Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, love, loving others, prayer, priorities, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

Unexpected Gratitude

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

I made a random turn…into the cemetery.  One evening my wife Judy and I were out on a mission.  One of our ladies had given us some homemade ice cream and we were returning the container.  Oh, in case you are wondering, it was way beyond delicious.  It was peach and it was just peachy.  I’ve already put in a request for strawberry next.  We returned the container and just kinda started driving randomly.  As we went down the street the entrance to the cemetery came up on the right—and I turned right in.

Slowly we started driving down the lanes and just as slowly I started reading some of the headstones there.  First, though, on the left was Harrisburg’s “Little Arlington.”  It was dusk and the lights were on, and I was so impressed with all the work that went into honoring those who had served their country. It represented sacrifice. For some the ultimate sacrifice…the kind of sacrifice that means you don’t get to come home from the war.  I love what is often said, “All gave some, but some gave all.” For that, I was moved, and I was grateful.

Just down the lane was a grave that caught my attention.  It was a young soldier who went to Korea to fight for his country in what has been called “the forgotten war.”  He was 27 years old when he died on some battlefield, some hill in a country for away.  He was fighting and ultimately died for the cause of freedom.  I was moved and I was grateful.

In several places, Judy and I would stop as we saw a headstone that was personal because we knew, we loved, the ones buried there.  Sometimes both of the names were etched there in the stone, and it symbolized two lives joined into one story.  And for both the story had concluded.  Sometimes though only one name had the start and finish dates. The other story was still being written and there was a heart longing for heaven and a long-awaited reunion.  One stone declared and celebrated 72 years of marriage.  So many of those story writers had touched our lives.  I was moved and I was grateful.

There were also stones of tragedy.  There stood the stone marking the grave of two brothers tragically killed one night by a drunk driver.  Several other stones showed lives cut short by a tragic accident.  Over there was the headstone of one of the victims from the 2012 tornado.  Everywhere were stories of people who touched the lives of others. One stone showed an American flag engraved in full color—the grave of a proud veteran.  One grave was that of a pastor and a veteran of World War II.  So many stories, so many lives, so many contributions.  I was moved and I was grateful.

As we continued around the lanes inside the hallowed grounds, we noticed there were places where whole families were buried together.  Generations of fathers and mothers, sons and daughters lay in eternal rest together.  The stones often bore nicknames and tag lines of the one who lay there.  On one grave was a tattered flag that said, “#1 Dad.” Some graves though were barely marked.  The only indication that someone lay there was a rock or a stone.  In another part of the cemetery were the pauper graves.  I have stood at some of those graves as we laid to rest someone that almost no one knew.  Once it was the funeral director and me.  No one else came. I was moved and I was grateful.

“Wait,” you say.  “How can you be grateful?”  Well, the reason is simple.  Whether it was a family plot of many generations or a solitary grave of a person when no one came—Jesus was still there.  He is the unseen attendee of every funeral.  For many He is there as Savior and Lord. For others He is there as the Sovereign Lord who wishes all to believe but knows not all will.  But He is there.  He is always there.  When we need Him, when we want Him and yes, even when we ignore Him.  I am moved and I am grateful.

When you get some time, take a slow drive through the cemetery.  It is anything but morbid…it is in fact one of the most meaningful things we can do.  You will be touched, you will be moved, and yes, somewhere along the way you will be grateful.  Let each headstone with a start and finish date be a reminder that for you there is still time.  Still time to make a difference, still time to mend a relationship, still time to finish well.  But most importantly…there is still time to believe and trust in Him.  The Book says that if anyone will call on His name…they will be saved—forgiven—rescued. No story is so bad that He can’t change the end.  Once again, I am moved and I am grateful.

