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

Sharing

Don’t neglect to do what is good and to share, for God is pleased with such sacrifices.” Hebrews 13:16

My Mama taught me to share.  When there are a bunch of kids and other family members in a family you learn two contradicting lessons.  First, you need to share.  Often, especially when it comes to the good things on a dinner table, the demand usually exceeds supply.  You know, nine people and eight pieces of pie.  So, you cut the pieces smaller.  That is sharing.  The other lesson is you need to act fast.  We all know the adage that the early bird gets the worm or the one who eats his or her pie the fastest gets a shot at the last piece.  That is not sharing.

Sharing and putting others first are Jesus things.  He was the only guy who could go to any event and be the star of the show.  Be it a wedding, a funeral, or a banquet and bam…He was the most important person in the room.  But the funny thing is you never see that.  You always see Him at the back of the line.  The only time He was first in line was the line for the cross.  That was a very short line—in fact, it was only one deep and He was ready and willing to go because He loved us so much.

He was willing to share His righteousness too.  We didn’t have any of our own, so He gave us His.  The Bible says that our righteousness was like filthy rags, so He shared, in fact, He gave.  Its pretty amazing.  There are somethings we shouldn’t share like something told in private and maybe a cold.  But, as a general rule we should be people who love to share.  And that is where I need your help.

Over the last year lots of folks have been reading Grits.  Through our church email list, the Grits Facebook page, and through the gritswithgrace.com blog, people have been reading.  I want you know just how incredible I think that is.  My goal is to be an encourager and maybe even make you smile.  But most importantly, I want to share a big truth that helps us as we do life…together. 

So, that is where you come in. I am wondering if you would be willing to share Grits with those in your world? The guy who wrote Hebrews (great name for a coffee shop by the way) said that we should do good things and share because God is pleased with that.  That might even apply to Grits.  Sign up for the blog, share on Facebook, or share in an email, it’s all sharing a word of encouragement.

Something happened last week that I thought was so cool.  I was notified by email that someone had read one of the Grits’ stories and decided to start following the blog. That means every day they will get an email with that day’s story.  Sometimes, people just stumble onto the Grits blog, who knows how that happens? But what made this so special was this someone was a cabdriver in Southampton, England.  What? Yup. And I thought that was pretty cool. So, a special thanks to our friend there.

My wife Judy checked (the blog tracks locations) and we have had Grits’ readers from several countries and from a chunk of the states here in America.  And it usually happens because someone searches and finds a story, or someone shares it.  So, would you be willing to make it a daily habit to share your Grits?  It isn’t about just getting more readers but rather, it is about maybe encouraging someone who needs a lift on any given day.  Together we can be encouragers and hey, the more the merrier.

This last year has been a big challenge but I love the fact that God is bigger than any challenge we face.  I try and make that a regular theme as I write.  Life is pretty tough to go it alone and I believe that He is more than ready to walk with us.  So, thanks again for reading and thanks for sharing.  Oh, and by the way, for those of you who comment…thanks for that too.  I try and respond, and it is always an encouragement.  Well, outside night is turning to day, so it must be time to see what today holds.  One thing is sure…we can face it together with Him because as always, “He’s got this.”  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, food, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, priorities, Scripture, thankful, travel

Mushroom

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:10

Her name was Mushroom, and she was a hoot.  The other morning on our way to a pastor’s conference, my wife Judy and I decided to eat at a Waffle House (WH).  Now, I need to be honest and tell you that for no apparent reason, WH has never been on my list of places to eat.  I think it probably is some sort of prejudice from my days as a teenager when I formed some sort of opinion (based on nothing, I am sure) that it wasn’t my kind of place.  So, I very rarely, ever went.  It has probably been 25 years since I ate at one.  And, then just like that, there I was.

The WH was next door to our hotel where we stayed so it made logical sense.  We made our way through the flower bed and into the WH parking lot and right into the front door.  It was a “sit where you want” kinda place and we found a booth in the corner.  A few minutes later, Mushroom came over to serve us.  I’m not sure the 26 letters in our English alphabet can adequately describe her…but let me try.  She was funny.  There you go—that’s all you need to know.  If you get Grits with a picture (some don’t) that is her in the picture, (yes, we have her permission). The mask she is wearing is supposed to be Santa Claus but I’m not sure there was a likeness.

