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

God Is

So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?” Matthew 6:31

I am not much for going grocery shopping and that is probably a real paradox. I really like food–we are great friends–just not buying and preparing it. But the other night, Judy and I went to the park for a walk (good idea–walk with your wife…she cooks food) and then went to Wal-Mart to get a few items.

So, we get to the store and there was plenty of food there. For sure, some items were sold out (they had toilet paper) but others were plenteous. The cookie aisle was hard hit but strangely the broccoli wasn’t. So, when I got to the bread aisle it was empty…bare. For a southern boy, well, that was a little weird.

It made me think about the children of Israel and their trips to the grocery store. For forty years they would walk outside the camp and there all around them were little mounds of manna. It is described as small, round and sweet (Krispy Kreme’s?) and it was always there. Never a time did they go out when the store was open (it was closed for the Sabbath) and the shelf was bare.

God was teaching them something. They couldn’t hoard because God told them to go out every day and get one day’s supply. The only exception was the day before the Sabbath when they could get two. And every day they went and there were the “Krispy Kremes” all over the ground and they would pick them up and God was saying, “I am good, I am faithful and I can be trusted.”

Day after day, week after week, month after month–“I am good, I am faithful and I can be trusted.” Never a bare shelf, never a failure to deliver, never an oops. We may not have manna lying around today, but we do have the faithfulness of that same God. He takes care of His kids. You can bank on it.

Jesus said in Matthew 6:31-32 “So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32. For the Gentiles [those who don’t trust God] eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”

So, in these days–especially in these days–every time there is a need met or a blessing given, remember to say, “Thank you, Father.” And slowly but surely, we will learn the valuable lesson of God’s faithfulness. God is good. God is faithful. God can be trusted. He’s got this. Rest in Him today.

Posted in Family, fear, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, missions, prayer, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

Unclean, But not Unloved

If you love me, obey my commandments.” John 14:15

Well, it is finally over and I am glad.  I recently discovered this COVID thing is a pain in the neck.  I didn’t have it and I guess a metaphorical pain in the neck is not one of the official symptoms. What I did get to discover is what happens when it gets close.  I also discovered that when COVID comes knocking it’s gonna mess with your normal—like it or not.

A little over a couple of weeks ago, one of our church staff members tested positive for the virus.  When that was reported to the health department it messed with my normal—our normal.  First, because our entire staff had been in a room with the positive case, we all were placed on quarantine.  Like it or not, stomp your foot if you want—we were locked up for two weeks.  Fortunately, no one else got it and today the office at church will be back open. Yay.  Second, because there were several other cases spread across the church family, most not related in any way, we had to go to remote worship for a couple of weeks.  This Wednesday and Sunday we should be back on campus.  Yay.

If you haven’t experienced the quarantine thing…count your blessings.  You might ask, “Dewayne, what was it like?”  Well, I guess it depends on your perspective.  I know it was personally frustrating.  I found myself telling whoever would listen that I didn’t have time to be quarantined.  Of course, being the creative guy that I am, I found a few ways to work around it while not being around people but that is my secret.  Smile.

I think I came away with a better understanding of the impact this has on the lives of people—and not just those who test positive.  The isolation and the stigma reminded me of what  lepers must have gone though in the Bible.  They had to live apart from everyone one else and should they encounter someone they had to holler out, “Unclean, unclean.”  Well, I didn’t encounter anyone so I didn’t do much hollering, but I did wonder when I saw someone from a distance, “What if they knew I was on lock up?  Would they would treat me differently?”  And I decided that they would. I also decided it would hurt my heart.

I wonder how many people we encounter in our walk about world who have been beaten up and scarred by the world who feel the same way?  Do our stares and our intentional avoidance cause them to hurt?  I bet it does.  You know, our eyes and body language sometimes speak louder than our words.  I love the fact that Jesus never avoided the broken ones around Him.  If they had leprosy, He would love them and touch them.  If they were outcast by society because they were prostitutes or tax collectors, He would love them and touch them. If they were Romans soldiers who nailed people to crosses—even Him to His—He would love them and touch them if He could.  I like that…a lot.

COVID gets all the attention now and I guess that’s to be expected.  There’s a lot of positive cases going around.  Businesses are hurting, families are stressing, and people are filled with fear.  What should we do? What can we do?  Well, if you are a Jesus follower, the answer is do what He would do.  Touch them and love them. I know you can’t always physically touch them, but you can reach out with the compassion and love of Jesus. It is amazing how a kind word or gesture can bring comfort, assurance and acceptance.

Like I said, the quarantine for our staff is over and it has been a learning experience.  What is not over is the virus.  What is not over is the brokenness in our world—however big or small that world may be.  What is not over is the need for Jesus people to be like Jesus. He said that if we really love Him, we should keep His commands.  And there are two that are at the top of His list—love God and love people.  One of the best ways to show our love for God is to show His love for those He created.  All of them.  Social status, skin color, or whatever label we tend to put on them just doesn’t matter.  So, when you bump into someone today, either from a distance or up close, be sure and love them like Jesus and leave the details to God.  You can rest in this one essential, nonnegotiable fact:  He’s got this.

