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

Divine Rescue

Taste and see that the Lord is good. How happy is the person who takes refuge in him!” Psalm 34:8

It was a close call.  It all started several months ago when I received an email from a website called “Travelzoo.”  Each Wednesday they send out a “Top 20” list of their best travel deals.  Well, in June that list included a really, good deal at a really nice hotel in Naples. Now you probably ought to know that one thing trumps all else when it comes to me and hotels:  PRICE. I love a good deal.  But this one had a great price along with a nice pool, hot tub, great decor, good location and a free shuttle to the beach. I talked it over with Judy and we began making plans for a trip to Southwest Florida.

Well, as time went by, I arranged our flight to and from Naples and of course the now famous car rental—a Mustang convertible.  Well, as the days got closer, and for a reason I don’t remember, I just started wondering if we should look at another place to stay—something with more space, perhaps a kitchen—you know, a small condo.  So, we started looking and low and behold we found one—actually me, Mr. Price Trumps Everything, found one.  Yes, it was a bit more expensive and it wasn’t in Naples but rather Fort Myers Beach.  But it seemed to be saying, “Rent me.”  We did.

Now there are lots of ways I can tell this story but perhaps the shorter version is the best version.  I apply this often to my sermons—NOT.  As we get to Fort Myers, we find this condo is a home-run, grand slam.  It overlooks this large, beautiful bay with a fabulous view from the seventh floor.  It had a large balcony and the living room wall was floor to ceiling glass.  It really was amazing.  Fish and dolphins were jumping in the bay, birds were everywhere, boats zipped up and down the channel, and each morning a beautiful sunrise greeted us.  Paradise.

Ok, so now, fast forward.  We left there on Wednesday and drove down to the keys in our Mustang convertible (can someone say, “cool”) and stayed for a couple of days before returning to Naples on Friday, to spend the night and fly home on Saturday morning.  So…we spend Friday night in the hotel we had originally booked for the first six nights of vacation.  Now, it was nice, but there were no restaurants nearby, the beach was several, and I do mean several, miles away.  The room was small with no fish or dolphins jumping anywhere, no birds, no boats, and no morning sunrise to say “Hi.”

Now that was fine for one night.  However, I looked at Judy and she looked at me and we both realized we had been blessed and rescued.  That small room could have been our home not for one night but six nights and every meal would have meant a hunt for a restaurant.  And anytime, and I mean anytime, we were outside our room and in the building, a mask was required.  The whole tenor of the vacation would have changed. It would have been away but that was just about it.  Away.

Let me tell you that we firmly believe that our Dearest Father acted on our behalf.  He knew we would not have been happy for six nights in that hotel and He whispered and nudged at just the right time and gently moved us in another direction…a direction that exceeded our needs and expectations.  It occurred to both of us that God had sent us a love note.  God knew what we needed better than we did.  He knew that saving a few bucks paled in comparison to what He had picked for us!  It was so cool.

We had a great time.  And over and over, throughout the time we were there, we kept saying, “God rescued us” and we knew it was true.  And here’s the best part—while we got to recognize this one, I wonder just how many times and how many ways does He do it over and over again?  He works behind the scenes, silently changing plans and directing our steps towards His blessings and away from our disasters.  I believe when we get to heaven it is going to be crazy good. We will see Jesus and our loved ones who knew Jesus and have gone before us. It’s gonna be awesome. But until then the Psalmist says we should just keep tasting, keep discovering just how good God is and that will keep us busy for a long time.

I think one of my favorite things about heaven is going to be the fact that we will finally see all the ways that God acted on in our behalf.  I can imagine the walls of heaven covered with sticky notes—love notes from our Dearest Daddy to me and you—all saying in a million different ways, “I love you.”  Oh, I know it won’t be exactly like that but I also know in heaven I will see all the things He did for me.  I can’t wait.  Till then I’m going to have to be satisfied with the times I see them and the times we get to sit together and rest in our love…especially His for me.  Oh, and then there are the times when I realize, I know, that He’s got this.  And that is in everything and every day.  How about that?

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

Dog Beach

So God created human beings in His own image. In the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” Genesis 1:27

Southwest Florida has gotta be a great place to live.  For the first time in a long time, Judy and I headed back to Southwest Florida for a visit. I am a Florida boy—born and raised in the Northeast corner of Florida in Jacksonville.  Judy is a Georgia peach raised in Valdosta. If you’ve driven to Florida down I-75 you have been through Valdosta.  So being from Florida and close to Florida, it is naturally a place we like to visit.

