Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, prayer, Scripture, wisdom

The Prickly Past

He has removed our sins as far from us as the East is from the West.” Psalm 103:12

It was a voice from my past—and it was singing the blues.  While we were in Southwest Florida on holiday, I tried to keep up with my morning routines.  That included, first and foremost, coffee.  After coffee and a look at the weather, came God time.  After God time came Judy time.  After Judy time came—exercise time.  The problem with all these times is they all take time.  Before I knew it, the sun was up, the humidity was up and the temperature was up.  Regardless, I had to get up and get going.

The first morning we were there I was still learning the lay of the land and wasn’t exactly sure where I should walk.  So, I headed toward the way in and out of our condo property.  This led to the highway and so I took a left and decided to walk on the edge of the road.  It was safe but it was miserable.  There was no shade and soon it was just plain hot—very hot—“why am I doing this” hot.  I was determined to go my 3.6 miles but I began wondering if this was such a good idea.  After a little while longer I was sure it wasn’t.  But you know how men are—do or die and in this case, death might have been an upgrade.  Ok, I’m exaggerating.

In my misery, I met an old friend.  There was a point when I had to cross a bridge across a channel.  They had built a walkway but to get to the walkway you had to go behind a guardrail through the weeds.  Without breaking stride I charged on and then I saw them.  Sand spurs.  These were old friends from my childhood.  They are a type of weed and have sharp, spine covered balls of pain at the ends of long stems.  They will grab anything that gets close and if that happens to be your skin…you are done.  If they don’t get you when they attach, they will get you when you try to detach them. Ugh.

Like I said, they were an old foe from my childhood.  When I was a kid, we would run barefoot all the time and without fail we would step on them. They would hurt…bad.  Well, this time, even though I tried to avoid them, they found their way onto my shoes and socks but I didn’t find them till I got back from my walk.  As I was sitting by the pool trying to recover from a 145 heart rate and the 100 humidity, I found them. And, just like the old days, they made sure to give me a “stick and an ouch” as I tried to remove them.  Just. Like. The. Old. Days.  Though it was years ago, the whole sand spur scene was painfully fresh.

I find that sand spurs aren’t the only painful thing that loves to bump into our present.  Often, too often, unpleasant memories and regrets, sneak back into our lives and cause us pain all over again.  Try as we may, sometimes, it seems they reattach themselves to us and we relive the whole hot mess again.  It could be a similar situation or maybe a repeat performance but all the pain and remorse comes flooding back.  I hate it, you hate I,t but how do we avoid it?

Well, I tried to avoid the sand spurs on my walk.  I saw them, I knew they were there, but in my rush, my determination to exercise, I simply didn’t give them the wide berth they deserved.  I should have made it a higher priority. I realized that when I was later trying to remove them.  When you sense, when you feel your ugly, painful past creeping into the present, do whatever it takes to change the scenario. Don’t allow yourself to pull to the “sand spurs” of past failures. Trust me—they will attach themselves to your present with all their former pain.

There is one more thing that is even more important than that.  Should you find yourself reliving that regret, run straight into the arms of grace.  Remember, relive the forgiveness that came after the failure.  The Bible tells us that God casts our failures as far as the East is from the West.  I love that because it doesn’t say as far as the North is from the South. You see if you go North long enough you will find the South.  But not so with East from the West.  You can travel East forever and never find the West.  And that dear friend, is what God does with our failures and sin if we ask Him for forgiveness and help. It is gone—outta here and that is real good news.

Well, I couldn’t wait to show Judy my sand spurs, not because I liked them but because they reminded me of an important part of my past—the fact that I knew they were not going to be a permanent part of my future.  I may have bumped into them, but I wasn’t going to live with them again. And that is a good thing. So as you are speed walking though life, remember to give your painful past a wide berth and keep Jesus close by your side. You’ll find Him a mobile “rest stop,” there to make every step, every day survivable and “thrive-able.” And never forget, He’s got this.

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, travel

Divine Rescue

Taste and see that the Lord is good. How happy is the person who takes refuge in him!” Psalm 34:8

It was a close call.  It all started several months ago when I received an email from a website called “Travelzoo.”  Each Wednesday they send out a “Top 20” list of their best travel deals.  Well, in June that list included a really, good deal at a really nice hotel in Naples. Now you probably ought to know that one thing trumps all else when it comes to me and hotels:  PRICE. I love a good deal.  But this one had a great price along with a nice pool, hot tub, great decor, good location and a free shuttle to the beach. I talked it over with Judy and we began making plans for a trip to Southwest Florida.

