Posted in Family, fear, life, loving others, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel, wisdom

Life from Ashes

The Lord Himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” Exodus 14:14

It was a night that will not be forgotten.  For many years, my family has visited the Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, area for vacation. It has not been an every year deal but occasionally.  We love the trails and the mountains and, of course, all the places to eat.  In some ways it is like a county fair because fair food and rides are everywhere.  Several years ago we began joining my daughter and son-in-law with the grandkids in the fall…usually in November.  In a word, it is fun.

In 2016 something happened that changed that area forever.  A fire started by human hands near Chimney Tops on November 28th of that year quickly spread through the dry, tinder forests.  The results were catastrophic and have been cited as the worst natural disaster in Tennessee history.  Before it was all said and done, 14 people lost their lives, 2,460 buildings were destroyed, and 17,900 acres were burned.  We watched on the news as it happened but also saw from a distance some of the devastation years later when we visited.  There was safety in that, on television and from a distance, but what happens when the tragedy gets more personal?

This year we once again returned to the Gatlinburg area.  Rebecca, my daughter, always makes the reservation, and she did again this time.  As we were driving to the cabin, we passed through an area that had obviously been damaged by the wildfire.  Judy made the comment that according to the GPS we were not too far from our cabin.  We could look up on the ridge and see many cabins far above the valley floor.  What we could not see was a lot of trees.  Apparently, the fire had destroyed them.

As we made our turn on the road that would lead to our cabin, it soon became apparent that we would see the power of the fire from the night up close.  The higher we climbed, the more we saw.  There were trees scarred by the flames and only the foundations remaining where cabins worth hundreds of thousands of dollars had once stood.  Some cabins had been rebuilt, some were being rebuilt, and some, well, stood as silent witnesses of destruction.  It was harsh, it was sad, it was awakening.  Suddenly the memories of what I saw on the news four years ago came to life like the dry bones Ezekiel saw in the Bible.

After an almost two mile trip up the mountain, we came to our cabin.  There it stood, looking strangely new in one of Gatlinburg’s esteemed older rental areas.  It was indeed new because it, like almost every house in the area, had been destroyed by the fire that week.  In front of the house was a twenty foot section of tree that, while not alive, still sends a message.  Carved into the massive trunk were the words “Smoky Strong.”  I’m sure the tree was alive and well the night the fire swept the mountain, but even today it sends a message…we are not done.

All around the area were signs of destruction…of what used to be.  But wait…don’t miss this.  Also all around the area were signs of new life, of renewal, of rebirth.  New trees are replacing those lost, new homes are replacing the damaged, and foundations will one day bear a new building.  The pain and suffering of that night is being replaced by the hope of the future.  I think we all can learn a lesson from Gatlinburg.  It was about eight months ago that a fire of sorts began to sweep our nation.  Its name was COVID, and its flames were the flames of fear. The question is what will we do with this hot mess?  That is a question we have been asking for months.

I’m sure many have come to the conclusion that life will never be the same, and that is probably true.  But why do we have to assume that this also means it won’t be better?  Why do we have to assume that our best days are behind us?  I know this.  God is still God, and the last time I checked, He has not given up control to His enemy the Devil, or fear, or COVID.  Moses, speaking for God, said, “The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” You see, He still reigns ,and as long as that is true then the best is yet to come. The.Best.Is.Yet.To.Come.

I’m sure the house that once stood here was beautiful in its own rights.  I never saw it, but I sit in its successor, and it is beautiful.  I stand on the deck and have a clear view of the mountains and the valley below—a view that may have been obscured by the trees of the old normalcy.  Perhaps the ability to see clearer is a gift.  Perhaps the ability to trust God deeper during these days is a gift from our Heavenly Father.  No, as I have said before, COVID is not good, but God can and will bring good from it.  For some of us, that means a deeper trust in Him. For some, it means a clearer view of what really matters in life.  For some, it will be the realization that it is good to have a Dearest Daddy we can rest in—knowing He’s got this. 