We spent the week down in Fort Myers Beach and had a great time.  With the exception of Labor Day weekend it wasn’t too crowded and even then we were able to find space to avoid the crowds. Several times we hopped in our rented Mustang Convertible and drove around.  Fort Myers Beach is built on a narrow strip of land and there is only one main road that runs through it.  We would turn out of our condo and either go left or right—there were no other options.

On Saturday of Labor Day weekend, we would see these places where dozens of cars would be parked beside the road and of course that peaked our curiosity.  We just had to know what all those people were doing.  Did they know something that we needed to know—to see?  Well, that Saturday evening we decided to drive down to one of those spots.  Earlier that day it was just packed with cars and we imagined it had to be a beautifully secluded beach.  It might even be worth exploring the next day.  So off we went.  It was lightly raining and when we neared the spot where there had been dozens of cars and now there were only a few.  Paradise was within our grasp.

We parked in the small sand parking lot and noticed there was a sign that said Dog Beach.  We figured that was the name of the beach.  Maybe it was shaped like a dog or dog’s leg or something.  Even without an umbrella we started walking.  It was a rather small path, wet from the rain.  Then we came to an opening to what appeared to be a large bay.  We met some folks who were heading back to their car and we asked where the beach was.

They told us we would have to wade through the water, follow a small path and then go around a small peninsula and there would be a beautiful beach.  So…off we went wading through water, carrying our shoes, and walking a path through the woods.  Along the way, we came upon a few folks heading to their cars and they all had dogs.  How about that?  We normally aren’t slow to figure things out but today wasn’t one of our better days.  We kept walking till finally we came upon a small, not particularly beautiful beach.  It wasn’t on the Gulf but rather on the bay.  There was a person with, you guessed it, a dog.  There was also a couple out in the water with, you guessed it, a dog.  Hmmmm…I was starting to connect the dots.

I asked the couple with the dog if they were from there and they said no.  And I asked them about what was so special about this place—that we had seen dozens of cars here and thought it must be special.  And it was…if you owned a dog.  You see, it was in fact a dog beach.  All those dozens of cars with many more dozens of people were there for one reason—it was a place where their dogs could be dogs.  That was it.  It was only paradise if you had a dog that enjoyed playing in the water.  And, for a lot of people, that hit the spot.

I left that day only a little impressed with the beach and more than a little wet and that was ok.  What made that beach special wasn’t for me, but it was for a lot of other people.  It taught me fresh and anew that the beauty of something really is in the eyes of the beholder.  With that came the renewed lesson that I should be slow, real slow, to judge another person’s opinion. Hmmm…that just might be a game changer.

I know now that when I go by the Dog Beach and see all those cars that there are a whole lot of people just beyond the tree line that love their pups.  And being a dog lover who just happens to be dog-less for now, that is pretty awesome.  Instead of going by and thinking “Look at all those beach lovers,” I will go by and say, “Look at all those dog lovers.”  Maybe before we assume or think we know all about a circumstance or relationship, we need to explore and figure it out and we may come to a whole different conclusion.

Need some help?  Well, the One who made us all has it all figured out.  In fact, He reminds us in the Bible that every person is made in His image and He wants each of them to come be a part of His family. And then, He made that possible by sending His Son Jesus to pay for our sins. When you find yourself befuddled with someone or a particular situation, just check with your Dearest Daddy…leave it resting with Him.  You can, because He has this.

Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, Scripture, thankful, travel

Beautiful Sanibel

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

Recently Judy and I went on a great adventure as we traveled down to Southwest Florida to the Fort Myers area.  Because of the virus thing it was interesting on several levels.  First, masks were required the entire time we were in the airport and on the plane.  We were allowed to take them off while we were eating our snacks.  When we arrived we were pleased to discover, that as we suspected, this area of Florida was not crowded at all. Yay.

More than a few stores were closed still and every restaurant we went to had plenty of room for customers.  Whatever crowd limits were in place were not met…no lines.  So it was just a great adventure and we love great adventures.  I even managed to rent a Mustang convertible for the time we were there and that was well, beyond awesome.  The rental agent tried to convinced me to rent a GT model for an extra twenty dollars a day.  He obviously didn’t know me.  Twenty dollars for the week maybe… but a day—the six cylinder was more than good.  I have to admit I felt pretty cool.  My cool sunglasses and my cool hat hiding my “not so cool” balding head completed the look.

One of the things we did, twice, was to go to beautiful Sanibel island.  It was only about 12 miles from where we were staying and it was one of those places we had wanted to go for a long time.  So one day we put the top down and off we went.  We had music from the sixties and seventies playing on the radio and I felt pretty young.  Maybe the sixties are the new forties.  So as we neared the island there was a six dollar toll.  “No deal” I said.  I thought it interesting that there was no one to take the toll.  There was simply a sign that said, “We will bill you.”  I bet they will too.

