Posted in fear, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, prayer, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, Trials, wisdom

A Memorable Funeral

Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not.” 2 Timothy 4:2

It was years ago and something that I will never forget.  I am a pastor and that often gives me the opportunity to help people at some of their hardest moments.  Over the last 38 years I have officiated at hundreds of funerals.  Some of them were tragic and some of them were celebrations of life.  Regardless…they were all difficult.  I believe that every service should be as personal as I can make it. I heard a story once of a pastor who was asked to do a service for a man he didn’t know well.  Unfortunately, he kept calling the gentleman by the wrong name.  Finally, in sheer desperation, his wife shouted out, “John, his name is John.” Gratefully, I have managed to avoid something like that thus far.  But there was one funeral I will never forget.

I said earlier that I am a preacher…a pastor.  Well, I happen to be a singing pastor.  You see, long before I started preaching, I was singing.  I’m certainly no Frank Sinatra, but I can carry a tune.  That led to opportunities to serve families in another way.  When the funeral home needed a vocalist, I would sometimes get a call.  One day…the call came.  I was to sing a couple of songs…one at the beginning and one midway through the service.  So, my time came…no pun intended…and I sang my first song and then the second.  An older pastor was speaking and he was really into the sermon.  As the vocalist, I was sitting in a side room where I couldn’t see him, but I could see the audience. And then…it happened.

As I said he was preaching hard, and all of a sudden two things happened in a split second.  First, a moment of silence.  It went from “Katie bar the door” to dead silence.  Then, in a moment of time, there was something that sounded like a clap of thunder—literally. And finally, there was the sound of chaos—-people screaming and crying.  It was a very frightening moment.  Immediately I stood up and looked into the room where the preacher was lying on the floor.  It seems as he was preaching, he suffered a massive heart attack, fell on top of the folding pulpit which then caused it to collapse. That was the clap of thunder.

The funeral home folks called 911 and they quickly arrived and carried him out.  I’m not sure if he passed right there on the floor or in the ambulance, but he didn’t make it.  When they had left with him, I wondered what in the world do you do now?  The funeral director came over and said, “Dewayne, can you finish the service?” I told him I could if he would get me a Bible.  The preacher’s Bible was still laying there so he picked it up and gave it to me and we finished the service.  It was one of the strangest things I have ever witnessed—especially at a funeral.  As a side note, in a day or so, the funeral home called and asked me to do the service for the pastor who had died, and it was my privilege to do so.

I would suppose that there are a lot of lessons that can be learned from this but the big one is—we need to be ready.  We need to be ready to step into any situation that might arise. There is a verse in the Bible that says we should be prepared whether the time is favorable or not.  That is good advice.  We never know when we will have an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life.  I don’t know exactly how well I did finishing the funeral that day, but I hope I was able to bring some peace into a crazy chaotic moment.

There’s also another lesson—another truth—from this story.  We should be prepared to step into eternity.  When we think of death, we often think we will all live well and long, die easy, and go to heaven.  The truth is we just don’t know how long we will live, but we can all be prepared.  I like what a friend of mine said one time.  He said, “I’m prepared to go to heaven, I’m just not ready to go.”  He was just saying that he was prepared to go to heaven he just wasn’t ready to get on the next bus. I’m sure the pastor who was speaking that day was prepared, but he probably didn’t have any idea that he would board the bus right then.

The good news is that because of the Good News, we can all be prepared.  Because of what Jesus did on a Roman cross two thousand years ago, we can know that we are going to heaven.  It’s not about religion or church—it is about faith in Him dying and coming back to life three days later.  It is about believing that He was who He said He was, that He would do what He said He would do, and about repenting and trusting in Jesus as the Way to eternal life with God. If you haven’t made that commitment, I’m hoping you will. Google it and check it out—check Him out.  The Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared” and I hope you are.  When it comes time for us to board the bus, we can have the confident assurance that He will be there.  He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in forgiveness, gratitude, life, loving others, prayer, priorities, Trials

Drop the Rocks

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:7

It kinda made me mad.  I know there are a multitude of things in the world that make us mad and there are also degrees of madness—boy is that a play on words. There is a little mad, some mad, half mad and downright mad.  Well, anyway, I was just a little mad.  Back on the first Monday in January, I started walking again for exercise.  Since the weather is so unpredictable, I decided to just use the treadmill.  It isn’t as good as the outdoors but you sure can work up a sweat.  So, five or six days a week I have my date with “the mill.”  I have a television mounted right in front of me to keep my mind busy while I walk. With all the new streaming services there is a lot to watch.

One of my favorite things is something called “Aerial America.”  They take a particular state and with a drone and/or helicopter they fly all over the state and shoot video.  It is very interesting and stunning but there was a problem. Because it was filmed from the air, I had a hard time staying on the treadmill.  They would go up and down, left and right and I was all over the place with them. You know…where you stare you steer. Maybe I needed to find something else to watch while walking on the treadmill.  I decided it would be a great opportunity to get some good Bible teaching, so I started watching services from some of the guys I like.  It has been very profitable.

