Posted in fear, Grace, life, loving others, missions, Scripture, travel, Trials, wisdom

Big Rivers, Hungry Crocs, and Fat Hippos

But if you don’t do this, you will certainly sin against the Lord; be sure your sin will catch up with you.”  Numbers 32:23

How do things like this happen?  If you are older than three, you have probably already bumped into something that got bigger than you intended.  Whether you are a toddler reaching for the cookie jar or a teenager thinking no one will ever know or in a marriage pushing the limits…well, you’ve probably had that emptiness in your stomach when the cookie jar crashes, or dad says, “son, we need to talk” or you come home to an empty house because word got around.  How does it happen?

Really the answer to that question is older than time and bigger than a short story with a big truth or, for that matter, a thick book full of truths but maybe we can at least cast a little light in the arena.  Judy and I have been to East Africa and the country of Uganda more than a few  times.  We launch our trips to the islands of Lake Victoria from the small town of Jinga.  We enter town, with the lake on our right, and cross a small channel that leads to a decent size dam.  On the other side of the dam, and no more than fifty yards wide, is the origin of the mighty Nile River.

Now trust me, if you saw the mighty Nile at this point you wouldn’t be too impressed.  It wanders through the Ugandan countryside on its way north before eventually emptying into the Mediterranean Sea.  The journey is somewhere over 4,100 miles and slowly the river grows and grows until it is almost two miles wide at some points.  Judy and I had the opportunity to take a ride on the Nile and besides being impressed by its size, I was more than impressed with the very large and very hungry, crocodiles that call the Nile home.  Oh, and did I mention the animal that causes more deaths in Africa than any other animal? It might not be what you think—the hippopotamus and there are lots of them in the Nile. Lots.

So, we begin with something that is relatively small that becomes large and we have something relatively benign that is dangerously filled with things that want to eat you or stomp you to death.  Either way—something little becomes big and dangerous.  And that, dear friend, is how things get out of control in our lives too.  It starts as something we think we can handle, something that almost, almost, seems safe and before long—we have a monster on our hands.  Let’s revisit the Nile.

If you were to start floating down the Nile in your little boat the first chunk of your journey would be easy.  But somewhere upstream (since the Nile flows north) there is something that will kill you—Murchison Falls.  The entire Nile River is funneled down into a rock channel that is only 23 feet wide before the water violently plummets 141 feet.  Go there and you are dead—no exceptions.  It’s the same results when we don’t pay attention to the tension that sometimes occurs in our lives.  When that tension is there…it is there for a reason.  Andy Stanley gives two good pieces of advice.  First, pay attention to the tension; and two, if something bothers you, let it bother you.  That’s good stuff.

So the big truth today is we sometimes need to hit the pause button.  We also need to understand that we are not the exception to the rule…we can get hurt, we can create a disaster, and yes, someone will find out. Oh, by the way, do you really think it is a secret from God? The Old Testament gives us a sound warning—be sure your sins will find you out and often, when it does, well, its gonna leave a mark—a bruise—or worse.  As you journey today or tomorrow, you might want to listen for the Whisperer whispering His gentle words of warning.  Don’t ignore them…He knows truth and He knows consequences.  Our sin cost His Son His life.  However, if we ask, He will be there to help and to guide. No matter how big the crocs, or how fat the hippos, or how violent the falls—you can trust the fact that, “He’s got this.”    Bro. Dewayne

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

Numbers Talk

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

Numbers talk. Take 2.29.  Add a dollar mark and it becomes the price for a value meal at your local fast food place, or perhaps the price for gallon of gas…at least a while back.  At a colon and it becomes the time on a clock twice a day, early morning and mid- afternoon.  Numbers talk.  Take 4.5.6.  At first glance they are three random sequential numbers—three numbers connected only by their sequence. I guess you could say it is a picture of our neighborhood—a couple of evens and one odd ball.  Of course, you could place these numbers on a clock and they too would become a time that occurs twice a day, everyday…once early in the morning and once later in the afternoon.  Numbers talk.

For the folks who live in the small Southern Illinois town of Harrisburg those numbers speak loudly and mournfully. The year was 2012 and it was a leap year with February having twenty-nine days…or letting the numbers talk it was 2.29.  The National Weather Service had forecasted potentially dangerous weather, and some had taken the warning seriously.  Others, softened by previous warnings, assumed it would be another false alarm.  At 4:56 in the morning, or 4.5.6 a line of damaging storms tore through the Southwest side of Harrisburg and in that tangle of lightening, thunder, wind, and rain raged an F-4 tornado.  For miles and miles, it tore through the countryside and several small towns…one of which was Harrisburg.

The tornado sirens were screaming their harrowing sound warning people of the impending disaster.  I heard the sirens and yet stayed comfortably in my bed till Judy made me get up.  My daughter and her husband were staying with us for the night and he and I went out the backdoor to see what we could see in the darkness.  Looking Southeast, in a flash of lightening we saw, what could only be the tornado, as it ripped through that part of our small community.  Before long, sirens were racing all through the town as police, fire and ambulances all raced to help those impacted by the storm. Streets were almost crowded with neighbors helping neighbors.

