Posted in Easter, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, love, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

One Ugly Cross

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is the power of God to us who are being saved.” 1 Corinthians 1:18

It’s an Easter tradition. Well, we are waving goodbye to Easter as it disappears in the rearview mirrors of our lives.  Before we let it get too far gone, I want to share something that happens every year at our church. It is the story of a cross.  I know all Christian churches have crosses, in fact, we have several.  But each Easter there is a special cross that sits at the entrance of our church.  And it has a story to tell.

Our church has two services on Sunday morning—one early and one later.  When people come to our early service on Easter morning, they are greeted by what can only be described as one ugly cross.  It is made of weathered 2×4’s and covered with…chicken wire.  I am sure more than one person sees that cross and wonders how the custodian could forget to store it before services started. What they wouldn’t know is something is going to happen to that old rugged cross…something that will make it beautiful.

Long ago, there was another old rugged cross and it too was ugly.  It was “repurposed” as criminal after criminal was hung from it.  Nails were driven through human flesh and blood was spilt.  Rome didn’t take kindly to those who rebelled against their stern and unfair system of “justice.”  Like the cross in our foyer, it didn’t need to be displayed…it needed to be hidden.  Then, one day, something different happened. Something different indeed.

So, what about the ugly cross at our church?  Well, you see during time in-between our two services a wonderful transformation takes place.  The ladies take dozens of beautiful flowers and completely cover the cross and piece by piece, bloom by bloom, that ugly old cross becomes beautiful.  And two thousand years ago, the same thing happened.

I know, the thought of Jesus, the Rose of Sharon, the perfect Lamb of God, nailed to a Roman cross, well, is anything but beautiful…until we remember.  We remember that He was held not by nails of iron but by love.  We remember that He was there not for His own sin but for ours.  He was there so that we could call His Father our Father and suddenly the beauty of His old, rugged cross takes on a new beauty.  It is a beautiful picture of love, sacrifice, and redemption.

Perhaps that is what led the hymn writer to write, “On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross—the emblem of suffering and shame. And I love that old cross where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain.” Perhaps the author was able to see past the blood and gore to a Savior’s blessed glory. Perhaps he saw what we should see…what we need to see. Paul saw it…that is why he wrote, “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is the power of God to us who are being saved.” No doubt.

Well, at the end of our second service, people stop and pose by the now beautiful cross and its beautiful blooms.  Its beauty reminds us that instead of an instrument of death, it was an instrument of redemption.  Its beauty shouts that He is no longer hanging on a cross, He is no longer tucked away in a borrowed tomb, no, He is alive…He lives.  Hallelujah…what a Savior…what a Redeemer…what a Rescuer.

Monday after Easter, our cross was stripped of its now dying flowers and it was stored away to be rediscovered next year.  But let’s make a point to never forget what the old, rugged cross is all about…redemption, rescue, and love.  Let’s gather each week, whether it is Sunday or another day, and celebrate an old cross and an empty tomb.  Because they are both empty, we have a reason to celebrate.  Need a little help with that? Don’t worry…He’s got that.  Bro. Dewayne

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

Lavish Grace

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” Ephesians 1:7-8

It was a stroke of accidental brilliance and it all started in 1986. Jerry and Janie Murrell offered some advice to Jerry’s four younger brothers. They simply said, “Go to college or start a business.”  They decided on the business route and started a restaurant in Virginia called “Five Guys Burgers and Fries.”  And like they say, “The rest is history.”  Today there are 1,500 locations and 1,500 more on the drawing board.  Their sales pitch is nothing but fresh beef and nothing but fries cooked in 100% peanut oil.  There are no freezers in the joint only coolers.

Well, all that is nice but that is not what I like about Five Guys.  I mean they serve one mean burger and their fries are the best of any national chain but that’s not what grabbed me.  So, here’s the deal. I walk in and order a small cheeseburger.  “What” you say.  Yup you heard right. The reason I order a small cheeseburger is because it is big…really big.  But it gets better.  The guy at the counter says, “what do you want on that cheeseburger?”  And here is when it gets really good.  I look up at the sign and there are probably 20 or 25 topping for the burger.  And get ready.  They are all free.

Did I just say “free?”  Yes sir, I did.  You can get everything from a tomato to a grilled mushroom and the hits just keep on coming.  No extra charge.  Amazing.  The best part is that it is genuinely good food.  Granted burgers and fries for most men are its own food group but you gotta love one loaded beyond words.  But, wait, it is gonna get better.