Posted in Family, food, gratitude, life, Scripture, wisdom

I’ve “Bean” Educated

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant.” Galatians 6:7

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.  Oh wait–that opening line is already taken. Well, it was just over ten years ago now but I well remember the night. Judy was out of town and I was at the church.  We were sponsoring a dinner for the football team.  I wanted to help but, well, it didn’t go to well.  It is a known fact that I can’t be trusted with a power tool of any sorts.  It just doesn’t go well.  Apparently you can add kitchen appliances to that list.

I love being a fixer.  When one of my grandkid’s toys would break, they would bring it to Papa—they fixer.  I love being the hero. And, I love to help. It’s in my DNA. WelI, that night I volunteered to help the head cooker person get a large pan of baked beans out of the convection oven at church.  It was in one of those pans made out of formed aluminum.  When I volunteered, I could see the concern in the head cooker person’s eyes—for an expert this was no deal.  For a preacher who wasn’t allowed to use power tools—it was death valley.

“Dewayne”, she said, watch the bottom of the pan—it can collapse if you aren’t careful.”  She went on, “You might want to put a sheet pan under it for support.” Well, Mister “I -Know-It-All” said, “No deal, I can handle it.” So, I reached up, I lifted it and in a moment of time…a moment that will live in infinity…the pan collapsed and my lower left arm was baptized in a tsunami of scalding, hot baked beans.  The pain was instantaneous and it was intense. Can someone say “ouch?”

Well, I immediately used my other hand to wipe some of the beans off (not too smart since I burned that hand too) and ran to the sink and started running water over it.  The bottom line is I ended up with second degree burns, a working knowledge of how not to take beans out of the oven and several other good life lessons added to my repertoire of knowledge. You might say I have “bean” educated.”

Perhaps the first lesson is this.  No matter how well you do something the wrong way, it probably isn’t going to work out for your benefit.  When King David and his crew were moving the ark in the Old Testament, they decided to use a cart instead of doing it God’s way.  The result was the oxen stumbled and a man reached out to steady the ark and was instantly struck dead by God.  Now don’t blame God—the rule was you don’t touch the ark.  Period.  But when you do something in a wrong way you open yourself up to a whole bunch of circumstances.

Second, listen to the experts.  The head cooker person I was helping was a professional cook.  She knew the danger–I didn’t.  I was a he-man, bean toting pastor–that is until “I spilt the beans” (no pun intended!) I thought I could handle it—and I could not. I’m not sure why we wrestle this around but isn’t it funny how God, the ultimate expert, offers us advice–and we tend to ignore it.  And the pain that it causes can rival or exceed second degree burns. Listen to God.  He knows best.

Finally, get ready for the lasting effects of the consequences.  I burned my arm on a Tuesday and it took days, lots of days, to even begin to feel normal. Oh, and did I mention that I didn’t go to the doctor because I was going to tough it out? You see, pride is a bad deal.  I guess I was embarrassed enough and I just didn’t want to explain to the doctor about how unwise I was.  So, I just dealt with it.  Fortunately I did bump into him later and he saw the bandage, checked it out, asked the inevitable questions, and gave me some awesome medicine for burns. It did heal and left only minimal scarring to gently remind me to listen before I act. It taught me that whatever you sow…you reap. It taught me that—every bad choice we make carries some sort of consequences.  Choose wisely, my son, choose wisely.

So, ten years later, there is still a twinge of regret over that fateful Tuesday night.   I still shake my head and wonder how in the world I could do something so, so, stupid. Everyone once in a while when we are having a dinner at church, I will say, “Hey, head cooker person, do you remember…” and before I can finish the sentence we both nod knowingly.  I was afraid I was going to swear off bake beans forever but that that didn’t happen but I will never look at a pan of beans the same way.  And I will forever have a greater respect for a convention oven set on 350 degrees.

As you journey along and you are faced with decisions and crossroads and someone suggests maybe going this way or that or doing it this way or that—take a moment, pause and listen to their advice—especially if it involves baked beans.  And if that voice is a gentle whisper from the Whisper, definitely stop and listen.  He will probably be helping you avoid some needless pain or letting you know you can rest in Him.  He will be whispering, “I’ve got this.”

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, prayer, sovereignty of God, travel, wisdom

Construction Zone Ahead

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

It was a long time ago, but I remember it well.  Way back, before I knew anything about Harrisburg or Dorrisville Baptist Church, I made a trip to this small town in Southeastern Illinois.  I was pastoring in Cobden, a smaller town by far.  A person associated with our church there was having some mental health issues that required admission to a clinic.  Somehow, they ended up at the center located at the Harrisburg Medical Center.

