Posted in Easter, fear, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, prayer, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, Trials

Hard Day–Good Friday

Jesus knew that His mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture He said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to His lips. When Jesus had tasted it, He said, “It is finished!” Then He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” John 19:28-30

Good Friday.  What an unusual name for such a hard, hard day.  Imagine with me as slowly the light increased over Jerusalem.  It was another early morning in spring and men were going to die.  The Romans regularly crucified criminals–it was business as usual for them.  But this day, well this day, would be different.  Three men would die on crosses–two criminals and one perfect human being.  His name was Jesus.

As the light increased so did the sounds.  If you had been there you would have heard the sounds of a crowd–a mob really.  Some were crying, some shouting, some angry, some broken.  You would have heard the sounds of struggle–anguish as a man carried a cross too big for even the healthiest of men.  At the top of a stark hill the sounds intensified.

You could hear without trying the sound of metal on metal as hammer meets nail.  Cries of humanity suffering as three crosses are lifted skyward.  The message was clear.  You don’t mess with Rome.  Scattered around are the sounds of women crying and men in anguish.  Stares of disbelief filled the eyes of many.  Listen now–there are words.

The Man in the middle–the perfect One–is speaking and what He says is almost beyond belief. “Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they are doing.”  Forgive them? —Forgive the very ones who passed the judgement–who drove the nails–who lifted the cross? Wait, for there is more.  One of the criminals is mocking Him but the other is begging Him.  “Remember me,” he says.  And Jesus responds “Today, you will be with Me in paradise.”

There are more words.  Lean in–strain to hear. The Man in the middle–the perfect One–is asking His friend John to take care of His mother.  And then there is the cry of brokenness as He cries, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  He knows why.  The Man in the middle–the perfect One–has become sin and His Father can’t look on sin.  There’s a price being paid, and it involves wrath and death.  And He is willingly paying it.

As His end draws near a silence begins to fall over the hill.  The women are cried out, the soldiers are bored, and the crowd confused.  And then they all hear it.  “Tetelestai.” It’s a common word really.  It means finished.  An artist would say it when the last stroke is applied to a masterpiece.  A carpenter would say it when the last peg is driven in a newly built table. A farmer would say it when the last sheave of wheat is harvested.  But when the Man in the middle–the perfect One–says those words, everything changes.

“It is finished.”  The mission is accomplished. The price for sin has been paid and atoned for.  The wrath of God for sin is satisfied.  What justice demanded He has paid. And what He promised the criminal becomes a reality for any person. My sins, your sins, our sins, can be forgiven and you can be with me in heaven.

So, then He dies.  Actually, He wills himself to die for no one could take the life of the Man in the middle–the perfect One.  He could give it, but they could not take it.  Rocks crack, thunder rolls and then in the distance a tearing, ripping sound is heard as the massive curtain separating man from Holy God is torn from top to bottom and God–God hangs out the welcome sign for the first time ever.  And it’s all because of the Man in the middle–the perfect One.

In any other story that would be the end, but you see it’s only Friday.  The final act is coming on Sunday. Friday ended with His followers discouraged, defeated, and afraid. Maybe like some of us. But if you lean in again…if you listen closely…you can hear the Father saying, “Rest in Me. Wait till Sunday.  I’ve got this.”  And…He does.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Easter, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, prayer, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, Trials

Thursday To-Do List

“As you go into the city,” He told them, “you will see a certain man. Tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My time has come, and I will eat the Passover meal with My disciples at your house.’ ” Matthew 26:18

Well, it is Thursday.  Several years ago, something happened that changed the way I do business—do life.  I’ve done the pastor thing now for almost four decades.  Even as I write that, it seems hard to believe.  Anyway, there were a couple of things that pastors do that I never quite got the hang of.  First, they always carried a little calendar.  You would ask them a question and they would say, “Let me check my calendar.”  You would tell them you were having open heart surgery a week from next Friday and they would say, “Let me put that on my calendar.”  There was a problem.  Try as I may I never could get into the calendar thing.  It wasn’t that I didn’t care, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to remember important dates—I just couldn’t remember to grab the thing when I left the house in the morning.  And honestly, I didn’t like having it stuffed into my pocket.

I hate to admit this, but it was the same deal with a pocket Bible.  Every pastor seemed to always have a little Bible stuck in their pocket. Not me.  It just didn’t work.  I mean I loved the Bible, but it just didn’t work.  Well, the solution for both of these lapses occurred kinda together.  First, along came the smart phone.  The smart phone is a little computer that you can easily carry.  Nice and flat, it can be stuffed to the gills with information, but it never feels bulky.  It wasn’t long after the advent of the smart phone that you could read the Bible on the thing.  Boom!  Just like that I had a Bible when I needed it.  It got better.