As she asks what we want to drink and, in the process, Judy and I strike up a conversation with her.  So, Judy said something like, “How are you doing?”  Mushroom (and yes that was her name) said she was having a real bad morning.  One of us asked her why and she indicated that she had had a really, bad dream the night before.  Well, I just asked her, “What kind of dream did you have?”  And she said, “Well, I dreamed I was in a muffler shop and I woke up exhausted.”  Right there on the spot, two things happened.  One, I died laughing (I love corny jokes) and two, I liked Mushroom and started liking WH.

Well, everything she said from that point on was corny.  She turned our order in and then would occasionally stop by and make us laugh again.  I asked her about her name, and she said it was indeed Mushroom. I’m not sure if it was her given name, or one she picked but it sure seemed to fit. She went on to say that she had a twin brother named Rick (I assume it was another joke, but it wasn’t) and he was a pastor and very sick with COVID.  She asked us to pray for him and I told her we would when we blessed the food.

She stopped by again a little later and she shared she liked to sing and then right there and then, she broke into an old hymn which Judy and I quickly recognized.  Mushroom turned out to be the highlight of our day.  She was a breath of fresh air in a world that has forgotten how to breathe.  Oh, and by the way, the food was awesome.  Eggs, sunny side up, awesome grits swimming in butter, salt and pepper, three strips of soft bacon and, of course, a waffle (with sugar free syrup, thank you) and it was just plain ole good.

So that day I believe I learned a couple of good lessons.  First, don’t let an old, unfounded prejudice keep you from trying something like WH. If I had, I would have missed meeting Mushroom and I would have missed a good breakfast.  Second, there are a lot of great people out in the world and Mushroom was one of those.  While I didn’t ask her directly (or did I?), Mushroom was a sister that I had not yet met, and I was glad that we bumped into each other.  I’m a fan of that verse in the Bible where Paul reminds us that we are created by God and that we are masterpieces of His, created to do the good works that He has planned for us.

Not all masterpieces look alike.  Some look like the Mona Lisa and some look like a Picasso on a not so good day.  Regardless, God is fond of His kids…very fond.  We all know the verse—the one that says He loved the world enough to send His Son to a Roman cross. I am always amazed about that measure of love—totally undeserved and unwarranted.  And I’m glad that God didn’t make everyone just like me, or you for that matter.  I’m glad He put a few Mushrooms in the mix because they sure make life interesting.  As you journey today, keep your eye out just in case God decides to send someone special your way.  I’m glad He and Mushroom have a sense of humor because we all need a good laugh.  Even in a difficult world, we can find a reason to sing, and laugh because…He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

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

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.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-17

It seemed like it would never get better.  I have to admit, there were times last year and even early this year when I wondered would this mess ever get better.  I mean, what if this really was the new normal? What if all the restrictions and changes were things we were going to have to get used to?  What if when someone said, “Just get over it” that was the reality.  Well, at this juncture it seems that is not the case.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel and the good news?  The good news is that it is not a freight train about to run over us.

I’ve been reading a lot (well, at least a lot for me) about rethinking the way we think.  Both scripture and science proves that our brain, (not to mention our lives) respond to our thought process.  It is true. Our lives just move in the direction of our strongest thoughts.  Or, as another person said, “where you stare you steer.”  It is possible and probably probable that we can and should take some advice from Annie.  Remember her?

Annie.  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.”

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.

Sometimes it seems 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 hard to go nowhere.  Well, sometimes, the temps are warm and the sun is out and I walk outside and it is like a cool drink of water in a hot dry desert.  I mean I just explode 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. No matter what, this isn’t the new normal…it is a temporary circumstance. When it is all said and done, it may not look like 2019, but that may not be such a bad thing.

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.” 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?” The forecast says clouds but I’m feeling pretty “Son-ny.”  After all, He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

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

Overcomer

You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them, because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” 1 John 4:4

2020 in too many ways was a monster—perhaps a cookie monster.  It seemed to take so many of the things that were precious to us and just consumed them.  One minute they were there and the next…they were gone.  Like Cookie Monster it crunched and munched its way through the calendar and our lives declaring, “Me like cookies.”

