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

Turn the Mic Off

If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, his religion is useless, and he deceives himself.” James 1:26

It wasn’t what it seemed.  The life of a pastor is, well, interesting.  In fact, the life of the pastor’s family is interesting.  You could say that we live in a glass house and that would be so true.  I remember when we lived in a parsonage (that’s a house provided by the church) and we had a wood burning stove.  It was difficult to control the heat so often we would leave the front door open to allow some cooler air in.  There was a sweet (and she really was) older lady who attended our church and she was very concerned that we had our door open.  She would call saying, “Judy, do you know that your front door is open?”  Of course we did, but she felt it was her civil and religious duty to make sure we were stewards of our electricity.

When we moved to Cobden, Illinois our girls were very young…five and four.  Back in those days during worship, the pastor had a big chair where he was to sit on the stage.  I don’t know if we did it that way to make the pastor seem important or so everyone could stare at him. It was just the way we did it.  Now here is what was interesting.  While I was sitting on the stage looking at everyone and everyone was looking at me, Judy was playing the piano.  Many pastors are blessed with musically talented wives and I certainly was one of them.  Now don’t miss this.  I am on the stage and Judy was at the piano. Who do you suppose was watching the girls?  Well, that would be no one.  And you know, girls will be girls.

Like so many siblings, the girls loved to pick at one another.  It was always nothing serious…just enough to make mom and dad nervous.  Well, that Sunday was one of those days.  They were being little girls and poking and pinching each other. They were giggling enough to cause a bit of disturbance and to catch their mother’s eye.  Judy gave them “the look”.  Now every married man knows about “the look”.  Personally, I would rather stare down a cobra than face “the look”.  The problem was, while Judy was looking…they were not.  They were busy poking and pinching.  You might wonder what I was doing.  I was sitting on the stage trying to ignore the two little girls on the first or second row.  I was pretty good at it, too.  However, there was no ignoring the lady at the piano.

When they didn’t get the message, Judy made sure I did.  I don’t know if it was “the look” or smoke signals coming from behind the piano, but I got the message loud and clear.  Handle it.  As much as I didn’t like sitting on the stage on the throne, I preferred that to handling the girls in public.  I rose from the throne and walked straight to the girls.  I took them by the hand and as casually as possible led them out the side door of the sanctuary.  Now there is one thing that every pastor has to remember whether he is going to the restroom or taking his kids out to have a come to Jesus meeting.  Turn your microphone off. I didn’t.

As the door closes behind us, Becca, our oldest, and in her sweetest five year old voice says, “Daddy, please don’t hit us.”  Now, pause, because I know in this world the idea of hitting a child conjures up all kind of bad things.  If there was any hitting it was only going to be a gentle swat on the bottom.  Period.  I knew that and the girls knew that.  Thanks to my not turning my microphone off—everyone in the sanctuary knew it too.  You can probably imagine that sweet little voice coming over the speakers.  There were no tears between the three of us but there were plenty of tears in the sanctuary.  No, they weren’t grieving for those precious little girls—they were fine.  They were tears from laughing so hard.  We walked back into the sanctuary and every person was either rolling on the floor or trying to stay in their seat.  It was a Hallmark moment.

Yup…we live in a glass house for sure.  Even worse, I still had to stand up and preach later in the service. Amazingly, somehow, we made it through.  It is things like that which make our relationship with the families we serve so special.  I have deeply appreciated that through the years.   Anyone who knows the Taylor tribe knows that we are unapologetically human.  If you are looking for a perfect, plastic pastor family…well, you won’t find it with us. I’ve often said that people can handle Christians who make mistakes…they get that.  What they can’t handle is when we act like we are perfect and better than they are. Truth is we are neither.

James, the half-brother of Jesus, said if anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, his religion is useless and he deceives himself. Well, spoken, James.  In fact, we could probably put several actions in place of controlling our tongue and come to the same conclusion.  I am always so grateful that God can handle our imperfections. He never regrets inviting us into His family but He does desire for us to be honest and real…and so does everyone else.  Go ahead, take off the mask and just be you.  You can rest assured that His unconditional love will still be there…even when you leave your microphone on.  And, if you do, don’t worry, He’s got this.