The guy at the counter says, “You want fries with that burger?”  Hello? Do hens lay eggs? Do preachers eat fried chicken? Do southerners eat grits? “Yes, sir, I want fries” I answer.  So I order a small fry. “What” you say. Yup you heard right.  The reason I order a small fries is man-food heaven.  So, as you watch, they fill a small cup full of fries.  Are you listening? They put the cup in the bag and then they get this scoop the size of a small shovel and dump a full load in the bag.  Wait. Then he gets another half scoop and dumps that in.  Can someone say, “Hallelujah!” Order a small and get a “boat load” for no extra charge.  Holy moly!

But wait…the guy is saying something else.  “Hey dude, do you want a shake with that?” Ok, by now I am drooling all over my shirt.  “Well sure” I respond.  He says, “What kind?”  I look at the sign and there it is.  Heaven.  It says, “milk shakes…all mix-ins are free.” “What?” I said.  “You mean I can have a chocolate, banana, strawberry, tutti-frutti, peanut, marshmallow milkshake with sprinkles on top.” “Yup” he said “all at no extra charge.”!  Excuse me while I wipe my mouth.

So what amazes me about Five Guys is, are you ready, their lavishness.  Their burgers, their fries, their milkshakes are all lavishly done.  They don’t give you a little of anything.  They pour it on, dump it on and then do it again.  Just like God and His grace.  Paul talks about it in Ephesians 1:8-9.  He says we have redemption though His death, the forgiveness of all our sins (someone say hallelujah) and all because of His grace that He lavished on us.  That means He pours it on, pours it on again and then just keeps pouring.  It is amazing grace because of the quality and the quantity.

I can just imagine stepping up to God’s counter and He says, “What do you need, son?” I like it when He calls me “son.” And I explain how this world is a hot mess, how I have made a mess of everything in my life and how I am sure I can’t fix it. Then I would tell Him I could sure use a little grace.  He would smile and say, “Son, I don’t anything little, especially grace.”  And then He would begin to pour it on. To borrow from Luke 6:38 where Jesus speaks about giving, the Book says, A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.” It’s true about giving but it is also true when we need grace.  It is what lavish looks like.

So as soon as you can go to “Five Guys.” Be sure and order small because you are going to get big.  Order all the toppings you want on your burger, all the mix-ins you want in your shake and let them take care of the fries.  You will leave amazed at their lavishness.  But all that just pales to God’s amazing grace.  Just walk up to the counter and tell Him what you need and get ready.  He is going to pour—no He is going to dump— grace all over you.  And, like grace you are gonna be amazed.  That’s why we can just sit back and rest in Him.  With that kind of grace, you know He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

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

Don’t Forget!

Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Philippians 3:13b-14 

I forgot the most important thing.  It was the fall of 1976.  My wife Judy and I were newlyweds and life was good.  Oh, and for the record…smile…here we are 46 years later, and life is well…good. I got a call from my oldest brother Reggie who asked if I wanted to go squirrel hunting and could I find a place for us to go. I told him sure and a good friend who had a good place to go squirrel hunting said sure too. So, we picked a Saturday and set a time. 

Since the really good place was east of Valdosta where Judy and I lived and since he lived in Jacksonville, we agreed to meet at the hunting place.  So, I left early and he, having to drive even further, left earlier and at the appointed hour, we both arrived. I love it when a plan comes together. The sun was just about to say good morning when we got out of our cars.  It turns out squirrels are early risers so the best time for hunting is early, and we were early.  I love it when a plan comes together. 

After a “good morning” and “how are you doing”, we both went to our cars to get our weapons.  I recently learned from a friend that guns are not called guns they are either firearms or weapons.  The Navy does the same thing with boats and ships.  Anyway, as I got to my car and popped the trunk, I reached in to get my gun, weapon or firearm and…wait for it…it wasn’t there.  At first, I thought in the dim light of dim I just wasn’t seeing it so I prodded and poked around and guess what?  The hunter had forgotten the most important thing…his gun, weapon or firearm. 

