Posted in Family, food, gratitude, life, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, travel

Taters

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.” Matthew 6:33

It was a sight for sore eyes. A while back when my aunt died, I went down to be a part of her memorial service.  It was a special time for me since it was my Daddy’s baby sister.  Though he has been gone since 1974 it was an opportunity to honor him.  The funeral was in Gainesville, Florida and the return trip gave my wife and I an opportunity to travel some Southern back roads.  We chose to travel north through Alabama and it turned out to be a real treasure.

Judy and I are both from the South.  She is from Valdosta, Georgia and I am from Jacksonville, Florida. There are just certain things about living in the South that are special.  You will find things run just a bit slower there.  It’s not uncommon to find an older gentleman in an old pickup truck going nowhere in a hurry.  It is a Southern thing.  It’s not uncommon to see homesteads with old tin roofs often tinted with a rich red rust.  It is a Southern thing. It’s not uncommon to see old groves of giant pecan trees ready for a rich harvest of nuts.  It is a Southern thing.  It’s not uncommon to see old tobacco barns with smoke slowly drifting skyward as the brown leaves dry.  It is a Southern thing.

There are many things like that in the South and each one is a treasure to those who recognize them.  But if there is one thing that marks the South, if there is one treasure above the rest, it is good Southern cooking.  You can find it in most kitchens in those older homes.  Mamas are teaching their daughters (and sometimes their sons) how to season green beans and fry chicken or mash potatoes.  If you’ve never eaten Southern comfort food…well, you’ve never eaten well!

As we were traveling North through rural Alabama we were seeing all these things and reliving our roots.  It was time (actually past time) for breakfast so we began looking for a place to eat.  We found ourselves in Luverne, Alabama.  It is a small town which happens to be one of the treks to the beaches in Florida…so it gets a fair amount of traffic.  We had traveled through before for that very reason.  We were looking for a “mom and pop” place and we found Taters.  It was a small restaurant in Luverne and it looked like just the spot.  “Taters” was in yellow on the front of the barn red building.  It had a “Jesus 2020” sign planted by the entrance.  Things were looking promising.

We went in and immediately noticed the decor.  It was, shall we say, “Southern Jesus.”  Hand lettered Scriptures filled the walls.  The napkin holders had the same.  Back by the restrooms was a big sign about God.  The server came as friendly as a Chick-fil-A employee on steroids. We ordered our food and waited.  Soon, sitting in front of us was one of the most delicious breakfast meals I have tasted in years.  There were three eggs sunny-side up (that means the yokes were sitting there like two small suns), a side of hash browns cooked nice and crispy, three strips of thick cut bacon cooked like it should be—limp. And then there it was.

“It” was a real big spoon full of Southern cooked grits. These weren’t the instant variety—they were the slow cooked kind.  And right in the middle of that pile of grits was a puddle of melted butter.  It was Southern manna—it was heaven.  And trust me—everything was as good as it looked.  Now, no lectures about heart attacks, I don’t eat like that all the time, but that time—I did so with no regrets—not even one.  But here’s the surprise—that wasn’t the most important thing.  The thing that mattered most was the Jesus part.  You see this was a restaurant that served up Jesus first and just happened to also serve good food.  Their mission was Jesus and their food was a side dish.  I was real glad they could cook, but I was blessed by their Jesus boldness.  I walked out with a full tummy, a full heart, and a life lesson.

You see, if we follow Jesus, He has to be the center of our universe.  Our sign at church says, “Jesus First. Before. Anything. Else. Period.”  That is what Taters in Luverne, Alabama is doing.  Food is second to Jesus.  So, what about you?  What about us?  Are you a teacher first and then a Jesus follower? Are you a CEO first and then a Jesus follower?  Are you a coal miner first and then a Jesus follower?  Are you a preacher first and then a Jesus follower? What about this?  What if we starting reversing that?  How about a Jesus follower who happens to be a teacher; a Jesus follower who happens to be a CEO; a Jesus follower who happens to be a coal miner or, yes, a Jesus follower who happens to be a preacher.

Jesus First. Before. Anything. Else. Period. That would be a game changer.  Jesus said if we would “seek His Father first and live for Him, He would give us everything you need.” We need that today.  These chaos infested days we are living in  are golden opportunities to be a light in a dark world.  But we can only do that effectively if Jesus stops being an add on to our lives and becomes our lives.

The next time I am driving through Luverne, you can bet I will stop for some good food and a good helping of “Southern Jesus.”  They might not be there because “Jesus first” can be risky.  In their case it might cost them business.  If you do “Jesus first” it may cost you a friend or two or maybe a promotion, or maybe your popularity. Regardless, it is worth it. One more piece of travel advice. As you travel life’s hectic highway, stop and take a rest with Jesus.  And go ahead and be sure and put Him first.  Risky? Yup.  But, hey, remember, He’s got this.

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, Scripture

Prime the Pump

If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me, and drink. The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.” John 7:37b-38

There she blows.  I was raised in the far out suburbs of Jacksonville, Florida.  We were really country people but somehow we got lumped in with the city.  What happened was the powers to be decided to consolidate the county and the city so when you entered Duval County you also entered Jacksonville.  By the way, that made Jacksonville the largest city in the United States with 840 square miles.  I’m not sure why they did it, but it either had to do with more tax dollars or the Guinness Book of World Records.