I wanted to go over and visit them but had no clue how to get there.  This was a time, gulp, before GPS, so I had to rely on directions and an old fashioned map.  I made it to Marion and got off Interstate 57 and followed the road sign pointing to Harrisburg.  Before long, I found myself on a long and winding road (wait… isn’t there a song that goes like that?).  It was the kind of two-lane road that you got to play like a race car driver on.  There were plenty of curves and practically no passing lanes.  I remember coming upon a gigantic crane…I mean HUGE…that was abandoned by one of the coal mines.

Well, the long and winding road was about 24 or 25 miles but because I was blessed to get behind several slow, like really slow, drivers, it seemed like forever.  In fact, when I got to Harrisburg, I had to stop to get a haircut.  You ask, “Well, why didn’t you get one in Cobden?”  The answer is “I didn’t need one then.” Smile.  Anyway (I have to be careful not to get distracted.) I made my visit and then reversed the route.  I remember thinking how isolated Harrisburg was.  I mean you had to be going there to get there. I kinda reminded me of the wagon trains and the Oregon Trail.

Now, fast-forward years…I’m not sure how many…but lots.  My daughter Jennifer was going to try out for the Illinois Baptist State Association All-State Choir and her audition was at Dorrisville Baptist Church in Harrisburg.  When I heard that, I mentally blocked off two days for the trip (ok, I’m being facetious). But I still remember that long and winding road.  Now, imagine my surprise when we exited off the interstate again and followed the signs for Harrisburg and there before us was a four-lane divided highway.  No winding road, no 45 mph speed zones, no no-passing zones—just smooth sailing.  What a change.  What a blessing.  What took the better part of an hour now took 25 minutes.

Obviously, barring a road building fairy, a long and complicated construction project had taken place and replaced the two-lane, long and winding road with a modern highway.  I’m sure it involved multiple construction zones.  I’m sure it involved inconvenience.  I’m sure it involved frustration—though I’m not sure what could have been more frustrating that the original two-laner.  But I bet it all was worth it when the new highway opened and the miles flew by.  It had to be game changer.  Yup, the construction zones had to be worth it.

Well, I was praying this morning and something like this came out of my mouth, “Lord, help me to be patient in the construction zones of my life.”  I paused when I said it because it really grabbed my heart.  The construction zones of my life.  Hmmm.  You see, it made me realize that I am like a construction project and it can be frustrating.  But God is in charge of the project and He does have a plan that He is working out in my life. I know I use this a lot in my writing but it just too good.  Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  One day, someday, it will be worth it.  It might be years down the road, or it might even be heaven, but I will see the big picture and I will know that no matter how painful or costly, it was worth it. It.Was.Worth.It.

There’s an old song (my apologies to my younger readers) that says, “It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus. One look at His dear face all sorrows will erase.”  I believe that. So, as you tootle down life’s road and you hit one of those stinking construction zones—hold on and throttle back.  It could be that God is working in one of His mysterious ways.  It might be to bring you into His family or it might be He is just trying to make you a little bit more like Jesus.  One thing I know for sure…it won’t be wasted.  God doesn’t waste time and He doesn’t waste suffering. I like that. If you find yourself in stopped traffic on this road called life, just hit the pause button and breathe deeply.  Then repeat this as many times as you need to, “I choose to rest in Him.  He’s got this.”  There you go.  Now, don’t you feel better already? 

Signpost photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life

A Really Bad Idea

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love.” Psalm 103:8

It was just a bad idea. Each of us have times when we do something and from the get go we know it was just a bad idea.  Yesterday’s story of me at age seven trying to ride a 26 inch bicycle was just one of many.  And these bad ideas usually bear the fruit of bad endings.

I have a really good friend who manages a local restaurant.  Before COVID, we would get together once a week and have breakfast at the restaurant. Since COVID we still try and get together for coffee and perhaps a pastry fresh out of the oven.  Suffering isn’t all bad, is it?  Well, I was famous for ordering different things for breakfast.  One was the delicious “preacher stack.”  It consisted of a slice of toast, an over-easy egg, a slice of cheese, a couple of slices of soft bacon, a small serving of hash browns (cooked crispy, of course), a second egg and finally the crowning touch, a smattering of gravy. For variety the hash browns were sometimes replaced with grits. Now, let me tell you, that was “shoot that thing” good. I do believe I might be the Rembrandt of breakfast.  Sometimes.

You see, one time, about midway through the fall season, I got an idea.  Unfortunately, it was a very bad idea.  Now the problem with bad ideas is that sometimes they look good from one angle and horrible from the other.  Well, this time I looked from the wrong angle.  I told my friend, “Jeremy, I have an idea.  I think I want to try chili and eggs for breakfast in the morning.”  Now being the good friend that he was, he tried and tried to get me to change course.  But at that time and from that angle it really sounded good.  The key word there is “sounded.”

