Posted in fear, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, missions, prayer, priorities, Scripture, travel, wisdom

Jesus Road

There is no distinction between Jew and Greek, because the same Lord of all richly blesses all who call on Him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:12-13

It seemed like a waste of time.  I was part of a mission’s medical team and we were ministering in Uganda.  We were working with a ministry that helped orphans and due to war, aids and poverty—there were many to help.  After ministering at the orphanage, we went out to local villages and bush to reach more of the people.  Medical care, though extremely inexpensive, was out of the reach of most of the people.  That alone clearly speaks of their poverty.  It was such an opportunity to help others.

Before we started the clinic, I would have the opportunity to speak to the people.  I would explain that there was a Man named Jesus who was like no other man.  He would go from village to village helping people—often healing them of their diseases.  I would explain that He did it because He loved them.  Then, I would tell the people that we were followers of that Man and just as He wanted to help people—we wanted to help them.  I explained that the medicine and the doctors were there at no charge to them because someone else had paid the price.  And naturally, that led to me sharing how God was offering them a way for their spiritual brokenness to be forgiven.

Some of the people in the village had heard of this Man—many had not.  Some were Muslims and some followed whatever local religion they were familiar with.  Before they saw the doctors, we had the privilege of sharing with them more about this man Jesus.  We would ask them if they wanted to leave whatever “god” road they were on and walk the Jesus Road.  While it seems simplistic here, there it made perfect sense.  There was no pressure just an opportunity to believe.  Whether they said yes or no, the medicine, the help, was theirs for free.  That’s what Jesus would do.

It had been a long day and we had seen well over a hundred patients—maybe two hundred.  Many had said yes to the question about the Jesus Road, but some simply said no. As the day wore on, our spirits were still willing, but our bodies were growing tired.  Finally, there was just one man left and it was my turn to share with him.  He was tall and dressed in the traditional Muslin clothing.  I could tell that he was elderly, but I was surprised to learn that he was 81 years old.  Now, honestly, the chances of a Muslin man that old choosing to change roads was slim to none.  It seemed like an exercise in futility.

I shared a Bible story with him and was surprised that he paid close attention.  At the end of the story, which spoke of a person choosing to walk the Jesus Road, through the interpreter, I asked him, “Would you like to follow this Jesus Road?”  Much to my utter surprise, he responded, “Yes, I would.”  I was certain he just didn’t understand my question, so I rephrased it and his response was the same. Amazing.  Finally, I said, “Do you understand that walking the Jesus Road requires you to leave the road you are on?”  I said, “You cannot walk two roads…only one.” His response was, “I choose the Jesus Road.”

We bowed our heads and he prayed telling Creator God that he was a sinner, but he believed that Jesus had died to pay for his sins.  He said that he was willing to leave all other roads and follow only Jesus.  And just like that, this dear old man, became a Jesus follower. Did he fully understand all the theology that was involved?  Probably not, but he did know that God loved him, that he was a sinner and Jesus would forgive him and that was enough.  What seemed like a waste of time, an exercise of futility, turned into the most amazing moment of the trip.  That day that man became a child of God.

This story never grows old—and neither does the old, old story about Jesus being born, living, dying, being buried, and coming back to life in three days—never to die again. It is a factual, amazing story.  I am always amazed that we know more about this carpenter from a small village in the middle of nowhere than we do of all the Roman emperors.  Do you know the reason?  Jesus is the real deal.  How about that?

You might be surprised to learn that Jesus wasn’t a big fan of religion. In fact, neither is God.  I always think of religion as man’s attempt to reach God while Jesus was God’s way to reach us.  A relationship with God is not about church, being good, or keeping rules.  It is about God’s love and our faith in what Jesus did.  It is simple, it is powerful, and it is true.

If you want a witness, you can go to Uganda and find my 81-year-old friend, but truthfully, he probably isn’t there.  By now, he has most likely followed the Jesus Road straight into heaven.  That’s where it ultimately ends.  And as much as I love the fact that the road leads there, I am also so glad that there is room for two to walk side by side—Jesus and me, Jesus and you, Jesus and us.  And as we walk, I know that I can face whatever the road holds because, “He’s got this.”  Bro. Dewayne

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

Sunday Surprise

And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.
1 Thessalonians 4:13

I love surprises—well at least the good ones.  From the time I was a kid, there were two things that rang my bell:  gifts and a good surprise.  When you marry those two together—well, it’s a good thing.  One of my favorite memories center on a time when that happened.  When I turned 40, my wife Judy arranged a surprise birthday party for me and we just had a great time.  The gift thing was a little odd—you know, Geritol, Depends—the normal stuff when you’re being toasted at a party.  My favorite perhaps was a horseshoe shaped toupee custom designed to fit my receding hairline.

Yup—there’s nothing like a good surprise—especially a Sunday surprise.  I’m a pastor so around Christmas or perhaps Pastor Appreciation Month, it is not uncommon for the folks to give us cards and gifts.  It’s great.  You go to church and you get presents. I love it. Every once in a while, it’s a bit more random.  That happened not once but twice very recently.