Many see the cemetery and think death.  For those who truly understand grace and Jesus they know the cemetery isn’t about death it is about life.  You learned it in Sunday School but now hear it again…like the first time.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever (that is you and me) calls on His name will not perish but have everlasting life.”  So, trust in Him and rest in Him.  For He has all of this.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, fear, forgiveness, Grace, life, love, loving others, Southern born, thankful

Just Say No

The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful, and it’s fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too.” Genesis 3:6

I remember it like it was yesterday…or a couple of weeks ago anyway.  I am the youngest of eight children.  Some call me the baby of the family…I know Momma and Daddy saved the best for last.  My brothers and sisters nicknamed me Precious.  I used to think it was because they were jealous, but I later learned they were just right.  And, because I was so precious, well I often was the target of pranks and other acts of terrorism.

The two sisters and I were called the three little ones.  That was because everybody else was several years older and therefore bigger.  The other two members of “the three little ones” were the main terrorists.  They loved to hold me down and tickle me mercilessly and then pull my ears till they were blood red. It’s because of them one of my ears sticks out further than the other. They were two tough cookies.

One time they pushed me out the door in my underwear and wouldn’t let me back in.  I banged and banged on the door all to no avail.  They, of course, will deny all of this but trust me, at the Judgement Seat all will be revealed, and they will surely be grateful for grace.

I have always had an affection for sweet things, and they even used that against me.  One day one of them came up and said, “Dewayne, do you want some candy?”  Well, my response was, “Well sure.”  It was in a small box and in my excitement, I didn’t take time to read the label.  Honestly, since I was only about eight, I probably wouldn’t have known the difference anyway.  So, I opened the box and found that it was filled with chocolates.  There were only three or four pieces in the box and before long…they were gone.

I did notice that they tasted a little different, but they were sweet,  and they were brown so hey, that was close enough for me.  I should have been suspicious that the terrorists were being so nice, but I always was a trusting soul.  Well, several hours passed and before long time wasn’t the only thing that was passing.  You see, my loving sisters had fed me a whole box of Ex-Lax.  They would deny it, you probably can’t believe it, but trust me I was there.  Oh, boy was I there.

Well, I learned a lot of lessons growing up and this is one of them.  You see, things are often not what they seem to be. I thought I was a getting a box of chocolates and instead I got a box of trouble.  It looked like chocolate, it even tasted somewhat like chocolate, but it wasn’t anything close.  Did you know that the Bible warns us how the Devil can disguise himself?  It says that he can disguise himself as an angel of light when in fact He is the angel of darkness.  Remember that…things are not always as they seem.

I learned too that not everyone who comes bearing gifts can be trusted.  I should have known better when they offered that box but my desire for chocolate overruled my common sense.  That is what got Adam and Eve in trouble in the garden. The story is found in Genesis, and it says, “The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful, and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So, she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too.” And that is how I found myself eating Ex-Lax.

It’s a tricky world out there…terrorists are lurking everywhere and sometimes they might be related so be careful.  Be sure and use your good common sense if someone offers you a little box filled with chocolates.  You might be getting more than you bargained for.  Like I said, I probably wouldn’t have understood the label even if I had read it. But do you know what?  My Momma would have.  In fact, if I had gone to her this story would have been totally different.  But I didn’t.

As we journey through this upside-down world, don’t forget to go to your Dearest Daddy with your questions and mysteries.  He is always there, and He is always watching out for you.  You can trust Him. His box of chocolate is always the real deal.  So have a seat, open the box, and enjoy.  You can rest in Him.  He’s got this. Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, love, loving others, missions, prayer, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel

Precious Memories

And we are confident that He hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases Him.” 1 John 5:14

It’s a song we often sing at funerals…but it’s also a good song to live by.  The other day I was sitting around talking with some friends and we began sharing about some of our experiences.  Before long we discovered that our friend had been in the military and spent some time in Germany…just like my wife and I.  Before long, our sentences were punctuated with, “I remember…” and the room swelled with great times and great memories.  I know from where I sit there are some incredible times where God just blessed.  One of those times was my vision trip to work on the islands of Lake Victoria in Uganda.

This would be one mission trip that I would be taking all by myself.  There was not a team and Judy was unable to go.  It was me and God and I discovered that was good combination…a great combination.  I remember (there’s our word) that I had asked the church family to really pray for me while I was gone.  In fact, I gave them three specific things to pray for. First, I asked them to pray for my time in the boat.  Because we were ministering on the islands, we would spend several hours a day in a small (about 25 feet) open boat.  We would be cruising Lake Victoria, the second largest lake in the world.  In fact, it was like a small sea.  I sometimes have a tendency for motion sickness. Normally that is limited to going “round and round.”  However, when it comes to waves and boats it can be “game on.”

