Posted in fear, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, prayer, Scripture, thankful

I Heard Him Before I Saw Him

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.  You are with me.”  Psalm 23:4

I heard him before I saw him.  Last week I was walking in the city park.  It wasn’t the casual walk but the exercising kind.  I do about 2.5 miles in about 35 minutes.  That day the sun was shining, the birds were singing, the trees were doing their “leafing out” thing and it was a good day.  Then, like I said, I heard him before I saw him.

I was alone in the park till then.  As I crossed the bridge on the north end of the park there was a man in his forties or fifties.  He was dressed normally–whatever that means but that was where normalcy ended.  At first, I thought he had one of those things in his ear that enabled him to talk on his cell phone.  The closer I got the more I could see and hear.

He was angry.  He was shouting. He was cursing. Then he began to pick up rocks and throw them violently in one direction and then another.  I realized he was fighting a battle with someone I could not see but he could.  To him it was real–very real.  He felt threatened and hurt by an enemy only he could see.

I prayed.  I asked God to deliver him from the invisible demon that was haunting him.  I asked God for His peace to come upon this peace-less man.  Later I saw him leaving the park, no longer angry, no longer violent, no longer cursing. It seemed from where I was that a moment of calm had come to his storm wrecked mind.  I was grateful and told God so.

I thought about that day several times and I realized that in these days there are a lot of folks fighting and fearful of enemies–enemies that don’t have or need a face to wreck their lives.  The covid-19 virus, the loss of a job or business, the fear of losing someone they love, the fear that things will never be the same, the fear that this fear will own them–consume them.

My mind goes back to Psalm 23:4. David, chased by a crazed king consumed with jealousy, chased by too many memories of too many failures writes, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.  You are with me.”  He was wise enough to know that as he walked through this valley it wasn’t filled with real monsters–only monster “wanna-be’s.”

You see, the valley became a roadway and not a residence.  Death, because of his faith in a “bigger-than-anything” God, was reduced to a shadow.  Shadows can frighten but can cause no real damage or harm.  How did that happen? Somewhere along the way David chose to believe in his “bigger-than-anything” God and he found peace.  He said, “I don’t need to fear evil, no matter what it looks like, because You are with me.”  You are with me. Today as you journey, remember all around us are people who fight battles with enemies only they can see.  Be sure and swift not to judge but to pray.  That day in the park I got it right but trust me I don’t always do that.  It’s then that I pray a different prayer–one for forgiveness.  And if you are fighting those invisible enemies today–just a word or two.  God loves you.  Rest in Him.  He’s got this. 

Posted in fear, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, prayer, Scripture, thankful

Ain’t No Sunshine

What do you want Me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” Mark 10:51

Bartimaeus, or Bart as his friends called him, was blind.  Along with the blindness came the usual social stigmas of being an outcast and the usual career choice–begging.  He had landed a good stretch of the highway to beg.  There was a lot of traffic but as always–a lot of darkness.  But all that was about to change.

One day he heard a crowd passing by and asked what was happening.  The fact that anyone even acknowledged him was a miracle.  Someone said, “Jesus was passing by.” Bart had heard of this young Rabbi and he had also heard stories, rumors really, that He could heal people like him.  Three words flashed into his mind–now or never.

He began to shout, to beg, to scream “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Over and over he shouted.  The crowd quickly became annoyed and demanded that he shut it down or they would shut him up.  But desperation and hope wouldn’t allow that.  “Jesus, Son of David, please, have mercy on me.” Right at the point when his ears told him the noise was fading he heard it.  Jesus was saying something, “call him.”  Amazingly the same crowd that tried to shut him down now helped pick him up.

“What do you want me to do for you?” the unseen Rabbi asked.  It might seem like a strange question to ask a blind guy but Jesus wanted to be sure Bart knew his need.  Perhaps a small contribution.  Maybe a walking stick or a seeing eye camel.  Jesus was asking, “Do you want a better life or a new life?” Bart was ready for something new.