Several weeks ago, I was talking about grief and how the Bible says that people who follow Jesus grieve differently.  According to Paul, the guy doing the writing, we don’t grieve like people with no hope.  The reason for that is we believe the end doesn’t have to be end.  That’s what Easter is all about.  Well, to illustrate the point I said if I were to lose twenty dollars there would be two ways to grieve.  One is the way I would grieve if it fell out of my pocket.  It would be gone.  No hope of recovery and no hope of getting it back.  Adios, President Jackson.  But if I were to put it in the bank, I might grieve that I can’t use it, but at least I would know where it was.

Well, it was a good illustration—now for the surprise.  When Judy and I got home from church that day, we walked up to our backdoor.  There, tucked neatly where the door met the frame, was a twenty-dollar bill.  There was no note, no anything just President Jackson there smiling at me.  To this day, I don’t know who left it but it sure made my day.  But here’s why!  Someone listened and just wanted to be a blessing.  It worked.  What a great Sunday surprise.

Guess what?  It happened again a couple of weeks later.  This time it wasn’t a portrait of President Jackson but something just as special.  At Christmas time we have a nativity set.  I shared recently in a Grits with Grace story how our nativity set includes a special guest:  Scarlet from the movie “Gone with the Wind.”  Years ago, someone gave her to us as an ornament for our tree. Well, my granddaughter added her to our nativity set about 17 years ago and it just seemed natural that she should stay.  After all, a sinner like her, like me and like you is what Christmas is all about.  You know, Baby Jesus came to save the world from all our brokenness.

On the Sunday before Christmas, I shared that story as part of the morning message.  Now, fast forward a couple of weeks—the Sunday after New Year’s.  Judy and I finished up with church and headed to the house.  When we got to the back door, I looked down and there was a small box.  It was wrapped in plain, brown paper and simply said, “The Taylor Family.”  It was another Sunday surprise.

After lunch we opened the box and guess what was in there?  It was another Christmas ornament from “Gone with the Wind” but this time it was, drumroll, please, Rhett Butler.  Now in case you don’t know, Rhett was Scarlet’s beau in that movie.  We laughed till we cried.  We still don’t know who left it for us, but it made our day.  Next Christmas—yup, Rhett will be by Scarlet in our nativity set. They both will remind us that Jesus came to fix broken people—just like them and just like us.

Both of those surprises were special because someone thought enough to reach into our lives with a special touch.  It is appropriate that they happened on Sunday because it seems that is when God just loves to surprise His people.  Often, we manage to make it to church after a difficult week wondering what could possibly happen that would make it worthwhile—make life more bearable.  And then, it happens.  A friend speaks a compliment to you.  The worship team leads a song that reaches right down where you are and picks you up.  The pastor chooses a scripture that seems it was written just for you that very day.  And all of a sudden, you know why you made the effort to get up and go.  God had a Sunday surprise just for you.

I believe God loves to do special things for us.  He sends us love notes that just remind us that He is still there and that He still thinks mighty highly of us.  Oh, don’t get puffy…it isn’t that we earned it or deserve it—it’s just the way He is.  It is His nature and character and I just love it.  So, whoever thought enough to tuck a twenty dollar bill in my door or somehow find a Rhett to be with our Scarlet—thank you for blessing us.  You touched our hearts.  And let’s be sure and thank God for all His special surprises He sends our way—not just on Sunday but every day.  And don’t be surprised about this crazy world—just remember, “He’s got this.”

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, prayer, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, wisdom

Happy Birthday

This is the day the Lord has made; let’s rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

Today is my birthday.  Now wait.  That isn’t a hint for a gift.  It isn’t an invitation for a bunch of comments.  It is a statement of fact—and fascination.  You see, 67 years ago I was born.  I don’t say that because I remember, I say it because I am here…now.  I am amazed that over six and one-half decades have come and gone since Leslie, my mama, said to Alston, my daddy, “It’s time.”  She had already done this birthing thing seven times so I suppose it was just another day at the office by then.

Since the day I was born, I have been alive 24,473 days.  That means that 24,473 days the sun came up in the morning and went to bed at night.  It means 24,473 times God faithfully gave me a wakeup call.  One of my favorite verses in the Bible is the one that says this is the day that the Lord has made, so we should find joy in it and be glad for the opportunity.  24,473 times.  24,473 love notes from God that He thinks life should go on.

Now there are a bunch of those days that I don’t remember.  In fact, these days I don’t remember what happened yesterday. I find some humor that as a pastor I have to think about what I spoke about last week.  Sometimes it just slips my mind.  Oh course, the good news is that most people can’t remember what I said either.  One day all I will need is one sermon.  Together we will just hit the replay button.  But that day is not today.

Today I am so filled with gratitude with the incredible journey that God has allowed to play out in my life.  Not every day has been that good.  I mean, the days I woke up with the stomach flu didn’t make the top 1,000.  But it has been a great journey.  My childhood, or at least the part I remember, often causes me to smile.  The more I think of my Mama and Daddy, the more I appreciate them.  They were pretty ordinary folks but at the same time they were just extraordinary.