So, like I said we were country folks.  That meant a lot of room to run, but few utilities.  We did have electricity but we were not connected to the city water or sewage system because there wasn’t any.  So we had a septic tank (and trust me I could write some stories about that) and a well to get our water.  Since we lived in Florida the water table was pretty high. I’m guessing you only had to drill 20 or 30 feet to hit water.  So, sitting right in the middle of our back yard was this well and pump.  It had (and I’m guessing) a 20 gallon tank and mounted on top of the tank was the pump part.  It consisted of a motor and a “housing thingy” with an impeller on it that would draw the water up.

It really worked well…unless one of two things happened…one, the power went out or two, the pump lost its prime.  If the water in the housing thingy drained out then the impeller couldn’t pull the water up.  The solution was usually pretty simple.  A person would have to go out to the pump, unscrew a plug from the top of the housing thingy, and slowly pour water in.  To this day I can remember taking my hand and forming a small funnel over the hole and pouring the water in.  The ole pump would whine and the impeller would swish the water around and make a kind of groaning noise.  Sometimes one pitcher would do the job and sometimes it was several.  Eventually, though, the sound would begin to change and you knew something was about to happen.

Water was on the way.  As the impeller created suction, it would pull the water up out of the ground and when the air lost and the water won…Katie bar the door!  All of a sudden water would come spewing out of that hole like a Texas oil well.  Water went everywhere.  It made you want to holler, “There she blows.” If it was summer time it was refreshing.  If it was winter it was cold…North Florida cold.  Then you had to fight your way to the pump, find the plug and somehow, someway, get that thing threaded back in the hole.  When you did, if you did, the water would then go into the tank instead of out the hole and you were back in business.

Now, remember I mentioned that “a person” had to go out and do this.  Yeah, well, that was me.  I don’t remember my sister’s getting tagged for this job.  Somehow it never was a girl job although sometimes it was a Mama job.  Of course Mamas have to do all kinds of things.  That’s what makes them special.  To this day I can hear my Mama hollering, “Dewayne, the pump needs priming.”  Sometimes I would pretend I didn’t hear her but that was risky business because you could end up in trouble.

I can also remember the thrill of when the pump caught the prime and water shot up into the air.  Somehow it made me feel just a bit like a man and more than that a man helping take care of the family.  It was a good feeling.  You don’t hear too much about priming the pump and things like that now. Technology has gotten better and not as many people have above ground pumps.  But do you know what?  I think sometimes we lose our prime…not in our pump…but in life.  We make noise, and our impeller spins around in our housing thingy (that would be our hearts) but that’s it.  We just can’t do what we were designed to do when we lose our prime. And, like the pump in my backyard, the only way to get the prime back is to pour some water in.

Jesus talked a lot about being the living water, the water of life.  One time He told the people that if anyone was all dried up because of the hardness of life, they could come to Him and drink.  He even said the kind of water He would give would spew in their lives just like that old pump in the backyard. He called it “streams of living water.” I can still see that water shooting up in the air.  And when it did, it meant that there was water to drink, water to wash, water to water the roses, and water to live.

Maybe today you feel kinda dried up inside.  Maybe this whole COVID mess, election mess and a bunch of other messes just have you feeling a bit like the Sahara Desert.  If so, why don’t you try some of Jesus’ living water?  Don’t drink the water of religion because that’s just sand…so is just doing better…so is keeping rules and starting this and stopping that.  What Jesus offers is the real deal…like a cold drink of well water on a hot day.  Why not sit in the shadow of His grace and love and rest a while? After all, He’s got this.

Posted in fear, Grace, life, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, wisdom

Live Forward, Glance Back

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

There’s a reason it is smaller.  I like cars.  I love cars. From my first car, a worn out, rusted out, 1962 Rambler, to what I drive today…cars have held a special place in my life.  That old Rambler may have been akin to the “Ramblin’ wreck from Georgia Tech” but it was mine…a gift from my oldest sister and her husband. I was 16 or 17 and I thought I was on top of the world.  Through the years I have had many different cars.  Some were new (oh, how I love that smell) and more were used, but each one was my baby.  I try and take care of both of our family vehicles, but mine always gets the best care. Don’t even think about eating in it. Grandkids are required to take a bath before getting in it.  Even Judy requires a permission slip to drive it.

As different as these cars have been, there are a few things that they have in common.  They all had an engine.  The Rambler had a straight line six with a rod knocking but hey, it ran…for a while.  My first new car was a 1973 Volkswagen Super Beetle.  It had an engine too…but in the back.  Trust me that was revolutionary in those days.  Then there was the 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser.  It had an engine—a diesel.  I didn’t know a thing about diesels.  Imagine my surprise when I looked for the spark plugs and found out it didn’t have any! Speaking of diesels, Judy and I both drive Volkswagens these days, both diesels and both get about 42 miles per gallon.  So I’m returning to my roots.

Oh, and all those cars had tires, four of them.  They had seats—most had seating for five, but some had more.  Our mini-vans could seat seven and that Cutlass Cruiser could seat eight. All had heating and most had air conditioning. Like I said, they had a lot of things in common.  And they all had a mirror.  They had one or two sideview mirrors and then there was one that hung in the middle of the windshield.  It allowed me to see what was behind, and as you know that is important. But there is one more thing that they had in common. They all had a windshield.

