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. 

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

Patience or “Not”

Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” James 1:2-3

At first it seemed unfair but then, there it was, conspiracy.  There is a lot of talk today about conspiracy schemes.  When and whatever happens there is someone who will say there is a dark diabolical reason for it happening.  I wasn’t sure about it until it happened to me.  Yes, there was a conspiracy.

As you may remember, my wife and I were able to attend a pastor’s conference in North Carolina.  It was so good to pack a few things, jump into our 44 mpg Jetta and hit the road.  Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” was ringing in my ears.  We cruised across Tennessee and were heading toward North Carolina when it happened.  About five miles from the border, our GPS talky thing said, in her most gentle voice, “traffic ahead.”  Well, it wasn’t like we were in Chicago or something so that could only mean trouble.

Soon, very soon, trouble was staring me in the face.  Brake-lights and slowing vehicles were everywhere.  We were in a slowdown—we were in—traffic.  Signage and the talky thing confirmed my worse fears—there was construction ahead.  Now you need to know something.  First, I am not patient in traffic.  Ok, that wasn’t totally transparent.  I am totally impatient in traffic.  In fact, I’m not patient period.  Whether it be in traffic or at the store, I am changing lanes like a one-armed paperhanger looking for the shortest and fastest lane.  The Bible says we are fearfully and wonderfully made but I must have missed the patience part.

Have you ever been driving and the traffic going in the opposite direction is stopped and you are feeling sorry for them?  Well, I was the one stopped and I could just feel the empathy of the other drivers.  It turned out to be about a 45 minute stop and go.  The amazing part was I did pretty good.  Judy was beaming at my surprising patience.  I even said, “Well, at least going home we won’t have to deal with this.”  Soon (though not soon enough) we were through the construction—we were on our way.  Hit the fast forward button.

That was Wednesday.  Too quickly the days of the conference went by and in no time it was time to go home.  After the conference ended at noon we jumped into our 44 mpg Jetta and hit the road toward home.  Willie was once again whirling around in my head singing “On the Road Again.”  We were nearing the site of Wednesday’s lesson in patience feeling confident and glad that we were heading in the other direction.  And then it happened.  The GPS talky thing mentioned traffic, 14 miles per hour, and delays. Wait. What?  We were not supposed to have to deal with this. And that is when I knew there was a conspiracy.  They had changed sides.

Here’s how I think it played out.  The North Carolina Department of Transportation called the conference center, asked when I was leaving and then quickly moved the construction to the West bound side so they could get me again.  I am sure of it.  So, another slowdown, another wait in traffic, but this time they were merciful since it was only 27 minutes and 14 seconds.  Oh yes, I was counting.  And the people going East, they were zooming by with looks of mercy for those of us stuck.  It just wasn’t fair.

I know the Bible well enough to know that you don’t pray for patience.  That is one prayer you won’t hear passing through my lips.  Pray for patience and you end up with traffic. Pray for patience and you end up locked in your house with three kids for three months.  So I get that.  But there is a pesky couple of verses found in James 1:2-3 that say, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” I really like the Bible but I really don’t like those verses.

Of all the emotions I feel when I am sitting in traffic, joy is not the one that comes to mind—and especially not great joy.  But then I read verse 3 and it gives me pause.  James says I should appreciate the moments in traffic because it helps me to grow. It helps me to be a better person.  It helps me be stronger—it builds endurance.  Like lifting weights at the gym strengthens muscles-—so trying situations strengthens our faith in God.  Which means part of this whole pandemic deal might be to make us stronger in our faith.  Hmmmm. Well, in the end I did pretty good through traffic lesson number two and we managed to get home that evening just about on time.  Truth be known…God was good, God was faithful and even in traffic, God can be trusted.  No matter what, He has my good at His heart.  He wants me to thrive in this world and not just survive.  And that means sometimes learning patience sitting in traffic.  As you travel today wherever and however that looks, just know God is the traffic manger of your life.  Just sit back, enjoy the pause and rest in Him. He’s got this. Honk, Honk.

Posted in Family, life, Scripture, travel

Consistently Inconsistent

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

It was a learning experience.  Well, it finally happened.  Judy and I were able to get away and break away from home.  The long awaited opportunity to go somewhere finally emerged from the corona virus fog.  After church Sunday we loaded up our car and headed on the great adventure.  Soon, the routine of the last several months was in the rearview mirror and we were looking out the windshield at different. The only problem was that different turned out to look a lot like home.

Our journey would take us through three states…Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina.  The one thing I quickly discovered is the fact that consistently, and I do mean consistently, everything was inconsistent.  Now I have to admit we didn’t have a lot of interaction with Kentucky.  Going we were just getting started and coming we were almost home.   However, Kentucky had already become our get away place when we wanted to run away from home.

Our first stop in the journey was in Tennessee.  We stayed in Pigeon Forge for three nights just to catch our breath.  We arrived at our hotel which was a Hilton Tru.  It was a new branding for Hilton and was designed to reach out to millennials.  Ok, if there was a doubt, I discovered I am not one.  The hotel boasted that the rooms were intentionally spartan and smaller.  I am more the bigger and plush kinda guy.  And then there were the corona differences.

So, the first day, no one came to clean our room.  Well, obviously somehow, we were skipped. I stopped by the front desk to let them know of the oversight.  She, politely, told me it was not an oversight but intentional.  What?  “Didn’t you read the little card” she asked? Well, no…we had got in late the night before and I am a guy.  Do I look like I read little cards?  Anyway, the little card said they would not be cleaning our room until we checked out and that if I wanted fresh towels I needed to ask for them at the from desk. What? Excuse me?  Oh, and breakfast was scaled back to a yogurt bread (whatever that is) and a breakfast cereal bar…all courtesy of the corona virus.  Of course all this was ok because they there able to cut the price on the room with all the money they saved from not cleaning our room or serving us breakfast.  Not! No! Nada!  That will be full price, sir, and thanks for staying.

And then there were the restaurants.  One was operating at full capacity, one at 50%, one at 25%.  All the fast food chains were still drive-in only.  It felt amazingly like home. We went to one restaurant with about seven cars in their large parking lot. “Oh good, no wait” I said.  “Not so” Judy said.  Sorry, there will be a 25 minute wait.  So three days later, I went into the largely empty restaurant and discovered anew the joy of social distancing.  I had to communicate with the closest table with smoke signals.  All of this was from an open state.  Yup…consistently inconsistent.

Well we moved on to North Carolina…a largely closed state.  We checked into our hotel, a Holiday Inn, and I tentatively asked the polite desk person about what restrictions might be in place.  “Will you be cleaning our room?” I asked. She gave me a quizzical look and said, “Why yes, of course.”  “Do we get clean towels by any chance?” I asked.  Her look said “This guy must be from Mars. Of course we will be providing towels.” So the closed state acted like an open state and the open state acted like a closed state and I am slowly going crazy. Our meals were provided at the conference we were attending so we didn’t try any off-campus restaurants.  But Judy did want to go to a couple of boutiques.  In case you are wondering, boutiques are little stores with big prices.  Anyway, most were simply closed and the few she (and notice she) went in required masks to shop in their empty shops. Oh the bliss of being consistently inconsistent.

I am a guy of routine.  I love consistency so you can imagine this was quite a challenge for me.  It amazes me how the rules are always different in this corona world and the enforcement of those rules are also different.  And that is why I like God.  He is the Rock of Gibraltar when it comes to consistency.  The Word says that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  The Jesus you have today is the one you will have ten thousand years from now. The love you have from God today will be the love you have tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.  As a song says His love is “sure as a steady rain.”  I like that.

If you are just a little tentative about this consistently inconsistent world I have a great recommendation. Try God.  He doesn’t change the rules midstream, He won’t change His mind about you tomorrow and His Book remains the constant of constants.  Rock solid…that is God. We had a great time on our trip and I came back realizing that the crazy rules aren’t just in Illinois.  We found a pretty fair sprinkling of them everywhere.  I also came home with a deep appreciation for my island of normalcy…my family and my church family.  Both groups are a bit crazy at times, but they are mine and I feel secure around them both.  I came home and found the God on the road was the same God at 217 W. Poplar Street and I can rest in Him at both places and all places.  I also found that the God on the road was big enough to handle it all. He’s got this.

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

We Shouldn’t Be Here

If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” Esther 4:14

I looked at Judy and said, “We shouldn’t be here.” I know when you normally hear those words you are at a movie and a couple of teenagers are standing in a cemetery at midnight with a full moon with a wolf howling and a guy with a chainsaw standing a few feet away.  That was not the case.

So, as you know we live in a world of cancellations.  Vacation. Cancelled. Conference number one.  Cancelled.  Conference number two. Cancelled. In an attempt to get some refreshment I went ahead and registered for conference number three.  About ten days before it started they called and said due to state regulations (North Carolina this time) they were having to dramatically reduce the number of attendees—from 400 to 110.  Judy and I didn’t make the cut…by a long shot.  We registered in early April and they were cancelling all the way back to December of 2019.

I had gotten used to the rejection notices by now.  Like a struggling actor or writer it seemed nothing was going my way.  So, after my normal foot stomping, “this is crazy” and the all time favorite, “when will it ever be normal” I settled back into life…desperately needing a fresh drink of water from the well.  Then it happened.

Less than a week before the conference was to start I received a phone call on my Dick Tracy Apple watch.  I checked the caller ID and it was the conference center.  I ran to the kitchen to get my phone, answered, waiting to see what they wanted.  She told me that they had been allowed to open an overflow room and would we be interested in coming?  If I could speak ten languages I would have said yes in all ten.

So we arrived at the conference and this is when it got interesting.  The people in the main auditorium (and there were only 110 of them—normal attendance is 400) had white name tags and the ones in the overflow had tan name tags.  We received our tan tags and waited for supper.  I began to notice that there were not many tan tags.  How interesting.  When it was time for the conference to start, the white taggers headed to the main room and tan taggers headed upstairs to the overflow area.  And that was the turning point.

In this room meant to hold 150 people there were 28 of us.  Blue covers draped over the back of 28 chairs showed where we could sit.  It turns out I was member of a pretty, small select group. Totally attendance was only 138 people and somehow I was one of them.  Keep in mind all those people who made reservations before April were in front of me in line and somehow, some way we were here.  That’s when I said to Judy, “We shouldn’t be here.”

The topic for the conference was about rebuilding the church in a post quarantine world.  One of the first things he said was that perhaps each of you are here for a specific reason.  He then told the story of a young Jewish girl who, against all odds, found herself as queen in a foreign land.  A plan had been hatched to kill all of the Jews in the land and her uncle was asking her to go the king on the Jews behalf.  He said, “Perhaps for such a time as this God has put you here.”  For such a time as this.  Hmmm.

I honestly feel that for some reason God has allowed me this opportunity to help lead my church in the coming days.  The speaker made it clear that any thought that things are going to be same are just not true.  It is going to be different and challenging.  It is also exciting.  All of this has caused me to revisit the sovereignty of God in all of this.  I mean, I just believe that God is in charge.  Not circumstances, not government, not me.  That means that He does have a plan that He is working out.  The only question is are we going to trust Him and be a part of His plan or are we going to write our own.  Spoiler alert.  That never goes well.

So whether it your every day, walk around life, or a business, or a church, if you are a Jesus follower, are you willing to let the Whisperer whisper and share with you His plan?  I hope I will have the wisdom and courage to do so.  It will mean stepping out of my “I’ve done it this way for 38 years” comfort zone and perhaps, just perhaps, do something different…perhaps radically different.  Who knows, maybe we, with Him, can change our world. So, we shouldn’t be here but I sure am going to be listening for the Whisperer to speak to my heart.  I know it will be right.  I know it will be challenging.  I know it will be exciting.  I know somewhere along the way He is going to say, “Rest in Me.  I’ve got this.”  He does.