Well, as time went by, I arranged our flight to and from Naples and of course the now famous car rental—a Mustang convertible.  Well, as the days got closer, and for a reason I don’t remember, I just started wondering if we should look at another place to stay—something with more space, perhaps a kitchen—you know, a small condo.  So, we started looking and low and behold we found one—actually me, Mr. Price Trumps Everything, found one.  Yes, it was a bit more expensive and it wasn’t in Naples but rather Fort Myers Beach.  But it seemed to be saying, “Rent me.”  We did.

Now there are lots of ways I can tell this story but perhaps the shorter version is the best version.  I apply this often to my sermons—NOT.  As we get to Fort Myers, we find this condo is a home-run, grand slam.  It overlooks this large, beautiful bay with a fabulous view from the seventh floor.  It had a large balcony and the living room wall was floor to ceiling glass.  It really was amazing.  Fish and dolphins were jumping in the bay, birds were everywhere, boats zipped up and down the channel, and each morning a beautiful sunrise greeted us.  Paradise.

Ok, so now, fast forward.  We left there on Wednesday and drove down to the keys in our Mustang convertible (can someone say, “cool”) and stayed for a couple of days before returning to Naples on Friday, to spend the night and fly home on Saturday morning.  So…we spend Friday night in the hotel we had originally booked for the first six nights of vacation.  Now, it was nice, but there were no restaurants nearby, the beach was several, and I do mean several, miles away.  The room was small with no fish or dolphins jumping anywhere, no birds, no boats, and no morning sunrise to say “Hi.”

Now that was fine for one night.  However, I looked at Judy and she looked at me and we both realized we had been blessed and rescued.  That small room could have been our home not for one night but six nights and every meal would have meant a hunt for a restaurant.  And anytime, and I mean anytime, we were outside our room and in the building, a mask was required.  The whole tenor of the vacation would have changed. It would have been away but that was just about it.  Away.

Let me tell you that we firmly believe that our Dearest Father acted on our behalf.  He knew we would not have been happy for six nights in that hotel and He whispered and nudged at just the right time and gently moved us in another direction…a direction that exceeded our needs and expectations.  It occurred to both of us that God had sent us a love note.  God knew what we needed better than we did.  He knew that saving a few bucks paled in comparison to what He had picked for us!  It was so cool.

We had a great time.  And over and over, throughout the time we were there, we kept saying, “God rescued us” and we knew it was true.  And here’s the best part—while we got to recognize this one, I wonder just how many times and how many ways does He do it over and over again?  He works behind the scenes, silently changing plans and directing our steps towards His blessings and away from our disasters.  I believe when we get to heaven it is going to be crazy good. We will see Jesus and our loved ones who knew Jesus and have gone before us. It’s gonna be awesome. But until then the Psalmist says we should just keep tasting, keep discovering just how good God is and that will keep us busy for a long time.

I think one of my favorite things about heaven is going to be the fact that we will finally see all the ways that God acted on in our behalf.  I can imagine the walls of heaven covered with sticky notes—love notes from our Dearest Daddy to me and you—all saying in a million different ways, “I love you.”  Oh, I know it won’t be exactly like that but I also know in heaven I will see all the things He did for me.  I can’t wait.  Till then I’m going to have to be satisfied with the times I see them and the times we get to sit together and rest in our love…especially His for me.  Oh, and then there are the times when I realize, I know, that He’s got this.  And that is in everything and every day.  How about that?

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

Dog Beach

So God created human beings in His own image. In the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” Genesis 1:27

Southwest Florida has gotta be a great place to live.  For the first time in a long time, Judy and I headed back to Southwest Florida for a visit. I am a Florida boy—born and raised in the Northeast corner of Florida in Jacksonville.  Judy is a Georgia peach raised in Valdosta. If you’ve driven to Florida down I-75 you have been through Valdosta.  So being from Florida and close to Florida, it is naturally a place we like to visit.

We spent the week down in Fort Myers Beach and had a great time.  With the exception of Labor Day weekend it wasn’t too crowded and even then we were able to find space to avoid the crowds. Several times we hopped in our rented Mustang Convertible and drove around.  Fort Myers Beach is built on a narrow strip of land and there is only one main road that runs through it.  We would turn out of our condo and either go left or right—there were no other options.

