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

Destiny

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.” Proverbs 17:22

Luke, it’s your destiny”.  Oh, I know, to a whole bunch of you that doesn’t make a bit of sense.  It is a line taken from one of the Star Wars movies when Luke Skywalker, the ultimate good guy, learns that Darth Vader, the ultimate bad guy, is his father.  He was saying that Luke was destined to be a bad guy because his dad was.  Well old Darth Vader had a surprise coming.  I’m glad that life is like that. Full of surprises.

All my life I have loved music.  From the time when I was about 10 or 12 and my mother forced my sister to allow me to sing in her wedding, music has been a part of my DNA.  To this day I love every kind of music —with only a few exceptions. One Christmas, Santa Claus bought my sister a chord organ and I would sit and mash the buttons making music. Later, when I joined the Air Force, my mother urged me to buy an organ and I did.  I never learned more than three chords, but you would be amazed at how many songs you can play with those three chords—C, G, F.

Well, years later, after Judy and I were married, we bought a beautiful old piano.  She could play well and I could play my three chords.  For my birthday, she decided to give me piano lessons.  I was genuinely excited.  When music is in your soul, it is always satisfying to find ways to get it out.  There was a wonderful lady (think saint) at the First Baptist Church of Warrensburg named Gerry Muchmore.  Let’s just say she was a legend in her time at First Baptist.  She could play the piano and organ like few could.  She had retired from giving lessons by the time we came along, but somehow Judy talked her into giving me lessons.

I was so excited when I opened the card and read the words, “six months of piano lessons with Gerry Muchmore.” I couldn’t wait to get started.  I just knew as much as I loved music and with one of the best teachers in the state, I would soon be playing the piano like a pro.  Nothing was going to stop me.  I had the will power, I had the passion, and I had fingers—even if they weren’t very long.  Move over Liberace—here I come. But wait. It was about then, if I had been listening, a small voice was probably whispering something about destiny.

I was to meet with Mrs. Muchmore (with a teacher like her and my southern genes we were never on a first name basis) once a week.  Every day I was to practice what I learned in preparation for the next lesson.  Week one went well.  Both our expectations were low since I only knew three chords.  She bought me the beginner book and I played my fair share of “Three Blind Mice” also known as “Hot Cross Buns.”  Soon it was time for lesson two.  I think she was a little surprised at my progress or perhaps I should say my lack of it.  I think something was mentioned about practicing.  I assured her I had been faithfully practicing and she suggested I might want to practice a bit more.

Unfortunately, week three was much like week two.  Try as I may, those stubby little fingers were just not cooperating.  Add to that my total lack of rhythm genes and it wasn’t promising.  I pressed on, practicing, and dreaming of my days of musical bliss.  Then came week four.  At the conclusion of our lesson that day, my piano idol looked at me and said, “Dewayne, there are some people in the world who are destined not to play the piano. You are one of those.”  She spoke the words gently and kindly but firmly.  It was game over—I was not going to be a threat to Liberace after all.

Now in case you’re wondering, it didn’t wound my heart too deeply.  I actually appreciated her candor and frankly, I wasn’t into all that practicing anyway.  I mean I still had my three chords.  So many years later, I still love music, I still love to sing, and I still enjoy it when someone can play an instrument well.  Perhaps it is their destiny—it just wasn’t mine.  It is a lesson I’m still working on today.  I’ve discovered that there are some things that I can do pretty well, and there are some things that are best left undone in my life.  I’m learning that just because I can’t rip up a keyboard doesn’t make me any less a person than one who does.  It simply means that’s not my gift.

If we go through life always envious of what other people have or what they can do, we will only end up jealous and bitter.  If we learn to appreciate what other people have or what they can do, we end up richer in character with a deeper appreciation of life.  I wonder if that is what the writer of Proverbs had in mind when he wrote, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.”  I think it is.  God is pretty keen on us just the way He made us.  He is your biggest fan.  We sang a song in church Sunday that had four profound words in it—He is for you.  And do you know what?  He is.

So, I still have my three chords—C, F, and G.  I still occasionally (though not frequently) sit down and bang out an old song that requires only those three chords.  The rhythm is never quite right, but that’s ok.  It still helps some of that pent-up music to ooze out.  I want to encourage you do the same.  Find something you love, that’s deep in your soul and let it ooze out.  It’s good medicine.  By the way, if you are a Jesus follower, it’s always good to let Him ooze out too.  Why not take a seat, take a rest and strike up a song with the One created it all.  The two of you make a great duet.  And if you hit a wrong key or two…that’s fine because…He’s got this.

