Posted in Family, forgiveness, gratitude, life, loving others, Scripture, wisdom

Scars

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

Gnarled trees stood twisted and broken along the road.  Judy and I had to make a trip to Florida to participate in my Aunt’s funeral.  She was my Daddy’s baby sister and the last of that generation.  It was a long trip but worth the journey.  I saw it as a way to honor my father while also honoring my aunt.  Like every person her life had its ups and downs and bumps and bruises.  And  like every person, there were a few scars left along the road.

It was while traveling West in Florida that I began seeing the gnarled trees.  Mile after mile of trees that were either broken in two, forever bent over or simply lifeless, like dead men standing. I knew the area had been brushed by a recent storm or two but this damage was caused by something far worse—and not so recently.  Suddenly it occurred to me.  I had seen this before about two years ago.  It was the result of a storm, a terrible storm called Michael.

If you remember in 2018 a compact yet incredibly powerful storm came ashore at Mexico Beach, a small down on the Florida panhandle.  It was so devastating that it literally destroyed that small town and the path of the storm with its destruction moved well inland.  That is where we saw the scars.  When we were here a couple of months after the storm and miles and miles inland there was debris piled everywhere along the highway.  What wasn’t broken off or blown over looked like it had been given a perm—twisted and turned.  That was two years ago. 

The scars of that harsh and horrible day remain today and will remain for many years to come.  Only time is going to slow erase the damage as trees re-grow and underbrush hides what has fallen.  It looked devastating two years ago when I saw it and today, somehow, it looked even more so.  Sometimes the scars are almost as bad as the wounds.  Sometimes the memories are worse than what caused the pain.

Many of us have caused scars and most of us bear them.  Some are still healing while others, like the gnarled trees, will remain.  We are left to wonder what to do…how to heal.  The answer I believe lies with creator God.  It is He who can give us the strength to forgive and it is He who can lead us down the path to healing.  Like a good recipe, it will include a measure of grace, a measure of mercy, and a measure of choice.  Forgiveness is really never about the one who caused the scar rather it is about the one who was hurt. When we forgive we truly begin to heal.

Forgiveness also involves forgetting…but not the kind you are thinking.  This forgetting simply means that we choose to not allow the past to control our present.  We choose to let go, so we can be set free.  When we determine that the past won’t reach into our present…we find a freedom.  While the scar will remain, slowly but surely the pain eases and we are evently left whole.

This, of course, is a faith path.  We have to believe that God can and will heal us.  We have to believe that God can forgive us if we were the one who caused the scar.  We have to believe either way that His grace is sufficient and do you know what?  It is.  The scars I saw today along the highway spoke of a devastating storm but it also spoke of hope.  You see, at the base of the gnarled trees stood dozens and dozens of new growth trees.  One day, someday in the future, they will rise to overcome the past with its scars.  That is our hope.

As I stood before that group of people today and spoke of mistakes and regrets. I also spoke of forgiveness and grace which was and is a game changer.  No matter how difficult your past and no matter how uncertain your future, His grace will see you through.  I hope you will keep trusting Him day by day.  I hope you will look up for hope, look around to see that you aren’t by yourself and look down, yes down, but only to see the new life surrounding you.  Hey, you can trust Him, you can rest in Him because no matter how hard the wind blows or how long it howls…He’s got this. 

Posted in Family, forgiveness, life, priorities, Scripture, travel, wisdom

My Clock is a Liar

You are of your father the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks from his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies.” John 8:44

My clock lies to me.  Throughout my life I have had times when I collect things.  Once it was eagles.  To this day I love eagles but there was a time I would go to the mall or any store that might sell them and tell Judy, “I’m going to look for eagles.”  If I found one, I would buy it.  Not too long ago it was BB guns.  It started with a Red Ryder model (the one from the movie, “A Christmas Story”).  The next thing I knew I had nine BB guns and pistols.  Boom. Just like that. Over the years urges have come and gone but there is one that has kinda stuck with me.  Clocks.

A long time ago (and in a galaxy far, far away…you know, like the Star Wars movies) I started collecting clocks.  Unlike eagles and BB guns, this one can get rather pricy.  But it started rather innocently.  When Judy and I were stationed in Germany near the French border, we went to a flea market with a couple of good friends.  My friend spied a German wall clock laying on the ground, halfway in a mud puddle and ended up buying it.  The long story made short is that I ended up talking him out of it.  It was a swap kinda thing.  It is a bing-bam clock which means it strikes on the hour and half-hour.  It was pretty old then, and now, 42 years later, it is like me, a lot older.