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

Live Forward, Glance Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Approval-itis

As the Father has loved me, I have also loved you. Remain in my love.” John 15:9

If He can’t, why am I surprised that I can’t? Do you know what still amazes me?  Creation…and not just part of it…all of it.  I’m amazed when I stop and look at a spring flower.  I’m amazed that the sun rises and sets day after day.  I’m amazed that my heart beats about 75 times a minute.  That is, wait for it, 108,000 times a day.  In case you are interested that is 39,420,000 times a year.  And, so far, it’s done it pretty well for 66 years.  Oh, and I’m amazed that out of all the galaxies, solar systems, and planets—zillions of them—only one can support life as we know it.  Earth.  And it is no accident.  It is an intentional act of creation.

God is really good at creating things.  He made us.  The Bible says that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Another place in the Bible He says we are His masterpieces.  Now granted some are Rembrandt’s and some are Picasso’s but we are all masterpieces.  Handcrafted by the Creator of the universe—a “one of a kind” miracle. I know He made me with a few quirks and several warts and that is the point of this story…one of my quirky warts.

You see, from the time I was a little kid I have wanted people to like me.  I have craved approval from the time I can remember.  Whether it was from my mama and daddy, my brothers or sisters or the guy who picked up our garbage…I wanted approval.  Let me tell you if you are going to have a quirk wart…there are a lot better ones than this one.  The problem with “approval-itis—the need for people’s approval” is that it leads to a far worse disease—the passion, the drive to please people.  Now if I lived out in Montana where my nearest neighbor was 20 miles away, this wouldn’t be such a big problem.  But my life revolves around people—I am a pastor for goodness sake.  And, to be honest, I want everyone to be happy and I want every one of them to like me. Sigh.

To be clear…the deal isn’t their deal…oh no, it lands right in my lap. The wart with all it’s bumps is right here.  For years I have been learning, or trying to learn, that I will not ever, never, please everyone.  But like an alcoholic craves the bottle—so we people pleasers crave approval.  And, by the way, I’ve gotten a little better.  Now, if I’m driving down the street and I wave at someone and they don’t wave back, I don’t write down their license plates and put a contract out on them. Smile.

If you can identify in any small way with “approval-itis” I have some good news.  It is sure to help you.  No, it is not seeking counseling and paying someone $125 dollars an hour to tell you that you can’t please everyone.  No, it is not moving to Montana…that wouldn’t work anyway because you would think the horse didn’t like you!  No, it is something that I read in one of my devotions the other morning. It is a simple truth.  Are you ready?  Here it is, “You can’t please everybody.  Even God couldn’t please everybody.”  Now isn’t that just profound…and true.  I mean God is like all powerful, all wise, all knowing and can be everywhere at the same time and a majority of the world is always mad at him.  How about that?

Think about it.  If God couldn’t pull it off, then who am I to think that I can? I guess God could snap His celestial fingers and make everyone like Him but He has this thing about free will.  He doesn’t want to make people love Him—He wants them to love Him because they want too.  Because.They.Want.To. He loved us so much that He gave His only Son to die on a Roman cross and He did it knowing that many…maybe most…would never even respond.  Amazing.

So, here’s the deal.  I understand that I will never please everyone…probably not even a fraction of the people I bump into.  I can’t do that, but I can do this.  I can love like Jesus loved. He said, “As the Father has loved me, I have also loved you. Remain in my love.” He was saying, “Hey, when it comes to loving people…I’m all in. Sit back and enjoy it.”  I can give my best not because a person will respond like I want, but rather because that is what my Dearest Daddy wants me to do.  And guess what?  His approval is the only approval that matters.  We should live, love and long for the audience of One—Jesus.