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, loving others, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, wisdom

Bait and Hook

A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.” Proverbs 17:17

His name was Bill, and he was an investor.  When Judy and I landed in Warrensburg, Missouri, via God and the Air Force, we began attending First Baptist Church.  For us, being Jesus followers was an all-in deal, so soon we were singing in the choir, attending church, and going to Sunday School small group. Our Bible Study teachers were Bill and Edith Hensley, and they were a class act.  The time we spent in that class was rich in every way imaginable.  We built friendships and did life together.  It seemed that whether you were in the Air Force like I was or a professor at the local university, or a lawyer, it just didn’t matter.  We were pilgrims journeying with each other and with Jesus, and it was good.

Bill was a lawyer by trade and a disciple-maker by faith.  He believed in Jesus, believed the Bible, and believed in people—including me.  I’m not sure how it happened, but he kinda adopted me and began teaching me about fishing, hunting, and growing in my faith.  He loved to fish.  He would often call the house and say, “What time is it?”  Now it might be time to wash the car or time to mow the grass, but I knew what the answer was.  “It’s time to go fishing,” I would reply, and in about 30 minutes I would be in his pickup truck heading to some pond to see if we could reel in a bass or two in.

That was the case one particularly late summer evening.  We had the boat out in a small pond.  Things had been slow, and the sun was just about to call it a day.  Bill suggested that I make a cast or two more toward the shore.  He pointed out a log that just broke the surface about three feet from land.  I gave the rod a swing and, amazingly, that ole hula-popper landed right up next to that log.  A hula-popper is a soft lure that sounds just like a wounded frog when you pull up on the rod.  I pulled up on the rod and heard the familiar gurgling sound.  Nothing happened.

I gave it another tug, and two things happened.  First, there was a small splashing sound, and second, the lure stopped dead in the water.  At first I thought I had snagged the log, but I then realized I had hooked a pretty good-sized bass.  Now, since it was late summer, the water was a bit cool, so there wasn’t this epic battle—you know, man against whale.  Instead, it was like reeling in a big piece of wood.  Of course there was a tug here and there, but whatever was on the other end of the rod wasn’t up for much of a fight.

Before long the fish was beside the boat and Bill got the net and brought him on board.  It turned out to be a pretty big fish.  It was a 6.5 pound largemouth bass.  I couldn’t believe it.  Bill couldn’t believe it, and I am pretty sure the bass couldn’t believe it.  Well, we snapped a couple of pictures and headed for shore with the bass safely in the fish well.  I asked Bill if I should have him mounted, but he said no because I was sure to catch a bigger one someday in the future.  Well, I didn’t, and honestly I believe he knew (because I didn’t know) my Air Force salary couldn’t handle the cost.

Bill and I enjoyed many more fishing trips before I finally moved out of the area and over into Southern Illinois.  I slowly lost touch with Bill and Edith, and now they are both in heaven.  I am sure they heard “well done” when they got there.  I can only imagine how many lives they touched.  I do know that night I learned a good lesson, and my relationship with Bill taught me another.

The first lesson came thanks to that old bass.  I wonder how many nights he had lain up by that log.  You don’t get to be a 6.5 pound bass in a few nights or by making bad decisions.  So many a night there he lay, and each of those nights he was wise enough to say no when a fisherman came by with a tempting bait.  For some reason that night was different.  It wasn’t that I was an expert, and it wasn’t that the bait seemed that real.  More than likely he just let his guard down and took the bait.  That night he learned a valuable lesson, although it cost him his life.  As Greg Laurie puts it, it’s “better to shun the bait than to struggle on the hook.”  Now that is good advice. In these days that take way too much energy just to do life, don’t get lax and make a really bad decision.  Resist the bait.

