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

Annie

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Her life was pretty hard…pretty dark.  A perky young redhead with an optimistic attitude in a pessimistic world.  Others mocked her and those charged to care for her emotionally abused her.  So, what was Annie’s response?  Well, it goes something like this.

“The sun will come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun! Just thinking about tomorrow clears away the cobwebs, and the sorrow till there’s none!

When I’m stuck in a day that’s gray, and lonely, I just stick out my chin and grin, and say, “Oh the sun will come out tomorrow. So ya gotta hang on till tomorrow…come what may. Tomorrow! Tomorrow! I love ya tomorrow! You’re always a day away.”

So guess what?  The sun does come out.  She is rescued by Daddy Warbucks and her life is changed forever.  Are there still problems?  Yup.  Are there still bad guys lurking to hurt her–steal her away? Yup.  Does the story have a great ending?  Yup and three big lessons emerge.  One, the sun will come out.  Two.  Don’t mess with Daddy Warbucks. Three, don’t underestimate a nine-year-old redhead.

So, doesn’t it seem we are stuck in a day that’s gray, and lonely?  Doesn’t it seem this whole corona virus thing is one perpetual, cloudy day? Doesn’t it seem like this is the new forever normal?  Well, it is not.  The sun is going to come out.

I try and walk every morning–usually on the treadmill.  I climb on and at 4 mph work feverously to go nowhere.  Well, yesterday, the temps were warm and the sun was out and walked at the city park–and it was like a cool drink of water in a hot dry desert.  I mean I just exploded in gratitude for a God who loved me enough to let the sun come out.

I read on the internet that the phrase, “And it came to pass…” appears 396 times in the Bible.  Each time it is saying that the current situation didn’t come to stay…it came to pass. That this isn’t a new normal…it is a temporary circumstance.

In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Paul writes, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Right on Paul.  Right on.

So remember this.  One, the sun will come out–guaranteed.  It may be here or it may be there but the future for a child of God is filled with “Son-shine.”  Second, remember who our Father is.  He isn’t just rich like Daddy Warbucks–He owns it all and is in total control.  And no one…and I mean no one…messes with our Father.  Last, you may not be a perky young redhead like Annie but don’t underestimate yourself.  You dear friend, if you have trusted Christ, are a prince or princess of the King.  Your home is heaven and your Father calls you His. Can someone say, “Son-shine?”  God bless you today.  The forecast says clouds but I’m feeling pretty “Son-ny.”  After all, I can rest in Him.  He’s got this.

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, Military memories, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

“Foot in Mouth” Disease

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29

I just shouldn’t have said it.  We all have said things that we wish we hadn’t.  I learned a lesson about that the hard way.  I had two bumps in Air Force basic training. One involved singing…you can check that one out on my blog www.gritswithgrace.com (https://gritswithgrace.com/2020/06/01/i-said-sing/). The other one also involved my mouth…I wonder if there is trend there.

In basic guys were assigned to a flight (group) and each flight had a dorm chief.  He was someone, a peer of sorts, the flight chief selected from within or outside the flight.  Ours was selected from outside.  He had a weight issue so was put in a special group that helped men get down to a weight level that was acceptable.  That of course meant they had to stay longer in basic.  Well, our guy, whose name was Guy, was one of those guys.  Because of his longer tenure in basic he was named our dorm chief.

Now it could have been a little jealousy on my side or it could have been that I was a little judgmental or maybe I had a momentary case of the stupids but I said something to one of the guys about this guy.  The words are lost to time but it was probably something like, “Who does this guy think he is? He’s not a leader…he is a loser.”  Well, anyway, something like that. I said it and forgot it assuming it just died away.  It did not.

So, apparently either that guy told another guy who told another guy who told the guy named Guy.  The guy named Guy told the guy named Sergeant Catchings who was the same guy that caught me singing.  Well, things were about to go south.  There was a lesson that needed to be taught and I was the object of that lesson.

Sergeant Catchings gathered the flight outside his office and leaving the door open sat down at his desk.  We all were like, “What’s this about?”  I quickly found out it was about me.  Soon a booming, “you’re in deep weeds son” voice said, “Airman Taylor, get in here.” I got up and went in the office and he instructed me to close the door.  I stood smartly at attention in front of the desk. Sergeant Catchings harshly invited me to take a seat.  There was no chair.

He had me place my hands flat on his desk and then squat by bending my knees till my arms were parallel with the top of his desk. Three things immediately came to my mind.  One, what in the world have I done? Two, this is very uncomfortable.  Three, I’m going to die.  Well in about one minute I found out that Dorm Chief Guy had told him I was mouthing off.  I had broken a cardinal rule…don’t mouth off about those in leadership above you.

Sergeant Catchings, jumped to his feet and began to lecture me about respect for leadership and how I should never, ever disrespect those put in authority over me.  Now don’t forget.  One, I still “sitting” in the invisible chair with my hands on his desk.  Two, the entire flight is outside the door.  And by now he is screaming at the top of his voice.  For added effect, he would occasionally walk over to the door and kick it or slap it making it sound like I was dying.  I was.