So when we got on beautiful Sanibel Island one thing quickly became apparent.  It was beautiful but it was a place of threats and rules.  The biggest was the parking deal.  Everywhere—and that is not an exaggeration, there were signs—big signs—threatening signs—warning you that if you parked without paying two things would happen.  They would tow your car and charge you a fine.  And the fine was not like $25 dollars.  Oh no…it was like $250.  And they meant it too.  And the parking was, are you ready, $5.00 an hour.  No breaks and no exceptions.  But that wasn’t all.

There were signs warning you that if you were caught speeding, there was a fine and it was strictly enforced.  If you turned where you shouldn’t turn, there was a fine and it was strictly enforced.  If you were from Illinois, there was a fine and it was strictly enforced.  Ok, I made that one up but you get the idea.  It seemed everywhere you looked in what was supposed to be paradise, were more threats and rules and it kinda just took some of the fun out of it.  I understand why they thought they had to do it but that didn’t make it any easier to swallow. I felt like they were just waiting for me to mess up so they could say, “gotcha.”

Well, so in a few days Judy and I will pack up and come back to Harrisburg and leave that part of the trip in the rearview mirror.  We loved it but that part I can do without.  And that is the point of this story.  So often as Jesus followers we insist on seeing Kingdom life as a land of strict rules and we see God as the ultimate traffic cop.  He writes these impossible rules and then waits for us to mess up so He can say, “gotcha” and zap us.  I wonder where we got all of that? I mean God’s love and grace toward His children are plastered all through His Book.  I understand the need, and benefits, of obedience but I disdain it when people try and make God to be a bad God.  He is anything but bad.  Yes, He is just.  Yes, when we reject His gift of salvation we have to answer for our sin.  But this God gave His Son to a Roman cross so that we could have forgiveness and call Him Father.  That is amazing.

If you find yourself living in a world where your faith is confined to a world of rules and threats you’ve probably wandered off the right grid. Remember the wonderful words found in Jeremiah 29:11 “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.” Yes, I know they were written to Israel but the principle is ours to claim.  Our lives should be motivated by God’s love and grace and not the fear of Him zapping us.  Never, never forget that as His child He loves you beyond what you can believe.  He is working things for your good and His glory.  It’s that plain and simple.  Every no and yes in His Book is there for that reason.  He is not a cosmic cop waiting to hurt you…He is a wonderful, loving Father who would die for you…and He did.

Starting today, why not change your view of God?  If you’ve never asked Him for forgiveness and received His great gift of eternal life…start there.  And if you’ve wandered off the grid into the land of rules and threats, come back home to grace and love.  It’s where He wants you to live.  It is where you will find rest.  It is where you will discover that no matter what, He’s got this.

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, Scripture, thankful, travel, wisdom

Masterpiece

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”  Ephesians 2:10

I am not much of an art fan but with that said, sometimes I am just amazed.  That amazement usually happens when I am watching one of several travel shows on PBS.  Invariably, wherever they are traveling they visit an art gallery.  And one thing is certain.  The art is as varied as the people who paint them.

To me it is hard to believe that Picasso and Rembrandt are both considered masters.  Both of them are held in high acclaim and yet they and their work are totally different.  Picasso’s later works, at least from this art critic, appear to have been drawn in a kindergarten classroom.  Amazingly he didn’t always paint this way.  In his early years he was a masterful realist in his work.  What happened?  I think he got bored and went artistically berserk.  And people now love it.  Notice that word “now” because “then” they didn’t. His masterpieces became masterpieces mostly after the master had died.

I frequently find myself thinking about how incredible it is that according to God…and because of God…you and I are a masterpiece…a true work of art.  In case you missed it, the scripture reference is Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”  Isn’t that just an incredible thought that the God of the universe holds His children—you and me—in such high regard?

Now it is only because of God!  It certainly is not anything that we have done…not because of any of our own merit–it is just amazing grace. Sometimes people will say you are “a work of art” and you just know it isn’t exactly a compliment.  It is like Picasso’s work pictured above–not exactly a masterpiece—in my eyes anyway.  With apologies to his fans, I just can’t figure how he became famous for his artwork.  I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder but I’m just saying…

I know sometimes maybe our lives look more like a Picasso than a Rembrandt but just remember–often–beauty is in the eye of the beholder and in this case that is God.  When Jesus comes and gives us new life, we become this beautiful new creation.  The great part is that His opinion is the only one that matters.  It doesn’t matter what your spouse says, your kids say, or even what you say.  Nope, in Christ you are a masterpiece because God has declared you so.