Different guys have different styles and I always try and pick speakers that stay close to the Bible and there are a couple that have large ministries and by and large do a great job teaching.  Now, I never agree with everything that every speaker says.  In fact, I teach every Sunday and guess what? I don’t always agree with me. It’s just a fact of life so if you teach publicly get ready for someone to say something.  I get that.  But then there was this morning.

As I was looking for something to watch from one of the guys I follow, I saw something that just about made me mad.  Some no-name guy, a pastor, teacher posted a video calling this nationally known speaker a “false teacher.”  Well, I didn’t watch his video because it wasn’t worth my time.  But I wondered exactly what caused him to say that this guy wasn’t the real deal.  Now again, I don’t always agree with everything this teacher says nor how he says it but “false teacher?”  I don’t think so.  He leads one of the largest evangelical churches in America.  He teaches the Bible and at the end of every service he has a time for people to act on what they heard and specially, to act on an invitation to accept Jesus’ invitation to follow Him.  He gives an old-fashioned altar call.

Oh, and one other amazing thing.  Everything this church produces, sermons, curriculum, music, you name it—they give it all away for free.  His church could make a zillion dollars but instead with incredible generosity they just give it away.  I find that amazing.  So, what’s up with the dude who made himself judge and jury?  If I were to take a guess it would probably be jealousy.  When someone is successful some people just assume that they are fake or false.  It seems the more successful a ministry is, the more people cast stones.  Cast stones…hmmm.  It seems like Jesus had something to say about that.  Remember?

There was a woman in the Bible taken in the very act of adultery.  The Pharisees (we won’t go there) dragged her out in public in front of Jesus and declared, “Moses said we should stone this woman.  What do you say?”  First, and always, don’t mess with Jesus.  You will lose.  But Jesus stooped down and wrote something in the sand, (we don’t know what), and then said, “Okay.”  Well, that wasn’t all He said.  The rest rattled their bones.  He said, “Okay, but the person without sin needs to cast the first stone.”  You could hear a pin drop, but then you would have heard something else—the sound of rocks falling to the ground.  And, beginning with the oldest to the youngest, they left—all of them.  Jesus looked at the woman and said, “Where are your accusers?”  They had skedaddled. And here’s the best part.  The One who was left, Jesus, the One who could condemn her—didn’t.  Amazing.

I know it is our natural tendency to chuck rocks but don’t you think maybe it is time to let the rocks fall.  Whether you are a Jesus follower or not, chucking rocks is a dangerous game.  Those rocks can act like boomerangs—and that will definitely leave a mark.  Should we practice a discerning spirit?  Absolutely.  But rock chucking has nothing to do with discerning—it has to do with a judgmental spirit.  I know, those rocks can be hard to drop sometimes but I know someone who is good at dislodging them from our sticky hands.  His name is Jesus, and you can take it to the bank, He’s got that too.  Bro. Dewayne

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

Dinner on the Grounds

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

There’s lunch and then there is dinner on the grounds.  Church and I were a good fit from the get go.  The schools I attended were always pretty large and it was easy to get lost in the crowd.  The bottom line seemed to be you had to be either really good, or really bad to get recognized.  If you were really good at sports, for example, then a lot of people knew your name.  If you were really bad at life, well people knew your name, but it was the wrong people.  You might remember the categories in your yearbook that named people to be the most likely to do something.  Some were just destined not to be remembered. That was probably me.

I was one of those guys who just wandered around in the gray social midst at school, but not so at church.  The churches I attended were like the three bears and their beds. One was too big, one was too small, and one was just right.  They were big enough to have fun, and learn a little about Jesus, and yet not too big.  I managed to be accepted by my peers and even the adults thought I was pretty cool. So church was a good fit but that isn’t the main reason why I liked it.  I was grateful for the social acceptability and I even appreciated the Bible stories and learning about Jesus, but I was in it for…the food.

You see, several times a year we would have meals at church. There were two things that you could count on.  First, they were always potlucks.  Now, in case you don’t know what a potluck dinner is, first, where have you been?  No seriously, a potluck is when everyone brings something for dinner.  It is one of the greatest inventions in the food world.  Imagine the world’s best buffet—meats, casseroles, vegetables, breads, starches, and the motherlode of all motherlodes—dessert. I can still remember there being tables—as in more than one—of nothing but desserts.  It was like food heaven. By the way, we still do this every once in a while at our church so if you ever hear of this happening, even if you don’t like God, you need to come to church that Sunday.  One word says it all—cowabunga! If you need more than one word—here’s three “shoot that thing.”

The second thing that was just cool was in the old days, churches would build permanent tables outside to hold all this food.  Often, they would have a tin roof over them.  You could line up on both sides and let her rip.  We always had those big plates, and you were obligated to fill them up.  Then, you would just go find yourself a place in the grass and sit down and eat…and eat…and eat.  It truly was one of my favorite times at church.  The food and the fellowship (being with all the people) was just amazing.  We have a ministry at our church where if a member of a family dies, we provide lunch for them on the day of the funeral. It is like a mini potluck and our ladies do such a wonderful job.  I’ve already asked them if I can have my dinner before I go, so I can enjoy the meal.  I’m still working on that one.