Mark 10:51 gives us his reply.  “Rabboni,” the blind man said to him, “I want to see.” His five words are loaded with meaning.  First, the word “Rabboni” was master and it was a term of surrender.  He was saying, “I haven’t experienced what I need but I will trust You for it anyway.”  That’s faith.  Second, “I want to see.”  He wasn’t asking for a band aide he was wanting something new, something life changing.  Faith and the wisdom to ask for the right thing was a game changer for Bart.

Wait, Jesus is speaking again and what He says is amazing.  “Jesus said to him, “Go, your faith has saved you.”  Your faith has saved you.  Amazing. And do you know what?  Mark puts it very plainly in the rest of verse 52. “Immediately he could see and began to follow Jesus on the road.” Immediately his world exploded into light and color.  Instantly the darkness was forced to flee as the Light of world flooded in. Amazing.

Well, Jesus had told him to go and do you know where he went.  Right with Jesus.  He followed him.  I mean, where else would he go but to follow the One who gave him light, who gave him life.  I can imagine the smile on his lips and chatter from his tongue as he shared what Jesus had done.  “I once was blind, but now I see” he would say.  We added the “amazing grace” part later. So how about you?  Does your life seem pretty dark right now?  You’ve seen the list over and over.  Fear. Corona virus. Unemployment. Unknowns. Whatever it is, Jesus is passing by and He has an invitation just for you.  He invites you to come and when you get there don’t ask for a seeing eye camel or walking stick.  He’s got something bigger for you.  He has peace and He has hope. He has a new life of light and color.  You’ll find a friend who will never leave or abandon you.  Go ahead, get up.  He’s waiting.  You can trust him.  Rest in Him.  He’s got this.

Posted in fear, Grace, gratitude, life, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

Do You Have A Pencil?

God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6

“Do you have a pencil?” he asked.  Realizing there were plenty of kinds of pencils he added, “You know, the old-fashioned kind?”  I’m not sure what he needed it for but I rummaged through my desk drawer and found one.  I think he needed one with lead on one end and an eraser on the other.  The kind where you use one end to write a story or make a mark and the other you use to remove our “oops.” Today we are more likely to use the delete key on a keyboard. Erasers were my friends. Delete keys are my new friend. It makes my oops disappear.  I have a lot of oops.

My delete key changes things.  I mentioned recently that I did something that I had done only once before.  I opened the church calendar on my computer and started deleting things.  Evening service.  Delete. Youth Impact. Delete. KLICK and Women’s Bible Study.  Delete. Wednesday services. Delete. Choir Practice. Delete. Delete, delete, delete.  When I was done the calendar looked, well, mostly empty.  Mostly empty.

Then it hit me. Like an artist I was staring at a blank canvas and I realized what had been planned was gone.  The space that was cleared left plenty of room–room for God to write a new story. A different story. A better story. Several weeks ago, I began writing. With more white on the page there was more time to write.  Without God orchestrating the delete button, the stories would still be in my head and heart but not on the page. The thing I resisted led to the freedom to do it.

I wonder what would happen if we started concentrating on the ways God can use this hot mess we are in to rewrite stories?  What if we started to freely, to openly, invite Him to use the delete button and rewrite the stories of our lives?  I wonder what opportunities, what adventures would suddenly fill our pages.  A walk to the park becomes a safari. Homemade pizza night becomes an edible art gallery. The dining room table is cleared and we drag out the family games that have stayed in the closet too long.

Then there are cards to write, and calls to make, and stories to share.  Imagine the kids’ faces as they hear again how you met each other or how you met Jesus. Imagine sharing how things are really, really hard right now but how you are trusting God to help.  Imagine faith leaping off the page of the Bible and right onto the pages of your life. Then, imagine them saying, “Mom, Dad this bad time has been the best time because we got to be together.” Just imagine.

Yes, these are really challenging times.  Financially. Emotionally. Spiritually.  Yes–but what if God is writing a new story that in the end is the stuff of legends?  What if in a few years these days are some of the best memories?  And it was all possible because we said, “Ok God–go ahead and use the delete key.  I’m trusting that Your story is better than my story. I’m trusting You.” You see, God’s best use of the delete key is when He applies His grace to our sins, our mistakes, our misguided decisions, our oops.  New pasts and new futures are His specialty and they are often written in crazy days like these.  So, go ahead, press that delete key. Rest in Him.  He’s got this.