In the real old days, cars didn’t have windshields.  You wore goggles and just picked the bugs out of your teeth.  But somewhere along the way someone figured out that there had to be a better way and the windshield was born.  The windshield allows you to see where you are going and what is coming at you.  It is big because it is important.  Have you ever thought about this—the thing that allows you to see the future is a whole lot bigger than the thing that allows you to see the past.  Hmmm. I bet that is no accident. No one can deny the fact that we need to look behind, it’s just that looking forward is more important and that is why it is so big.

So, here’s the question.  As you are “driving” along life’s road, which is bigger, your windshield or your rearview mirror?  I know many folks spend more time looking back than looking forward and that can lead to a pretty hair-raising ride.  You see the rearview mirror in your car is not designed to be the primary place you look.  It is designed for an occasional glance.  Well, that is true in life.  The rearview mirror in our life is there, it is designed, to glance back.  We savor the good times and smile as we remember them.  We wince at some of the more unwise decisions but remember the lessons we learned.  Yup…it is profitable until it is all that we look at.

Living with our eyes glued to the rearview mirror of life is a dangerous thing.  If we live staring at all the past good days, we will some become discontent with the present.  If we live staring at all the past failures and flops, we will soon become discouraged and depressed. It’s just what happens when we stare at the past and ignore the present and future. Paul, in the Bible, gives us some great advice.  He admitted that while he hadn’t figured it all out, he had learned one thing.  He said we should leave the past in the past and reach out for the future. And trust me…that is really, good advice.

A guy named Brian Simmons says, “The time before us is not one of gloom and doom; it will be instead the best and most adventurous time of our lives. The best for God’s people lies not in the past, buried in Scripture somewhere. It’s yet to come. Let’s not allow fear to defeat us.” Right on Brian, Right on.  Remember, don’t fear the future just because it is unknown.  You see, there is a God who knows the future and in fact, in a way we can’t understand…He’s already there. So, settle back, rest in Him and enjoy the drive. Go ahead…set the cruise…He’s got this.

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, loving others, Military memories, prayer, priorities, Scripture, thankful, travel, USA, Veteran's Day, wisdom

A Penny and a Nickel

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

I had never noticed it before.  A couple of weeks ago my wife Judy and I visited the national battlefield at Dover, Tennessee.  I was so impressed.  Fort Donelson National Battlefield is a Civil War battle site sandwiched between the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers.  The South had built two forts there for the purpose of controlling those two rivers.  It was a major supply line for the South.  Many of the original earthworks are still there.  You can imagine the Union and Southern soldiers huddling down rising only to fire at one another.

One spot on the tour showed where the big Southern guns were mounted.  In fact, many of them were still there.  There were three on one side and seven on the other.  The guns could hurl a 30 pound shell over a mile and were some of the deadliest weapons of the war.  At that spot, an American Bald Eagle was perched in a large oak tree right on the bluff.  It was as if he was watching over the sacredness of this hallowed ground.  Men—both Union and Southern, shed their blood on these grounds.  One side dying to preserve the Union and the other dying to tear it apart.  After more than a few minutes the eagle took his leave and so did we.

The car tour then took us out of the park and down the road a mile or so.  There we found more earthworks, more cannon and more ground stained with blood.  Leaving there we headed down the road to the National Cemetery established after the battle. The Union soldiers won the day but the cost was high on both sides.  Judy and I parked the car and walked around the cemetery.  There were hundreds of graves…all men who had fought for the Union.  Sadly, the Confederate dead where dumped into mass graves and covered over.  They remain that way today.

At the cemetery, there were many graves from the Civil War era but since it is still an active military cemetery, warriors from virtually all the wars are buried there.  Judy and I saw graves from the World War I, World War 2, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf Wars.  We even saw one grave from what was called the Second Seminole War or the Florida War. Row upon row of graves, some older ones with only a last name and their assigned unit, lay silently giving testimony to their last full measure of devotion to their country.  There was one more thing.

We noticed that laying on top of many of the headstones there were coins.  They were mostly pennies with a sprinkling of silver coins also.  I didn’t really know what they meant but I had an idea and I was right.  There is a tradition that honors men and women who served their country.  You mainly see it in national cemeteries but also at others scattered throughout our Land.  When you see a penny on top of the headstone of a veteran, it means that someone stopped and reflected on the soldier’s life and service. It is a form of remembrance.  And, when a family member returns to the grave, they have the assurance that someone remembered and honored their loved one’s sacrifice and service.

If there was a silver coin, and back in the old days a nickel in particular, it meant the person who stopped by had a special relationship with the fallen soldier.  They may have gone through basic training together or were assigned to the same unit.  There has always been a special bond with men and women who fought together…who perhaps died together.  It is a bond that lives on beyond death and those silver coins honored that bond.

The Bible is full of renowned, well known, verses but one that stands out is where Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”  That is what those silver coins were saying.  It was a silent testimony of loyalty one for another.  This band of brothers were willing to die for the other…and many did.  What an amazing story of love and commitment.