So the next morning Jeremy cooked up a batch of chili and I was served chili and eggs for breakfast.  The first and second bite wasn’t too bad—weird, but not too bad.  From there it went down hill and by the time I was done—I was done.  I felt like I had swallowed a 12 pound bowling ball and that bowling ball stayed with me all day.  In fact, it was a couple of days before I felt half normal.  It was a very, very bad idea.  He tried to warn me, but no.  Oh boy, just the thought of chili and eggs makes my eyes cross.

Well, today I had a nice, innocent bad idea.  I usually walk in the mornings but Judy and I decided to walk in the afternoon.  That was ok—unusual, but ok.  And that wasn’t the bad idea.  We were going to walk on the bike trail so I thought I would wear an old pair of trail running shoes I had in the closet.  “Why?” Well, I liked the way they looked and I liked the way they laced up (they had these cool speed laces) but that’s where the love affair ended.  They weren’t very comfortable and the inside of the heel had long lost its padding. All that was left was a crater where the padding used to be surrounded by rough edges. Everything said, “Don’t wear those shoes.” Well, you know what I did. I wore the shoes anyway and it was indeed a very bad idea.

I had planned on only walking a couple of miles but ended up doing 3.6.  Somebody say “wow.”  Well, at about the 1.8 mile turn around point I noticed that the back of my left heel was starting to burn—to hurt.  Remember the padding that was missing—well, those rough edges that remained were now slowly eating into my heel.  And with every step it got worse.  I was almost two miles from the car and it hurt, and it hurt, and it hurt.  I found myself saying over and over again, “This was a really bad idea.”  The problem was I realized it just a little too late.  Well, about 10,000 steps later, I got back to the car and the shoes and I parted company—forever.  Even sitting there I said it again, “That was a really bad idea.”

Well, in a while Judy got back to the car from her walk.  As she came over to where I was sitting and noticed I had my shoes off. She made a comment about resting.  I said, “Judy, do you remember the time I ate the chili and eggs?”  She said, “Well, yes, but what has that got to do with today?”  I said, “That was a really, bad idea and wearing these stinking shoes today was a really bad idea.” To make matters worse, when we had started walking I commented how much I liked the shoes and she remembered that.  “But Dewayne, I thought you said you liked them?”  Well, I liked the way they looked, I liked they way they laced up, but boy, I didn’t like the way they felt after walking.  And trust me—that outweighed all the looks and all the cool laces.

Well, I wanted to tell you this story for a couple of reasons. First, don’t, do not, eat chili and eggs.  What it does to your insides requires the intervention of the EPA. If you eat chili and eggs be prepared for a period of quarantine. Be prepared to camp in the “valley of the shadow of death.” It. Is. A. Bad. Idea.  And if you are going to walk, remember to pick your shoes based on what is important not what is intriguing or flashy.  At about the two mile point you will thank me. Trust me, I know.

One thing that I really like about the Bible is that it is filled with people just like me.  People who didn’t always listen to God and people who ate chili and eggs and wore the wrong shoes.  Real, live, people who didn’t always make the best choices. The thing I like about God is that He is so loving, patient and kind.  Even when Adam and Eve ate “chili and eggs” in the garden and then wore the “wrong shoes” to cover it all up—He still loved them and still provided a way for them to be forgiven.  They tried to do it their way, but God didn’t throw them under the bus and start over. And guess what?  He doesn’t throw us under the bus either, and I am thankful. When we come to Him with our “chili and eggs,” “wrong shoes,” whining and complaining about how we got the “blisters” in our life, He is patiently waiting.

He is always there for us…bad ideas and all.  You will find the Whisper whispering warnings, “don’t got there,” and encouraging you to “go the right way” and “do the right things”.  That’s just the way He is.  You know He could have carried me back to the car yesterday but I think there was a lesson that I needed to learn and a story I needed to tell. I finished the walk limping a little, but also a little wiser.  As I sat there resting in Him I decided no more chili and eggs and no more worn out, flashy shoes. And the next time  I find myself two miles from the car—well, I’ll just remember, He’s got this.

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

Mama Knows Best

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

Mama always knew best.  I was blessed to have a good mama and daddy.  They were everyday people but in so many ways they were anything but everyday.  Willing to take on the task of raising eight children, they gave up a lot for us.  Daddy worked hard as a jet engine mechanic and mama mostly stayed home and took care of us.  Mama was always there when we needed her.  I remember one time I was sick with some kind of stomach virus.  It was the middle of the night and mama sat down in an old wooden rocker we had and then invited me up into her lap.  There she gently held me.  It didn’t do much to ease my unhappy stomach but it sure made my heart feel better.

Mama had her own brand of medicine.  As best as I can remember, mama was a big believer in “family herd immunity.”  In case you are not familiar with that, it is where a certain illness is almost intentionally shared with members of the family, especially siblings. I guess mama thought it was best to get it all over with at one time.  And it seemed to work.  I remember one of my sisters came down with the measles.  Rather than isolate her from my sister and I, mama just put us all together in the double bed in the spare bedroom and waited.  Sure enough, we all promptly got the measles and we also all got well about the same time.  I’m not sure modern medicine would approve, but that’s ok.  It worked for us and mama was always there to help us get better.