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, prayer, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

Z-Pack

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

They call it a z-pack.  It is called that because nobody can pronounce azithromycin.  Whatever it is called it–it works.  You know the story.  You are humming along, life is good and then you throat feels a little scratchy, your nose is a little stuffy and before long you feel awful.

Now let me explain awful.  If you are a man that means it is pretty much terminal.  It is a matter of minutes before the end comes.  Someone call 911.  If you are a woman it means that life just became a little more challenging but hey people are counting on you, so you will push through.

Man or woman–terminal or not–you will probably call and make an appointment to see the doctor.  He will determine, much to the man’s surprise, that it is not terminal.  It is an upper respiratory infection.  Then he may prescribe our friend azithromycin or a z-pack.

A z-pack is a course of five pills, often two taken the first day and one per day for the next three.  If you are a man, you take the first two and go to bed.  If you are woman, and in in particular a mother, you take the first two and go on with life.  The good news everybody generally survives.

I find too often in life this happens to me on another level. I am humming along and life is good.  The mild speed bumps and occasional pot holes of life are navigated with little or no trouble.  But then it happens. The smallest of infractions and I find myself going off–losing it.  Something doesn’t go just according to plan and I am seething.  I don’t get my way and so everyone better stay out of my way.  I’ve been infected.

No doctor is needed for this one.  It is called inselfishitis.  Let me say that again…in-selfish–itis.  Yup…for some reason it all becomes about me–or you.  While it’s caused by several things it often find’s it source in a little virus called “why me.”  I mean I understand why the neighbor deserves bad things he doesn’t even go to church.  And my brother-in-law hasn’t worked for months.  Of course, then there is cousin Eddie, never mind, we won’t even go there.

Well, the good news is there’s a z-pack for it and it is fast and effective.  Take three “pills” and before long you will be humming again.  The z-pack is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 and consists of three powerful truths that will kick the “inselfishitis” bug in no time.  Here’s the z-pack. “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances.” There you go–be joyful, pray always and be thankful.”  Bye-bye blues and hello cancel the 911 call. Three simple truths, three simple practices.

A while back I got ahold of a great definition for Biblical joy.  It is “a deep sense of inner well-being based on faith in God and trust in His sovereign will.”  Now that’s powerful. Boom.  It is what we close everyday with, “rest in Him…He’s got this.”  It’s true and He does.

Praying always is simply like breathing.  It becomes second nature and an essential part of life.  You don’t even need your knees to pray.  You don’t need to close your eyes–especially if you are driving.  It is a whisper to God as needed, when needed.  And it works.

The last one is gratitude.  It is learning to be thankful for the smallest detail in your life.  News flash–God is a God of the details.  That little deal you are concerned about is not little to Him.  He loves His kids and wants them to know He will be there.  Now that doesn’t mean you get every toy in the toy store.  It does mean that He will be there whenever, forever.

The last part of verse 18 is huge.  It says, “For this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”  He wants you to do this not for three days but every day.  He wants you to be fulfilled and at rest and these simple truths will put you on the right road. So, men, put on your big boy socks and push on.  Ladies–remember we men struggle with the small things so be sure and show a little mercy when we are terminal–or at least think we are.  God does and He does it not only for the men but for all of us.  He invites us to crawl up in His lap and rest in Him.  And listen close, He’s whispering, “I’ve got this.”

Posted in Family, fear, Grace, gratitude, life, prayer, Scripture, thankful

Funeral at Nain

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 10:25-26

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.  A mother had lost her only son to death.  And, according to scripture, he was young. 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 is 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 to 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 spiritual dead people to life every day.  And when that happens John 10:25-26 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. 26. Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” Wow what power–what assurance. But is 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.

Posted in fear, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

Annie

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Her life was pretty hard…pretty dark.  A perky young redhead with an optimistic attitude in a pessimistic world.  Others mocked her and those charged to care for her emotionally abused her.  So, what was Annie’s response?  Well, it goes something like this.

