Posted in fear, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, prayer, priorities, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

History and Hope

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35

It was a bright, wonderfully normal September morning and then everything changed.  Nineteen years ago today our country found itself under attack by terrorists on a scale that was beyond almost everyone’s imagination. More amazingly it played out on national television for all of us to witness and mourn.

That morning I walked into the church office like dozens of times before…only this time was different.  As I entered the door the secretary asked if I had heard that a plane had crashed into one of the world trade buildings.  “Really?” I asked almost casually.” “Was it a big one or what?”  She didn’t know and then I went into my office and slowly the news begin to spread.  A large airliner had been hijacked and flown into one of the towers.  Shortly, again on live television, we were shocked beyond belief as a second airliner flew into the other tower.  And then—both towers collapsed.  Even as I write this it doesn’t seem possible—but many of us saw it with our own eyes. Later another airliner crashed into the Pentagon. And there was more. Another hijacked aircraft heading to yet another target was taken back from the terrorists by a bunch of heroes. It crashed into a Pennsylvania field saving hundreds or maybe even thousands of lives.

The days that followed were like something we have never seen before.  All flights in over the United States were grounded.  New York, ground zero, was shutdown.  People huddled over televisions soaking up any and all news and in the process becoming more and more afraid.  To many it seemed like the end of the world as we knew it.  And I suppose in some ways it was. We needed a miracle—we needed an encounter with the living God.

In a matter of a couple of days we witnessed something else.  We saw something that was tremendously encouraging and a short time later something that was tremendously sad.  First, we witnessed a coming together of the two major political parties in America.  We watched as Democrats and Republicans stood on the Capital steps together and sang “God Bless America.”  We were amazed.  We were encouraged.  It was one of our finest hours in the modern era and it was woefully short.  Within a day, the finger pointing started as one party started blaming the other and sadly we found ourselves divided.  In a time when we desperately needed to be together we were apart.

Fast forward 19 years and we find ourselves in yet another extremely difficult time.  It is totally different and yet eerily similar.  We are facing circumstances that have not been seen in modern times.  The death toll is higher and the enemy faceless.  And this time…we skipped the moment of unity and went straight to the finger pointing. We are a nation divided when we desperately need to be a nation united. Just like 19 years ago we are in desperate need of God and His healing power. The only hope lies in the living Hope—Jesus Christ.

God has put in place the army He intends to use.  It is not Democrat, it is not Republican, it is you and I—it is His church-the body of Christ.  If there was ever a time when followers of Jesus need to act like followers of Jesus—it is now.  It is not a time for bigotry or nor is it a time for fussing over things that don’t matter.  It is not a time for circling the wagons and defending the fort.  It is a time to share the love, the kindness, the grace that every Jesus follower has experienced.  It is time to give what we have been given.

I don’t know what this world is going to look like over the next few years.  What I do know is that if this army of Jesus people will be Jesus to the world around us—it can, it will be a better place.  Will it be perfect?  Of course not—after all experiencing God’s grace doesn’t make us perfect—it makes us forgiven and forgiven people forgive others. Jesus said “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  Wow—there is so much power—so much purpose—in that one statement.

It has been said that if a people does not learn from history they can only be destined to repeat it.  In some ways I’m afraid that has become a reality.  But it is not too late.  So Jesus people, people who call Creator God, Dearest Father, let’s determine today to give up our fear, our anxiety, our pride and our prejudice and let’s rest in Him.  He is big enough, He is strong enough, He is compassionate enough and believe me, He’s got this.

Posted in Family, fear, Grace, gratitude, life, Scripture

Confused

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” Ephesians 2:8-9

So have you ever been confused before?  Well, if we are being honest, the truth is yes, we all have.  It just goes with the territory of being human.  In fact I am sure it gets worse the older we get.  More than once, I would wake up thinking it was Sunday and it was Monday.  Gratefully I haven’t mixed the years up—yet.

Several years ago…or was it five or six…anyway, I had the opportunity to go and hear Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant in concert. They were going to be in Paducah and the tickets were—get ready—free.  You know I love free.  On top of that they were on row five or six.  Just awesome seats.  Judy had something going on and at first I thought, “Well, I really don’t want to go by myself.” But you know that free thing kept rolling around in my head and in the end it won out.

I was excited. I really enjoy music and these two artists were both very popular during my younger years.  It was like a flash back Friday thing.  As I drove I began listening to some of the songs that they sang in my mind.  One of my absolute favorites was “The Great Adventure.” And that is where the confusion started. I think it is one of those times when you believe something strong enough it becomes real.  Well, here we go.

