we need to take a lesson from the guys and gals at the park.
In the Bible Paul wrote that things would be pretty weird if a body was one giant ear or one giant eye. If we were all the same we would just be in a hot mess. It takes every part—ever person—being themselves and doing what God designed them to do. And do you know what else it says? It says in 1 Corinthians 12:18 “But as it is, God has arranged each one of the parts in the body just as He wanted.” As.He.wanted. That means that the person that you just love at church was put there by God. And it also means the person who irritates you the most was put there too. And perhaps they are there just for you. Of all God’s creations the church, His body, is one of His most beautiful. A flower garden is made beautiful not in its sameness but in its variety. The body of Christ is made beautiful the very same way. So, in these trying days, these crazy days, these days when it is so important that the church be the church, be sure and remember that the body is a bouquet of people and personalities selected and arranged by God himself. We need the Bubbas and we need Larry, Barry, Harry, Terry and Ralph too. We need the younger and we need the older. We need each other. Sound too difficult? Sound a little overwhelming? Don’t worry about it. God’s good at helping His rowdy, sometimes difficult kids grow. So, take a rest in Him. He’s got this. Just ask Bubba.
Do not love the world [its ways, it principles] or the things in the world. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s possessions—is not from the Father, but is from the world.” 1 John 2:15-16
You know, some folks are just slow learners. My time in Minot was short—from October to April—but filled with memories. The base was about 20 miles from town and only a couple of guys had cars. We would load up and drive into town at negative twenty degrees with all the windows down to play “freeze out.” We would see how long we could stand the cold. The radio would be blaring John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads.” Hey, there wasn’t a lot to do—especially in Minot in the dead of winter.
So, as a southern boy, this cold weather stuff was all new to me. Some things I just couldn’t get the hang of. One of those was walking on ice. Now I had been walking since I was about 18 months old. The difference was up in Minot you have to learn to walk on ice. The winter of 1972-73 was a great opportunity to do so. I was able to go home for Christmas. I was dreaming of a green and not white Christmas. Up until that time it had been cold, but we had very little snow. That was kinda unusual—especially for Minot.
Well, while I was home for Christmas they had a whopper snow —and I’m not talking about Burger King. Something like two feet of snow fell. But what happened after the snow was chilling—literally. It melted…all of it. Somehow it got well above freezing for a week or so which melted the snow and then it happened. The temperature plunged to below zero and stayed there. Forever.
What was left behind were vast sheets of ice. Everywhere you looked or walked there was ice. I didn’t have a car which meant I had to walk to and from work. So I would put on my arctic parka, my arctic gloves, pull my arctic hood up and take a hike. I would walk one way going and another way coming. Going to work was not a deal. I managed to make it without falling…or at least not multiple times. Going home? Well, that’s a different story.
About halfway there I would have to walk around the corner of a building. So, off I go. I get to this corner and not paying attention, stepped onto a sheet of ice. Bam. In two seconds flat- I was flat on my back. Because of the parka nothing was damaged except my pride. Score one for the ice. Day two. I’m walking home and come to the exact same spot. I eye the ice and ever so carefully step on and in two seconds flat I am flat on my back. Bummer. I crawl back upright, making sure no one is watching, and press on.
Day three. I get to the corner for the third time. I know the ice is there. In fact, we’ve become close friends. I gingerly step on the ice…nothing happens. As I take my second step in two seconds flat -I am flat on my back. Excuse me? Is this Ground Hog Day or what? Anyway, for the third time I crawl off the ice and head on back to the dorm. By this time more than my pride was bruised.
I know what you are thinking. Why don’t you take a different path? Why did you keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. The answer is…I don’t have a clue. Thought I could beat it? Thought it was closer? Thought if I fell enough I would break the ice before it broke me? I don’t know. I was stubborn. I was a slow learner. I was doing the same thing and expecting different results.
Isn’t that what we do in life? Don’t we journey along and come to a decision point and fall flat? Don’t we sometimes do it again on Day 2? Day 3? You know, walking on ice is one thing. However, flirting with disaster, the kind that has big regrets and bigger consequences, that is another. God knows this and tells us not to fall in love with the world—its ways, its principles, its stuff. Remember your mama saying, don’t date someone you don’t want to marry? Same principle. Flirt with the world, date the world and you’ll end up marrying the world.
John—the guy in the Bible—says in 1 John 2:16, “For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s possessions—is not from the Father, but is from the world.” When you say, “I do” with the world you end of with twins—regrets and consequences. Life is harder…a lot harder. Harder than walking on ice.
