Posted in life, Scripture

War of 1812

“Dear friends, don’t overlook this one fact: With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.” (2 Peter 3:8)

Warning. Thought provoking story ahead. It was the strangest library you could imagine.  A friend told me about a cemetery that had some very old graves. Now I know you are wondering, “What does a cemetery have to do with a library?”  And the answer is volumes and volumes.  First, lest you think me strange, I love history and especially American and local history.  Second, I love stories. This particular cemetery had some of both.

So over the river and through the woods Judy and I went till we came to Lavender Cemetery Lane.  A quick right off of Highway 34 and about half a mile down the lane and there it was—Lavender Cemetery.  There were two sections.  The first section was much older than the second but both were filled with stories.  And, like I said, I love stories.

First was my friend’s grandfather.  I had already learned that he was quite the character.  He actually ran with the infamous Charlie Berger gang.  He did some time in the big house and died when he was only 48—though not from a bank heist or anything like that. I was fascinated.  Then we started looking around and it was amazing.  We found the grave of a veteran from the War of 1812.  Can you believe that?  Then we found families who had lost not one, not two but three children.  It was in the days before there were antibiotics.  Can you imagine how difficult that was?

There were many other veterans buried there.  There was a Vietnam veteran who had obtained the highest enlisted rank in the Air Force, Chief Master Sergeant and had earned a Bronze Star for Valor in the war.  Next to him was a veteran of the Korean War.  He had died aboard the USS Saris.  During a typhoon in Korean waters a naval mine broke loose and hit the ship and it sank in 20 minutes.  Four men died and one of them found his way back home to Lavender cemetery.  But wait, there is more.  World War II veterans were scattered throughout as well as World War I. There were even civil war veterans buried there.  Almost side by side, a young soldier from Mississippi was laid to rest by a soldier from the north.  On and on, old, barely readable stones told stories of valor and courage.

There were headstones with beautiful etchings of home places and poems about life and death.  Scratched into a large rock, one read, “My friends, here lies my body beneath the sod but my soul has gone home to God.”  In this obscure country cemetery I saw a headstone for two people I know.  The dates of the death yet to be filled in—their stories still being written. Many of the headstones have been worn smooth by time.  Like their headstones, so many of their stories have faded into obscurity. But each one…each one…wrote a story that touched people and perhaps changed lives.

Yesterday afternoon at about 5:30 pm I found myself face to face with my own mortality.  My time, your time is limited.  The story will come to an end one day for each of us.  The question is this, “What kind of story are we writing?”  What story will be told at the service given to remember us? What story will be told when we stand before our creator either as His child or one who said no?  What kind of story?

Well, the good news is, there is still time to write.  There is still time to make sure your story is a story worth celebrating.  Peter tells us in the Bible that a thousand years is like a day and a day is like a thousand years.  That is a big truth.  We get the first part easily but don’t miss the second. A day is like a thousand years. That seems to say that even if we are in the second half of our life, or later, there is time. If there’s more in the rearview mirror than the windshield, it’s not too late. God can take those limited days and make it like a thousand years—plenty of time to start writing a new story.  So why not start now.  Right now.

Forget the regrets.  Forget the unwise choices. Forgive the broken promises just like God forgave you.  It’s in the Book.  Learn from each one but then leave the past in the past.  Paul did…check out Philippians 4:13…forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to the future in Christ, I press on.  Good, good advice. I don’t know how this virus thing is going to finish playing out.  I know I am not afraid.  I know my Father is in control.  I know that the foreseeable future is going to be different. But I also know I want the story about  how I handled it all… to be that I trusted Him to handle it.  I want the story to say I trusted Him during the pandemic.  We can do that you know.  He’s trustworthy.  I can lay my head on my pillow tonight and rest in Him.  So, pleasant dreams. He’s got this.

Posted in Scripture

-346 Degrees Below Zero

I have refined you, but not as silver is refined. Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering.” Isaiah 48:10 (NLT).

I got to go to the skin doctor last week.  That’s right…I got to go.  My skin doctor is located in Paduach so that meant I could jail break.  Judy and I hopped in our zippy little car and headed south.  It was good just to be going somewhere…even if it was to the doctor.  When we arrived, there were special precautions.  It reminded me of what going into the White House might be like.  Sitting in my car instead of the waiting room, masks, temperature checks.  I’m sure I saw a Secret Service agent poking around the corner.