The other lesson was from Bill…the man who invested his time, his wisdom, and even some of his resources in a young Air Force sergeant. Bill was simply a good man who loved Jesus.  He was busy, but he wasn’t too busy to pour his life into mine.  The Bible says, “A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.” Bill was that to me, and I know that I am a better person for knowing him. So, again, in days like these when it seems the top priority is survival, don’t get so self-absorbed that you can’t invest in the folks in your world.  There are plenty of people like me who need someone a little wiser to speak into their lives.  Why not be that voice?  That voice may be whispering, “Don’t take the bait,” or it might be encouraging someone to trust in the One who is worthy…to trust and rest in the God who made it all.  I think Bill was one of the ones who spoke into my life and helped me believe that I could trust God because “He’s got this.”  Thanks, Bill.

Posted in Family, food, gratitude, life, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, travel

Taters

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.” Matthew 6:33

It was a sight for sore eyes. A while back when my aunt died, I went down to be a part of her memorial service.  It was a special time for me since it was my Daddy’s baby sister.  Though he has been gone since 1974 it was an opportunity to honor him.  The funeral was in Gainesville, Florida and the return trip gave my wife and I an opportunity to travel some Southern back roads.  We chose to travel north through Alabama and it turned out to be a real treasure.

Judy and I are both from the South.  She is from Valdosta, Georgia and I am from Jacksonville, Florida. There are just certain things about living in the South that are special.  You will find things run just a bit slower there.  It’s not uncommon to find an older gentleman in an old pickup truck going nowhere in a hurry.  It is a Southern thing.  It’s not uncommon to see homesteads with old tin roofs often tinted with a rich red rust.  It is a Southern thing. It’s not uncommon to see old groves of giant pecan trees ready for a rich harvest of nuts.  It is a Southern thing.  It’s not uncommon to see old tobacco barns with smoke slowly drifting skyward as the brown leaves dry.  It is a Southern thing.

There are many things like that in the South and each one is a treasure to those who recognize them.  But if there is one thing that marks the South, if there is one treasure above the rest, it is good Southern cooking.  You can find it in most kitchens in those older homes.  Mamas are teaching their daughters (and sometimes their sons) how to season green beans and fry chicken or mash potatoes.  If you’ve never eaten Southern comfort food…well, you’ve never eaten well!

As we were traveling North through rural Alabama we were seeing all these things and reliving our roots.  It was time (actually past time) for breakfast so we began looking for a place to eat.  We found ourselves in Luverne, Alabama.  It is a small town which happens to be one of the treks to the beaches in Florida…so it gets a fair amount of traffic.  We had traveled through before for that very reason.  We were looking for a “mom and pop” place and we found Taters.  It was a small restaurant in Luverne and it looked like just the spot.  “Taters” was in yellow on the front of the barn red building.  It had a “Jesus 2020” sign planted by the entrance.  Things were looking promising.

We went in and immediately noticed the decor.  It was, shall we say, “Southern Jesus.”  Hand lettered Scriptures filled the walls.  The napkin holders had the same.  Back by the restrooms was a big sign about God.  The server came as friendly as a Chick-fil-A employee on steroids. We ordered our food and waited.  Soon, sitting in front of us was one of the most delicious breakfast meals I have tasted in years.  There were three eggs sunny-side up (that means the yokes were sitting there like two small suns), a side of hash browns cooked nice and crispy, three strips of thick cut bacon cooked like it should be—limp. And then there it was.

“It” was a real big spoon full of Southern cooked grits. These weren’t the instant variety—they were the slow cooked kind.  And right in the middle of that pile of grits was a puddle of melted butter.  It was Southern manna—it was heaven.  And trust me—everything was as good as it looked.  Now, no lectures about heart attacks, I don’t eat like that all the time, but that time—I did so with no regrets—not even one.  But here’s the surprise—that wasn’t the most important thing.  The thing that mattered most was the Jesus part.  You see this was a restaurant that served up Jesus first and just happened to also serve good food.  Their mission was Jesus and their food was a side dish.  I was real glad they could cook, but I was blessed by their Jesus boldness.  I walked out with a full tummy, a full heart, and a life lesson.

You see, if we follow Jesus, He has to be the center of our universe.  Our sign at church says, “Jesus First. Before. Anything. Else. Period.”  That is what Taters in Luverne, Alabama is doing.  Food is second to Jesus.  So, what about you?  What about us?  Are you a teacher first and then a Jesus follower? Are you a CEO first and then a Jesus follower?  Are you a coal miner first and then a Jesus follower?  Are you a preacher first and then a Jesus follower? What about this?  What if we starting reversing that?  How about a Jesus follower who happens to be a teacher; a Jesus follower who happens to be a CEO; a Jesus follower who happens to be a coal miner or, yes, a Jesus follower who happens to be a preacher.