Well, truth be told, I won’t get this one right in this lifetime because I probably won’t live that long—like a million years.  But with His help I can be more like Him, every day.  Love God, love people.  It’s that simple.  If you are “plum wore out” from “approval-itis,” well, why don’t you just take a rest?  You can, you know—because He’s got this.

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

Stinky Feet

Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing.” 2 Corinthians 2:15

I smelled it as soon as I opened the door.  When God made us, He did a really good job.  In one place His Word says that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.  In another it says that we are made just a little lower than the angels.  And then at the beginning He says that we are made in His image. Wow…that is all pretty impressive. When God was working on our blueprint, He decided to give us five senses—five ways to interact with our world around us.  Those five senses are touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste.  All five of them are incredible and it is almost impossible to pick one over the other.  For a foodie like me, it would seem that taste would be my number one, but I’m just not sure.

If smell isn’t number one, it certainly is a close second.  Smell enhances our taste and can trigger so many different emotions. Smell can change what is going on in a whole room.  Many years ago, I went through a period when I had—oh, I hate to admit it—stinky feet.  It was bad.  We had some good friends and we were frequently at their house.  To this day, I am in the habit of taking off my shoes when I am in the house.  I think it is a throwback to my Southern genes.  Anyway, when I got to these folks’ house, I would kick my shoes off and what was in the shoes suddenly spread throughout the room.  It wasn’t pretty.  I’m trying to say, it was really bad.

Within minutes, perhaps seconds, moans and groans filled the air along with the atrocious odor. There was an immediate rebellion and demands to stuff my stinky feet back into my shoes.  I had no choice.  The good news is that it turns out there was something about my walk-around, everyday shoes that caused the odor.  When I changed shoes, the offensive odor went with them.  But to this day, I (and maybe you) should be aware that certain things can cause certain reactions—and they are not always good.  But, fortunately sometimes they are.

Enter Bath and Body “Leaves” candles.  You probably know that Bath and Body is famous for several things but their three wick candles are—well, wicked.  And one of our favorite scents is “Leaves.”  It is just the essence of fall.  During this time of the year I can walk into my house after a long day and as soon as I open the door a sense of calm and “all-things-good” just washes over me.  I love it. Try as I may, I can’t describe it—it is just good.  And then it happens.

Slowly, the longer I stay in the area where the candle is, the rich aroma of fall suddenly disappears.  That smell that made me feel so relaxed seems to mysteriously disappear. But wait—don’t lose hope.  If I go back outside, if I go upstairs and come back—it comes back.  Once again, the rich aroma of fall invades my senses and I am changed.  This cycle goes on hour after hour and day after day.  In the mornings, I like another candle in my home office.  It is called Teakwood Mahogany.  It is a man candle. After a few minutes…I smell nothing.  Judy opens the door and comes into my office and is instantly overwhelmed—almost offended—by the strong smell.  Amazing.

The truth is, it can be dangerous.  It isn’t dangerous if it is the scent of a candle, but what if it is the scent of love in your marriage?  What if it is the scent of faith in your Dearest Daddy?  What if it is the scent of contentment—in all things being well? If and when that happens—it becomes dangerous.  When the aroma of life becomes like stinky feet or as bland as an unscented candle—well, it can and will lead down paths that we don’t want or need to take.  Marriages go south, faith downs in fear, and discontentment creeps into every corner of our lives.  At best we become unhappy, but worse, we began to throw away the things most precious to us.  I am certain that in this COVID hot mess some of the things most precious to us have been cast aside like leftover food.  Last night’s spaghetti becomes today’s stinky garbage.  We must beware.

I think, like leaving the room refreshes the aroma, we need to keep moving.  We must avoid becoming stagnate.  You know what happens to a stream that stops flowing don’t you?  It becomes a slimy pit.  So, we need to find ways to keep our marriages, our faith, our contentment, fresh, by stirring our lives with His grace—with His presence. We have to make sure the aroma we are giving off is pleasant and not “stinky feet.”

