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

Nothing is Impossible

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Luke 1:34-35, 37

It was almost unbelievable.  My wife, Judy, runs an Airbnb.  Airbnb was founded in California by a couple of guys who needed to make some cash.  Since there was a shortage of places to stay in the city where they lived, they decided to rent a spare space they had as a nightly rental.  They threw an air mattress on the floor and ran an ad.  What happened next was just amazing.  The room was booked all the time and well, the rest is history.  Today it is a multi-billion dollar corporation that works as a clearing house for people who have property they want to rent on a nightly basis.  One of those is us.

We had a two bedroom apartment over our garage that was sitting empty.  Judy researched and worked hard, and now we have a business that is a supplement to our household income.  As a side benefit, we get to meet a lot of people from all over the United States and sometimes from overseas.  Judy loves to host people, so it is just a win all the way around.

As I said, we get to meet some pretty wonderful people.  One of our favorites bordered on almost incredible.  We’ve had lots of really good people stay with us and a lot of them are Christians.  But the first fall we were renting, we had a younger couple stay with us and they began to tell us a bit of their story.  I was chatting with the husband while Judy was chatting with the wife.  I thought I heard the word “grandfather” and the name “Kenneth Taylor.”  So, I pushed pause on my conversation with her husband and said, “Excuse me, did you say that Kenneth Taylor was your grandfather?”  And she replied, “Yes.”  We had read his children’s story books to our girls many times, so I had to know the story.

Kenneth Taylor was a regular walk around guy who loved Jesus—a lot.  He really wanted his children to know God like he did.  Sadly, there wasn’t a scripture translation available that they could understand.  Back in those days it was the King James Version (KJV) and it was written on a grade level way too high for kids.  He got the idea to paraphrase the Bible into a language that was easy to understand. He wanted his ten kids to understand God’s Word like he did. In 1954, he had to ride a commuter train about an hour each way to work in Chicago, so he came up with a plan to paraphrase the New Testament into modern English during his commute.

For seven years—seven years, he would put his Bible on the seat next to him and put a yellow tablet on his leg and he would literally read and then write—read and then write. He started with the gospels and went from there.  When he got finished he called his new paraphrase, “Living Letters” and it was released in 1962.  Well, he quickly found out that the Christian world was not ready for that—they were still struggling with anything besides KJV. No one was interested in publishing Living Letters.  So do you know what he did?

He and his wife took their limited savings and  begin publishing Living Letters.  The Living Letters would later be called “The Living Bible.” Slowly, ever so slowly, he began selling this paraphrase of the Bible and then something happened.  The Billy Graham Association called and asked if they could publish a special edition to give away at their crusades.  They wanted something that they could give to new Christians when they became Jesus followers and they thought the Living Bible would be just the thing. They ordered and purchased half a million copies. It was a huge success. Oh and along the way he started a new publishing company.  If you follow Christian publishing you just might recognize it—Tyndale House Publishing.  How amazing is that?

Just think—an ordinary, walk around guy who loved Jesus, decided to do something about something.  He was very intelligent and way committed, but really, he was just an ordinary man who loved Jesus.  And the paraphrase of the Bible he created on a yellow tablet strapped to his leg has helped millions get to know Jesus or know Him better.  It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t fast, but he stuck with it and God used him in a big way.

So, what about you?  What niggle do you have?  What thing is there that God is maybe, just maybe, calling you, leading you, to do?  What ministry does He want you to lead or birth?  What way can you bring some light into this way too dark world?  One of the greatest miracles in the world involved a young Jewish girl who was maybe as young as 14 or 15 years old.  God chose her to give birth to His Son.  She was just an ordinary, walk around girl who said yes to God.  When she said, “How can this be since I’ve never been with a man?” God just said, “Hey, with Me anything is possible.”  Anything is possible. I know, in our day, everything seems impossible.  We can’t seem to get anything right. But that’s only because we are excluding the One who can make it happen.  Remember what God said…with Me anything is possible.  When we choose to put God back in the mix of our lives, well, there’s just no telling what can happen.  Hey, I’m writing stories and having the time of my life.  I’ve always been too busy and God just sorta, kinda slowed the world down.  There you go.  I hope you will never forget Kenneth Taylor’s story and I hope you will never forget that God wants to use us to do something big for Him.  Don’t let the unknown scare you—it’s just a new adventure about to start.  You can rest in Him.  He’s got this.

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

Sticks and Stones

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:43-45

You’re nothing but a little Hitler.  The life of a pastor is always interesting.  You really never know what is going to come your way.  I’ve been doing this pastor thing for about 38 years now and I know two things.  First, generally speaking the sun will come up tomorrow.  There is no guarantee but it has a pretty good track record.  Second, you are going to step in someone’s mess today.  Pastor or not, you are going to bump into someone’s hot mess.