Finally, after about ten or so minutes he opens the door and says two words, “Get out.” Imagine 27 guys looking in the office and seeing me squatting with my hands on the desk.  I can’t move.  I am locked in place.  My muscles leg and arm muscles were frozen.  He said it again, LOUDER, “I said get out.”  So, I fell over and managed to crawl, yes I said crawl, out of his office. I was in agony and the rest of guys were in shock and we all learned a lesson about gossip and respect for authority.

The lesson that day was very valuable. I wish I could tell you that I learned it so well I never had the “stupids” again but that wouldn’t be true.  But I can tell you this.  There is a reason the Bible talks so much about the tongue and the mouth. It isn’t a matter of finding a verse…it is a matter of choosing a verse.  We can start with a little nugget found in Proverbs 21:23, “Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut,

and you will stay out of trouble.” I wish I had remembered that one before I uttered the words that prompted my visit to Sergeant Catchings office.

But the one that probably says it best is this, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Imagine how less complicated our lives, our families, our marriages would be if we mastered that one.  Imagine how our work lives and even our worship lives would change.  A pastor once said that if we knew we would have to personally apologize to every person we slandered or gossiped about, we probably would hit “pause” a lot more often. Oh well, I’m sure glad we have a graceful God.  I have learned over the years to deeply value his patience with me and His mercy for me.  There have been too times I’ve had to go to my dearest Daddy and have a chat about “foot in mouth” disease.  I’m glad He graciously invited me to come sit close beside Him. He has always heard my confession and honored my repentance.  I find rest right there…next to Him. Because He’s got this.

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

Sacred Cows

See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children—and we are!” 1 John 3:1

That can’t be good. The noise came from the church sanctuary and it sounded like trouble—with a capital “T.”  Being a pastor is one of the most challenging and interesting vocations there is.  I have been walking this path for the past 38 years and there is nothing like it.  I’ve experienced the lowest of valleys and the highest mountain peaks and that’s just on Monday morning!  Of course, if you think being a pastor is challenging, you should be a “PK” or pastor’s kid.

PK’s grow up in a fishbowl world.  Many people expect them to be perfect. They are held to standards that are unfair but that can lead to some pretty good stories.  And you know I love a good story.  So one evening, my wife and a couple of the ladies from our church were working in the children’s department.  I believe they were painting and papering.  We had been at the church long enough to build some great relationships but not quite long enough to guarantee survival of “the big one.”

“The big one” is a variety of things that you don’t mess with in a church.  They are also called “sacred cows.”  Now these things don’t moo or eat grass. I think the phrase must refer back to India where cows are worshipped.  Mess with a cow in India and someone is going to mess with you.  One of the jobs of a pastor is to learn what and where the cows are for a church and then avoid them.  It is also the job of the pastor to keep his kids from messing with one.  And that’s where the trouble started.

Judy and the ladies were working hard that evening and not paying much attention to the girls.  My two girls were there as well as the daughter of one of the ladies. The moms were working hard and the kids were playing.  Life was good.  People were happy…and then.  I’m not sure exactly in what order these two events happened but they were very close together.  The first was the sound of kids playing.  It was the sound of kids playing in a swimming pool.  However, First Baptist didn’t have a swimming pool.  But it did have a baptistry…the kind big enough to swim in.

The second sound was not a happy sound.  The second sound was the sound someone makes when a sacred cow is being touched.  The second sound was the sound that pastor’s really, really, don’t like to hear.  This one sounded something like this, “WHO is PLAYING in the baptistry?” Apparently one of the trustees (who was a good friend) had come into the sanctuary and discovered what the moms had also just discovered.  What they discovered …was that the kids had discovered …that the church had a built-in swimming pool.  It was not a pretty scene.

Friend or not, he was really, really upset.  The pastor’s kids were swimming in the baptistry and that was definitely a no-no.  I could hear the cow mooing loud and clear. The moms were traumatized (only later would they laugh), and me, I was just trying to still be the pastor the next day.  But it turns out we had an ace in the hole.  Now an “ace in the hole” is a bit of information or a resource held back until the proper time.  It was time.  Just about then…the trustee’s five-year old granddaughter stuck her head up from the baptistry and smiled at her grandfather. Now it still wasn’t pretty. The kids were still messing with a cow, however, the relationship one of swimmers had with the trustee changed everything.

The bottom line is the kids had a nice swim but never had another one in the indoor poor.  My friend, the trustee, showed grace but I’m sure only after a lecture about indoor swimming pools in Baptist churches.  And me…I got to keep being the pastor. It really turned out to be a great story and over time it just got more and more humorous.  Several years later it was my privilege to officiate at my friend’s funeral. We had many wonderful memories to share that day but I do believe the story of the baptistry topped them all.  Grace and relationships have a way of doing that. It works when kids touch sacred cows and it works when we sin.