I really can’t explain this, but in my mind I had the idea that Michael W. Smith was from Paducah and that was why such a pair of well-known artists were in town.  You know, local boy does well, comes back and sings for the home folks.  I was looking forward to hearing some of the hits that he had sung. Strangely, he never sang any of the songs I was expecting to hear including my favorite. Then, later in the evening he said something about being from West Virginia.  I said, “What?”  I was confused. And then throughout the whole evening he never sang what I thought were his greatest hits. I said, “What?”

Just about that time I realized that I had gotten my wires crossed, and indeed I was totally confused.  You see it wasn’t Michael W. Smith who was from Paducah, it was Steven Curtis Chapman.  And it wasn’t Michael W. Smith who sang, “The Great Adventure” it was Steven Curtis Chapman.  And all those songs that I had been singing in my mind on the way to the concert—well, they were all hits from Steven Curtis Chapman, not Michael W. Smith.  That would explain why the guy on the stage didn’t sing them that night—because he never sang them at all.  You might ask, “Well, how did you get those two confused?”  Well, I’m not sure but I think it had to do with the fact that we often believe what we want to believe.

Getting confused about who you are listening to at a concert can be an excuse for a good laugh and a decent story. It’s a whole different animal when it comes to the game of life and eternity.  I am certain that too many people confuse religion and Jesus, and believe me they are not the same.  I like to put it this way: Religion is man’s attempt to reach God–which never works and Jesus is God’s way to reach mankind–which never fails.  Big difference, yes?  One is all about works and the other is all about grace.  One is all about ritual and rules and the other is all about mercy and forgiveness.

Paul, one of the writers in the Bible, said it best when he wrote, “God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” And I don’t know about you but I am glad it doesn’t depend on how good I am because frankly, I’m just not that good.  None of us are.

So anyway, I had a great time at the concert regardless of who was singing. Fortunately I wasn’t confused about Amy Grant and she sang several of her many hits. And Michael W. Smith is no pushover either. He has sold over 18 million albums and has had  multiple #1 hits.  And, of course, it was all free thanks to a friend. So there you go.

I couldn’t wait to call Judy and tell her about my little mistake.  We both had a great laugh.  But remember sometimes a little mistake can get you in a bunch of trouble.  Make sure, make double sure, that you are counting on Jesus and not religion to get you to heaven.  And as a matter of fact, make sure you are leaning on Him and not religion as you walk through these uncertain times.  Make sure you are resting on Him and not on some counterfeit.  And make double sure you know that HE has this.  

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

“A Broken What?”

But if you fail to keep your word, then you will have sinned against the Lord, and you may be sure that your sin will find you out.” Number 32:23

It didn’t sound good and sure enough it wasn’t.  There are a couple of things that are for certain and one of them is if you have a car it will eventually let you down.  It doesn’t matter the make or model, eventually, if you own it long enough, its gonna happen.

I remember more than a few years ago Judy and I headed over to Ridgecrest, North Carolina.  She was the Illinois Trustee to LifeWay which is an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention.  She loved serving and I loved tagging along every once in a while.  On Tuesday night while she was in a meeting I decided to take a trip to Wal-Mart which was about 10 miles away.  Without any warning, without even a hint of impending disaster, the van’s engine began to misfire and the dreaded check engine light began flashing. I started praying and confessing every sin I could think of cause 10 miles was a long way to walk.

Well, I made it back to Ridgecrest and the next morning told one of the folks I had engine trouble and they found a good local mechanic.  Seven hours later he calls and tells me he can’t get it to stop—he was at his wits end and thought it had to be the computer.  He towed it to the Ford dealer in Asheville and we waited.  Hmmmm.

They called two hours later and gave us the news—they were pretty sure it was a broken valve spring.  My response was, “A broken what?” Well, in fact, that turned out to be the problem.  And it turned out that it was an unusual problem that rarely happens. You know what happens when something is rare don’t you?  That’s right…it is expensive and hard to find.

That actually turned out the sorta, kinda true.  More on that in a minute.  So this rather rare thing, of course, wasn’t in stock anywhere in the area and it had to be ordered.  So we waited patiently—ok, sorta patiently—and Friday morning—actually a little earlier than expected—the car was finally ready.  We took off and got home Friday night around 9:00 pm.  So you know there is a lesson in all of this, right?

Ok, so the bill for the repair was somewhere over $400. Hello?  That would be four portraits of Benjamin Franklin.  And even though this was years ago…I am still grateful that we had the funds to cover it.  But here is the crazy part.  The part that had actually broken cost a whopping, hang on to your hat, $8.89 and all the rest was labor. Turns out you have to take a chunk of the engine apart to get to this thing.  Now, I don’t tell you that for your sympathy—oh no, God was very gracious in all of this.  I’m sharing because there’s a lesson to be learned.