It is a special clock because of the story and all the memories but it does have a problem.  It lies.  You see, over the years it has developed this nasty habit of saying one thing and doing another.  As I mentioned, it is designed to bing-bam on the half-hour and then on the hour it counts the time out.  If it is 4:00 then it will bing-bam four times.  You can hear it shouting out the time almost throughout the house.  It was nostalgic and handy.  And then it starting lying. It started innocently enough—at 1:00 it would sound two times instead of once.  It was predictable so I just lived with it.  Now, well now, it lies big time.  Randomly, and throughout the day it sounds the wrong time.

Well, adjusting the clock is quite easy…or at least it is supposed to be.  So, if it was showing 4:00 but counting five, I would simply stopped the clock and moved the hour hand to five.  I waited an hour to restart the clock—problem solved—or not.  I restarted old faithful and at 6:00 it sounded five.  So, I slid the hour hand to 5:00 and waited and sure enough it chimed six.  No matter what I did the clock lied.  It has stubbornly developed a very bad habit. Hmmmm.

Fortunately for the old clock, I like it a lot. Its value to me goes way beyond its value as a time teller—it is part of the family.  Because of that, I’m willing to tolerate its bad habit.  I don’t like it.  I don’t trust it. It is frustrating, but in this case, it is mostly harmless.  I simply have learned to believe it when I can read the dial but not when I can only hear it.  It’s a negotiated settlement. That works fine for clocks—but it is not fine for people.

When I was growing up telling the truth was a pretty big deal.  Now, I would be the last to tell you that I always did it.  I didn’t.  But the bottom line was if you did the crime—you did the time.  Lie and get caught (and invariably I did) and Alston and Leslie (that’s daddy and mama) made sure you received a refresher course on the importance of telling the truth. Whether it was a spanking or washing my mouth out with soap—I learned lying was a bad deal.

I think daddy and mama must have talked to Jesus about it, because He thought it was a big deal too. One time, there was a group of religious leaders who had a problem speaking or even liking the truth.  Jesus cut loose on them and said, “You are just like your father the devil.  When he lies he is just speaking his natural language.  He is the father of lies and the truth is not in him.”  Wow—so if you ever wonder why lying made the big ten—now you know.

Today we live in a culture of convenience and whatever works for you—you kinda go with it.  If telling a lie makes things a little easier—just cut loose and worry about the consequences later. Its like the 60’s “if it feels good do it” on steroids.  Just know this.  No matter what culture says lying is a big deal—regardless if you are a preacher, a politician, or the guy next door.  God says it so it is a nonnegotiable for His followers. Oh, and even if you’re not a God follower you will still find life has fewer consequences and less regrets when you make the truth the standard.

As I finish this story, the old clock got it right.  An hour ago—it got it wrong.  Good grief…I just wish it would make up its mind to tell the truth.  Speaking of truth—here are two you can count on every time.  First…you can always trust and rest in creator God.  Second…He’s got this.  And that friend—is the truth. 

Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life

A Really Bad Idea

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love.” Psalm 103:8

It was just a bad idea. Each of us have times when we do something and from the get go we know it was just a bad idea.  Yesterday’s story of me at age seven trying to ride a 26 inch bicycle was just one of many.  And these bad ideas usually bear the fruit of bad endings.

I have a really good friend who manages a local restaurant.  Before COVID, we would get together once a week and have breakfast at the restaurant. Since COVID we still try and get together for coffee and perhaps a pastry fresh out of the oven.  Suffering isn’t all bad, is it?  Well, I was famous for ordering different things for breakfast.  One was the delicious “preacher stack.”  It consisted of a slice of toast, an over-easy egg, a slice of cheese, a couple of slices of soft bacon, a small serving of hash browns (cooked crispy, of course), a second egg and finally the crowning touch, a smattering of gravy. For variety the hash browns were sometimes replaced with grits. Now, let me tell you, that was “shoot that thing” good. I do believe I might be the Rembrandt of breakfast.  Sometimes.

You see, one time, about midway through the fall season, I got an idea.  Unfortunately, it was a very bad idea.  Now the problem with bad ideas is that sometimes they look good from one angle and horrible from the other.  Well, this time I looked from the wrong angle.  I told my friend, “Jeremy, I have an idea.  I think I want to try chili and eggs for breakfast in the morning.”  Now being the good friend that he was, he tried and tried to get me to change course.  But at that time and from that angle it really sounded good.  The key word there is “sounded.”

