Posted in Family, fear, life, loving others, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel, wisdom

Life from Ashes

The Lord Himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” Exodus 14:14

It was a night that will not be forgotten.  For many years, my family has visited the Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, area for vacation. It has not been an every year deal but occasionally.  We love the trails and the mountains and, of course, all the places to eat.  In some ways it is like a county fair because fair food and rides are everywhere.  Several years ago we began joining my daughter and son-in-law with the grandkids in the fall…usually in November.  In a word, it is fun.

In 2016 something happened that changed that area forever.  A fire started by human hands near Chimney Tops on November 28th of that year quickly spread through the dry, tinder forests.  The results were catastrophic and have been cited as the worst natural disaster in Tennessee history.  Before it was all said and done, 14 people lost their lives, 2,460 buildings were destroyed, and 17,900 acres were burned.  We watched on the news as it happened but also saw from a distance some of the devastation years later when we visited.  There was safety in that, on television and from a distance, but what happens when the tragedy gets more personal?

This year we once again returned to the Gatlinburg area.  Rebecca, my daughter, always makes the reservation, and she did again this time.  As we were driving to the cabin, we passed through an area that had obviously been damaged by the wildfire.  Judy made the comment that according to the GPS we were not too far from our cabin.  We could look up on the ridge and see many cabins far above the valley floor.  What we could not see was a lot of trees.  Apparently, the fire had destroyed them.

As we made our turn on the road that would lead to our cabin, it soon became apparent that we would see the power of the fire from the night up close.  The higher we climbed, the more we saw.  There were trees scarred by the flames and only the foundations remaining where cabins worth hundreds of thousands of dollars had once stood.  Some cabins had been rebuilt, some were being rebuilt, and some, well, stood as silent witnesses of destruction.  It was harsh, it was sad, it was awakening.  Suddenly the memories of what I saw on the news four years ago came to life like the dry bones Ezekiel saw in the Bible.

After an almost two mile trip up the mountain, we came to our cabin.  There it stood, looking strangely new in one of Gatlinburg’s esteemed older rental areas.  It was indeed new because it, like almost every house in the area, had been destroyed by the fire that week.  In front of the house was a twenty foot section of tree that, while not alive, still sends a message.  Carved into the massive trunk were the words “Smoky Strong.”  I’m sure the tree was alive and well the night the fire swept the mountain, but even today it sends a message…we are not done.

All around the area were signs of destruction…of what used to be.  But wait…don’t miss this.  Also all around the area were signs of new life, of renewal, of rebirth.  New trees are replacing those lost, new homes are replacing the damaged, and foundations will one day bear a new building.  The pain and suffering of that night is being replaced by the hope of the future.  I think we all can learn a lesson from Gatlinburg.  It was about eight months ago that a fire of sorts began to sweep our nation.  Its name was COVID, and its flames were the flames of fear. The question is what will we do with this hot mess?  That is a question we have been asking for months.

I’m sure many have come to the conclusion that life will never be the same, and that is probably true.  But why do we have to assume that this also means it won’t be better?  Why do we have to assume that our best days are behind us?  I know this.  God is still God, and the last time I checked, He has not given up control to His enemy the Devil, or fear, or COVID.  Moses, speaking for God, said, “The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” You see, He still reigns ,and as long as that is true then the best is yet to come. The.Best.Is.Yet.To.Come.

I’m sure the house that once stood here was beautiful in its own rights.  I never saw it, but I sit in its successor, and it is beautiful.  I stand on the deck and have a clear view of the mountains and the valley below—a view that may have been obscured by the trees of the old normalcy.  Perhaps the ability to see clearer is a gift.  Perhaps the ability to trust God deeper during these days is a gift from our Heavenly Father.  No, as I have said before, COVID is not good, but God can and will bring good from it.  For some of us, that means a deeper trust in Him. For some, it means a clearer view of what really matters in life.  For some, it will be the realization that it is good to have a Dearest Daddy we can rest in—knowing He’s got this. 