My second prayer request was for an effective interpreter. When you speak with an interpreter, you say a few sentences then you pause, and he interprets what you said. Well, during my previous trips to another part of Uganda when I was teaching and preaching, my interpreter was very good.  It was almost like he was an extension of me.   I knew having a good interpreter would greatly impact the effectiveness of the trip.  So I asked for prayer that God would send just the right man.

Finally, I asked my friends and family to pray that I wouldn’t wimp out.  Now hang on–I’m not a newbie in the world of mission trips, but it was my first solo journey.  There is a time to whine and a time not to whine. Is that in the book of Ecclesiastes? The bottom line is the time on any mission trip is too valuable to be a whiner. So, I needed to be flexible and remember this whole deal wasn’t about me but Him and them.  There is saying for people who go on mission trips.  It says, “Blessed are the flexible for they shall not break.”  Amen, Lord, Amen.

So, for those of you who wonder if God answers prayer, the answer is, “He does.”  When we pray for His will to be done and His purpose to be accomplished, hang on because those are prayers He loves to answer. To be direct and to the point—God answered the prayers of His kids clearly and specifically.  First—no motion sickness.  The lake was not calm–in fact one day we had whitecaps.  Still—without a pill or a patch—I was totally free from motion sickness.  That interpreter?  God answered that prayer with a local pastor who was better than any other person I have worked with.  He was so animated and led of the Lord—totally awesome.  Last, wimping out?  Well, those of you who know me best would probably have said, “Who is this guy?”  One time when it was 10:00 pm and our supper had still not yet appeared, I almost whined but was able to stifle it. God was just incredibly good, and I came home with a full heart and a vision of how we could begin a ministry to the people who lived on the islands of Lake Victoria.

It is important to remember that God is not a genie with a magic lamp.  God is not Santa Claus waiting to receive our wish list. God is not a vending machine where we put our quarter in and get what we want.  God is God.  And when we pray for His will to be done…amazing things can and do happen. John, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, said, “And we are confident that He hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases Him.” That is not a statute of limitations but rather an invitation to join God in His work.  Let’s join God in a conversation…not just when you are in trouble…but rather every day.  You will find that He is waiting and willing to have a chat with you.  Oh, and don’t be surprised, when He responds, “Don’t worry, I’ve got that.” Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, love, loving others, Scripture, Trials

Conversations

Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.” Colossians 4:6 

It was just a little misunderstanding. The story is told of a pastor who visited a man in the hospital.  As he stood by the bed, the man began to be in deep distress. Unable to speak, he quickly wrote the pastor a note, handed it to him and then just died. In all the confusion of the moment, the pastor slid the note into his pocket and forgot about it. Several days later the pastor was conducting the memorial service for the man. The pastor was describing the man…his life, his good heart, and his service for others. Then it happened. 

The pastor suddenly remembered that he had the note in his suit pocket.  He told the audience, “I have just remembered the day Joe died, I was visiting him in the hospital, and he slipped me a note right before he passed away. I failed to read it and have just now remembered it is in my pocket. How special it would be if we can share his last thoughts together now. So, the pastor reached into his pocket, pulled out the note and read, “You’re standing on my oxygen hose.” Smile. 

As a pastor you can bet, I have some crazy stories and a lot of them revolve around little misunderstandings and lack of communication. Recently I told the story of how I was visiting one of our members in the hospital and she was quite ill. When I make a visit, I naturally slip into my “let me help you feel better mode.” For me there are two great fix-all’s—humor and food. But sometimes, many times, a person just needs compassion and kindness. This was one of those times. 

I walked into the hospital room, and she was lying in the bed softly moaning. I moved over by the bed and whispered her name. She opened her eyes, slightly smiled, and said, “Pastor, thank you for coming by.” We shared for just a few minutes, and it was obvious she was extremely sick. And then she said, “I just want to go home.”  I softly said, “I know.” And she said it again and then another time. Each time I responded with some simple words of understanding. After the third time I upped my game. I said, “I know you want to go home and when God is ready, He will take you.” 