You see, when it comes to us and God, we do far worse than touch the sacred…we violate His law and trample His holiness.  It is an ugly scene but then He does the amazing.  He offers forgiveness, He offers grace, unmerited favor, to any person willing to put their faith not in themselves but in His Son Jesus.  That faith results in this incredible relationship where we can call Him Father and He calls us His kids.  The Bible says it like this, “See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children—and we are!” How about that?  He is willing and able to forgive any sin—even swimming in the baptistry—if we believe.  Amazing. So when you find yourself in a hot mess with God, just remember the big truth about grace and relationships.  The first makes the second possible.  And when you get the second you get everything you need.  A place to crawl up and rest and a dearest Daddy that is big enough to conquer your biggest fear and forgive your biggest sin.  After all, He’s got this.

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, July 4, life, Military memories, Scripture, thankful

John Ellis Believed

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He has chosen as His own inheritance.” Psalm 33:12

I couldn’t believe it.  Last night Judy and I decided to go out to eat.  We do that a lot on Thursday nights.  We went to one of our favorite restaurants (dining inside, thank-you) and then visited Sam’s Club to see if we needed to buy something that we didn’t need.  Then we headed for 217 back in Harrisburg.  As we were driving down the highway, Willie started singing in my head again, “On the road again, that’s where I long to be, on the road again.” So it was time for a spur of the moment adventure.

As we approached an intersection we had passed a hundred times before, I asked Judy, “Where does this road go?”  It said Creal Springs so we just turned and decided to take a little side trip.  We were driving along just enjoying the lush greenness of the warm summer evening and I thought I saw one of those “brown signs.”  These signs usually indicate a place of special interest.  As I went by I thought I saw the words cemetery and Revolutionary War. I went down the road just a ways and then told Judy I saw a sign for a cemetery…perhaps an old one.  I turned around.

Back down the road, there was indeed a sign. We pulled off the road and it said, “Ellis Family Cemetery and Revolutionary War gravesite.  What?  Can’t be!  The crazy part was there was no road just a driveway.  Well, after a bit of hesitation, we decided to give it a try.  Sure enough, the driveway went between two houses which led to a pasture.  Way at the back of the pasture we could see a small cemetery.  There wasn’t a road but I could see where a car had gone before.  Off we went.

When we got there, we found the gravesite of John Ellis.  He was born in 1754 and died in 1850.  He lived for 96 years and he fought in the American Revolutionary War.  He had two monuments.  One was much newer, one much older.  The older one simply said, “For Military Merit” and someone had painted his name on it.  I was overwhelmed.  Here in Southern Illinois was the grave of a man, a hero, who fought for the birth of our country. Amazing.

This man was there; this man was on the battlefield when a group of men and women declared our freedom from England.  This.man.was.there.  He put it all on the line for a cause greater than himself.  And for the last 244 years that is what freedom loving American heroes have done.  Through conflicts great and small they have served, they have bled and many have died.  I value the saying, “All gave some, some gave all.” I value the sacrifice of all these freedom fighters through the centuries and decades.  I also love what they fought for.

Right now is a difficult time for our nation but we have seen difficult times before. At his first inauguration on March 4, 1933, Franklin Roosevelt said this. “This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Don’t rush past those words.  They are powerful and they are worth believing.

I believe in this country.  I believe even with all its warts and imperfections it is still the best country in the world.  Having visited well over twenty other countries I’ve seen the competition and America wins hands down.  I spent an Independence Day in basic training for the Air Force in 1972. Lights-out was about 8:00 pm and I was lying in my bunk when the fireworks starting going off.  I crept out of bed and went to the window and watched as the fireworks exploded in the Texas sky.  Two emotions came over me.  One, I missed family.  Somewhere in Florida they were celebrating freedom. The other though was more personal.  I was becoming an American airman serving my country.  I was one of her defenders and I was proud…proud to serve and proud to be an American.

So, please, don’t blow past Independence Day tomorrow and certainly don’t give up on America.  We have weathered many storms and we can weather this one…if we do what we have done in the past and that is trust God.  It is no accident that we have fought and won, it is no accident that we have survived and even thrived for the past 244 years.  It was more than American determination…it was and is the grace of God.

The Book says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He has chosen as His own inheritance.”  That is so true.  As a nation when we choose God, when we choose to make Him ours, we do better.  When we don’t, we don’t.  It is just that simple.  It isn’t politically correct these days but the bottom line is…its true.  The second part of that verse is equally important. God is still inviting, calling people to be His.  Skin color doesn’t matter, economic status doesn’t matter, creed doesn’t matter.  He simply invites every man, woman, and child to be His.  The decision is individual. So, God bless America.  If you are a God follower, a God believer, start the day tomorrow with a whispered prayer of thanks for this great country.  And then, pause, be still and listen for surely the Whisperer will whisper.  He may speak through His Word, He may speak through another person or a beautiful sunrise or sunset.  Regardless, He will whisper, “You can rest in Me.  I’ve got this.” 

Posted in Family, Grace, life, loving others, prayer, Scripture, wisdom

A Little Misunderstanding

Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.” Colossians 4:6

It was just a little misunderstanding.  The story is told of a pastor who visited a man in the hospital.  As he stood by the bed, the man began to be in deep distress.  Unable to speak he quickly wrote the pastor a note, handed it to him and then just died.  In all the confusion of the moment, the pastor slid the note into his pocket and forgot about it. Several days later the pastor was conducting the memorial service for the man.  The pastor was describing the man…his life, his good heart and his service for others.  Then it happened.