*Chimney Tops 2 Fire. Incident Management Team photo

Posted in Family, fear, life, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel

Incognito

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Psalm 23:5

I could relate to King David. Judy and I decided to make a return visit to North Georgia recently.  We discovered this gem of a place in July on our way to spend a few days with our family in Florida.  We picked this area as a stopover on the way and it was just a tremendous area to explore.  We enjoyed some great hiking, waterfalls, and other beautiful places where God just showed off His creation. It was so good…we decided on a return visit.  We made reservations for November because we knew we would be spending some time with family again—this time in Pigeon Forge.  Toccoa, the town where we stay, was just three hours south of there so it was a great opportunity to return.

Once again we found the area just full of great places to visit.  Incredible trails and waterfalls seemed to be around every curve.  Amazing.  Another novelty of the area is the fact that it is close to a couple of other states.  It is very close to one in particular.  That would be South Carolina. In fact, it wasn’t just close to South Carolina, it just happened to be very close to Clemson…home of, you guessed it, Clemson University.

To most, Clemson is just another fine southern university.  But for me, and for many, it is something else.  Clemson is famous for its football team, famous for winning the national championship (January 2020) and finally, famous for beginning and remaining number one in the national ranks for the 20-21 football season.  That is, until they met Notre Dame.  If you read my stories, you probably know that this is one Baptist preacher who likes, no, loves Notre Dame football.  Some things transcend denominations!

A couple of weeks before our trip to North Georgia, Notre Dame and Clemson collided on the gridiron.  After two overtimes the game ended with the Fighting Irish defeating Clemson. How sweet it was.  So, when I found myself right next door to South Carolina, and despite the fact that it was close to the home of Clemson University, we decided it would be a great place to take a hike. I did however decide it wouldn’t be wise to wear my Notre Dame hoodie. You know, just to be safe. Wisdom. We went hiking in a place called Brasstown Falls and the falls were amazing.  How can something that beautiful be so close to Clemson?

Since it was past lunch time, we decided to go ahead and eat while we were in the area.   We drove a little closer and found ourselves about ten minutes from their campus.  We were literally in their backyard. I was incognito—you know, undercover, but I wanted so bad to tell our server that I was a Notre Dame fan.  I wanted to kinda, sorta, pour some salt in her football wound but I did resist.  I wasn’t being humble, I was just afraid she might sabotage my food.  You see, football is serious business in this neck of the woods. Turns out, she was a great server and we had a delicious meal, which, in spite of the “danger” of being in enemy territory, we greatly enjoyed.  We finished and then we escaped back across the border.

So, that’s why I kinda felt like King David in the Bible.  You see, he was the arch enemy of the guy who was currently king, and who wanted to do him in.  The deal was that God had anointed David to be King while Saul, the other guy, was still in office.  It was pretty dicey. But David knew one thing…God was greater than Saul or anyone else for that matter.  He was so sure of it he would later write something that became pretty famous—the 23rd Psalm.  In that Psalm, David talked about how God had prepared a table for him to eat right in the presence of his enemies.  How could that be? I mean I would have indigestion knowing my enemy was right there.  But not David.  Do you know why? The bottom line is that David was sure that he was safe anywhere because God was in control.  God.Was.In.Control.

Now I know I was in absolutely no danger in Clemson’s backyard, but I am also sure I would have gotten some stares if I had worn my Notre Dame colors. But what about other times?  What about unemployment times? What about COVID times? What about high stress times? What about “I’m sorry to tell you but…” times? Well, let me tell you what I know.  God would be there and God will be there. We don’t have to worry—we don’t have to fret.

I don’t know if God prefers Notre Dame over Clemson or if He even likes football, but I do know that He loves me and He loves you.  He has this incredible plan for His kids and when we are within the will of His plan…well, it is a great, safe place to be. We can sit down in the presence of those who would harm us or things that could destroy us and rest and know that He watches over us.  I like that. I know that whatever tomorrow holds, He is already there.  I can sit down and eat a big old meal right across from the Clemson football team in my blue and gold and rest in Him because I know, “He’s got this.” 

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

Live Forward, Glance Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Family, fear, life, loving others, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, wisdom

Faith

When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food, and here I am dying of hunger! I’ll get up, go to my father…” Luke 15:17-18a

Houston, we have a problem.  The words rambled around the silent control center. There was trouble in space and men’s lives were hanging in the balance.  It wasn’t as bad as they thought.  It was worse—much worse.  The command module of Apollo 13 was damaged beyond use and their only hope was a frail lifeboat called the lunar module.  They were off course, a long way from home, and running out of oxygen.  Their prospects were beyond bleak. The morale breaker was, as the crew commander said, “We just lost the moon.” Perhaps, just perhaps, you can identify with them.  Our world is laden with things that might cause some of us to doubt our survivability.  But don’t lose hope because help is on the way. More on that later.