On Saturday of Labor Day weekend, we would see these places where dozens of cars would be parked beside the road and of course that peaked our curiosity.  We just had to know what all those people were doing.  Did they know something that we needed to know—to see?  Well, that Saturday evening we decided to drive down to one of those spots.  Earlier that day it was just packed with cars and we imagined it had to be a beautifully secluded beach.  It might even be worth exploring the next day.  So off we went.  It was lightly raining and when we neared the spot where there had been dozens of cars and now there were only a few.  Paradise was within our grasp.

We parked in the small sand parking lot and noticed there was a sign that said Dog Beach.  We figured that was the name of the beach.  Maybe it was shaped like a dog or dog’s leg or something.  Even without an umbrella we started walking.  It was a rather small path, wet from the rain.  Then we came to an opening to what appeared to be a large bay.  We met some folks who were heading back to their car and we asked where the beach was.

They told us we would have to wade through the water, follow a small path and then go around a small peninsula and there would be a beautiful beach.  So…off we went wading through water, carrying our shoes, and walking a path through the woods.  Along the way, we came upon a few folks heading to their cars and they all had dogs.  How about that?  We normally aren’t slow to figure things out but today wasn’t one of our better days.  We kept walking till finally we came upon a small, not particularly beautiful beach.  It wasn’t on the Gulf but rather on the bay.  There was a person with, you guessed it, a dog.  There was also a couple out in the water with, you guessed it, a dog.  Hmmmm…I was starting to connect the dots.

I asked the couple with the dog if they were from there and they said no.  And I asked them about what was so special about this place—that we had seen dozens of cars here and thought it must be special.  And it was…if you owned a dog.  You see, it was in fact a dog beach.  All those dozens of cars with many more dozens of people were there for one reason—it was a place where their dogs could be dogs.  That was it.  It was only paradise if you had a dog that enjoyed playing in the water.  And, for a lot of people, that hit the spot.

I left that day only a little impressed with the beach and more than a little wet and that was ok.  What made that beach special wasn’t for me, but it was for a lot of other people.  It taught me fresh and anew that the beauty of something really is in the eyes of the beholder.  With that came the renewed lesson that I should be slow, real slow, to judge another person’s opinion. Hmmm…that just might be a game changer.

I know now that when I go by the Dog Beach and see all those cars that there are a whole lot of people just beyond the tree line that love their pups.  And being a dog lover who just happens to be dog-less for now, that is pretty awesome.  Instead of going by and thinking “Look at all those beach lovers,” I will go by and say, “Look at all those dog lovers.”  Maybe before we assume or think we know all about a circumstance or relationship, we need to explore and figure it out and we may come to a whole different conclusion.

Need some help?  Well, the One who made us all has it all figured out.  In fact, He reminds us in the Bible that every person is made in His image and He wants each of them to come be a part of His family. And then, He made that possible by sending His Son Jesus to pay for our sins. When you find yourself befuddled with someone or a particular situation, just check with your Dearest Daddy…leave it resting with Him.  You can, because He has this.

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

History and Hope

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35

It was a bright, wonderfully normal September morning and then everything changed.  Nineteen years ago today our country found itself under attack by terrorists on a scale that was beyond almost everyone’s imagination. More amazingly it played out on national television for all of us to witness and mourn.

That morning I walked into the church office like dozens of times before…only this time was different.  As I entered the door the secretary asked if I had heard that a plane had crashed into one of the world trade buildings.  “Really?” I asked almost casually.” “Was it a big one or what?”  She didn’t know and then I went into my office and slowly the news begin to spread.  A large airliner had been hijacked and flown into one of the towers.  Shortly, again on live television, we were shocked beyond belief as a second airliner flew into the other tower.  And then—both towers collapsed.  Even as I write this it doesn’t seem possible—but many of us saw it with our own eyes. Later another airliner crashed into the Pentagon. And there was more. Another hijacked aircraft heading to yet another target was taken back from the terrorists by a bunch of heroes. It crashed into a Pennsylvania field saving hundreds or maybe even thousands of lives.

The days that followed were like something we have never seen before.  All flights in over the United States were grounded.  New York, ground zero, was shutdown.  People huddled over televisions soaking up any and all news and in the process becoming more and more afraid.  To many it seemed like the end of the world as we knew it.  And I suppose in some ways it was. We needed a miracle—we needed an encounter with the living God.

In a matter of a couple of days we witnessed something else.  We saw something that was tremendously encouraging and a short time later something that was tremendously sad.  First, we witnessed a coming together of the two major political parties in America.  We watched as Democrats and Republicans stood on the Capital steps together and sang “God Bless America.”  We were amazed.  We were encouraged.  It was one of our finest hours in the modern era and it was woefully short.  Within a day, the finger pointing started as one party started blaming the other and sadly we found ourselves divided.  In a time when we desperately needed to be together we were apart.