So the next morning Jeremy cooked up a batch of chili and I was served chili and eggs for breakfast.  The first and second bite wasn’t too bad—weird, but not too bad.  From there it went down hill and by the time I was done—I was done.  I felt like I had swallowed a 12 pound bowling ball and that bowling ball stayed with me all day.  In fact, it was a couple of days before I felt half normal.  It was a very, very bad idea.  He tried to warn me, but no.  Oh boy, just the thought of chili and eggs makes my eyes cross.

Well, today I had a nice, innocent bad idea.  I usually walk in the mornings but Judy and I decided to walk in the afternoon.  That was ok—unusual, but ok.  And that wasn’t the bad idea.  We were going to walk on the bike trail so I thought I would wear an old pair of trail running shoes I had in the closet.  “Why?” Well, I liked the way they looked and I liked the way they laced up (they had these cool speed laces) but that’s where the love affair ended.  They weren’t very comfortable and the inside of the heel had long lost its padding. All that was left was a crater where the padding used to be surrounded by rough edges. Everything said, “Don’t wear those shoes.” Well, you know what I did. I wore the shoes anyway and it was indeed a very bad idea.

I had planned on only walking a couple of miles but ended up doing 3.6.  Somebody say “wow.”  Well, at about the 1.8 mile turn around point I noticed that the back of my left heel was starting to burn—to hurt.  Remember the padding that was missing—well, those rough edges that remained were now slowly eating into my heel.  And with every step it got worse.  I was almost two miles from the car and it hurt, and it hurt, and it hurt.  I found myself saying over and over again, “This was a really bad idea.”  The problem was I realized it just a little too late.  Well, about 10,000 steps later, I got back to the car and the shoes and I parted company—forever.  Even sitting there I said it again, “That was a really bad idea.”

Well, in a while Judy got back to the car from her walk.  As she came over to where I was sitting and noticed I had my shoes off. She made a comment about resting.  I said, “Judy, do you remember the time I ate the chili and eggs?”  She said, “Well, yes, but what has that got to do with today?”  I said, “That was a really, bad idea and wearing these stinking shoes today was a really bad idea.” To make matters worse, when we had started walking I commented how much I liked the shoes and she remembered that.  “But Dewayne, I thought you said you liked them?”  Well, I liked the way they looked, I liked they way they laced up, but boy, I didn’t like the way they felt after walking.  And trust me—that outweighed all the looks and all the cool laces.

Well, I wanted to tell you this story for a couple of reasons. First, don’t, do not, eat chili and eggs.  What it does to your insides requires the intervention of the EPA. If you eat chili and eggs be prepared for a period of quarantine. Be prepared to camp in the “valley of the shadow of death.” It. Is. A. Bad. Idea.  And if you are going to walk, remember to pick your shoes based on what is important not what is intriguing or flashy.  At about the two mile point you will thank me. Trust me, I know.

One thing that I really like about the Bible is that it is filled with people just like me.  People who didn’t always listen to God and people who ate chili and eggs and wore the wrong shoes.  Real, live, people who didn’t always make the best choices. The thing I like about God is that He is so loving, patient and kind.  Even when Adam and Eve ate “chili and eggs” in the garden and then wore the “wrong shoes” to cover it all up—He still loved them and still provided a way for them to be forgiven.  They tried to do it their way, but God didn’t throw them under the bus and start over. And guess what?  He doesn’t throw us under the bus either, and I am thankful. When we come to Him with our “chili and eggs,” “wrong shoes,” whining and complaining about how we got the “blisters” in our life, He is patiently waiting.

He is always there for us…bad ideas and all.  You will find the Whisper whispering warnings, “don’t got there,” and encouraging you to “go the right way” and “do the right things”.  That’s just the way He is.  You know He could have carried me back to the car yesterday but I think there was a lesson that I needed to learn and a story I needed to tell. I finished the walk limping a little, but also a little wiser.  As I sat there resting in Him I decided no more chili and eggs and no more worn out, flashy shoes. And the next time  I find myself two miles from the car—well, I’ll just remember, He’s got this.

Posted in Family, fear, forgiveness, life, Scripture, Southern born, wisdom

“Curse God– And Die”

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline.” Proverbs 1:7

Rule number one—it is never a good time to curse God.  Tonight, as I sat out by a fire crackling in our outdoor fireplace, my neighbors were teaching their young son how to ride a bike.  He is a quite the young man and he did well.  Judy went over to help encourage him.  There were cheers and yells as he took off and rode maybe fifty yards or more before he “gently” crashed in the grass.  It all took me back almost sixty years.