The pastor suddenly remembered that he had the note in his suit pocket.  He told the audience, “I have just remembered the day Joe died I was visiting him in the hospital and he slipped me a note right before he passed away. I failed to read it and have just now remembered it is in my pocket. How special it would be if we can share his final thoughts together now.  So the pastor reached into his pocket, pulled out the note and read, “You’re standing on my oxygen hose.” Smile.

As a pastor you can bet I’ve got some pretty crazy stories and a lot of them revolve around little misunderstandings and lack of communication.  One day I was visiting one of our members in the hospital and she was quite ill.  When I make a visit I naturally slip into my “let me make you feel better mode.”  For me there are two great fix-alls—humor and food. But sometimes, many times, a person just needs compassion and kindness.  This was one of those times.

I walked into the room and she was lying in the bed softly moaning.  I moved over by the bed and whispered her name.  She opened her eyes, slightly smiled and said, “Pastor, thank you for coming by.” We shared for just a few minutes and it was obvious she was very sick.  And then she said, “I just want to go home.”  I softy said, “I know.” And she said it again and then another time. Each time I responded with some simple words of understanding.  After the third time I upped my game.  I said, “I know you want to go home and when God is ready, He will take you.”

Well, imagine my surprise, and embarrassment, when she said, “NOT that home, pastor, my home.”  Oh…oops. I was ready to ship her off to heaven and she was just wanting to go back to her house.  Like I said, sometimes there is just a lack of understanding and communication. When that happens we need to admit that we missed it and if necessary ask for a little grace or perhaps give a little grace.  I quickly apologized for the misunderstanding, she did get better and indeed went to her home. We even had the chance to laugh about it later.

In the world we find ourselves these days there are multiple opportunities for misunderstandings.  When we find ourselves in too close of quarters for too long, when we have differing opinions about everything from the corona virus to what’s wrong with our country—misunderstandings are bound to happen.  In the regular world the normal response would be to get mad and often get even.  In the regular world the normal response would be more anger and more division.  But for Jesus followers that is just not an option.

The Bible tells us over and again that if we follow Jesus we are to act like Jesus.  We often get that when it comes to moral responses—and rightfully so.  But we too often miss the biggest application—how we respond when we bump into other people…or they bump into us.  Paul, one of the major writers in the Bible says, “Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.”  I like that.  Gracious and attractive.  Mama used to say this, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”.  I wonder if Mama knew Paul?

Well, the bottom line is there will always be plenty of opportunities to bump into people.  There will always be plenty of opportunities to respond in a “not so Jesus way.”  But what if we hit the pause button right before we speak and ask ourselves, “Is this gracious or attractive?  Is this nice?” I wonder how things would change?  In these dark days the world needs “Jesus lights.” It needs us to shine for Him even when we get a little tired and a little weary.  We need to recognize that is just a setup for regretful words.  Let’s choose option “B.”  Let’s just rest in Him and choose to think before we speak.  After all, He’s got this.

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

My Name is Sue

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” Proverbs 17:17

Johnny Cash sang it. “My name is Sue…now you’re going to die.” Well, his name wasn’t Sue but it was Francis.  Like Sue…it was a somewhat unusual name for a man and Francis was an unusual guy. I met Francis when I went to pastor at the LaMonte Baptist Church.  The church had three deacons and they were named Leo, Francis, and Floyd.  All three of them were special guys and I grew to love each one of them for who they were.  I was a very young, inexperienced pastor.  I was new at the pastoring thing.  So new, in fact, that when I mowed my grass at the parsonage, across the street from the church, I would wear dress pants.  I wasn’t sure if pastors were allowed to wear jeans so close to the church.  They can.

So, even back in 1984, Judy loved flowers and the parsonage was woefully short in that department.  In fact, I’m not sure there were any flowers in the entire yard.  Well, one day Judy declared that she wanted a flower bed.  She began to actually plan the “where’s and how’s” of the flower bed.  If it would have been me,  I would have grabbed some flowers, dug a hole, stuffed them in, and added dirt.  Good luck.  Not Judy.  She decided that the flower bed should go along the front of the house and that it need to be raised.  That means we needed to find some timbers to build up the height of the bed.  Again, after a little thought, she decided that railroad ties would do the job.

Somehow, I casually mentioned to Francis that Judy wanted a flower bed. Now Francis was the “go-to guy” when it came to things like the parsonage.  He had already led the charge in installing a brick flue so we could have a wood burner so he was the natural choice for the flower bed.  I said, “Francis, Judy would like to have some railroad ties for her new flower bed”.  Francis didn’t miss a beat.  He said, “I’ll pick you up tomorrow at five.”

Well, sure as shooting, the next day at five, Francis pulled up in his big ole dually, white Dodge pickup truck.  You know there are pickup trucks too pretty to get dirty and then there are real pickup trucks.  Francis had a real pickup truck. I climbed inside and we headed toward Sedalia the largest town nearby.  I figured we were heading to the hardware store there to purchase some ties.  I was wrong.  You see, there was a railroad that ran parallel to the main highway.  We went down the road a ways and then…Francis turned.