As the year progressed we struggled, pushed, and pulled, but we must not lose sight of what we learned.  We learned things about ourselves and we learned things about God.  We stopped just reading about faith or listening to some preacher tell us about it and we were given opportunities to taste it, to experience it.  Keep in mind that kind of learning can only happen in situations that we can’t handle.  It can only happen in darkness.  But it is then that we get to see  the dawn coming.  We get to see what He saw.

The man woke up early…just as dark was turning to dawn.  He quietly stirred so as not to disturb his master, Elisha.  It was then that he heard them.  “Them” were masses of horses and warriors lining the surrounding hills.  It’s wasn’t going to be a good day.

Day after day, we awoke to a world and the sounds of warriors and horses were louder and closer than the day before as COVID stopped being something that was happening on the national news. Slowly it inched its way nearer, first, in nearby counties and then even closer. Perhaps you felt the fear creeping into the pit of your stomach…again…and again.  You asked, “What can I do?”  Now the question is “How did we do?”

Well our friend shakes his master out of a deep sleep.  The Word of God records it like this in 2 Kings 6:15 “When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” the servant asked. What.Shall.We.Do.

Did you ask that question last year? Recently? This morning?  Well, welcome to normal.  The best part is there is a great answer coming.  Elisha, in 2 Kings 6:16, says “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

“Calm down, friend” Elisha said because the odds are on our side.  Well the servant did the math and it looked like a zillion to two.  Hmmm.  So, do you find yourself doing the math and no matter how you rewrite the equation it doesn’t look good?

Well get ready because something is about to change.  In verse 17 the Word says, “And Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

And boom, just like that everything changed.  When he could see clearly it was clear that the odds were in their favor and the fear eased and the panic fled and well, it was gonna be a better day. 1 John 4:4 puts it this way, “You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them, because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

That was true then and it is true now.  Yes, we had enough stuff in 2020 to cause the strongest knees to knock.  The enemy was great but our God was and is greater. Yes, the carnage of 2020 scars the landscape but the virus, the division, the economic and emotional eruption was and is no match for our God. He is bigger…by a lot.  Ask God to open your eyes so you can see what the odds really were and are–and feel the fear ease and the panic flee.  He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, prayer, priorities, Scripture, Trials, wisdom

Divine Interruptions

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

I have to admit I chuckle every time it happens.  At the church where I work, I have an office and I spend a lot of hours there.  I have an iMac computer and a desk and we are good friends.  It is there that most of the sermons that God gives me to share with our church are born.  And believe it or not, that is what I do.  I do check email and I may even occasionally check BestBuy.com for some gadget but the bottom line is I craft sermons, build the worship event for each week’s message, create the sermon video and sometimes write stories.

It is not too uncommon for there to be a knock on my door and someone will stick their head in and say, “Are you busy?”  That’s when I chuckle.  I mean, I think that is what I am supposed to be—busy.  I really do appreciate their kindness but each time it strikes me as funny.  Sometimes when I get home from work, I will ask my wife Judy, “Did you get this or that done today?”  If she didn’t get it done, she will respond with something like, “Oh, you know me, I just watched tv and ate bon-tons.”  We both laugh because we both know she stays plenty busy.

When people do knock on the door I am usually glad for the interruption.  Without knowing it, I can sit there for a couple of hours and not even realize it.  So most times I do need a break…I need an interruption. Need.An.Interruption. That is true when I am working at the office and it is true in my life—in our lives.

Francis Chan said, “God, interrupt whatever we are doing so that we can  join You in what You’re doing.”  I like that…a lot.  I am certain that last year’s hot mess and its overflow into this year was a big interruption in our lives. Absolutely, positively, no doubt about it.

But what if…what if…God was up to something?  What if He has a plan and all-of-this is part of that plan?  Do we have the faith to trust Him and believe that He is in fact working things for His glory and our good?