I was about seven years old.  I’m thinking that I had already mastered the bike riding thing, though I can’t be certain.  For one reason or another, I decided I wanted to ride my brother’s 26 inch Schwinn bicycle.  Now, if in fact I had already learned to ride a bike and this was just a new challenge—then that’s pretty cool.  If I hadn’t mastered riding any bike—well, then this was a recipe for disaster.  The bike was obviously way too big for me, but I was determined.

We had a road that ran in front of our house and that was where I was going to attempt this daring feat.  Unlike my little neighbor next door, mom and dad weren’t there nor were any of my brothers and sisters.  It was just me—and God.  So, the best I could, I straddled the mammoth bicycle and promptly fell over.  I got just a little mad.  I tried it once again and this time the bike rolled forward a few feet and once again—it fell over—on me.  I got just a little madder.  By now I am muttering to myself.  I’m sure it included “stupid bike.”

The third or fourth try, by now I had lost count, resulted in just another in a series of crashes.  The frustration and anger finally boiled out.  I shook my fist at God and yelled something like, “God, why won’t you help me.”  What followed next is blurred in my memory, but I am pretty sure it came out something like, “God, I hate you.”  It was spoken—it was shouted—hurled at the God of the universe.  As far as I know it was the only time I ever cursed God.  Somehow, in my mind, all of this was God’s fault.  It didn’t matter that the bike was way too big for me or that I lacked the experience to ride such a large bike.  All that mattered was in my mind God had intentionally let me down—literally—at least four times.

It was about then that I heard a voice.  It wasn’t God, but that probably would have been appropriate since I had just major offended him.  It was a female voice.  At first I thought it might have been Mrs. Job.  If you remember the story she told her husband, “Why don’t you just curse God and die.”  But it wasn’t Mrs. Job.  No, it was Mrs. Taylor—Mrs. Alston Taylor to be exact and I was about to die. From behind the hedge that encircled our front yard came, “Dewayne Taylor, I heard that.  Don’t you ever talk to God like that again.”  When mama called you by your first and last name at the same time—you knew you were in trouble.  When she was talking about disrespecting God—you knew you were in double trouble—with her and with God.  I was in deep weeds.

Well, once again the end of the story fades from memory.  I am sure it didn’t involve me winning the war with the bike.  I am pretty sure that there was more than a verbal rebuke from mama.  I am certain that I learned a big lesson about God that day.  The lesson is that God demands and deserves our respect—whether we are seven or seventy.  The Bible teaches us “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline.” The fear that the Bible talks about is not the kind of fear when you think God is about to zap you—even if you deserve it.  No, it is talking about respect. God is worthy of our respect—He is deserving of our respect. Period.

The verse goes on to say that a foolish person despises wisdom and discipline. Another verse I’ve grown fond of is Psalm 14:1. It says, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”  I mean, I think it is pretty foolish to write God off, but there is something more here.  The words, “there is” were added by the English translators to make the verse flow a little smoother.  The verse in the Hebrew literally says, “The fool says in his heart, No, God.”  Whoa.  It is a bad idea to tell mama no, but it is really, a bad idea to tell God no.  We need to write that one down.

When I told Judy what I was going to write about today, she asked, “So what did God have to do with you and the bike?”  That’s a great question.  But you know and I know we blame God for just about everything we don’t like—including when we fall off a bike, even one we had no business trying to ride. So, let’s learn a big lesson from seven year old Dewayne.  One, don’t try something that is clearly a recipe for disaster. I mean trying new and adventurous things is awesome—but keep them in reason.  And, never, and I mean never—curse God—especially if your mama is anywhere around.  Just kidding.  That is never a good idea.  After my bike deal—maybe after your bike deal, when we are worn out and worn down, let’s pause and take a rest—in Him.  And then let’s stop muttering and start whispering, “He’s got this.” He always does—in His way and in His time.

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

Facing Down Mortality

Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in Me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in Me and believes in Me will never ever die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26

I look and see my mortality.  Now don’t think for a moment this is one of those “Debbie Downer” stories.  In fact, in a way, it might be the best news you will hear all day, all week, well, for always.  So, I am sixty-six years old.  I know, I can’t believe it either. And all around me are signs that I am mortal.  Remember that—all of us are mortal. I have been at my present position as a pastor for 20 years.  I came to the church I serve in 2000 when I was 46 years old.  I must have dozed off because just like that 20 years of life have ticked off the calendar.  My children are married, I have eight grandchildren and Judy and I have now been married 44 years.  And the best part?  It has been, and is, a great ride.