Fast forward 19 years and we find ourselves in yet another extremely difficult time.  It is totally different and yet eerily similar.  We are facing circumstances that have not been seen in modern times.  The death toll is higher and the enemy faceless.  And this time…we skipped the moment of unity and went straight to the finger pointing. We are a nation divided when we desperately need to be a nation united. Just like 19 years ago we are in desperate need of God and His healing power. The only hope lies in the living Hope—Jesus Christ.

God has put in place the army He intends to use.  It is not Democrat, it is not Republican, it is you and I—it is His church-the body of Christ.  If there was ever a time when followers of Jesus need to act like followers of Jesus—it is now.  It is not a time for bigotry or nor is it a time for fussing over things that don’t matter.  It is not a time for circling the wagons and defending the fort.  It is a time to share the love, the kindness, the grace that every Jesus follower has experienced.  It is time to give what we have been given.

I don’t know what this world is going to look like over the next few years.  What I do know is that if this army of Jesus people will be Jesus to the world around us—it can, it will be a better place.  Will it be perfect?  Of course not—after all experiencing God’s grace doesn’t make us perfect—it makes us forgiven and forgiven people forgive others. Jesus said “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  Wow—there is so much power—so much purpose—in that one statement.

It has been said that if a people does not learn from history they can only be destined to repeat it.  In some ways I’m afraid that has become a reality.  But it is not too late.  So Jesus people, people who call Creator God, Dearest Father, let’s determine today to give up our fear, our anxiety, our pride and our prejudice and let’s rest in Him.  He is big enough, He is strong enough, He is compassionate enough and believe me, He’s got this.

Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, Scripture, thankful, travel

Beautiful Sanibel

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Recently Judy and I went on a great adventure as we traveled down to Southwest Florida to the Fort Myers area.  Because of the virus thing it was interesting on several levels.  First, masks were required the entire time we were in the airport and on the plane.  We were allowed to take them off while we were eating our snacks.  When we arrived we were pleased to discover, that as we suspected, this area of Florida was not crowded at all. Yay.

More than a few stores were closed still and every restaurant we went to had plenty of room for customers.  Whatever crowd limits were in place were not met…no lines.  So it was just a great adventure and we love great adventures.  I even managed to rent a Mustang convertible for the time we were there and that was well, beyond awesome.  The rental agent tried to convinced me to rent a GT model for an extra twenty dollars a day.  He obviously didn’t know me.  Twenty dollars for the week maybe… but a day—the six cylinder was more than good.  I have to admit I felt pretty cool.  My cool sunglasses and my cool hat hiding my “not so cool” balding head completed the look.

One of the things we did, twice, was to go to beautiful Sanibel island.  It was only about 12 miles from where we were staying and it was one of those places we had wanted to go for a long time.  So one day we put the top down and off we went.  We had music from the sixties and seventies playing on the radio and I felt pretty young.  Maybe the sixties are the new forties.  So as we neared the island there was a six dollar toll.  “No deal” I said.  I thought it interesting that there was no one to take the toll.  There was simply a sign that said, “We will bill you.”  I bet they will too.

So when we got on beautiful Sanibel Island one thing quickly became apparent.  It was beautiful but it was a place of threats and rules.  The biggest was the parking deal.  Everywhere—and that is not an exaggeration, there were signs—big signs—threatening signs—warning you that if you parked without paying two things would happen.  They would tow your car and charge you a fine.  And the fine was not like $25 dollars.  Oh no…it was like $250.  And they meant it too.  And the parking was, are you ready, $5.00 an hour.  No breaks and no exceptions.  But that wasn’t all.

There were signs warning you that if you were caught speeding, there was a fine and it was strictly enforced.  If you turned where you shouldn’t turn, there was a fine and it was strictly enforced.  If you were from Illinois, there was a fine and it was strictly enforced.  Ok, I made that one up but you get the idea.  It seemed everywhere you looked in what was supposed to be paradise, were more threats and rules and it kinda just took some of the fun out of it.  I understand why they thought they had to do it but that didn’t make it any easier to swallow. I felt like they were just waiting for me to mess up so they could say, “gotcha.”