You see, the cost for the part was low—the labor to install the part was not. Labor often costs more than the part. That is true in car repairs and it is definitely true in Kingdom work.  The actual cost of ministry, while not cheap is doable. The most important part of serving God is not the dollars but the man-hours—the doers.  If we had just bought the part, the car wouldn’t have worked.  Somebody had to sweat to get it installed and make a difference.  Kingdom dollars are important, but getting our hands dirty, sweating some sweat, shedding some tears is where the real cost is—and where the real reward is.

It’s not only true about Kingdom work it is also true when we decide to do the opposite—to sin.  The sin itself may seem like a bargain—bringing perhaps a little pleasure or a little satisfaction.  But rarely is that the whole cost.  In fact, I’m not sure it ever is.  The Book says we can take it to the bank that our sin will find us out.  That is found way back in the Old Testament in a story where some folks were making a commitment to do something and Moses just let them know if they didn’t keep their word it would come back and bite them.

How many times have we thought we could get away with something? You know, a little lie, a little lust, a little anger or jealousy and boom we find out that the little sin (which by the way is like a unicorn—it doesn’t exist) caused more damage that we ever imagined.  And then we get the bill and ouch. Just remember this.  Sin is never, ever, a bargain.  I don’t care how attractive the package, it is a bad deal.  Don’t walk—run away.  The good news is the Book also says there is always a way to get away.  Take it.

Well, an investment in Kingdom work is always a great thing.  It is worth every cent and every drop of sweat.  But sin—well, it is sure fire loser every time.  And like the bill for the repair, the initial cost is just a drop in the bucket compared to the fallout.  Now there is some good news.  We have a God who not only can diagnose the problem—He can take care of it.  There might still be consequences but He will never stop loving us because of it. His grace really is sufficient. So if you find yourself stranded beside the road of sin and consequences, give Jesus a call.  He’s better than any roadside service.  You rest in that.  He’s got this.

Posted in Family, fear, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

Big Truths from a Hard Story

What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.”  Matthew 10:29-31

Well, not all stories end well…and this one didn’t.  Friday morning Judy left for Oklahoma to visit with Sarah, Blake and the boys.  Saturday morning I got up early as usual, had some time with God and then went for my morning exercise.  When I came back, by our backdoor, was a little baby squirrel.  Now I don’t know a thing about baby squirrels, so I can’t tell you how old he was.  I can tell you that something just didn’t seem right. He had all of his fur but you could tell he was not very strong and oddly, his head seemed just too big for his tiny body.

He was in the grass, but not far from the flower bed which is next to our backdoor.  He seemed to be eating grass but I suspect he was actually getting the water off the dew soaked grass.  He was moving pretty good but again, strangely, I’m not sure where he came from since there was not a squirrel nest to be seen.  I went on into the house and when I came back out he scurried into the flower bed. I put out some bird food for him to eat.  I knew he would like that because all of his big brothers do their best to empty our bird feeders.

Well, he made himself at home.  He was definitely eating some of the bird food and I believe having some of the water.  He soon made himself a place to sleep there in the flower bed.  I was hoping, just hoping that my little friend was a big enough fighter to pull this thing off.  I would check on him each day and give him food and water.  I was doing everything I could for him.  But today, when I came home from work, well he had died.  I wasn’t surprised because I really think something was wrong—something more than food or water could fix—something more than ending up at the wrong place at the wrong time.  So I wasn’t surprised, but I was genuinely sad.  I wanted him to live and I wanted to be his hero—his savior.  Neither happened.

Now I’m not sharing this so we can all have a Debbie downer day…not at all.  I’m learning that so many things have a story and can teach us big truths.  I think this is one of those times.  The first thing that came to mind was that sometimes we can do everything right—everything—and still not get the result that we want.  We can be the best husband, the best wife, the best parent, the best employee or the best owner and sometimes the story just doesn’t end well. It doesn’t mean we failed. It doesn’t mean we were somehow to blame. Sometimes, it is just part of this thing called life.  And while the story doesn’t always end well—we never have to face that difficult ending alone.  Our Dearest Daddy is always there.  The Whisperer is always close by and whispers the assurance of His love and His compassion.  No matter what—Jesus will still be there.

The other big truth from this is that God really does care about the smallest things.  If I told you that God knew today that this little creation died, would you believe me?  If I told you that even the smallest detail of your life never passes Him unnoticed, would you believe it?  If I told you He never grows weary of our worries and fears and unsettled hearts would you have the courage to believe?  Well you can, because Jesus said that not even a sparrow can fall to the earth unnoticed by the Father.  He even went on to say that if that is true, how much more do you think He cares about you? How. Much. More?