Her name was Sheila. Her mother attended our church and she and her two boys would occasionally visit.  I decided one day to go by and just let her know that we enjoyed having her visit.  I mean it sounded like a good thing, it sounded like the right thing.  What could possibly go wrong, right?  Well, I pull into her driveway and went up to the door.  I did my gentle, non-threating knock and she came to the door.  I gave the standard, “Hi Sheila, I just wanted to come back and let you know we are so glad you are visiting with us” spill.  It was pleasant…it was sincere.

I don’t remember everything she said that day.  It could be “pastoral amnesia.”  That is a defense mechanism that pastors have to guard their hearts when someone decides it is their spiritual gift to break them. It might be PTSS (Pastor Tramatic Stress Syndrome) where the event was so traumatic that you block it out.  Anyway…she cut loose and the two things I do remember included something about me running a cult and brain washing people.  The last thing I remember was when she said, in all seriousness, “You are nothing but a little Hitler.”

Well, that hurt—a lot.  It hurt so much that 30 years later I can still hear her voice, still feel her words, and still wish I had never knocked on that door.  Not too long ago I was asked to do her mother’s funeral and it seemed the wall was still there.  Amazingly…sad.  There is an old saying that is a lie.  It says, “Sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  Really?  I wonder who came up with that one.  They must have been deaf and blind.  Words are an incredibly powerful tool or weapon—depending on the sender.

I still am amazed at the emotional energy that chance meeting had for me that day.  But it wasn’t chance…it was somehow prescribed by my Dearest Daddy to help me grow to be more like Jesus.  He knew (and He was right) that there would be many more awkward moments in the days ahead and I needed to learn how to handle them…like Jesus.  This morning I listened to a devotional by one of my favorite writers, Bob Goff.  He was talking about loving your enemies…or maybe folks who act like your enemies. He quoted Jesus and here’s what Jesus said, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.”

Wow…that is way powerful.  Bob told a story about a witch doctor that he took to trial in Uganda.  This witch doctor believed in child sacrifice and practiced it.  No one before had had the courage to take on these bad guys.  Well, he did and he won.  Later, he decided to go visit this guy on death row.  The former witch doctor, who by then had become a Christ follower, told Bob that he forgave him.  This confused Bob because the other guy was the bad guy, not him.  But what is important is the former witch doctor was extending grace because he wanted to be like Jesus…like his Father.  How about that?

This COVID thing has been a breeding ground for more than germs…it was been a breeding ground for division, unkindness, judging, and hurting.  I know it and you know it, too. And, unfortunately, God’s kids have not been exempt.  The world is watching and seeing and wondering if this God thing is real or a hoax.  One way we can show them that Jesus is the real deal is by loving one another.  Just because the evening news is filled with hated and bitterness doesn’t mean it should infect our Jesus world.  Remember He said that the world would know we are Christians by our love…not our dogmatism. I put something on the sign at church this week.  It says, Jesus first. Before. Everything. Else. Period.  I believe that.  He is more important than COVID, masks, politics, and everything else.  He is first and when He is first…we all do better.  Our world does better. Our marriages do better. Our churches do better.  So as we continue this journey called life, if you are a Jesus follower, make sure you are following Him closely.  Mimic His every Word and every step.  And if you are not yet a follower, I hope you soon will be.  I know sometimes we Jesus followers don’t get it right—but trust me, He never gets it wrong.  You can rest in Him.  He’s got this.

Posted in Family, fear, life, loving others, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, wisdom

Faith

When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food, and here I am dying of hunger! I’ll get up, go to my father…” Luke 15:17-18a

Houston, we have a problem.  The words rambled around the silent control center. There was trouble in space and men’s lives were hanging in the balance.  It wasn’t as bad as they thought.  It was worse—much worse.  The command module of Apollo 13 was damaged beyond use and their only hope was a frail lifeboat called the lunar module.  They were off course, a long way from home, and running out of oxygen.  Their prospects were beyond bleak. The morale breaker was, as the crew commander said, “We just lost the moon.” Perhaps, just perhaps, you can identify with them.  Our world is laden with things that might cause some of us to doubt our survivability.  But don’t lose hope because help is on the way. More on that later.

The plan was to bring the spacecraft around the moon and slingshot it back on its way to earth.  They passed within twenty-five miles of the moon. Twenty-five miles. The explosion had made the possibility of a moon landing an impossibility.   They could look but not touch.  The thing they had planned for, trained for and risked their lives for, slipped silently between their fingers.  Crises can do that, you know.  As COVID circled the globe, we lost the moon…we lost our purpose…we lost our dreams. Businesses were closed, churches were closed and families were left jobless and isolated.  But don’t lose hope because help is on the way.  More on that later.