So anyway, I finally made it inside.  Now this was a skin check.  They look and make sure something is not growing that shouldn’t be there.  Being a southern boy who regularly thought it was cool to go to the beach and get sunburned, this is particularly important.  What I thought was cool then is setting me up for skin cancers and the like now.

So, the nice skin doctor (at least I think it was her…she had a mask on…she could have been the secretary for all I knew) came in and checked me over.  You will be glad to know that things went well. She did find one “pre-cancer” thingy on my ear.  She said they should freeze it off.  I said, “Yes Ma’am, you go right ahead.”  So, she got her little freezing tool and cut loose.  Ouch.

I have had this done before but I forgot how bad it hurt.  It’s funny…freezing feels a whole lot like burning.  There is a reason.  Liquid nitrogen, the stuff they use for this, is -346 degrees.  Yup… you read that right.  I had a couple of other things that needed to be frozen, so she did those too.  Speaking of frozen, after this chilling experience, I wonder how all those Disney characters could be so happy in that Frozen movie. Anyway, it was over, it was done.  After a couple of hours the pain went away and so did the pre-cancer.

You know, sometimes pain is part of the process.  In this case I was probably part of the problem.  My neglect earlier led to a situation that had to be fixed—painfully fixed.  Sometimes it isn’t our fault at all.  Sometimes it is just part of life.  Sometimes it is for our good.  And that is where God comes in.

God loves us a lot.  He knows what is good and what is best for us.  Sometimes that means pleasant trips and sunshiny days.  Sometimes it means pain.  There are some lessons, and yes, some consequences, that require a season of pain to teach us. No one likes them.  In fact, sometimes we get just a little mad at God.  That is where faith comes in.  Is He a loving Father? Yup. Is He all wise? Yup? Does He have our good at His heart? Yup.  Are we willing to trust Him? Well, that’s just a little harder.

At least twice in the Bible the scriptures talk about the “refiner’s fire.” Proverbs 17:3 puts it this way, “A crucible for silver, and a smelter for gold, and the Lord is the tester of hearts.” The metalsmith will heat gold or silver to the point it melts and then all the impurities will float to the surface.  He does this again and again till he can look into the pot and he can see the reflection of his face in the molten metal.  The.reflection.of.his.face.

Our Abba Father, our dearest daddy, loves us enough to allow us to go through the fire and make us more and more like Him.  And that usually means suffering. In Isaiah 48:10, God says, “I have refined you, but not as silver is refined. Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering.” Some suffering is easier than others but honestly, none of it is pleasant—but it is all purposeful.  God doesn’t know wasted suffering. Remember that.

So, as we walk these twisted paths we call life, whether it is twisted by the coronavirus or an illness or a tough circumstance, remember that God is with you and He is in control.  You see, He is honestly more interested in our holiness than our happiness.  Don’t take that harshly. As God’s kids, we are happiest when we are holiest.  It’s just the truth.  That path, the one directed by Him, means less regrets and less consequences.  So, no matter what today looks like…trust Him.  Rest in Him.  He’s got this.

Posted in Grace

“Five Guys” Grace

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” Ephesians 1:7-8

It was a stroke of accidental brilliance and it all started in 1986. Jerry and Janie Murrell offered some advice to Jerry’s four younger brothers. They simply said, “Go to college or start a business.”  They decided on the business route and started a restaurant in Virginia called “Five Guys Burgers and Fries.”  And like they say, “The rest is history.”  Today there are 1,500 locations and 1,500 more on the drawing board.  Their sales pitch is nothing but fresh beef and nothing but fries cooked in 100% peanut oil.  There are no freezers in the joint, only coolers.

Well, all that is nice but that is not what I like about Five Guys.  I mean they serve one mean burger and their fries are the best of any national chain but that’s not what grabbed me.  So, here’s the deal. I walk in and order a small cheeseburger.  “What” you say?  Yup you heard right. The reason I order a small cheeseburger is because it is big…really big.  But it gets better.  The guy at the counter says, “what do you want on that cheeseburger?”  And here is when it gets really good.  I look up at the sign and there are probably 20 or 25 toppings for the burger.  And get ready.  They are all free.

Did I just say “free?”  Yes sir, I did.  You can have everything from a tomato to a grilled mushroom and the hits just keep on coming.  No extra charge.  Amazing.  The best part is that it is genuinely good food.  Granted burgers and fries for most men are its own food group but you gotta love one loaded beyond words.  But, wait, it is gonna get better.