Today we honor the men and women of our great country who served or are actively serving in it’s armed forces.  For 244 years brave soldiers have put their lives on the line.  As the saying goes, “All who served gave some but some gave all.”  We should be incredibly grateful for both.  As you journey through life today and you recognize a man or woman who was or is member of the armed forces, take the time to thank them for their service.  The freedoms we enjoy came at great cost whether it was the ultimate sacrifice or the daily sacrifice of hardship or separation from family.  Be sure and let them know you appreciate it.  It is just the right thing to do.  Oh, and don’t forget to thank the One who provides the ultimate freedom…Jesus Christ.  Because of Him, we can rest…because of Him we can have the peace of knowing…He’s got this.

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

Approval-itis

As the Father has loved me, I have also loved you. Remain in my love.” John 15:9

If He can’t, why am I surprised that I can’t? Do you know what still amazes me?  Creation…and not just part of it…all of it.  I’m amazed when I stop and look at a spring flower.  I’m amazed that the sun rises and sets day after day.  I’m amazed that my heart beats about 75 times a minute.  That is, wait for it, 108,000 times a day.  In case you are interested that is 39,420,000 times a year.  And, so far, it’s done it pretty well for 66 years.  Oh, and I’m amazed that out of all the galaxies, solar systems, and planets—zillions of them—only one can support life as we know it.  Earth.  And it is no accident.  It is an intentional act of creation.

God is really good at creating things.  He made us.  The Bible says that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Another place in the Bible He says we are His masterpieces.  Now granted some are Rembrandt’s and some are Picasso’s but we are all masterpieces.  Handcrafted by the Creator of the universe—a “one of a kind” miracle. I know He made me with a few quirks and several warts and that is the point of this story…one of my quirky warts.

You see, from the time I was a little kid I have wanted people to like me.  I have craved approval from the time I can remember.  Whether it was from my mama and daddy, my brothers or sisters or the guy who picked up our garbage…I wanted approval.  Let me tell you if you are going to have a quirk wart…there are a lot better ones than this one.  The problem with “approval-itis—the need for people’s approval” is that it leads to a far worse disease—the passion, the drive to please people.  Now if I lived out in Montana where my nearest neighbor was 20 miles away, this wouldn’t be such a big problem.  But my life revolves around people—I am a pastor for goodness sake.  And, to be honest, I want everyone to be happy and I want every one of them to like me. Sigh.

To be clear…the deal isn’t their deal…oh no, it lands right in my lap. The wart with all it’s bumps is right here.  For years I have been learning, or trying to learn, that I will not ever, never, please everyone.  But like an alcoholic craves the bottle—so we people pleasers crave approval.  And, by the way, I’ve gotten a little better.  Now, if I’m driving down the street and I wave at someone and they don’t wave back, I don’t write down their license plates and put a contract out on them. Smile.

If you can identify in any small way with “approval-itis” I have some good news.  It is sure to help you.  No, it is not seeking counseling and paying someone $125 dollars an hour to tell you that you can’t please everyone.  No, it is not moving to Montana…that wouldn’t work anyway because you would think the horse didn’t like you!  No, it is something that I read in one of my devotions the other morning. It is a simple truth.  Are you ready?  Here it is, “You can’t please everybody.  Even God couldn’t please everybody.”  Now isn’t that just profound…and true.  I mean God is like all powerful, all wise, all knowing and can be everywhere at the same time and a majority of the world is always mad at him.  How about that?

Think about it.  If God couldn’t pull it off, then who am I to think that I can? I guess God could snap His celestial fingers and make everyone like Him but He has this thing about free will.  He doesn’t want to make people love Him—He wants them to love Him because they want too.  Because.They.Want.To. He loved us so much that He gave His only Son to die on a Roman cross and He did it knowing that many…maybe most…would never even respond.  Amazing.

So, here’s the deal.  I understand that I will never please everyone…probably not even a fraction of the people I bump into.  I can’t do that, but I can do this.  I can love like Jesus loved. He said, “As the Father has loved me, I have also loved you. Remain in my love.” He was saying, “Hey, when it comes to loving people…I’m all in. Sit back and enjoy it.”  I can give my best not because a person will respond like I want, but rather because that is what my Dearest Daddy wants me to do.  And guess what?  His approval is the only approval that matters.  We should live, love and long for the audience of One—Jesus.

Well, truth be told, I won’t get this one right in this lifetime because I probably won’t live that long—like a million years.  But with His help I can be more like Him, every day.  Love God, love people.  It’s that simple.  If you are “plum wore out” from “approval-itis,” well, why don’t you just take a rest?  You can, you know—because He’s got this.

Posted in Family, life, priorities, sovereignty of God

It Ain’t Over

I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” Job 42:2

Siri gave me the bad news.  I am a pastor. I’m not sure what you do on Saturday nights, but I know what is on my schedule.  Forever, well almost forever, my Saturday nights have been reserved for doing the final studying for the message I am to deliver the next morning.  My wife and I don’t generally accept any kind of engagements on that special night because, well, it is a big priority.  Now, there is one kinda, sorta, exception.  Notre Dame football.