As they rounded the moon they were slung by the moon’s gravity toward the earth. Still problem after problem arose and had to be overcome.  They were literally running out of oxygen. Unless they found a way to “scrub” the air and make it more breathable, they would die. Amazingly, the guys on the ground literally created a way to do that, and then shared with the crew how to do it there.  The ground guys had one rule.  They could only use what the guys in space had to use.  So with some scraps, a roll of duct tape and a hose or two they made it happen. Their situation probably seemed a little like your situation.  Pretty hard, pretty difficult, nearly impossible, but don’t lose hope because help is on the way.  More on that later.

As they neared the earth they grew ever closer to the most dangerous obstacle of all—reentry.  If they were just a fraction of a degree off, if the heat shield didn’t hold, if there were any of a thousand things not quite right—they would burn up in the super heated friction of our atmosphere. Their back was against the wall and their chances were slanted in the wrong direction.  So many people feel the same way today.  I know because I see it and sometimes I feel it.  Mine is caused by frustration…frustration that there are too many things that I can’t control.  I want to fix it and I can’t—neither one of us can. We have a choice—we can lose hope and “burn up on reentry” or we can refuse to lose hope and believe because—help is on the way.

Remember the “more on that later”—well later is now.  You see, those astronauts had to believe—they had to have faith.  They had to choose to believe.  They did and miraculously they had a near perfect entry and landing.  It was amazing.  And just like when the guys landed on the moon just a few months earlier—the crowds went wild again.  They needed some good news and they got it.  Their world was racked by division over the Vietnam War, mistrust in the government, crazy economics, racial divide and a thousand other things.  That one miraculous victory helped, at least for the moment, to pull their world back together.

That’s what we need now…that one miraculous victory.  And as much as we need a cure for the virus, or the right political victory or some other “deal,” we need to regain our spiritual equilibrium.  In every major crisis, this nation somehow righted itself and somehow managed to find enough faith to believe—in God.  Some who knew Him rediscovered Him. Some who had walked away—walked straight back home into His arms.  Some who had never believed found the faith to start.  Miracles do happen…everyday.

Maybe, just maybe, the safety, the security, the hope you are looking for is not in a piece of cloth or a vaccine or a political victory.  Maybe, just maybe, it is in a God who wants to be your Father.  Why not take a moment and take a rest—in Him?  And then, ask Him to help you believe that—He’s got this. 

Posted in fear, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, Scripture, sovereignty of God, wisdom

Houston… We Have a Problem

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.”  Romans 8:28

Houston…we have a problem.  Those famous words…or something similar to that effect were first uttered 50 years ago during the Apollo 13 mission.  They are used today whenever there is a problem that needs to be addressed.  As an example, my wife Judy is “glamping” down at the Land Between the Lakes this week.  She pulled out her tennis shoes this morning to realize not only did they not match…they were both for her left foot.  She texted me with a picture and the words, “Houston, we have a problem.”  I laughed, but fifty years ago there was no one laughing.

Apollo 13 was only the third trip to the moon—only the third—but amazingly in that short span of time public interest in the moon missions had dropped to virtually zero.  The launch was a minor story and the news conference from space wasn’t even carried by the networks.  We humans are a fickle bunch.  It is amazing how quickly the extraordinary becomes ordinary…the unbelievable garners a yawn.  That was not only true when we were shooting repeat trips to the moon but also when we worship the God who made the moon.  We yawn our way through everyday miracles because, well, they are everyday.  And then something happens that shakes our world.

In the case of Apollo 13 the crew was asked to do a routine stirring of the oxygen tanks.  Certainly no big deal.  The task fell to the rookie on the team and he flipped the switch to stir the tanks and what happened next was anything but routine.  There was a massive explosion in a couple of the oxygen tanks which placed the crew’s life in grave danger.  The crew commander instantly snapped at the rookie, “What did you do?”  His first assumption was that it was the rookie’s fault.  In reality it was no one person’s fault.  There was some faulty wiring in the tank and whoever flipped the switch was going to have the same result—BOOM.

Our routine was certainly disrupted as this COVID virus rocketed around the world.  At the speed of space it spread from country to country—person to person.  Almost as quick, the finger pointing and jabbing started and hasn’t even began to slow down.  From presidents to pastors to everyday people, everyone is looking for someone to blame. The first performance of blaming began in the garden with a couple of rookie sinners and it has never stopped.  I bet that grieves God—a lot.