Paul, one of the Bible writer guys, says, “Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing.” Well said, Paul, well said. What kind of aroma are you sharing with your family, your church, your workplace, your neighborhood?  Is it the sweet smell of love, faith and contentment, or is it the atrocious odor of self and sin?  I know one of the best things I ever did was ditch those shoes.  Bye, bye stinky feet.  What do we need to get rid of so we won’t be offensive but rather be welcoming?  Nothing smells as sweet in our lives like the aroma of Jesus.  So, sit down, pull off your shoes and rest with Him.  He’s got this. 

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

Sticks and Stones

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:43-45

You’re nothing but a little Hitler.  The life of a pastor is always interesting.  You really never know what is going to come your way.  I’ve been doing this pastor thing for about 38 years now and I know two things.  First, generally speaking the sun will come up tomorrow.  There is no guarantee but it has a pretty good track record.  Second, you are going to step in someone’s mess today.  Pastor or not, you are going to bump into someone’s hot mess.

Her name was Sheila. Her mother attended our church and she and her two boys would occasionally visit.  I decided one day to go by and just let her know that we enjoyed having her visit.  I mean it sounded like a good thing, it sounded like the right thing.  What could possibly go wrong, right?  Well, I pull into her driveway and went up to the door.  I did my gentle, non-threating knock and she came to the door.  I gave the standard, “Hi Sheila, I just wanted to come back and let you know we are so glad you are visiting with us” spill.  It was pleasant…it was sincere.

I don’t remember everything she said that day.  It could be “pastoral amnesia.”  That is a defense mechanism that pastors have to guard their hearts when someone decides it is their spiritual gift to break them. It might be PTSS (Pastor Tramatic Stress Syndrome) where the event was so traumatic that you block it out.  Anyway…she cut loose and the two things I do remember included something about me running a cult and brain washing people.  The last thing I remember was when she said, in all seriousness, “You are nothing but a little Hitler.”

Well, that hurt—a lot.  It hurt so much that 30 years later I can still hear her voice, still feel her words, and still wish I had never knocked on that door.  Not too long ago I was asked to do her mother’s funeral and it seemed the wall was still there.  Amazingly…sad.  There is an old saying that is a lie.  It says, “Sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  Really?  I wonder who came up with that one.  They must have been deaf and blind.  Words are an incredibly powerful tool or weapon—depending on the sender.

I still am amazed at the emotional energy that chance meeting had for me that day.  But it wasn’t chance…it was somehow prescribed by my Dearest Daddy to help me grow to be more like Jesus.  He knew (and He was right) that there would be many more awkward moments in the days ahead and I needed to learn how to handle them…like Jesus.  This morning I listened to a devotional by one of my favorite writers, Bob Goff.  He was talking about loving your enemies…or maybe folks who act like your enemies. He quoted Jesus and here’s what Jesus said, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.”

Wow…that is way powerful.  Bob told a story about a witch doctor that he took to trial in Uganda.  This witch doctor believed in child sacrifice and practiced it.  No one before had had the courage to take on these bad guys.  Well, he did and he won.  Later, he decided to go visit this guy on death row.  The former witch doctor, who by then had become a Christ follower, told Bob that he forgave him.  This confused Bob because the other guy was the bad guy, not him.  But what is important is the former witch doctor was extending grace because he wanted to be like Jesus…like his Father.  How about that?

This COVID thing has been a breeding ground for more than germs…it was been a breeding ground for division, unkindness, judging, and hurting.  I know it and you know it, too. And, unfortunately, God’s kids have not been exempt.  The world is watching and seeing and wondering if this God thing is real or a hoax.  One way we can show them that Jesus is the real deal is by loving one another.  Just because the evening news is filled with hated and bitterness doesn’t mean it should infect our Jesus world.  Remember He said that the world would know we are Christians by our love…not our dogmatism. I put something on the sign at church this week.  It says, Jesus first. Before. Everything. Else. Period.  I believe that.  He is more important than COVID, masks, politics, and everything else.  He is first and when He is first…we all do better.  Our world does better. Our marriages do better. Our churches do better.  So as we continue this journey called life, if you are a Jesus follower, make sure you are following Him closely.  Mimic His every Word and every step.  And if you are not yet a follower, I hope you soon will be.  I know sometimes we Jesus followers don’t get it right—but trust me, He never gets it wrong.  You can rest in Him.  He’s got this.