*Chimney Tops 2 Fire. Incident Management Team photo

Posted in Family, fear, life, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel

Incognito

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Psalm 23:5

I could relate to King David. Judy and I decided to make a return visit to North Georgia recently.  We discovered this gem of a place in July on our way to spend a few days with our family in Florida.  We picked this area as a stopover on the way and it was just a tremendous area to explore.  We enjoyed some great hiking, waterfalls, and other beautiful places where God just showed off His creation. It was so good…we decided on a return visit.  We made reservations for November because we knew we would be spending some time with family again—this time in Pigeon Forge.  Toccoa, the town where we stay, was just three hours south of there so it was a great opportunity to return.

Once again we found the area just full of great places to visit.  Incredible trails and waterfalls seemed to be around every curve.  Amazing.  Another novelty of the area is the fact that it is close to a couple of other states.  It is very close to one in particular.  That would be South Carolina. In fact, it wasn’t just close to South Carolina, it just happened to be very close to Clemson…home of, you guessed it, Clemson University.

To most, Clemson is just another fine southern university.  But for me, and for many, it is something else.  Clemson is famous for its football team, famous for winning the national championship (January 2020) and finally, famous for beginning and remaining number one in the national ranks for the 20-21 football season.  That is, until they met Notre Dame.  If you read my stories, you probably know that this is one Baptist preacher who likes, no, loves Notre Dame football.  Some things transcend denominations!

A couple of weeks before our trip to North Georgia, Notre Dame and Clemson collided on the gridiron.  After two overtimes the game ended with the Fighting Irish defeating Clemson. How sweet it was.  So, when I found myself right next door to South Carolina, and despite the fact that it was close to the home of Clemson University, we decided it would be a great place to take a hike. I did however decide it wouldn’t be wise to wear my Notre Dame hoodie. You know, just to be safe. Wisdom. We went hiking in a place called Brasstown Falls and the falls were amazing.  How can something that beautiful be so close to Clemson?

Since it was past lunch time, we decided to go ahead and eat while we were in the area.   We drove a little closer and found ourselves about ten minutes from their campus.  We were literally in their backyard. I was incognito—you know, undercover, but I wanted so bad to tell our server that I was a Notre Dame fan.  I wanted to kinda, sorta, pour some salt in her football wound but I did resist.  I wasn’t being humble, I was just afraid she might sabotage my food.  You see, football is serious business in this neck of the woods. Turns out, she was a great server and we had a delicious meal, which, in spite of the “danger” of being in enemy territory, we greatly enjoyed.  We finished and then we escaped back across the border.

So, that’s why I kinda felt like King David in the Bible.  You see, he was the arch enemy of the guy who was currently king, and who wanted to do him in.  The deal was that God had anointed David to be King while Saul, the other guy, was still in office.  It was pretty dicey. But David knew one thing…God was greater than Saul or anyone else for that matter.  He was so sure of it he would later write something that became pretty famous—the 23rd Psalm.  In that Psalm, David talked about how God had prepared a table for him to eat right in the presence of his enemies.  How could that be? I mean I would have indigestion knowing my enemy was right there.  But not David.  Do you know why? The bottom line is that David was sure that he was safe anywhere because God was in control.  God.Was.In.Control.

Now I know I was in absolutely no danger in Clemson’s backyard, but I am also sure I would have gotten some stares if I had worn my Notre Dame colors. But what about other times?  What about unemployment times? What about COVID times? What about high stress times? What about “I’m sorry to tell you but…” times? Well, let me tell you what I know.  God would be there and God will be there. We don’t have to worry—we don’t have to fret.

I don’t know if God prefers Notre Dame over Clemson or if He even likes football, but I do know that He loves me and He loves you.  He has this incredible plan for His kids and when we are within the will of His plan…well, it is a great, safe place to be. We can sit down in the presence of those who would harm us or things that could destroy us and rest and know that He watches over us.  I like that. I know that whatever tomorrow holds, He is already there.  I can sit down and eat a big old meal right across from the Clemson football team in my blue and gold and rest in Him because I know, “He’s got this.” 