However, mama didn’t always use herd immunity.  When I was about nine, there was a pretty serious flu outbreak in our north Florida city.  I really don’t remember too much about it.  I also don’t remember if I became a patient or not.  But there is one thing I do remember—I knew what we had in our family wasn’t good and I felt I needed to do something—so I did.  I found a piece of paper and a pencil and I made a sign warning others to stay away.  The sign said something like this, “Warning.  We have the FLEW.  Don’t come in.” Even if my spelling wasn’t the best, it still got the message out.

When I was in the second grade, mama’s brand of herd immunity took on a different look.  My sister Kathy was not feeling well so mama took her to the doctor and I tagged along.  Dr. Smothers was our Ears, Nose, and Throat doctor.  He checked my sister out and it was determined that she had tonsillitis.  That was something a lot of kids back then seemed to get. Well, Dr. Smothers suggested to mama that perhaps it was time for my sister to get her tonsils out.  Again, back then that was the standard treatment.  So, mama agreed and then said to Dr. Smothers, “Why don’t we take Dewayne’s out too?”  Hmmmm.  Herd immunity strikes again. So the doctor says, “Well, Dewayne, what do you say?  Would you like to get your tonsils out too?”  Now I had no clue what in the world he was talking about.  But I think he said something about all the ice cream you wanted and I was in.  So a few days later I found myself in the hospital with my sister and the world’s worst sore throat.  I’m still not sure if that ice cream was worth it!

I’m sure there are many more stories about mama’s medical skills and judgement but they have slipped from my memories.  But let me tell you one thing that hasn’t slipped away, that is the concrete knowledge that my mama loved me.  Whether it was the measles, the flu, or getting rid of some pesky tonsils, mama always did what she thought was best for us.  Some people probably wouldn’t agree with her medical practices but I know everything she did was for our good.  For my good.

And do you know what?  I think that is just another way my mama was like God.  You see, God is constantly working in my life for my good and His glory.  I mean He is working out His purposes but at the center, at the core of it all is—my good.  The Bible verse that is so poplar is so true.  It goes like this, “all things work together for good, for those who love God, the ones who are called according to His purpose.”  Like I have said so many times that doesn’t mean that every thing is good but that God can bring good from all things.  I know mama loved me a lot but even her love has to pale to the love that God has for me—for us.

Now I am certain if you asked me in the middle of encounter with measles, that truth might have been a little clouded.  If you asked me after the surgery to remove my tonsils, well, I probably would have doubted it.  But in the long run, looking back—well, my mama loved me and did her best to show that love.  So, today if you bump into a hot mess—today if things go south and it is hard…maybe real hard—just remember how much God loves you.  You can take it to the bank—it is a sure bet.  When life leaves you hurting worse than a bad stomach ache, you just crawl up in His lap and let His strong arms ease the pain away.  Then, just nod off and take a nap.  You can safely do that because, “He’s got this.”

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, loving others, Military memories, priorities, Scripture, thankful, travel, wisdom

“Firsts”

God is not a man, so He does not lie. He is not human, so He does not change His mind. Has He ever spoken and failed to act?  Has He ever promised and not carried it through?”  Numbers 23:19

Saddle up your horses, boys, this is the great adventure.  I was 23 and Judy was 19 when we got on a plane and headed to Germany to live for three years.  Of all our adventures this one was one of the most special because it was the first.  And speaking of firsts, it was a series of many firsts for us.  It was our first trip out of the United States.  As great as our three years in Germany were—it was great to finally come home.  You know they say that there is no place like home—and they are correct.

I am a gadget guy and Germany held a couple of great gadget firsts.  First, if you were in the service (USAF) and went overseas anywhere—you bought a BIG stereo.  I had speakers the size of end tables and a rack of equipment that would make any audiophile jealous.  Receiver, equalizer, cassette recorder/player, reel to reel player/recorder was just the short list of my stereo gadgetry and I was proud of every piece.   I remember coming up with different sale pitches to Judy on why I just had to have whatever was next.  I was pretty good at it too.

It was in Germany that I got my first digital watch.  One of the pilots in my squadron called me over one day and said, “Hey Sergeant Taylor, check this out.”  It was a silver Casio LED digital watch with buttons and a screen.  I was instantly enamored. “Where did you get it, sir?” was the question and the J.C. Penney catalog was the answer.  Three things happened.  First, I checked it out—$69.00 (and trust me that was a chuck of money); two, convince Judy I had to have it.  Last, order it and wait a three weeks for the order to be mailed to America and the watch to make the return trip.  Finally it came. That same watch is $4.99 today.  Imagine that.