Well, so in a few days Judy and I will pack up and come back to Harrisburg and leave that part of the trip in the rearview mirror.  We loved it but that part I can do without.  And that is the point of this story.  So often as Jesus followers we insist on seeing Kingdom life as a land of strict rules and we see God as the ultimate traffic cop.  He writes these impossible rules and then waits for us to mess up so He can say, “gotcha” and zap us.  I wonder where we got all of that? I mean God’s love and grace toward His children are plastered all through His Book.  I understand the need, and benefits, of obedience but I disdain it when people try and make God to be a bad God.  He is anything but bad.  Yes, He is just.  Yes, when we reject His gift of salvation we have to answer for our sin.  But this God gave His Son to a Roman cross so that we could have forgiveness and call Him Father.  That is amazing.

If you find yourself living in a world where your faith is confined to a world of rules and threats you’ve probably wandered off the right grid. Remember the wonderful words found in Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Yes, I know they were written to Israel but the principle is ours to claim.  Our lives should be motivated by God’s love and grace and not the fear of Him zapping us.  Never, never forget that as His child He loves you beyond what you can believe.  He is working things for your good and His glory.  It’s that plain and simple.  Every no and yes in His Book is there for that reason.  He is not a cosmic cop waiting to hurt you…He is a wonderful, loving Father who would die for you…and He did.

Starting today, why not change your view of God?  If you’ve never asked Him for forgiveness and received His great gift of eternal life…start there.  And if you’ve wandered off the grid into the land of rules and threats, come back home to grace and love.  It’s where He wants you to live.  It is where you will find rest.  It is where you will discover that no matter what, He’s got this.

Posted in forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, prayer, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

My “Sorry” Prayer Life

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, but worldly grief produces death.”  2 Corinthians 7:10

I have a sorry prayer life.  No really, I do.  I know that prayer is a very important part of life.  The Bible talks so much about it.  And honestly, it isn’t that it is terribly hard.  If you look and listen to what Jesus says about prayer, you will see how important – but how simple it is.  He gave us His now famous lesson on prayer which we call the Lord’s Prayer but it is better called the Disciples Prayer or the Model Prayer. The Model Prayer was not that long, contained no big, spiritual words, and it was straight to the point.

Now if all this is true, why do I struggle with prayer so much?  Why do you struggle with prayer so much?  Well, I can’t and shouldn’t speak for you but I can speak for me.  I have a “sorry” prayer life.  Now you might be sayings, “Dewayne don’t be so harsh on yourself.  It can’t be that bad.”  Well, actually I’m not using sorry as an adjective for my prayer life but rather as a way to tell you about two things that I throw in my prayer life that really shouldn’t be there.  What are they?

Here’s how it works, way too often I find myself telling God that I am sorry for this and sorry for that.  Now that really sounds good, doesn’t it?  Well, I can’t think of a single time where God told me to tell Him I was sorry for my sin.  Nope, I can’t think of once.  You know how it goes.  We tell God good morning and then begin to tell Him that we are sorry for this and sorry for that and of course, we are sorry for this and that.  And most likely the next morning, you find yourself telling Him you were sorry for the same things all over again.  There is a better way.

The better prayer is a prayer of repentance.  It is fine to let Him know you are sorry, but don’t stop there.  Let Him know that you intend to not do this or that again.  Repentance is a great Bible word that means to have a change in attitude and/or a change in direction.  When you repent you are telling God that you are changing your attitude toward that juicy sin.  You are going from liking to hating and from clinging to leaving.

Paul, one of the writers of the New Testament, said that godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, but worldly grief produces death. In other words repentance leads to life and being sorry leads to the death of your joy and peace. Oh, and by the way, be sure and ask Him for His power and strength to do that because you will surely need it.  This whole Jesus journey is all about Him anyway.  So be sorry, that can’t hurt, but do, do repent.  It’s a game changer.

Now the other part of my “sorry” prayer life goes like this.  I spend several minutes or longer telling God just how sorry I am.  No, not like what we’ve already talked about.  This kind of sorry is the kind that tells God how much of a failure I am, how I am worthless, how I have never succeeded and so I probably won’t succeed today either.  I am one sorry piece of creation.  Really? I hate to admit it but I’ve been known to do it.  It’s like telling God He is junk maker and not a masterpiece creator.  I’m speaking to me but you can join in.  It is time to believe what God says about us and not what the devil says.  Let’s not waste our prayer time telling God how messed up we are but rather thanking Him for making us a new creation.

I know, trust me I know, I (or we) are not perfect.  I know I (or we) fail too many times.  But those imperfections, those failures, do not determine who we are.  God determines who we are and when we put our faith in His Son we are precious in His sight and we are His trophies of grace.  Let’s not try and convince Him otherwise (as if we could) but rather let’s spend those precious moments in prayer thanking Him for all of His marvelous grace.