But then I did the math.  When, and if, the next 20 years tick off the clock called life, I will be 86 years old.  I find that astounding.  We Taylor boys don’t have a real good track record when it comes to longevity.  Three of my four brothers, all older than me, have already moved to heaven.  Our clock is ticking and we don’t know when the last tick will come.  It is a sobering thought.  But stay with me.

I live my life by the calendar.  I speak to my church every Wednesday and every Sunday. It seems I no more finish one message before it is time to deliver the next.  The weeks fly by.  Every first of the month I speak on the radio on a local program called “The Baptist Hour.”  My tag line is, “Can you believe another month has come and gone?” And the answer each month is, “No, I really can’t.” I remember on the first of February, after a speedy January, I made a joke about it being Christmas before we know it.  Well, next week is the first of October and Christmas is indeed just around the corner. Time flies by.  It is a sobering thought.  But stay with me.

Part of “The Baptist Hour” is the reading of the funeral arrangements of those who recently died.  Invariably there are several, often more than a few.  I’m learning that too often the names being read belong to people my age or younger.  Recently an acquaintance in our small town suddenly died—a massive heart attack.  He was younger than me.  That really caused me to stop and ponder.  It was a sobering thought.  But stay with me.

Here’s what I am learning.  Time is relative.  We are eternal beings made and destined to spend forever somewhere.  That destination doesn’t depend on good or bad, church or no church, religion or not.  Does that surprise you?  You see, heaven isn’t for good people and hell isn’t for bad people. No, where we spend eternity is about forgiveness of sin and that forgiveness is a free gift from God to anyone…anyone…who asks.  I believe faith in Jesus is the only way to heaven. I know that sounds narrow but when you consider that God invites everyone to the party—well, it is really pretty broad. We read in the Bible that the payment for sin is death and radically Jesus came for one purpose—to willingly die and pay that price.

So, if we are eternal beings and if we place our trust, our faith in this one of a kind, God-man named Jesus, that means that when we die we can spend eternity in this place called heaven.  When Jesus said that if anyone would believe in Him they would never die—that’s what He meant. And then He closes with that all important question, “Do you believe this?”

With Jesus in the equation, death isn’t the end, it is a beginning.  That might sound wacky to you.  However, before you chuck it out I challenge you to check it out.  Get a copy of the Bible and read the four different accounts or stories about Jesus—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. You might find yourself intrigued and amazed.

I read a true story yesterday about a man’s perception of his mortality. This guy happened to be a minister and he went to the doctor and got some sobering news.  He was terminally ill with no chance of recovery. The doctor told him he had about a year to live.  He left the doctor’s office and went to one of his favorite spots—you know, to kinda take it in. Now, allow me to let the man tell his story. “I looked at the river in which I rejoice, and I looked at the stately trees that are always God’s own poetry to my soul. And I said, ‘I may not see you many more times, but mountain, I shall be alive when you are gone; and river, I shall be alive when you cease running toward the sea.’”

Wow…what wonderfully strong words.  If this whole God story is true, and I honestly believe it is, then people who trust that Jesus is the path to God and heaven, will outlive the mountains and the rivers. We may change addresses but we will live forever.  I know this is probably a different kind of story than we usually share together, but I hope it will make us think about what happens next. For myself and so many others, it makes all the sense in the world—and beyond.  I’m grateful for the eternal part but I also love the part of the story that says He is with me now—COVID mess and all.  I can rest in Him and trust in Him because, He’s got this.

Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, prayer, Scripture, wisdom

The Prickly Past

He has removed our sins as far from us as the East is from the West.” Psalm 103:12

It was a voice from my past—and it was singing the blues.  While we were in Southwest Florida on holiday, I tried to keep up with my morning routines.  That included, first and foremost, coffee.  After coffee and a look at the weather, came God time.  After God time came Judy time.  After Judy time came—exercise time.  The problem with all these times is they all take time.  Before I knew it, the sun was up, the humidity was up and the temperature was up.  Regardless, I had to get up and get going.

The first morning we were there I was still learning the lay of the land and wasn’t exactly sure where I should walk.  So, I headed toward the way in and out of our condo property.  This led to the highway and so I took a left and decided to walk on the edge of the road.  It was safe but it was miserable.  There was no shade and soon it was just plain hot—very hot—“why am I doing this” hot.  I was determined to go my 3.6 miles but I began wondering if this was such a good idea.  After a little while longer I was sure it wasn’t.  But you know how men are—do or die and in this case, death might have been an upgrade.  Ok, I’m exaggerating.