Jesus First. Before. Anything. Else. Period. That would be a game changer.  Jesus said if we would “seek His Father first and live for Him, He would give us everything you need.” We need that today.  These chaos infested days we are living in  are golden opportunities to be a light in a dark world.  But we can only do that effectively if Jesus stops being an add on to our lives and becomes our lives.

The next time I am driving through Luverne, you can bet I will stop for some good food and a good helping of “Southern Jesus.”  They might not be there because “Jesus first” can be risky.  In their case it might cost them business.  If you do “Jesus first” it may cost you a friend or two or maybe a promotion, or maybe your popularity. Regardless, it is worth it. One more piece of travel advice. As you travel life’s hectic highway, stop and take a rest with Jesus.  And go ahead and be sure and put Him first.  Risky? Yup.  But, hey, remember, He’s got this.

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, Scripture

Prime the Pump

If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me, and drink. The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.” John 7:37b-38

There she blows.  I was raised in the far out suburbs of Jacksonville, Florida.  We were really country people but somehow we got lumped in with the city.  What happened was the powers to be decided to consolidate the county and the city so when you entered Duval County you also entered Jacksonville.  By the way, that made Jacksonville the largest city in the United States with 840 square miles.  I’m not sure why they did it, but it either had to do with more tax dollars or the Guinness Book of World Records.

So, like I said we were country folks.  That meant a lot of room to run, but few utilities.  We did have electricity but we were not connected to the city water or sewage system because there wasn’t any.  So we had a septic tank (and trust me I could write some stories about that) and a well to get our water.  Since we lived in Florida the water table was pretty high. I’m guessing you only had to drill 20 or 30 feet to hit water.  So, sitting right in the middle of our back yard was this well and pump.  It had (and I’m guessing) a 20 gallon tank and mounted on top of the tank was the pump part.  It consisted of a motor and a “housing thingy” with an impeller on it that would draw the water up.

It really worked well…unless one of two things happened…one, the power went out or two, the pump lost its prime.  If the water in the housing thingy drained out then the impeller couldn’t pull the water up.  The solution was usually pretty simple.  A person would have to go out to the pump, unscrew a plug from the top of the housing thingy, and slowly pour water in.  To this day I can remember taking my hand and forming a small funnel over the hole and pouring the water in.  The ole pump would whine and the impeller would swish the water around and make a kind of groaning noise.  Sometimes one pitcher would do the job and sometimes it was several.  Eventually, though, the sound would begin to change and you knew something was about to happen.

Water was on the way.  As the impeller created suction, it would pull the water up out of the ground and when the air lost and the water won…Katie bar the door!  All of a sudden water would come spewing out of that hole like a Texas oil well.  Water went everywhere.  It made you want to holler, “There she blows.” If it was summer time it was refreshing.  If it was winter it was cold…North Florida cold.  Then you had to fight your way to the pump, find the plug and somehow, someway, get that thing threaded back in the hole.  When you did, if you did, the water would then go into the tank instead of out the hole and you were back in business.

Now, remember I mentioned that “a person” had to go out and do this.  Yeah, well, that was me.  I don’t remember my sister’s getting tagged for this job.  Somehow it never was a girl job although sometimes it was a Mama job.  Of course Mamas have to do all kinds of things.  That’s what makes them special.  To this day I can hear my Mama hollering, “Dewayne, the pump needs priming.”  Sometimes I would pretend I didn’t hear her but that was risky business because you could end up in trouble.

I can also remember the thrill of when the pump caught the prime and water shot up into the air.  Somehow it made me feel just a bit like a man and more than that a man helping take care of the family.  It was a good feeling.  You don’t hear too much about priming the pump and things like that now. Technology has gotten better and not as many people have above ground pumps.  But do you know what?  I think sometimes we lose our prime…not in our pump…but in life.  We make noise, and our impeller spins around in our housing thingy (that would be our hearts) but that’s it.  We just can’t do what we were designed to do when we lose our prime. And, like the pump in my backyard, the only way to get the prime back is to pour some water in.