I am not sure how it all started, but a long time ago I became a Notre Dame football fan. It really is the only thing in the sports world that I consistently follow.  I’m not a huge sports fan, however, college football and Notre Dame football in particular, ranks pretty high with me.  If I know there is a Notre Dame game schedule for Saturday night I will try and study earlier in the day to free up some time to watch the game that night.  This past Saturday, despite all my good intentions, that just didn’t happen.  That meant that the Irish would have to play largely without me.  Now what made that particularly difficult was the Irish, ranked number four in the nation, was playing Clemson who was ranked number one.  It was going to be a good game.

So what is a pastor/Notre Dame fan supposed to do?  Well, I watched bits and pieces of the game and occasionally would ask Siri on my Apple watch what the score was.  The Irish started off strong with a touchdown and by halftime had a pretty comfortable lead.  I was ecstatic.  I tuned in and out for most of the evening.  I checked in somewhere and the lead had shrunk to four points.  I figured I best not check in anymore or else the crowd at church was going to get a half-baked sermon.  So I studied, and wrote and wrote and studied.  Finally, about 9:45 pm or so I couldn’t resist the urge any longer.  I asked Siri, “Hey Siri, what’s the score in the Notre Dame football game?”  Her response was discouraging. No, it was devastating.

In her chirpy, Siri voice, totally indifferent to the pain she was about to cause, she said, “Notre Dame is losing to Clemson by a score of 26 to 33 with two minutes remaining.”  What?  I was studying about joy and mine plummeted like a roller coaster on a greased track.  I muttered under my breath (never mind what I muttered) and studied a bit more before calling it quits.  I went to bed.  Notre Dame hadn’t lost a home game in forever and tonight that streak was going to end.  Bummer.

The next morning, after some coffee, I picked up the sermon to give it the final look over.  After a while, I went over to the computer to look something up and my email app was open.  I took a moment to scan the list of emails that had come over night.  Halfway down the list my glaze came to a screeching halt.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  I get a regular email from a company that sells sports stuff.  I especially like their fan gear like Notre Dame hoodies.  If the Irish win, they will send out an email that declares their victory and then offer a special discount to celebrate.  And…there it was.

The brief summary in the email list said it all, “Irish Beat Clemson.” Whoa…what?  As fast as a rabbit running from a bobcat, I opened the email and saw that the Irish had indeed beat Clemson in a double overtime thriller by a score of 47 to 40.  Fortunately, my Hopper thing from Dish records primetime and it had recorded the game.  As fast as I could I turned on the television, went to the DVR and clicked the button and there was the game in all its glory.  I cheated and watched the final two minutes but saved the rest for later. I got to watch the thriller ending after all…and it was incredible.  Go Irish.  Baptist or not—I love Notre Dame football.

Here is the amazing part.  I went to bed Saturday night assuming that my team had lost. Down seven with two minutes to play—no way.  But I should have known better because the Irish are famous for thrilling finishes but most of them don’t involve the number one team who had a 37 game winning streak…the reigning national champs.  Yup, I went to bed a loser and woke up a winner.  You just never know what is going to happen. It is true with Notre Dame football, but better yet it is true in life—especially when God is the head coach.

Life can be pretty difficult…especially these days.  We have never seen so many uncertainties from so many directions and all at the same time.  It is easy to think that we’ve lost the game.  It is easy to go to bed thinking all is lost, game over.  But God has an amazing way of turning it all around.  An old quote says, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.” Well, I don’t know who this lady is and you shouldn’t call people fat anyway, but let me tell—with God in the mix she isn’t even humming her first bar of music.  I’m trying to say, don’t give up…don’t be discouraged. You, or it, may seem like a lost cause but never, never is that true with God on your side.

I’ve heard some people say they like to read the end of a book first to see how things turn out.  Well, I have read the end of His Book—and He wins in the end.  Job, who knew all about hot mess circumstances said, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.”  Wow. You see, as I watched my recorded version of the game—even knowing the outcome—I winced at some missteps and cheered for every score.  And the best part—I rested knowing that nothing I was about to see could change that outcome.  The Irish were going to win.  If you are a Jesus follower, no matter how crazy life gets, no matter how it seems God can’t pull it out—just rest in knowing He can. Nothing can change His planned outcome in this game called life.  With Jesus you can rest assured, He’s got this. 

Posted in Family, life, Scripture, travel, wisdom

Seeing Isn’t Always Believing

And he looked up and said, “I see men, but they look like trees, walking.” Mark 8:24

He was still there the next morning.  Recently a couple of really awesome friends allowed us to use their camper for a whole week.  It was a pastor appreciation thing and we sure appreciated it.  Now I need to tell you this wasn’t one of those camper campers—this was one of those fancy ones—the kind that moves you from camping to “glamping.”  They set it up for us in a beautiful campground in the Land Between the Lakes.  The leaves were falling, the weather was fallish, and we were two happy campers…no pun intended.

One evening I went out to find my car covered with a healthy crop of wet leaves.  With nothing important to do at the time, I begin picking the leaves off my car.   As I worked my way around the car, I found something unusual on the driver’s side rear door.  It was a small stick about three inches long and it was stuck on the side of the door.  I thought that was kind of odd, so I took a closer look.  What I saw was what appeared to be one of those insects that look like a stick.  It had a small head and several joints down its body. It was amazing.  I said, “Hey Judy, come look at this cool insect.  It looks just like a stick.”