Well, here’s the deal.  He does indeed have a plan and He is working that plan.  While the corona virus and all of its ripples are part of our broken world–we serve a God that from the get-go has been bringing rescue and redemption to that broken world.  The events of last year and this year are a story that will take months and maybe years to be fully written but I know the end. God is good, God is faithful, and God can be trusted.

Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” It was true for the nation of Israel and it is true for us. I believe God is up to something bigger than we can imagine.  The best is yet to come.  The question though is “Will we be open to receiving it and ready for it when it comes?”

That’s a big question.  Maybe we should pause and pray, “God I want you to know that I am willing to trust You in this interruption of my normal.  I am willing to trust You, that You have a plan for me..for us… not to harm us but to give us a hope and a future.  Give me the faith and the patience to wait on You.  In Jesus name. Amen.”  Now that is a prayer He likes to answer.  God bless you today.  Rest in Him…because He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne .

Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, life, Military memories, priorities, Scripture, Trials, wisdom

Mr. Bowlen

Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” Deuteronomy 31:8

It was a long, hard day.  When my wife and I lived in Warrensburg, Missouri we were renting a home in a still developing subdivision called Valley View.  We were just back from a three-year USAF stay in Germany, still newlyweds with only four years under our belt, and with a newly hatched dream.  While we loved the house we were renting, we, like so many, dreamed of owning our own home.  It was a crazy time economically as interest rates were running about 18 percent and inflation was at a record rate. And then a window opened.

The developer of our subdivision was a rough around the edges man named Mr. Bowlen.  We bumped into him around the neighborhood as he was still building houses. He planted a thought in our minds and hearts.  He said the government had a program that might allow us to build a house.  They would pay half the interest.  Well compared to eighteen percent, nine sounded pretty enticing. And before we knew, we were approved and a piece of land on Hilltop Drive had our name on it.  He let us add a few things like a bay window and a fireplace in the basement.  It added a bit to the bottom line, but they were worth it.

I’m still not sure if this was a wise financial decision for us.  It ended ok, and that’s another story, but it did cause some financial tension.  To help, he suggested I do some work equity and let me tell you…it was hard work.  I ended up doing all the painting and staining inside and out.  And for a guy who had never done anything like that—it was a challenge.  That’s another story, too.  There was also another opportunity to help with the financial tension.

Mr. Bowlen told me that he would be willing to let me work for him on Saturdays doing some basic labor.  He then said he would pay me $15.00 per hour.  Now that was good money back in 1983 so I agreed although I was way out of my comfort zone.  To set the stage, I was in the Air Force, that was my day job, I was pastoring a small church for a whopping $50 a week, that was my Sunday job, and now I was going to work for Mr. Bowlen on Saturdays.  Like I said…it was way out of my comfort zone.  So, Saturday came.

The work site was just down from our rental house, so I just walked over.  It was early in the morning and we were going to be putting up metal (as in heavy metal) forms to pour a basement for another house.  We had to lift the forms in place and hammer pins in place to hold it all together.  Well, besides dropping my hammer one time inside the forms, things went pretty well.  We called it a day about 4:00 pm…just in time for me to get home and start trying to write a sermon for the next day.  I was exhausted.  I bet that was at least one short sermon!

So, the next week I bumped into Mr. Bowlen and he had a check for me.  Finally, the fruit of my labor that Saturday was in my hands.  Based on his comment about $15.00 per hour and eight hours of labor, I was expecting a check for around a hundred dollars. Instead, I found a check for forty dollars and some change.  I was, uh, shocked.  I said, “Mr. Bowlen is this right?” He assured me that it was, and I said, “I thought you were paying $15.00 an hour.”  He chuckled and said, “Oh, I was only kidding about that.  We pay laborers $5.00 an hour.”  I wasn’t laughing.  In fact, as much as I liked him, I felt betrayed—ripped off.  From my view, one thing was promised, and another given. And that was my first and only Saturday working for Mr. Bowlen.

Betrayed and ripped off.  Have you ever felt that way?  Have you ever felt that way about another person?  Have you ever felt that way…about God?  Because people are broken and imperfect, just like us, there is a measure of understanding. It doesn’t make it any less painful but at least it sometimes softens the blow.  But what about God?  What about when it seems God doesn’t keep His Word?  That’s a tough one.