The guy at the counter says, “You want fries with that burger?”  Hello? Do hens lay eggs? Do preachers eat fried chicken? Do southerners eat grits? “Yes, sir, I want fries” I answer.  So I order a small fry. “What” you say? Yup, you heard right.  The reason I order a small fries is man-food heaven.  So, as you watch, they fill a small cup full of fries.  Are you listening? They put the cup in the bag and then they get this scoop the size of a small shovel and dump a full load in the bag.  Wait. Then he gets another half scoop and dumps that in.  Can someone say, “Hallelujah!” Order a small and get a “boat load” for no extra charge.  Holy moley!

But wait…the guy is saying something else.  “Hey dude, do you want a shake with that?” Ok, by now I am drooling all over my shirt.  “Well sure” I respond.  He says, “What kind?”  I look at the sign and there it is.  Heaven.  It says, “milk shakes…all mix-ins are free.” “What?” I said.  “You mean I can have a chocolate, banana, strawberry, tutti-frutti, peanut, marshmallow milkshake with sprinkles on top.” “Yup” he said “all at no extra charge.”!  Excuse me while I wipe my mouth.

So what amazes me about Five Guys is, are you ready, their lavishness.  Their burgers, their fries, their milkshakes are all lavishly done.  They don’t give you a little of anything.  They pour it on, dump it on and then do it again.  Just like God and His grace.  Paul talks about it in Ephesians 1:7-8.  He says we have redemption though His death, the forgiveness of all our sins (someone say hallelujah) and all because of His grace that He lavished on us.  That means He pours it on, pours it on again and then just keeps pouring.  It is amazing grace because of the quality and the quantity.

I can just imagine stepping up to God’s counter and He says, “What do you need, son?” I like it when He calls me “son.” And I explain how this world is a hot mess, how I have made a mess of everything in my life and how I am sure I can’t fix it. Then I would tell Him I could sure use a little grace.  He would smile and say, “Son, I don’t do anything little, especially grace.”  And then He would begin to pour it on. To borrow from Luke 6:38 where Jesus speaks about giving, the Book says, good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.” It’s true about giving but it is also true when we need grace.  It is what lavish looks like. So as soon as you can, go to “Five Guys.” Be sure and order small because you are going to get big.  Order all the toppings you want on your burger, all the mix-ins you want in your shake and let them take care of the fries.  You will leave amazed at their lavishness.  But all that just pales to God’s amazing grace.  Just walk up to the counter and tell Him what you need and get ready.  He is going to pour—no, He is gonna dump— grace all over you.  And, like grace, you are gonna be amazed.  That’s why we can just sit back and rest in Him.  With that kind of grace, you know He’s got this.

Posted in Scripture

Got a Truck?

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

I needed a truck.  They say that there is one thing better than owning a truck.  It is having a friend with a truck.  Judy and I needed some new chairs for our patio.  We found what we wanted at a not-so-local home and garden center.  There were two problems.  First, the store was located exactly 36.6 miles from our house.  The other problem was the fact that eight chairs were not going to fit in our little car.

We used to have a van and that served as our pickup truck.  While it wasn’t too manly it did get the job done.  But now we have a little car.  The little car is zippy and the little car gets 42 miles per gallon but the little car will not carry eight chairs.  The fact of the matter is the little car will not carry one chair.  I had a problem. I needed a truck.  Fortunately for me I have a friend who has one.  He’s also the kind of friend you can call at 2:00 am and he will come.  He’s the kind of friend who would loan me is great, big, shiny pickup truck.

I called, he said yes, and soon Judy and I were on our way to pickup the pickup.  I had ridden in the truck before but never driven it.  It was a big, manly truck which probably explains why I ran over six curbs in the first five miles.  Judy, with some effort, climbed into the passenger side and I, with some effort, climbed into the driver’s side.  Instantly something happened.  As I slid behind the wheel I felt like John Wayne, Bruce Willis and Iron Man all rolled into one.  Watch out boys, here comes “the Duke.”

I felt manly. I found myself looking down at people in lesser vehicles to see if they were looking up at me and admiring my manly throne on wheels.  They weren’t.  But the bottom line is when I climbed into this massive hunk of raw steel, I felt more. Bigger. Stronger. Almost invincible.  Somehow, what I was in changed the way I saw myself.  Let me say that again.  What I was in changed the way I saw myself.