I know and you know that these are just puzzling times.  Everything seems so uncertain.  It seems as if we spend our days walking on quicksand—our feet unsteadily walking on shifting ground.  But don’t be shaken.  The God of the universe who cares when a little squirrel dies cares infinitely more about you.  Jesus knows and feels your hurts and pains…and He cares.

So all you tendered hearted readers, please forgive me for sharing a hard story.  I hope, though, that the big truths made it worth the read.  Why not take a moment and sit with the One who loves you so? Why not get close enough to hear His whispers of love and assurance.  I hope you will because when our hearts are heavy and a little frightened—we need to know that He’s got this.  And He does. 

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

Miracles

For nothing will be impossible with God.” Luke 1:37

Well, there are miracles and then there are miracles.  One of the great adventures that Judy and I have been privileged to be a part of are church mission trips.  Specifically, mission trips to Africa.  For the past 15 or 16 years, our church has been an active participant in mission adventures.  At least one a year we try and send a team to Africa.  We started in Niger and then had to move a little south to the country of Mali.  We were privileged to serve there for several years.

I can’t explain how incredible it is to go on a mission adventure.  I also can’t really explain the draw that so many feel to this place called Africa. Where this story begins was a pretty difficult place.  We would stay in the bush often sleeping on the ground in tents.  The temperature would hover over 100 degrees.  I have one picture that showed a thermometer with a reading 125 degrees.  The food, well, let’s just say it wasn’t McDonald’s.  So what is it that causes people to step way out of their comfort zones just to serve others.  This story is part of that answer.

We were on a medical trip in Mali and the days were long and fruit was plentiful.  We had a full team including two medical doctors and several nurses.  They would treat the physically broken and we would try and share the truth of God’s love to the spiritually broken.  We would tell stories of Jesus and how He would go and help people.  We then would simply explain that we wanted to be like Him and help others.  We explained that people who knew Jesus in America had bought and paid for the medicine that they were receiving.  It was free to them because someone else paid the price.  It was always a great lead into the gospel stories because Jesus did the same for us.

Well, it was the end of a long day.  Most of us had wandered back to camp and were sitting around and chatting about the day’s activities.  Suddenly someone ran into the camp and shouted that there was an emergency back at the clinic.  We all rushed back over and what we found was grim…very grim.  A little girl, about nine if I remember correctly, had been climbing a tree.  She was about twenty-five feet up in the air when she slipped and fell—landing directly on her face.  Her father had carried her on a Moto (a small motorcycle) about three or four miles.  She was semi-conscious and unresponsive.

Two things happened simultaneously.  First, the doctors when to work and the saints went to praying.  Her pupils were unresponsive and though she was breathing, her respirations were rapid and shallow.  About an hour later the doctors said it was probably only a matter of time, her brain injuries seemed very serious.  I slipped into my pastor mode and wondered what an African funeral was like.  The doctors took turns sitting with her through the night, and then took her to the nearest first aid station. This part is fuzzy but it seems like at some point the father went ahead and took her back to her village.

The next day we went back to work with a somewhat heavy heart.  And then something happened…we heard that the little girl had woken up.  We then heard that she was speaking and walking around.  We then heard that she was responding and acting almost completely normal.  “What is this,” I wondered.  Again, if I remember correctly either that day or the next the father brought his little girl back to the doctors and there she stood.  A living, breathing, miracle.  It can be described as nothing else.  God had heard the prayers of His children and chosen to reach down from heaven and touch this little girl and give her back her life.  It. Was. A. Miracle.

Several of us have been to Africa many times and we have seen more than one miracle.  Sometimes it looked like this, sometimes it was God acting to avoid a terrible tragedy and sometimes it like a frog strangling rainstorm when it hadn’t rained for months and months.  But each time it was obvious that God was still God and He can do what He wants, when He wants.  After all, He is God.  For the skeptics out there who think that God doesn’t do the miracle thing—that it died out in the old days—well, that little girl would beg to differ with you.

Tucked away in the book of Luke, incidentally written by a physician in Jesus’ day, are some words that say it all.  It says “For nothing shall be impossible with God.” Nothing. Period. Seven words that can shake your world and this world. So what is rocking your world today?  COVID still keeping you up at night? Wondering about tomorrow or the next meal?  Worried about our country?  Well, I don’t know what God has planned—after all I’m in sales and not management—smile. But I do know that nothing is too big for Him to handle.  Just like that little girl in Africa who discovered she could lay down and rest in Him—so can you.  After all…He’s got this.