What I have learned over my years as a Jesus follower, and as a pastor, that when it seems we feel betrayed or ripped off by God it is because we have misread or misapplied His Word.  You see, His Word is full of promises, but we need to make sure that the promises were made to us and for us.  We can’t claim promises that were made to another person or group of people.  God made promises to Abraham that just aren’t ours to claim.

Too often, unfortunately, preachers, teachers, and ordinary people make promises on God’s behalf that God never intended or said.  And, when they don’t come true, well, we blame God and that is not right or fair.  I’ve been a Jesus follower for 45 years now, and I can tell you one thing—He has never failed me or failed to keep His Word.  He is a promise keeping God—when the promise is mine.  No, I’ve not always liked how things turned out or His way of working something out, but I can say I’ve never felt betrayed or ripped off.  He is a good God who is good at being God.  You can trust Him.

Well, Mr. Bowlen’s little joke was a hard lesson for me to learn but it was a valuable one.  His heart was good, but his sense of humor was not.  I’m glad my Dearest Daddy, the God I can call Father, has a perfect heart and His will and plan for me is perfect.  I know no matter what I will face, His plan is for my good and His glory—and that is good enough.  I can face today knowing, “He’s got this.”  Bro. Dewayne

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

Together

I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

I’m not much of a sports fan.  Oh, I watch the Super Bowl and the World Series and occasionally I tune into the Master’s.  I am amazed by March Madness and pull for the Blues if they are in the Stanley Cup playoffs.  But when it comes to getting into the nitty-gritty of the sports world, well, not so much.  Even so, I do know one or two things that can make a team strong. While each team will have a wide variety of talents and skill levels, while every team will have players from different races and social stations, while every team will have all kinds of personalities, there is one thing they must have in common.  They must have a love, a passion, for the game.

I mean it just works.  Take my family, your family, for example.  In a world where fewer and fewer marriages stay intact, where relationships are fractured, where time is easy to schedule but difficult to find…someone, or several someone’s must have a passion for the family, not just for it to survive, but for it to thrive.  Passion and love will somehow carve time out of a busy day for one another.  Passion and love will find a way to put others at the front of the line.  Passion and love will share the burden of life and make it easier to bear.

Take your place at work, for example.  For many, work is just work. However, the bottom line is work gives you the opportunity to spend several, or more than several, hours with a group of people, day after day.  While it is great to be passionate about the job you do, doesn’t it also make sense to be passionate about the people you do it with?  I spoke at the funeral service of a person recently and one of the things that was said of her was that her co-workers were like a second family to her.  What about you?  How would that impact your desire to get up and go to work each day?

Take your church, for example.  If there is a place where we should be up to our eyeballs in relationships, it is where we worship.  One of the most powerful forces in culture is when a group of Jesus followers gather to worship and do life together.  One thing is certain—Jesus was and is a game changer. In fact, the way we do time is centered on His birth.  And, when, His followers get it right, they become an impactful force for good in our communities, towns, and even the world.

Whether in the church or not—we have to find common ground.  We somehow have to determine that in our small part of the world, what draws us together will be stronger than what would pull us apart.  That is what got this great experiment called America going in the first place.  It wasn’t that everyone agreed, but that they found common ground and they let that common ground be the glue that pulled the country together.

Each one of us needs to find that one thing that will help us pull it all together—whether that be family, business, church, or community.  I know for me that cohesion is all about being a Jesus follower. His ability to change lives and His teachings lived out in the lives of people are just game changers.  One of the things I love about people is the great diversity.  God made each one of us different and unique. We are all over the map—no pun intended.  But that diversity may well be a strength and not a weakness.  It only becomes a weakness if we allow it to pull us apart and not together.