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

Houston… We Have a Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, prayer, Scripture, Southern born, thankful

Forty-Five Years Ago

And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32

It was forty-five years ago today.  My life has always been steeped in church, God, and stuff.  I think my older brother had something to do with that.  Dad tended to be a CEO attender—you know—Christmas and Easter only.  But even with that said there were other ways that he clearly showed that he and God were on good speaking terms.  Two of my favorite memories are of him praying.  One time he was down on his knees leading us as a family in prayer.  He never stood taller.  The other happened when I came home late from a date and found him talking to our Dearest Father, hands clasped and head bowed.

Now, mama was more faithful at church except when she hit a bump or two. She liked to attend and she would take us with her.  No questions asked.  She sang, she led one of the girl’s classes, and she too was on good terms with Jesus.  But there were a couple of times when her heart got hurt and she would sit out for a little while.  It was then my oldest brother would take over the taxiing job and make sure I got to church.  To this day I am grateful that he did that.  Because of him habitually taking me, there has never been a time when I didn’t go to church.  That was good but what happened forty-five years ago was far better.

Right out of high school I joined the Air Force and ended up stationed in Valdosta, Georgia at Moody Air Force Base.  Since church was such a regular part of my calendar I made it a point to go—a lot.  One Wednesday night I decided to go to one of the local churches.  So I got there, opened the side door and right across the room was Judy Allen.  She was beautiful and right there and then I decided I liked that church—a lot.

I started attending regularly for two reasons.  It was what I was used to doing and Judy was there.  We started dating right away and before too long we were engaged. She was probably too young and I was probably too old but, hey, that is sometimes the way of love.  Well, in June of 1975 she met someone else—another guy.  Fortunately for me it was Jesus.  She, like me, was raised in church but she discovered that going to church and knowing Jesus were two entirely different things.  Jesus waltzed into her life and she was like a new person—an even better person—better than I deserved for sure.

Well, a few months went by and at church one morning, October 26 to be exact, I bumped into the same Man she had met.  Unexpectedly the pastor told a story about a man who had gone to church all his life and then realized he had never met Jesus.  You might say he was religious, but not a Jesus follower.  When I heard about him, I realized that was me—I was the same way—way too religious and way short on knowing Jesus as my best friend. That morning in Valdosta, Georgia at about 10:45 in the morning I met Jesus and my life changed forever.  Jesus didn’t make me perfect that day but He sure made me forgiven.  He put me on a new road and well, it has been amazing.

So, for forty-five years I have walked with Jesus and here I sit today, a pastor for thirty-eight  of those years and writing stories.  And Judy, well, in June of 1976, we decided to walk together and we just never stopped.  Me, Judy, and Jesus—it has been quite the journey. For the past forty-five years, every year, I have celebrated two birthdays.  The first is January 6, the day I was physically born.  But I also celebrate October 26, the day I met Jesus and was spiritually born.

Every time I write a story I love to put a big truth in it about God.  Well this story is a bit different—this time the story is Jesus and what He did for me and wants to do for you.  Remember, don’t make the mistake I did—confusing religion and church with Jesus.  They are not the same—He is a lot better.  He said that we could know the truth and the truth would set us free.  Well, the truth is He loves you, no matter what, more than you can imagine.  The truth is, He wants you to trust Him, to rest in Him.  The truth is He’s got this.  Trust me, I know.

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

Got Squirrels?

I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

I just can’t seem to win. It seems we have a continuing wildlife saga in our backyard. I know I have told you about the difficult time I have been having trying to feed the birds in our backyard.  You see my friends the birds left when the food ran out.  It kinda hurt my feelings.  Well, I apologized and went and bought some food and a couple of new feeders and they are slowly coming back! Boy, are they fair weather friends!  But that isn’t the only problem.