I was so embarrassed.  My brother was one of those African safari kind of hunters.  He had his hunting vest, his gun, weapon or firearm, a knife and on and on.  He looked the part and there I stood with no gun, weapon, or firearm.  I didn’t even have a knife.  So, I told him apparently in the rush to be on time I had left the most important thing behind.  We groaned, we moaned and then we laughed.  After all, it was funny.  So, with two hunters and one gun, weapon or firearm, off we went into the woods.  And all morning, I followed quietly behind my brother as he shot squirrels and I watched. 

You might be wondering exactly how does a guy who is going hunting forget the tool of the trade…the gun, weapon or firearm.  Well, the best I can figure the answer probably has to do with priorities.  You see, I can only imagine that I was running a little late that morning and at the moment being on time (which for the record is important) caused me to rush and leave my gun, weapon or firearm behind.  In other words, the important took the place of the most important…the urgent overrode the most urgent. And, I have the feeling, it happens way too often. 

All of us have things that are important and most of us have a most important thing.  Paul, the guy who wrote a bunch of the New Testament said that there was one thing he did.  In other words, this one is important, and do you know what it was?  Forgetting the past and looking to the future.  Now that is a good one.  You see, he knew he had a past worth forgetting and a future worth grabbing ahold of and that was what made it important. 

So, what is it in your life that you need to bump up to the top?  Chances are it can’t be bought at a store or rented from Rent One.  Chances are it involves those that you love the most and the ones who love you most.  Don’t wait to figure this one out.  Time is ticking by and there is not a minute to lose.  If you find yourself at a loss, well, there is someone just waiting to help. He is really good at lending clarity for our priorities if we ask. To some He is just God but to others He is Dearest Daddy.  Regardless, He loves you and is waiting to help you.  No doubt about it…He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne 

Posted in Family, fear, friends, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, Military memories, prayer, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel, Trials

Zwei or Saar?

A person’s steps are established by the Lord, and He takes pleasure in his way.” Psalm 37:23

We were so close and yet so far away. It was 1977 and we were brand new at our new assignment in Germany. We had purchased a 1967 Volkswagen station wagon which turned out to have virtually no floorboards just floor mats.  We found that out the first time it rained.  It rains a lot in Germany.  Anyway, we named him Herman.  He wasn’t fast, he wasn’t pretty.  But he would go…most of the time.

Our friends that lived a couple of hours away invited us to come over and spend the weekend with them.  We lived in Sambach which wasn’t too far from Sembach where I worked.  You can probably already tell that things can get confusing in Germany in a hurry.  So, we had been in country for about 10 days, we had our international driver’s license which meant I paid someone $15 dollars, and we had Herman.  Not to sound like Gilligan’s Island but we started out on a three hour trip…a three hour trip.

We were heading to a small city called  Zweibrucken.  That is where our friends lived.  The Air Force had a small airbase there where he worked and since Zweibrucken means “two bridges” I assume they had those also.  It was simple.  Get on this highway with your car named Herman with no floorboards, drive about an hour or so, take a left and head toward Zweibrucken.  Not a deal. Right? Well, not so fast.

Soon Judy and I were traveling along, excited for a new adventure.  We had no traveling experience in Germany, it was raining, remember it does that a lot in Germany, so we have miniature swimming pools for floorboards and the antique wipers are just keeping up with the rain.  The directions were simple: drive for about an hour, take a left and head for Zweibruken. We probably should have written that down.

After about an hour we came to a large directional sign.  It said Saarbrucken straight ahead.  Well, Mr. “I’m a man who doesn’t get lost” looked at his sweet, dear “Don’t look at me, I’ve never been out the country before either” wife and said, “Uh was that Saarbrucken we were looking for?”  You know, if you’ve seen one “brucken” you’ve seen them all.

Well, I couldn’t remember, she couldn’t remember so we kept driving and it kept raining.  We drove for quite a while and suddenly found ourselves in Saarbrucken which happens to be on the French border. We also found ourselves on the verge of having to speak French. Since we didn’t speak French or German either we decided we had better turn around before we started an international incident.

I did a quick turn around and head back the way we came.  We are disoriented, discouraged, and disappointed.  We drove back about 30 miles or so and there we saw a sign:  Zweibruken.  Hallelujah.  I remembered, she remembered—sweet Zweibruken. We exit off of the autobahn (which is German for you can drive fast if you don’t drive a Herman) and as we exited we see our friend just pulling away.  He had come to look for us and was just about to give up.  We saw him, he saw us.  We laughed, we embraced. We had made it.  “Guten Tag.” Guten Tag, indeed!