Jesus talked a lot about being the living water, the water of life.  One time He told the people that if anyone was all dried up because of the hardness of life, they could come to Him and drink.  He even said the kind of water He would give would spew in their lives just like that old pump in the backyard. He called it “streams of living water.” I can still see that water shooting up in the air.  And when it did, it meant that there was water to drink, water to wash, water to water the roses, and water to live.

Maybe today you feel kinda dried up inside.  Maybe this whole COVID mess, election mess and a bunch of other messes just have you feeling a bit like the Sahara Desert.  If so, why don’t you try some of Jesus’ living water?  Don’t drink the water of religion because that’s just sand…so is just doing better…so is keeping rules and starting this and stopping that.  What Jesus offers is the real deal…like a cold drink of well water on a hot day.  Why not sit in the shadow of His grace and love and rest a while? After all, He’s got this.

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, loving others, Military memories, prayer, priorities, Scripture, thankful, travel, USA, Veteran's Day, wisdom

A Penny and a Nickel

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

I had never noticed it before.  A couple of weeks ago my wife Judy and I visited the national battlefield at Dover, Tennessee.  I was so impressed.  Fort Donelson National Battlefield is a Civil War battle site sandwiched between the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers.  The South had built two forts there for the purpose of controlling those two rivers.  It was a major supply line for the South.  Many of the original earthworks are still there.  You can imagine the Union and Southern soldiers huddling down rising only to fire at one another.

One spot on the tour showed where the big Southern guns were mounted.  In fact, many of them were still there.  There were three on one side and seven on the other.  The guns could hurl a 30 pound shell over a mile and were some of the deadliest weapons of the war.  At that spot, an American Bald Eagle was perched in a large oak tree right on the bluff.  It was as if he was watching over the sacredness of this hallowed ground.  Men—both Union and Southern, shed their blood on these grounds.  One side dying to preserve the Union and the other dying to tear it apart.  After more than a few minutes the eagle took his leave and so did we.

The car tour then took us out of the park and down the road a mile or so.  There we found more earthworks, more cannon and more ground stained with blood.  Leaving there we headed down the road to the National Cemetery established after the battle. The Union soldiers won the day but the cost was high on both sides.  Judy and I parked the car and walked around the cemetery.  There were hundreds of graves…all men who had fought for the Union.  Sadly, the Confederate dead where dumped into mass graves and covered over.  They remain that way today.

At the cemetery, there were many graves from the Civil War era but since it is still an active military cemetery, warriors from virtually all the wars are buried there.  Judy and I saw graves from the World War I, World War 2, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf Wars.  We even saw one grave from what was called the Second Seminole War or the Florida War. Row upon row of graves, some older ones with only a last name and their assigned unit, lay silently giving testimony to their last full measure of devotion to their country.  There was one more thing.

We noticed that laying on top of many of the headstones there were coins.  They were mostly pennies with a sprinkling of silver coins also.  I didn’t really know what they meant but I had an idea and I was right.  There is a tradition that honors men and women who served their country.  You mainly see it in national cemeteries but also at others scattered throughout our Land.  When you see a penny on top of the headstone of a veteran, it means that someone stopped and reflected on the soldier’s life and service. It is a form of remembrance.  And, when a family member returns to the grave, they have the assurance that someone remembered and honored their loved one’s sacrifice and service.

If there was a silver coin, and back in the old days a nickel in particular, it meant the person who stopped by had a special relationship with the fallen soldier.  They may have gone through basic training together or were assigned to the same unit.  There has always been a special bond with men and women who fought together…who perhaps died together.  It is a bond that lives on beyond death and those silver coins honored that bond.

The Bible is full of renowned, well known, verses but one that stands out is where Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”  That is what those silver coins were saying.  It was a silent testimony of loyalty one for another.  This band of brothers were willing to die for the other…and many did.  What an amazing story of love and commitment.

Today we honor the men and women of our great country who served or are actively serving in it’s armed forces.  For 244 years brave soldiers have put their lives on the line.  As the saying goes, “All who served gave some but some gave all.”  We should be incredibly grateful for both.  As you journey through life today and you recognize a man or woman who was or is member of the armed forces, take the time to thank them for their service.  The freedoms we enjoy came at great cost whether it was the ultimate sacrifice or the daily sacrifice of hardship or separation from family.  Be sure and let them know you appreciate it.  It is just the right thing to do.  Oh, and don’t forget to thank the One who provides the ultimate freedom…Jesus Christ.  Because of Him, we can rest…because of Him we can have the peace of knowing…He’s got this.