I also have squirrel issues.  With winter coming on they are visiting the back yard, the side yard, and every other part of the yard—frequently.  They eat Judy’s flower bulbs, they dig holes everywhere burying nuts for the winter, and then for fun they eat the bird food.  That wouldn’t be a big deal but they want to eat all the bird food—every expensive morsel.  Now there are a couple of options here.  On the one hand we can use some friendly means to dissuade them from visiting—you know, perhaps a 12 gauge shotgun.  The other is to embrace them—remember the Bible says “if you enemy is hungry…feed them.”

Now if the truth were known, I think sometimes (like when they eat her tulip bulbs) Judy would lean toward the 12 gauge…I’m not sure if the intent would be to scare them off or make squirrel stew.  Somehow, though, that just doesn’t seem like the right option. It’s not that I am not that merciful–it’s just that they are so cotton-picking cute and you have to admire their persistence. So, I was prepared to at least help them coexist with us.  And then they ate my bird feeder—literally.

As I said I went to a local store and bought a new finch feeder—the kind that is supposed to discourage anything but a finch from feeding there.  Well, the designers hadn’t taken into account these squirrels.  In one day, they chewed it up, spit it out and consumed the bird food.  I decided it had to be a design flaw so I took it back to the store to see if they would give me a new one—they laughed.

So, why not use the 12 gauge and save the money? Well, first I live in the city limits and they frown on discharging a firearm.  But the truth is they are God’s creation and they have those big brown eyes…the ones that make them look so pitiful…you know, hungry and everything.  As you know, we’ve been learning to “love thy neighborhood” and I suppose that could include squirrels.  We’ve also been learning about how we should “be merciful just like God is merciful.” Do you remember why? “Because He forgives the ungrateful and wicked.” I am certain these squirrels fit both categories.

So, I am working through this.  Tracking with Romans 12, I’m going down the “love thy enemy” checklist. Feeding—check!  Water—Check! Merciful—check! Forgiving—check!  I believe before long the squirrels and I will be best buds.  In fact, maybe this is just practice for loving others who, like the squirrels, are a bit difficult. You see, the scripture isn’t talking about squirrels anyway; it is talking about our family, our friends, our neighbors—and yes, our enemies.  Let me clue you in—loving them is sometimes a whole lot tougher than loving that cute little squirrel.

But do you know what?  We can do it.  Remember that verse in the Bible we all love…the one that says we can do anything with God’s help? Well, it’s time we move from memorizing it and begin applying it.  With His help we can love and care for the most difficult of those who live around us and impact our lives. And do you know what else?  We are never more like Jesus than when we are kind and loving to those who deserve it the least.  I know…I know, we think we are the most like Jesus when we don our Sunday best and head to church.  The truth is we are most like Jesus when we act like Jesus. And, when we truly act like Jesus, all the people around us take notice. They stop “eating our lunch” and begin wanting what we have…Him. Amazing. So, got squirrels?  Just give in and go to the store and buy some corn.  They will still eat your bird food but maybe, just maybe, they’ll be so full of corn they will eat less of the bird food. Got some folks tough to love?  Apply the Word, invite God into the situation and get ready for some work (on your part) and perhaps a miracle (on His part).  Hey, none of us are perfect.  We all have our warts and we all have our weak spots.  Just remember how God goes to great lengths to show you His love every day. He will never grow weary of loving us.  Never has, never will.  When you get all worked up over an overeating squirrel or an unkind or difficult neighbor—just take a break and rest in Him.  He’s got this.

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

Gator Mania

One Lord,  one faith,  one baptism, one God  and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:5-6

It was Gator mania.  To say that Aunt Maryjo was a Gator fan is to say that the Pope is Catholic. Through and through, she loved everything that was University of Florida Gators.  I am pretty sure if she had a blood transfusion the blood type would have to be UF.  I also am certain that if she was bilingual she would speak Southern English and Gator.  When she went to heaven about a week ago, the Gator’s lost their number one 94 year old cheerleader.