Well, things were bleak for Apollo 13 as the explosion damaged the spacecraft to the point where they could possibly die.  This was a good news/bad news deal.  First the bad news—they were blown way off course and only a miracle would get them back on track. That happens in times like these.  Our whole world revolves around one thing—the COVID virus.  Concern is a good thing—obsession is a dangerous thing. The only thing worth obsessing over is the One who can do something about it.

Now, the good news—when word began to spread of their catastrophe in space all of a sudden concern and interest spiked.  In a moment of time, driven by drama and danger, the national interest once again spiked. Spacemen were once again newsworthy. People were once again tuned in and hungry for a miracle—the crew’s survival. I wonder, I hope that there will be good news for us one day too.  I hope that news will be that we once again are focusing on the things that really matter!

There’s a lot more to this story that I would like to share with you tomorrow if you will tune back in.  They say that those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it.  I wonder how we will do with that…only time will tell.  It seems that these times are like quicksand—our vocabulary dominated by iffy words like fearful, uncertainty and bleakness.  That is why I am so glad that there is a God who is watching over and working for and through this.  Somehow, someway He is going to bring good from this.  If we let Him, He will make us stronger through this. If that is going to happen then we have to let Him be God.  Sounds like a plan to me.  Let’s do the old two step—rest in Him—He’s got this.  See you tomorrow for part two. 

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

Forty-Five Years Ago

And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32

It was forty-five years ago today.  My life has always been steeped in church, God, and stuff.  I think my older brother had something to do with that.  Dad tended to be a CEO attender—you know—Christmas and Easter only.  But even with that said there were other ways that he clearly showed that he and God were on good speaking terms.  Two of my favorite memories are of him praying.  One time he was down on his knees leading us as a family in prayer.  He never stood taller.  The other happened when I came home late from a date and found him talking to our Dearest Father, hands clasped and head bowed.

Now, mama was more faithful at church except when she hit a bump or two. She liked to attend and she would take us with her.  No questions asked.  She sang, she led one of the girl’s classes, and she too was on good terms with Jesus.  But there were a couple of times when her heart got hurt and she would sit out for a little while.  It was then my oldest brother would take over the taxiing job and make sure I got to church.  To this day I am grateful that he did that.  Because of him habitually taking me, there has never been a time when I didn’t go to church.  That was good but what happened forty-five years ago was far better.

Right out of high school I joined the Air Force and ended up stationed in Valdosta, Georgia at Moody Air Force Base.  Since church was such a regular part of my calendar I made it a point to go—a lot.  One Wednesday night I decided to go to one of the local churches.  So I got there, opened the side door and right across the room was Judy Allen.  She was beautiful and right there and then I decided I liked that church—a lot.

I started attending regularly for two reasons.  It was what I was used to doing and Judy was there.  We started dating right away and before too long we were engaged. She was probably too young and I was probably too old but, hey, that is sometimes the way of love.  Well, in June of 1975 she met someone else—another guy.  Fortunately for me it was Jesus.  She, like me, was raised in church but she discovered that going to church and knowing Jesus were two entirely different things.  Jesus waltzed into her life and she was like a new person—an even better person—better than I deserved for sure.

Well, a few months went by and at church one morning, October 26 to be exact, I bumped into the same Man she had met.  Unexpectedly the pastor told a story about a man who had gone to church all his life and then realized he had never met Jesus.  You might say he was religious, but not a Jesus follower.  When I heard about him, I realized that was me—I was the same way—way too religious and way short on knowing Jesus as my best friend. That morning in Valdosta, Georgia at about 10:45 in the morning I met Jesus and my life changed forever.  Jesus didn’t make me perfect that day but He sure made me forgiven.  He put me on a new road and well, it has been amazing.

So, for forty-five years I have walked with Jesus and here I sit today, a pastor for thirty-eight  of those years and writing stories.  And Judy, well, in June of 1976, we decided to walk together and we just never stopped.  Me, Judy, and Jesus—it has been quite the journey. For the past forty-five years, every year, I have celebrated two birthdays.  The first is January 6, the day I was physically born.  But I also celebrate October 26, the day I met Jesus and was spiritually born.

Every time I write a story I love to put a big truth in it about God.  Well this story is a bit different—this time the story is Jesus and what He did for me and wants to do for you.  Remember, don’t make the mistake I did—confusing religion and church with Jesus.  They are not the same—He is a lot better.  He said that we could know the truth and the truth would set us free.  Well, the truth is He loves you, no matter what, more than you can imagine.  The truth is, He wants you to trust Him, to rest in Him.  The truth is He’s got this.  Trust me, I know.