The plan was to bring the spacecraft around the moon and slingshot it back on its way to earth.  They passed within twenty-five miles of the moon. Twenty-five miles. The explosion had made the possibility of a moon landing an impossibility.   They could look but not touch.  The thing they had planned for, trained for and risked their lives for, slipped silently between their fingers.  Crises can do that, you know.  As COVID circled the globe, we lost the moon…we lost our purpose…we lost our dreams. Businesses were closed, churches were closed and families were left jobless and isolated.  But don’t lose hope because help is on the way.  More on that later.

As they rounded the moon they were slung by the moon’s gravity toward the earth. Still problem after problem arose and had to be overcome.  They were literally running out of oxygen. Unless they found a way to “scrub” the air and make it more breathable, they would die. Amazingly, the guys on the ground literally created a way to do that, and then shared with the crew how to do it there.  The ground guys had one rule.  They could only use what the guys in space had to use.  So with some scraps, a roll of duct tape and a hose or two they made it happen. Their situation probably seemed a little like your situation.  Pretty hard, pretty difficult, nearly impossible, but don’t lose hope because help is on the way.  More on that later.

As they neared the earth they grew ever closer to the most dangerous obstacle of all—reentry.  If they were just a fraction of a degree off, if the heat shield didn’t hold, if there were any of a thousand things not quite right—they would burn up in the super heated friction of our atmosphere. Their back was against the wall and their chances were slanted in the wrong direction.  So many people feel the same way today.  I know because I see it and sometimes I feel it.  Mine is caused by frustration…frustration that there are too many things that I can’t control.  I want to fix it and I can’t—neither one of us can. We have a choice—we can lose hope and “burn up on reentry” or we can refuse to lose hope and believe because—help is on the way.

Remember the “more on that later”—well later is now.  You see, those astronauts had to believe—they had to have faith.  They had to choose to believe.  They did and miraculously they had a near perfect entry and landing.  It was amazing.  And just like when the guys landed on the moon just a few months earlier—the crowds went wild again.  They needed some good news and they got it.  Their world was racked by division over the Vietnam War, mistrust in the government, crazy economics, racial divide and a thousand other things.  That one miraculous victory helped, at least for the moment, to pull their world back together.

That’s what we need now…that one miraculous victory.  And as much as we need a cure for the virus, or the right political victory or some other “deal,” we need to regain our spiritual equilibrium.  In every major crisis, this nation somehow righted itself and somehow managed to find enough faith to believe—in God.  Some who knew Him rediscovered Him. Some who had walked away—walked straight back home into His arms.  Some who had never believed found the faith to start.  Miracles do happen…everyday.

Maybe, just maybe, the safety, the security, the hope you are looking for is not in a piece of cloth or a vaccine or a political victory.  Maybe, just maybe, it is in a God who wants to be your Father.  Why not take a moment and take a rest—in Him?  And then, ask Him to help you believe that—He’s got this. 

Posted in fear, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, Scripture, sovereignty of God, wisdom

Houston… We Have a Problem

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.”  Romans 8:28

Houston…we have a problem.  Those famous words…or something similar to that effect were first uttered 50 years ago during the Apollo 13 mission.  They are used today whenever there is a problem that needs to be addressed.  As an example, my wife Judy is “glamping” down at the Land Between the Lakes this week.  She pulled out her tennis shoes this morning to realize not only did they not match…they were both for her left foot.  She texted me with a picture and the words, “Houston, we have a problem.”  I laughed, but fifty years ago there was no one laughing.

Apollo 13 was only the third trip to the moon—only the third—but amazingly in that short span of time public interest in the moon missions had dropped to virtually zero.  The launch was a minor story and the news conference from space wasn’t even carried by the networks.  We humans are a fickle bunch.  It is amazing how quickly the extraordinary becomes ordinary…the unbelievable garners a yawn.  That was not only true when we were shooting repeat trips to the moon but also when we worship the God who made the moon.  We yawn our way through everyday miracles because, well, they are everyday.  And then something happens that shakes our world.