So, I finally did take a different route. They say that three times is a charm. It took me four but I did learn. On day four…I didn’t fall. I didn’t fall on day five either. In fact, I don’t remember falling again. Why? I didn’t go that way. I chose a different route and that route, that path, had different consequences—better consequences. They also say that three strikes and you are out. True in baseball but fortunately it isn’t true with God. He keeps picking us up, dusting us off and helping us find the right path—one with less ice. When I fell I would quickly look to make sure no one was watching. When we fall in life we can rest assured someone is watching…our Abba Father. He’s got is His eye on us. So, be careful out there it can be pretty icy but don’t worry you aren’t alone. He’s always there. Rest in Him knowing He will be there to pick you up. After all, He’s got this.
“Jesus told him, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6
Redemption. It’s one of my favorite words. One week ago, I wrote a story about Mother’s Day and my feeble attempt to honor the mother of our children. It was a story of good intentions with a not so good conclusion. It was a story that should have been about honoring but was really about muttering. It was a story about what was instead of what could have been…should have been. But, well, it turns out it wasn’t the end of the story.
So, without retelling the whole story (see “Mother’s Day—The Hard Way, May 11, 2020 on gritswithgrace.com) let’s just say I lost a blessing. Judy asked for a simple Mother’s Day gift and I fumbled the ball. I did it but with some (ok, a lot) of muttering. The day ended good with a great hike together and my receiving a reasonable measure of grace. The next day, Becca, our oldest daughter suggested a trip to Pigeon Forge for a few days as recompense. That seemed reasonable and doable and is in the planning stages. But there’s more.
It is the time of year when ladies change their purses. I know Judy has a dark red one that she uses in winter and a cute (did I just say “cute?”) one for spring. Well, the cute one for spring has seen its last hurrah. It is faded like an old leaf on the ground in late fall. She told me she was looking for a replacement but couldn’t find “the one.” It had to be a certain kind, it had to be the same color as last year’s, and it had to be a particular design. She said, “I can’t find what I want. I guess they just don’t make it.” What she was really saying was, “Here’s a chance for redemption, big boy.”
I jumped on this like “white on rice.” I like a challenge and love redemption. Now, I don’t know a thing about purses. Most guys don’t do purses though some have a “man-bag.” This guy doesn’t do either. But I do know about the promised land…Ebay. So, I got my iPhone out, clicked on the icon and entered eBay land. I tried several key searches. I quickly found out that whoever this Vera Bradley person is, she makes a lot of purses in a lot of designs and in lots of colors. But I was determined…I was seeking redemption.
Well, Judy wanders in, sits down and together we continue the search. By the time she got there, I was close. I could smell it; I just couldn’t taste it. And then it happened. There it was. Vera Bradley, coral floral, cross-body purse. The right brand, the right color and the right design. She wondered if it could be true. She said she would believe it when she could see it, hold it, touch it. The Saturday after Mother’s Day it came in the mail in all its glory. She saw it, she held it, she touched it. Game. Set. Match.
Her smile was from ear to ear and so was mine. Her happiness was so evident and so was mine. She couldn’t believe her prize was in her hands and her “prince” had brought home the bacon. Oh, I was redeemed all right. The epic failure was gone…replaced by the laurels of “coral floral” victory! Then I said, “Wait…I’ve heard this story before.” It is the story of God and me…of God and you.
You see, because of our sin, our failures, we were in a hot mess. We were separated from God and there was no fixing it. It was epic fail 101. Then God made a way—the way for rescue, for restoration, for redemption. And it’s not unlike my Mother’s Day story. I searched for the one thing that would make redemption possible and found it. And we do the same. We long for the one thing. And it isn’t religion. It isn’t being good. It isn’t stopping a bad habit or starting another. It is grace. It is forgiveness. It is Jesus.
You see, Jesus is not a religion…we have enough of that already. As Jesus said, He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” His death and resurrection made it possible for anyone to come home to God. He makes it possible for this epic failure to call God, “Father.” Paul, in Colossians 1:13-14, put it this way, “He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves. In Him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Well, I’m glad the story didn’t end with part one. I’m glad there was a part two. I’m glad for redemption. And your story never has to end with only a part one. Whether it is coming home for the first time or coming back home another time, we will always find Him waiting with open arms and a warm embrace. Guess what? Last Monday I was ok…Judy still loved me. She’s like that. This Monday, well, she thinks I hung the moon. She’s like that too. Today, God waits to welcome you home and guess what? No, He doesn’t think you hung the moon…He did that. But He does love you to the moon and back. So, let go and let Him hold you. Rest in Him. He’s got this.