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

Mama and Politics

Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” 1 John 5:4-5

He was running for county commissioner.  A long time ago when I was about ten years old I had my first and only encounter with political campaigns.  Somehow, and I have no idea how, my mama got involved with the campaign to elect a guy named Bill Basford as county commissioner.  And, when mama jumped in—she jumped in all the way.  That meant a couple of things.

First, and totally embarrassing, was this thing they put on our car.  We were pretty much not rich, in fact, I’m sure we weren’t even middle class.  We drove a 1957 Plymouth and let’s just say 1957 was a long way in the rearview mirror.  Anyway, back in those days if a person was running for office, they had these triangle shaped signs that people strapped to the top of their cars.  Now if it had been a little triangle that wouldn’t have been nearly as embarrassing, but this thing belonged on the sands of Egypt with the rest of the Pyramids.  It was HUGE.  It loudly proclaimed, “BILL BASFORD FOR COUNTY COMMISSIONER.” We would drive around and advertise for Bill.

That wasn’t all.  We also had to go door to door asking people to vote for Bill.  We covered our neighborhood like the plague of locusts that cleaned out Egypt.  I am certain people saw us coming and quickly closed their blinds and pretended they weren’t home.  It turns out that was just practice for when I became a preacher.  By the way…I know you are in there.  We also had a big supply of bumper stickers which we would gladly stick on your car.  When you’re ten, you like to stick things on things so I liked that part—a lot.

Well, election day came and mama waited for the big news.  Either by television or by telephone we got the word that Bill had won and they invited mama to come downtown to the headquarters to celebrate. Like Ma and Pa Kettle we (as in daddy, mama, my two young sisters and I) got in the 1957 Plymouth and off we went.  I only remember a couple of things about the celebration.  There was loud music, there was free food and there was a bar.  My daddy went over and I saw him get something to drink and I don’t think it was sweet tea.  The reason I remember that is because if daddy wasn’t a teetotaler, mama was.

So that was it.  Mama was excited because her guy won.  She didn’t get a political appointment or anything, but we did have a bunch of bumper stickers leftover to stick on things.  But the best part of all was that our guy won.  Winning is always a good feeling.  Everyone wants to be on the winning side. I don’t know how you came out in the election, but generally everyone has winners and losers.  Like the song says, “Some gotta win, some gotta lose.  Good time Charlie’s got the blues.”  Well, your name might not be Charlie, but maybe you’ve got the blues.  And I’m not talking about the election results.

If the truth be known, life can be pretty blue, can’t it?  And sometimes, it is because we lose…our health, our job, our family, our house, well, lots of things.  But I want to tell you something that is really important.  There is Someone who never loses and His name is Jesus.  If it was an election…He would win every time. If it was a game…He would win every time.  If it was a war…He would win every time. If it was a debate…yup, He would win every time.  Do you want to know the best part?  Keep reading.

Remember how mama got invited to the big celebration downtown?  Well, if we are willing to place our faith and trust in Jesus and follow Him, two amazing things happen.  First, because He wins, we win.  In a way, when Bill Basford won—mama won.  And when we choose to follow Jesus, because He wins—we win too.  The Bible says, “Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”  Then, the party starts.  Sometimes people think heaven is going to be one long boring church service.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It is going to a celebration like no other…like a party without end.  And while we won’t be the center of attention—that’s Jesus’ place—we will be guests of honor.  How about that?

I don’t really know how things turned out for Bill Basford, but I suppose he was a good commissioner.  I also know it made my mama feel pretty special to be a part of his campaign.  She felt included—we felt included.  We may have driven an old 1957 Plymouth but on that night with Bill’s name on the top, it felt like a Cadillac.  Jesus invites you to be a part of His campaign team too.  He’s not running for anything—He is already King of Kings. But there’s one thing for sure, He loves to invite people to come along for the ride.  He hopes, and so do I, that you will join Him.  When this campaign is over, we are going to rest in Him forever.  Until then, He’s got this.