In my misery, I met an old friend.  There was a point when I had to cross a bridge across a channel.  They had built a walkway but to get to the walkway you had to go behind a guardrail through the weeds.  Without breaking stride I charged on and then I saw them.  Sand spurs.  These were old friends from my childhood.  They are a type of weed and have sharp, spine covered balls of pain at the ends of long stems.  They will grab anything that gets close and if that happens to be your skin…you are done.  If they don’t get you when they attach, they will get you when you try to detach them. Ugh.

Like I said, they were an old foe from my childhood.  When I was a kid, we would run barefoot all the time and without fail we would step on them. They would hurt…bad.  Well, this time, even though I tried to avoid them, they found their way onto my shoes and socks but I didn’t find them till I got back from my walk.  As I was sitting by the pool trying to recover from a 145 heart rate and the 100 humidity, I found them. And, just like the old days, they made sure to give me a “stick and an ouch” as I tried to remove them.  Just. Like. The. Old. Days.  Though it was years ago, the whole sand spur scene was painfully fresh.

I find that sand spurs aren’t the only painful thing that loves to bump into our present.  Often, too often, unpleasant memories and regrets, sneak back into our lives and cause us pain all over again.  Try as we may, sometimes, it seems they reattach themselves to us and we relive the whole hot mess again.  It could be a similar situation or maybe a repeat performance but all the pain and remorse comes flooding back.  I hate it, you hate I,t but how do we avoid it?

Well, I tried to avoid the sand spurs on my walk.  I saw them, I knew they were there, but in my rush, my determination to exercise, I simply didn’t give them the wide berth they deserved.  I should have made it a higher priority. I realized that when I was later trying to remove them.  When you sense, when you feel your ugly, painful past creeping into the present, do whatever it takes to change the scenario. Don’t allow yourself to pull to the “sand spurs” of past failures. Trust me—they will attach themselves to your present with all their former pain.

There is one more thing that is even more important than that.  Should you find yourself reliving that regret, run straight into the arms of grace.  Remember, relive the forgiveness that came after the failure.  The Bible tells us that God casts our failures as far as the East is from the West.  I love that because it doesn’t say as far as the North is from the South. You see if you go North long enough you will find the South.  But not so with East from the West.  You can travel East forever and never find the West.  And that dear friend, is what God does with our failures and sin if we ask Him for forgiveness and help. It is gone—outta here and that is real good news.

Well, I couldn’t wait to show Judy my sand spurs, not because I liked them but because they reminded me of an important part of my past—the fact that I knew they were not going to be a permanent part of my future.  I may have bumped into them, but I wasn’t going to live with them again. And that is a good thing. So as you are speed walking though life, remember to give your painful past a wide berth and keep Jesus close by your side. You’ll find Him a mobile “rest stop,” there to make every step, every day survivable and “thrive-able.” And never forget, He’s got this.

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, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, Scripture, thankful, travel

Beautiful Sanibel

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Recently Judy and I went on a great adventure as we traveled down to Southwest Florida to the Fort Myers area.  Because of the virus thing it was interesting on several levels.  First, masks were required the entire time we were in the airport and on the plane.  We were allowed to take them off while we were eating our snacks.  When we arrived we were pleased to discover, that as we suspected, this area of Florida was not crowded at all. Yay.

More than a few stores were closed still and every restaurant we went to had plenty of room for customers.  Whatever crowd limits were in place were not met…no lines.  So it was just a great adventure and we love great adventures.  I even managed to rent a Mustang convertible for the time we were there and that was well, beyond awesome.  The rental agent tried to convinced me to rent a GT model for an extra twenty dollars a day.  He obviously didn’t know me.  Twenty dollars for the week maybe… but a day—the six cylinder was more than good.  I have to admit I felt pretty cool.  My cool sunglasses and my cool hat hiding my “not so cool” balding head completed the look.

One of the things we did, twice, was to go to beautiful Sanibel island.  It was only about 12 miles from where we were staying and it was one of those places we had wanted to go for a long time.  So one day we put the top down and off we went.  We had music from the sixties and seventies playing on the radio and I felt pretty young.  Maybe the sixties are the new forties.  So as we neared the island there was a six dollar toll.  “No deal” I said.  I thought it interesting that there was no one to take the toll.  There was simply a sign that said, “We will bill you.”  I bet they will too.

So when we got on beautiful Sanibel Island one thing quickly became apparent.  It was beautiful but it was a place of threats and rules.  The biggest was the parking deal.  Everywhere—and that is not an exaggeration, there were signs—big signs—threatening signs—warning you that if you parked without paying two things would happen.  They would tow your car and charge you a fine.  And the fine was not like $25 dollars.  Oh no…it was like $250.  And they meant it too.  And the parking was, are you ready, $5.00 an hour.  No breaks and no exceptions.  But that wasn’t all.