We still laugh about that crazy story.  Two young people who didn’t know a thing about driving in a foreign country, taking off in a too old Volkswagen station wagon with swimming pools for floor boards and getting lost. Yup, life was good. Now if I remember right I was probably frustrated, a bit mad, discouraged, and discombobulated. I’m not exactly sure what that means but I am sure I felt it that day.  But the bottom line is we had fun. Even then we laughed at the hot mess we were in.  It was a story we would tell our kids one day.  Well, we have and it still brings a smile to our lips.

I know there is so much craziness today.  So many missteps, so many “I don’t knows,” so many “Saars” when it should have been a “Zwei.” But remember this.  There is a God that is writing this story called your life and He is a God who loves a good adventure.  And the things that we count as disruptions just might be one of His great adventures purposely put in our path for our ultimate good and pleasure.  David in Psalm 37:23 writes, “The steps of a good person are ordered [directed, planned] by the Lord.  And He delights in that path.”  In other words, God has a plan and it is a plan that He has written just for you.

I know I sometimes question my GPS when it takes me down some crazy roads to save a minute or two but I am learning to just enjoy the journey.  I wrote a few days back that Judy and I love to drive around and try to get lost.  One of my friends said, “Come on down to Pope County.  I can get you lost.”  I think I’m gonna take him up on it.  I’ll have my trusty GPS and my friend so it should be a great adventure.  I’ll just go along for the ride and rest in Him.  After all, He’s got this.  Guten Tag. Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, forgiveness, friends, Grace, gratitude, life, love, priorities, Scripture, Trials

The Law and Gravity

“But still, the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good.” Romans 7:12

The Law and Gravity: Simply put–things tend to fall downward. It goes something like this–if you hold a rock out and drop it–it probably isn’t going to float–in fact it will “drop like a rock.” That is just what gravity does. And we should be grateful for gravity because without we would just float off into space. But there is more.

Have you ever thought about this? The law of gravity can work for you or against you. Let me explain. Several years ago, we bought my wife Judy a new bike. She and I both like to do some causal riding. Well, a short time later, I said, “Hey, do you want to go for a ride on your new bike.” She said yes and off we went. I learned a long time ago to more or less let Judy lead the way when we ride or walk. She is more adventurous than I am as I tend to do the same thing over and over again.

Well, I let her lead the way. The bottom line is that seven miles later we got back home and because of the route she chose there were some slightly sore body parts. Overall, though, it was an enjoyable ride–for the most part. Let me explain. We ended up on a bike trail near our house and then we cut through over by our middle school and ended up on Liberty Road. I had ridden this way before, and she had too but it had been a while.

What I didn’t know was they had moved Mount Everest onto Liberty Road. You probably have never ridden that road but maybe you have ridden on one like it. My road had a pretty good hill on it and since it had been a while since we had faced a hill–well–we experienced the law of gravity. As we climbed that stinking hill, the law of gravity said, “Pedal harder.” My legs responded with, “I don’t think so.” My legs got the short end of the stick and reluctantly pedaled me up the hill. There was no doubt—the law of gravity was against me.

Then an amazing thing happened. As we reached the top of the hill, we started DOWN the other side and all of a sudden we were flying–without even pedaling. Oh the joy–oh the wonder…and guess what–the law of gravity that was against me was now for me and it made all the difference. Same law–same hill just two different sides.

So, the law of gravity can be helpful or hurtful and so can another set of laws. You see God’s law, like the law of gravity, has a good side and a more difficult side. Let me explain. One of the primary purposes of God’s Big Ten is to show us our sin and need for a Savior. It says, “This is how you come up short and you need some help.” Our sin, as pointed out by the Law, is the very thing that condemns us to be eternally separated from God–at that point it is against us. But the bottom line is the law itself is holy, and it’s commands are holy and right and good.”

But, receive the forgiveness offered by God through Jesus and the Big Ten become a great guideline for living. It says, don’t lie–it really complicates life. Don’t steal–it will put you in jail. Don’t commit adultery–it will destroy your marriage. Don’t have other gods–enough said. You see the do nots and do’s are there because God knows that life is better within the scope of these laws. In that way the law of good–it is for us.