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

Stinky Feet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in gratitude, life, loving others, missions, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel

Don’t Drink the Water

For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Psalm 30:5

It was my first real mission trip.  In 2003, I was given the opportunity to go on a mission trip to Bulgaria.  In case you don’t know what a mission trip is, it is when you go to a different part of the world and do Jesus stuff.  It might be medical, it might be teaching, it might be giving food away or most anything else that Jesus might do. Bulgaria is up by the Black Sea and snack dab in the middle of the old Soviet block.  It was a different world.  Imagine stepping back in time to the late fifties or early sixties and that’s where we landed.

When we arrived, it was instant culture shock.  The food was different, the language was different, the people were different…everything was different. And there was one big rule—don’t ever drink the water. I was a little nervous and a whole lot excited.  Get ready, boys, this is the great adventure.  We were given an assignment and my new friend Mike, and I were sent to work a couple of hours from the rest of the group. We were up by the Blue Danube River and not far from the North Sea. We would be working with the Roma people.  These folks, also known as Gypsies, were the outcasts of their society…the poorest of the poor and broken.

When we arrived, we were shown a nice apartment where we would stay.  It was very recently remodeled and look almost American. We began working right away and starting going to remote villages.  Through an interpreter we would talk to folks, I would sing and then one, or both of us, would teach about Jesus.  The people were so kind.  I remember I was introduced to Turkish coffee for the first time in my life. As you might know with Turkish coffee, they simply dump the grounds in the pot and boil them.  They poured me a cup and I took a slug.  First response—I almost choked on the grounds.  Second response—I didn’t know what to do with the grounds, so I chewed them.  Yup…the best part of waking up is with coffee grounds in your cup.

 Later in the week, and near the end of our time with the people, we were given the opportunity to do some preaching down on the city square.  It was pretty awesome.  I sang a song and then preached…and let me tell you I preached.  They might not have understood everything I said, but they knew I was excited about it.  After I finished it was hot and I was thirsty.  A nice street vendor offered me some red Kool Aid. I was so grateful.  He filled up a glass and I drank the whole cup in one swig.  Man, it was so good, so fruity, and so made with the water… I was not supposed to drink.  I never gave it a second thought…until later that night.

After we got back to the apartment, we had supper and went to bed.  About 11:00 pm we heard this awful noise and it came from the bathroom.  Well, it turns out, a majority of the new plaster ceiling in the bathroom had fallen—filling the sink, the toilet and the floor with plaster pieces.  We quickly decided we could clean it up in the morning.  There is a great verse in the Bible that says, “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Well, that verse took on new meaning for me that night.

About 2:00 am I was suddenly awakened by what can only described as the worse cramping and nausea I have ever felt.  Remember the red Kool Aid? Well, it was revenge time.  I quickly went to the bathroom only to rediscover the sink and toilet totally filled with fallen plaster.  It wasn’t a pretty picture.  I can only remember trying to clean out the sink and the toilet before the impending disaster hit.  I barely made it.  Long story short, I was a regular attender to the bathroom all night and into the next day.  Sure enough, there was weeping thought the night and joy was scarce.  The only “joy” in the morning was when the guys went to the local pharmacy and bought me a Depends.  HaHa. Thanks guys.

Well, I was sick for the next day or so, but before we got on the plane for home, I was better. Someone let my wife Judy know that I was really sick and that she should look for the insurance policy. Ok, it wasn’t that bad, but I thought it was.  I did learn a couple of really good lessons.  One…when you do something that God wants you to do…it doesn’t mean that everything is going to be rosy.  In fact, you may end up with a bouquet of weeds.  But, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.  Second…when the rule book says “don’t drink the water, DON’T drink the water.  Write it on your hand, write it in your Bible, put duct tape over your mouth, but DON’T drink the water.  And by the way, when God says don’t do something, there is also a reason why.  He’s not being mean…He is being loving.

Well, we made it home and that trip led to many more…not to Bulgaria but rather to Africa. And guess what?  We definitely couldn’t drink the water there either!  Guess what again?  I didn’t drink the water, because I remembered a lesson that I had learned a couple of years earlier. It just one way that God can take the worst things and teach us something good.  Yay God.  So, as we journey through these “Bulgarian” days and should we forget and “drink the water,” you will find a loving Heavenly Father who will walk you through the hardest times. He won’t walk out on you, ever. You will find that you can always rest in Him because He’s got this.