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

Taters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Penny and a Nickel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Family, life, Scripture, travel, wisdom

Seeing Isn’t Always Believing

And he looked up and said, “I see men, but they look like trees, walking.” Mark 8:24

He was still there the next morning.  Recently a couple of really awesome friends allowed us to use their camper for a whole week.  It was a pastor appreciation thing and we sure appreciated it.  Now I need to tell you this wasn’t one of those camper campers—this was one of those fancy ones—the kind that moves you from camping to “glamping.”  They set it up for us in a beautiful campground in the Land Between the Lakes.  The leaves were falling, the weather was fallish, and we were two happy campers…no pun intended.

One evening I went out to find my car covered with a healthy crop of wet leaves.  With nothing important to do at the time, I begin picking the leaves off my car.   As I worked my way around the car, I found something unusual on the driver’s side rear door.  It was a small stick about three inches long and it was stuck on the side of the door.  I thought that was kind of odd, so I took a closer look.  What I saw was what appeared to be one of those insects that look like a stick.  It had a small head and several joints down its body. It was amazing.  I said, “Hey Judy, come look at this cool insect.  It looks just like a stick.”

Well, she came over and took a look and she said, “Are you sure that is an insect?”  I assured her that it was since I am an amateur entomologist.  Oh, in case you are wondering that is someone who studies insects.  I know because I looked it up.  So, me, the amateur entomologist, left this fine specimen of the insect world to spend the night on my car.  I really couldn’t believe she had questioned my judgment.  After all what does she know about entomology anyway?  Well, apparently a lot.

The next morning we were leaving. As I carried our stuff out to the car, I took the time to pick the remaining leaves off my car and guess what?  My stick friend was still there.  I told Judy, “Hey that stick insect is still on the car.  How cool is that?”  She gave me that “Are you sure it isn’t a stick” look and I gave her the “I know what I am talking about” look.  When you’ve been married a long time you do that. There was only one way to prove to her I knew what I was talking about.  It was time for the touch test.  I went over to the car and looked again at my friend.  Head.  Check. Body. Check.  Legs.  Well, real small looking legs, but check.  So, I gave it a poke.  It fell off the car.

Yup.  I hate to admit it, but it was a stick.  I had to do the hard thing but the right thing. I went in and told Judy, “Hey you know that stick insect?  It was a stick.”  How about that?  I tried to lightly brush it off but no, I got a full load of the “I told you so” looks.  The bottom line was, she was right.  She knew her sticks and I obviously didn’t know my insects.  I think it is kinda funny that something I thought was supposed to look like a stick really was.  No wonder it didn’t move all night.  I guess those weren’t legs after all.

I realized that morning that not everything that looks like a stick insect is in fact, a stick insect—it might just indeed be a stick.  And the more I wanted it to be a stick insect the more it looked like one.  But no amount of looking is going to change what something really is. You see, things are not always as they appear.  They say seeing is believing but sometimes that just isn’t so.  Our eyes can deceive us.  Our hearts can deceive us. Our minds can deceive us. Things can be deceiving.

There is a cool scripture about Jesus healing a guy who was blind.  Jesus touched his eyes and said, “What do you see?”  The man said, “I see men but they look like trees walking.”  Well, Jesus touched his eyes again and basically said, “What about now?”  And guess what?  He could see just fine.  Now obviously the man wasn’t seeing trees walking but that is what he thought he was seeing. Of course, he didn’t have much practice at seeing—yet. In a world where things are upside-down, we should take the time and carefully examine something before we buy into it.  If I had poked that stick sooner, I would have discovered the truth sooner.  Things are not always as they appear.

However, there is One we can trust who is always spot on and that is God.  He is the real deal and the lens that we view Him is His Word.  Don’t trust what people say about God—read it for yourself.  God gave us His Word to show Himself to us and then invites every person to read for themselves.  And how often do you get to talk to the Author while you read His book? That’s pretty cool.  And if you chose to read about Him, you will be amazed at what you find.  You won’t find a God that looks like a God.  You will find a God that is God and who can do what He says.  You will find a God who loves you—a lot.  You will find a God who is not afraid of our investigation of Him because He will stand any test.  So, go ahead.  Read up.  You will find the real deal.  A God that invites you to rest in Him.  A God who’s got this.