So, the next time you are pedaling or walking up a hill or the next time you drop your keys, remember the law of gravity has two sides. And the next time you are tempted to disobey God’s law remember it is there to point you in the right direction. And if you have never trusted Jesus as your Savior, it is shouting that it is time for a U-turn–right into the arms of a God who loves you very much. Oh, there’s more. When you are heading uphill in life, it’s great to know that “He’s got this.” Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, fear, food, forgiveness, life, love, loving others, Scripture, Southern born, Trials, wisdom

Green Gold

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13

There it was…green gold.  Well, it isn’t news to hardly anyone but inflation is here and it is quite healthy.  I don’t go to the store, especially the grocery store, too often.  I suppose that helps feed (no pun intended) the sticker shock when I do.  I’ve lived way long enough to enjoy telling my grandchildren and those significantly younger than me about “the good old days.”  And if inflation is good for nothing else, it sure gives me more fodder for my “good old days” stories.

My wife Judy and I are both from the south and like many Southerners, we are fans of things southern, especially food.  Enter, stage right, watermelon.  Both of us are big fans of watermelon but my wife is president of the watermelon fan club.  The only thing I have never understood is her need to baptize her watermelon with salt.  It just doesn’t make sense.  Well, starting about this time of the year, it is not uncommon for her to go to the store and come home with a watermelon.  And then it happened.

She indeed got to the store, not looking for a watermelon but since the produce department is at the entrance, she wandered through.  And, there they sat…watermelons.  The store had a whole big bin of them…there for the taking.  And then she saw the price.  These small, round watermelons, from Mexico mind you, were there for the taking for…wait for it…just about ten dollars each. What? You’re kidding, right?  Nope.  And just in case you don’t live in a watermelon world, a year ago a high price would have been less than half that.

She sent a picture of the bin of green gold to the family group text, and we all groaned and moaned.  Later that night she also shared that four, count them, four ears of sweet corn were over four dollars…more than a dollar an ear.  And the hard news is if Judy loves watermelon…she craves sweet corn.  What in the world is going on?  And I thought people hoarding toilet tissue was weird.

You see, when I was a kid, watermelons had seeds and were the shape and size of the Goodyear blimp.  These monsters often weighed twenty or more pounds, were always sweet as honey and cost fifty cents.  Slowly, over time, they shrank and a really sweet one is like finding a needle in a haystack.  Corn, not too terribly long ago would set you back a couple of dollars for a dozen—not two ears. What in the world is going on?

Well, they say it is all about supply chain issues, the price of fuel, the state of world politics and Bigfoot.  Well, no one has mentioned Bigfoot yet, but I’m sure it figures in there somewhere.  Prices are in such a flux that sticker shock and the potential for higher prices tomorrow dominate too much of our time and energy.  If only there was something that hasn’t gone up.  There is.

I am glad to report that God has not raised His prices.  He still offers eternal life to anyone who believes for the grand total of…zero.  How is that possible? When He came up with the plan to let us become part of His family, He paid the entire bill—and what a bill it was.  It involved His Son being nailed to a cross and dying for the sins of the whole, entire, world. Every man, woman or child who believes and asks receives a clean bill (no pun intended) of spiritual health.   Every sin, no matter what, is forgiven.  It has been that way since the first Christmas and Easter, and it will stay that way.  He is not going to raise the rate.

You won’t find a better deal no matter how far and wide you look. Someone said heaven isn’t about doing…it is about done.  It is not about keeping a bunch of rules…it is about a relationship with the One who made us all. So, if you are shopping for some hope, if you are in the market for a new beginning, you need to start right there.  I bought in (no pun intended) a long time ago and it was the best decision of my life, and it will be the best decision of your life too.  Paul, the guy who wrote a chunk of the New Testament, wrote that anyone, a.n.y.o.n.e., who asks will be forgiven.  What a deal.

Well, I’m not sure what is going to happen with me and Judy and our watermelon habit.  I’m not sure what she will do about sweet corn gold either, but I do know this.  No matter what, my Father, the One who creates watermelons and sweet corn, has it covered.  He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, fear, forgiveness, friends, Grace, gratitude, life, love, loving others, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, Trials

Faithful Friend

Circumstances can make for strange bed fellows. There was a group of guys who hung together–ten of them in fact. Truth be known in another world they would have never been friends. Nine of the guys were Jewish and one was a Samaritan. They lived on opposite sides of the tracks. The Jewish guys would have been raised to believe that the Samaritans were “less than” and the Samaritan would have been raised to believe that all Jews were “better than you” temple goers. Like oil and gas, they wouldn’t have mixed. Leprosy changed all that.