One thing I know is that we have to determine who we are going to listen to.  Will we listen to the worse critics of our life…those whose spiritual gift (they think) is demolition or the One who died for us?  Hmmmm….not too hard of a decision, is it? Why is all this so important? Because as we understand how God views us, we begin to live as the masterpiece we are.  We begin to live and understand that we are created in the image of Creator God and He thinks very highly of us.

Not once has God ever taken a masterpiece off the wall of His gallery of grace and declared it unworthy or junk.  Never has, never will.  And the reason is simple.  We are who we are because of Whose we are.  We are what we are because He has made us so and He just doesn’t make mistakes.  So today, rest in the declaration of your Dearest Father that you, yes-you, warts and all, are a masterpiece.  Rest in the full assurance that even if your life looks like a Picasso, His grace can rearrange the squares and make you a Mona Lisa.  How? Because, He’s got you and He’s got this.

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

Content–Almost

I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.” Philippians 4:12-13

I was content…almost.  Contentment is one of the most allusive things.  One minutes you are fat and happy and the next minute you are just fat.  Some small, insignificant thing happens that seems to change everything.  It probably has a lot to do with most of us living in the best country in the world—the United States.  We have more than we need and that is a problem and it is the problem.  Andy Stanley, a pastor in Atlanta, talks about the fact that most of us have houses with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms and get ready, there is even a house for our car attached to the deal. Amazing.

Many years ago we went on a mission trip to the Philippines. We were there to repair some damage caused by a major earthquake. Two things amazed me—how beautiful it was in addition to how kind and polite the people were.  On a couple of levels it did indeed seem like paradise.  You see the island itself was a vacation destination for many.  It was simply beautiful.  The only problem was, we didn’t get to see it.  There simply wasn’t time for a lot of sightseeing because there was a mission to accomplish–a job to finish.

Now I know that probably sounds pretty noble–maybe even spiritual, but the truth is, even on the mission field it is hard not to think about–ME.  The “resort” we stayed at really was quite nice–particularly when compared to sleeping in the sand in Mali, West Africa or on the ground in Uganda, East Africa.  I guess I should have been content–and I was–almost.

When we arrived at the resort, we were given our room assignments.  Judy and I were assigned a single unit.  I have to admit, I did have the best roommate.  We went to our room and it was nice–small–but nice. It even had a bathroom! There wasn’t a lot of room to walk and have the luggage on the floor, but it was nice. We pushed the twin beds together and it was just like home–just smaller–a lot smaller.  Then we decided to go and check out the other room assignments.

Well, their rooms were also quite nice.  Each person had two twin beds pushed together to make a double bed and their rooms was bigger–a lot bigger.  There was even room for their suitcases to be on the floor and still walk around the bed.  Suddenly, my room (well, our room) felt even smaller.  Suddenly, it didn’t seem quite–fair.

Now I was content, until I saw how the rest fared.  I was content, until I saw what big was like and then I was not. Just like that I went from contentment to discontentment. I went from feeling blessed to feeling cheated—all in about two seconds flat. Isn’t it amazing how one minute you can be satisfied and the next you’re not?  There’s a word for that and I think it is pretty close to sin. And the crazy part is, it doesn’t just happen on a mission trip to the Philippines–it happens to a lot of folks on any given day.  We are content until we see how the other half lives. I think it is something like the grass is always greener somewhere else.

Paul said something quite amazing in Philippians 4:12 “I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot.  In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Oh, and by the way, when Paul wrote those words, he was sitting in a dark, dank, stinking Roman prison.  Ouch.

I think all of us need to learn Paul’s secret to joy–be content!  The truth is most of us have it a lot better than 90% of the world! The truth is if we take a look around, we will find that our Heavenly Father has filled our world with “love notes” that simply, yet profoundly, say, “Just to say, I love you.”

Whether our world has a healthy dose of bumps or if the sun shines consistently, if it is corona crazy or as smooth as a lake at sunset, we have so many reasons to be thankful…to be content.  Why not take the time today to look around and be thankful for what you have rather than be rattled about what you don’t have?  After all, hasn’t the Giver proven Himself over and again?  Hasn’t He “shown off” time and again in His lavish grace and love?  Sure, He has.  It’s time to settle back and take a rest.  After all, He’s got this.

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

Night and Day

Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

One man’s way of packing is another woman’s dump, stuff and close.  Judy and I have been married for 44 years, 2 months and 5 days.  In case you are wondering that is 530 months (give or take a few days) and 16,137 sunrises and sunsets.  It has been an incredible journey that has been marked by a few bumps and a whole lot of good times.  You might ask, “So what’s the secret?”  Well, I am sure there are several.  We both are Jesus followers though she is a lot better at it than I am.  We are both committed to our marriage—she would kill me if I even thought of leaving.  And, honesty, she is a really, classy lady. With that being said, I can tell you one reason that didn’t make the list.  We are alike.