It was just about then that I realized the massive truck I was riding in was a lot like Jesus and me. You see the Bible teaches us that if anyone is in Christ they become a new creation.  Everything in the past is past and everything becomes new.  While climbing in the truck didn’t change who I was it did make me see myself differently.  Jesus goes one step further.  He not only makes me see myself differently…He in fact makes me different.  Climb into Jesus and things change—you change.  You become a new creation.

It gets even better.  In Romans 8:1, Paul writes, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  No condemnation.  That means all the sins are forgiven and all the charges have been dropped.  I stand before the Judge knowing that I can’t be condemned. He wrote the law, passed the sentence and then paid the penalty. The Judge, paid the price for my sin.  That is amazing.

Why stop now?  Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10 “For we are His workmanship [His masterpiece], created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Whoa.  Masterpiece?  Created for good works?  You see, the truck made me feel like more but Jesus made me more.  Now don’t start getting all puffed up thinking you did something to deserve this.  It’s all Him.  The only thing we do is climb in and that happens only because we believe.  That’s it.  Faith alone. So, if you need a truck, I hope you have a good friend…the kind you can call at 2:00 am…the kind that will loan you his big, shiny truck.  But when it comes to a Savior, well, you can’t borrow that; you need Him for yourself, personally.  And the best part, He is just waiting for you to call.  He’s just waiting to make you new…to make you a masterpiece.  He’s just waiting to be there for you.  And all that stuff, the worry, anxiousness, fear, uncertainty, doubt, insecurity and a bunch of other stuff you’ve been carrying…just toss it in the back of His truck and let Him carry it.  You just rest in Him.  He’s got this.

Posted in Mother's Day

Mother’s Day–The Hard Way

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

“So,” I asked, “what do you want for Mother’s Day?”  I mean, it was a good question and a timely question.  It was a question that I asked too many times the week before “the day.”  It reached a point where anytime I started a sentence with the word “so” she gave me “the look.”

Mother’s Day, birthdays, anniversaries are all a little difficult when it comes to Judy.  “Why” you ask? Well, one she is not a “gifty” person. Now “gifty” is not a word; I made it up.  It means one who needs gifts. I am a “gifty” person.  Second, she’s pretty content.  She’s not really heavy into the stuff thing.  She doesn’t particularly like or need jewelry, candy, or even pe-can pie.  I know, it’s hard to believe!

Well, it was Saturday before “the day.”  No matter how not “gifty” Judy is, I needed to do something.  She deserved it and I didn’t want to go to jail.  So, I decided to try one more time. “So, Judy,” I said, “what are we going to do about this Mother’s Day thing?  It is tomorrow.”  At first I thought I was going to get the look but instead she said, “I know what.”  That worried me because she had a smile on her face.  It was that “you should have quit while you were ahead smile.”  She said, “You can dig up plants for me.”

“Dig up plants?” I muttered but it was too late. The deed was done.  The deal sealed. I agreed and after stalling for a few minutes followed her out to the yard.  She took me to a spot under a large crepe myrtle where some lilirope had taken over.  So this was it.  With a stiff upper lip I attacked those pesky, rooty plants and ripped them from the ground. “Teach you to grow, you, you, plant you” I muttered.  It was a battle but one I eventually won.  I thought I had won the day but I think the muttering under my breath kinda spoiled the deal.

To make up for the muttering we started tackling these killer rose bushes.  They had some dead branches that needed to go.  Now you need to understand these bushes had thorns on their thorns.  Well, before long, blood was shed…and I muttered.  I was pretty sure I was going to have to call the Red Cross for a unit of blood before we were done.  I thought, “Surely this will win the prize.  Game, set, match.”  Nope, that stinking muttering under my breath about shedding blood spoiled things again.  I think I ended up tired, bleeding and empty handed.  I never should have muttered.  Judy calls it “losing the blessing.” I call it a real dumb move.

So, I was sitting on the patio after the medics had bandaged my arm and gave me CPR (smile) and then it occurred to me.  You know, this is what we do with God.  We tell Him how much we love Him.  We offer to do anything for Him. “Just speak the Word, Lord, and I will go and I will do.” So He speaks and then we stammer and then we mutter and then we lose the blessing. “Lord, what would you have me do?” we say. He mentions hard things like forgiving, loving, serving, giving, sharing.  You know, all those “ing” ending words that feel a whole bunch like digging plants.

Well, if I would have pressed pause on the “mutter button” I would have remembered just how much Judy does for me.  I would have remembered how much I really do love her. I would have remembered that while I don’t like digging plants I sure like seeing her smile.  It’s the same with God. If you just hit the pause button you would remember all that God has done for us and does for us every single day.  If you know Him, you gotta love Him. How could we not? How.could.we.not?