We are not told how, who knows, but they contracted leprosy or the walking death. Their lives were reduced to isolation and suspicion. During the COVID mask days, if you went  to Walmart without a mask, you might know some of how they felt. They were forced to live away, far away and proclaim their uncleanness to anyone they met. The fact that nine were Jews and one was a Samaritan just didn’t matter anymore.

Well, one day something happened. Luke 17:11-17 tells us Jesus was walking along and He heard this group hollering. They were saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” We aren’t told of how they knew of Jesus or why they believed He could change their lives. All we do know is that they somehow believed and hollered. And Jesus answered.

Over the distance he hollers back, “Go show yourselves to the priest.” There was not a pronouncement of healing. There was only a command to trust. They found themselves at the crossroads of reality and faith. They looked at their diseased bodies and weighed it against faith. A step toward the priest meant they believed. To stand where they were meant “nope.” Well, “hope” beat out “nope” and off they went.

As they took the first step–and the one after that–amazingly they were healed. You could hear the whooping and hollering across the wilderness. Man, were they happy! They were free and they were outta there. Fading in the dust was the Master who had set them free. But wait. One of them is coming back. It is the Samaritan–the unlikely one. He falls at the feet of the Freedom Giver and gives Him thanks and praise. The unlikely one, and the only one, who gets it right.

Jesus wonders, “Weren’t there ten of these guys?” Weren’t nine of them good Jewish boys?” He was impressed that this “foreigner” came back to say thanks and I think he gets a second helping. Jesus says “Go your way, your faith has healed you.” I think the Samaritan dude got healed of leprosy and a relationship with the Healer. He got more–way more.

There are two things we need to pack away from this story. First, the Jesus who became your BFF (that’s best friend forever) in this mess called life wants to be your BFF everyday. The One who took care of your fears and anxieties during the storm wants to take care of them after the storm. He wants to be your Savior, your Redeemer, your Rescuer, not for a while, but forever.

Linked to that is this idea of gratitude. When the nine were set free they left Jesus in the dust, “adios,” see you later. They were thankful for the moment but not the minutes following. The Samaritan, however, came back. He was determined not to forget what Jesus had done for him. The right thing, the wise thing but probably not the popular thing.

So, we ponder, what will we do tomorrow and the day after? Are you gonna run as fast as you can to a life crammed with busy and stuff or are you going remember the One who stood by your side and spoke to your heart? As rumors continue to circulate of life returning to normal, the noise of life will get louder and louder. Over the din, plan now not to forget the One who whispered, “Rest in Me” and “I’ve got this.” Bro. Dewayne

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

The Johnson Shut-Ins

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

They were a hoot and a blessing.  My role as a full-time pastor began in 1983.  I had the privilege of pastoring the LaMonte Baptist Church in the small town of LaMonte, Missouri.  We had a population of several hundred people, few dozen dogs, and life was good.  If you have ever watched “The Andy Griffith Show” then you can imagine life in LaMonte.  It was good living with a good bunch of folks.

A great example of those good folks were Leo and Opal Johnson.  They lived catty corner from the parsonage which sat right across the street from our church.  When we went to LaMonte, our family consisted of me, my wife Judy, and our two daughters—Rebecca and Jennifer.  Later, we added a dog named Sam.  Our daughters were two and three and that alone made life interesting.

I’m pretty sure God put the Johnsons catty corner from us for a good reason.  They were like family, kinda like an uncle and aunt, or maybe even a mom and dad and the truth was…we needed them.  You see, for whatever reason, our girls liked to take their clothes off—in the front yard—of the parsonage.  Judy and I never figured out why…they just did.  Sometimes it was to play with the water hose and sometimes it was just because.  At any rate, Opal would call us occasionally just to let us know that they had done it again and we would go out and fix it, again.

Our dog Sam was really fond of the Johnson’s too.  Some mornings you could smell frying bacon wafting from across the road.  Opal was cooking breakfast.  Invariably, it was just about that time that Sam would have to go outside.  We finally figured it out that it had nothing to do with needing to go…it had to do with needing to visit the Johnsons.  Sam would go and scratch on their front door looking for some breakfast…which she always got. Yup, I think God knew we needed the Johnsons. They were an important part of our lives and when they were out of town…we sure missed them.