You see, there are lots of reasons to attend church and like I said in my early years food was a good reason.  I have another reason now too. I’m the pastor.  It’s kinda expected that I attend. But here’s the truth.  I don’t go now for the food…I go because I want to go. Yup…I don’t have to go to church, I get to go to church.  It is so good because some of the people I love the most are there.  And guess what? Some of the people that are a little harder to love are there too, but that doesn’t matter because we have one thing in common—we all are pretty fond of God.

But wait it gets better.  Guess what?  He is really fond us.  He loved and still loves everyone so much that He sent His Son to earth—we call that Christmas.  He also loved and loves everyone so much that He allowed Him to die on a Roman cross—we call that Good Friday.  It was bad for Him that day, but it was good for us because that day He paid the price for all the things all of us have done that offend His Father.  But wait…that isn’t the end.  After three days, He came back to life—we call that Easter, and it is a documented fact that it happened.  Pretty amazing.

Well, I am grateful for all the good food and other things that happen at church.  But I am really grateful for God, my Dearest Daddy, loving me that much and remember, He loves you that much too.  If you want to know more, I hope you will get a copy of His Book the Bible—it’s been a best seller for centuries—really.  If 2020 taught me anything, it’s that it is a great idea to have God on your side.  It’s just good to know that He is there and will be there no matter what.  No, He isn’t Santa Claus just waiting to give you everything on your list.  No, He isn’t a Genie just waiting for you to rub His lamp.  He is God, He is real, and He wants to make a difference in your world.  Why not give Him a try?  You’ll find that no matter what you face, He will face it with you. I’ve learned that every day, no matter what, “He’s got this.” Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, priorities, thankful, wisdom

You’re Kidding Me, Right?

Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it.” 1 Timothy 6:6-7

It was a dumb decision.  When it comes to cars…I just seem to be inherently dumb.  Naw…that’s probably too strong.  I think I am just unwise.  My first new car was a 1973 Volkswagen Super Beetle. I was so proud of that car. It was bright orange with a black racing stripe and I had even jazzed it up some.  I added exhaust headers, dual point ignition, a two-barrel carburetor, and an under-dash AM-FM radio, cassette player.  Shoot that thing…it was so cool.  And then…I got bored.  Here’s a warning.  When you get bored with your car, do not under any circumstances go to a car lot.  Well, I did and even when the credit union said no, the nice man at the dealership said yes.  My payments went from $83.00 per month to $135.00 per month which doesn’t sound bad till you realize I was in the Air Force and only making about $400 a month.

I think that whole deal turned out pretty good.  When I met my wife Judy, I think she was impressed with my 5-speed Toyota Corona SE and later when we got orders for Germany, we were able to sell it and just about break even.  I wish I could tell you I learned my lesson but sometimes, and especially when it comes to cars, I am just a slow learner.  And when the car bug bites—Katie bar the door.  The year was 2001.  We were just beginning our ministry at a new church and getting settled into a new house and a new town.  On September 11th of that year the terrorists knocked down the twin towers in New York and our country was stunned.  To boost the economy President Bush encouraged the carmakers to get America back on the road again.  He also encouraged people to go out and buy a new car.  So, I did. Twice.

I asked Judy what she thought about buying a car and not surprisingly she was totally against it.  However, we had money in the bank from selling our previous home, and so I went to the dealership and came home with a new car.  It was brand-new Pontiac Grand Am and I got it with 2% financing.  “Yay” I said…for a while.  After owning the car for about six months or so, I noticed there was whine when the air conditioning was on.  They checked it out and said it was normal.  Well, I knew it wasn’t normal, so I went back…several times.  Finally, the guy who sold me the car in the first place told me to come and he would “work something out.”  This isn’t going to end well, is it?

I went in and I just assumed he was going to give me full credit for the car since in my eyes it was “defective.”  Well, he didn’t and by this time I was up to my eyeballs with “I.Want.It-itis.”  Yup, I traded my new car in, took a big loss, and bought another new car…one that was a little bigger and, of course, a little more expensive.  It was a bad deal from start to finish.  I felt so bad about it, and the fact I was in debt, that I depleted a chunk of our savings to go ahead and pay it off.  I thought it would make me feel better.  It didn’t.  I told you I was a slow learner.

The really, sad, sad part of this story is that about a year later I wrecked the car and because of depreciation I could only replace it with an older used car.  But…there is light at the end of this tunnel.  You see, that was almost twenty years ago and while I have bought and sold cars several times…I never again made the mistake of buying a new car.  I discovered that you can buy a four or five year old car for about half the price of a new one.  How about that?  I also relearned the important principle of BBQ grills. A long time ago, I heard a guy teaching and he said, “Don’t look for a new BBQ grill unless you are ready to buy a new grill.”  That’s good advice, and it applies to many areas of life.