Posted in fear, gratitude, life, prayer, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

The Thief

Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.” Psalm 90:12

The thief has struck again.  Without anyone noticing a thief has been stealing from us all.  It happens visually everyday and no one does anything to stop it because they can’t.  Slowly and almost without notice the thief takes from us and we usually don’t notice until it is too late.  Who is this thief?  It is time itself…the calendar.

The day of the year with the most daylight hours is usually around June 21st.  It is known as the summer equinox.  On that day, the tilt of the earth allows the northern hemisphere to be closest to the sun allowing the maximum amount of daylight hours.  On June 21st sunrise occurred at 5:32 am in our town.  Fourteen hours and forty-six minutes later it sets at 8:19 pm.  From that time forward, slowly and surely the amount of daylight hours slowly begins to recede.

You ask, “How much?”  Well, today the sun will rise at 6:07 am and will set at 7:50 pm.  If you do the math you will discover that will give us 13 hours and 43 minutes of daylight.  Amazingly you will find that the thief has taken an hour and 3 minutes from us.  And each passing day he will take another few minutes.  Finally, someday in the near future you will get up and wonder why it is still dark or why the sun is setting so early.  The answer is the daylight thief.

I find all this pretty fascinating.  As the days and weeks march by it reminds us that fall is coming.  Before long, the leaves will be changing colors and falling to the ground.  Perhaps, before long our thoughts, even for a few hours, will be on a happy place like Thanksgiving and not the corona virus.  On December 21 the process will all reverse.  We will begin to gain back those precious minutes of daylight and it will remind us of the promise that spring is on its way.

The amazing part of all of this is how subtly it happens. It is true of the calendar and the hours of daylight we experience, and it is true of so many small things in our lives.  We take in a few too many calories and before long we wonder why our clothes are tighter.  Humidity?  I mean they do call it the air you can wear.  We miss a few days of exercise and wonder why our energy level suddenly drops.  We miss a few days talking with our Dearest Father and wonder why He feels like a stranger. We miss our time with the Book and find ourselves bumbling our way through life. Sigh.  It is all too familiar and all too predictable.

The secret, I believe, is to be aware.  I have one of those “Joe Cool” Apple watches that tells me more than I need or want to know.  One of the things it tells me is the time of the sunrise and sunset.  A few days ago the sun was setting at 8:06 pm and I knew that meant before long it would be setting before 8:00 pm.  Sure enough, it is.  Whether it is exercise or calories or prayer or reading the Book, if we will pay attention we will have fewer surprises and consequences.  I like what Moses said.  He wrote, “Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.”  You know, wisdom to watch what we eat and how much we exercise.  Wisdom to stop and talk to God and read His Book.  Yup…good, good advice.

Paul, one of the writers of the New Testament, put it another way.  He said we should make the most of everyday, not living as someone who is foolish but as someone who is wise.  He goes on to say we should do this because the days are evil—or full of difficulties and challenges.  The fact is we all get 1440 minutes a day—no more, no less.  The hours of daylight may change, but the time has been set for eternity.  1440 opportunities to make the most of life, to get it right.  And, because we are imperfect humans, we can use some of those minutes to talk to our Dearest Father about our warts and failures.  We can snuggle up close as He whispers assurances of love and forgiveness.  We can just rest and know…that He’s got this.

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

He’s Got This

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

I like love notes.  My wife Judy and I have been married for a long, long time.  Sometimes people ask how it is that we have stayed married to each other for forty-four years.  It could be that I am an incredible husband but the truth is Judy is an incredible wife.  She is pretty patient with me when I mess up and well, that’s quite frequently. She also has a great servant’s heart.  She is constantly doing the small things that just say, “I love you.”  In that way she is a lot like God.

It always impresses me when God does something really big in my world.  It causes me to just stop and be amazed.  Our lives are filled with stories that show the handiwork of God.  Each one is a love note and each one bears His signature.  Whether it is getting though a particularly hard time or fulfilling a dream, He is always there.  The trick is learning to see it.

Back in 1981, Judy and I were living in Warrensburg, Missouri.  We were attending the First Baptist Church there and having the time of our lives.  God had blessed us with a wonderful group of friends and we were serving in several ministries there. Two of those involved music.  We were teaching preschool choir (those songs still roll around in my head) and both of us were in the adult choir.  Our worship leader, Dan Tracy, was a great guy and great leader.  Every choir practice and performance was spiritually magical.

One of the things that Dan did was lead a choir tour every Spring.  The church would rent a bus for the weekend and our choir would sing at several churches.  In the Spring of 1981, Judy and I were brand new parents.  Our first daughter Rebecca had been born that January.  She was obviously too young to leave with a sitter so Judy and I agreed she would stay home and I would go with the choir.  So on a Thursday afternoon, she took me to church to leave with the choir.  We were all excited, but I kinda felt bad leaving Judy behind.