Well, she came over and took a look and she said, “Are you sure that is an insect?”  I assured her that it was since I am an amateur entomologist.  Oh, in case you are wondering that is someone who studies insects.  I know because I looked it up.  So, me, the amateur entomologist, left this fine specimen of the insect world to spend the night on my car.  I really couldn’t believe she had questioned my judgment.  After all what does she know about entomology anyway?  Well, apparently a lot.

The next morning we were leaving. As I carried our stuff out to the car, I took the time to pick the remaining leaves off my car and guess what?  My stick friend was still there.  I told Judy, “Hey that stick insect is still on the car.  How cool is that?”  She gave me that “Are you sure it isn’t a stick” look and I gave her the “I know what I am talking about” look.  When you’ve been married a long time you do that. There was only one way to prove to her I knew what I was talking about.  It was time for the touch test.  I went over to the car and looked again at my friend.  Head.  Check. Body. Check.  Legs.  Well, real small looking legs, but check.  So, I gave it a poke.  It fell off the car.

Yup.  I hate to admit it, but it was a stick.  I had to do the hard thing but the right thing. I went in and told Judy, “Hey you know that stick insect?  It was a stick.”  How about that?  I tried to lightly brush it off but no, I got a full load of the “I told you so” looks.  The bottom line was, she was right.  She knew her sticks and I obviously didn’t know my insects.  I think it is kinda funny that something I thought was supposed to look like a stick really was.  No wonder it didn’t move all night.  I guess those weren’t legs after all.

I realized that morning that not everything that looks like a stick insect is in fact, a stick insect—it might just indeed be a stick.  And the more I wanted it to be a stick insect the more it looked like one.  But no amount of looking is going to change what something really is. You see, things are not always as they appear.  They say seeing is believing but sometimes that just isn’t so.  Our eyes can deceive us.  Our hearts can deceive us. Our minds can deceive us. Things can be deceiving.

There is a cool scripture about Jesus healing a guy who was blind.  Jesus touched his eyes and said, “What do you see?”  The man said, “I see men but they look like trees walking.”  Well, Jesus touched his eyes again and basically said, “What about now?”  And guess what?  He could see just fine.  Now obviously the man wasn’t seeing trees walking but that is what he thought he was seeing. Of course, he didn’t have much practice at seeing—yet. In a world where things are upside-down, we should take the time and carefully examine something before we buy into it.  If I had poked that stick sooner, I would have discovered the truth sooner.  Things are not always as they appear.

However, there is One we can trust who is always spot on and that is God.  He is the real deal and the lens that we view Him is His Word.  Don’t trust what people say about God—read it for yourself.  God gave us His Word to show Himself to us and then invites every person to read for themselves.  And how often do you get to talk to the Author while you read His book? That’s pretty cool.  And if you chose to read about Him, you will be amazed at what you find.  You won’t find a God that looks like a God.  You will find a God that is God and who can do what He says.  You will find a God who loves you—a lot.  You will find a God who is not afraid of our investigation of Him because He will stand any test.  So, go ahead.  Read up.  You will find the real deal.  A God that invites you to rest in Him.  A God who’s got this.

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

Mama and Politics

Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” 1 John 5:4-5

He was running for county commissioner.  A long time ago when I was about ten years old I had my first and only encounter with political campaigns.  Somehow, and I have no idea how, my mama got involved with the campaign to elect a guy named Bill Basford as county commissioner.  And, when mama jumped in—she jumped in all the way.  That meant a couple of things.

First, and totally embarrassing, was this thing they put on our car.  We were pretty much not rich, in fact, I’m sure we weren’t even middle class.  We drove a 1957 Plymouth and let’s just say 1957 was a long way in the rearview mirror.  Anyway, back in those days if a person was running for office, they had these triangle shaped signs that people strapped to the top of their cars.  Now if it had been a little triangle that wouldn’t have been nearly as embarrassing, but this thing belonged on the sands of Egypt with the rest of the Pyramids.  It was HUGE.  It loudly proclaimed, “BILL BASFORD FOR COUNTY COMMISSIONER.” We would drive around and advertise for Bill.

That wasn’t all.  We also had to go door to door asking people to vote for Bill.  We covered our neighborhood like the plague of locusts that cleaned out Egypt.  I am certain people saw us coming and quickly closed their blinds and pretended they weren’t home.  It turns out that was just practice for when I became a preacher.  By the way…I know you are in there.  We also had a big supply of bumper stickers which we would gladly stick on your car.  When you’re ten, you like to stick things on things so I liked that part—a lot.

Well, election day came and mama waited for the big news.  Either by television or by telephone we got the word that Bill had won and they invited mama to come downtown to the headquarters to celebrate. Like Ma and Pa Kettle we (as in daddy, mama, my two young sisters and I) got in the 1957 Plymouth and off we went.  I only remember a couple of things about the celebration.  There was loud music, there was free food and there was a bar.  My daddy went over and I saw him get something to drink and I don’t think it was sweet tea.  The reason I remember that is because if daddy wasn’t a teetotaler, mama was.

So that was it.  Mama was excited because her guy won.  She didn’t get a political appointment or anything, but we did have a bunch of bumper stickers leftover to stick on things.  But the best part of all was that our guy won.  Winning is always a good feeling.  Everyone wants to be on the winning side. I don’t know how you came out in the election, but generally everyone has winners and losers.  Like the song says, “Some gotta win, some gotta lose.  Good time Charlie’s got the blues.”  Well, your name might not be Charlie, but maybe you’ve got the blues.  And I’m not talking about the election results.