In the case of Apollo 13 the crew was asked to do a routine stirring of the oxygen tanks.  Certainly no big deal.  The task fell to the rookie on the team and he flipped the switch to stir the tanks and what happened next was anything but routine.  There was a massive explosion in a couple of the oxygen tanks which placed the crew’s life in grave danger.  The crew commander instantly snapped at the rookie, “What did you do?”  His first assumption was that it was the rookie’s fault.  In reality it was no one person’s fault.  There was some faulty wiring in the tank and whoever flipped the switch was going to have the same result—BOOM.

Our routine was certainly disrupted as this COVID virus rocketed around the world.  At the speed of space it spread from country to country—person to person.  Almost as quick, the finger pointing and jabbing started and hasn’t even began to slow down.  From presidents to pastors to everyday people, everyone is looking for someone to blame. The first performance of blaming began in the garden with a couple of rookie sinners and it has never stopped.  I bet that grieves God—a lot.

Well, things were bleak for Apollo 13 as the explosion damaged the spacecraft to the point where they could possibly die.  This was a good news/bad news deal.  First the bad news—they were blown way off course and only a miracle would get them back on track. That happens in times like these.  Our whole world revolves around one thing—the COVID virus.  Concern is a good thing—obsession is a dangerous thing. The only thing worth obsessing over is the One who can do something about it.

Now, the good news—when word began to spread of their catastrophe in space all of a sudden concern and interest spiked.  In a moment of time, driven by drama and danger, the national interest once again spiked. Spacemen were once again newsworthy. People were once again tuned in and hungry for a miracle—the crew’s survival. I wonder, I hope that there will be good news for us one day too.  I hope that news will be that we once again are focusing on the things that really matter!

There’s a lot more to this story that I would like to share with you tomorrow if you will tune back in.  They say that those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it.  I wonder how we will do with that…only time will tell.  It seems that these times are like quicksand—our vocabulary dominated by iffy words like fearful, uncertainty and bleakness.  That is why I am so glad that there is a God who is watching over and working for and through this.  Somehow, someway He is going to bring good from this.  If we let Him, He will make us stronger through this. If that is going to happen then we have to let Him be God.  Sounds like a plan to me.  Let’s do the old two step—rest in Him—He’s got this.  See you tomorrow for part two. 

Posted in Family, fear, Grace, gratitude, life, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, wisdom

Master of the Winds

For I am the Lord, I do not change…” Micah 3:6

The winds of change are blowing.  If we are totally truthful, they are howling like a category five hurricane. And trust me, that can be devastating.  I was watching the Weather Channel yesterday morning and they were doing a piece on Hurricane Michael that roared ashore two years ago as a “cat five” hurricane.  It struck the Florida panhandle with horrific results.  Mexico Beach was ground zero and to this day that community remains changed. All the preparation in the books could not have prepared them for what happened, but the bottom line is many more lives would have been lost if they hadn’t been ready.

I enjoy…smile…watching the price of gas change in Harrisburg. For some reason we are enjoying some of the lowest gas prices in the area.  But if you don’t like them…just wait…because they are going to change. Whether it be a nickel or a quarter, they go up and down.   By the way, to help you with the price changes, remember this.  In 2008, the gas in Harrisburg was $3.47 a gallon so we can all agree to be grateful that it has changed in a good way since then.

Now all this up and down stuff at the moment doesn’t bother me because it doesn’t affect me.  Why?  Well, I drive two diesel cars and at the moment those prices are nice and steady…just the way I prefer it. That might change tomorrow…but not today.

That’s one of my favorite things about God—He simply doesn’t change. With Him there’s no going up or down—ever… never.  He never had a beginning and will never have an end (despite what our liberal “friends” think) and throughout all that time, He has never changed.  Malachi 3:6 says, “For I am the Lord, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.”  That’s good news for the reason stated in the verse—He won’t change His mind about me or you. Pretty awesome.

Because of the COVID and the zillion opinions about it and the election, and the zillion opinions about that…our whole world is in a flux,  but God’s plan for redemption and how we spread His Word doesn’t change.  Someone said while methods may change, the message never does.  The Gospel, the Good News is still,  good news. He is going to fulfill His purpose regardless.  And in this crazy economy where things change in price all the time—His hasn’t changed.  His gift of eternal life that cost His Son His life, still costs us nothing. Nothing. He loved us that much. He loved you that much.