I think about the night in 1974 when I walked into that church in Valdosta, Georgia and saw “the girl” and I am grateful.  I have shared 44 of my 67 years with her and boy am I glad I decided to go to that church that night.  Our journey has been and is one adventure after another.  I’m hoping God decides to let us grow really old together—its gonna be a hoot for sure.  Throw in the mix the kids (including the ones who stole our daughter’s hearts) and the grandkids and, well, it is awesome.  Perfect? No.  But who said life has to be perfect to be amazing?

And, then there are the everyday people I have met and bumped into, especially as a teacher/pastor. If life was a giant scoop of vanilla ice cream and people were the toppings, it would be one fantastic, multi-flavored, rainbow colored sundae.  You know those things kids love to sprinkle on ice cream—all the different colors and flavors mixed together?  Well, that’s life and that’s people and that’s what makes it wonderfully unique.  Yep, it’s been a good ride.

It seems that life is like a really long stint in school.  Someone said all they needed to learn they learned in kindergarten.  I think that really is life—one big, long day in kindergarten—learning, playing, living—with a few skinned knees along the way.  I know this and yet I am still learning this.  Life is not a destination—it is a journey.  There is not some magic place we are going to arrive at one day and feel all warm and fuzzy and complete—well, unless you count heaven.  No, the joy of life is the journey.

No, the joy of life is the journey.

Dewayne Taylor

There it is. That is why we need to wake up every day, thank God for another love note, another opportunity to make an impact and be impacted.  That is why every day, regardless of how it plays out, is a gift.  The hard days are opportunities to learn those hard, but very valuable, lessons.  The good days when things just go amazingly well are like recess—or lunch.  The trick is learning to be grateful for both, because both are valuable.

At any rate—I’m grateful that at t-minus nine months Alston and Leslie decided one more couldn’t hurt.  I’m grateful that they decided I was a keeper—even if the table was a little full.  And if it isn’t your birthday today, go ahead and celebrate anyway.  Today is God’s decision that life should go on.  Today is His way of saying I love you.  Today, regardless of the circumstances, is an opportunity to believe that He is good, that He is faithful and that He can be trusted.  It is just one more opportunity to believe, “He’s got this.”

Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, New Year, prayer, priorities, Scripture, thankful

Watch the Small Print

Throw all your anxiety onto Him, because He cares about you.” — 1 Peter 5:7

Just pay a separate fee.  I’m a fan of the infomercials on television that you see all the time.  No, I’m not interested in the products and I don’t like the way they interrupt my viewing times. I like them because they are funny.  As you watch them, it is as if they had just discovered the fountain of youth. It is always something that they think I just can’t live without.  And, it is like they are my new very best friend.  They like me so much they are offering a deal that I just can refuse.

Sometimes it is a garden hose that expands like crazy when connected or shrinks up like a snake when it is isn’t.  Or maybe it is some miracle herbal supplement that is guaranteed to make me lose weight, or gain weight, or grow hair, or remove hair from where you don’t want it.  Regardless—they all carry a money back guarantee.  If you don’t like it…just send it back—minus shipping and handling and your firstborn.

My favorites are the ones that offer you two for the supposed price of one. That’s right folks because we like you so much, we are going to send you two of these amazing products—just let us know—and, of course, pay a separate fee. Wait. What?  If I am paying a separate fee isn’t that like walking into a donut shop and asking for two donuts and paying for both?  Or maybe going into Best Buy and them saying we are not going to sell you one television today, but two. All you have to do is pay a separate fee. I think that is called two for the price of two.

Then of course there is the small print.  On most screens there are like fifteen lines of extremely small print.  We are going to send you a two-week supply of this amazing product that will cause you to grow six inches overnight—and it is free.  What you can’t read is the small print that says if you don’t cancel in five minutes and speak fluent Swahili then the deal is off.  I remember we were driving back from somewhere on a trip listening to a radio show that I trusted.  They were offering a two-week supply of this amazing herbal deal that would help me lose weight.  Well, I needed to lose weight and there was no risk, right?  Well, a month later I was fighting a $69.99 charge on my credit card.  Oh, the small print.

I saw a commercial today for those amazing HD Tactical Sunglasses on television.  They made them sound like they would cause the blind to see. Well, I bought some at a local store and they didn’t exactly live up to all the hype.  In fact, they were so dark I couldn’t see anything—in HD, SD or any other D. They are in the car waiting for a return trip to the store.  The bottom line is if it sounds too good to be true…it probably is.  And it seems the more the hype—the greater the chance that it is full of hot air and not so true promises…except one.

The exception to this rule is one you won’t find on television.  That one exception is God. Here’s the deal.  He never makes a promise He won’t keep and He’s not big on the small print.  He lays it all out and there is no separate fee.  In fact, His gift of love and forgiveness comes prepaid—no shipping and no handling. I need to be honest and tell you that sometimes folks speaking for God like to make promises on His dime and then God gets the bad rap.  But there’s an answer for that too.  Just get a copy of His Word and check it out for yourself.  Like I said…He lays it out and it is a deal you just shouldn’t pass up.