There’s a lot to be said for contentment. The Bible says, “True godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it.”  I was speaking at my church recently and reached this conclusion.  I said, “We need to learn two things.  First, Jesus is enough. Second, the world is never enough.”  That alone is worth your time in reading this story.  The truth is the things that really bring satisfaction can’t be bought in a store…they are free.  And at the top of that list is a relationship with Creator God.  That will cost you nothing because Jesus paid that price a long time ago.  If you seek satisfaction anywhere else, it will cost you and it just won’t satisfy.  Someone said there is a God shaped vacuum in the life of every man, woman, and child.  We can try and stuff other things in that vacuum, but it will always fall short.

So, I hope my car misadventures will help you learn and avoid the hard way.  And I hope you will give God a try.  Remember, don’t confuse church and religion with a relationship with God.  One of the things that makes my life worth living is that He is my Dearest Father, and He loves me 100%—100% of the time.  He will never leave me…even when I make those less than wise decisions.  And when I fail and fall…He is always there with the assurance that “He’s got this.” Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, fear, Grace, gratitude, life, Southern born, Trials

Cross Country

Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize.” 1 Corinthians 9:24

They called it a physical fitness test.  I called it Hades.  It happened every nine weeks.  That was the length of the grading period at the high school I attended.  Every male who attended Nathan Bedford Forest High School and was breathing was required to take a physical fitness test at the end of the grading period.  It involved several things…pushups, pull-ups and my personal favorite, throwing up.  What was ironic about this, is for all the time before the test we didn’t train for it. We might play softball or volleyball or some other team sport, but we didn’t train for “the test.”  We also played something called battle ball where we gathered in the gym and played a sadistic form of dodge ball. There was a guy named Johnny who had abnormally long arms and could hurl the ball at incredible speeds.  The last thing on earth you wanted was to be the last victim on one side and Johnny on the other.  It wasn’t pretty.

Anyway, we were not prepared but that didn’t seem to matter.  We had to take “the test.”  The worst part of this Gladiator style arena of horror was the cross-country run.  Let me see if I can set the stage.  Imagine you are in North Florida and it is late May.  The temperatures regularly climb into the lower and upper nineties. The humidity is at ninety percent or higher.  Remember they call Florida the Sunshine State and that is for a reason…the sun is beating down unmercifully.  And, by luck of the draw, you have P.E. right after lunch. The day before, the coach announces that we would be running “cross country” tomorrow.  It was too late to train…it was too late for anything but a few prayers.

In an attempt not to throw-up, you eat a light lunch and then report to P.E.  You pray to stumble and break your leg on the way to class, but that prayer goes unanswered.  You change clothes and anxiously meet outside.  They call the roll and then give the command to report to the starting line.  What lies ahead is two and a half miles of running in the heat of a hot, late Spring day. Like “sheep led to the slaughter” you line up waiting for the whistle.  Soon, too soon, it blows and off you go.

Now you really need to understand that cross country for those who have trained for it is a challenging, but somewhat enjoyable sport.  I’ve even heard reports of a runner’s high.  I never experienced that, but I did experience a runner’s low.  It happened about a hundred yards into the course when I realized that I was going to die—or wish I could.  I can still remember the course to this day.  It was two and a half times around the perimeter of the school property.  If you ever wonder what eternity is like, talk to me…I ran it.  Actually, to say I ran might be a stretch. I sorta ran it.  Not soon enough and it was over. As you cross the finish line you hear people saying, “Don’t run toward the light…don’t run toward the light.” After about 15 minutes your heart rates goes below 600 and you can breathe again.  I hated that test.  A lot.

I never really understood the point of asking someone to do something but not preparing them for it.  We ran that distance and more in basic training in the Air Force but we slowly prepared for it.  Again, it was challenging but doable because of the training. I think this is not just a lesson about running, but about life.  I’ve heard that life is a race and unless you are incredibly unfortunate, it is not a sprint, but rather a marathon.  If you are going to succeed in life then you need to prepare, you need to train and pace yourself.  Fail in that and you might well fail in everything you attempt.

Paul, a man from the Bible, wrote a letter to a bunch of Jesus followers in Corinth.  They had their own set of games and there were prizes to be won.  It was an open deal so anyone could sign up, but if you were wise, you trained first and you ran with commitment.  In that letter to the church at Corinth he says, “Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize.” In other words…train like you want to win and run like you want to win and guess what?  You just might do it.  Regardless, you can finish the race knowing you gave it your very, best shot.

I went through three years of high school and had four nine-week periods per year.  If my math is right that equates to sixteen times that I had to line up to get ready to throw-up.  Guess how many times I trained?  That would be zero.  Sixteen times I knew it was coming and sixteen times I thought the next time would be different.  Hey, plant corn and you’re gonna get corn.  Every.Single.Time.  So why not start today to run for the gold—to live like no one else?  Why not start today to make the best of everyday and when race day comes…you’ll be ready.  There’s a great Coach who will help you train and run.  His name is Jesus, and He is on your side.  He’ll even run beside you…all the way, shouting words of encouragement.  Listen as He shouts, “You’ve got this, Dewayne.” “How?” I ask?  “Because I’ve got it for you,” He responds.  I like that.  Bro. Dewayne

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

God of the Details

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

It is just engrained in me.  If you are a Grits reader you might remember when I talked about my first car.  It was a 1961 Rambler painted (with a paint brush) a royal blue with a yellow stripe right down the middle.  Due to its former home, Daytona Beach, it had more Bondo body filler than metal and its floorboards had also fallen victim to the salty air and water.  But I was so grateful to have it.  It was part trade and part gift from my oldest sister, and I loved it.  I would regularly wash it and clean the inside. Since it was the seventies, I bought flowery seat covers to hide the worn-out seats.  The bottom line—it was my baby.  A little scarred, more than a little worn out—but she was mine.