If the truth be known, life can be pretty blue, can’t it?  And sometimes, it is because we lose…our health, our job, our family, our house, well, lots of things.  But I want to tell you something that is really important.  There is Someone who never loses and His name is Jesus.  If it was an election…He would win every time. If it was a game…He would win every time.  If it was a war…He would win every time. If it was a debate…yup, He would win every time.  Do you want to know the best part?  Keep reading.

Remember how mama got invited to the big celebration downtown?  Well, if we are willing to place our faith and trust in Jesus and follow Him, two amazing things happen.  First, because He wins, we win.  In a way, when Bill Basford won—mama won.  And when we choose to follow Jesus, because He wins—we win too.  The Bible says, “Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”  Then, the party starts.  Sometimes people think heaven is going to be one long boring church service.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It is going to a celebration like no other…like a party without end.  And while we won’t be the center of attention—that’s Jesus’ place—we will be guests of honor.  How about that?

I don’t really know how things turned out for Bill Basford, but I suppose he was a good commissioner.  I also know it made my mama feel pretty special to be a part of his campaign.  She felt included—we felt included.  We may have driven an old 1957 Plymouth but on that night with Bill’s name on the top, it felt like a Cadillac.  Jesus invites you to be a part of His campaign team too.  He’s not running for anything—He is already King of Kings. But there’s one thing for sure, He loves to invite people to come along for the ride.  He hopes, and so do I, that you will join Him.  When this campaign is over, we are going to rest in Him forever.  Until then, He’s got this.

Posted in Family, life, prayer, Scripture, wisdom

Mr. Fix It

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:16-17

Call me Mr. Fix It.  I love to fix things and I love to be the hero.  No matter what the problem, no matter near or far, no matter what.  Back when Blake and Sarah were living in Savanah, Georgia, courtesy of the United States Army, she let us know her vacuum had a broken belt.  Well, instantly my hero genes kicked in.  It didn’t matter that she was eleven hours away…it only mattered that my baby girl had a problem and she asked her Mr. Fix It dad to solve the problem.

Now a couple of side notes. First, Blake, her husband, is an able Mr. Fix It guy in his own right. I’m not sure why she asked me but it may have had to do with “husband hearing loss.”  It goes something like this.  “Blake, can you fix the vacuum?”  Silence. Just saying. Second, Sarah asked me to go by our Walmart and get a replacement belt.  I just assumed she knew that was the problem. That was a bad assumption. You may be asking, “Oh, they don’t have Walmart’s in Georgia?”  Well, actually they do, but somehow it made sense to her for us to go get one and take it to Georgia.  Maybe they are just better here. Who knows? As it turns out, I actually had a belt! We had a vacuum like hers (or maybe we had given the vacuum to her) and I had a spare belt laying around.  Cha-Ching!  Thank you, sir and keep the change.

We get to Georgia and the day after our arrival, the time to fix the vacuum was at hand. First, I unscrewed the 1,247 screws from the top and bottom and removed the cover.  It was then I had the first ah-ha moment. There naked before the world was a 100% not broken belt. So, I said to Sarah, “Hey girl, this belt isn’t broken.”  It was then she said, “Well, it wouldn’t work.” Suddenly, finding a spare belt was anticlimactic.  You see, as an amateur Mrs. Fix It, she had misdiagnosed the problem. So, I put the machine back together, including the 1,247 screws.  I plugged in the vacuum and, of course, it fired right up. The roller thing was going around and then Sarah said, “Dad, the real problem is, it wasn’t picking up the dirt.” “Oh,” I said.  And that’s when it got interesting.

Assisted by my son-in-law Blake, I began a close examination of the vacuum.  It soon became apparent that it was clogged up. Now if you are not familiar with clogged vacuums there are at least three classes of clogs.  There is the “partial” clog, the “hmmm, this is serious” clog, and then there is the clog of “Biblical proportions”. Since there was absolutely no suction, we knew this was definitely NOT a “partial clog”.  We soon discovered we had the “mother of all clogs”.  Upon examination we found, and I’m not kidding, three golf balls, two match box cars, and six inches of impacted debris. Holy moley.

Well, Blake and I carefully removed the trio of golf balls and two Matchbox cars. Finally, we began to dig, pull, tug and poke at the six inches of debris. Three days later (ok, not really but it seemed that long) the hose was finally clear.  At that point, we emptied the debris catcher thing, cleaned the filter, plugged it in, and it fired right up.  The results were incredible! In fact, before we could stop it, it sucked the carpet off the floor and a small section of the sub-flooring.  (Ok, that part just isn’t true, but I needed to beef up the story.)

Soon we were high-fiving and celebrating the ultimate vacuum cleaner rescue.  Mr. Fix It and his able assistant had saved the day. Now believe it or not, there is moral to this story—besides the obvious one that says don’t suck up three golf balls and two Matchbox cars with your house vacuum cleaner. The moral is this–when something is wrong, don’t automatically assume you know the answer.  Sarah just assumed the belt was broken and it wasn’t.  And, even with a house full of boys, never in her wildest imagination could she believe that her vacuum had consumed three golf balls and a couple of cars. I could just see the boys having such a good time with their new game of “sucking up” golf balls and match box cars…like “how many can we get in there?” Boys.