“The sun will come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun! Just thinking about tomorrow clears away the cobwebs, and the sorrow till there’s none!

When I’m stuck in a day that’s gray, and lonely, I just stick out my chin and grin, and say, “Oh the sun will come out tomorrow. So ya gotta hang on till tomorrow…come what may. Tomorrow! Tomorrow! I love ya tomorrow! You’re always a day away.”

So guess what?  The sun does come out.  She is rescued by Daddy Warbucks and her life is changed forever.  Are there still problems?  Yup.  Are there still bad guys lurking to hurt her–steal her away? Yup.  Does the story have a great ending?  Yup and three big lessons emerge.  One, the sun will come out.  Two.  Don’t mess with Daddy Warbucks. Three, don’t underestimate a nine-year-old redhead.

So, doesn’t it seem we are stuck in a day that’s gray, and lonely?  Doesn’t it seem this whole corona virus thing is one perpetual, cloudy day? Doesn’t it seem like this is the new forever normal?  Well, it is not.  The sun is going to come out.

I try and walk every morning–usually on the treadmill.  I climb on and at 4 mph work feverously to go nowhere.  Well, yesterday, the temps were warm and the sun was out and walked at the city park–and it was like a cool drink of water in a hot dry desert.  I mean I just exploded in gratitude for a God who loved me enough to let the sun come out.

I read on the internet that the phrase, “And it came to pass…” appears 396 times in the Bible.  Each time it is saying that the current situation didn’t come to stay…it came to pass. That this isn’t a new normal…it is a temporary circumstance.

In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Paul writes, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Right on Paul.  Right on.

So remember this.  One, the sun will come out–guaranteed.  It may be here or it may be there but the future for a child of God is filled with “Son-shine.”  Second, remember who our Father is.  He isn’t just rich like Daddy Warbucks–He owns it all and is in total control.  And no one…and I mean no one…messes with our Father.  Last, you may not be a perky young redhead like Annie but don’t underestimate yourself.  You dear friend, if you have trusted Christ, are a prince or princess of the King.  Your home is heaven and your Father calls you His. Can someone say, “Son-shine?”  God bless you today.  The forecast says clouds but I’m feeling pretty “Son-ny.”  After all, I can rest in Him.  He’s got this.

Posted in Family, fear, life, prayer, wisdom

A Word of Encouragement

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

The story is told of a Christian lady who had cancer.  Her pastor went to see, encourage and pray with her.  Towards the end of the visit, her pastor asked if he could pray with and for her.  Her response was, “yes, of course.”  That wasn’t surprising.  What happened next was.

When he asked how he should pray, her response was totally unexpected.  He assumed it would be for healing but instead she said, “Pastor, pray that I would not waste this suffering.”  Waste this suffering.

She was wise enough to know that the God she believed in was sovereign, was in control and was a kind, merciful and loving God.  She also knew that He was wise and that this had been allowed into her life for a purpose–His purpose.

God’s word says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

I admit I’m baffled by a lot of what is happening around me.  Just when I think I can’t be surprised…I am.  But I’m not baffled about God.  He is working in our circumstances to bring glory to His name and strengthen our faith.

So God has this.  He isn’t asking us to understand…He is only asking us to trust Him.  And believe me…He has a track record of always getting it right.  God bless you today…trust Him…He’s got this.

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, loving others, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, wisdom

Gratitude

I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13

I was the leader of the pack.  When I was growing up in the 60’s, things were just a little bit different.  In my school there were a zillion kids and in my church youth group I was one or two years older than most of the other kids.  That became important when I turned sixteen and was eligible to get a driver’s license.  I remember I got my license before I attended driver’s education and I got a car before anyone else at church.  I was the leader of the pack.

Today, whenever I drive by the local school and look in the parking lot I am always saddened.  The lot is filled with fancy cars and trucks the likes that were never seen in my 1970 world.  A few kids did have nice cars, but most were leftovers and hand-me-downs.  Oh, I’m glad for the kids but I just hate they are not going to experience the joy of owning a 1960 Rambler.