Nope, ain’t gonna happen, you gotta be kidding me.”  In fact, we are pretty “unalike” in several ways.  She is definitely more optimistic.  In fact, she is so optimistic that for her it’s not a matter of the glass being half-full or empty—she doesn’t even need a glass.  Me, well, not so much.  I need to analyze and rationalize.  Judy thrives around people.  Put her a room of strangers and she is a like a pinball game going from person to person—sharing, chatting, and laughing.  Me, well, I head to the nearest wall and lean.  If I can find one person to talk with—I’m good.

On the other side of the coin, I am organized.  Go to my office, either at home or work, and you will find a neat and tidy desk.  A place for everything and everything it is place.  Go into Judy’s office and you might have a difficult time finding the desk.  I am generally a pretty focused person.  If there is a task to do, I sit down and get it done.  If the house is on fire, that will have to wait until I am done.  Judy would probably not notice the house was on fire and if she did notice, she would immediately begin visiting with the firemen.

Now you probably need to know that Judy suggested this story.  We are leaving for vacation soon. Can someone say “YAY”? That foray will cause us to have to pack our luggage.  Now given what you know, here’s how it will go.  I will take my suitcase, lay everything out on the bed, carefully fold and sort each item, and then assign them a specific place in the luggage.  I will overpack because you never know what you might need.  When I get done the suitcase will look like a clothing file cabinet—neatly packed.

Judy, on the other hand, has a different technique.  She, too, will place her luggage either on the bed or floor. She too will probably overpack because you never know what you will need, however, that’s where the similarity ends.  She will then proceed to dump her clothes, shoes, etc., in the bag, on the bag, and anywhere near the bag.  Then she will begin to heap and pile the clothes in the hopes that the thing will close when she is done.  It’s a fifty-fifty chance.  She may call in reinforcements (me) if needed but that is always a last resort.

Like I said, in many ways we are not alike.  But, with that said,  that is not a weakness, it is a strength. Where I am weak, she is strong and vice versa.  We have learned (and are still learning) that the power of a team lies in loving, sharing, working together and yes, forgiving.  Oh, and I also have learned the power of two incredibly powerful words, “Yes, dear.”  No, that would be “I’m sorry.” In Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 it says, “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up.” You can take that to the bank.

There’s one more thing that is quite interesting. In our 16,137 days of marriage, we have shared 14,018 of those as a team working together in vocational ministry.  I am certain that without Judy, and all the ways we are different, we would not have seen all the amazing things God has done.  It is a story of love, grace, loyalty, and friendship.  Now before you gag yourself and throw up, know that we definitely don’t always get it right.  But there is one thing you can take it to the bank.  The Bible says that we are fearful and wonderfully [and let me add differently] made.  Someone once said if you and your spouse are alike then one of you isn’t necessary.  Hmmm.

So, there you go.  I hope today’s big truth, that it is more than ok to be different, will strengthen your resolve and commitment in your marriage. But I think it works at work, at church, and even with your neighbors.  And when the frustration begins to build, like the next time he or she doesn’t pack the way you do, remember this—hang tight because both of you will get to the same place in the end.  And if it gets really hard—just go and sit with your Dearest Father and rest.  He’ll whisper some things like “let it go—it doesn’t matter how they pack it just matters that you keep traveling together.” And you will say, “Oh yeah…that’s right.”  And He will remind you once again that, it’s ok because…He’s got this.

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

“A Broken What?”

But if you fail to keep your word, then you will have sinned against the Lord, and you may be sure that your sin will find you out.” Number 32:23

It didn’t sound good and sure enough it wasn’t.  There are a couple of things that are for certain and one of them is if you have a car it will eventually let you down.  It doesn’t matter the make or model, eventually, if you own it long enough, its gonna happen.

I remember more than a few years ago Judy and I headed over to Ridgecrest, North Carolina.  She was the Illinois Trustee to LifeWay which is an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention.  She loved serving and I loved tagging along every once in a while.  On Tuesday night while she was in a meeting I decided to take a trip to Wal-Mart which was about 10 miles away.  Without any warning, without even a hint of impending disaster, the van’s engine began to misfire and the dreaded check engine light began flashing. I started praying and confessing every sin I could think of cause 10 miles was a long way to walk.

Well, I made it back to Ridgecrest and the next morning told one of the folks I had engine trouble and they found a good local mechanic.  Seven hours later he calls and tells me he can’t get it to stop—he was at his wits end and thought it had to be the computer.  He towed it to the Ford dealer in Asheville and we waited.  Hmmmm.