You see, God loves you to the moon and back.  Two scriptures put a bow on the package.  John 3:16 says God loved us enough to give His Son to a Roman cross.  But wait, Romans 5:8 tells us that God showed His love by sending Jesus die on that cross without us having to get it together  He just said “hey, come to Me…let’s get together.”  How about that? Well, Judy and I ended up going on a great hike later in the day and had a really great time.  We were amazed at His handiwork and I was amazed at how quickly she could forgive. I hope the next time she needs some plants dug, I’ll just hit pause on the “mutter button” and gladly start digging.  Not because I love digging plants, not because I have too but because I love the one I’m digging for.  And when we ask God what we can do for Him, whatever it is or whoever it involves let’s just get our shovels and get busy.  Afterwards, we can take a break and rest in Him.  He’s got this.

Posted in missions, Uncategorized

I Can’t Hear You

“But Peter said, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I do have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!” Acts 3:6 (CSB)

I can’t hear you.  A friend and I were standing on the shores of an island in Lake Victoria, Uganda, East Africa.  He was telling a Jesus story to a man and trying to determine if he knew Jesus.  While he was sharing another man walked up and began to listen.  At the end of the story, we asked a couple of questions.  The first man indicated that he knew this Jesus.  The other did not.  And he couldn’t hear.

Let me explain.  It wasn’t that he had a hearing problem.  His ears were working quite well.  It wasn’t that he couldn’t understand.  Our friend understood English and when we hit a bump our translator would jump in and help out.  But he couldn’t hear.  Then he explained the problem.  He said something like, “I can’t hear about this Jesus because my stomach is so hungry.”

Now hunger is not usually a big issue in Uganda.  While the food may not be the best nutritionally it is usually sufficient in quantity.  Our friend was one of the exceptions.  For whatever reason he hadn’t eaten that day or maybe the day before.  The growling of his stomach was blocking his heart from hearing the message.  We tried to explain that while we may hunger here, God had a place in heaven where no one would be hungry. I decided to tell him another story from the Bible.

I told him the story of Peter and John entering the temple.  You can read it in Acts 3:1-10. It goes something like this. There was a crippled man there who made a living begging.  When he saw Peter and John he thought they could help.  He looked up expectedly and perhaps even lifted his hand to receive a coin or two.  While his hand remained empty he got something more than a coin.  Peter said, “We don’t have silver or gold but what we do have we will give you.  In the name of Jesus of Nazareth rise up and walk.”

As Peter reached his hand down and the man reached up, his ankles received healing strength and he stood and walked into the temple.  I smugly smiled my preacher smile.  The perfect story.  The perfect truth. Eternal is better than temporary. Surely my friends would see it and everyone would go their way happy.  Only it didn’t happen.

I asked him “So what is better a few coins now or something that can change your life forever?”  I, of course, expected him to agree that the gift of eternal life is certainly more and better than a few coins or a quick meal.  His answer caught me totally off guard. He replied, “A few coins or some food.”  What?  I couldn’t believe what he was saying.  Surely he understood.  Surely I had made the story clear.

Then he said it.  “Heaven is good but I am hungry now. I need food now.”  Well, sadly, he wandered off.  Still hungry.  Still lost. My friend continued to share with the first man but my heart was heavy and my mind on the other man.  Suddenly, I saw him again standing a few yards away. It was then I heard the Whisperer whisper.  It was short and simple.  “Give him food” the Whisperer said.  I had totally forgotten that in my backpack I had some tuna, chips, crackers for my own lunch.  I dug several items from my bag, as did my friend.

I walked over to the man and said, “This isn’t much but I hope it will quieten your stomach so you can hear Jesus.” He quickly took the food and left. There’s no bow on the package, no happily ever after ending, no prayer to receive Jesus.  But I know two things. I know he knew we cared and I know he heard the truth and this time that had to be enough.  Maybe the seed would sprout later…only eternity will tell.