I think it is time we change our “sorry” prayer lives.  What about you?  Are you willing to leave the mess at the door and enter His grace room with repentance and gratitude for all He has done for you?  Are you willing to turn your “sorry” prayer life into a time of celebration of forgiveness and hope?  Well, I’m sure going to give it a whirl.  I know that when I do I’m going to find that rest I’ve been looking for.  And I’m going to get up and believe like He’s got it.  Because He does.

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, Scripture, thankful, travel, wisdom

Masterpiece

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”  Ephesians 2:10

I am not much of an art fan but with that said, sometimes I am just amazed.  That amazement usually happens when I am watching one of several travel shows on PBS.  Invariably, wherever they are traveling they visit an art gallery.  And one thing is certain.  The art is as varied as the people who paint them.

To me it is hard to believe that Picasso and Rembrandt are both considered masters.  Both of them are held in high acclaim and yet they and their work are totally different.  Picasso’s later works, at least from this art critic, appear to have been drawn in a kindergarten classroom.  Amazingly he didn’t always paint this way.  In his early years he was a masterful realist in his work.  What happened?  I think he got bored and went artistically berserk.  And people now love it.  Notice that word “now” because “then” they didn’t. His masterpieces became masterpieces mostly after the master had died.

I frequently find myself thinking about how incredible it is that according to God…and because of God…you and I are a masterpiece…a true work of art.  In case you missed it, the scripture reference is Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”  Isn’t that just an incredible thought that the God of the universe holds His children—you and me—in such high regard?

Now it is only because of God!  It certainly is not anything that we have done…not because of any of our own merit–it is just amazing grace. Sometimes people will say you are “a work of art” and you just know it isn’t exactly a compliment.  It is like Picasso’s work pictured above–not exactly a masterpiece—in my eyes anyway.  With apologies to his fans, I just can’t figure how he became famous for his artwork.  I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder but I’m just saying…

I know sometimes maybe our lives look more like a Picasso than a Rembrandt but just remember–often–beauty is in the eye of the beholder and in this case that is God.  When Jesus comes and gives us new life, we become this beautiful new creation.  The great part is that His opinion is the only one that matters.  It doesn’t matter what your spouse says, your kids say, or even what you say.  Nope, in Christ you are a masterpiece because God has declared you so.

One thing I know is that we have to determine who we are going to listen to.  Will we listen to the worse critics of our life…those whose spiritual gift (they think) is demolition or the One who died for us?  Hmmmm….not too hard of a decision, is it? Why is all this so important? Because as we understand how God views us, we begin to live as the masterpiece we are.  We begin to live and understand that we are created in the image of Creator God and He thinks very highly of us.

Not once has God ever taken a masterpiece off the wall of His gallery of grace and declared it unworthy or junk.  Never has, never will.  And the reason is simple.  We are who we are because of Whose we are.  We are what we are because He has made us so and He just doesn’t make mistakes.  So today, rest in the declaration of your Dearest Father that you, yes-you, warts and all, are a masterpiece.  Rest in the full assurance that even if your life looks like a Picasso, His grace can rearrange the squares and make you a Mona Lisa.  How? Because, He’s got you and He’s got this.

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, missions, priorities, Scripture, thankful, travel, wisdom

Content–Almost

I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.” Philippians 4:12-13

I was content…almost.  Contentment is one of the most allusive things.  One minutes you are fat and happy and the next minute you are just fat.  Some small, insignificant thing happens that seems to change everything.  It probably has a lot to do with most of us living in the best country in the world—the United States.  We have more than we need and that is a problem and it is the problem.  Andy Stanley, a pastor in Atlanta, talks about the fact that most of us have houses with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms and get ready, there is even a house for our car attached to the deal. Amazing.

Many years ago we went on a mission trip to the Philippines. We were there to repair some damage caused by a major earthquake. Two things amazed me—how beautiful it was in addition to how kind and polite the people were.  On a couple of levels it did indeed seem like paradise.  You see the island itself was a vacation destination for many.  It was simply beautiful.  The only problem was, we didn’t get to see it.  There simply wasn’t time for a lot of sightseeing because there was a mission to accomplish–a job to finish.

Now I know that probably sounds pretty noble–maybe even spiritual, but the truth is, even on the mission field it is hard not to think about–ME.  The “resort” we stayed at really was quite nice–particularly when compared to sleeping in the sand in Mali, West Africa or on the ground in Uganda, East Africa.  I guess I should have been content–and I was–almost.