We need each other and there is power and beauty in God’s creation. When we work together, we become a force to be reckoned with—and the enemy knows it.  So, as we emerge from the crazy time of COVID and division, let’s remember what is good about our communities, our towns, our country—and even this sometimes, upside-down world. Let’s remember the power of love and kindness. If you are a Jesus follower, let’s remember He said they will know us by our love…not our judgement.  And even if you aren’t a Jesus follower—well, that’s just good stuff.  We are stronger and better together and with a little help from the One who created all this—we can do it.  After all, He’s got this. Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Easter, Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, prayer, priorities, thankful, wisdom

Resurrection

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of His resurrection.” Philippians 3:10

Like it or not…it was time.  Every spring and summer, my wife and I are blessed to have one of the most beautiful yards on our street.  Some people say it is one of the most beautiful yards in town.  When we moved to 217 West Poplar Street, it was a blank canvas.  There were literally no flowers and no flowering trees.  Judy, who has a green thumb, over the years has made our yard into several beautiful gardens.  She plants it and it grows.

Well, every fall, as the temperatures fall, some things go to sleep and some things just die.  The perennials go to sleep to be awakened the next spring and the annuals die and will have to be replanted or reseeded. Fall and winter leave a carnage of dead stems, leaves, and blooms and before the perennials can be awakened, last year’s carnage needs to go.  There’s where I come in.  She is the “make it happen” person and I am the “cleanup the carnage” person.  So, every later winter or very early spring, I have my work cut out for me.

Last week, I would come home from work and select a section of the yard to cleanup.  Using my string trimmer (hey, don’t laugh…it works), my rake, my loppers, and a couple of other tools for good measure, I would wack, cut, trim and rake my way through each flower bed.  When I was done, I would have a pretty clean slate for the coming spring.  If you saw all this when I was done, it would look pretty empty.  You would think, “Nothing is gonna happen there.”  But you would be perfectly wrong.

You see, beneath the soil, all those perennials (plants that come back year after year) that have slept all winter, that for all practical purposes seemed dead, are about to spring (no pun intended) back to life.  Green sprouts will be pushing up everywhere.  Before long what was bare is filled with new life and what is filled with new life will soon be filled with the beautiful blooms of spring and summer.  It really is quite amazing.

Well, let me just tell you.  For five days, I went out, two or three hours a day and did my carnage removal thing.  And, at least for this guy whose job has him sitting at a desk studying, it was hard work.  My arms were tired, my shoulders ached, and I was thoroughly and completely—pooped.  Somewhere along the journey, I lost my vision. All I knew was I was tired and that there seemed to be no end to the carnage of last fall and winter.  But then it hit me, and my focus returned.

It wasn’t just work. It wasn’t just something that had to be done.  I was on a mission.  I was preparing for…resurrection.  My work for those five days, was a work with purpose.  As I cleared away the old, I was making way for the new.  And because of my faithfulness in late winter or early, early spring—the resurrection could happen.  Already, tiny green sprouts are breaking through the dirt and reminding me that my work was not in vain.  It has a purpose.

In a few weeks, we will be celebrating another resurrection and this one is the biggie.  We are going to celebrate the fact that two thousand years ago, a man—the God-man—willingly died on a Roman cross to pay the price for the sins of the entire world.  That day the sin for every man, woman, and child was atoned for, making it possible for those same people to have forgiveness, power to live this life, and live forever in heaven.  Anyone who is willing to believe and choose to follow Him can have the privilege of calling God—Father. But He didn’t just die.

See, anyone can die on a cross and claim anything.  Jesus didn’t stay dead—He physically, really and completely came back to life.  He resurrected and one of the reasons He did?  He did it to prove that He was Who He said He was and did what He said He would do. His death shouted, “I love you” and His resurrection shouted, “I am victorious over death.”  Wow.  So, here’s the deal. 

Remember I mentioned in a few weeks we were going to celebrate the “biggie?”  Well, this is what I was talking about.  And these weeks are like my time preparing the gardens for their resurrection.  These weeks are a time for us to prepare our hearts and minds for the big event—Resurrection Sunday.  The more I prepare the gardens for their resurrection, the bigger the celebration of life as they sprout and bloom.  And guess what?  It’s true with Easter.  The more we prepare, the bigger the celebration. Like Paul, said, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know [to celebrate] the power of His resurrection.”