I learned a couple of things that day.  I learned that sometimes before we can share the Good News of the Gospel with a person we need to touch them in a real tangible way.  A casual God bless you and a pat on the back doesn’t do much for an anxious soul or a hungry stomach.  We must talk Jesus, we must share Jesus but we must be Jesus.  Someone said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

In these crazy, troubling times people need more than a sermon—they need to know we care.  How do we do that?  That’s the second thing I learned.  We have to listen for the Whisperer.  We need to be sensitive to His gentle nudges. We have to still our own souls and hearts if we are to hear His gentle voice. These days call for new ways…different ways. So as you walk about life, keep your eyes open, your heart still and watch in wonder at what God can do through you.  You don’t have to be in Africa to be on mission.  That can happen, must happen right here, right now.  And in these days of fear and frustration people are more ready to hear about God than ever before.  What a privilege to be entrusted with God’s work.  Up for the challenge?  God believes so.  Remember, He’s really big on you.  So rest in Him.  He’s got this.

Posted in Uncategorized

Day Old Donuts

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

The sign said it all. “Day old donuts…half price.”  In those five words there are two things I really like.  First, donuts.  Donuts and I go way back.  In fact, food and I go way back.  I’m a southern boy and there’s just something about food that puts a smile on my face.  Donuts, well, they make me smile big. The other thing that I really like is “half price.”  I love a good deal.  I remember one time I was at a store and it was after Christmas.  They had a gift set that had a razor, some shaving cream and a few extra blades.  They were marked down from $6.99 to .79 cents. I bought all they had—about twenty of them.  Too bad I used an electric razor.  But it was such a good deal.

So we have half-price donuts. Now we have a problem. “Day old.”  Because donuts don’t have any preservatives they go stale very quickly.  On day one a donut becomes not as fluffy—a little chewy.  By day two it becomes like a dried out kitchen sponge.  By day three you have yourself an oversized hockey puck.  What is a donut lover who loves good deals to do?  One word.  Microwave.

The microwave is an amazing invention…especially when it comes to donuts.  You see the microwave cooks from the inside out.  So when you put a day old donut in there it begins warming from the inside and any moisture turns to steam and the steam moisturizes the bread. Let me tell you that dude will fluff right up.

I mean this is amazing.  You can even throw a three day old donut in there and depending how hungry you are, pretty much make it edible.  I know because sometimes I wander through the church on Thursday and discover some leftovers from Sunday.  Yup.  Just chuck those things in the microwave and you’ve got yourself a semi-fresh donut. By the way, do not tell my wife Judy I’ve done this.

I wonder if David the shepherd had day old donuts and microwaves in mind when he wrote Psalm 23:3.  There we find, “He restores my soul.”  That’s just what the microwave does for the donut.  It warms it from the inside, moistening the dry, stale, bread making it soft and pliable again. In David’s way of thinking it wasn’t a microwave, it was green pastures and still waters.  If you could see it from a sheep’s perspective it would make perfect sense.

Imagine a sheep, hot, tired and hungry and the shepherd brings them to a lush green pasture and he eats his fill.  Then he waddles over to a crystal-clear brook, barely moving, and drinks till he can’t hold anymore.  That’s what David meant when He said God restored his soul.  A lot of folks wouldn’t take a chance on a day old donut.  A lot of folks would count it only worth giving to the dog or tossing in the trash.  They don’t understand the wonder of the microwave.  Do you know what? Sadly, people do people that way too.

Someone gets beat up by the world, worked over by doubt, fear and frustration and they get a little stale.  Some folks wouldn’t bother with them.  Some folks would avoid them.  But not God. He sees the broken, weary people around us and the garbage can is the furtherest from His mind.  Just like the microwave can work magic on a donut so God can work miracles in the lives of the most broken of people. And like the microwave—He does it from the inside out. Remember when Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  Jesus does what nothing else, no one else, can do.  He can rescue, redeem, and make the broken whole and life fresh again.

So, let me suggest before you walk by the day old donuts at the market give them a try.  You might discover a tasty treat and a good deal.  And, before you walk by your neighbor or a stranger and you can tell they’ve been worked over by the world and circumstances, just remember what Jesus did for you.  Remember how He didn’t just see you how you were, He saw how you could be. Just a moment in time and He plumped you up with His amazing grace and kindness. Maybe you are the one who feels pretty stale about now. Maybe your heart is as hard as a week old donut.  Well, don’t crawl in a microwave but do crawl up in the lap of Jesus.  Let Him restore your soul.  Stay awhile.  Rest in Him.  He’s got this.

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Crime of the Century

“As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the toll booth, and he said to him, “Follow me,” and he got up and followed Him.” Matthew 9:9 (CSB)

It was the crime of the century.  Somewhere right around the time I was learning how to cut watermelon with a butcher knife, I was learning how to be a criminal.  I already had the regular sin thing down by then.  I could be be jealous, tell a lie, be angry, be envious and be selfish—yup I was a pretty good sinner.  But one day, one ordinary day, I became a thief.  I became the “Al Capone” of 6008 Carlton Road.