Unlike today, it was not an automatic deal to get a car when you turned sixteen.  Get a license and you get a car is the general rule today. When I turned sixteen you got the right to ask dad to borrow the family car…occasionally.  Only the coolest kids got to actually own a car—and I was about to get cool.  My sister and brother-in-law lived in Daytona Beach and he had a car that he drove back and forth to work.  When he upgraded, rather than sell his old one, they told my mom and dad that they were willing to give it to me.

Then, and even more now, I realize just how generous that was.  It wasn’t necessarily the value of the car as it was them thinking how that just might increase my standing in the world.  Dewayne Taylor…car owner.  Oh, yes, things were about to get better…much better.  So one day, they drove the car up to Jacksonville and pulled in the driveway.  There she was.  I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder and to me she was beautiful.

She was a 1960 Rambler Deluxe.  Now in case you don’t know, Rambler was a division of American Motors which of course is now a part of car history.  This beautiful hunk of metal was…well…unique.  It was hand-painted (as in with a brush) a deep royal blue color.  The brush marks only added to it’s uniqueness.  Right down the middle of the body was a bold yellow racing stripe.  Having lived most of its life near the ocean it probably had an equal amount of metal and Bondo filler in the body.  It was powered by a straight line 6 cylinder, 195 cubic inch monster producing 127 horsepower with a very pronounced rod knocking.  Anything over 35 miles per hour and the engine sounded like a professional drummer going wild on a trap set. She boasted a three speed manual on the column.  It wasn’t exactly a muscle car but she was mine.

One of the first things my dad and I did was go to Sears and buy a set of seat-covers.  This was 1970 so we bought navy blue covers plastered with bright red and yellow flowers.  To enhance its racing car mystic, I even installed a tachometer on the dash.  I was ready.  My job bagging groceries at Food Fair provided gas money and I was the indeed the leader of the pack. I became the “go to” guy for social events.  “Hey, wanna go horseback riding on Saturday? Great, I’ll pick you up.” “Wanna go to the movies Friday night?  Be at your house at 6:00.” Yup, life was good.

The old Rambler lasted somewhere over a year and the old engine just kept on knocking.  It was the clutch that finally gave out.  Dad decided it wasn’t worth fixing so it eventually found its way to the junk yard.  No, there wasn’t a big, fancy replacement.  It was back to borrowing when I could.  But for those months…I was the leader of the pack and I was grateful.

One of the things we have lost over the years is gratitude.  Somewhere we have almost lost the fine art of being grateful for the little and big things that come our way.  We stopped being thankful and instead become jealous of what others have.  It leads to a vicious cycle of keeping up with the Jones.  In case you don’t know, they are the couple down the street that always seem to have more than you.  We work longer hours, carry way too much debt and still have the gnawing feeling that we need, we deserve, more.  We believe the commercial line, “we deserve a break today” only it isn’t for a burger built our way.

The Book has a lot to say about gratitude and commitment.  Paul, one of the New Testament writers, said he had learned the secret of being content with whatever, whenever. Do you know where he was when he wrote those words? He was sitting in a Roman prison waiting for them to decide when they were going to kill him.  Incredible. The secret?  Faith in Jesus Christ.  He went on to say, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” He was saying his faith in God was enough.  Everything else was gravy. I’m not saying every car in the lot needs to be a Rambler but I am saying one of the best gifts you can give your kids is the gift of gratitude…teaching them to be thankful for simple things…the little things…things like an old Rambler with more Bondo filler than metal.  Teach them to be content.  Of course there’s a catch.  You kinda have to understand that yourself before you can teach them.  Tell you what.  Sometime today why don’t you take time and talk to your Heavenly Father about contentment.  He’ll probably whisper, “I’m enough. Rest in Me. I’ve got this.”  He is, we should, and He does. 

