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, gratitude, Holidays, priorities, thankful

Happy

You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy.” Psalm 30:11

Just a heads up. Christmas trees. They all have their own time to be setup. They all have their own design and style.  They all have their time when they are trashed or stowed.  There is a common denominator.  Those three things are determined by the creators, the admirers of the trees.  That is what makes every tree special. At our house, we do something just a bit different.  We have four trees that make a small, enchanted forest of sorts.  The tallest is about six foot and the smallest is about 30 inches.  It was an idea that I came up with several years ago and we love it.  They are decorated with a wide variety of ornaments and keepsakes from over the decades…and we love that too.

On one tree, we have a styrofoam snowman’s head that was made by my sister when she was in the third grade…and trust me…that was a really, long time ago.  There is a glitter covered cross from when my wife Judy was in the fourth grade.  Of course, there are three “baby’s first Christmas” ornaments—one for each of our daughters.  There is a 3×5 index card with two buttons on it.  Written, by my oldest granddaughter when she was about 5 years old, is her name over one button and Papa written over the other.  It is priceless.  We were buddies…we are buddies. And on and on it goes…families, friends, and special memories all gathered in one place.

So, by now you are wondering, “Why are you writing about Christmas trees after Christmas has past?”  It’s a bit of a story. When we were in Germany in 1979 we lived in base housing.  They were large, four story apartment buildings, with three stairwells—all full of military families.  We were on the top floor and we had one neighbor across the hall and they actually had a phone in their home.  One year, near Easter, I needed to use the phone so I knocked on the door and his wife came to the door.  I asked if I could use their phone and she was kind enough to say yes.

As I entered their apartment, I noticed one thing right away.  Sitting in their living room was their Christmas tree in all of its splendor.  Now, keep in mind it was right before Easter.  I made my call and just had to ask the obvious question.  I politely said, “So why do you still have your Christmas tree up?”  And, without missing a beat, she said, “It makes me happy.”  I never forgot that simple answer and the great truth it taught me.  It.Makes.Me.Happy.

I love the fact that this sweet lady made a decision not based on popular opinion, not on what the masses did, not the usual.  She made a decision based on what was good for her—for her mental health.  I didn’t think her odd at all—rather, I thought her strong and wise.  I wonder how many decisions we make every day that are not based on what may be good for us but based on what the Smiths or Jones might think of us? I wonder how many things we wear, or eat, or watch, or do, that are based on the opinion of others?  I wonder how many of our faith decisions are based on the same?  Church—no church. Kindness—no kindness. Love—no love. Jesus—no Jesus. Hmmmm. I just wonder.

Well anyway, if you live around Harrisburg, Illinois you need to know something.  For the next few weeks or so, you are going to see a small, enchanted forest in our front bay window.  It will be four trees starting at about six feet tall and going down to 30 inches.  If you could get close enough you would see the trees covered with special ornaments—and almost everyone would represent a special memory or event.  And why will it be there?  Well, Miss Judy said, “Dewayne, it makes me happy” and I have to agree.  So this year, we are doing something counter-cultural and leaving them up past Christmas, when most folks will have theirs stowed or tossed.

In these coming days, we will drink coffee and do our Jesus things like reading the Bible or praying and occasionally we will look up and be happy—happy for all the blessings that God has sent our way.  Someone writing about God in His Book said that God had turned their mourning into joyful dancing. He had taken away their clothes of mourning and clothed them with joy. I couldn’t agree more.  Even in this COVID-19 hot mess, even in a year that did not live up to its name—2020—and even when a future is still not very certain, we will have happy moments.  We will pause and thank God that in the past He always showed up and today and all the today’s yet to come…He’s got this. 

Posted in Christmas, Family, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, priorities, sovereignty of God, thankful, Trials

Post-Christmas Blues

But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9

There is a blue Christmas and then there are the post-Christmas blues.  Elvis made the first one famous with his smooth, crooning voice.  It spoke of someone who had lost their sweetie and all the lights, music, and decorations in the world couldn’t overcome their blue world.  In reality, there are lots of things that can make Christmas a little blue. But just a glance at the calendar can bring on the post-Christmas blues.  This is a real deal.  It is that feeling that you have when you wake up the day after Christmas and realize the thing you had looked forward to for weeks is fading fast in the rearview mirror.

I was sitting on the couch with one of my grandsons and he made a comment about the fact that he was going to be a sad tomorrow (the day after Christmas).  So, of course, I had to ask him why.  He told me it was because it was going to be such a long time till Christmas came back again.  Well, with all my Papa wisdom, I tried to explain how time seemed to go by faster when you get older, so it seemed that Christmas came all the time.  I’m pretty sure he gave me one of those, “you’ve got to be kidding me” looks. At any rate, I know one thing.  The post-Christmas blues aren’t as severe the older you get.

I can well remember when I was younger and our kids were younger and the hype for Christmas was somewhere off the scale and the day after Christmas was almost tragic.  Well, actually it probably didn’t kick in for a day or two later because you had the excitement of returning all the things that “didn’t work.”  That usually included clothes from loved ones who obviously didn’t know how much you weigh.  But sooner or later, the blues would come.