As we begin this New Year, here’s some great advice.  First, record your favorite shows on the DVR and watch them later when you can fast forward through the commercials.  You can save yourself a chunk of time and if you are tempted by those outrageous claims in the commercials, you might save a few bucks too. Second, tune in to God.  He’s good, He’s faithful and He can be trusted.  Notice, by the way, that I didn’t say religion—I said God.  He has a great “no extra fee” offer.  He says, “Throw all your anxiety onto me, because I care about you.” And do you know what?  He really does.  There is nothing that He and you are going to face that He can’t handle.  Rest assured, “He’s got this.”

Posted in Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, missions, prayer, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel, wisdom

The Rain Maker

 Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4

 It was drier than two-month-old bread.  It’s been several years now, but the story is as fresh as today’s bread.  We were on our second trip to Niger, West Africa.  We would fly forever and finally arrive in the capital city of Niamey.  There were two things that were always the same.  It was always very late at night and we were always totally exhausted.  After a day getting acclimated, we would load up and drive all day on one of the few paved roads in the entire country.

Niger is a sub-Saharan country in West Africa.  It was on the edge of the Saharan Desert—hot, dry, and dusty.  Our journey would take us to a small city in the middle of nowhere.  We would stay with a family there who were kind and filled with hospitality.  As is customary, we would settle in and then go see the “chief” of the village.  We would meet, greet, and thank him for allowing us to come and stay in the village.  On this particular trip we were distributing food to several dozen families in the area.  Because of the extreme dryness, food was always in short supply and because of a few years of drought—it was life-threatening.

As we met with the chief, we told him we were servants of the Creator God and asked him if there was anything that we could pray for.  Without hesitation, he said, “I want you to pray for rain. It hasn’t rained here in a very long time and we are desperate.  We have prayed but no rain has come.”  We prayed there and then and told him we would pray more—even asking people in America to pray.  And we did, both.

What happened next is a thing of legends—except it is not a legend—it is truth.  After immediately contacting some of our folks back in America, and praying ourselves…again…we went to sleep.  Sometime in the middle of the night, the wind began to blow, and the temperature began to fall.  Soon, there was the sound of a distant thunder.  Then, as we stood in our doorway and watched, a heavy rain began to fall.  David, one of our team members, was soon out dancing in the rain.  All of us were dancing in our hearts.

We would later learn that our friends in America, watching the radar online, saw a storm develop from nothing and move across our area.  As we danced in Africa—they were dancing in America.  That very night, right at three inches of rain fell in that village on the edge of the desert.  It was unbelievable.  It rained for several hours and fell so hard that several walls, made of mud, straw, and manure, collapsed.  A couple of storage buildings lost walls too.  When light finally came, literally, small lakes of water were everywhere.  We would be using the four-wheel drive feature on our trucks for several days.

I can’t remember if the chief came to us or summoned us to go to him, but that day we had another conversation.  He thanked us for praying and said that our God did what their god did not do.  He was grateful for us coming to the village and invited us to stay as long we wanted—and to return as often as we wanted.  Such are the wonders and miracles of the One True God.  This would not be the last or only miracle we would witness in West Africa.  It is amazing what God can and will do if the primary focus is to glorify His name.  I sometimes wonder if the people there still speak of the night of the rain.  I know we do.

There is an intriguing scripture in the Psalms—a collection of Hebrew hymns in the Jewish and Christian Bibles.  It is found in Psalm 37:4. It says that if we are willing to delight ourselves in God, He will give us the desires of our heart.  At first that sounds like a “rub the bottle and a genie pops out” story.  Trust me…it is not.  You see the first part is key—when we delight ourselves in God—then our desires align with His desires and when that happens—miracles do too.

This year, let me encourage you in a couple of areas.  First, if you haven’t thought much about Creator God—Jehovah God—in a while—why not revisit Him?  I believe you will come to the same conclusion I did years ago.  He is amazing.  And then, as we journey through this New Year, let’s commit to making His desires, our desires.  Let’s get on the same page with Him and watch, in wonder, what He can and will do.  It may not be exactly what we want but it will be what is exactly right.  He doesn’t make mistakes.  Wrapped up in all of this is that powerful truth we end each story with.  It is good news for this day and every day.  We can have the confidence assurance that, “He’s got this” and He does.

Posted in Family, food, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, New Year, prayer, priorities, Scripture, thankful, travel, wisdom

Ralph’s

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

It was donut heaven.  Judy and I took a trip to middle Tennessee to do some hiking and be amazed all over again at the wonder of God’s creation.  We stayed in the small city of Cookeville which is about an hour east of Nashville.  We had driven by there many times on our way to Pigeon Forge and points east but never stopped.  And for some reason…this time it was our destination. It was wonderful.