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, Military memories, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

“Foot in Mouth” Disease

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29

I just shouldn’t have said it.  We all have said things that we wish we hadn’t.  I learned a lesson about that the hard way.  I had two bumps in Air Force basic training. One involved singing…you can check that one out on my blog www.gritswithgrace.com (https://gritswithgrace.com/2020/06/01/i-said-sing/). The other one also involved my mouth…I wonder if there is trend there.

In basic guys were assigned to a flight (group) and each flight had a dorm chief.  He was someone, a peer of sorts, the flight chief selected from within or outside the flight.  Ours was selected from outside.  He had a weight issue so was put in a special group that helped men get down to a weight level that was acceptable.  That of course meant they had to stay longer in basic.  Well, our guy, whose name was Guy, was one of those guys.  Because of his longer tenure in basic he was named our dorm chief.

Now it could have been a little jealousy on my side or it could have been that I was a little judgmental or maybe I had a momentary case of the stupids but I said something to one of the guys about this guy.  The words are lost to time but it was probably something like, “Who does this guy think he is? He’s not a leader…he is a loser.”  Well, anyway, something like that. I said it and forgot it assuming it just died away.  It did not.

So, apparently either that guy told another guy who told another guy who told the guy named Guy.  The guy named Guy told the guy named Sergeant Catchings who was the same guy that caught me singing.  Well, things were about to go south.  There was a lesson that needed to be taught and I was the object of that lesson.

Sergeant Catchings gathered the flight outside his office and leaving the door open sat down at his desk.  We all were like, “What’s this about?”  I quickly found out it was about me.  Soon a booming, “you’re in deep weeds son” voice said, “Airman Taylor, get in here.” I got up and went in the office and he instructed me to close the door.  I stood smartly at attention in front of the desk. Sergeant Catchings harshly invited me to take a seat.  There was no chair.

He had me place my hands flat on his desk and then squat by bending my knees till my arms were parallel with the top of his desk. Three things immediately came to my mind.  One, what in the world have I done? Two, this is very uncomfortable.  Three, I’m going to die.  Well in about one minute I found out that Dorm Chief Guy had told him I was mouthing off.  I had broken a cardinal rule…don’t mouth off about those in leadership above you.

Sergeant Catchings, jumped to his feet and began to lecture me about respect for leadership and how I should never, ever disrespect those put in authority over me.  Now don’t forget.  One, I still “sitting” in the invisible chair with my hands on his desk.  Two, the entire flight is outside the door.  And by now he is screaming at the top of his voice.  For added effect, he would occasionally walk over to the door and kick it or slap it making it sound like I was dying.  I was.

Finally, after about ten or so minutes he opens the door and says two words, “Get out.” Imagine 27 guys looking in the office and seeing me squatting with my hands on the desk.  I can’t move.  I am locked in place.  My muscles leg and arm muscles were frozen.  He said it again, LOUDER, “I said get out.”  So, I fell over and managed to crawl, yes I said crawl, out of his office. I was in agony and the rest of guys were in shock and we all learned a lesson about gossip and respect for authority.

The lesson that day was very valuable. I wish I could tell you that I learned it so well I never had the “stupids” again but that wouldn’t be true.  But I can tell you this.  There is a reason the Bible talks so much about the tongue and the mouth. It isn’t a matter of finding a verse…it is a matter of choosing a verse.  We can start with a little nugget found in Proverbs 21:23, “Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut,

and you will stay out of trouble.” I wish I had remembered that one before I uttered the words that prompted my visit to Sergeant Catchings office.

But the one that probably says it best is this, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Imagine how less complicated our lives, our families, our marriages would be if we mastered that one.  Imagine how our work lives and even our worship lives would change.  A pastor once said that if we knew we would have to personally apologize to every person we slandered or gossiped about, we probably would hit “pause” a lot more often. Oh well, I’m sure glad we have a graceful God.  I have learned over the years to deeply value his patience with me and His mercy for me.  There have been too times I’ve had to go to my dearest Daddy and have a chat about “foot in mouth” disease.  I’m glad He graciously invited me to come sit close beside Him. He has always heard my confession and honored my repentance.  I find rest right there…next to Him. Because He’s got this.