When we arrived at the resort, we were given our room assignments.  Judy and I were assigned a single unit.  I have to admit, I did have the best roommate.  We went to our room and it was nice–small–but nice. It even had a bathroom! There wasn’t a lot of room to walk and have the luggage on the floor, but it was nice. We pushed the twin beds together and it was just like home–just smaller–a lot smaller.  Then we decided to go and check out the other room assignments.

Well, their rooms were also quite nice.  Each person had two twin beds pushed together to make a double bed and their rooms was bigger–a lot bigger.  There was even room for their suitcases to be on the floor and still walk around the bed.  Suddenly, my room (well, our room) felt even smaller.  Suddenly, it didn’t seem quite–fair.

Now I was content, until I saw how the rest fared.  I was content, until I saw what big was like and then I was not. Just like that I went from contentment to discontentment. I went from feeling blessed to feeling cheated—all in about two seconds flat. Isn’t it amazing how one minute you can be satisfied and the next you’re not?  There’s a word for that and I think it is pretty close to sin. And the crazy part is, it doesn’t just happen on a mission trip to the Philippines–it happens to a lot of folks on any given day.  We are content until we see how the other half lives. I think it is something like the grass is always greener somewhere else.

Paul said something quite amazing in Philippians 4:12 “I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot.  In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Oh, and by the way, when Paul wrote those words, he was sitting in a dark, dank, stinking Roman prison.  Ouch.

I think all of us need to learn Paul’s secret to joy–be content!  The truth is most of us have it a lot better than 90% of the world! The truth is if we take a look around, we will find that our Heavenly Father has filled our world with “love notes” that simply, yet profoundly, say, “Just to say, I love you.”

Whether our world has a healthy dose of bumps or if the sun shines consistently, if it is corona crazy or as smooth as a lake at sunset, we have so many reasons to be thankful…to be content.  Why not take the time today to look around and be thankful for what you have rather than be rattled about what you don’t have?  After all, hasn’t the Giver proven Himself over and again?  Hasn’t He “shown off” time and again in His lavish grace and love?  Sure, He has.  It’s time to settle back and take a rest.  After all, He’s got this.

Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, life, loving others, priorities, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

Choose Real

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Matthew 11:28

I couldn’t believe my eyes.  One of the earthquakes from the corona virus was the total disruption of sports.  I’m not a big sports guy, but I do have my favorites.  I really enjoy college football and I can’t believe that several conferences will not be playing ball this fall.  I am a Notre Dame football fan (and yes, I suppose it is a little weird that a Baptist preacher’s favorite team is from a Catholic school but hey, it is what it is.) I remarked to several folks that I’m not sure we can have fall with college football.

I was surely surprised when March Madness when by the wayside. Once again, I like college ball because for the most part, it is sports at it’s purest.  I knew things were pretty serious when they cancelled this spring classic. Now all of the rest, well, there’s always next year.  It seems from where I sit that so many of the professional sports are about money and not about the love of whatever game they are playing.

When professional sports started trying to come back, I was amused at the “creative” measures the leagues used to get things going.  The NBA (National Basketball Association) did the bubble thing in Orlando—and I’m really not sure what that is about, the NHL (National Hockey League) and their attempt to have a kinda, sorta, season and playoffs.  NASCAR (I’m not sure what all that stands for but I do like what they stand for) has done pretty well.  Finally, there is MLB or Major League Baseball.  They are playing a 60 game season and then some kind of playoff system crowned with a sorta, kinda world series.

I was watching a MLB game the other day at my son-in-law’s house. I know one of the teams was the Philadelphia Phillies and the game was being played in their park.  Here’s where it gets interesting.  First, as we watched this game, they had filled the entire lower level of the stadium with cardboard fan look-a-likes. If I understand this correctly people pay to have their picture sitting in these seats.  It gets better.

So here are the lower stands stuffed to the gills with fake people and then to complete the “ruse” they pipe in fake crowd noise to go along with the fake people.  I’m sure I am not the only person going, “what?”  I’m not sure what the purpose of all that is but one thing is certain—it’s not real. I am sure that is perfectly fine in these crazy times.  In fact, now that I think about it, it is probably perfectly normal for these crazy times.  It’s ok…as long as it stays in the park.