Within a few minutes driving time were some of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen.  One, Fall Creek Falls, is the tallest falls east of the Rockies—256 feet of free falling water.  Then there was Burgess Falls which had not one, but three separate falls…each one more spectacular than the one before.  Finally we drove over to Rock Island State Park and were amazed by a river that fell and fell and fell—each time creating a beautiful waterfall.  Then, coming out of caves in a huge, high bluff was a massive waterfall falling into the river.  Unbelievable. I would think God would get a 10 for all the beauty that we have seen.  And then…there was Ralph’s.

When we stay at an Airbnb, we always check out all the literature that the host leaves to make the visit more enjoyable.  We also check out comments in the guest book for tidbits of information.  That is where we heard about Ralph’s.  Three different previous guests mentioned this mom and pop donut shop in downtown Cookeville.  We had to visit.  To not do so would have been a travesty of donut-ism.  So we were on our way on Monday morning when Judy checked their website.  Oh no…closed on Mondays.  We had to wait another day.

Tuesday morning after planning our hikes for the day, we headed to Ralph’s Donut Shop to ensure we had plenty of calories on hand for our journey.  When we arrived it was indeed an ordinary mom and pop donut shop.  But trust me…it was anything but ordinary.  The first thing I noticed was the sign stating that they had been open since 1962.  Do the math and you will find out that they have been making donuts for 58 years—in the donut world that’s like forever.  And then—we opened the door.

It was donut heaven.  I know that to be true because so many things in the case were “holey.” Get it?  Anyway, to my left was a horseshoe shaped counter with almost every stool filled with locals enjoying coffee and pastries.  There was a long glass case and a whole wall filled with pastries and donuts.  And there to greet us was the best donut salesman in the world.  You could tell this guy loved his job and was “in the right seat on the bus.”  Judy and I use that phrase to describe someone who is doing what they were meant to do.  This guy was meant to work at Ralph’s.  The first thing my eye spotted was the royalty of pastries—the fried apple fritter.  It was massive, fried crispy, covered with glaze with the middle stuffed with apple filling.  One please.

Then the sales guy told us the fritter was their best seller until the butter twist came along.  It was a fried donut but the twist was they brushed it with butter before cooking.  He said it was voted the number one donut in the entire state of Tennessee.  I’m sure he was telling the truth.  Two please.  Judy wanted something chocolate.  No problem—a butter twist with chocolate frosting should do the trick.  One please.  Then I asked about this chocolate creation on the top shelf.  It was a devil’s food mix and saturated with chocolate.  He said it was diabetes on a plate and should come with a shot of insulin.  We passed on that one. His final gift was a spice bar that was broken in two, so it was free.  He said it was as if Little Debbie married gingerbread and had a baby.  I loved it.

Judy and I had read that they closed at 11:30 so we assumed 11:30 am but we asked anyway.  Oh no…they have three shifts of bakers and are open from 5:00 am till 11:30 pm.  Now who has ever heard of a donut shop staying open that long—and they are doing quite well, thank you.  Oh, and did I mention that they are listed in the top 20 donut bakeries in the entire United States?  Oh, yes…it was donut heaven and it was “holey” ground.

Well, there is one thing that was obvious at Ralph’s—they were all in.  They knew their product, they believed in their product and they wanted to share their product.  Even if you didn’t like donuts, you wanted to buy one by the time you left.  You wanted what they had because it had to be worth having.  I have a feeling that we as Jesus followers should take a lesson from Ralph’s.  We know we have the best thing in all of creation to offer those in our world—the good news of Jesus Christ.  Donuts may be “holey” but Jesus can make us holy—holy enough to call God, Father—holy enough to go to heaven.  And Ralph’s may have been making donuts for 58 years but God has been loving us since before the foundation of the world.  He wants to walk with us through this New Year and every year.  He is a beyond amazing God.

Since He is so incredible—if we love Him, if we believe in Him—we should be all in too.  We should live like we believe and share the Word about Him like we believe it.  I left Ralph’s wanting to tell people about this amazing place.  I think we need to get up every morning wanting to tell everyone the great Good News.  On this first day of this great New Year let’s figuratively get behind the counter—not to sell donuts but to share the Good News. And what is that? It is that God, Creator God, so loved this world that gave His Son to a Roman cross that anyone who believes in Him and what He did—can have everlasting life.  And that is the best news ever.  Oh and then there is more.  No matter what today or this year sends our way, we have the assurance that He’s got this.

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, New Year, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, wisdom

James

The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD and He delights in his way.  And even if he falls, he will not be utterly cast down because He upholds him with His strong hand.” Psalm 37:23-24

The other day we were down at my daughter’s house who lives near Murray, Kentucky.  They have blessed us with two of our eight grandchildren and if you know anything about grandkids they are just a bunch of fun.  Matt and Jen live in the country near Kentucky Lake and my wife Judy decided we needed to take a walk.  Now if you know Judy you know she believes that people build houses for essentially one reason—to sleep in.  If you aren’t sleeping, you need to be doing something—outside.  Period.

So, naturally, we took a walk.  I was with my grandson James and we were having an adventure.  Soon we were walking hand in hand.  Now, James, who is six, is a very thoughtful young man.  So, eventually, he asks me, “Papa, what is your real name?”  Now I knew what he was asking but why not have some fun when you can?  So, I told him my name was Papa.  “No” he said firmly, “your real name.”  Well, I gave in and told him it was Dewayne.