Posted in Family, Grace, life, loving others, Scripture, thankful

Sacred Cows

See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children—and we are!” 1 John 3:1

That can’t be good. The noise came from the church sanctuary and it sounded like trouble—with a capital “T.”  Being a pastor is one of the most challenging and interesting vocations there is.  I have been walking this path for the past 38 years and there is nothing like it.  I’ve experienced the lowest of valleys and the highest mountain peaks and that’s just on Monday morning!  Of course, if you think being a pastor is challenging, you should be a “PK” or pastor’s kid.

PK’s grow up in a fishbowl world.  Many people expect them to be perfect. They are held to standards that are unfair but that can lead to some pretty good stories.  And you know I love a good story.  So one evening, my wife and a couple of the ladies from our church were working in the children’s department.  I believe they were painting and papering.  We had been at the church long enough to build some great relationships but not quite long enough to guarantee survival of “the big one.”

“The big one” is a variety of things that you don’t mess with in a church.  They are also called “sacred cows.”  Now these things don’t moo or eat grass. I think the phrase must refer back to India where cows are worshipped.  Mess with a cow in India and someone is going to mess with you.  One of the jobs of a pastor is to learn what and where the cows are for a church and then avoid them.  It is also the job of the pastor to keep his kids from messing with one.  And that’s where the trouble started.

Judy and the ladies were working hard that evening and not paying much attention to the girls.  My two girls were there as well as the daughter of one of the ladies. The moms were working hard and the kids were playing.  Life was good.  People were happy…and then.  I’m not sure exactly in what order these two events happened but they were very close together.  The first was the sound of kids playing.  It was the sound of kids playing in a swimming pool.  However, First Baptist didn’t have a swimming pool.  But it did have a baptistry…the kind big enough to swim in.

The second sound was not a happy sound.  The second sound was the sound someone makes when a sacred cow is being touched.  The second sound was the sound that pastor’s really, really, don’t like to hear.  This one sounded something like this, “WHO is PLAYING in the baptistry?” Apparently one of the trustees (who was a good friend) had come into the sanctuary and discovered what the moms had also just discovered.  What they discovered …was that the kids had discovered …that the church had a built-in swimming pool.  It was not a pretty scene.

Friend or not, he was really, really upset.  The pastor’s kids were swimming in the baptistry and that was definitely a no-no.  I could hear the cow mooing loud and clear. The moms were traumatized (only later would they laugh), and me, I was just trying to still be the pastor the next day.  But it turns out we had an ace in the hole.  Now an “ace in the hole” is a bit of information or a resource held back until the proper time.  It was time.  Just about then…the trustee’s five-year old granddaughter stuck her head up from the baptistry and smiled at her grandfather. Now it still wasn’t pretty. The kids were still messing with a cow, however, the relationship one of swimmers had with the trustee changed everything.

The bottom line is the kids had a nice swim but never had another one in the indoor poor.  My friend, the trustee, showed grace but I’m sure only after a lecture about indoor swimming pools in Baptist churches.  And me…I got to keep being the pastor. It really turned out to be a great story and over time it just got more and more humorous.  Several years later it was my privilege to officiate at my friend’s funeral. We had many wonderful memories to share that day but I do believe the story of the baptistry topped them all.  Grace and relationships have a way of doing that. It works when kids touch sacred cows and it works when we sin.

You see, when it comes to us and God, we do far worse than touch the sacred…we violate His law and trample His holiness.  It is an ugly scene but then He does the amazing.  He offers forgiveness, He offers grace, unmerited favor, to any person willing to put their faith not in themselves but in His Son Jesus.  That faith results in this incredible relationship where we can call Him Father and He calls us His kids.  The Bible says it like this, “See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children—and we are!” How about that?  He is willing and able to forgive any sin—even swimming in the baptistry—if we believe.  Amazing. So when you find yourself in a hot mess with God, just remember the big truth about grace and relationships.  The first makes the second possible.  And when you get the second you get everything you need.  A place to crawl up and rest and a dearest Daddy that is big enough to conquer your biggest fear and forgive your biggest sin.  After all, He’s got this.