Well, imagine my surprise, and embarrassment, when she said, “NOT that home, pastor, my home.”  Oh…oops. I was ready to ship her off to heaven and she was just wanting to go back to her house. Like I said, sometimes there is just a lack of understanding and communication. When that happens, we need to admit that we missed it and if necessary, ask for a little grace or give a little grace. I quickly apologized for the misunderstanding, she did get better and indeed went to her home. We even had the chance to laugh about it later. 

In the world we find ourselves these days there are multiple opportunities for misunderstandings. When we find ourselves in too close of quarters for too long, when we have differing opinions about everything from the corona virus to what is wrong with our country—misunderstandings are bound to happen. In the regular world the normal response would be to get mad and often get even. In the regular world the normal response would be more anger and more division. But for Jesus followers that is just not an option. 

The Bible tells us over and again that if we follow Jesus we are to act like Jesus. We often get that when it comes to moral responses—and rightfully so. But we too often miss the biggest application—how we respond when we bump into other people…or they bump into us. Paul, one of the major writers in the Bible says, “Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.”  I like that. Gracious and attractive. Momma used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.  I wonder if Momma knew Paul? 

Well, the bottom line is there will always be plenty of opportunities to bump into people.  There will always be plenty of opportunities to respond in a “not so Jesus way.”  But what if we hit the pause button before we speak and ask ourselves, “Is this gracious or attractive? Is this nice?” I wonder how things would change. In these days, the world needs “Jesus lights.” It needs us to shine for Him even when we get a little tired and a little weary. We need to recognize when we are set up for regretful words. Let’s choose option “B.”  Let’s rest in Him and choose to think before we speak. After all, He’s got this.    Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, fear, gratitude, life, love, loving others, Scripture, thankful

Holy Moley!

God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, love and a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

It was January of 2004, and it was a day to remember.  On that day, as a gift from a friend, I received my first flat panel television.  Of course, back then it was brand new technology, and they were a little different.  This one was about three inches thick and weighted about seventy pounds.  I still keep it stored away simply because it is so special.  Over the years, things have changed and that is true with televisions too.  Thankfully, they have gone on a diet.  Today, a larger television weighs less than half of the earlier models.  Regardless, it can still be a little tricky to hang one on the wall…especially if you are “tool” challenged. Let me explain.

A while back I was going to attempt to mount a television on our bedroom wall.  I mean, it seemed easy enough.  You take the television off the other wall, take the mount off the other wall, and go to the new wall.  You drill a couple of holes and mount the mount.  “That’s easy,” I said.  “That’s no problem,” I said.  “Anybody can do that,” I said.  “In fact,” I said, “a blind man could do it.” About then discovered my name wasn’t “anybody” and I wasn’t blind.

Our house is old, and I do mean old.  How old?  Well, Miss Alice’s house next door was built in 1902, and she said when her house was being built ours was already there.  That means our house is at least 119 years old—holy moley—that is old.  At any rate that means there must be some plaster walls and there are.  There is a reason why someone invented sheetrock and the reason is no one likes plaster walls.  They are a pain. They easily crack. They are difficult to drill through and oh, a stud finder doesn’t work and if you are going to mount a television…you need to find the studs in the wall.

I started searching for the elusive stud in the wall.  I tapped on the wall, I laid hands on the wall, I talked to the walI, but all to no avail.  I then called a friend of mine and he said to start drilling holes till you find a stud.  I was paralyzed—I could just imagine my wall having a religious experience and becoming very holey. But anyway, I started drilling.

Well, five holes later (we need to hum a few bars of, “holy, holy, holy”) I finally found a stud and amazingly when I found one, I could find the next.  As I screwed the bolts into the wall, I said a prayer and put the television on the mount.  It worked.  And, believe it or not, it is still there today.  I just hope that no one looks behind the television and sees all the “oops!” If you should ever hear a loud moan from over Poplar Street way, well it might be that things went south after all.