He took a shot at pronouncing it and got real close.  I thought that might be the end, but no, the best was yet to come.  He then asked me, “Papa (he didn’t try Dewayne) how old are you?  Well, that was a good question, so I gave him the answer.  “James,” I said, “I am almost 67 years old.” Again, almost without hesitation he said, “Papa, you’re almost dead.” I died laughing—no pun intended.  The Bible mentions something about out of the mouth of babes, truth comes, and I guess truth be known…there’s a lot more days behind me than before me.

Another of my favorite James stories occurred several years ago. Judy and I drove down to Vienna to Jon and Becca’s house and the Johnson clan drove up from Murray. Everyone was there with the exception of Sarah and Blake who at that time were stationed in Savanah, Georgia.  The occasion for us getting together was my oldest granddaughter’s 15th birthday. So, anyway, it is always more fun when the grandkids are around. If you just wait you will learn something—or at least get a good subject for a sermon or a story. The latter was true in this case!

The family had migrated to the basement and only James and I were left upstairs.  So, I said to James (who was two at the time), “Come on, James, let’s go to the basement.”  We headed toward the stairs and I wisely offered my hand and he even more wisely took it. The wisdom of that decision became apparent quickly. Now James was and is, all boy.  As we headed down the stairs, he didn’t go slowly or carefully—he literally headed down.  I mean, full speed, Katie-bar-the-door down.  As we started down, he performed a combination of running, jumping, and skipping maneuvers.  Stairs were missed but hey, who cares, it was fun.  Let me just say I was glad that I had a good grip on him because if I hadn’t, well, it wouldn’t have been pretty.

We made it somewhat safely to the bottom of the stairs and I had to share the story and we all had a good laugh.  But later, as I pondered how that all played out, it made me appreciate God in a whole new way.  I freshly realized how glad I am that God has a good grip on my hand.  As I charge head first into life, especially in years like 2020, if He didn’t have ahold of me—well, it just wouldn’t be pretty.  But just like I held onto James, so God has ahold of me.  Only eternity will tell how many times He saved me from pain and suffering and the consequences of thousands of bad decisions.

Years ago, while reading the Bible, a passage jumped off the pages and into my life.  It said, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD and He delights in his way.  And even if he falls, he will not be utterly cast down because He upholds him with His strong hand.” That is such powerful truth.  The fact that God directs my steps, that the path He chooses for me is cause for Him to delight and that when I fall, He’s got me…well, that is good, good news.  And the best part is, it is true.

As we get ready to leap into 2021, it’s good to know that we can have someone like God holding our hand.  If you are a Jesus follower you know all about that and, if you aren’t yet, He is just waiting for you to take the leap of faith. Why not give Him a try?  God’s not big about denominations or even religion but He is real big about loving you and He wants to walk with you in this New Year.  James didn’t know too much about stairs when he took the plunge, but his Papa did.  James could rest assured that when it came to stairs…Papa had it all under control.  And when it comes to life, we can rest assured that our Dearest Daddy knows all about life and has it all under control.  You might say, “He’s got this.”

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, New Year, Southern born, thankful

New Year’s Eve Eve

And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord: “For He is good, for His mercy endures forever toward Israel.” Ezra 3:11

We weren’t famous but we had fun.  I was fortunate to have what a lot of kids never did. First, I know that not everybody did or does the church thing…and certainly not all teenagers but when I was growing up it seemed a lot more kids did.  I went to the same church from the time I was about 10 until I joined the Air Force at age 18.  We had the most incredible youth group you could imagine.  We were all good friends and it seemed we did everything together.  Almost every Friday or Saturday night we had a party at someone’s house.  It was some kind of cookout and always involved some kind of crazy game. Personally, I was partial to spin-the-bottle.  Smile.

Music was a huge part of our teen years.  Again, it was a different time but I believe our group was special.  We would rush through our Sunday night Bible study just so we could sit in a room and sing four-part harmony.  We weren’t the Tabernacle Choir but we sounded pretty good and better than that—we loved it.  After church it would be a trip to Frosty’s or one of the local pizza places.  I believe that a lot of who I am today came from that group and the awesome leaders who poured into our lives.  Musically that would be Lloyd and Jane.  She was the church pianist and he was the music director.  They loved Jesus, loved music and loved kids—in that order.  And that is how it all started.

It had to be Lloyd and Jane that came up with the idea of forming a four part quartet.  Now you have to understand in the late sixties and very early seventies, two things were huge: church softball and gospel music.  So, it probably seemed more natural than not.  Four of us young men, Doug, David, Steve and myself, formed a quartet with Melody on the piano.  After a contest to find a name we became…drumroll please, “The Youngmun”. Lloyd and Jane took us under their wing and taught us how to sing parts, add tone and balance and after a while we sounded decent.  Then, we started getting gigs—opportunities to sing.  Sometimes it was Friday nights, sometimes Saturday nights and sometimes Sunday afternoons with a sprinkling of times in-between.