Each evening after work I had to make a conscious decision to prepare the gardens for resurrection.  Wanting to, longing to, intending to, just wouldn’t cut the mustard.  It is time for us to prepare to celebrate His resurrection.  Wanting to, longing to, intending to, just won’t get the job done.  We have to decide to prepare—for the resurrection.  It’s a reason to celebrate you see because He lives—we too can live.  So, start today, get ready for the biggie—the resurrection of Jesus.  Need help in preparing? Not sure how? No problem.  The One who made it all possible is a great party planner.  Just ask Him.  He’s got that, too.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, priorities, Scripture, thankful

Harmony

You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.”  John 13:13-14

They came to church one day.  I like church…most of the time anyway.  One of the things I like about church is that it is so inside down.  Like, if you go to a concert, the most expensive seats are right up front.  If you go to a ballgame, you pay extra to sit down where the action is.  That’s not true in church.  The high value seats are all the way at the back.  There might be 150 seats and only 50 people but most of the folks sit in the high-priced back seats.  I can’t blame them.  I’m usually the speaker at our church and I get pretty passionate sometimes.  I’ve been known to accidentally, uh, well, you know, spit.

The story is told of a young preacher who was excitedly telling the people that Jesus was coming back.  He said, “Jesus said, Behold, I am coming quickly.” He said it three times, each time just a little more enthusiastically.  When he said it the third time, he lost his balance and fell off the stage and right in an older lady’s lap. He was so embarrassed and apologized profusely.  She said, “That’s ok son, you warned me three times.” Well, anyway, I get the sitting in the back thing.

Now, not because I am the pastor, but my wife and I always like to sit near the front.  I do like to be where the action is and trust me…it is rarely crowded.  If you have COVID concerns, just sit near the front.  Well, one day, a couple came and visited our church and guess what?  They came right down and sat on the second row.  I was surprised and when I said hi to them, I told them how glad I was to have them…especially on the second row.

Well, church started and, in case you are not too familiar with church stuff, usually we sing a while and then the preacher (in this case that is me) would speak a longer while.  Make that a lot longer.  So, as we were singing, I could hear this voice singing behind me.  It was the lady who was visiting with her husband.  She had a nice voice, and she was singing harmony and it seemed she knew most of the songs.  Well, they just turned out to be real nice folks and the best part…they came back and sat week after week in the second row.  She kept singing and I could tell she really seemed to enjoy it.

After several weeks, after services, Judy and I were talking with them after church and I asked her, “I enjoy your singing.  Do you, or would you, like to sing a solo for us?” Without hesitation, she simply said, “No thank you.  I just enjoy singing harmony.” Singing.Harmony.  That struck me as pretty profound.  For many folks, getting the opportunity to sing in front of a pretty large crowd would be seen as an opportunity to perform.  But not for her, she was content to be one of the worshipers…just singing harmony.

There is an old southern gospel song by the Oak Ridge Boys that said, “Nobody wants to play rhythm guitar behind Jesus, everybody wants to be the lead singer in the band.” That song has stuck with me all through these many years.  It is a good reminder to make sure that I remember that when I stand on a stage and speak—Jesus is the star of the show and I am just a rhythm guitarist somewhere in the band.

You see, pride is a dangerous thing—especially in Jesus circles.  If anyone taught lessons on humility it was Him.  He is the guy who performed slave labor one night and washed the feet of everyone in the room.  And then, He said, “Now I’ve set an example for you.  You should do the same.”  I don’t think it was about washing feet.  I think it was about putting everyone at the front of whatever line you are in.  It means remembering that you are not the most important person is the room.

It may surprise you to know that church can be a real pride factory. You would think that it would be the opposite, but people will be people and sinners will be sinners…even forgiven ones…even in church.  So that is why my friend’s response was so, insightful.  She didn’t need to be on stage, in fact, she didn’t want to be on stage.  She was content to be singing harmony amidst all the worshipers on any given day. For sure, some people have to be on stage and that’s fine.  We just need to remember that we are there because of Him and for Him.  And if we forget…well, He has ways to remind us…like falling off the stage.  And when we do, if we do, well, it’s good to know that He’s got that, too.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, fear, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, thankful

Sinning Starts Early

But if we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”

I used to think I was a pretty good kid. As I have shared with you from my past, various memories come to life. Some are humorous, some are serious, some are painful, and some are, well, criminal. I still think the crime of the century was when I decided to rob the little world bank that my Mama brought home from church…for safekeeping. But there was at least one more thing that I did that proved for certain I was, and still am, a sinner.