My mom was the Girls Auxiliary teacher at the church we attended.  It was a class that taught girls about God and missions.  As part of the class, they would bring their change to and put it in one of those small, metal world globes.  Mom, to keep it safe, brought the globe home and one day, one ordinary day, I decided to steal.

My plan was never to take all the money—that would be too obvious.  I wanted just enough to go to the store and buy a water gun.  So one day, she and my sisters left and I was in the house by myself.  I went and took the globe to our porch and with a butter knife I began to fish the money out of the globe.  Nickels, dimes and quarters fell to the floor.  When I got what I wanted I put the globe back and collected my booty. I don’t remember if I felt remorse at the moment but I did feel fear.  “What if?” I said.

So, later, Dad went to the store and I tagged along.  I went back to the toys and picked up my water gun and bought it.  Now those were the days when kids didn’t have money laying around so dad asked, “Where did you get the money to buy the water gun?”  I panicked but quickly and efficiently covered the crime with a lie.  “Oh, I found it.” I replied.  Found it indeed.

The only thing I remember from that point on is going back to the crime scene and making sure I had found all the coins that had fallen to the floor.  I didn’t find any but I did find something else.  More fear and a burden of guilt.  So I don’t know how the story ended.  I don’t remember confessing, I know I didn’t replace the money, and I know it still bothers me to this day.  I bet mom is going to have some questions when I get to heaven.  The cat is out of the bag.

So, along with being a regular sinner, I fell into stealing from God and lying to my dad—and probably my mom.  Thankfully, somewhere down the road, I also became forgiven. Its too long of a story to share here but when I was 21 I fell, I was plunged into grace.  I threw aside an unhealthy dose of religion and got a relationship with the God of the universe and beyond.  And do you know what?  That sin, and all my other sins, were forgiven, eradicated, erased, and thrown away. Amazing.

So, put your rocks down.  You might be wondering, “How can a professional criminal that stole from God be a christian—much less a preacher?” That is the wonder, mystery and power of God’s love.  You see, the worse sinner in the days of Jesus were tax collectors.  They were professional thieves who betrayed their friends and country men to the Romans.  Matthew was one of those. He was sitting at his collection table taking people for a ride.  Then it happened.

Jesus walks up to this most unlikely person and says, “Follow me.” The other followers’ jaws dropped, the Pharisees nearly threw-up and Matthew, well, he stood up, left it all behind and followed Jesus.  And, like they say, the rest is history.

I don’t know what your story is like—maybe you’re a lot better than me—maybe a lot worse.  Let me tell you what I know—God loves you and wants you in His family.  If you are willing to turn from your sin and follow Him, He will forgive your sins and give you a new past and a new future. You see God can handle all this stuff we are in.  Crazy days and crazy sin doesn’t faze Him.  He can handle your circumstances—and your sin, no matter how much you resemble Matthew or Al Capone.  Come to Him today, rest in Him today.  He’s got this.

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Why not Minot?

In the same way the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should… Romans 8:26

Why not Minot? Freezin’s the reason!  So about three-fourths of the way through basic training in the Air Force you have the opportunity to fill out your dream sheet.  This is the Air Force’s way of saying, “Now we really don’t care what you think but if you want to, you can tell us where you would like to be assigned.”  No really, that’s true.  But it is also right…the needs of our country have to come first.  And, if for some odd reason the needs of the country lineup with your needs, you just might get what you put on your dream sheet.  Too bad I didn’t know that.

Our flight (the group of guys that you go through basic with) filled out our dream sheets together.  Of course everyone put down bases close to home, exotic areas like bases near the beach, or some other place that seemed exciting and interesting.  I remembered listing a couple of bases in Florida, Moody in South Georgia, Colorado, Germany and Alaska.

There were lines for twelve different dream locations and I still had one line left.  We were all feeling pretty jovial—you know, joking around.  So I said out loud, “Hey, I’ve got one spot left.” Someone, and surely he was related to the guy who suggested we join the Air Force together and backed out, said, “Put down Minot, North Dakota.”  HaHa, so I did.