A couple of years later a friend introduced me to my new best friend—gmail and their calendar.  All of a sudden, I could pull out my trusty phone and not only check my calendar but quickly add things to my calendar.  It was a big deal.  It was a game changer deal.  Now I am not one of those folks who are “married” to their phone—in other words there are times when I forget it.  If I do, I kindly ask the person to shoot me a text and when I get to my phone there is a reminder to add what I needed to add.

So, being somewhat of an organized person, these tools were a great help.  I like knowing where I am going and when I am supposed to be there.  Somethings I don’t need to put on the calendar…I just know to do them.  They become part of my “to-do” list.  Thursdays are study days for the next week’s message, finalizing the worship event in the YouVersion Bible app, making some visits and a host of other small administrative details.  It is a catchup day.  As days of the week go…Thursday is usually a lighter day but of course as a pastor that can change quickly—very quickly.

I wonder if Jesus kept a “to-do” list.  I know—probably not.  But if He did, I wonder what it would look like.  In one sense it would be short—love God—love people.  But in another sense, it would be long as He was always doing something, and it was always what His Father wanted. Thursdays might have been one of His lighter days too.  But not this Thursday—not the Thursday before He died on a Roman cross on Friday.  That Thursday, the Thursday we celebrate today, was jam packed with incredible things.

His list would include celebrating Passover, His last Passover, with His closest friends in an upper room.  That was a must.  He also designed and planned an event that we call “The Last Supper,” “The Lord’s Supper,” or “Communion.”  He needed to give His followers something to help them understand what was about to happen and then remember it—forever.  Oh, and then He did something kinda unusual—He washed everyone’s feet.  Boy, that was a big one.  He did it to teach them, and us, about humility and service. He wasn’t done yet. In fact, there wasn’t an end to Thursday—it just bled over into Friday.

There was an important prayer meeting in a garden where only a few were invited.  He needed to talk to His Father about Friday.  He invited His friends along to help, but they were tired so He had to go it alone.  That would happen a lot as Thursday became Friday.  His “to-do” list also included healing someone’s whacked off ear and being arrested.  It also included that awful feeling of desertion when all of His friends left Him. And then, somewhere in the darkness, Thursday became Friday.

I know it isn’t possible for us to fully understand what those days were like for Jesus.  We do need to remember, though, that He experienced them as God but also as a man—a man who knew spiritually, emotionally, and physically where it was going.  And, amazingly, He did it willingly and He did it knowing the cost.  So today, as we walk our Thursday, let’s remember His Thursday and be grateful. He was a Man of details—of destiny.  He told them, “As you go into the city, you will see a certain man. Tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My time has come, and I will eat the Passover meal with My disciples at your house.’ ” Yes, a Man of destiny—a Man of details.  A God-Man who had that—and who’s got this—no matter what that may be.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Easter, fear, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, prayer, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, Trials, wisdom

It’s Wednesday

For the joy that lay before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

It’s Wednesday…not just Wednesday but Wednesday as in two days before you die.  Not just die, but die what the Romans called the death of deaths.  Not just die, but die a death so horrible it was outlawed for Roman citizens.  So, if you knew Friday was coming, what would your Wednesday be like?  What would your attitude be like?

The scriptures don’t actually say, “On Wednesday before Jesus died on Friday Jesus got up and did this or that.”  We do know this.  His actions were not dominated or determined by dread or fear.  His actions were governed by His desire to please His Father and driven by His love for us.  He wanted to please the Father and He wanted to save us.  Let that soak in.  He wanted to save us.

Jesus knew the full awfulness of the cross.  He understood the awfulness of experiencing the wrath of His Father for our sins.  In John 12:27-28, He says, “Now My soul is troubled. What should I say—Father, save Me from this hour? But that is why I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” He understood that if He was rescued there could not be a rescue or redemption for us and without redemption, you and I are burnt toast.

So, what did He do?  The author of Hebrews gives us a glimpse.  He says, “For the joy that lay before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Do you see it? “For the joy that lay before Him, He endured the cross…”  Jesus handled the awfulness of the cross by looking beyond the awfulness to a time when He would be returned to His rightful place in heaven right beside His Father. He handled the present by looking to eternity.