I was probably eight years old.  While there wasn’t a Wal-Mart to be found, there were other stores that were the forerunners of today’s retail mega-giant.  Ours was called Atlantic Mills and it was the place to go for good deals on just about anything you could imagine.  I remember it well because that is where we bought our Easter outfits.  We would go either Friday or Saturday before Easter (depending on Daddy’s payday, of course) and the girls would get their patent leather shoes and frilly dresses and I would get a shirt and tie.  Even then it was quite the event.

Easter wasn’t the only time we went to Atlantic Mills.  We would occasionally go just to shop around.  Of course, at my young age, I equated shopping with buying. I still do.  Why go to a store if you are not going to buy something? That’s like going to a restaurant with no intention of eating.  What? Really? So, anyway, one time we went to Atlantic Mills and it was one of those times when we weren’t buying—we were looking.  Well, that just didn’t work for me, so I started begging Mama for a dollar.  Now, keep in mind, a dollar in 1962 was the equivalent of the entire economy of a third world country.

Mama said no. Period, nada, ain’t gonna happen.  Well, I kept begging. (I was pretty good at it. Give me enough time and I could wear anyone down.) Finally, out of shear desperation, she reached in her purse and pulled out—a quarter.  Was I grateful?  Of course not.  Even then a quarter just didn’t have a lot of buying power.  I finally gave up and took my quarter to look for a treasure.  Two things happened in the next few minutes. First, I started feeling guilty for hassling my Mama and decided I should spend the quarter to buy something for her.  Someone say, “Awww.”

The second thing was I really realized that besides candy, there wasn’t a lot in Atlantic Mills for a quarter. Well, I looked around and found a pretty scarf that I just knew my Mama would like.  The problem was it was something like $1.49.  At that point, my young sinner/criminal mind began cooking something up.  I wasn’t about to outright steal it.  That could get you hard time.  So, I decided that I would switch the price tags.  I looked around and found something for a quarter, found a place where no one could see me, and carefully removed that price tag and put it on the scarf.  There. Done deal.  No one would ever know the difference.  Oops.

I went to the checkout counter and found out two things.  First, did you know even then there was a code on the price tag indicating what department it came from.  I found out too late that they didn’t sell scarves in hardware.  Second, the checkout lady was not a newcomer to the checkout business and she quickly realized that this scarf was worth more than a quarter.  Bottom line—she nailed me.  She looked down at my frightened face and into my tearing eyes and said, “Did you switch this price tag?”  Well, I “spilled my guts” and I believe I even told her why.  She didn’t turn me in…she didn’t have too. Her words were punishment enough.  I walked away a mess with my quarter still in my hand. As far as I remember I didn’t buy anything that day and I guess I gave the quarter back to Mama. It was a total disaster.

Now, before you act as the States Attorney and put me on trial, the statute of limitations has expired on this.  And besides that, I was just doing what sinners do—sin. And since we are all sinners, all of us can probably identify with this sin thing. It didn’t matter that I was eight—I was old enough to know better.  I don’t know if I told Mama or not, but that didn’t matter because God knew and He is even more important than Mama. It is things like this, and a lot more, that make me a big fan of God.  The way He extends His grace to sinners like me is just amazing.  It is so amazing they wrote a song about it.

I well remember the guilt and shame I felt that day which probably means I did confess to God and probably to Mama too.  I’m sure both of them forgave me.  A guy named John, who was a BFF (best friend forever) of Jesus and who wrote some of the New Testament said that if we are willing to confess our sins, God is more than willing to forgive us.  That is good news. And the best part?  There are no limitations. His love and grace go longer and farther than the “Energizer bunny.” No matter what, if we come to Him in sincerity and repentance, He will sincerely forgive us.  He could handle my eight -year-old sins then and my sins today.  As always, He’s got this. Bro. Dewayne