Yup, he turned on a small road and then immediately took a right.  We had arrived at the railroad tie store only it wasn’t a store…it was the factory.  I found myself in railroad tie heaven.  You see, the railroad company had recently replaced their ties and the old ones were strewn all down the rails.  As far as you could see there were railroad ties. I was just amazed.  I should have been afraid.

Francis said, “Preacher, how many ties do you think you will need?”  Well, I told him I thought ten or twelve would be enough.”  So we started going along the tracks and selecting the best ones for the flower bed.  Just like a carpenter would choose the best 2×4’s at the lumber yard, we picked the best ties.  This was just awesome.  And then it happened.  I heard the sound of distant train whistle.

Now I didn’t think a thing about it. I always was a bit gullible and way too trusting. I had just assumed that Francis had called the local railroad office, told them the church needed a few of their old ties and got permission to get some.  I was wrong.  I heard the whistle the second time and it was decidedly closer. I noticed that Francis had picked up the pace…he was definitely moving a little faster.  I still didn’t think a thing.  I just assumed he didn’t want to be that close to the tracks when the train went by.  Well, that was kinda true.

The whistle blew again and this time it must have been about a mile down the tracks and Francis said it, “Preacher, we gotta go.”  I did sense a bit of urgency in his voice but I kinda thought it was a safety thing.  It turned out it was a bit more than that.  As we got back in his truck I said, “Francis, what’s the hurry?” I was thinking we could just move the truck further away from the tracks and we could even wave at the crew as they went by.  “Preacher, you don’t think they are giving us these ties, do you?”  Wait.  What?

Yup…I just discovered that we were stealing ties from the railroad.  It wasn’t a matter of safety it was a matter of not going to jail. So, Francis cranked the engine and mashed the gas and off we went just before the train came by. In the back of the truck were a bunch of railroad ties and in the front were two guys.  One was a preacher, one was a deacon and both of them were guilty as sin. One knew all about it and the other was just learning but both were tie stealing criminals. Francis was smiling and I was wondering if I was going to jail.  But somehow it all seemed like a great adventure.

Well, we got back to the parsonage and we built the flower bed. Francis helped with that too.  Years later when I would return to the church to preach, share at a funeral or maybe just drive through town, I would look and see the ties.  I didn’t remember the sin (I’m sure I confessed it. God had forgotten it and I figure I should too.) No, I remembered a crusty old deacon, but more than that, a friend who wanted to help.  His way wasn’t ethical but all these years later, his willingness, his own brand of love is still lodged in my heart.  The Book says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” You know there are fancy friends, and rich friends and maybe even friends in positions of power.  And then there are the Francis kind of friends. Of course if you’re gonna steal railroad ties, you definitely need the Jesus kind of friend.  As a matter of fact, He says, “go steal no more” in Ephesians 4:28, and I didn’t. His specialty is forgiving when you mess up and He’s the best friend of all. He’s the kind of friend that wouldn’t have frowned or pretend He didn’t know you when He saw you in Walmart.  No, He’s the stay by your side friend.  Through thick or thin, jail or not, He would say, “Don’t worry…just rest in Me.  I’ve got this.” Now that’s my kind of friend.

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, Military memories, missions, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, travel

Forty-four Years

So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times! Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.” Ephesians 5:16-17

Forty-four years.  16,071 sunrises and sunsets.  That’s the length of the on-going saga of our story.  It seems like yesterday but it also seems like another lifetime.  We both were young… maybe too young. But we were in love, we wanted to walk together so that day, this day forty-four years later, we started walking and just never stopped.

We were chatting last night before we drifted off to sleep and I told her we were blessed.  There have been bumps but not the kind of bumps that come from wanting to quit or wanting something new.  They were the kind of bumps that come from life.  The death of our parents, starting over when the Air Force or God gave new orders, kids being kids and people being people, and yes, me being me and her being her.  But what a journey.

Forty-four years.  I remember the excitement of our wedding day.  I in my snazzy light-blue tux and patent leather high heeled shoes (hey, cut me some slack…it was the seventies) and her standing at the back of the church in her white wedding dress and long brown hair.  Her standing and then walking…walking to me to join me…to start life together.  I was marrying up…and well.

Forty-four years.  I remember embarking on the first of many great adventures as we flew to Europe not for a honeymoon but to live.  The Air Force sent us to live in Germany and while the separation from family was hard…life was enchanting.  I remember looking out our apartment window overlooking an alpine valley with the trees covered with a light dusting of snow. I remember our German landlord knocking on our door and presenting my new bride with a freshly skinned rabbit.  He was beaming and she was wondering, “What do I do with this?”

Forty-four years.  I remember coming back to the USA after three years and seeing our country through new eyes.  Leave for a while and you never see it quite the same.  Leave for a while and the warts and imperfection all fall into perspective.  I remember traveling to the Midwest for the first time and finding out that not everyone liked grits or even knew what they were.  I remember the birth of our first daughter and realizing that we weren’t in Kansas anymore.