Posted in Scripture, Grace, life, Family, prayer, wisdom, loving others, forgiveness

Got Squirrels?

I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

I just can’t seem to win. It seems we have a continuing wildlife saga in our backyard. I know I have told you about the difficult time I have been having trying to feed the birds in our backyard.  You see my friends the birds left when the food ran out.  It kinda hurt my feelings.  Well, I apologized and went and bought some food and a couple of new feeders and they are slowly coming back! Boy, are they fair weather friends!  But that isn’t the only problem.

I also have squirrel issues.  With winter coming on they are visiting the back yard, the side yard, and every other part of the yard—frequently.  They eat Judy’s flower bulbs, they dig holes everywhere burying nuts for the winter, and then for fun they eat the bird food.  That wouldn’t be a big deal but they want to eat all the bird food—every expensive morsel.  Now there are a couple of options here.  On the one hand we can use some friendly means to dissuade them from visiting—you know, perhaps a 12 gauge shotgun.  The other is to embrace them—remember the Bible says “if you enemy is hungry…feed them.”

Now if the truth were known, I think sometimes (like when they eat her tulip bulbs) Judy would lean toward the 12 gauge…I’m not sure if the intent would be to scare them off or make squirrel stew.  Somehow, though, that just doesn’t seem like the right option. It’s not that I am not that merciful–it’s just that they are so cotton-picking cute and you have to admire their persistence. So, I was prepared to at least help them coexist with us.  And then they ate my bird feeder—literally.

As I said I went to a local store and bought a new finch feeder—the kind that is supposed to discourage anything but a finch from feeding there.  Well, the designers hadn’t taken into account these squirrels.  In one day, they chewed it up, spit it out and consumed the bird food.  I decided it had to be a design flaw so I took it back to the store to see if they would give me a new one—they laughed.

So, why not use the 12 gauge and save the money? Well, first I live in the city limits and they frown on discharging a firearm.  But the truth is they are God’s creation and they have those big brown eyes…the ones that make them look so pitiful…you know, hungry and everything.  As you know, we’ve been learning to “love thy neighborhood” and I suppose that could include squirrels.  We’ve also been learning about how we should “be merciful just like God is merciful.” Do you remember why? “Because He forgives the ungrateful and wicked.” I am certain these squirrels fit both categories.

So, I am working through this.  Tracking with Romans 12, I’m going down the “love thy enemy” checklist. Feeding—check!  Water—Check! Merciful—check! Forgiving—check!  I believe before long the squirrels and I will be best buds.  In fact, maybe this is just practice for loving others who, like the squirrels, are a bit difficult. You see, the scripture isn’t talking about squirrels anyway; it is talking about our family, our friends, our neighbors—and yes, our enemies.  Let me clue you in—loving them is sometimes a whole lot tougher than loving that cute little squirrel.

But do you know what?  We can do it.  Remember that verse in the Bible we all love…the one that says we can do anything with God’s help? Well, it’s time we move from memorizing it and begin applying it.  With His help we can love and care for the most difficult of those who live around us and impact our lives. And do you know what else?  We are never more like Jesus than when we are kind and loving to those who deserve it the least.  I know…I know, we think we are the most like Jesus when we don our Sunday best and head to church.  The truth is we are most like Jesus when we act like Jesus. And, when we truly act like Jesus, all the people around us take notice. They stop “eating our lunch” and begin wanting what we have…Him. Amazing. So, got squirrels?  Just give in and go to the store and buy some corn.  They will still eat your bird food but maybe, just maybe, they’ll be so full of corn they will eat less of the bird food. Got some folks tough to love?  Apply the Word, invite God into the situation and get ready for some work (on your part) and perhaps a miracle (on His part).  Hey, none of us are perfect.  We all have our warts and we all have our weak spots.  Just remember how God goes to great lengths to show you His love every day. He will never grow weary of loving us.  Never has, never will.  When you get all worked up over an overeating squirrel or an unkind or difficult neighbor—just take a break and rest in Him.  He’s got this.

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

Gator Mania

One Lord,  one faith,  one baptism, one God  and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:5-6

It was Gator mania.  To say that Aunt Maryjo was a Gator fan is to say that the Pope is Catholic. Through and through, she loved everything that was University of Florida Gators.  I am pretty sure if she had a blood transfusion the blood type would have to be UF.  I also am certain that if she was bilingual she would speak Southern English and Gator.  When she went to heaven about a week ago, the Gator’s lost their number one 94 year old cheerleader.