A million things are going to change today but there is One that will not—Jesus. The Bible says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Period.  Someone said a real friend never changes and that is so true of Jesus Christ.  He is going to love me no matter what.  If I’m having a bad day—He still loves me.  If I fail in something today, He still loves me.  If I gain weight—yup…still loves me.  Like the song says, “His love never runs out on me.” He doesn’t avoid me—He seeks me out.  That is pretty amazing. Well, as you drive by the gas station today be sure and check the prices.  They have probably changed overnight.  But if you check the Book, you will find Him and His promises are the same. Last night before you went to bed it was true that you could rest in Him…and it is true this morning.  And do you know what else was true last night and still holds  this morning?  He’s still got this.  Always has, always will.  How about that?

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

Robbed by Mr. Urgency

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

I was robbed.  This is one of those stories I really don’t want to write but I believe at the same time it’s gonna help someone…besides me.  I have been writing stories five days a week now since March.  It has been an incredible journey.  I’ve said this before, but it all started on a whim.  The COVID hot mess was just gaining steam and I felt led to write a story to encourage some folks.  I am not a Facebook person but that was the only avenue I had.  So, I wrote it and posted it on my page.  Amazingly, more than several dozen people read it and most wrote a comment. Those comments were what stirred me on to keep writing.  I decided to answer every comment.

Like utility poles whisking by on a fast moving train, the days went by.  I would write, many of you would write and I would read and write back.  It was so encouraging. It was like a drink of spring water on a hot day.  And then it happened.  In the rush to write, I forgot to take the time to read.  I got busier, and busier and it seemed all I had time to do was write and then write some more.  I would occasionally grab a comment here or there but that was about all I could manage. I had run smack-dab into Mr. Urgent. Judy would help out and read a couple to me, but the bottom line is I let the urgency of the moment rob me of that drink of cold water.  I felt like I had failed you…but just as importantly, I had failed myself.  You see, I was needing what you were saying…desperately.

A week or so ago I determined to go back a week to read what you all had said.  I was gonna do better.  So, I did.  I read, I wrote, and I was encouraged.  But then, thanks to Mr. Urgent I found myself so far behind that I said, “There’s no use trying.”  The good news, and boy do I need some, the good news, is that those precious jewels are safely stored on Facebook and soon I will journey back and read your notes of encouragement and I will be refreshed.  I will smile and I will remember why I do what I do.

As I am writing this, I realize that for me, and perhaps many of you, this isn’t the only time this has happened.  There is something else that Mr. Urgent can keep us from reading, something else that is of even greater importance—God’s Word.  I don’t know your background, but even if it doesn’t include a lot of God, this Book is nothing short of incredible.  Written over several millennia by about 40 authors, this Book is God’s love letter to us.  It is as multifaceted as the most brilliant diamond.  It is amazing.

What I find so impressive is that when you open it at the front and till you close it at the back, it has one theme—that God so loved this broken and imperfect world that He gave His only Son that anybody—let that soak in—anybody that believes in Him can have eternal life.  It really is amazing and it really is true.  As you journey through it you find stories of imperfect people loved and rescued by this infinitely powerful God.  And honestly, the story doesn’t always end like we would want.  But it always ends with one undeniable truth:  God is good, God is faithful, and God can be trusted.

Thank you for reading and writing those encouraging comments.  I may be slow getting there but I hope none of them will be wasted.  And also, watch out for Mr. Urgent. His “tyranny of the urgent” can and will keep you from what really matters. Whether it is time with family or time in God’s Word, he will rob you and leave you beside the road of life wondering what happened.  Be sure and take time, make time to read His amazing story.  Been awhile since you’ve read? Start with the stories about Jesus found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  I am sure you will be impressed and intrigued.  And shortly, you will discover that this God is the God you can trust—you can lean into—you can rest in.  And yes, you will soon discover that no matter what…He’s got this.

Posted in Family, fear, gratitude, life, loving others, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, wisdom

“There’s No Place Like Home”

A horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory comes from the Lord.” Proverbs 21.31

Dorothy was right.  When I was a kid one of the highlights of the year was when the Wizard of Oz would show on television.  Normally I attended church on Sunday nights with my brother and his family. On that night, church took a back seat to Dorothy, the tornado and those annoying munchkins.  I have to admit I was partial to the part where the wicked witch got what was coming to her.  “I’m melting, I’m melting.” Too bad, wicked witch, too bad.