It was also in Germany that I learned the wonder of the microwave and got my first one.  There was only one brand in those days—an Amana Radar Range.  This is how it happened.  A senior NCO who attended our church told me one day, “I can boil water in a paper cup.”  I said, “No you can’t” and He said “Yes, I can.”  That resulted in a trip to his house where he promptly  put a paper cup in this magic machine and proceeded to boil water in a paper cup.  Done deal.  Had to have one. Amazingly, I was in the Base Exchange (the store on base) and there it was—an Amana Radar Range on clearance no less—for $370.00 dollars. Three things happened.  I convinced Judy we could not live without this modern marvel.  Two, I put it on layaway (remember that?). Lastly, I waited six weeks for three paydays to scrape up enough money to bring it home.  Finally we did, but you know you can only boil so many cups of water before it loses its pizzazz.

There was one more first thing that we got in Germany and it had to go into layaway too.  Midway through our last year in Germany, we learned that Judy was expecting our first daughter.  This time the layaway was for nine months.  We left Germany in August of 1980 and Rebecca Dawn was born in Missouri on January 24, 1981.  Unlike the microwave, she kept us pretty amazed day in and day out.  We were so amazed that we decided to get another one and just 19 months after we got Rebecca out of layaway, Jennifer Lynne came along.  I have to say we decided to wait awhile to do that again but it wasn’t for lack of pizzazz.

The firsts didn’t stop in Germany either.  I can still remember the day we discovered something called Walmart.  We were fresh home from three years in Germany and were setting up our home in Warrensburg, Missouri.  We needed a trash can or something and went with what we were familiar with—TG&Y. It was a five and dime kind of story that we had in South Georgia.  Judy called it “Tator, Gator, and Yator.” Don’t ask me why, but it stuck.  So anyway, TG&Y didn’t have what we were looking for so I asked a clerk to be sure we weren’t missing it.  She confirmed they didn’t have it and suggested we try the Walmart down the road.  To this day, I remember my reply, “What’s a Walmart?”  Apparently while we were gone to Germany this new store started sweeping the Midwest and then the country. In 1980, Walmart 296 stores and today there are 11,501.  How amazing is that?

What makes life so interesting is that there is always one more first. Things change—the old moves to the rearview mirror as the next new thing appears in the windshield.  And do you know what?  I’m good with that.  But I am also glad that there are things that remain.  Tonight I saw another beautiful sunset personally painted by the God of the galaxies.  It was amazing.  Tonight, Judy once again confirmed that she liked me and loved me.  I thought that was pretty cool.  I told her she had way too much invested to start over.  She told me she didn’t want to anyway. Nice. But it doesn’t stop there.  In fact, that’s just the beginning.

You see,  the Bible says “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” The answer is No and No.  He is faithful…He can be trusted. I’m glad we have a God that doesn’t change nor change His mind.  He loves me and you today and He will love us tomorrow.  A zillion, billion years from today—He will still be loving me.  That’s good to know.  It’s good to know that tonight I will lay my head down on my pillow and rest—rest in knowing that I’m in His care.  I am not subject to circumstance, accident or happenstance.  He holds me, and He holds you—tight.  And tomorrow I’m going to wake up—either here or in an awesome place called heaven—my final first.  Either way, no matter what, He’s got this—and that is enough.

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, prayer, Scripture, thankful

Grade-A Prime Day

I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit. Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.” Ephesians 3:16-17

It was a one-of-a-kind day.  If we graded days like meat it would have been USDA Grade-A Prime.  This Grade-A day actually started the night before. I sat on the porch and watched the moon rise, picture framed by Jupiter and Saturn.  Just a few minutes later a magnificent falling star streaked across the sky. We had some smooth jazz music playing but turned it off in favor of the symphony of nature sounds that were playing.  Crickets, tree frogs, cicadas, and a hoot owl all played their song in perfect harmony.

Then came morning. I love fall.  The cooler air and the absence of the “air-you-can-wear” makes me a happy camper. On the morning of this USDA Grade-A Prime day, it all came together.  The sun slowly turned night to day as it pulled back the curtain of darkness and allowed the light to come out and play. We had a great time at church, followed by a lunch of good old Kentucky Fried Chicken with all the fixins’s—mashed potatoes and gravy, baked beans, cole slaw and biscuits.  For dessert I had a nice Sunday afternoon nap.  It was a great day.

After getting up from my Sunday slumber we decided to go gatoring. What is gatoring?  Well, first I made it up.  Second, it is taking a ride through the woods in a John Deere Gator.  It is a two or four wheel drive vehicle that allows you to go most everywhere without getting stuck. So, off we went.  The first thing we noticed was the trees seemed to be changing colors right before our eyes.  Peeks of yellow and red could be found on every tree.  The trail was covered with leaves that had already fallen from their lofty heights.

As we pressed on we saw squirrels scurrying in the forest bottoms.  The ground was covered with hickory nuts and they were busy gathering them to get ready for winter.  We stopped at one spot along the trail to watch a wild turkey.  I don’t know if the fact that Thanksgiving is getting close or not but she took off pretty quickly. I mean it wasn’t like Judy started mixing up dressing or anything.