The family asked me to do a chunk of her memorial service and I was pleased to do so.  The service was all about Maryjo, the Gators and Jesus.  We stayed at a hotel in Gainesville and something almost immediately caught my eye.  Virtually everything, and I do mean everything, was Gatorized.  The primary decorating colors were blue and orange and Gator flags, Gator plaques, Gator pictures, and Gator knick knacks filled the main lobby and sitting area.  They even had a ping pong table and the net was not a net at all but a solid wall of sorts painted orange with a Gator carved in the middle.

Everyone knows you wear black to funerals and many folks did.  But there was also a large number of blue and orange ties, shirts, dresses, and scarves scattered throughout the crowd. I noticed though several members of my family were not wearing blue and orange.  I was kinda surprised.  So I asked one of my brother-in-laws, “Why aren’t you wearing blue and orange?” About the time I said it, I regretted it.  He boldly said, “I ain’t no Gator.”  Yup, there were several there who were Florida State fans and aunt or no aunt, they were not going to wear those stinking Gator colors.  Life…go figure.

As Judy and I were sitting in the hotel lobby visiting and drinking coffee and observing everything Gator, she said, “Isn’t it amazing what can happen when we are all pulling in the same direction?”  And do you know what?  She was absolutely right.  If I were to guess, probably 99% of the population around Gainesville were avid Gator fans.  The lived it, they believed it, and they were ready to fight for it.  They might be different social and economic classes, they might be different skin colors, they might even speak a different language, but one thing, one thing, pulled them together.  One thing managed to hold them together—they were fans of the Gators.  That singular thing overcame everything else.  Amazing.

I wonder what would happen if in a different world other than football if the same thing happened.  What if all the different denominations that say they believe in Jesus got together and pulled in the same direction?  What if all the churches in a town laid aside their insignificant differences and decided that they were going to pull together for the common cause of Jesus? I wonder how our community, or state could and would change, if we all decided to agree on what mattered—the Jesus essentials—and laid the rest aside long enough to live and share the Good News.  Why must we be like the football fans who attend rival schools and absolutely refuse to associate?  I wonder.

Well, there is one thing I can tell you for certain.  There is one who absolutely loves our division over the things that in ten years won’t matter and that is the devil.  Oh how he applauds our pettiness and while he is smiling, Jesus is grieving.  I know He grieves because the Bible says we are not to grieve Him.  If we are not careful, we are going to lose…and I’m not talking about a football game.  I am talking about our communities, our cities, our counties and our country.  I am not talking about losing a battle, I am talking about the war for the heart and soul of men, women, children—and the places they—we live.

Oh, I don’t know.  Maybe I’m overreacting.  Maybe somehow our holy huddles and frail fellowships can pull it off individually.  But that’s not how the Bible describes how our relationships should be.  There is one body and that is body of Christ.  I believe it says, “One faith, one Lord, and one baptism.”  One…there is real power when all the ones come together for the One and His soul (don’t worry…intentionally spelled that way) purpose.  Jesus came to seek and saved that which was lost and it was something that He was willing to die for.  What about you?  What about us? Can we, will we, don the colors of the cross—red for His blood, white for our forgiveness and blue for our loyalty, not to a pastor, a church, or a denomination, but to the One who matters—Jesus!

Well, I was raised not too far from Gainesville and my daddy and most of my family were Gator fans, but somehow I went rogue—I pull for Notre Dame.  Go figure—a Baptist pastor pulling for a Catholic team.  What’s up with that?  It’s simply really—I love tradition and I love college football and those two override the other.  I am hoping our common denominator—Jesus will do the same.  I am banking on the fact that we may lose a battle or two, but in the end—Jesus wins and I’m gonna rest in that.  After all, He’s got this.

Posted in Family, forgiveness, gratitude, life, loving others, Scripture, wisdom

Scars

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. Philippians 3:13

Gnarled trees stood twisted and broken along the road.  Judy and I had to make a trip to Florida to participate in my Aunt’s funeral.  She was my Daddy’s baby sister and the last of that generation.  It was a long trip but worth the journey.  I saw it as a way to honor my father while also honoring my aunt.  Like every person her life had its ups and downs and bumps and bruises.  And  like every person, there were a few scars left along the road.

It was while traveling West in Florida that I began seeing the gnarled trees.  Mile after mile of trees that were either broken in two, forever bent over or simply lifeless, like dead men standing. I knew the area had been brushed by a recent storm or two but this damage was caused by something far worse—and not so recently.  Suddenly it occurred to me.  I had seen this before about two years ago.  It was the result of a storm, a terrible storm called Michael.