They called two hours later and gave us the news—they were pretty sure it was a broken valve spring.  My response was, “A broken what?” Well, in fact, that turned out to be the problem.  And it turned out that it was an unusual problem that rarely happens. You know what happens when something is rare don’t you?  That’s right…it is expensive and hard to find.

That actually turned out the sorta, kinda true.  More on that in a minute.  So this rather rare thing, of course, wasn’t in stock anywhere in the area and it had to be ordered.  So we waited patiently—ok, sorta patiently—and Friday morning—actually a little earlier than expected—the car was finally ready.  We took off and got home Friday night around 9:00 pm.  So you know there is a lesson in all of this, right?

Ok, so the bill for the repair was somewhere over $400. Hello?  That would be four portraits of Benjamin Franklin.  And even though this was years ago…I am still grateful that we had the funds to cover it.  But here is the crazy part.  The part that had actually broken cost a whopping, hang on to your hat, $8.89 and all the rest was labor. Turns out you have to take a chunk of the engine apart to get to this thing.  Now, I don’t tell you that for your sympathy—oh no, God was very gracious in all of this.  I’m sharing because there’s a lesson to be learned.

You see, the cost for the part was low—the labor to install the part was not. Labor often costs more than the part. That is true in car repairs and it is definitely true in Kingdom work.  The actual cost of ministry, while not cheap is doable. The most important part of serving God is not the dollars but the man-hours—the doers.  If we had just bought the part, the car wouldn’t have worked.  Somebody had to sweat to get it installed and make a difference.  Kingdom dollars are important, but getting our hands dirty, sweating some sweat, shedding some tears is where the real cost is—and where the real reward is.

It’s not only true about Kingdom work it is also true when we decide to do the opposite—to sin.  The sin itself may seem like a bargain—bringing perhaps a little pleasure or a little satisfaction.  But rarely is that the whole cost.  In fact, I’m not sure it ever is.  The Book says we can take it to the bank that our sin will find us out.  That is found way back in the Old Testament in a story where some folks were making a commitment to do something and Moses just let them know if they didn’t keep their word it would come back and bite them.

How many times have we thought we could get away with something? You know, a little lie, a little lust, a little anger or jealousy and boom we find out that the little sin (which by the way is like a unicorn—it doesn’t exist) caused more damage that we ever imagined.  And then we get the bill and ouch. Just remember this.  Sin is never, ever, a bargain.  I don’t care how attractive the package, it is a bad deal.  Don’t walk—run away.  The good news is the Book also says there is always a way to get away.  Take it.

Well, an investment in Kingdom work is always a great thing.  It is worth every cent and every drop of sweat.  But sin—well, it is sure fire loser every time.  And like the bill for the repair, the initial cost is just a drop in the bucket compared to the fallout.  Now there is some good news.  We have a God who not only can diagnose the problem—He can take care of it.  There might still be consequences but He will never stop loving us because of it. His grace really is sufficient. So if you find yourself stranded beside the road of sin and consequences, give Jesus a call.  He’s better than any roadside service.  You rest in that.  He’s got this.

Posted in Family, Grace, life, loving others, Scripture, travel, wisdom

The Thumb

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.” Ephesians 5:1

He gave me the thumb and I’m not sure I liked it.  Last Saturday afternoon I decided to take a trip to Marion.  With Judy out in Oklahoma doing family mission work I was a little bored.  I wasn’t heading to anyplace in particular just getting out of the ‘burg.  As many of you know the road to Marion is a nice four lane highway with a speed limit of 65 mph.  I was hitting that right on the nose.  Now, frankly, most of the time I am like most of the people and do a couple of miles over the limit.  But today I was a law-abiding citizen.  And then I saw him.

Up ahead some distance was a guy and his lady friend on a Harley.  He was doing probably about 62 mph…just enough so I was either going to have to slow down or get into the left lane and pass him.  As I got closer I could see him. He had three or four days of stubble covering his face, a bandana held his hair down, his jeans were worn, and a few tats and some sort of leather vest finished his look.  His lady friend also sported a bandana and was dressed in black.  She reminded me of a female version of Johnny Cash.

So, giving the biker dude plenty of girth, I moved over into the left lane, cruise still set to 65.  Just before I got even with the guy on the bike he nudged the throttle on his Harley and soon was about 40 yards ahead of me.  I thought, “Well, ok, maybe Harley’s don’t have cruise and he realized he was doing under the speed limit.  But wait…now he’s slowing down again.  Strange.  I went back into the left lane and when we were about even—he throttled up again.  Well, back into the right lane I went.  As I did, he did his slow down thing again.  I got back into the left lane and when I did his lady friend turned around and gave me “the look.”