The prettiest colors came from an unlikely source.  Poison Ivy.  The forest floor was literally covered with it.  Almost every tree had more than one vine growing up its side.  The leaves, normally a rather ordinary color of green, were busting with colors of red and yellow.  Judy and I both wondered how something that could cause so much discomfort on your skin could bring so much wonder to the eyes. Amazing indeed.

We came to a large lake and stopped for a moment.  I said to Judy, “All we need now is for an eagle to swoop down and grab a fish from the lake.”  Just moments after the words left my lips two adult eagles in all their glory—-heads hooded in white as were their tail feathers and a large massive body and wingspan—launched from a nearby tree.  They didn’t grab a fish as they glided over the lake but they didn’t need too—I was already impressed beyond words.

As they glided over the water away from us and out of sight, we moved on and too soon we were back at the house.  I looked at Judy and said for what seemed like the 10th time.  “Judy, what an incredible day.”  And what made it so incredible wasn’t all that we had seen—oh, no,  it was the incredible Creator behind it all.  Every smallest detail was made by Him and that day, well, it seemed it was all just for us.

I know I say it a lot but let me say it again.  In this crazy, upside-down world where the tiniest of germs cause the greatest fear, where injustice has divided our nation and  where the word “indivisible” in our pledge almost seems out of place—in this world—there is still hope.  It is not a time to give up—it is a time to press on.  It is not a time to quake in fear, it is a time to stand in faith—not faith in ourselves but faith in Him who made it all.

The Bible encourages us to trust in the One who rules it all.  It tells us to rest in the fact that the Son of God who died for the sins of the whole world wants to make His home with us and in us. How amazing is that.  But the best part is that it tells us to sink our roots deep into His love.  You see a root draws up whatever it is tapped into—in this case—that is the love of God.  And you know…that is exactly what we and the world need—His love.  So the next time a Grade-A Prime Day shows up—enjoy it, rest in it because He made it with you in mind.  As His child you need to know He is real partial to you so rest in Him.  Oh, and never forget, He’s got this.

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

Facing Down Mortality

Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in Me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in Me and believes in Me will never ever die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26

I look and see my mortality.  Now don’t think for a moment this is one of those “Debbie Downer” stories.  In fact, in a way, it might be the best news you will hear all day, all week, well, for always.  So, I am sixty-six years old.  I know, I can’t believe it either. And all around me are signs that I am mortal.  Remember that—all of us are mortal. I have been at my present position as a pastor for 20 years.  I came to the church I serve in 2000 when I was 46 years old.  I must have dozed off because just like that 20 years of life have ticked off the calendar.  My children are married, I have eight grandchildren and Judy and I have now been married 44 years.  And the best part?  It has been, and is, a great ride.

But then I did the math.  When, and if, the next 20 years tick off the clock called life, I will be 86 years old.  I find that astounding.  We Taylor boys don’t have a real good track record when it comes to longevity.  Three of my four brothers, all older than me, have already moved to heaven.  Our clock is ticking and we don’t know when the last tick will come.  It is a sobering thought.  But stay with me.

I live my life by the calendar.  I speak to my church every Wednesday and every Sunday. It seems I no more finish one message before it is time to deliver the next.  The weeks fly by.  Every first of the month I speak on the radio on a local program called “The Baptist Hour.”  My tag line is, “Can you believe another month has come and gone?” And the answer each month is, “No, I really can’t.” I remember on the first of February, after a speedy January, I made a joke about it being Christmas before we know it.  Well, next week is the first of October and Christmas is indeed just around the corner. Time flies by.  It is a sobering thought.  But stay with me.

Part of “The Baptist Hour” is the reading of the funeral arrangements of those who recently died.  Invariably there are several, often more than a few.  I’m learning that too often the names being read belong to people my age or younger.  Recently an acquaintance in our small town suddenly died—a massive heart attack.  He was younger than me.  That really caused me to stop and ponder.  It was a sobering thought.  But stay with me.

Here’s what I am learning.  Time is relative.  We are eternal beings made and destined to spend forever somewhere.  That destination doesn’t depend on good or bad, church or no church, religion or not.  Does that surprise you?  You see, heaven isn’t for good people and hell isn’t for bad people. No, where we spend eternity is about forgiveness of sin and that forgiveness is a free gift from God to anyone…anyone…who asks.  I believe faith in Jesus is the only way to heaven. I know that sounds narrow but when you consider that God invites everyone to the party—well, it is really pretty broad. We read in the Bible that the payment for sin is death and radically Jesus came for one purpose—to willingly die and pay that price.

So, if we are eternal beings and if we place our trust, our faith in this one of a kind, God-man named Jesus, that means that when we die we can spend eternity in this place called heaven.  When Jesus said that if anyone would believe in Him they would never die—that’s what He meant. And then He closes with that all important question, “Do you believe this?”