Daylight revealed the damage and destruction.  Where homes and businesses stood, now were piles of debris. Much of that part of town was severely damaged and sadly, eight people were torn from our lives that day and many more were injured.  Suddenly what we had seen so many times on the Weather Channel and the national news was in our backyard.  It was amazing to see how help poured in from all over the nation.  Various relief agencies, as well as hundreds of everyday people came to our town to help in any way they could.  Churches, often separated by doctrine or denomination, came together to help the hurting.  For the coming months, our church and other organizations would house and feed hundreds of volunteers who came to clean up and help rebuild the community.  We mourned together, we worked together, and we came together, and through it all, we emerged a stronger community.

So, if this year was a leap year then yesterday would have been the 29th and not the first day of March and it would have been the ninth observance of the Harrisburg Leap Day tornado.  I know that day is firmly etched in the minds and memories of everyone who lived in Harrisburg at the time.  But also etched there is the beautiful and powerful unity that we experienced during the days that followed the 29th.  Slowly, the physical scars have be repaired and rebuilt but the scars of those lost, of course, will remain forever.

There’s a verse in the Bible (written by a guy locked up in prison for nothing more than being a Jesus follower) that talks about how God can bring good from even the worse-case scenario. Now it doesn’t say that everything is good, because that just simply wouldn’t be true.  But it does say for those who are willing to trust, those who are willing to look and see, that He can bring good.  I know for me that is the memory of people coming together to help people.  Religion and politics, social status, and separation were laid aside as people just helped.  And, perhaps, that was when the seed was firmly planted in my heart that no matter what—how tall the mountain or wide the raging river, no matter how hot the fire or difficult the journey, that my Dearest Daddy, is in control. Perhaps that is when I knew, “He’s got this” and He still does. Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, fear, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, prayer, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, Trials, wisdom

A Morning Nightmare

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” 2 Corinthians 1:4

It was the thing that nightmares are made of.  I wasn’t there for this, but trust me I have lived it over and over again with my wife, Judy. Let me tell you the story.  When she was four or five years old, her father and mother went to work and so she had a babysitter that lived close by. It was a regular routine. Simple.  Simple and routine till one day it wasn’t.

On the first day of school, the babysitter and her friend were taking the kids to school. The kids were entering first grade, there was no kindergarten. After they had dropped the kids off, it was back to her house again.  If you’ve ever been to Valdosta, Georgia you need to know multiple times at multiple locations train tracks would cross the roads and highways.  Just a few miles from the grade school was a pulpwood plant and often trains would drop off logs to be made into paper.  On that particular morning, after leaving the school, the car approached this train crossing.  In the early 60’s, many of the crossings didn’t have lights or gates and this was one of those.  As the car approached the crossing, that’s when it happened.

It was not unusual for trains to just stop short of the crossing and sit there.  As the car approached the crossing there was a train and the young lady who was driving assumed it was just waiting as they often did.  Unfortunately, she was wrong.  As the car neared the crossing and proceeded onto the tracks, she realized that the train was in fact moving—slowly—but moving.  In a panic she thought she was pressing the gas pedal, when in fact she pressed the brake—stopping the car dead on the track. As if in slow motion, the train hit the car and slowly, methodically pushed it down the tracks.  Even at such a slow speed, it took a while for the train to stop. The damage was extensive.

The collision was not without consequences and injuries.  The lady in the front passenger seat where the train hit received two broken arms.  The girl behind the passenger seat had a broken leg.  The driver literally had a nervous breakdown.  Thankfully, four-year-old Judy was only knocked to the floorboard where she tried her best to hold on to the “hump.”  While everyone was taken to the hospital, gratefully the injuries, though serious, were not life threatening. As often is the case in situations like this, not all the injuries were physical.

When I met Judy in 1974, she was sixteen and full of fun and life.  Because she lived on the other side of most of the tracks, we would often have to cross them.  While never in a dangerous way, if I heard a training coming, I would speed up to make it across the crossing.  I still remember the fear that came across her face.  Each time it happened, she was reliving what happened.  The accident still deeply affected her emotionally. Even if there was a crossing guard with lights, she would tense up, even though I was slowing down to a stop.  What happened that morning 12 years earlier left lifelong scars.

At first I didn’t really understand and thought perhaps, just perhaps, she was overreacting.  But it didn’t take years, or months or even more than a couple of weeks, for me to realize that for her…this was a big deal.  I also quickly realized that I owed it to her, this young woman I loved, to be very careful around train tracks.  It didn’t scare me one bit, but it did scare the one I loved, the one I cared for.

So, can I ask you a question?  Is there someone in your life, in your world that you care about that might need a bit of special consideration? Is there someone who has a life experience that has left them scarred or wounded?  Divorce? Tragedy? Abuse? Death? Illness? Prejudice? You see, in our very imperfect world, you don’t have to travel far to find the wounded and the broken.  And what isn’t a big deal to you, might be a tsunami of emotions and difficult memories for someone else.  And honestly, we need to be sensitive.  We need to care. Jesus did that so well.  The Bible tells how God cares and comforts us in our trouble so we can care and comfort those we meet in our daily walkabout life.