From that very first one, I have always tried to take care of my cars.  A few were new and some were old, some were in good condition and others not so much. But each car received that same loving car.  They ranged from a 1971 pinto with a rod knocking (something the Rambler shared) to a new 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser with wood grain sides.  My wife Judy and I bought that one on a whim because of a deal they were having on interest rates. It was also “on sale” because it had a 4.3 liter diesel engine which was popular at the time.  I had no clue about diesel engines and was surprised to learn that they didn’t even have spark plugs. What? One time I was looking at buying a used pickup truck that had a huge lift kit on it.  It was almost a monster truck.  The guy let me keep it overnight and what did I do? You bet, I washed it and cleaned it out.  I wanted to see what it would look like…and then I didn’t even buy it.  Strange.

I have a knack for cleaning cars.  I can make most cars look pretty good.  It is amazing what a good wash job, some Windex, a strong vacuum and some Armor All can do. Give me a couple of hours and shazam—you have yourself a showroom classic.  Well, not really but it sounds good.  But they did always look better. Now somewhere beyond better is the next level and that is—a detailing.  In case you don’t know, when a car is detailed, the cleaner person should really pay attention to—get ready—the details.  Let me explain.

Recently, a friend gave me a gift certificate for my car to be detailed.  I was genuinely excited.  We have two cars and I had to choose which car got the beauty treatment.  Judy’s car won because, honestly, it needed it the worse.  After I dropped it off at the detailing place, about four hours later I received a call that it was done.  I couldn’t wait to pick it up—and I was not disappointed.  When I pulled up the detailer’s shop there she was and like Cinderella ready for the ball, Judy’s car was dazzling.

It had not only been washed but it was sporting a new wax job.  It glimmered in the noon day sun.  The tires and splash guard were all shiny black and the wheels sparkled like a person’s teeth after a whitening treatment.  I opened the door, and the entire interior was not only clean, but shining clean.  The floor mats were spotless. Yup—I was impressed.  I opened the trunk to find it spotless and the space where the lid meets the body—a perfect place for dirt and grim to hide—clean.  When I bought gas a couple of days later, I noticed that even the place where you put fuel in had been cleaned.  Like I said, a good detailer will pay attention to the details…and she did.

Her name was Jo, and she has been detailing cars for over 35 years, so she has a lot of experience.  She knows how to make a car look new.  Speaking of new, that is why I am keen on God.  He can take the most bruised and broken life and not make it look new—but make it new.  I was reading in the Bible just today something that Paul, one of the New Testament writers, said.  He writes, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!” You see God doesn’t do detailing…though He is definitely a God of the details…He just makes every person who puts their faith in His Son a brand-new creation.  I mean, imagine taking your car to get it detailed and picking it up four hours later only to find a brand-new car.  Wow and trust me, God’s work in the lives of people is an even bigger wow factor!

One time, a year or so ago, I hired a guy I didn’t know, to detail my car.  I paid him too much money, and let’s just say, I was very disappointed. He just didn’t do a good job. But after a 46-year journey with Jesus I can tell you that He never disappoints, and He never misses a single detail.  So, hats off to Jo and thanks to that special friend who gave me the gift certificate. And, remember, if you need your life made new, give Jesus a shout. His line is never busy, and you won’t get an answering machine.  He is online all the time and whatever the challenge, He’s up to it.  He’s got this. 

Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, fear, forgiveness, Grace, life, prayer, Scripture, thankful, travel, Trials, wisdom

Light at the End of the Tunnel

I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in Me will no longer remain in the dark.” John 12:46

There’s light at the end of the tunnel.  I have heard that saying all my life (well, at least a chunk of it).  But the truth is the light at the end of the tunnel just might not be enough.  You see, about 20 miles from where we live, there is a bike trail with a tunnel that is 543 feet long.  It’s located in beautiful Southern Illinois.  Oh, I know, I say beautiful and Illinois in the same sentence and all people can think of is flat corn fields and Chicago.  But tucked away in what we call the “real” Southern Illinois are many trails with beautiful hills and rock bluffs in the Shawnee National Forest.

Tunnel Hill Trail is a gem in our area and perhaps the highpoint of the trail is its tunnel. Our church has an annual bike ride that begins at the tunnel.  At its peak we would have over a hundred riders—big and little, young, and old. What makes it even better, the small town of Vienna (where we have our picnic) is only ten miles or so from the tunnel and that part of the trail is either flat or slightly downhill.  I told the church riders that, but I’m sure after riding it they thought I might have stretched the truth.  Well, maybe a little.  But the truth is—ten miles on a bike seat is still ten miles on a bike seat.