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

Don’t Drink the Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lone Ranger

But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.” Luke 10:33

Who was that masked man?  Well, back in the old days…no wait…I mean the really old days when the first two numbers of the year were 19, there was a television show called “The Lone Ranger.”  He was a really good guy and had an Indian (maybe that should be Native American) sidekick named Tonto.  The Lone Ranger also had a horse named Silver. It was a great show—even in black and white.  The show had two famous lines.  The first was when the Lone Ranger was about to take off on his trusty horse Silver.  He would command, “Hi-yo Silver, Away.”  Invariably, the horse would rear up and off they would go.  The second famous line occurred when the Lone Ranger did his job and did away with a bad guy.  Also invariably the bad guy would say, “Who was that masked man?”  It was of course…the Lone Ranger.

Well, these days, history has started repeating itself only we don’t have one masked man…we have millions.  Oh but wait, we not only have masked men we have masked women…and boys…and girls…and babies.  Thanks to the COVID, we have all become Lone Rangers and we find ourselves asking, “Who was the masked man?”  I am absolutely certain I have ignored several church members at the store simply because I didn’t recognize them.  Equally as bad I have carried on 15 minute conversations with complete strangers thinking they were someone I knew.  I am totally confused.

Today though the Lone Ranger—the ultimate good guy—took on a new meaning. It wasn’t the Lone Ranger—it was the Road Ranger! We were traveling down to Gainesville, Florida to officiate at my Aunt Maryjo’s service.  She was my daddy’s baby sister and the last of that generation.  As we crossed into Florida, we eventually hit Interstate 10 heading East.  We stopped at a rest stop because we needed to rest.  It is a long way to Gainesville, Florida.  My wife and I were stretching our legs and we walked by this really cool truck.  It was some kind of official vehicle and had caution lights, big bumpers, a special receptacle on the front of the truck for jumping cars and all kinds of stuff in the back. It was a man truck only a man wasn’t driving it.

You see, on the side of the truck were the words, FDOT Road Ranger.  Beneath that it said, “A free (did you get that FREE) service sponsored by State Farm.  Standing next to the truck was a lady in a uniform.  From the signage I kinda thought I knew what it they did, but I decided to ask.  “Ma’am, so do you go and help people that are broken down on the road?”  She replied they did.  If someone has a flat tire, they will help them change it.  If they have a dead battery…they will jump them.  And I suppose if you run out of gas, they have some on board to get you to the next station.  Well, I told her I thought that was pretty awesome and thanked her for her kindness.  She once again told me it was sponsored by State Farm but I thanked her for her service to others.

I think that it is awesome that a company would sponsor a program like this.  When a traveler was at great need and when a company could take advantage of that—they offer free help.  Can you even imagine the comfort when “The Lone Ranger” showed up to help?  Can you imagine when the driver asked, “How much?” and the answer was “no charge?”  I’m telling you that is a breath of fresh air in what can be considered a pretty stale world.

Well, Judy said, “You know, I think that would make a good story.”  I think she was absolutely right.  I mean we live in a world where so many folks are broken down beside the road of life.  They are hot, bothered, discouraged, battered and beaten.  What if we were to become the Road Rangers along life’s road and began helping people…loving people.  Imagine the look on their faces when they realize we helped not to get paid, but rather just to help.  And, what if we were careful to make sure that they knew it was all because of what God had done for us.  Can you imagine?

I think I would like to be a Road Ranger…I mean really.  I don’t have the skill set but I do like helping people.  Well, truthfully, I better stick to preaching but I can, I should be a Road Ranger on the road of life.  We all should.  You know that story in the Bible where the least likely guy helps the guy who had been beat up and robbed.  Remember how he went over the top to help?  Well, he was being a Road Ranger—for Jesus and that is exactly what we should do.

So keep this little fact tucked away in your travel log, if you breakdown on any major road in Florida, somewhere not too far away will be a Road Ranger to help you.  It is a real comfort to know that they are close by…ready and willing to help.  It’s even better knowing that Jesus is always there waiting and wanting to help all those broken down on the road of life.  Go ahead and place the call—or pray the prayer.  Let Him know you need Him and He will be right there.  Until He arrives, just sit back and rest in the assurance that help is on the way.  Remember, He’s got this.