Forty-four years.  I remember daughter number two surprising us…and what a good surprise it was.  Our family was complete (or not) and our future secure in the Air Force…until the Whisperer whispered. So long Air Force and hello pastoring and walking by faith. With a young wife and two kids ages three and two, no insurance and a pastorate that paid $12,000..well, faith was a little harder…a little less sure. About then I began to realize just how big, how sure, God is.  I’m still learning that one but He has a perfect track record.

Forty-four years.  I remember the day when we had to pack up and leave a bunch of people we loved a lot and that loved us a lot.  With a station-wagon and a U-Haul stuffed to the gills we moved to a little town called Cobden.  It was new all over again and we fell in love again with another wonderful group of people.  It was at Cobden that God surprised us with daughter number three.  It was at Cobden we raised our family because God let us stay 14 years.  It was at Cobden we learned deep lessons of love and grace.  After fourteen years the Whisperer whispered again and we knew we had to obey.  It was one of the hardest things we ever did.

Forty-four years.  I remember coming to Harrisburg and to Dorrisville Church and wondering how God would write this new part of our story.  I remember wondering how long this chapter would be.  Well, here we are 20 years into this part of our story—almost half of our married lives—and I am still amazed at God’s grace and His people’s patience.  Our kids are grown, we have eight grandkids and Judy and I are experiencing what it is like to grow old together.  I highly recommend it.

Forty-four years.  James, the half-brother of Jesus tells us that life is like a vapor.  In other words it goes by quickly.  Remember how you breathe on a cold morning and your breath appears as if smoke?  As quickly as it appears…it leaves.  That’s life. I am amazed at my age, the length of our marriage and just how awesome life has been been…and is.  Paul, another Bible guy, had it right.  He says, “So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times! Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.” Good advice, Paul, good advice indeed. Forty-Four years.  Yup, life is good.  I’m still in love with Jesus, still in love with Judy, and still in love with my kids and grandkids.  I get up each day just waiting to see what God has in store…waiting for the next whisper…the next great adventure.  Till then I bet you can guess what I’m going to do.  Yup…I’m going to rest in Him.  He’s got this. 

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

Patience or “Not”

Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” James 1:2-3

At first it seemed unfair but then, there it was, conspiracy.  There is a lot of talk today about conspiracy schemes.  When and whatever happens there is someone who will say there is a dark diabolical reason for it happening.  I wasn’t sure about it until it happened to me.  Yes, there was a conspiracy.

As you may remember, my wife and I were able to attend a pastor’s conference in North Carolina.  It was so good to pack a few things, jump into our 44 mpg Jetta and hit the road.  Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” was ringing in my ears.  We cruised across Tennessee and were heading toward North Carolina when it happened.  About five miles from the border, our GPS talky thing said, in her most gentle voice, “traffic ahead.”  Well, it wasn’t like we were in Chicago or something so that could only mean trouble.

Soon, very soon, trouble was staring me in the face.  Brake-lights and slowing vehicles were everywhere.  We were in a slowdown—we were in—traffic.  Signage and the talky thing confirmed my worse fears—there was construction ahead.  Now you need to know something.  First, I am not patient in traffic.  Ok, that wasn’t totally transparent.  I am totally impatient in traffic.  In fact, I’m not patient period.  Whether it be in traffic or at the store, I am changing lanes like a one-armed paperhanger looking for the shortest and fastest lane.  The Bible says we are fearfully and wonderfully made but I must have missed the patience part.

Have you ever been driving and the traffic going in the opposite direction is stopped and you are feeling sorry for them?  Well, I was the one stopped and I could just feel the empathy of the other drivers.  It turned out to be about a 45 minute stop and go.  The amazing part was I did pretty good.  Judy was beaming at my surprising patience.  I even said, “Well, at least going home we won’t have to deal with this.”  Soon (though not soon enough) we were through the construction—we were on our way.  Hit the fast forward button.

That was Wednesday.  Too quickly the days of the conference went by and in no time it was time to go home.  After the conference ended at noon we jumped into our 44 mpg Jetta and hit the road toward home.  Willie was once again whirling around in my head singing “On the Road Again.”  We were nearing the site of Wednesday’s lesson in patience feeling confident and glad that we were heading in the other direction.  And then it happened.  The GPS talky thing mentioned traffic, 14 miles per hour, and delays. Wait. What?  We were not supposed to have to deal with this. And that is when I knew there was a conspiracy.  They had changed sides.

Here’s how I think it played out.  The North Carolina Department of Transportation called the conference center, asked when I was leaving and then quickly moved the construction to the West bound side so they could get me again.  I am sure of it.  So, another slowdown, another wait in traffic, but this time they were merciful since it was only 27 minutes and 14 seconds.  Oh yes, I was counting.  And the people going East, they were zooming by with looks of mercy for those of us stuck.  It just wasn’t fair.

I know the Bible well enough to know that you don’t pray for patience.  That is one prayer you won’t hear passing through my lips.  Pray for patience and you end up with traffic. Pray for patience and you end up locked in your house with three kids for three months.  So I get that.  But there is a pesky couple of verses found in James 1:2-3 that say, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” I really like the Bible but I really don’t like those verses.