With Jesus in the equation, death isn’t the end, it is a beginning.  That might sound wacky to you.  However, before you chuck it out I challenge you to check it out.  Get a copy of the Bible and read the four different accounts or stories about Jesus—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. You might find yourself intrigued and amazed.

I read a true story yesterday about a man’s perception of his mortality. This guy happened to be a minister and he went to the doctor and got some sobering news.  He was terminally ill with no chance of recovery. The doctor told him he had about a year to live.  He left the doctor’s office and went to one of his favorite spots—you know, to kinda take it in. Now, allow me to let the man tell his story. “I looked at the river in which I rejoice, and I looked at the stately trees that are always God’s own poetry to my soul. And I said, ‘I may not see you many more times, but mountain, I shall be alive when you are gone; and river, I shall be alive when you cease running toward the sea.’”

Wow…what wonderfully strong words.  If this whole God story is true, and I honestly believe it is, then people who trust that Jesus is the path to God and heaven, will outlive the mountains and the rivers. We may change addresses but we will live forever.  I know this is probably a different kind of story than we usually share together, but I hope it will make us think about what happens next. For myself and so many others, it makes all the sense in the world—and beyond.  I’m grateful for the eternal part but I also love the part of the story that says He is with me now—COVID mess and all.  I can rest in Him and trust in Him because, He’s got this.

Posted in Family, fear, gratitude, life, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, wisdom

Joy Comes in the Morning

Sing to the Lord, all you godly ones! Praise His holy name. 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 30:4-5

Day in and day out—they just sit there.  I work at a church and consequently at the church office.  It is good place to work and it’s always nice to work with good people.  I was sitting in the outer office and the administrative and ministerial staff were having our daily COVID discussion.  I made the comment that if I spoke 1,000 words in one day, at least 800 of them would involve COVID.  Sigh.

I was sitting in a chair and I noticed something that I see every day, but for some reason that time it made me stop and think.  Next to the chair, on a table in front of the window there are three pots.  The pots are amaryllis plants.  The plants have grown some long, green leaves but frankly they are, well, unattractive.  They don’t look healthy, they don’t look happy—they look like they are just existing.

You might be asking, “Why would anyone want a plant like that?”  Well, the answer is quite simple—when it blooms it is in a word, magnificent.  Though they come in several colors, the most common is red.  My daddy raised them in our southern yard and they were the talk of the neighborhood.  I remember he had one that was pure white…I believe it was quite rare.  Apparently someone really like it also, because they dug it up and stole it.  Daddy wasn’t very happy.

Now these plants we have in the office don’t bloom.  They were Christmas gifts to someone, and they bloomed then, but ever since—nothing, just green, saggy, sad leaves.  Now I’m not totally sure, but I believe there is a reason.  I’ve read that in order for them to bloom they need to hurt.  It goes like this.  First, you cut the stalk off.  Then a little later you stop watering the plant and the leaves die.  After that, it goes in a totally dark place for about eight weeks.  Finally, after the period of pain, you bring it back into the light and start watering it again and it will bloom again in all its glory.  Before the bloom, there has to be a period of pain.

I guess I didn’t realize that when our Creator made us, He could have had an amaryllis plant in mind.  You see, it is true that for us to become the beautiful creation God intends us to be—then some pain must come into our lives.  Oh, I know, we love the sunny days, but you and I both know without some rain—things would never grow—never bloom. It is also true that during the times in our lives when dryness occurs and darkness overcomes us that two beautiful things happen.

First, we learn to trust our God.  It is one of our natural bents that we tend to put God on the back burner when things are going well—especially when they are good for a long time.  I suppose this COVID mess has helped a lot of us to grow in our faith, our trust in God.  I heard it said once that while the view from the mountain top is beautiful, it is often barren.  It is in the valleys where the lush, green forests and meadows grow.  So true for us too.

Second, we develop character.  Those dark times, those difficult times, steel us and make us strong.  You see, character is what you are, what you do when no one else is watching.  That is true.  Take people off the stage of life and often the real person is nothing like the actor on public stage.  When we are going through those “valley of the shadow of death” times, it is there we have the opportunity to grow stronger. It is there when we prepare to once again bloom.  Remove the pain and we are like the amaryllis—a few sad, saggy leaves—never truly knowing the fullness and purpose of our God-called life. We need to remember what the Psalmist says, “weeping may last for the night…but joy comes in the morning.”

Well, I hope someone will have the courage to help our flowers bloom again.  As they are, they are just part of the landscape of the office but with a little help—they could take center stage.  I’m glad there is Someone who is willing to invest in us, who loves us enough to allow some dry times and painful times to help us grow and bloom.  This present time may well be one of those times.  Maybe we, maybe you, aren’t ready yet but perhaps one day, we will be able to say “thank-you” for all the difficult times in our lives that helped us to blossom.  Until then, let’s trust in the Master Gardner, let’s rest in Him…even if it means darkness.  Let’s choose to believe—have faith that He’s got this.