The whole thing started because Dorothy was driven by fear away from home.  Some mean old lady was going to do away with her dog and Dorothy goes on the run taking Toto with her.  The famous tornado shows up, she is knocked on the noggin and wakes up in Oz…or at least she thinks she does.  To make a long story short, in the end she misses home…a lot.  The good witch tells her the secret.  Just tap her ruby red slippers together and repeat, “There is no place like home.”  Next thing we know she is back in Kansas with all her family and friends and she tells everyone, “There is indeed no place like home.”  End of story, have a nice day.  Thanks for reading.

No, wait…I’m just kidding.  That may be the end of that story, but it is just the beginning of this one.  You see there are more than a few similarities between Dorothy’s trip to Oz and our journey in and through this COVID time.  Like her, many find themselves in a place they never thought they would be…physically separated from their friends.  It might be on the golf course, at the park, your favorite restaurant or maybe, and perhaps most significantly, at your church.  And like her, they might not be sure exactly how to come back together…to come back home.  Do you sometimes feel that way?  I understand.

For Dorothy it was as simple as tapping her shoes together and whispering a few words.  For some, maybe you, it just isn’t that easy.  The justifiable fear might have us isolated, separated from friends.  Like Dorothy you long for home, but the circumstances that we live in has you in its jaws.  I stumbled onto a verse that just might help.  It is tucked away in Proverbs 21:31 and it says, “A horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory comes from the Lord.”  Nice…very nice.

The author is saying a good soldier will train and prepare his horse for the battle.  That is the common sense thing…the wise thing to do. But the author also knows a secret—and it is a big one.  Ultimately the victory does not come from a well-trained horse, but rather from an incredibly powerful God.  That is crucial in our return back to normalcy—including our return to church.  We should use good common sense…you know, take precautions that you feel are wise.  But never, ever forget that your health and safety rest in the hands of a very power, very sovereign God.  You are literally sheltered in the arms of God.  So, be careful, be wise, but don’t be paralyzed.

By the way, General McArthur got it right too.  He was ordered from the Philippines and to Australia at the onslaught of World War II as the Japanese swept across the Pacific. He was forced to leave behind tens of thousands of troops…all about to be captured by a very fierce and merciless enemy.  As he left, he made a promise.  He boldly declared, “I shall return.”  At that particular point, he didn’t know exactly what that looked like, but he knew what it meant.  He was determined that his feet would once again walk on Philippine soil.  Well, it took almost four years, but he did indeed return and when he did, he changed the “shall” to “I have…I have returned.”  In the heat of the battle, he could be forced away, but nothing was going to keep him away forever.  Nothing.

So, what is your “I shall return” game plan.  Have you plotted your victorious return to normalcy…to worship and to church fellowship?  Again, we need to be cautious but that doesn’t necessarily mean the total absence of COVID.  Like McArthur it could mean that the tide of war has changed enough so that it is safe enough to return…safe enough to worship. Regardless of what church or what denomination, I hope you are plotting your return.

As you journey through your Oz, I hope, like Dorothy, that your faith in God and the hope of returning home will be greater than your fear.  Can it happen? Should it happen.  Absolutely is the answer to both questions. After all, the victory doesn’t rest in you, it rests in the hands of the Whisperer.  Listen carefully for His soft voice and you might hear Him saying, “There’s no place like home.”  Go ahead.  He’s got this. 

Posted in Family, fear, gratitude, life, loving others, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, wisdom

Seasons Come and Seasons Go

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.  A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

Seasons come and seasons go.  Judy’s great nephew recently posted a picture on Facebook. It showed their son, maybe five years old, walking down his driveway.  On his back he carries a backpack that is just about as big as he is. He is heading to school—his first day of kindergarten. The first day of school is an event, even more so when it is kindergarten, especially for mom and dad. In the foreground of the picture, is a line of toys…I suppose some of his favorites.  The message was beautifully clear. As seasons change, as great adventures come along, as each new journey starts, sometimes you must leave what you love behind. It’s part of growing up—it’s part of life. I’m sure out of camera range was mom, and dad too, who watched through teary eyes.  Their little boy was growing up.  Seasons come and seasons go.