Finally, just about everyone was on the bus and it was time to go.  Someone, it may have been Dan, was locking the church door when he happened to hear the phone ringing. For some reason, he stopped and went back inside to answer it.  It really didn’t make a lot of since because it was after hours and it was a larger church so people called all the time.   Regardless, he answered the call.  It was for me.

Now before the story goes any further you need to understand that most of our family had no clue what state we lived in.  Most of them probably didn’t know where Missouri was on the map.  Certainly, no one knew we were attending First Baptist and certainly no one knew I was there late on a Thursday afternoon leaving on a choir tour.  Yet the call was for me.  It was Judy’s brother…her father had died suddenly of a heart attack and we needed to go home to Georgia.

Now pause just a moment and be amazed.  No one knew what church we were attending, it was after hours, I was moments away from leaving for the tour and someone just happened to hear the phone and answer it. Amazing. It was obviously very hard news but to this day Judy and I both marvel at how our Father orchestrated this.  It was as if He said, “Judy, you have a difficult journey ahead of you but I am putting this together so you will know that I love you and I will walk with you.”  And yes, it was as if He signed it, “Love, Dearest Daddy.”

It was a difficult journey that left us both shocked and surprised. Judy’s daddy had just been with us for Rebecca’s birth and suddenly, he moved to heaven. But even in those sad, heartbroken moments, we knew He was not leaving us to walk through this hard time alone. We trusted that He would show us the way as we walked this new, unplanned path. And He never left us to walk alone.

How about you?  First, I hope you have made the decision to ask God to forgive your sins and be your Father.  It is the greatest and best decision ever. Again, it has nothing to do with religion or church.  It has everything to do with a relationship with the Creator of everything.  Second, if you have done that I hope you will make it a habit to look and see the handiwork of your Father in everyday life.  He is constantly at work—in the good times and hard times.  He is at work when it is obvious and when it is not.

It is one of those verses that a lot of people throw around but it is just packed with truth. It says, “we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”  Now, it doesn’t say that everything is good but that God can bring good from all circumstances.  God in fact did get us safely through a twenty-three hour drive to South Georgia with a six week old baby girl in the back seat.  God did show us His love through an amazing phone call. And the best part—He does it for each of His kids.  So, snuggle up and rest in Him.  He loves you and He’s got this. 

Posted in Family, fear, Grace, gratitude, life, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

Call a Plumber

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

I knew it, I just knew it.  A month or so ago, my wife told me that she had dropped her special eye liner down the drain in our bathroom.  It was the kind that was encased in a holder like a pencil and one day the eye thingy just slid right out.  Now, I’m not sure what an eye liner even does but I know it was important to her.  And, since it was important to her, it was important to me.

With my limited, and I do mean limited, knowledge of plumbing and drains, I did know that there is a thing called a trap on a drain.  It is designed to catch things and keep them from going wherever the water goes…the place of no return.  I also knew checking the trap was not a big deal.  You unscrew a couple of things and when you are done you screw it back on.  No deal, right? Uh, well, usually.

Well, I took it off and dumped it out.  There was some really ugly stuff in there but none of it had to do with eyes.  So after cleaning it out I screwed it back on and checked to make sure every thing was nice and dry.  It wasn’t.  One of the joints was leaking.  So I took it apart 3,291 times and 3,291 times it leaked.  I finally called it quits and asked my real plumber son-in-law to swing by and check it out.  The diagnosis was simple.

The problem was a cheaply made part from China that was apparently barely staying together before the eye-liner thing.  The answer was to buy a new part, screw it on and bam—you are back in business.  So, I go to store number one and buy the part the guy says I need.  I bring it home, take it apart, wrong part.  Bummer.  So I went to another store and bought another part that the guy said I needed.  I brought it home, I took it apart and indeed it was the WRONG part.

If nothing else, I am persistent.  I went to a third store where the nice guy behind the counter sold me a whole bag of parts at a very good price.  “Yay!” I said.  I went home, opened my big bag of parts and discovered indeed that it would fix a problem, for someone, somewhere—but not my problem.  They didn’t fit either.  I gave up and went on vacation.

Sometimes a trip to Florida with family will give renewed clarity and determination.  When I got home, I decided if I just tried harder, if I just adjusted and twisted enough I could make one of all those parts work.  Well, I got on the floor, dumped all the parts on the floor and took it all part again and…failed.  Miserably.  In fact, instead of one leak I now had two.  By now I was certain of two things.  I was not a plumber and I was very glad God called me to be a preacher.