There were signs warning you that if you were caught speeding, there was a fine and it was strictly enforced.  If you turned where you shouldn’t turn, there was a fine and it was strictly enforced.  If you were from Illinois, there was a fine and it was strictly enforced.  Ok, I made that one up but you get the idea.  It seemed everywhere you looked in what was supposed to be paradise, were more threats and rules and it kinda just took some of the fun out of it.  I understand why they thought they had to do it but that didn’t make it any easier to swallow. I felt like they were just waiting for me to mess up so they could say, “gotcha.”

Well, so in a few days Judy and I will pack up and come back to Harrisburg and leave that part of the trip in the rearview mirror.  We loved it but that part I can do without.  And that is the point of this story.  So often as Jesus followers we insist on seeing Kingdom life as a land of strict rules and we see God as the ultimate traffic cop.  He writes these impossible rules and then waits for us to mess up so He can say, “gotcha” and zap us.  I wonder where we got all of that? I mean God’s love and grace toward His children are plastered all through His Book.  I understand the need, and benefits, of obedience but I disdain it when people try and make God to be a bad God.  He is anything but bad.  Yes, He is just.  Yes, when we reject His gift of salvation we have to answer for our sin.  But this God gave His Son to a Roman cross so that we could have forgiveness and call Him Father.  That is amazing.

If you find yourself living in a world where your faith is confined to a world of rules and threats you’ve probably wandered off the right grid. Remember the wonderful words found in Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Yes, I know they were written to Israel but the principle is ours to claim.  Our lives should be motivated by God’s love and grace and not the fear of Him zapping us.  Never, never forget that as His child He loves you beyond what you can believe.  He is working things for your good and His glory.  It’s that plain and simple.  Every no and yes in His Book is there for that reason.  He is not a cosmic cop waiting to hurt you…He is a wonderful, loving Father who would die for you…and He did.

Starting today, why not change your view of God?  If you’ve never asked Him for forgiveness and received His great gift of eternal life…start there.  And if you’ve wandered off the grid into the land of rules and threats, come back home to grace and love.  It’s where He wants you to live.  It is where you will find rest.  It is where you will discover that no matter what, He’s got this.

Posted in forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, prayer, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

My “Sorry” Prayer Life

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, but worldly grief produces death.”  2 Corinthians 7:10

I have a sorry prayer life.  No really, I do.  I know that prayer is a very important part of life.  The Bible talks so much about it.  And honestly, it isn’t that it is terribly hard.  If you look and listen to what Jesus says about prayer, you will see how important – but how simple it is.  He gave us His now famous lesson on prayer which we call the Lord’s Prayer but it is better called the Disciples Prayer or the Model Prayer. The Model Prayer was not that long, contained no big, spiritual words, and it was straight to the point.

Now if all this is true, why do I struggle with prayer so much?  Why do you struggle with prayer so much?  Well, I can’t and shouldn’t speak for you but I can speak for me.  I have a “sorry” prayer life.  Now you might be sayings, “Dewayne don’t be so harsh on yourself.  It can’t be that bad.”  Well, actually I’m not using sorry as an adjective for my prayer life but rather as a way to tell you about two things that I throw in my prayer life that really shouldn’t be there.  What are they?

Here’s how it works, way too often I find myself telling God that I am sorry for this and sorry for that.  Now that really sounds good, doesn’t it?  Well, I can’t think of a single time where God told me to tell Him I was sorry for my sin.  Nope, I can’t think of once.  You know how it goes.  We tell God good morning and then begin to tell Him that we are sorry for this and sorry for that and of course, we are sorry for this and that.  And most likely the next morning, you find yourself telling Him you were sorry for the same things all over again.  There is a better way.

The better prayer is a prayer of repentance.  It is fine to let Him know you are sorry, but don’t stop there.  Let Him know that you intend to not do this or that again.  Repentance is a great Bible word that means to have a change in attitude and/or a change in direction.  When you repent you are telling God that you are changing your attitude toward that juicy sin.  You are going from liking to hating and from clinging to leaving.

Paul, one of the writers of the New Testament, said that godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, but worldly grief produces death. In other words repentance leads to life and being sorry leads to the death of your joy and peace. Oh, and by the way, be sure and ask Him for His power and strength to do that because you will surely need it.  This whole Jesus journey is all about Him anyway.  So be sorry, that can’t hurt, but do, do repent.  It’s a game changer.