One of the newest rages in outdoor Christmas decorating says it best.  You have probably seen the giant blowup characters that people put in their yards these days.  There is every kind of blowup you can imagine.  Giant Santas, reindeer, elves, candy canes, snow globes, and everything in between will fill the yards in the neighborhood. But have you ever noticed those same decorations in the daylight?  To save energy and extend the life of the decorations, most of them are on a timer.  During the day what is brightly lit and full of life (ok, air) at night are deflated and lying on the ground. Deflated and flat.

Well, that is sometimes how the post-Christmas blues feel.  But there is an answer. So what if we concentrate on what Christmas is all about anyway?  What if instead of focusing on what is going to the attic, we focus on what doesn’t?  Things like family.  The same family you loved on December 24th or 25th will still need your love in the days that follow.  The same things that made you smile before Christmas may give you a reason to smile later.  The beautiful lights may be gone but what about that beautiful sunset last night? Sounds like a fair trade to me!  In fact, God says in His Book, “But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” Sounds good to me.

And, if you just happen to be a Jesus follower, well, the same Jesus that you celebrated Christmas Day is still going to be there.  The same church service that made you feel so warm on Christmas Eve will happen in one form or another in the weeks to come.  You see, if you think about it, the parts we love best about Christmas don’t need to go to the attic.  They can live on in our lives today and every day.  It all has to do with perspective. As we journey in the days to come, make it a point to look and to see, for so many of the things all around us seem to say, “Joy to the world, the Lord has some.” Oh, to be sure, there are plenty of things around that can deflate you faster than pulling the plug on one of those yard decorations.  But we get to choose what we focus on.

At our Christmas Eve service I said that we get to choose which bells we are going to listen to—the tolling bells of despair or the pealing bells of joy.  While we don’t get to choose our circumstances, we do get to choose how we respond to them. Someone said that 2020 might be just a dress rehearsal for 2021.  Well, maybe, but I don’t believe it.  But if it is…well, we are going to be better prepared and we are going to do better at hearing the right bells and seeing the sights and sounds of a God that is bigger than our circumstances. As we leave this Christmas in the rearview mirror, let’s get ready for the hope of what’s ahead.  After all, He’s got this.

Posted in Christmas, Family, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, Military memories, priorities, Southern born, thankful, USA

Care Packages

Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!”
2 Corinthians 9:15

You never knew when they were coming.  When God and the Air Force decided to send us to Germany—well, it was an exciting adventure that we just thoroughly enjoyed.  But there was a downside…we were a long way from home…a real long way.  We were there from 1977 to 1980, we were young, and we were newlyweds.  Back then there were no cell phones and a landline call to the States was hugely expensive, so that just didn’t happen.  There was no internet.  The world moved at the speed of ship or a plane if you were lucky. The only option was snail mail and well, that could take a while.

Sometimes during the year, our parents would send us a box through the mail.  We called them “care packages.”  The reason was that when one came it was clear that someone back in the United States loved us and they cared—about us.  That was important because as much as we loved being there—there wasn’t home—or anywhere close to home.

There were two times a year that you could almost always count on a care package—that was somewhere around your birthday and then Christmas.  I can still feel the excitement as the days clicked by.  We didn’t know when, but we just knew that my Mama or Judy’s Mama would spend the money and equally as important take the time to say, “I love you.”  We would go to the Post Office every day, looking for the yellow slip in our mailbox that said, “You have a package.”  Instantly it was like Christmas Day.

We would open the box that day—that hour if possible.  There would be wrapped presents and those we would save till the special day.  But there would always be just stuff—candy, trinkets, small things that could only be gotten in America.  Sometimes there were home baked goodies and even if they were stale by then—they were still from home and we gladly ate them.

The care packages were an important link to home for us.  Like I said, it told us that someone was thinking of us—that we had not been forgotten.  What we need to realize, especially this morning, is that God is the greatest sender of care packages.  His ultimate gift, His Son, made the way so broken people like us could not only come into the presence of Holy God but that we could call Him Father.  The Jewish people could never understand that.  To them God was a far off, unapproachable deity that they worshiped.  But for Jesus followers—well we know Him as Dearest Daddy and that is not a term of disrespect or looseness—it is a term of His love for us and our love for Him.

Even in the midst of this incredibly difficult year, God has continued to send His care packages along the way.  The Bible tells us this day, and every day, is a day that He made.  He makes the air that we breathe. Everything…everything…that we eat, enjoy or own is a care package from Him.  Every sunrise and sunset, every perfectly different snowflake is a care package from Him.  And every single night that I lay my head down on my pillow in the peace He provides—well, that’s a care package too.

Now to be honest, sometimes we would get things in our care packages from home and wonder “what in the world they were thinking”.  I’m sure Judy and I laughed at more than few.  But do you know what?  Those things were notes of love too.  And the things that God allows and sends our way that we don’t understand—well, each one in its own way is a care package.

Well, the days of care packages are gone for us though we occasionally get one via UPS or Amazon Prime.  But they are rarely the same as days gone by.  But the care packages from God never change—He still sends them—every day—sometimes every minute.  He just loves us so much.  I hope regardless of your circumstances that you will make the choice to trust Him and to wait expectantly for His care packages.  Keep looking, keep waiting because each one tells us, “He’s got this.”