That is really good advice for these days—actually, for any day.  We can be shortsighted and only see the craziness around us or we can look toward better days.  Now I want you to track with me. Many of those better days we dreamed about last year are already here.  Last year we mourned that we couldn’t worship together on Palm Sunday and Easter.  Last Sunday we did and this Sunday, Lord willing, we will.   Yay.  Last year we were longing to minister and serve others as a church family. This year we are or at least we can. And just like these things came to pass, so will the others.  We will have jobs again. We will have family parties again. The Cubs will win the series again.  Well, let’s not stretch it.  But you get the idea.

And by the way, one day, if we place our faith in Christ, we will have a reserved seat in the longest, greatest celebration of all–heaven.  None of the earth junk will be there. In fact, according to Revelation 21:4 “He [God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.” Wow–no grief, crying, pain, or death.  No funeral homes, nursing homes, hospitals, prisons, fear or any number of things that give us gray hair or no hair.

So, some of the better days are here and many more are coming–some sooner–some later.  And the same thing that got Jesus through can help us get through–the joy set before us.  We learned in a message recently that Biblical joy can be defined as “a deep sense of well-being based on our faith in God and trust in His sovereign will.”

As we trust Him the fear fades, the sun rises, and we can face today, and tomorrow. In fact, we not only can face it–we can embrace it with the confident assurance He is in control. Knowing that–rest in Him.  He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Easter, Family, fear, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, prayer, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, Trials, wisdom

Rubicon

Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want Your will to be done, not Mine.” Luke 22:42

It was a Saturday morning, and it was my rubicon. I was reading an email this morning and it used this word—rubicon.  I had seen the word many times plastered on the side of a special edition Jeep and that is why the email and this word grabbed my attention.  I wondered, “What does it mean?”  Well, as it turns out there are two definitions but the one that mattered to me was this:  a point of no return.”  I guess for the Jeep owners it means that their Jeep is designed to go to and past that point.  In the email it meant more.  It meant that Jesus was willing to go past His rubicon—His point of no return—even though He knew what that meant.

Back in 2018, I had a rubicon of another sort.  Back in those days, I was walking 5.25 miles a day at a pretty brisk clip.  It really was quite an accomplishment as I had been doing it for many months.  But something was happening.  In October of that year, it was just getting harder.  I had put on a few pounds and I was sure that was the reason.  Each day I would arrive back to the house exhausted, my heart rate a bit higher than it had been running and worse—it wasn’t coming down.  I would walk five days a week and each day was the same—hard.  Then came Saturday.

Saturday, October 6th, I reached my rubicon…my point of no return.  After my walk I literally collapsed in a chair in my backyard.  A guest staying in our Airbnb, who happened to be a resident medical student, asked what I was doing.  I told him I was trying to breath and then humorously added that he might want to stick around as I might need him.  Turned out I was a prophet.  That day, I ended up in the hospital and it turned out the following Tuesday, I had a heart cath where they discovered a 90% blockage in one of the arteries of my heart.  All of a sudden, things began to make sense.

You see, the high heart rate and the shortness of breath were symptoms that something was wrong.  Each morning, my body was sending me a message—something is wrong—something is coming—-do something.  I am sure the Tuesday before my rubicon was like this Tuesday morning, a normal day.  I am sure that day I got the warning message and that day I excused it away.  But what if I had known?  What if I had known that Saturday, I would reach a point where going was not an option.  Would it have changed things?  Honesty, it probably would have…but I ignored the warnings.

This week, as we look forward to Easter, the resurrection of Jesus, think about the fact that all the signs were there.  Jesus, as the Son of God, knew His rubicon had come.  It was time to fulfill the mission for which He was sent.  It was time for Him to suffer and to die.  Unlike me, He knew what was coming and pressed on.  The reason was simple.  It wasn’t that He loved the thought of enduring the abuse and suffering of the cross and the events leading up to it—no not at all.  But He was in love with something else—us.

Jesus knew full well all of the details of His rubicon and went on because He loved us.  It was love that led Him to cross—it was love that caused Him to place one foot in front of the other—each one leading to a Roman execution. It was love that caused Him to go all the way.  Growing up,  when I did something that had difficult consequences, my mama would tell me that I should have known better.  Jesus knew better—and went anyway.

This week, ponder and think about the days leading to the day when Jesus died—His rubicon.  Remember that He did it for me and He did it for you.  When He prayed in the garden Thursday night that if there was any way this thing might pass—He knew full well it couldn’t.  That is the reason He kept on praying, “nevertheless, not My will Your will be done.”  In other words, He would say, “bring on the rubicon because that is why I came.”