I have learned over the years to respect every foot of the tunnel there.   As you enter the tunnel, two things are apparent.  One, there is plenty of light. So, it is easy to assume that there will be plenty of light all the way through.  That would be a mistake.  Second, you might assume that since you can see the “light at the end of tunnel” that would be enough to get you through.  Uh, that would be a mistake too.  Let me describe it…though words really can’t do the job.  You have to experience it.

Whether you are riding your bike or walking, as you enter the tunnel you really do think, “Oh this isn’t too bad.”  There is plenty of light and of course, you can clearly see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Slowly, very slowly, almost without noticing, the light fades away and suddenly, just shy of halfway, you find yourself in total, eerie, darkness.  What seemed so easy now seems increasingly difficult.  Even with the light at the end of tunnel, you can’t tell where you are going.  You think you are in the middle of the trail when in fact you can easily be heading straight for the walls.  Over the years, everyone who has ridden with our group has made it through the tunnel.  It’s just that some of them came out with a few bruises and scrapes…courtesy of “the walls.”

Well, after about a hundred feet, light slowly starts appearing around you and before long the light pouring in from the end of the tunnel envelopes you…and you are glad. I’ve even ridden in the tunnel with a flashlight and it still seems difficult.  You see, light at the end of the tunnel or not, darkness is difficult.  You simply lose all sense of where you are.  That is true in tunnels…and it is true in life.  Too often we are faced with choices and decide that we can handle what our common sense tells us is a bad idea.  We enter the tunnel with plenty of light and assume we have escaped the blight of our choice.  Only later do we see what we couldn’t see—the consequences of our decision.  Only when we “hit the wall” do we understand the pain of our decision.  It is only after we emerge back into the light that we can see the wounds from the walls and realize the scars that we will bear.

Life will have its valleys and not all tunnels in life are caused by our misguided choices, but the good news is regardless—we can find help.  Imagine what it would be like to take sunlight with us into the valleys—into the tunnels of life. What if the deepest valley and the darkest tunnel could be lit as noon is on a sunny day.  Well, it can.  You see, there is a light that defies darkness and is brighter than the sun—in fact, it is the Son.  Two thousand years ago a Man was born that claimed…and proved…that He was the Son of God and His name is Jesus.  Have you ever wondered why this simple carpenter from an obscure village in the Middle East commands center stage on the stage of history?  The reason why?  He is the real deal. The Bible describes Him as the Light of the world…and He is.  And when a person follows Him, he walks in His light.

Jesus said, “I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in Me will no longer remain in the dark.” That is a claim, a promise, worth checking out.  When we were kids a lot of us were afraid of the dark. As adults most of us have outgrown that fear, but we still have reason to fear the phantoms of the dark…things that are bigger than us.  Jesus drives the darkness and phantoms away when we chose to follow Him.  He’s waiting right now to bring light into your life…your tunnels.  When we find ourselves in our darkest moment, you will hear the Whisperer whisper, “Fear not…I’ve got this.  And He does.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, fear, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, Southern born, thankful, wisdom

The “Switchings”

No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”  Hebrews 12:11

I guess I just got bored.  When I was growing up in North Florida it was just easy to get bored.  It was a different time.  There was no internet, no satellite or cable television, and no electronic games.  Then, you have to add to that there just weren’t a lot of toys to play with.  While Daddy and Mama loaded us up at Christmas, by summer a lot of them had suffered from rough play. So, you had to get a little creative!  And that’s when I got into trouble.

One of my favorite things was to make rubber band guns.  It was really quite easy.  They were building houses across the street from where we lived (slowly our place in the country was becoming suburban). Like at any construction site there were lots of wedge shaped sticks sticking out of the ground.  I later learned they were surveyor sticks.  Oops. Anyway, they had lots and I needed one, every once in a while, so I would, uh, borrow one…or two.  Well, Mama took the local newspaper so we got a paper every day and it came wrapped with a rubber band.  You simply collect a few rubber bands (they were discarded in the yard), drive a nail in your stick and tada…you had a rubber band gun.  See…creative.

Well, that was bound to get old, so I came up with another idea.  In North Florida, the soil (at least where we lived) was very sandy.  I discovered that if you take a water hose and start forcing it against the sandy soil it will act like a drill.  As the water forced the sand away, the hose would slowly sink into the sand.  Well, it was fun. Before I knew it, the hose was a foot in the ground, then it was two, and then it was three and it was just about then I wondered how I would get it out.  So, I gave it a tug.  It didn’t budge.  I gave it a pull—nope, it didn’t give an inch.  I was in trouble.

What happened next is lost to time and history, but one of two things happened.  Number one.  I left the hose stuck in the ground.  Daddy came home and wanted to water his rose bushes.  He found the hose stuck in the ground, asked me and I told the truth, and I was sent to the bamboo bushes to get my own instrument of correction.  Think a thin bamboo switch.  It was effective…every time.  Number two.  I realized that the hose was stuck in the ground and I realized that Daddy would be coming home soon, and he would water his rose bushes.  So, I went in the house and got a knife and cut off the hose.  The end result was the same. He asked, I told, bamboo switch. By the way…another sign that times have changed.  I looked up switch and was told it turned electricity off and on and was an electronic game that kids play.  Mine was neither.