We just had a great time. We loved to sing and were really good friends.  One of the Bible guys said that we should sing responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord: “For He is good, for His mercy endures forever toward Israel.” And do you know what?  We tried to do exactly that. Well, eventually we went our separate ways, but the memories still live in my heart.  And that is the reason for this story.

You see, back then there were things called “all night singings”.  You can guess what it was by the title.  While they were held at different times the all-time favorite was New Year’s Eve.  Churches or groups of churches would book groups and they would literally sing all night long.  More than once we sang very late or very early—depending on your perspective.  And amazingly, people came and people stayed.

Well, times have changed.  I rarely hear of gospel concerts like the ones from days gone by.  I know there are some but not to the level of those days.  I don’t miss staying up all night—these days if I make it to 10:00pm I am doing really good.  The ball may fall in Times Square but it does it without me!  But I do miss the way we started out the New Year.  Being with a bunch of people who loved Jesus and loved music was pretty cool.  Song after song spoke in poetic ways of God’s incredible love for us and the hope of tomorrow and the day after that “Because He Lives.”

You know, it probably wouldn’t work today to try and have an all-night singing, but do you know what would work?  This New Year’s Eve maybe we could, maybe we should, take some time to thank God for all the blessings He sent in 2020.  Now, don’t make the mistake of thinking He went on strike.  Oh no, His blessings, His love notes were everywhere.  They always say the most powerful person in the room is the guy with the microphone.  Well, we all know too often that person didn’t shout the most encouraging news in 2020.  In fact, I’m not sure they could spell encouraging. 

But I do know this.  No matter what 2021 holds, if we choose to follow the God who made it all, if we will trust and believe, no matter what—I think we will find that it’s gonna be a great year.  We may not always get exactly what we want from God, but we always get what is exactly right for us.  Someone said He is too wise to make a mistake and too good to be unkind.  I know, sometimes it doesn’t feel that way, but He loves us—a lot.  How much—enough to plan Christmas and Easter—and that is a lot. So, I don’t know your plans for New Year’s Eve but I hope it includes Him…the God who wants to be your Father—your Dearest Daddy.  I hope it will include some quiet time so that you two can chat as the Whisper whispers His love in your ear. Listen as He speaks those three precious words, “I’ve got this.” 

Posted in Christmas, Family, fear, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, Military memories, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, Trials, wisdom

Hard Christmas

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commands.” Deuteronomy 7:9

Not every Christmas is merry and bright.  I suppose if we live long enough all of us will experience a Christmas that is not so merry.  Life can be difficult and when those difficulties occur around the holidays, it can be difficult indeed.  I remember 1972 which was my first Christmas in the Air Force. I managed to get leave and fly home from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.  When I arrived home, the house was dark and empty.  There were no decorations, no tree.  My father had suffered yet another big heart attack and he was in the hospital recovering.  It was hard.

Another time that Christmas had a dark shadow was December 1978.  Judy and I were stationed in Sembach, Germany.  It was a great place to live and it seemed that every day was an adventure.  We were living off base in an apartment, a short drive from the base.  Just living in a German village was an adventure in itself. The heat did not come on until October 1 of each year, no matter how cold it was and the heat didn’t go off until May 1, no matter how warm it was. There was no air conditioning, which we didn’t need anyway. In one of our apartments, I especially remember the small two gallon hot water heater.  It called for a very quick shower.  Judy had long hair in those days and it was a race to get her and her hair washed before her two gallons of warm water were up.

We also didn’t have a phone.  Of course, cell phones were a long way in the future and land lines were very expensive.  In December of 1978 we were sound asleep when we heard a sharp knock on the door.  It must have been about 1:00 am in the morning.  I went to the door to find the officer of the day for my squadron.  He was there to let me know I had a call from the Red Cross and I needed to call them immediately. He followed me to the base and from my office I made the call.  The Red Cross made arrangements for me to call my brother and sister-in-law in Florida.  The message was short and to the point.  My sister-in-law Sonia said, “Dewayne, honey, if you want to see your Mama while she is still alive, you need to come home right away.”  I was shocked.  I had no idea that she was sick—especially not that sick.

Well, when you are thousands of miles from home across the Atlantic nothing happens quickly.  But as fast as the wheels could turn and with a lot of help from the Red Cross and the Air Force, Judy and I were able to catch a transport aircraft back to the States.  It landed at Dover Air Force Base on Sunday, December 3rd. My brother, who lived in New Jersey, was able to pick us up and together we drove south to Jacksonville. It was a long day’s journey and we got there Monday afternoon.  We went straight to the hospital and were able to see Mama for a few minutes. We then went to my brother’s house to get some rest.