If your week, this week has any unpleasantness or difficulties, just remember the week when He marched forward knowing full well what lay ahead—and remember He did it just so you and I could call God, Abba Father or Dearest Daddy.  How amazing is that? He was able to do it because He trusted and loved His Father.  And we can do it for the same reason.  No matter what, we have the confident assurance that, “He’s got this.” Bro. Dewayne

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

Resurrection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Christmas, Family, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, priorities, Scripture, thankful, travel, wisdom

The Rest of the Story

When it is in your power, don’t withhold good from the one to whom it belongs.” Proverbs 3:27

And now you know the rest of the story.  You might remember that line from Paul Harvey who used to tell some incredible stories from real life.  He would tell the part that was known and then tell the part of the story that was not.  He would always end with, “And now you know the rest of the story.”  Well, today I want to tell you the rest of the story.

In the days right before last Christmas, I wrote a Grits story about my storied Christmas childhood.  It was almost magical.  Each year it seemed that Mama and Daddy pulled it all together, and that always meant sacrifice, and gave us a Christmas beyond our dreams.  I cannot recall one Christmas that wasn’t incredible.  I’ve heard stories from the generation that endured the Great Depression and they would speak of no Christmas or maybe just an apple or orange.  My Daddy and Mama were part of that generation and I wonder if that is why they were so generous to us?

Well, in that story I talked about my Daddy’s old 410 shotgun.  Every Christmas morning, long before sunrise, he or one of my older brothers would go on the back porch or the breezeway and shoot the old 410.  It was like firing the pistol at a horse race.  We knew it was time to race into the room to see what Santa had brought.  I mentioned in the story that I wasn’t sure who had the gun—this priceless family heirloom.  I knew it was somewhere but where?

While I had four brothers, five including me, there are only two of us left.  We are the bookends—he the oldest (soon to be 84) and me the youngest (a long way from 84).  Christmas night I received a message from my brother.  He wrote that he had read my story about Daddy’s old 410 and that I had mentioned that I didn’t know what had happened to it.  He shared with me that he had the gun.  Shortly after our Daddy died in 1974 it came into his possession and he had it ever since.  What he wrote next made the Christmas of 2020 one for the books.

My brother said, “Dewayne, I want you to have Daddy’s old 410.” 

My brother said, “Dewayne, I want you to have Daddy’s old 410.” I couldn’t believe it, so I read it again and I had indeed read the message correctly.  Tears instantly began streaming down my cheek as I shared the text with my wife, Judy. He said he had already talked to his son who was helping with his affairs and let him know his desire to pass it to me.  Well, Judy and I had already made plans to go to Cookeville, Tennessee right after Christmas so I told her that we needed to head to Jacksonville when we were done there so I could go and pick up the gun…and we did.

We drove hundreds of miles and a whole lot of hours to go get “the old 410.”  I couldn’t see the brother who had blessed me due to COVID, as he and his wife life in an assisted living home. I did get to sit and visit with his son who is only six years younger than me.  The gun (not a gun but THE gun) and that visit made every mile and every hour worthwhile.  If I am still alive when my brother passes, I will probably have the opportunity to share at his service.  I already am extremely thankful for him—his fingerprints are all over my life.  But that day I will share this story and how his thoughtfulness made the Christmas of 2020 one I will never forget.

The old 410 sits right to my left as I write this.  I showed it to my oldest grandson and his dad.  We always spend Christmas Eve night with them.  I smiled from ear to ear when my son-in-law leaned over and said, “Papa, you will have to bring the old 410 to our house next year so we can shoot it off Christmas morning.”  That sounds like a grand idea and if the Lord is willing that is exactly what we will do.

The Bible says that we shouldn’t withhold good from a person when it is within our power to grant it.  I am so grateful my brother didn’t wait.  He could have.  He could have passed it to someone else, but instead he chose his baby brother who just happened to write a story.  Me, my Daddy, my uncle and each of my brothers have hunted with this gun—it is a beautiful piece of our family legacy. It is now one of my most cherished possessions.

So, let’s watch for opportunities to bless someone when it is within our power.  I know Jesus was really good at that and if we are Jesus followers, well, we should follow His lead.  I wonder if the Whisperer whispered in my brother’s ear and he just listened.  I wouldn’t be surprised—he and Jesus are pretty tight.  And when it is our turn to be kind, well, don’t worry. He will whisper to you too, and rest assured He will give you the wisdom and ability you need.  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 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.”