Posted in Family, forgiveness, life, priorities, Scripture, travel, wisdom

My Clock is a Liar

You are of your father the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks from his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies.” John 8:44

My clock lies to me.  Throughout my life I have had times when I collect things.  Once it was eagles.  To this day I love eagles but there was a time I would go to the mall or any store that might sell them and tell Judy, “I’m going to look for eagles.”  If I found one, I would buy it.  Not too long ago it was BB guns.  It started with a Red Ryder model (the one from the movie, “A Christmas Story”).  The next thing I knew I had nine BB guns and pistols.  Boom. Just like that. Over the years urges have come and gone but there is one that has kinda stuck with me.  Clocks.

A long time ago (and in a galaxy far, far away…you know, like the Star Wars movies) I started collecting clocks.  Unlike eagles and BB guns, this one can get rather pricy.  But it started rather innocently.  When Judy and I were stationed in Germany near the French border, we went to a flea market with a couple of good friends.  My friend spied a German wall clock laying on the ground, halfway in a mud puddle and ended up buying it.  The long story made short is that I ended up talking him out of it.  It was a swap kinda thing.  It is a bing-bam clock which means it strikes on the hour and half-hour.  It was pretty old then, and now, 42 years later, it is like me, a lot older.

It is a special clock because of the story and all the memories but it does have a problem.  It lies.  You see, over the years it has developed this nasty habit of saying one thing and doing another.  As I mentioned, it is designed to bing-bam on the half-hour and then on the hour it counts the time out.  If it is 4:00 then it will bing-bam four times.  You can hear it shouting out the time almost throughout the house.  It was nostalgic and handy.  And then it starting lying. It started innocently enough—at 1:00 it would sound two times instead of once.  It was predictable so I just lived with it.  Now, well now, it lies big time.  Randomly, and throughout the day it sounds the wrong time.

Well, adjusting the clock is quite easy…or at least it is supposed to be.  So, if it was showing 4:00 but counting five, I would simply stopped the clock and moved the hour hand to five.  I waited an hour to restart the clock—problem solved—or not.  I restarted old faithful and at 6:00 it sounded five.  So, I slid the hour hand to 5:00 and waited and sure enough it chimed six.  No matter what I did the clock lied.  It has stubbornly developed a very bad habit. Hmmmm.

Fortunately for the old clock, I like it a lot. Its value to me goes way beyond its value as a time teller—it is part of the family.  Because of that, I’m willing to tolerate its bad habit.  I don’t like it.  I don’t trust it. It is frustrating, but in this case, it is mostly harmless.  I simply have learned to believe it when I can read the dial but not when I can only hear it.  It’s a negotiated settlement. That works fine for clocks—but it is not fine for people.

When I was growing up telling the truth was a pretty big deal.  Now, I would be the last to tell you that I always did it.  I didn’t.  But the bottom line was if you did the crime—you did the time.  Lie and get caught (and invariably I did) and Alston and Leslie (that’s daddy and mama) made sure you received a refresher course on the importance of telling the truth. Whether it was a spanking or washing my mouth out with soap—I learned lying was a bad deal.

I think daddy and mama must have talked to Jesus about it, because He thought it was a big deal too. One time, there was a group of religious leaders who had a problem speaking or even liking the truth.  Jesus cut loose on them and said, “You are just like your father the devil.  When he lies he is just speaking his natural language.  He is the father of lies and the truth is not in him.”  Wow—so if you ever wonder why lying made the big ten—now you know.

Today we live in a culture of convenience and whatever works for you—you kinda go with it.  If telling a lie makes things a little easier—just cut loose and worry about the consequences later. Its like the 60’s “if it feels good do it” on steroids.  Just know this.  No matter what culture says lying is a big deal—regardless if you are a preacher, a politician, or the guy next door.  God says it so it is a nonnegotiable for His followers. Oh, and even if you’re not a God follower you will still find life has fewer consequences and less regrets when you make the truth the standard.

As I finish this story, the old clock got it right.  An hour ago—it got it wrong.  Good grief…I just wish it would make up its mind to tell the truth.  Speaking of truth—here are two you can count on every time.  First…you can always trust and rest in creator God.  Second…He’s got this.  And that friend—is the truth. 

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, 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.