You know, I really didn’t intend to mess up the construction site across from my house and I really didn’t mean to get my Daddy’s hose stuck in the sand.  The truth was I was just naive.  But there is another truth.  My being naive didn’t change the fact that I shouldn’t have done what I did and in the case of my Daddy’s hose—it didn’t change the consequences.  You might be asking, “Did your Daddy really give you a “switching?”  And the answer is yes.  You might ask, “Do you think you deserved the “switching?”  The answer is yes.  Finally, you might ask, “Did you learn anything from the “switching?” And the answer is yes.

You see, I never, ever again, turned on the water and let the water hose get stuck in the ground.  I don’t believe I was ever even tempted to let the water hose get stuck in the ground. You see, the “switching” was not an act of anger or meanness, it was an act of love.  Daddy was teaching me about right and wrong and I am grateful for that.  Daddy had several ways to discipline and they were generally fair and not too harsh.  And I believe they worked because I’ve never been arrested or spent a night in jail—yet. I wrote recently about being a compliant person…and I am, but part of that might be because my Daddy (and Mama) cared enough to help me learn.

I never really bought into the thought that the “switching” hurt my Daddy more than me because I know it hurt pretty bad.  But I do know he didn’t enjoy it.  My Heavenly Father doesn’t enjoy it either and He loves me even more than my earthly Daddy. God’s Book, the Bible, says that no discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Well, that is the truth. But is also says that later on it yields a kind of fruit—the kind that teaches us right from wrong.  And that is profitable.

So, the lessons for today?  Don’t pull up surveyor sticks and don’t stick your Daddy’s hose in the dirt and above all…remember that your Father up in heaven loves you. In fact, He loves you enough to allow hard things in your life to help you learn right from wrong…to make better decisions with fewer consequences and regrets.  And don’t worry…He is loving and patient.  He never over reacts but rather responds in just the right way.  And as always, He’s got even this.

Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, fear, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, prayer, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, Trials, wisdom

My Cussing Summer

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

It was the summer of my rebellion.  I know, some people are born compliant and some are born a little on the rebellious side.  I was born compliant.  I have always been a rule keeper—well, at least most of the time.  I suppose that is why I took to religion so well.  You see religion is all about keeping the rules.  The idea is if you keep enough of the rules then people will like you and most importantly, God will like you.  And sure enough, it worked—well, at least part one worked.  In my younger years, most of the adults thought I was a good boy.  Church? Got it.  Drinking? Not a drop.  Drugs?  Nope. I can hear them saying it now, “That Dewayne is such a nice boy.”  And, I suppose outwardly I looked pretty good, but pretty good won’t get you to heaven.

You see the second part of the religion mantra is that you can make God happy by performing—by keeping the rules.  That one is 100% false.  There is no one, except Jesus, that was good enough to go to heaven.  Yet it seems so many church people say they believe that rules won’t get you to heaven, but act as if they will. They carefully do this and that and boy, if you happened to be one of the ones who didn’t keep the rules, you were tried, convicted and sentenced.  That’s why I had to keep my cussing summer quiet.

I think maybe all the rule keeping must have finally got to me.  The bottom line is during the summer between my junior and senior years of high school—I started cussing.  I had a job at an apartment complex down the road from our house and I worked with the son of the head maintenance man.  He was not a Jesus person and he did like to cuss.  So, one day, I just started cussing too.  I had heard enough cuss words at school to know most of them, so I didn’t have to have any lessons…though I did have to work on my voice inflections.

It was a very tricky time in my life because I had to turn the cussing on at 8:00 am and I had to be sure and turn it off at 5:00pm.  That’s what you have to do when you are living a double life.  Under no circumstances did I want to spoil my good boy image at church or with my Mama and Daddy. I do remember one time I let a small one slip and Mama looked at me with eyes that said, “Where did that come from?” Of course, I didn’t, I couldn’t let her know that her baby son was a cusser.

And, as quickly as it came, it passed.  At the end of the summer, I had to go back to school and therefore had to quit my job.  All I know is that the cussing stopped and my rule keeping world got a little easier.  I managed to please a lot of people, but I knew I was far from pleasing God.  It would be several more years before I finally figured out that rule keeping didn’t work and religion didn’t either.  When I was 21, I finally found grace and boy was that a game changer.  Honestly, it is taking me a long time to shake the deep roots of rule keeping and religion.  I’m still working on it.

You might ask, “How do you know if you are under the influence of religion and rule keeping?”  Well, its two main indicators are self-condemnation and a tendency to judge others.  Rule keepers are acutely aware when they or others around them break a rule.  Rule keepers (and religious people) like to point out other people’s sins and faults because it makes them feel better about themselves.  If they can make you feel bad, then it makes them feel better.  It’s a pretty twisted world.