If you remember in 2018 a compact yet incredibly powerful storm came ashore at Mexico Beach, a small down on the Florida panhandle.  It was so devastating that it literally destroyed that small town and the path of the storm with its destruction moved well inland.  That is where we saw the scars.  When we were here a couple of months after the storm and miles and miles inland there was debris piled everywhere along the highway.  What wasn’t broken off or blown over looked like it had been given a perm—twisted and turned.  That was two years ago. 

The scars of that harsh and horrible day remain today and will remain for many years to come.  Only time is going to slow erase the damage as trees re-grow and underbrush hides what has fallen.  It looked devastating two years ago when I saw it and today, somehow, it looked even more so.  Sometimes the scars are almost as bad as the wounds.  Sometimes the memories are worse than what caused the pain.

Many of us have caused scars and most of us bear them.  Some are still healing while others, like the gnarled trees, will remain.  We are left to wonder what to do…how to heal.  The answer I believe lies with creator God.  It is He who can give us the strength to forgive and it is He who can lead us down the path to healing.  Like a good recipe, it will include a measure of grace, a measure of mercy, and a measure of choice.  Forgiveness is really never about the one who caused the scar rather it is about the one who was hurt. When we forgive we truly begin to heal.

Forgiveness also involves forgetting…but not the kind you are thinking.  This forgetting simply means that we choose to not allow the past to control our present.  We choose to let go, so we can be set free.  When we determine that the past won’t reach into our present…we find a freedom.  While the scar will remain, slowly but surely the pain eases and we are evently left whole.

This, of course, is a faith path.  We have to believe that God can and will heal us.  We have to believe that God can forgive us if we were the one who caused the scar.  We have to believe either way that His grace is sufficient and do you know what?  It is.  The scars I saw today along the highway spoke of a devastating storm but it also spoke of hope.  You see, at the base of the gnarled trees stood dozens and dozens of new growth trees.  One day, someday in the future, they will rise to overcome the past with its scars.  That is our hope.

As I stood before that group of people today and spoke of mistakes and regrets. I also spoke of forgiveness and grace which was and is a game changer.  No matter how difficult your past and no matter how uncertain your future, His grace will see you through.  I hope you will keep trusting Him day by day.  I hope you will look up for hope, look around to see that you aren’t by yourself and look down, yes down, but only to see the new life surrounding you.  Hey, you can trust Him, you can rest in Him because no matter how hard the wind blows or how long it howls…He’s got this. 

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

The Lone Ranger

But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.” Luke 10:33

Who was that masked man?  Well, back in the old days…no wait…I mean the really old days when the first two numbers of the year were 19, there was a television show called “The Lone Ranger.”  He was a really good guy and had an Indian (maybe that should be Native American) sidekick named Tonto.  The Lone Ranger also had a horse named Silver. It was a great show—even in black and white.  The show had two famous lines.  The first was when the Lone Ranger was about to take off on his trusty horse Silver.  He would command, “Hi-yo Silver, Away.”  Invariably, the horse would rear up and off they would go.  The second famous line occurred when the Lone Ranger did his job and did away with a bad guy.  Also invariably the bad guy would say, “Who was that masked man?”  It was of course…the Lone Ranger.

Well, these days, history has started repeating itself only we don’t have one masked man…we have millions.  Oh but wait, we not only have masked men we have masked women…and boys…and girls…and babies.  Thanks to the COVID, we have all become Lone Rangers and we find ourselves asking, “Who was the masked man?”  I am absolutely certain I have ignored several church members at the store simply because I didn’t recognize them.  Equally as bad I have carried on 15 minute conversations with complete strangers thinking they were someone I knew.  I am totally confused.

Today though the Lone Ranger—the ultimate good guy—took on a new meaning. It wasn’t the Lone Ranger—it was the Road Ranger! We were traveling down to Gainesville, Florida to officiate at my Aunt Maryjo’s service.  She was my daddy’s baby sister and the last of that generation.  As we crossed into Florida, we eventually hit Interstate 10 heading East.  We stopped at a rest stop because we needed to rest.  It is a long way to Gainesville, Florida.  My wife and I were stretching our legs and we walked by this really cool truck.  It was some kind of official vehicle and had caution lights, big bumpers, a special receptacle on the front of the truck for jumping cars and all kinds of stuff in the back. It was a man truck only a man wasn’t driving it.

You see, on the side of the truck were the words, FDOT Road Ranger.  Beneath that it said, “A free (did you get that FREE) service sponsored by State Farm.  Standing next to the truck was a lady in a uniform.  From the signage I kinda thought I knew what it they did, but I decided to ask.  “Ma’am, so do you go and help people that are broken down on the road?”  She replied they did.  If someone has a flat tire, they will help them change it.  If they have a dead battery…they will jump them.  And I suppose if you run out of gas, they have some on board to get you to the next station.  Well, I told her I thought that was pretty awesome and thanked her for her kindness.  She once again told me it was sponsored by State Farm but I thanked her for her service to others.