Well, I decided to give it one more try. This time I took the old broken parts with me to the story. Store one and two were closed but store three was open.  I walked in and the nice guy said, “Can I help you?”  I told him I honestly wasn’t sure. I gave him the short story of how I now owned a small plumbing supply business and I needed this part—and I showed him the dirty, slimy old part.  He reached down and pulled a bag full of parts off the shelf and together we looked.  There, inside the bag, was the part I needed.  He saw it, I saw it.  Things were looking up.

I bought the bag of parts and took them home.  I managed to rig the other leak with some electrical tape—hey it worked—and then I put on the new part, the right part.  It took exactly one minute to screw on the right part and ta-da—it didn’t leak.  Success. Victory.  I was one happy shade-tree plumber.  Of course I now own two bags full of parts that I don’t need—yet—and probably spent enough to pay a plumber to fix it but it was done and I was the hero!  I’m going down today to apply for my plumber’s card.

I bet you are wondering what today’s big truth is all about.  We could talk about frustration. We could talk about determination.  We could talk about some other word that ends with “ion.”  But the big truth is this.  I kept trying to put the wrong part in the right place and no matter how hard I tried—it just wasn’t going to fit.  It was like trying to put a square peg in a round hole—it wasn’t gonna happen. 

Of couse, we do this all the time in life with God.  How many times do we have an issue or a problem and we are sure we can cram something into that place that doesn’t fit and be happy?  How many new cars, houses, and televisions have been bought trying to scratch an itch that only God can scratch?  Sometimes we just know if we “get religion” or start going to church or start this or stop that everything will be ok.  Our life, our marriages, our fears will all be better or disappear.  Those may be good things but they are not THE thing.

The thing is a personal relationship with Jesus. You may have heard how He came to bring light into a dark world—including your dark world.  You may have even heard how He came to set things right between you and God—in fact, make it possible for you to call God Father.  It’s all true and it’s all right there in the Book.  Paul, one of the guys who wrote a chunk of the Bible, said “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” That just means we are saved by believing and not doing.  It’s really quite amazing. So if you have a plumbing problem…save yourself some time and frustration and call your son-in-law the plumber.  If he isn’t one, hire one.  But if your life is a leaky mess, call on Jesus.  No matter the problem, no matter how big the problem—He is the fixer.  He can take care of it and you.  Why?  Because He loves you—a lot.  You can rest in Him when life wears you down.  You can turn to Him when life gets crazy because…He’s got this.

Posted in Family, fear, life, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

Goose-Land, Part 2 “I Quit”

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
Psalm 139:14

“I Quit.”  I could almost hear the words coming from his beak. Yesterday was “walk in the park day” and the ducks and geese were doing their thing.  If you haven’t made a trip to the park to just watch the geese and ducks you really should.  It is so interesting to see how they interact with one another.  There are a couple of stories at gritswithgrace.com if you would like to go back and read them.

Yesterday I was in lap two of three and I saw something that really caught my attention and captured my heart.  You probably know that geese like to hang together.  They will be “gaggling” together and suddenly, it is as if someone, the gaggle leader will give a nod or a honk and everyone will burst into flight.  They rise from the ground or the water as one, like a flight of aircraft from a military flight.  They quickly take formation and off they go into the wild blue yonder.

As I was walking across the stone bridge at the park the order was given and about seven geese took off.  I was pretty close and it was pretty impressive.  With a flush of honking and flapping, they rose into the sky as one.  Goose One, the flight leader carefully led the group over the bridge and down to the far end of the pond.  They took off as one and they flew as one all except…one.

As they flew by at full power I happened to notice one of the group still on the ground.  He was a young adult goose but definitely old enough to take to the air.  His body was well groomed, every feather in place.  From where I stood he looked like he could…he should be airworthy.  But as his friends took flight…he took a look around.  There they went and there he sat.  It was what happened next that was so unusual.  He suddenly started to run.  Paralleling the edge of the pond he started running as fast as his little legs would carry him.  It seemed he was sayings, “Hey guys, wait for me.”

He ran for about fifteen yards and then he stopped and went down the bank into the water, paddling furiously, heading for where he thought his friends and family had gone.  The last time I saw him he was still paddling away shouting, “Hey, wait for me.”  After getting over the amusement of watching him waddle and paddle, my heart was captured.  I found myself asking the obvious question, “Why?”

Why waddle when you can soar?  Why paddle when you can fly?  Why get left behind when you could be in the middle of the party?  I am not an expert in goose anatomy but he had all the equipment to fly and all the equipment seemed to be working. I really don’t know, but it seemed I heard him muttering as he waddled with all his might.  Although I’m not fluent in goose, it seemed he was saying, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.”  And then, right before he went into the water he said, “I quit.”  How sad.