I wished I hadn’t done that.  So I can just see the guys in the assignment section at headquarters.  They were giving the dream sheets the old “once over” and came across a guy crazy enough to put down Minot, North Dakota.  “Hey sarge,” “Here’s a crazy guy that wants to go to Minot.”  “Really?” The sarge asked.  “Yup, that what he put.”  So a couple of months later I found myself going to, you guessed it, Minot.

Minot is cold.  Minot is very cold.  Minot is very, very cold.  It is about sixteen miles from the Canadian border.  As the opening line said, “Why not Minot?” “Freezin’ is the reason.”  Did I mention that it is cold?  I arrived in late October and already the temperatures were near freezing.  This southern boy only had on a light sweater to fend off the below zero wind chill.  I knew when they gave me a heavy down filled parka, white arctic boots and gloves and one of those Russian looking Siberian hats I was in trouble.  Minot…who ever lists Minot?

I learned something that winter in Minot.  Be careful what you ask for…you just might get it. It happened in the headquarters assignment room but I am thankful it doesn’t happen in heaven.  You see, God loves us way too much to give us everything we ask for.  I have lived long enough to be thankful for unanswered prayers.  You see, prayer really isn’t about getting anyway. It’s about relationship.  It’s about trusting God and believing that He knows what is absolutely best for us.

Romans 8:26-27 is amazing.  It says, “In the same way the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us, with unspoken groanings. And He Who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” That means He knows what to say when I don’t and He knows and prays in accordance to the will of God.

Translated that means, “no winters in Minot” or six dozen other bad choices or prayer requests. It means our prayer life becomes more real. It means no more feeling like we are talking and no one is listening.  It means prayer becomes  a real and powerful force for God’s purpose to be done.  And since His purpose is always right and best—it is a win, win. So, I know right now our dream sheet would be easy.  No more corona virus, no more kids out of school, no more stay at home or face masks, no more not worshiping together and no more, no mores.  I think that’s a fair prayer.  But just remember, He’s God and we are not.  God is good, God is faithful and God can be trusted.  Even if the answer doesn’t look like our answer, it is still the right and best one.  So, sit back, rest in Him.  He’s got this.

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Do You Believe?

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live.  Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26

It was an ordinary day. Jesus was on the move traveling from one small village to another doing what He did–making a difference. As He was approaching Nain, a stop in the road, He ran into a funeral procession. We recognize funeral processions by the flashing lights on the hearse followed by cars with headlights on. He recognized it by the mourning–the funeral wail. The closer He got, the louder it got. It was the sound of broken hearts and lives.

In Luke 7:12, we get the details. It says, “Just as He neared the gate of the town, a dead man was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the city was also with her.” What a tragedy. The cause isn’t listed nor does it matter. Death comes in many forms and is no respecter of persons. But it was her only son and he died too young. It gets worse.

Luke also shares that she was a widow. She is facing this dark time alone. There is no husband to share the grief–it is all hers. And when the grieving is over, she faces a very difficult world. No source of income, no safety net, no unemployment, no social security–nothing. It’s a bad deal from top to bottom. And then it happens.

Jesus sees the situation and orders the mourning column of brokenness to stop. Why? He has compassion on her. He knows her story before He is told and He tells her, “Don’t weep.” It could be an unkind statement akin to “hey, get over it” or “it will be better tomorrow.” Instead it was a statement of power–the kind of power that can change everything.

He walks over and touches the coffin–a big no, no in that culture but Jesus didn’t let rules stop Him from loving, from acting. He says, “Party’s over death…you’re done.” Ok, He really said, “young man, I tell you get up.” And boom–just like that he did. Now let me tell you when you are at a funeral and the dead person sits up and is alive, the funeral is over, and the party begins. Break out the fried chicken because death is done, and Jesus is King.

I love this story…I really do. I see it played out day, after day, after day. No-not exactly like this, but I, we, see God bringing spiritually dead people to life every day. And when that happens John 11:25-26 becomes a reality. There Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” Wow what power–what assurance. But it all hinges on the last four words, “Do you believe this?” “Do we believe this?”

Ok, so these are difficult days. You might feel like the widow of Nain. It may feel like your world is imploding around you with all the safety nets gone. Well, there’s One that will never leave you and His name is Jesus. Oh, and knowing Him, is a game changer. The future that matters–the eternal one–is a guaranteed better day. In a word, it is heaven.

So, as we journey these uncharted waters together remember we never have to be alone–ever. Jesus wants us to experience His compassion and His salvation. And listen, when Jesus shows up things change. He is bigger than anything so rest in Him. He’s got this.