God’s way is so much better than religion and rules.  Did you know His Book, the Bible, actually says that when someone believes in Jesus and becomes one of His followers that there is no condemnation—none—nada?  I mean when the prosecuting attorney and the judge both acquit you—the trial is over.  I’m slowly learning just how valuable that is.  There is an audience of One that Jesus followers have to live for and that is God…their Heavenly Father…their Abba Father…their Dearest Daddy.  I love what Toby Mac (a contemporary Christian singer) said, “I gave God a million reasons not to love me.  Not one of them changed His mind.”  I like that!

Well, I’m glad my cussing summer is ancient history.  I still look back at those two or three months and wonder what in the world was I was thinking?  The truth is…I probably wasn’t.  But now, by grace, that, and all my other failures, warts and sins are forgiven…all because of Jesus.  I’m so grateful for that. If you have never discovered grace and forgiveness, especially God’s kind, I hope you will check it out.  Don’t get confused with religion and rule keeping like I did.  God’s got something far, far, better than that.  Think you’ve messed up too much to be forgiven?  Nope…don’t give it a second thought.  Trust me…He’s got this.

Posted in Family, fear, gratitude, life, loving others, missions, prayer, thankful, travel, Trials

Praying Mantis

When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end—because I am God, your personal God, the Holy of Israel, your Savior.” Isaiah 43:2-3a

He was coming after me.  Over the years, my wife Judy and I have made many trips to Africa.  We have spent time in Niger, Mali, and Uganda.  All were unique in their own way and all were very special.  Our time in Mali was especially so.  We were working with one of our favorite missionaries.  She is the real deal kind—the kind that if you were to stick her finger…she would bleed Jesus.  Those trips were also highlighted because we worked with a group of One-Story girls.  These college age young ladies gave up the comforts of home to spend a couple of years living in the African bush telling people about Jesus.  They were incredible.

So, on one of these trips the team had one of those especially good days.  We were able to minister and share with a lot of folks.  We would start early and go the entire day.  We would do mostly medical missions and story-telling and encouraging.  When we got back to wherever we were staying we would have supper together.  Then, when the African sun had finally called it a day, we would gather under a large open air bamboo….uh, thing.  We would sing, share stories and have a brief devotion before joining the sun and calling it a day too.

These team times were very special moments.  As the days passed, we as a team became closer and closer together.  There were about twelve or fourteen of us…so not too large.  Of course, that didn’t include other guests.  Sometimes Africans from where we were staying would join us, and of course some or all of the interpreters.  And then there were the other guests.  Their names would make you think they were members of the team…but they weren’t.  Praying may have been part of their name but, it wasn’t on their agenda.  They were…praying mantis.

These large insects—about the size of a small eagle—would be drawn to the light as we sang and shared.  Slowly they would start circling, choosing their targets.  Now, I don’t know if they intended to bite someone—I don’t think so, or if they intended to carry someone off to their secret lair.  Regardless, it was just a little spooky.  Finally, and who knows why, I was picked by one of them.  Repeatedly, this fellow would dive and try to land on me—particularly my face. Ok…it was weird.  I was grateful when the prayer time was over. I confess I cheated and kept one eye open looking out for my new found friend.

Judy and I headed back to our hut and prepared for bed.  We had a mosquito net over our bed to keep out those pesky insects and their friends. Soon it was lights out and off to sleep.  Sometime later, we were awakened by the sound of something larger than a mosquito.  Lion? No. Tiger? No? Elephant? No. It was the…praying mantis.  Apparently, he followed me home and waited for the lights to go out before once again taunting me.  It turns out there was a small hole in the top of our mosquito net and he found his way in and then…it happened.

As Judy and I lay in the African night, from out of the darkness (no electricity) the praying mantis landed square on my face.  Now what happened next can’t be written because it goes beyond the 26 letters in the English alphabet. I jumped up and started clawing in the darkness trying to find my stalking insect.  I finally grabbed him (gross), wrestled him to the bed (remember they are the size of eagles…smile), raised the net and chucked him outside somewhere, anywhere but where he was.  And then I did some praying of my own.  “Lord, please don’t let him find the hole again.”  Thankfully, he didn’t, and thankfully that was the last I saw of him.

Well, the next night I had a testimony to share at story time.  We all had a good laugh (and by the way…they really aren’t as big as …eagles but it sure seemed that way.) I remember telling my teammates how grateful I was for answered prayer…and honestly I was.  Until you’ve had something like that land on your face, in the dark, in Africa—well you just can’t appreciate a God who answers unusual prayers. But you know, that’s the kind of God that He is.  Nothing is too big…and nothing is too small for this Dearest Daddy who calls us His own.

One time God was talking to Israel through the prophet Isaiah and He said no matter what we face…when we are over our head in trouble, or maybe between a rock and a hard place or even the occasional fiery furnace—He will be with us. Why?  Because He is our Savior, our Lord, our God. Wow…what a great scripture and I can add to that list “face eating praying mantis.”  God is always there with us and for us and no matter what, He’s got this.  Take that, Mr. Mantis.