I can’t really explain the look.  I know when Judy gives it to me it never ends well.  So, I filed that away.  Soon I was even again with my friend on the Harley and he looks over at me.  I give him a shrug of the shoulders, the kind that says, “Hey dude, what’s up?” And that’s when he gave me the thumb.  Now I don’t speak sign language at all.  I do know when some people do certain things with their fingers it can be pretty ugly.  I’ve had that happen before.  But no one has ever given me the thumb.

He simply held up his hand, fingers tucked in and his thumb sticking out—kinda like a hitch-hiker would do when thumbing for a ride. His thumb pointing to the rear of his bike, he gave it a jerk—pointing behind him—and throttled big and shot off into the distance.  Just like that, he and she were gone.  And not speaking fluent biker hand signs, I was left trying to figure out if I should be glad or mad or offended or off-ended. I need to tell you that I’m not sure off-ended is a real word but it sounded good.

So as the biker dude took off, several scenarios kinda played through my mind.  I mean if he was being a jerk, I could play like Clint Eastwood, reach under my seat and draw out my 45 magnum and say, “Go ahead…make my day.”  But the only thing under my seat was an umbrella and it wasn’t a 45 magnum anyway.  And maybe he wasn’t being a jerk after all.  He might have been saying, “Hey, the girl on the back is my wife Sally.  I just wanted to introduce her to you.”  It could have been the he wanted me to fall in behind him so he could break the wind for me like one of those Nascar drivers.

Truth is—I don’t have a clue.  So I pulled back into the right lane and kept on driving.  I even notched it down a couple of miles per hour to give the biker dude plenty of room. He turned right heading toward Pittsburg and I will probably never see him again.  But one thing is sure.  If he should happen to walk into church this Sunday, unless I violated some sort of biker code I don’t know about, I won’t have to be embarrassed.  I played it cool and hopefully acted like Jesus wanted me too.  And that is what matters.

Paul told some folks at Ephesus who were Jesus followers that they should imitate God in everything they do.  It not only applies to them—it applies to us. In other words, if we are Jesus followers, we should speak, act, think and respond like Him because we are His dear children. Now, I don’t always get it right.  In fact, too often I get it wrong.  But that day…it felt pretty good that I didn’t do something to embarrass myself or my Dearest Father.  So, if someone gives you the thumb, or worse, just hit the pause button. Pull back into the right lane, bump your cruise down a couple of mph and rest.  You know why, don’t you?  That’s right…He’s got this.

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

Miracles

For nothing will be impossible with God.” Luke 1:37

Well, there are miracles and then there are miracles.  One of the great adventures that Judy and I have been privileged to be a part of are church mission trips.  Specifically, mission trips to Africa.  For the past 15 or 16 years, our church has been an active participant in mission adventures.  At least one a year we try and send a team to Africa.  We started in Niger and then had to move a little south to the country of Mali.  We were privileged to serve there for several years.

I can’t explain how incredible it is to go on a mission adventure.  I also can’t really explain the draw that so many feel to this place called Africa. Where this story begins was a pretty difficult place.  We would stay in the bush often sleeping on the ground in tents.  The temperature would hover over 100 degrees.  I have one picture that showed a thermometer with a reading 125 degrees.  The food, well, let’s just say it wasn’t McDonald’s.  So what is it that causes people to step way out of their comfort zones just to serve others.  This story is part of that answer.

We were on a medical trip in Mali and the days were long and fruit was plentiful.  We had a full team including two medical doctors and several nurses.  They would treat the physically broken and we would try and share the truth of God’s love to the spiritually broken.  We would tell stories of Jesus and how He would go and help people.  We then would simply explain that we wanted to be like Him and help others.  We explained that people who knew Jesus in America had bought and paid for the medicine that they were receiving.  It was free to them because someone else paid the price.  It was always a great lead into the gospel stories because Jesus did the same for us.

Well, it was the end of a long day.  Most of us had wandered back to camp and were sitting around and chatting about the day’s activities.  Suddenly someone ran into the camp and shouted that there was an emergency back at the clinic.  We all rushed back over and what we found was grim…very grim.  A little girl, about nine if I remember correctly, had been climbing a tree.  She was about twenty-five feet up in the air when she slipped and fell—landing directly on her face.  Her father had carried her on a Moto (a small motorcycle) about three or four miles.  She was semi-conscious and unresponsive.

Two things happened simultaneously.  First, the doctors when to work and the saints went to praying.  Her pupils were unresponsive and though she was breathing, her respirations were rapid and shallow.  About an hour later the doctors said it was probably only a matter of time, her brain injuries seemed very serious.  I slipped into my pastor mode and wondered what an African funeral was like.  The doctors took turns sitting with her through the night, and then took her to the nearest first aid station. This part is fuzzy but it seems like at some point the father went ahead and took her back to her village.