Sadly, we live in a world where more and more people are wearing “invisible” masks.  First, no pun intended and second, not the masks that protect you.  Perhaps uncomfortable with who they are or what people might think of them, they feel the need to hide behind something or pretend to be something they are not.  Like an actor on a stage they are simply playing a part.  I get that because people can be harsh and judgmental. But let me share something that just might help.  There is a God who loves you unconditionally and He is waiting for you to come and join His family.  Once He becomes your Father, no amount of failure, no amount of sin can separate you from Him.  It gets better.

Not only will He love you unconditionally, He is comfortable with the way He made you.   You don’t need to pretend, you don’t need to disguise—you can be you.  And when you mess up, ask and He will forgive you. When you are lonely, He will always be there. When you are afraid, He will be your Mighty Warrior and when you need to be real—you can be.  He will be your BFF—your best friend forever—literally.  So, weary one, come to Jesus.  He tells us that if we will come to Him, He will give us rest.  And when we are facing the giants of our past, our todays or our tomorrows—He is big enough.  After all, He’s got this.

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

Settled

For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

Well, the issue is finally settled. It is really a difficult thing to be the baby of the family especially when it is obvious that after seven previous tries mom and dad finally got it right.  Yup…that was me.  Number eight in a litter of eight.  Sometimes, because I was the baby of eight, my other brothers and sisters got a little jealous.

One of the stories that I was raised with was the fact that I really wasn’t a natural born part of the family.  In fact, they told me that mama and daddy had found me in a ditch in the poor part of town and felt sorry for me and brought me home.  Now I understand how that story got started.  I mean I was so much cuter and smarter than my brothers and sisters it seemed pretty apparent that I was an outsider. Yup, they would rag on me big time but it didn’t bother me. I knew I was special.

I grew up and the story about me being “found” kind of faded away. I knew it was all a joke, but every once in a while, it give me pause.  Hmmm, what if, I wonder, could it be?  Naw…I was pretty sure, it was not true.  As time passed and technology grew, someone started a company that would allow you to check your DNA.  The results would tell you where you were from and where your ancestors lived.  One of my older brothers decided to spend the money and have his checked. The results were lack luster.

I always envisioned being related to William Wallace or some other great hero.  But when his results came in it turned out that we only had a 17% chance of being from Ireland or Scotland. That means there was about a one in five chance that I had an Irish brogue hidden somewhere in me and that was not enough for me to go and buy a kilt! A whopping 83% was plain ole English.  Yup…right there in Northern Europe.  I guess my ancestors got mad at the king or queen and took a ship to America.

But then I thought, “Well, those are his results but are they my results?”  I mean if the “we found you in a ditch story” was true then his story couldn’t be mine.  So, guess what?  For Father’s Day, Judy spent the money and I was able to spit in a tube and send my DNA off in the mail.  It took several weeks but guess what?  Yup, you guessed it.  My results were exactly the same as my brother’s.  What that really means is that we had the same father and mother and I was the best looking and smartest because mom and dad finally got it right.  Smile.

I’m really just pulling your leg.  I knew I was part of the family, there is a whole lot of family resemblance in me.  I also knew that old story was just a joke but I always enjoyed playing along.  It made me feel kinda…special.  As you have heard before…my brothers and sisters called me “precious”—mainly because I was.  Smile.  But I want you to know that you are special too.  We all are.  We are all wonderful creations of God.  Like someone said, “God doesn’t make junk.”

I was born into the Taylor clan by an act of God’s grace.  Period.  I could have been born anywhere or at anytime, but by His grace I was born to Alston and Leslie back in 1954. That wasn’t the only time I experienced His grace.  I was born another time too, back on October 26, 1976.  That was the day I was born again and adopted into the family of God.  You see, each person who trusts Christ is in the family by a new birth (that’s where we get our spiritual DNA) but also by the power of adoption. That’s where we get all the rights and privileges of a full grown son. From the moment I believed in Jesus, I had all the rights of a person who has known Jesus for decades.  Amazing.

So, I’m a Taylor down to my core…my DNA proves it.  But I am also a “tailor-made” (I couldn’t resist) child of God.  Born again by His grace and adopted into the family as His son.  There is no higher privilege than that.  And it is an open invitation.  God invites each and every person into the family if they are willing to believe and trust in His Son.  It is all a matter of faith and His grace.  His Book says, “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast.”

I know I use that verse often, but it just never grows old.  I am a child of God and He is my Dearest Daddy. Not because of who I am, but because of His love for me and His amazing grace.  How about that?

If you should ever wonder who you really belong to, can I make a suggestion?  Why not settle the issue and become a child of His?  You will never wander or wonder again.  He’s just waiting for you to come to Him and rest.  He wants you to know He’s got this, for now and for all eternity.