They were beyond faithful in attending church and I always appreciated that.  Sometimes, though, they were gone and often they went to see, “The Johnson Shut-Ins.”  Leo would come and say, “Pastor, we are going to the Johnson Shut-ins this weekend.”  I so appreciated their commitment to their elderly relatives.  I had never met that side of their family, but I was sure they were as nice as Leo and Opal.  Well, a while later, I found out that the Johnson Shut-ins weren’t relatives at all.  It turns out there was a beautiful park in Southern Missouri called, wait for it, “The Johnson Shut-ins.”  Here all the time I thought they were going to see their relatives and instead they were going camping.  It still makes me smile.

Leo and Opal were like family to us long after we left LaMonte.  In fact, when the time came for us to go, God just about had to pry us out of LaMonte and friends like them were a big part of the reason.  I love that God always knows just what we need.  Whether it was special friends or a new next chapter in the story of our lives…He always gets it right.

Not too many years ago, God decided it was time for Leo to go live with Him and it was my privilege to share at his service.  I spoke about faithfulness, loving God, cutting firewood, and a little dog named Sam who loved to eat breakfast with Leo.  I also told the story about the Johnson Shut-Ins.  I told the folks that day about a man and his wife who were a whole lot like Jesus and who always had time to share a little love.

We all receive many gifts throughout our lives.  Of course, none tops the greatest gift ever which is eternal life through Jesus.  You can’t top that one.  But always remember the greatest gifts aren’t bought in a store—they often live catty corner from us.  They are the people that God brings into our lives to help us as we journey through this life.  He knows we need Him, and He knows we need others.  God sends people to help build us up—to encourage us.  And He, well, He is always there too, ready to help because you know, “He’s got this.” Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, friends, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, Scripture, thankful, Trials

Pickup Offer

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

I needed a truck.  They say that there is one thing better than owning a truck.  It is having a friend with a truck.  A while back, Judy and I needed some new chairs for our patio.  We found what we wanted at a not-so-local home and garden center.  There were two problems.  First, the store was located exactly 36.6 miles from our house.  The other problem was the fact that eight chairs were not going to fit in our little car.

We used to have a van and that served as our pickup truck.  While it wasn’t too manly, it did get the job done.  But now we have a little car.  The little car is zippy, and the little car gets 42 miles per gallon, but the little car will not carry eight chairs.  The fact of the matter is the little car will not carry one chair.  I had a problem. I needed a truck.  Fortunately for me I have a friend who has one.  He’s also the kind of friend you can call at 2:00 am and he will come.  He’s the kind of friend who would loan me his great, big, shiny pickup truck.

I called, he said yes, and soon Judy and I were on our way to pick up the pickup.  I had ridden in the truck before but never driven it.  It was a big, manly truck which probably explains why I ran over six curbs in the first five miles.  Judy, with some effort, climbed into the passenger side and I, with some effort, climbed into the driver’s side.  Instantly something happened.  As I slid behind the wheel I felt like John Wayne, Bruce Willis and Iron Man all rolled into one.  Watch out boys, here comes “the Duke.”

I felt manly. I found myself looking down at people in lesser vehicles to see if they were looking up at me and admiring my manly throne on wheels.  They weren’t.  But the bottom line is when I climbed into this massive hunk of raw steel, I felt more. Bigger. Stronger. Almost invincible.  Somehow, what I was riding in changed the way I saw myself.  Let me say that again.  What I was in changed the way I saw myself.

It was just about then that I realized the massive truck I was riding in was a lot like Jesus and me. You see the Bible teaches us that if anyone is in Christ, they become a new creation.  Everything in the past is past and everything becomes new.  While climbing in the truck didn’t change who I was, it did make me see myself differently.  Jesus goes one step further.  He not only makes me see myself differently…He in fact makes me different.  Climb into Jesus and things change—you change.  You become a new creation.

It gets even better.  In Romans 8:1, Paul writes, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  No condemnation.  That means all the sins are forgiven and all the charges have been dropped.  I stand before the Judge knowing that I can’t be condemned. He wrote the law, passed the sentence, and then paid the penalty. The Judge paid the price for my sin.  That is amazing.