Of all the emotions I feel when I am sitting in traffic, joy is not the one that comes to mind—and especially not great joy.  But then I read verse 3 and it gives me pause.  James says I should appreciate the moments in traffic because it helps me to grow. It helps me to be a better person.  It helps me be stronger—it builds endurance.  Like lifting weights at the gym strengthens muscles-—so trying situations strengthens our faith in God.  Which means part of this whole pandemic deal might be to make us stronger in our faith.  Hmmmm. Well, in the end I did pretty good through traffic lesson number two and we managed to get home that evening just about on time.  Truth be known…God was good, God was faithful and even in traffic, God can be trusted.  No matter what, He has my good at His heart.  He wants me to thrive in this world and not just survive.  And that means sometimes learning patience sitting in traffic.  As you travel today wherever and however that looks, just know God is the traffic manger of your life.  Just sit back, enjoy the pause and rest in Him. He’s got this. Honk, Honk.

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, Southern born, thankful

Stonehenge

For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10

Roy Smith Allen was a genuine, authentic, real-deal Southern good ole boy.  I met him on the road to falling in love with his daughter.  I can remember virtually every detail of meeting Judy but Roy, well, its like one minute he wasn’t there and the next he was.  I met Judy at her church on a Wednesday night.  I walked in the side door and she was standing with a group of five or six girls.  It was as if the others weren’t even there.  She stole the show…and my heart.

I found out that when I started dating Judy, I also started dating her family.  They were a crazy bunch of fun-loving people who turned every get together into a ruckus of stories and one-uppers.  Right in the middle of the craziness was Roy.  Well, for some reason, Roy took a shine to me.  Judy will tell you that both of her parents liked me more than her. That probably wasn’t true. But I guess they trusted me because truth be known she was a little too young and I was a little too old. But here we are forty-four years later so we must have met somewhere in the middle.

Roy was a hard core, church going, deacon. He worked for the county as the superintendent of roads and had been the assistant warden at the county work camp.  He had a gun…he carried a gun.  He told Judy and I upfront he didn’t believe in pre-marshall (translated premarital) sex.  We both agreed with that so the gun stayed in the holster which was a good thing.

About nine months after I started dating Judy, I asked her to marry me.  It happened to be on April Fool’s Day which was kinda funny.  But I was dead serious and happily she said yes.  So, by now Roy had become Pops to me.  So I knew I had to ask him if I could marry Judy.  After his first heart attack, his doctor suggested he begin a walking regimen. One evening I joined him walking around the track at the park and I said, “Pops, I would like to marry Judy.”  It wasn’t a question but it was a statement that needed a response and he gave one.  “No you don’t, boy.”  Pops called me “boy” a lot.  It wasn’t derogatory but more akin to him calling me “son.”

I persisted and said, “No really, I want to marry Judy.”  He stoically gave the same answer, “No you don’t, boy.”  Well, I can’t remember how many times we bantered back and forth but eventually I took it as a yes.  We were officially engaged…as soon as I could afford a ring.

Somewhere along the journey, her parents allowed me to stay in the spare bedroom at their house on weekends.  The base was about twenty-five miles away so it seemed to make some sense.  Pops liked to get up early and work hard and I became the “young buck” of his Saturday operations . He was building a shed about 20 miles out in the country and he saw in me some free labor.  So, he would come in the bedroom at about 4:30 am and declare, “Time to get up, boy.”  I would groggily roll out of bed.  We would head to the Gold Plate Restaurant for a hearty breakfast with hot, strong coffee and then head to the building site where I wished I hadn’t eaten quite so much.

Pops had acquired some huge, like 10×10 inch, used bridge timbers from the county.  While he supervised, I began digging holes and setting these monstrous beams.  Then, we (make that me) had the pleasure of trying to hoist them up to form the roof.  Well, it near-bout killed me.  We never finished the building and I am sure forty-four years later those timbers are probably still standing like some sort of South Georgia Stonehenge.

In the fall of 1975, at church one morning, I went from being a church goer to a Jesus follower.  That day I finally figured out that being religious was not the same as having a relationship with Jesus.  It was and is a big deal.  Everyone was really happy that I had made that commitment.  There were plenty of hugs and words of affirmation but none matched Pop’s.  He simply said, “I knew there was something wrong with you, boy.” It was apparent Pops wasn’t gifted in the affirmation department.  But that was Roy…that was Pops.  I was pretty sure he loved me and I know loved him…especially since he didn’t shoot me.

So, about a year later, Judy and I were married and in spite of a bad heart he was there to walk her down the aisle.  When Judy and I were assigned to Germany, Pops flew there twice to see us.  When we were assigned to Missouri, here came Pops.  He came out to see our new daughter and his new granddaughter, Rebecca.  And then just six weeks later he was apparently working in his backyard there in South Georgia and sat down to rest.  Sometime during the break, Jesus came and took him home.  Pops was gone but the legend, the legacy lives on.