The family asked me to do a chunk of her memorial service and I was pleased to do so.  The service was all about Maryjo, the Gators and Jesus.  We stayed at a hotel in Gainesville and something almost immediately caught my eye.  Virtually everything, and I do mean everything, was Gatorized.  The primary decorating colors were blue and orange and Gator flags, Gator plaques, Gator pictures, and Gator knick knacks filled the main lobby and sitting area.  They even had a ping pong table and the net was not a net at all but a solid wall of sorts painted orange with a Gator carved in the middle.

Everyone knows you wear black to funerals and many folks did.  But there was also a large number of blue and orange ties, shirts, dresses, and scarves scattered throughout the crowd. I noticed though several members of my family were not wearing blue and orange.  I was kinda surprised.  So I asked one of my brother-in-laws, “Why aren’t you wearing blue and orange?” About the time I said it, I regretted it.  He boldly said, “I ain’t no Gator.”  Yup, there were several there who were Florida State fans and aunt or no aunt, they were not going to wear those stinking Gator colors.  Life…go figure.

As Judy and I were sitting in the hotel lobby visiting and drinking coffee and observing everything Gator, she said, “Isn’t it amazing what can happen when we are all pulling in the same direction?”  And do you know what?  She was absolutely right.  If I were to guess, probably 99% of the population around Gainesville were avid Gator fans.  The lived it, they believed it, and they were ready to fight for it.  They might be different social and economic classes, they might be different skin colors, they might even speak a different language, but one thing, one thing, pulled them together.  One thing managed to hold them together—they were fans of the Gators.  That singular thing overcame everything else.  Amazing.

I wonder what would happen if in a different world other than football if the same thing happened.  What if all the different denominations that say they believe in Jesus got together and pulled in the same direction?  What if all the churches in a town laid aside their insignificant differences and decided that they were going to pull together for the common cause of Jesus? I wonder how our community, or state could and would change, if we all decided to agree on what mattered—the Jesus essentials—and laid the rest aside long enough to live and share the Good News.  Why must we be like the football fans who attend rival schools and absolutely refuse to associate?  I wonder.

Well, there is one thing I can tell you for certain.  There is one who absolutely loves our division over the things that in ten years won’t matter and that is the devil.  Oh how he applauds our pettiness and while he is smiling, Jesus is grieving.  I know He grieves because the Bible says we are not to grieve Him.  If we are not careful, we are going to lose…and I’m not talking about a football game.  I am talking about our communities, our cities, our counties and our country.  I am not talking about losing a battle, I am talking about the war for the heart and soul of men, women, children—and the places they—we live.

Oh, I don’t know.  Maybe I’m overreacting.  Maybe somehow our holy huddles and frail fellowships can pull it off individually.  But that’s not how the Bible describes how our relationships should be.  There is one body and that is body of Christ.  I believe it says, “One faith, one Lord, and one baptism.”  One…there is real power when all the ones come together for the One and His soul (don’t worry…intentionally spelled that way) purpose.  Jesus came to seek and saved that which was lost and it was something that He was willing to die for.  What about you?  What about us? Can we, will we, don the colors of the cross—red for His blood, white for our forgiveness and blue for our loyalty, not to a pastor, a church, or a denomination, but to the One who matters—Jesus!

Well, I was raised not too far from Gainesville and my daddy and most of my family were Gator fans, but somehow I went rogue—I pull for Notre Dame.  Go figure—a Baptist pastor pulling for a Catholic team.  What’s up with that?  It’s simply really—I love tradition and I love college football and those two override the other.  I am hoping our common denominator—Jesus will do the same.  I am banking on the fact that we may lose a battle or two, but in the end—Jesus wins and I’m gonna rest in that.  After all, He’s got this.

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

Master of the Winds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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