Why stop now?  Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10 “For we are His workmanship [His masterpiece], created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Whoa.  Masterpiece?  Created for good works?  You see, the truck made me feel like more, but Jesus made me more.  Now don’t start getting all puffed up thinking you did something to deserve this.  It’s all Him.  The only thing we do is climb in and that happens only because we believe.  That’s it.  Faith alone.

So, if you need a truck, I hope you have a good friend…the kind you can call at 2:00 am…the kind that will loan you his big, shiny truck.  But when it comes to a Savior, well, you can’t borrow that; you need Him for yourself, personally.  And the best part, He is just waiting for you to call.  He’s just waiting to make you new…to make you a masterpiece.  He’s just waiting to be there for you.  And all that stuff, the worry, anxiousness, fear, uncertainty, doubt, insecurity, and a bunch of other stuff you’ve been carrying…just toss it in the back of His truck and let Him carry it.  You just rest in Him.  He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Easter, Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, love, prayer, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, wisdom

The Easter Suit

But God demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

It’s just another one of those special memories.  It was spring in Jacksonville, Florida—number fifteen or so in my life journey.  Back in those days, Easter was a big deal, and so was what you wore.  We were raised in the tradition that Easter meant a new outfit…it is just what we did.  But just like Christmas beliefs and traditions sometimes change…so did this Easter tradition.  As we got older…the new outfits got fewer and fewer—but then—for some reason, it happened.  One year, when I was in my mid-teens, Momma and Daddy loaded me up in the car, drove across town to a men’s store for the sole purpose of buying me an Easter suit.

I’m not sure what prompted this or a hundred other sacrifices they made for us, but it happened.  The name of the store is lost to time, but it may have been Tatum’s—a store known for quality men’s clothing at a good price.  So, we arrived and went in and soon I was trying on suits.  They say some things never change and that is true.  Today when I shop for just about anything it isn’t the label that matters or even the style—price takes the day.  It is a matter of practicality and budget.  It is true today and it was true even then.  Remember, somethings don’t change.

Soon, with the help of our salesperson, we had settled on a subtle green tweed suit.  It was a very nice suit and it was on sale. I would later realize that might have been because it was a rather heavy wool material and there wasn’t a lot of demand for that in Florida.  Regardless, it was soon mine.  But Momma and Daddy weren’t done yet.  The salesman led us over to the shirt department and together we picked out a creamy yellow shirt that matched the suit perfectly.  But wait…there was more.  Next came a tie.  To this day I can remember this—my first tie—bought just for me.  It was a loosely woven linen striped tie of pastel colors.  Again, a perfect match for the new suit and shirt.

There was some tailoring to the done but by Easter I was set and dressed to the nines.  That morning, I assembled my new outfit and headed off to church.  I was so proud but for a special reason…one you have read in Grits before.  I was proud because of all my parents had done to make sure I had a new Easter suit. Why that year? I don’t know.  Maybe it was because I was stepping into manhood.  All I know is that year, and for several years that followed, the subtle green wool suit, which was too warm for Florida weather, owned a place in my closet. It was special and that was all that mattered. It was a suit of love…a suit of sacrifice.

Looking back their Easter sacrifice became even more special. You see that gift and sacrifice reminded me of the gift and sacrifice that God made for us that first Easter.  He gave His best, His only Son to a Roman cross so we could be forgiven and dressed in His righteousness.  And unlike my suit that was a little too warm for Florida…His gift was perfect…in more ways than one. A perfect sacrifice for an imperfect world filled with imperfect people. And why? Because of love.

Easter, Resurrection Sunday, is in the rearview mirror now but it would serve us well to remember that every time the sun rises, it reminds us of what happened that Sunday morning so long ago. It is no accident that Christians worship on Sunday…by design it is a celebration of the resurrection. I’m not sure how long I held onto that subtle green, too warm, suit but I have never forgotten the love that bought it for me.  And I’m sure I will never forget the love of a God who cared enough to give His very best so that we could call Him “Dearest Daddy.”

Paul, one of the writers of the New Testament wrote a letter to the Christians in Rome.  In it, he gave them an Easter suit of sorts, a reminder of God’s great love.  He wrote, “But God demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  Imagine that—broken and unworthy—and yet He loved, and He gave.  As we journey this week, don’t leave the message of Easter behind.  He loves us, He cares for us, and He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne