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.

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

Mustang Sally

Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.” Psalm 37:4

It was a dream come true.  Several years ago, I was invited to speak at a conference way up north in Illinois.  How far north?  Well just about as far as you can go.  It seems you could see the Artic circle from where we were going.  For some reason, it might have been the car was due an oil change or just because, I decided to rent a car for the trip. I checked the local Enterprise car rental and they had a great rate, so I booked one online.  About 4:00 pm I went to the car rental place to pick up my plain Jane little car and that’s when I found that God had sent a love note.

I went into the office and waited just a moment for the agent to help me.  She shuffled some papers around and said, “You know I don’t have a compact car to give you.  I’m going to have to give you a Mustang convertible instead.”  I couldn’t believe it.  I had wanted to drive a Mustang since I was 12. While I didn’t get to own it permanently, for three whole days it was mine. I felt like I had just won the lottery!

We finished up the paperwork and she handed me the keys.  I walked outside and there she sat.  A new Mustang convertible with all the bells and whistles!  I felt cool just holding the keys.  I mashed the button on the remote and lights came on and the doors unlocked.  I opened the door and slid into the seat and was pretty certain I had died and gone to heaven. One of the first things I noticed was the quality of this American made car. Things had certainly changed since the 70’s.

The Mustang had more incredibly cool gadgets than I had ever seen in one car.  Gadgets like an incredible audio system, totally cool wheels, auto/manual shift, backup camera, keyless entry and start and on and on.  It seemed that everything you could possibly want on a car was there. This thing was “tricked out”.  For those who don’t know what that term means, it is something like it was customized–loaded with options and believe me it was! Not only had God given me the car of my dreams for three whole days but He had sent one that was loaded!

Well, we made the trip and I played Mr. Cool the entire time.  Sunglasses, my best smile and the coy look that said, “Oh yeah, it’s mine.”  I just didn’t share that it was only mine for three days.  Just as all good things have to come to an end, on Monday my Cinderella Mustang had to go back to Enterprise. However, I will never forget the time that God sent me a Mustang to drive.  It gave new meaning to that place in the Bible where it says, “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.”

Now imagine my surprise when I went to the Ford website and discovered that my Mustang wasn’t “tricked out” at all.  In fact, all those cool features were “standard.”  In other words, every Mustang had those features included with no extra charge.  How about that–buy the car and get the options–not some plain Jane, “let’s crawl to the next light Mustang”, but one that caused people to look…”a head turner.” Buy the car and get the cool throw in with the deal.  I can remember when the base price got you four wheels and engine. Not so anymore. Ford did a great job in the quality and what you got for the money–but not to the point I’m ready to go out and buy one.

Here’s the deal:  God trumps Ford hands down–not even in the ball park.   I sometimes wonder if we understand all that we get when we receive God’s amazing grace through His Son Jesus: unconditional love, peace beyond understanding, unlimited acceptance, an incredible purpose and reason to live, the opportunity to make a difference–to be a part of something so big that we can’t even understand it all.  And that is not just for the Billy Grahams of the world but rather for every believer, every follower of Christ.  Amazingly, that’s not even the tip of the iceberg!

Some people love to drop names—you know, they are talking and they will say how they know so and so.  Well, check this out.  If you know Jesus, you know the creator of it all.  And you just don’t know Him…you know Him up front and personal.  And His Father is your Father and He is your Dearest Father.  He just waits for you to talk with Him every day.  And He enjoys blessing you. Be sure and thank Him for the fact that the life He gives us is not barebones but loaded to the max.  You know, when God does something, He always does it well and does it big–how about that?

As you journey this week, how about spending some time celebrating and thanking God for His incredible, unbelievable salvation? And if you get just a tad overwhelmed—and honestly who doesn’t—just remember who you know and Who knows you.  You can rest in Him.  He’s got this.

Posted in Family, gratitude, Holidays, life, Scripture, Southern born, travel, wisdom

Bruiser

The one who walks with the wise will become wise, but a companion of fools will suffer harm.” Proverbs 13:20

I saw it coming.  I never saw it coming.  Both are true, and the truth is, it didn’t matter. So about a month ago now, two-thirds of the family (that would be two of my three daughters and their families) were able to jail break and go to Florida for a week.  The middle daughter had been going to the Palm Coast of Florida for the last several years and she suggested we give it a try. I was a reluctant participant.

You see, I was raised on the Northeast coast of Florida.  My growing up years consisted of regular trips to the beach.  Many years later I discovered the Gulf coast with its sugary white sands and clear blue-green waters and I was sold.  Because of this, I wasn’t overly excited when the plans for the East coast were drafted.  However, having done life being the only male in the house (there was my wife, three daughters, a girl dog, a girl cat or two and six female tropical fish.  Even the mice in the barn were girls.) I realized that resistance was futile.  So off to the East coast we went.

I was pleasantly surprised.  We were about an hour or so South of Jacksonville (where I was raised) in a nice condominium complex. We shared the place with our middle daughter and family and it was just perfect.  It overlooked the golf course with a great view of the ocean.  The grounds were well maintained and it had two very nice pools—one family and one for the adults who liked things a little quieter.  The normal vacation crowd was much smaller and that was good news given the COVID thing. The only problem was “they” were there.

“They” were waves.  Pretty big waves.  You see on the Gulf side you usually have little friendly waves.  The waves gently bump into you and seem to say, “Hi, we are glad you are here.”  The waves in the Atlantic are from the Southside of Chicago.  They are gangster waves. When we went to the beach they were waiting.  This is the part I remember from my growing up and from one or two vacations from earlier years.  You can hear them before you see them.  They are inviting you into the water—so they can bully you.

Anyway, we get to the beach and you know they didn’t look too intimidating.  I mean they weren’t gentle “hey, glad you are here waves” but they weren’t “terminator” waves either.  We set our stuff down on the beach and off we went into the water.  First, I tested the waves with a knee deep stand.  Not bad.  Then I went a little deeper.  Still not too bad but I could begin to feel them.  They wanted me.  They had my number.

I was out in waist deep water and realized the power of perception.  Those waves that didn’t seem so big from shore were all of a sudden larger—much larger.  I turned to talk to Judy who was close by and looked back just in time to see a large wave coming.  Fortunately, I was able to keep my footing and survived the onslaught.  I smiled.  My sunglasses were still on my face and my hat was still on my head.  I was an overcomer.  Who’s the man now?! That’s when “Bruiser” came.

“Bruiser” was epic, “Bruiser” had one goal in mind—take me down.  I saw him coming but it was too late.  “Bruiser” was well over my head and broke right on top of me.  One minute I was standing and the next minute I was in a washing machine of ocean water…in the spin cycle.  When I came to surface, of which I was very grateful, “Bruiser” had moved on.  My swim shirt was over my head, my hat was gone and my pride and body were a little bruised.  He had won. I had taken on the big boy and come up short.  Probably worse of all my Seattle hat, the one I had worn for several years was lost to the jaws of “Bruiser.”   He never had a chance.  May he rest in peace.

Well, one time in the spin cycle was enough for me that day. And somewhat gratefully I was glad to learn that others in the family had suffered similar fates. Even the son-in-laws got bowled over a time or two. Hats and sunglasses were lost but what was found was the joy of being with family.  We had a good time.

I did learn, or perhaps more accurately, relearn a lesson about the waves of the Atlantic.  They can be pretty powerful.  Usually there is a flag system that warns of particularly rough waves.  Our beach didn’t have that, but I later heard on the news there had been some big waves.  Oh well, hindsight is 20/20.  Sometimes they manage to sneak in but even when you see them coming, they can take you down.

Life is the same way.  A day at life’s beach can quickly turn into a spin cycle of ocean water.  We can get bowled over by circumstances, uncertainties, tragedies and pandemics. Even when we see them coming, they can be overwhelming.  After my encounter with “Bruiser” that day, I decided it was time to visit the pool—eventually all of us did.  The Bible says, “The one who walks with the wise will become wise, but a companion of fools will suffer harm.”  Translated another way that means there is a time to swim in the ocean and there is a time to head to the pool. Wisdom is knowing when to do what. Wisdom is also knowing that no matter what life throws at you, we can rest in the One who makes the waves because He’s got this. 

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

“Fore” What?

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.” 
1 Corinthians 9:24-25

I don’t play golf.  You might say, “I thought all preachers play golf and eat fried chicken.”  Well, one out of two isn’t too bad.  I am a big fan of fried chicken but golf has never been my thing.  When I was at Cobden a good friend of mine named Andy would occasionally take me to play.  Most times I would wack the ball and I would hook or slice it.  I’m really not sure what that means but I do know the ball didn’t go anywhere near the hole.  It generally went towards Australia.

Sometimes, and I admit it was rarely, I would hit the ball and it would go right down the fairway.  I don’t know who was more surprised; me, my friend Andy or the ball.  At any rate it occasionally happened.  But that was the problem…the fact that I couldn’t seem to consistently make it do the right thing was very frustrating.  So finally I looked at Andy and said, “You know Andy, I don’t understand why I am paying good money to be frustrated.  I can stay home and be frustrated for free.”  And boom…that was my last golf game.  I do still get frustrated, but boy, have I saved money.

Well, with all that said, when we went on vacation with the family a month or so ago our condo overlooked this beautiful, world class golf course.  Some famous guy designed it and the whole purpose of the course was to be challenging.  Of course, for me that translated frustrating.  I was amazed though about how carefully they maintained the course.  Early every morning the crew would go out and prepare the course for that day’s lesson in frustration.  Each person had a job and a piece of equipment to get the job done.  Like I said, it was very impressive.  And then I noticed something.

Every couple of days, a guy would sneak out on the course and play a trick on the guys paying to be frustrated.  First, he would go to where they would tee off.  That is the place where they smack the ball and see if it went towards the hole or towards Australia. He would move the tee backward or forward and change the distance to the green.  Pretty tricky.  But he wasn’t done.  He would then go the green and move the flag and hole around—this side or that side—closer or further.

The whole point was to confuse the guys hitting the ball—to make it more challenging or depending on your perspective, frustrating.  The golfers would tee off from a different place toward a target that had magically moved over night.  What worked the day before wouldn’t work the next.  It was different, it was challenging… it kept them on their toes.  How about that.

As I watching all of this, it occurred to me that God must like golf too.  In fact, I’m pretty sure they got their ideas from Him.  You see God is all about helping us grow to be more like Him. To do that He introduces things in our lives that challenge us.  You might say He occasionally moves the tee and moves the flag.  Now, that might be frustrating but that isn’t why He does it.  He does it to strengthen our lives—our game.

I don’t know if the Bible has an example about golf (though it does tell us to be “holy”)  but it sure has a good one about running.  Paul says that we should realize that in a race everyone runs but only one can win.  We are to run to win.  But the race isn’t about meters and miles—it is about becoming like Jesus. So, what’s the deal about becoming like Him?  Well, the more we become like Him, the more our lives will have less “slices and hooks” and less consequences.  Life is better, much better, with Jesus. When my life finally gets a little slower, I just might take up a hobby but I still think I can find something that will allow me to get frustrated for free.  I’ll leave golf to the other guys.  For now, the next time I get a little frustrated, I’m going to remember that God may have intentionally moved the tees or the flag to help me be like Him.  Oh wait…here He comes now.  He’s inviting me to take a rest and ride in the cart with Him.  I think I will…He’s got this.

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

“Just Like Papa”

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Hebrews 10:24

It is one of my favorite pictures.  It was several years ago when Blake and Sarah were stationed in Savanah, Georgia.  He serves in the United States Army and they are one of thousands of families who make the sacrifice to go where they are sent and do what they are called to do.  Now, of all the places the Army can sent a family, Savanah was good duty.  The oldest city in Georgia and located in the Southeastern side of Georgia it is rich in heritage and about 25 miles from the beach.  Not bad.

Well, one day Judy suggested we should go down and see them.  Let’s see…family, grits, history and pralines (in case you don’t know they are a crisp or semi-crisp candy typically consisting of butter, brown sugar, and pecans. You need to try them.) Yup…sounds like a great idea.  So we load up the van and off we go.  Its about an eleven hour drive and we broke it up into two days because we are not as young as we used to be and to us the journey is part of the adventure.

When we arrive in Savanah, there are the usual “big hellos” and “what’s happening?” Soon after come the next two big questions—what are we going to eat and where do we want to go.  We decide to go to the historic downtown.  If you have never been to Savanah it is hard to describe this special part of the city.  It is a series of parks, literally block after block, filled with trees, flowers, monuments, and fountains.  Oh, and there is a Five Guys Burgers and Fries nearby.  It can’t get any better. It’s like the Southern part of heaven.

After three or four blocks of strolling I decide it is time to sit down.  So I wander over to an empty park bench and sit a spell.  As I sometimes do, I lean back, locking my hands behind my head and just relax.  The birds are singing, the squirrels are playing and life is good.  And then, it got better.  While I am sitting there doing my relaxing thing, my grandson Will, who was about four, comes over to the park bench and eyes his Papa. What he does next is recorded in a photograph and in my heart.

Will, with a bit of a struggle, climbs up and sits on the park bench.  He then gives me a look, raises his hands behind his head, locking his fingers.  He is being like his Papa. He is doing what he sees me doing. Judy, with the keen eye of a great photographer and grandmother, snaps the picture.  It was only when we got home did we see the true beauty of the picture.  Today, a copy sits on my desk in my home office and it is indeed one of my treasures.

Will reminded me that day there are always people watching and looking and often imitating us.  Sometimes they are family, sometimes they are fellow church members, sometimes neighbors, sometimes even strangers.  But they are watching and looking to see what we are going to do, how we are going to react and then they do what we do. That might be the reason when one of Jesus’ disciples ran—then they all did. It might be why when one shouted “crucify Him,” they all did.  This picture makes me pause and ask, “What are my kids, my grandkids, my friends, the yet to be friends around me, seeing when they see me?”  What do they see at the park, in Wal-Mart and yes, on Facebook?  Hmmm.

The guy who wrote Hebrews says that we should consider—we should weigh carefully—how we may spur one another on toward love and good works.”  In other words, the things we do and say should cause others to do good—and not to do evil. We are to be beacons of light shining out into a dark, rough, and dangerous sea.  I guess I really love that picture because of the innocence of it all.  But what if, what if, that same picture showed me being hateful or rude.  What brings me joy would, and should, then bring tears. Today is a new day.  I like new days.  New days say I get another chance.  Let’s use this day with the knowledge that people are watching and we get to show them the way to get it right—not wrong.  I know, it is a daunting task…but we have a great, big God pulling for us.  Just like I got to set an innocent example for Will, so Jesus has set a sterling example for us.  Just follow the leader and you can’t go wrong.  So, climb up on the bench, sit a spell and rest.  He’s got this.

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, Military memories, missions, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, travel

Forty-four Years

So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times! Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.” Ephesians 5:16-17

Forty-four years.  16,071 sunrises and sunsets.  That’s the length of the on-going saga of our story.  It seems like yesterday but it also seems like another lifetime.  We both were young… maybe too young. But we were in love, we wanted to walk together so that day, this day forty-four years later, we started walking and just never stopped.

We were chatting last night before we drifted off to sleep and I told her we were blessed.  There have been bumps but not the kind of bumps that come from wanting to quit or wanting something new.  They were the kind of bumps that come from life.  The death of our parents, starting over when the Air Force or God gave new orders, kids being kids and people being people, and yes, me being me and her being her.  But what a journey.

Forty-four years.  I remember the excitement of our wedding day.  I in my snazzy light-blue tux and patent leather high heeled shoes (hey, cut me some slack…it was the seventies) and her standing at the back of the church in her white wedding dress and long brown hair.  Her standing and then walking…walking to me to join me…to start life together.  I was marrying up…and well.

Forty-four years.  I remember embarking on the first of many great adventures as we flew to Europe not for a honeymoon but to live.  The Air Force sent us to live in Germany and while the separation from family was hard…life was enchanting.  I remember looking out our apartment window overlooking an alpine valley with the trees covered with a light dusting of snow. I remember our German landlord knocking on our door and presenting my new bride with a freshly skinned rabbit.  He was beaming and she was wondering, “What do I do with this?”

Forty-four years.  I remember coming back to the USA after three years and seeing our country through new eyes.  Leave for a while and you never see it quite the same.  Leave for a while and the warts and imperfection all fall into perspective.  I remember traveling to the Midwest for the first time and finding out that not everyone liked grits or even knew what they were.  I remember the birth of our first daughter and realizing that we weren’t in Kansas anymore.

Forty-four years.  I remember daughter number two surprising us…and what a good surprise it was.  Our family was complete (or not) and our future secure in the Air Force…until the Whisperer whispered. So long Air Force and hello pastoring and walking by faith. With a young wife and two kids ages three and two, no insurance and a pastorate that paid $12,000..well, faith was a little harder…a little less sure. About then I began to realize just how big, how sure, God is.  I’m still learning that one but He has a perfect track record.

Forty-four years.  I remember the day when we had to pack up and leave a bunch of people we loved a lot and that loved us a lot.  With a station-wagon and a U-Haul stuffed to the gills we moved to a little town called Cobden.  It was new all over again and we fell in love again with another wonderful group of people.  It was at Cobden that God surprised us with daughter number three.  It was at Cobden we raised our family because God let us stay 14 years.  It was at Cobden we learned deep lessons of love and grace.  After fourteen years the Whisperer whispered again and we knew we had to obey.  It was one of the hardest things we ever did.

Forty-four years.  I remember coming to Harrisburg and to Dorrisville Church and wondering how God would write this new part of our story.  I remember wondering how long this chapter would be.  Well, here we are 20 years into this part of our story—almost half of our married lives—and I am still amazed at God’s grace and His people’s patience.  Our kids are grown, we have eight grandkids and Judy and I are experiencing what it is like to grow old together.  I highly recommend it.

Forty-four years.  James, the half-brother of Jesus tells us that life is like a vapor.  In other words it goes by quickly.  Remember how you breathe on a cold morning and your breath appears as if smoke?  As quickly as it appears…it leaves.  That’s life. I am amazed at my age, the length of our marriage and just how awesome life has been been…and is.  Paul, another Bible guy, had it right.  He says, “So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times! Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.” Good advice, Paul, good advice indeed. Forty-Four years.  Yup, life is good.  I’m still in love with Jesus, still in love with Judy, and still in love with my kids and grandkids.  I get up each day just waiting to see what God has in store…waiting for the next whisper…the next great adventure.  Till then I bet you can guess what I’m going to do.  Yup…I’m going to rest in Him.  He’s got this.