That evening we gathered together, visited, and prayed.  We told God that whatever He wanted was ok.  If He chose to heal Mama of that cancer, that was great but if He chose to heal her by taking her home…that was ok too.  The next day He answered our prayer.  Mama went to heaven—less than 24 hours after we got there.  It was Tuesday, December 5th and she was 62 and I was only 24.  Well, we planned the service and celebrated her life and worshiped her God and our God.  We had some family business to take care of and when that was finished, so were we.  Judy and I had enough leave approved to stay for Christmas, but the truth was there was no reason to stay.  There was not a home place any more, so we decided to go back to our home—in Germany.  In a few days, we were back and celebrated Christmas knowing that it would never really be the same again.

I can’t tell you it wasn’t hard because it was.  I was grateful we had a couple of weeks before Christmas, but it was still the season.  It felt strange to leave a home that wasn’t home anymore. As much as we loved Germany, we realized when we got back to the States 18 months later, there would be no going home for Christmas.  And then God, via the Air Force, planted us in Missouri for a few years and then a whole lot of years in Illinois.  He also called me to pastor so that meant Christmas was here every year.  And do you know what?  That was ok because God gave us a new family to love and care for us.  That family was His people wherever He placed us to serve.

No, every Christmas is not merry and bright and we (who have some sense of normal this Christmas) need to remember those whose life is anything but normal this year.  It may be the loss of a loved one, it may be loss of health or a job, or it just may be this COVID-19 mess.  But like the Bible says, “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commands.”

So these days and especially in these days, we need to love one another.  And, just like that night in December when my brothers and sisters came together and told God whatever He wanted for Mama was ok…we need to come together and tell Him whatever the future looks like, we will trust Him with that, too.  I’m so grateful that He is faithful, that He is good, and that He can be trusted.  And because of that, He’s got this.

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

My Christmas Santa

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

Santa Claus came to town.  I cannot describe the excitement that filled my small world as Christmas grew near.  I wish I could tell you it was all about Jesus, but in my boyhood world it was about presents and presents meant one thing—Santa Claus.  Just like we have now, we had an attic in our World War II barracks turned into a house.  And every year we would go into this magical place where special things lived and bring down the decorations.  We would start early and stay late.  While a white Christmas in Florida was never in the offing, a fun time was.

There were certain decorations that were staples in my world—I can see them in my mind’s eye like it was yesterday.  One of those was Santa Claus.  Now, we didn’t have the whole body but what we did have was his face.  Yup!  Our Santa face was about two feet tall and about 18 inches wide.  It was from molded plastic so it was three dimensional and to me—it was real.  When I got just a little older, I got to climb up on the roof (carefully for you concerned moms) and using some wire I would hang our Santa face on the front side of our chimney. But wait it gets better!  Our Santa face had a light bulb inside and would light up at night for all the world (at least so I thought) to see.  It was magical.

I remember the vibrant colors—the red hat falling down one side of his peachy face, his full white beard, rosy cheeks, and his eyes.  His eyes were bright blue and right in the middle of each pupil was a small hole so that brilliant white light could come peek out giving the illusion of just the right amount of twinkle.  It was as if I could hear his hearty “ho, ho, ho.”  It was more than a plastic face—for me it was the center of my Christmas world.

I’m not sure what happened to Santa.  By the time Mama moved out of the house, I was in the Air Force.  I’m hoping he is still living in someone’s attic, but probably he found his way to the trash pile…the victim of some relative that stopped believing.  But he will always live in my mind.  But in my grownup world, I stopped to question.  Why did Santa look just like me?  Why was his skin so peachy and his eyes so blue?  If he loved all the kids around the whole world, it didn’t seem quite right that my Santa looked so…white. What about the African American kids, or the Asian kids, or the Hispanic kids?  What about all the other kids?   It didn’t occur to me so much back then, but looking back…it does.

Well, having a peachy faced, blue eyed Santa is one thing but what about a peachy faced, blue eyed Jesus?  It’s so funny that when I look at a nativity set, there’s a fair skinned, often blue-eyed Jesus.  When I see a painting of Jesus in a church, (keeping in mind we don’t know what He looked like), He usually does have brown hair and eyes but His skin is unusually fair for a Middle Eastern man.  Honestly, perhaps this doesn’t matter too much unless we begin to think that Jesus is partial to us…no matter who “us” is.  You see, just like the kids’ song says, “Jesus loves the little children, all the little children of the world.”  Color never mattered to Him, or the side of town you lived in, or how rich or poor you were.  He just loves people.

I loved the Santa that hung on my chimney just the way He was.  He wasn’t making a statement…he was just saying, “Ho, ho, ho…Merry Christmas.”  But let’s make sure our Jesus, or at least how we perceive Him, isn’t making an unintended statement either.  There is a whole world out there who God loves and who Jesus died for. Paul, one of the guys who God used to write the New Testament, said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” So, if we are a Jesus follower, let’s get the message out that Jesus loves people…period.  And just as important…let’s make sure we get the message out that because He loves people…we love people.

The mission for every Jesus follower is the same—love God, love people. That’s what the Bible teaches, and I figure if we are going to follow Him, we should follow it.  It’s not always easy to love people…especially in these crazy days but guess what?  With Him nothing is impossible.  That’s what the angel told the young, virgin Mary.  God can pull anything off—including helping us love others.  It’s just good to know that “He’s got this.”