Roy Smith Allen had a lot of rough edges, a lot of warts, if you will.  But buried somewhere beneath the rough exterior was a good hearted man.  I’m sure he required a lot of God’s grace but don’t we all?  None us could make the cut for heaven based on our own merit.  We all are just like Pops…sinners in need of a graceful, loving God.  The Book says that Jesus came to seek and to save lost people.  People like Roy, people like me and people like you.  And if we are willing to be found, He is will to forgive us and invite us into His family.  In his backward way, that is what Pops did.  Every time he called me “boy” he was calling me “son.”  I like that. So if you find yourself bumping along in life, rough around the edges, you might try what Pops tried.  It wasn’t church…it was Jesus.  I know it changed my life. It didn’t make me perfect but it did make me forgiven.  And the best part?  In this crazy, upside-down world, He is always there.  I can always go to Him, rest in Him.  I know, He’s got this. 

Posted in Family, Father's Day, Grace, gratitude, life

Daddy

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12

He didn’t wear a cape or an iron suit but he was a hero to me.  A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I was born.  It all happened on January 6, 1954 in Orange Park, Florida.  I was number eight in a family of eight. This can’t be confirmed but I think it went something like this.  My daddy was somewhat of a perfectionist and he and my mom had tried seven times to have the perfect child.  He went to my mom and said, “Well, honey, I know we have tried seven times to pull off this perfect child thing and I say we give it one more shot.  I really think eight is going to be our lucky number.”  So, ta-da here I am…living proof that persistence pays off.

My daddy was 42 years old when I was born.  He had plenty of experience at the Father thing and you know, I think he did a great job.  I don’t recall a lot of special events in my early and later childhood but that isn’t because they didn’t happen.  I can remember family camping trips to the beach as well as all night fishing trips to the same.  I can remember family vacations to see relatives in all the hot vacation spots like New Jersey and Texas.  I can remember trips to Silver Springs, Six Gun Territory and Doctor’s Inlet which was a great place to go for a lake swim.  But there are also several memories with just dad and me.

When I was about six, daddy took me fishing on Cedar Creek.  It was just me and him.  At this age, I wasn’t very good at fishing or paying attention.  Truth be known I had a hard time staying focused on anything for very long.  Anyway, the fish were biting that day but I had a hard time watching the bobber.  Over and again, daddy would ask, “Dewayne, where’s your bobber?”  I would look and it was gone.  We lost a lot of good worms that day.

Later, when I was about ten, daddy took me hunting.  The big deal was that he allowed me to take my BB gun.  I wasn’t allowed to carry a real gun; you will see why in a moment.  So, we were walking through the woods and I was about four feet behind dad.  Silent as a F5 tornado, I crept through the woods.  I was too noisy but dad was way patient.   And then, well, I shot him in the back.  Now wait, don’t panic.  It was only a BB gun and he did have his heavy hunting jacket on.  I had my finger on the trigger (oops) and every so slowly and without even realizing it, increased the pressure.  Just like that it went off and got dad square in the back. Bummer.

Do you know what?  He didn’t holler and in fact he didn’t say a single word.  He just looked over his shoulder and gave me that “I’m glad that wasn’t a 12 gauge” look.  I appreciated that and have never forgotten the fact that he could have made me feel “less than” but didn’t.  I’m sure we had a talk about gun safety and it must have worked out  because I never shot him again.

My two favorite memories of him don’t involve a fishing pole or a gun.  They involve God.  Honestly, daddy didn’t go to church a bunch but I know he was a Christian because of the way he lived. Two events, two memories are burned into my mind and heart.  The first is a time when we were having prayer time together as a family.  Some people call it family altar…at the time I probably called it too long.  I remember it was time to pray so we all got down on our knees around the room.  I got a little bored so I peeked and there across the room was my daddy, on his knees, talking to God.  It made a big impression on my young heart.

Later, when I was about 17 I caught daddy praying again.  I came home from a date late one night and there sitting at the kitchen table was my daddy—praying.  With his hands clasped together he was talking to God.  I don’t know what prompted the late night prayer meeting but I know it again made a big impression on me as a young man. And that is the point.  My daddy made an impression on me that impacted so many areas of my life.  Integrity, work ethic, caring and providing for your family and being a man were all part of the core curriculum.

I didn’t get to keep my daddy too much longer.  When I was in high school he had a massive heart attack.  He lived a couple of more years but when he was just 62 and I was 20, God decided to take him home.  Suddenly, on a Sunday morning he went to heaven.  It was hard and is hard to this day.  He never got to meet my wife, children or any of his eight great grandchildren. He never got see much of my career in the Air Force or hear me preach a sermon.  I hope in heaven they keep tabs on us down here and I hope I’ve made my hero proud.

Well, now that we are all sad and weepy let me throw this in.  Whether you are young or older, take the time this Father’s Day, and every day, to tell your dad (and mom) how much you appreciate them.  One of God’s big commands is that we honor our parents and when we do—we honor Him.  There’s no better way to do that than to tell them and show them that you love them. I know things don’t always work out with dads and if that is the case with you I am so sorry.  My dad wasn’t perfect…none are but his love outweighed his warts. If you are a Jesus follower, I hope you can extend some grace…just like God did to you.  And always remember, you have a Heavenly Father who is perfect, who always gets it right. He’s always waiting for you to crawl up in His lap and take a rest.  And the icing on the cake is He is stronger than a super hero…and because of that, He’s got this.