He was made to fly.  He was made to soar, but he chose, he settled, for waddling and paddling.  He chose for second best.  You see, you can be the best waddler in the world and that is fine…unless you were made to soar.  The view from the ground is never as magnificent as the view from the sky.  If his equipment was broken, if it was just a matter of a few more flight lessons well, that would be a different story.  But what if it was just a matter of not believing—in himself and the One who made him?

If you look around, and maybe as close as the bathroom mirror, you might see someone who stopping believing.  You might see someone who has tried and failed enough that they no longer believe anything is possible.  You might see someone who stopped believing that God makes masterpieces and started believing that God made a mess.  Well, let me tell you something.  God doesn’t make junk and He doesn’t make messes. The Psalmist said it right, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

Fearfully and wonderfully made.  That is you and that is me.  If you find yourself on the shore, waddling when you designed to soar…start believing again.  Start believing in you, start believing in Him and start believing that with Him…all things are possible.  Don’t let the circumstances around you right now—the division, the virus, the uncertainty keep you on the ground.  You were made to fly, to soar!  Why not crawl up into the lap of your Dearest Father, rest in Him and just believe?  Believe the truth…that He’s got this.

Posted in Family, fear, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, prayer, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

Faith and the Next Step

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

There’s hard…and there is really hard.  You know, sometimes faith is easy.  The way is clear, the path is obvious and you just do it.  Sometimes, it just isn’t that way.  Sometimes, all the time, faith requires…faith. So back in 2000, my family and I were living in Cobden where I was pastoring at Cobden First Baptist.  We had been there over 14 years and it was one of those pastor/church relationships that don’t happen too often.  We were in love with each other.  It wasn’t a job…it was family. And then the phone rang.

It was a call from Don Billman wanting to know if I would be interested in pastoring in Harrisburg at Dorrisville Baptist.  I had received calls like this before and the answer was always, “No thank you.  We are really happy here.”  This time, though, for some reason I said I would think about it—pray about it.  It was almost frightening but I could hear the Whisperer whispering and I was pretty sure He was calling us to step out on faith. I tried to dismiss it, I tried to ignore it, but He kept whispering until I finally knew that it was a choice to obey or disobey.

After several weeks we arranged a date to go and preach a message, meet the folks at Dorrisville and to see if we should join our lives together.  I had asked God for a pretty big favor.  If this was in fact His will would He give me a 100% vote.  Now in case you don’t know that was a pretty big deal, especially since we were talking about a couple of hundred people.  Well, we met each other and they voted.  It was 100%.  I was taken aback as I realized it was time to step out on faith.

Pastors usually leave churches in one of two ways: readily or reluctantly.  I was a reluctant prophet.  I knew going was the right thing, but it wasn’t the easy thing.  It was probably one of the HARDEST things I have ever done.  We were excited about Dorrisville, but I knew I was leaving family in the process.  Were there doubts? Yes.  Were there assurances?  Yes. And that is the point of this story.

A week or so after the vote and in the middle of the process of saying goodbye to Cobden, I was sitting outside of Target in Marion.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  I was having a talk with God that included two questions.  “God, is this really you?” “God, what have I done?”  There I sat with those two questions rolling around in my head.  And then they showed up.  It wasn’t two angels named Micheal or Gabriel but it was a couple of messengers from my Dearest Daddy.  Their names were Tom and Leanne.

Tom and Leanne were members at Dorrisville—my new family.  They walked up to the bench outside of Target and politely introduced themselves.  “Hi we are Tom and LeAnne. We are members at Dorrisville and when we saw you sitting here we just HAD to stop and tell you how glad we are that you are coming to Dorrisville.  We can’t wait for you to come.”  I can’t tell you the emotion of that moment.  It was a clear and confident assurance from the Whisperer.  From that moment on I knew I was right where God wanted me and that was what mattered.

So we finished saying goodbye to our Cobden family and said hello to our new family at Dorrisville.  On July 16, 2000 we had our first service there.  I wish I could tell you how marvelously I led and how confidently I took the field but the truth is this rookie fumbled the ball a few times.  But gratefully my new family was gracious and patient and suddenly here we are twenty years later.  It has been a wonderful journey for me of learning and growing, serving, and sharing.  Over the past two decades we have had so many times of celebration together.  We have learned grace together. Someday, one day, the Whisperer will whisper again but until that time I am having the time of my life.

So if you find yourself at the edge of a cliff and you are not sure what to do next.  If all the light is gone from your world and you are stuck…go ahead and take the next step.  As Patrick Overton wrote, “When you have come to the edge of all light that you know and are about to drop off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing one of two things will happen: There will be something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly.” Whether it is the uncertainly of the corona virus, the unrest of our Country or the upcoming elections this Fall…we can rest in Him…for He surely has this.