It happened a couple of weeks ago as fall silently arrived. Did you feel it? Did you sense it? Probably not.  For most it wasn’t even a blip on the calendar. There was no fanfare, no ticker-tape parade, no sounds trumpeting its arrival.  In many ways it was just a day on the calendar that most of us probably missed.  But not everyone missed it.  The trees took note.  Slowly and surely, their leaves began turning a beautiful yellow and red before drifting, floating to the ground.  The plants took note.  The shortening days began telling their leaves it was time to prepare for next spring by preparing for winter’s sleep.  And oh yes, the squirrels definitely knew it.  They began gathering their supply of acorns and pecans, tucking them away for the coming winter.  You see, fall is a time of transition…nature’s way of letting us know that another season is soon coming…Winter. And winter, like all the seasons, is something to celebrate—something to embrace.

For me the first day of fall was an event.  Every year I look forward to it. I told my wife that part of the mystery of fall is how something so beautiful prepares the way for a time of dormancy and sleep.  You might think of it as a time of things dying but you would be wrong.  No, it is a time of preparation and transition.  Remember…seasons come and seasons go. And in the beauty of fall we see the promise of spring, of new life.  It is that way for nature.  It is that way for us.  In the fall of our lives, things begin to change and it is God’s way of preparing us for new life, eternal life with Him. While we do have to walk through the winter of death, just on the other side is the eternal spring of heaven.  It is something to celebrate—something to embrace.

So, seasons come and go.  It is true in nature and it is true in life.  While the changing seasons sometimes bring challenges they also bring on exciting new adventures. Changing seasons on the calendar are something to celebrate—something to embrace.  It is God’s promise to us that something new is coming. The author of Ecclesiastes reminds us that for everything there is a season—a time for every purpose under heaven.  He’s telling us that seasons come and seasons go. There are times for living and dying, playing and harvesting, dancing and sitting still. Yes, it is something to celebrate—and something to embrace.

As we casually flip the pages of the calendar, as the clock keeps ticking, leading us toward new seasons and new adventures, don’t get stuck in the cold of winter. No, remember this—spring is on the other side.  Every day is a gift from God and is a gentle nudge from our Dearest Daddy that He is preparing new seasons and new adventures for us.  Like our first day of kindergarten, it might mean leaving behind some of the things we love, but we can rest in Him knowing that only the best comes from Him and He never, ever gets it wrong.  Never. Sleep well tonight knowing that He who creates the days, masters the same.  Rest knowing that He’s got this. 

Posted in Family, fear, food, gratitude, life, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, wisdom

God Is

So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?” Matthew 6:31

I am not much for going grocery shopping and that is probably a real paradox. I really like food–we are great friends–just not buying and preparing it. But the other night, Judy and I went to the park for a walk (good idea–walk with your wife…she cooks food) and then went to Wal-Mart to get a few items.

So, we get to the store and there was plenty of food there. For sure, some items were sold out (they had toilet paper) but others were plenteous. The cookie aisle was hard hit but strangely the broccoli wasn’t. So, when I got to the bread aisle it was empty…bare. For a southern boy, well, that was a little weird.

It made me think about the children of Israel and their trips to the grocery store. For forty years they would walk outside the camp and there all around them were little mounds of manna. It is described as small, round and sweet (Krispy Kreme’s?) and it was always there. Never a time did they go out when the store was open (it was closed for the Sabbath) and the shelf was bare.

God was teaching them something. They couldn’t hoard because God told them to go out every day and get one day’s supply. The only exception was the day before the Sabbath when they could get two. And every day they went and there were the “Krispy Kremes” all over the ground and they would pick them up and God was saying, “I am good, I am faithful and I can be trusted.”

Day after day, week after week, month after month–“I am good, I am faithful and I can be trusted.” Never a bare shelf, never a failure to deliver, never an oops. We may not have manna lying around today, but we do have the faithfulness of that same God. He takes care of His kids. You can bank on it.

Jesus said in Matthew 6:31-32 “So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32. For the Gentiles [those who don’t trust God] eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”

So, in these days–especially in these days–every time there is a need met or a blessing given, remember to say, “Thank you, Father.” And slowly but surely, we will learn the valuable lesson of God’s faithfulness. God is good. God is faithful. God can be trusted. He’s got this. Rest in Him today.