The next day we went back to work with a somewhat heavy heart.  And then something happened…we heard that the little girl had woken up.  We then heard that she was speaking and walking around.  We then heard that she was responding and acting almost completely normal.  “What is this,” I wondered.  Again, if I remember correctly either that day or the next the father brought his little girl back to the doctors and there she stood.  A living, breathing, miracle.  It can be described as nothing else.  God had heard the prayers of His children and chosen to reach down from heaven and touch this little girl and give her back her life.  It. Was. A. Miracle.

Several of us have been to Africa many times and we have seen more than one miracle.  Sometimes it looked like this, sometimes it was God acting to avoid a terrible tragedy and sometimes it like a frog strangling rainstorm when it hadn’t rained for months and months.  But each time it was obvious that God was still God and He can do what He wants, when He wants.  After all, He is God.  For the skeptics out there who think that God doesn’t do the miracle thing—that it died out in the old days—well, that little girl would beg to differ with you.

Tucked away in the book of Luke, incidentally written by a physician in Jesus’ day, are some words that say it all.  It says “For nothing shall be impossible with God.” Nothing. Period. Seven words that can shake your world and this world. So what is rocking your world today?  COVID still keeping you up at night? Wondering about tomorrow or the next meal?  Worried about our country?  Well, I don’t know what God has planned—after all I’m in sales and not management—smile. But I do know that nothing is too big for Him to handle.  Just like that little girl in Africa who discovered she could lay down and rest in Him—so can you.  After all…He’s got this.

Posted in Family, food, gratitude, life, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, travel, wisdom

Change…or Not?

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Hebrews 13:8

It was like I had lost a good friend. When this pandemic thing came up it messed with my life.  Needless to say…it is still messing.  It’s getting better but its not even close to normal. You see, one of the things that Judy and I enjoy doing together is dining out at a restaurant. We have several favorites that we go to pretty regularly.  We have our favorite in the burg, favorites in Marion, favorites in Paducah and even a couple in  Evansville.  Then we have favorite meals at each place.  At one we have a steak, at another grilled shrimp, at another a hamburger–and that is a seafood place…go figure.

But do you know what happens occasionally?  We decide to go “rogue.”  We decide to go to a new place or try something new at a familiar place. That is how we discovered the  “Pork  Belly, Pimento Cheese, Fried Green Tomato wonder of wonders”.  It still makes me drool. Regardless, the new adventure is always refreshing and usually quite good.  Every once in a while it flops—every once in a while we leave saying, “well, that didn’t work.”

A couple of years ago we were in Paducah and on a whim tried a Chinese place.  Everything said, “don’t” but we did.  Weeds in the parking lot, trash in the parking lot and a front door that looked like a herd of kids with dirty hands had just passed through all said, “get back in the car.”  Well, we didn’t and boy was it a bad experience.  But even so here’s what we have discovered—the sense of change—the sense of adventure is worth the risk of the occasional failure. Change can be challenging but it is also refreshing.

Someone once said that a rut is a grave with the ends knocked out.  By and large, I am a creature of habit.  I have the same thing for breakfast almost every day.  I drive the same way to work every day. But even if I like sameness, I also like change.  Isn’t that weird?  There is a reason. We need change to keep life fresh.   We need variety to make life interesting. I think that is one of the things the pandemic has forced our hand on.  We have to do some things differently—willing or not. While that is true in our personal journey, it is also true in our spiritual journey.

The one thing that gives me a confident assurance is that nothing is new to God.  He is never surprised and never caught off guard.  He never says, “Boy, I sure didn’t see that one coming!” It is great to belong to a God who is big enough to have everything under control. I love that in this world of constant change, He is a constant.  The writer of Hebrews said it best, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”  That means no matter where you go in the past—He was there and He was the same.  That means no matter where you go today—He is there and He is the same.  And that means no matter where the future takes you and no matter what it holds—He will be there and He will be the same.  He. Is. The. Same.

Like I said, I enjoy a little variety—a little change adds spice to life.  But when it comes to my Dearest Father, well, I like the sameness that He brings.  My circumstances, my mess-ups, even my fickleness doesn’t faze Him.  He is always the same.  And that same—well, it is just the best.  A guy named John in the New Testament wrote and said that it is just amazing, this love that God has for us…a love that extends out and allows us to be called His.  Yup…you gotta love that.

Let me suggest you occasionally try a new restaurant and or a new item on the menu. And if it has pork belly and pimento cheese on it—well, its got to be a winner.  But when it comes to choosing what god you will serve—there’s only one choice and that is Creator God.  Bigger than it all—ready and willing to handle our biggest problems and always ready to extend His grace our way—there’s no need to look any further.  Oh, and of course, as always, He’s got this.