And what is true in vacuum repairs can also be true in our lives.  When things just aren’t clicking in your life, look closely because it may not be what you think. Ephesians 5:15-16 says, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” In other words, we need to watch where we vacuum—what we pick up, and where we step. Being wise is knowing what to do and then doing it. Remember the old saying, “A ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?”  Well, trust me, it is true.

Remember this, too.  Take the time to figure out the problem—whether it is a vacuum or your life. You see, too often we just want to treat the symptoms and don’t want to address the real problem.  All the belts in the world weren’t going to get our vacuum going. You should never try to fix what isn’t broken. How do you determine the problem?  Ask an expert. If you are a Jesus follower, ask Him and He will point you in the right direction. Let’s be honest. Life can get pretty clogged up, but don’t let the frustrations get to you. I bet Blake and I took a rest after fixing the vacuum and maybe you need to take a rest too…in Him.  After all, He’s got this.

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, thankful

Stinky Feet

Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing.” 2 Corinthians 2:15

I smelled it as soon as I opened the door.  When God made us, He did a really good job.  In one place His Word says that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.  In another it says that we are made just a little lower than the angels.  And then at the beginning He says that we are made in His image. Wow…that is all pretty impressive. When God was working on our blueprint, He decided to give us five senses—five ways to interact with our world around us.  Those five senses are touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste.  All five of them are incredible and it is almost impossible to pick one over the other.  For a foodie like me, it would seem that taste would be my number one, but I’m just not sure.

If smell isn’t number one, it certainly is a close second.  Smell enhances our taste and can trigger so many different emotions. Smell can change what is going on in a whole room.  Many years ago, I went through a period when I had—oh, I hate to admit it—stinky feet.  It was bad.  We had some good friends and we were frequently at their house.  To this day, I am in the habit of taking off my shoes when I am in the house.  I think it is a throwback to my Southern genes.  Anyway, when I got to these folks’ house, I would kick my shoes off and what was in the shoes suddenly spread throughout the room.  It wasn’t pretty.  I’m trying to say, it was really bad.

Within minutes, perhaps seconds, moans and groans filled the air along with the atrocious odor. There was an immediate rebellion and demands to stuff my stinky feet back into my shoes.  I had no choice.  The good news is that it turns out there was something about my walk-around, everyday shoes that caused the odor.  When I changed shoes, the offensive odor went with them.  But to this day, I (and maybe you) should be aware that certain things can cause certain reactions—and they are not always good.  But, fortunately sometimes they are.

Enter Bath and Body “Leaves” candles.  You probably know that Bath and Body is famous for several things but their three wick candles are—well, wicked.  And one of our favorite scents is “Leaves.”  It is just the essence of fall.  During this time of the year I can walk into my house after a long day and as soon as I open the door a sense of calm and “all-things-good” just washes over me.  I love it. Try as I may, I can’t describe it—it is just good.  And then it happens.

Slowly, the longer I stay in the area where the candle is, the rich aroma of fall suddenly disappears.  That smell that made me feel so relaxed seems to mysteriously disappear. But wait—don’t lose hope.  If I go back outside, if I go upstairs and come back—it comes back.  Once again, the rich aroma of fall invades my senses and I am changed.  This cycle goes on hour after hour and day after day.  In the mornings, I like another candle in my home office.  It is called Teakwood Mahogany.  It is a man candle. After a few minutes…I smell nothing.  Judy opens the door and comes into my office and is instantly overwhelmed—almost offended—by the strong smell.  Amazing.

The truth is, it can be dangerous.  It isn’t dangerous if it is the scent of a candle, but what if it is the scent of love in your marriage?  What if it is the scent of faith in your Dearest Daddy?  What if it is the scent of contentment—in all things being well? If and when that happens—it becomes dangerous.  When the aroma of life becomes like stinky feet or as bland as an unscented candle—well, it can and will lead down paths that we don’t want or need to take.  Marriages go south, faith downs in fear, and discontentment creeps into every corner of our lives.  At best we become unhappy, but worse, we began to throw away the things most precious to us.  I am certain that in this COVID hot mess some of the things most precious to us have been cast aside like leftover food.  Last night’s spaghetti becomes today’s stinky garbage.  We must beware.

I think, like leaving the room refreshes the aroma, we need to keep moving.  We must avoid becoming stagnate.  You know what happens to a stream that stops flowing don’t you?  It becomes a slimy pit.  So, we need to find ways to keep our marriages, our faith, our contentment, fresh, by stirring our lives with His grace—with His presence. We have to make sure the aroma we are giving off is pleasant and not “stinky feet.”

Paul, one of the Bible writer guys, says, “Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing.” Well said, Paul, well said. What kind of aroma are you sharing with your family, your church, your workplace, your neighborhood?  Is it the sweet smell of love, faith and contentment, or is it the atrocious odor of self and sin?  I know one of the best things I ever did was ditch those shoes.  Bye, bye stinky feet.  What do we need to get rid of so we won’t be offensive but rather be welcoming?  Nothing smells as sweet in our lives like the aroma of Jesus.  So, sit down, pull off your shoes and rest with Him.  He’s got this.