Now the other part of my “sorry” prayer life goes like this.  I spend several minutes or longer telling God just how sorry I am.  No, not like what we’ve already talked about.  This kind of sorry is the kind that tells God how much of a failure I am, how I am worthless, how I have never succeeded and so I probably won’t succeed today either.  I am one sorry piece of creation.  Really? I hate to admit it but I’ve been known to do it.  It’s like telling God He is junk maker and not a masterpiece creator.  I’m speaking to me but you can join in.  It is time to believe what God says about us and not what the devil says.  Let’s not waste our prayer time telling God how messed up we are but rather thanking Him for making us a new creation.

I know, trust me I know, I (or we) are not perfect.  I know I (or we) fail too many times.  But those imperfections, those failures, do not determine who we are.  God determines who we are and when we put our faith in His Son we are precious in His sight and we are His trophies of grace.  Let’s not try and convince Him otherwise (as if we could) but rather let’s spend those precious moments in prayer thanking Him for all of His marvelous grace.

I think it is time we change our “sorry” prayer lives.  What about you?  Are you willing to leave the mess at the door and enter His grace room with repentance and gratitude for all He has done for you?  Are you willing to turn your “sorry” prayer life into a time of celebration of forgiveness and hope?  Well, I’m sure going to give it a whirl.  I know that when I do I’m going to find that rest I’ve been looking for.  And I’m going to get up and believe like He’s got it.  Because He does.

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

Choose Real

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Matthew 11:28

I couldn’t believe my eyes.  One of the earthquakes from the corona virus was the total disruption of sports.  I’m not a big sports guy, but I do have my favorites.  I really enjoy college football and I can’t believe that several conferences will not be playing ball this fall.  I am a Notre Dame football fan (and yes, I suppose it is a little weird that a Baptist preacher’s favorite team is from a Catholic school but hey, it is what it is.) I remarked to several folks that I’m not sure we can have fall with college football.

I was surely surprised when March Madness when by the wayside. Once again, I like college ball because for the most part, it is sports at it’s purest.  I knew things were pretty serious when they cancelled this spring classic. Now all of the rest, well, there’s always next year.  It seems from where I sit that so many of the professional sports are about money and not about the love of whatever game they are playing.

When professional sports started trying to come back, I was amused at the “creative” measures the leagues used to get things going.  The NBA (National Basketball Association) did the bubble thing in Orlando—and I’m really not sure what that is about, the NHL (National Hockey League) and their attempt to have a kinda, sorta, season and playoffs.  NASCAR (I’m not sure what all that stands for but I do like what they stand for) has done pretty well.  Finally, there is MLB or Major League Baseball.  They are playing a 60 game season and then some kind of playoff system crowned with a sorta, kinda world series.

I was watching a MLB game the other day at my son-in-law’s house. I know one of the teams was the Philadelphia Phillies and the game was being played in their park.  Here’s where it gets interesting.  First, as we watched this game, they had filled the entire lower level of the stadium with cardboard fan look-a-likes. If I understand this correctly people pay to have their picture sitting in these seats.  It gets better.

So here are the lower stands stuffed to the gills with fake people and then to complete the “ruse” they pipe in fake crowd noise to go along with the fake people.  I’m sure I am not the only person going, “what?”  I’m not sure what the purpose of all that is but one thing is certain—it’s not real. I am sure that is perfectly fine in these crazy times.  In fact, now that I think about it, it is probably perfectly normal for these crazy times.  It’s ok…as long as it stays in the park.

Sadly, we live in a world where more and more people are wearing “invisible” masks.  First, no pun intended and second, not the masks that protect you.  Perhaps uncomfortable with who they are or what people might think of them, they feel the need to hide behind something or pretend to be something they are not.  Like an actor on a stage they are simply playing a part.  I get that because people can be harsh and judgmental. But let me share something that just might help.  There is a God who loves you unconditionally and He is waiting for you to come and join His family.  Once He becomes your Father, no amount of failure, no amount of sin can separate you from Him.  It gets better.

Not only will He love you unconditionally, He is comfortable with the way He made you.   You don’t need to pretend, you don’t need to disguise—you can be you.  And when you mess up, ask and He will forgive you. When you are lonely, He will always be there. When you are afraid, He will be your Mighty Warrior and when you need to be real—you can be.  He will be your BFF—your best friend forever—literally.  So, weary one, come to Jesus.  He tells us that if we will come to Him, He will give us rest.  And when we are facing the giants of our past, our todays or our tomorrows—He is big enough.  After all, He’s got this.