So, if you bump into someone’s world and they seem to act differently in a certain situation, why not precede with caution?  Why not be the one that brings comfort and understanding to their fractured moment? You could be the one that finally brings healing and peace in their world.  Judy is much better now.  But if there is an unguarded crossing and a train whistle in the distance, you can bet I still slow down and check the situation out.  Judy, well, she knows this guy loves her enough to do exactly that. And, by the way, there is a Dearest Daddy who loves His kids even more than that.  And no matter how your world is scarred or rocked…rest assured, He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

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

Miracles and Concubines

Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” Genesis 17:17

I quit just a little too soon.  I think there must have been this line in heaven where all the babies wait to be assigned dads, moms, skills, and bodies in heaven.  I can just imagine me standing there waiting.  I am watching as all the boy babies make it to the front and they are soon on their way with these bodies that are destined to be tall and muscular.  They make the jump to earth and their new homes just waiting to grow up and become the next Babe Ruth or Michael Jordan.  I can also imagine my turn at the front of the line and Saint Peter saying something about sports and I miss understood and thought he said something about ketchup, and I said, “Sure, I’ll take a squirt.” Anyway, I arrived on earth a little shorter than average and not a sports bone in my body.  I should have listened closer.

All this became pretty apparent when it came to choosing teams.  Whether it was kickball, volleyball, basketball, dodgeball, or baseball, when the teams were chosen I was near the end of the line. As far as school sports, well, there were hundreds of kids in the schools I attended and trust me no one ever offered me a contract.  The only place I had a measure of success was, of course, at church.  I managed to make the church softball team though it was the “B” team. We did play tackle football after our Bible study time on Wednesday nights and there I made a name for myself. One of our teachers was named Eddie and he was, well, one large man and no one could tackle him, so they called him “Big Eddie.”  While I wasn’t nearly that large, I was harder to tackle so I gained the name “Little Eddie.”  Hey, when you are nameless in the world of sports, you will take anything.

My only foray into “professional sports” was Little League baseball when I was about 9 or 10.  I don’t remember if I actually made the team, or if everyone made the team.  Regardless, we were called the Gators and we, or rather they, were pretty good.  Again, I had absolutely no talents in baseball, so I was assigned to right field on the rare occasions that I got to play.  I was the kid who prayed a lot during the games.  It wasn’t that I was particularly spiritual—it was emotional survival.  First, I would pray that they wouldn’t play me and then, if they did, I would pray that no one would hit the ball to right field.  It didn’t work. Invariably someone would and well, it wasn’t good.

Then, of course, there was the batting thing.  Did you know that there are players who actually say they can see the stitches on the ball as it comes toward them?  Did you know there are players who actually know when and how to swing?  Can you guess I wasn’t one of those players?  Nope, the pitcher would pitch, and I would wonder where the ball was. That wasn’t pretty either.  So, the sad (you are feeling sorry for me by now, aren’t you) bottom line is that one day I just refused to go to practice.  I made it through about three quarters of the season and I just gave it up—I quit.

Well, guess what?  It turns out that even without me, the Gators ended up winning the championship.  Yup, they sure did.  I remember, the coach came by my house one evening and he was carrying a trophy.  He said that the team had won it all and even though I hadn’t finished the season, he wanted me to have a trophy.  I probably mumbled something about quitting because I was hit by a semi-truck and thanked him for bringing the trophy by.  The truth was there was no excuse—I just quit. And the other truth is because of that, the trophy meant absolutely, the grand total of—nothing.  I didn’t earn it and I didn’t deserve it.  Not because I wasn’t good, but because I didn’t finish.

I really don’t have a lot of regrets life but that is a small one I do own.  I’m ok with not being tall and gifted in sports, but I’m really not ok with being a quitter.  Not then—not now. If I would have waited, I could have been a champion, but I didn’t wait it out.  You know there was a guy in the Bible who had the same issue.  God had promised him a son, an heir.  The only problem was he and his wife were old—really old.  In fact, when God told him he was going to have a son, this guy fell on his face and laughed and said, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”

Instead of believing God, he decided to do things his way or really Sarah’s way. Since she couldn’t conceive, they opted for a concubine rather than wait on the miracle.  What a bad idea.  He and the concubine did have a son, but it wasn’t the son God had promised.  It really didn’t go well…and sadly it still isn’t going well.  Much of the conflict in that part of the world stems from this one man.  Oh, the consequences.

Oh, and by the way, guess what?  When they were both older than dirt, Sarah, his wife, did in fact conceive and the promised son was born.  God came through after all—surprise, surprise.  If only they had finished the season…if only they had waited, how different things would have been.  The good news is that God kept His word and blessed Abraham beyond his wildest dreams. You see even though Abraham quit believing, God never quit believing in him…and He won’t quit believing in you either.  I like that…actually, I love that.  Regardless of what you are waiting on, just hang on…just be patient, just wait and see what God has in mind. He’s never late and He’s never early, He’s right on time because He’s got this. Bro. Dewayne

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 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, 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.