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

Nothing is Impossible

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Luke 1:34-35, 37

It was almost unbelievable.  My wife, Judy, runs an Airbnb.  Airbnb was founded in California by a couple of guys who needed to make some cash.  Since there was a shortage of places to stay in the city where they lived, they decided to rent a spare space they had as a nightly rental.  They threw an air mattress on the floor and ran an ad.  What happened next was just amazing.  The room was booked all the time and well, the rest is history.  Today it is a multi-billion dollar corporation that works as a clearing house for people who have property they want to rent on a nightly basis.  One of those is us.

We had a two bedroom apartment over our garage that was sitting empty.  Judy researched and worked hard, and now we have a business that is a supplement to our household income.  As a side benefit, we get to meet a lot of people from all over the United States and sometimes from overseas.  Judy loves to host people, so it is just a win all the way around.

As I said, we get to meet some pretty wonderful people.  One of our favorites bordered on almost incredible.  We’ve had lots of really good people stay with us and a lot of them are Christians.  But the first fall we were renting, we had a younger couple stay with us and they began to tell us a bit of their story.  I was chatting with the husband while Judy was chatting with the wife.  I thought I heard the word “grandfather” and the name “Kenneth Taylor.”  So, I pushed pause on my conversation with her husband and said, “Excuse me, did you say that Kenneth Taylor was your grandfather?”  And she replied, “Yes.”  We had read his children’s story books to our girls many times, so I had to know the story.

Kenneth Taylor was a regular walk around guy who loved Jesus—a lot.  He really wanted his children to know God like he did.  Sadly, there wasn’t a scripture translation available that they could understand.  Back in those days it was the King James Version (KJV) and it was written on a grade level way too high for kids.  He got the idea to paraphrase the Bible into a language that was easy to understand. He wanted his ten kids to understand God’s Word like he did. In 1954, he had to ride a commuter train about an hour each way to work in Chicago, so he came up with a plan to paraphrase the New Testament into modern English during his commute.

For seven years—seven years, he would put his Bible on the seat next to him and put a yellow tablet on his leg and he would literally read and then write—read and then write. He started with the gospels and went from there.  When he got finished he called his new paraphrase, “Living Letters” and it was released in 1962.  Well, he quickly found out that the Christian world was not ready for that—they were still struggling with anything besides KJV. No one was interested in publishing Living Letters.  So do you know what he did?

He and his wife took their limited savings and  begin publishing Living Letters.  The Living Letters would later be called “The Living Bible.” Slowly, ever so slowly, he began selling this paraphrase of the Bible and then something happened.  The Billy Graham Association called and asked if they could publish a special edition to give away at their crusades.  They wanted something that they could give to new Christians when they became Jesus followers and they thought the Living Bible would be just the thing. They ordered and purchased half a million copies. It was a huge success. Oh and along the way he started a new publishing company.  If you follow Christian publishing you just might recognize it—Tyndale House Publishing.  How amazing is that?

Just think—an ordinary, walk around guy who loved Jesus, decided to do something about something.  He was very intelligent and way committed, but really, he was just an ordinary man who loved Jesus.  And the paraphrase of the Bible he created on a yellow tablet strapped to his leg has helped millions get to know Jesus or know Him better.  It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t fast, but he stuck with it and God used him in a big way.

So, what about you?  What niggle do you have?  What thing is there that God is maybe, just maybe, calling you, leading you, to do?  What ministry does He want you to lead or birth?  What way can you bring some light into this way too dark world?  One of the greatest miracles in the world involved a young Jewish girl who was maybe as young as 14 or 15 years old.  God chose her to give birth to His Son.  She was just an ordinary, walk around girl who said yes to God.  When she said, “How can this be since I’ve never been with a man?” God just said, “Hey, with Me anything is possible.”  Anything is possible. I know, in our day, everything seems impossible.  We can’t seem to get anything right. But that’s only because we are excluding the One who can make it happen.  Remember what God said…with Me anything is possible.  When we choose to put God back in the mix of our lives, well, there’s just no telling what can happen.  Hey, I’m writing stories and having the time of my life.  I’ve always been too busy and God just sorta, kinda slowed the world down.  There you go.  I hope you will never forget Kenneth Taylor’s story and I hope you will never forget that God wants to use us to do something big for Him.  Don’t let the unknown scare you—it’s just a new adventure about to start.  You can rest in Him.  He’s got this.

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

Houston… We Have a Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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