I think that it is awesome that a company would sponsor a program like this.  When a traveler was at great need and when a company could take advantage of that—they offer free help.  Can you even imagine the comfort when “The Lone Ranger” showed up to help?  Can you imagine when the driver asked, “How much?” and the answer was “no charge?”  I’m telling you that is a breath of fresh air in what can be considered a pretty stale world.

Well, Judy said, “You know, I think that would make a good story.”  I think she was absolutely right.  I mean we live in a world where so many folks are broken down beside the road of life.  They are hot, bothered, discouraged, battered and beaten.  What if we were to become the Road Rangers along life’s road and began helping people…loving people.  Imagine the look on their faces when they realize we helped not to get paid, but rather just to help.  And, what if we were careful to make sure that they knew it was all because of what God had done for us.  Can you imagine?

I think I would like to be a Road Ranger…I mean really.  I don’t have the skill set but I do like helping people.  Well, truthfully, I better stick to preaching but I can, I should be a Road Ranger on the road of life.  We all should.  You know that story in the Bible where the least likely guy helps the guy who had been beat up and robbed.  Remember how he went over the top to help?  Well, he was being a Road Ranger—for Jesus and that is exactly what we should do.

So keep this little fact tucked away in your travel log, if you breakdown on any major road in Florida, somewhere not too far away will be a Road Ranger to help you.  It is a real comfort to know that they are close by…ready and willing to help.  It’s even better knowing that Jesus is always there waiting and wanting to help all those broken down on the road of life.  Go ahead and place the call—or pray the prayer.  Let Him know you need Him and He will be right there.  Until He arrives, just sit back and rest in the assurance that help is on the way.  Remember, He’s got this.

Posted in Family, fear, Grace, gratitude, life, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, wisdom

Master of the Winds

For I am the Lord, I do not change…” Micah 3:6

The winds of change are blowing.  If we are totally truthful, they are howling like a category five hurricane. And trust me, that can be devastating.  I was watching the Weather Channel yesterday morning and they were doing a piece on Hurricane Michael that roared ashore two years ago as a “cat five” hurricane.  It struck the Florida panhandle with horrific results.  Mexico Beach was ground zero and to this day that community remains changed. All the preparation in the books could not have prepared them for what happened, but the bottom line is many more lives would have been lost if they hadn’t been ready.

I enjoy…smile…watching the price of gas change in Harrisburg. For some reason we are enjoying some of the lowest gas prices in the area.  But if you don’t like them…just wait…because they are going to change. Whether it be a nickel or a quarter, they go up and down.   By the way, to help you with the price changes, remember this.  In 2008, the gas in Harrisburg was $3.47 a gallon so we can all agree to be grateful that it has changed in a good way since then.

Now all this up and down stuff at the moment doesn’t bother me because it doesn’t affect me.  Why?  Well, I drive two diesel cars and at the moment those prices are nice and steady…just the way I prefer it. That might change tomorrow…but not today.

That’s one of my favorite things about God—He simply doesn’t change. With Him there’s no going up or down—ever… never.  He never had a beginning and will never have an end (despite what our liberal “friends” think) and throughout all that time, He has never changed.  Malachi 3:6 says, “For I am the Lord, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.”  That’s good news for the reason stated in the verse—He won’t change His mind about me or you. Pretty awesome.

Because of the COVID and the zillion opinions about it and the election, and the zillion opinions about that…our whole world is in a flux,  but God’s plan for redemption and how we spread His Word doesn’t change.  Someone said while methods may change, the message never does.  The Gospel, the Good News is still,  good news. He is going to fulfill His purpose regardless.  And in this crazy economy where things change in price all the time—His hasn’t changed.  His gift of eternal life that cost His Son His life, still costs us nothing. Nothing. He loved us that much. He loved you that much.

A million things are going to change today but there is One that will not—Jesus. The Bible says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Period.  Someone said a real friend never changes and that is so true of Jesus Christ.  He is going to love me no matter what.  If I’m having a bad day—He still loves me.  If I fail in something today, He still loves me.  If I gain weight—yup…still loves me.  Like the song says, “His love never runs out on me.” He doesn’t avoid me—He seeks me out.  That is pretty amazing. Well, as you drive by the gas station today be sure and check the prices.  They have probably changed overnight.  But if you check the Book, you will find Him and His promises are the same. Last night before you went to bed it was true that you could rest in Him…and it is true this morning.  And do you know what else was true last night and still holds  this morning?  He’s still got this.  Always has, always will.  How about that?