One of the things I learned (again) through all of this is how fear can paralyze us.  I mean I stood there and looked and studied (no pun intended) and looked and studied…trying to get the courage to start drilling. I was afraid that I might end up drilling hole after hole after hole and have Swiss cheese instead of a wall.  I was afraid and so for a while I did nothing.  When I finally decided that I could and should…it gave me the courage to start and finish my project.

If you find yourself facing a difficult task, if you find yourself overwhelmed with fear—find someone to give you a little encouragement. Sometimes that might come in the form of flesh and bones, but it can come without either—it just might come from God and from His Word.  When you find yourself in the grip of fear, remember 2 Timothy 1:7, “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, love and a sound mind.”  And always remember that regardless of what we face, we can have the confident assurance that, “He’s got this.”

Posted in Family, food, gratitude, life, love, loving others, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, thankful

Sometimes More is Just More

Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.” 1 Timothy 6:13

I like coffee…a lot.  Coffee has been a best friend of the Taylor tribe for as long as I can remember.  I grew up with my Daddy’s words, “Dewayne, get me a cup of coffee” ringing in my ears.  One of my favorite memories of my parents is Daddy coming home about 4:00 pm and Momma having a fresh pot of coffee waiting.  She would pour up two cups and they would sit under the tree in the back yard and visit and drink coffee.  Now I am one of those coffee drinkers who likes their coffee bold and strong.  Someone said drinking weak coffee is like drinking brown dishwater.  I agree.

Now this is one area that my wife Judy and I don’t quite agree on.  She likes her coffee, well, mild.  You might say I like man coffee and she likes lady coffee and that works because I am a man and she is a lady.  The only time that doesn’t work is when I am downstairs and the only coffee there is her lady coffee.  It is something called breakfast blend and it is pretty mild. So, when I am downstairs, what am I to do?  Well, I stumbled on the answer awhile back.  Less.

That’s right…less.  You see we have one of those Keurig coffeemakers.  I know, I know…you purest coffee drinkers out there are probably gagging, but it is a good compromise for flavor and a fast cup of coffee.  One of the features on the Keurig is that you can easily adjust the amount of water in the cup.  You can set it on anywhere from four to twelve ounces.  So, if the coffee is a little on the lady side, well, I just set it to use less water.  Less water equates to stronger coffee.  Boom…problem solved.

You see, when it comes to how big the cup of coffee, sometimes more water is just more.  The coffee may still look black (which is how I drink it) but the amount of water vastly affects the flavor.  More water equals less flavor.  And that is not only true in coffee (or tea I suppose…though I am not a hot tea drinker) it is true in life.  Sometimes we just think if we can pour in more of this or more of that we will be happier.  Often, we are not any happier…we are just a lot busier.  Often, we are not any happier…we are just further into debt.  Often, we are not any happier…we are just in greater need for a larger wardrobe.

Along with more is better (and often it is not) comes the thought that, “If I only had…” and in our “culture of much”, that is often thought and often believed.  Well, take it from someone who often looked for happiness at Best Buy or Target…it just isn’t so.  The thing that can make life worth living is not found in a store…it is found in the people we love most…that matter the most.  The thing that makes life worth living is not found in a store…it is found by looking to the Heavenly Father.  The fact is, He made all things for us to enjoy…yup, it’s in the Bible.  But keep in mind that He has given us nothing to worship.  That belongs to Him and Him alone.

Remember, you can adjust your coffee flavor in your Keurig with the amount of water you choose. If you like stronger coffee…more isn’t better…it’s just more.  And when it comes to life, learn to appreciate, to love those around you.  Take the time to enjoy them.  In that case more is not only more…it is abundant. And when you need to add some richness to life, you’ll find no better source than God.  He loves you so much and wants you to experience life to the fullest.  In fact, He said, “I have come that you might have the life that is truly life.”  And to help you along the way, He will be right there beside you, ready to help, ready to assure, ready to let you know, “He’s got this.” Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, forgiveness, gratitude, life, love, loving others, prayer, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, Trials

Giants Among Us

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

There are giants among us…we saw them. These giants were the massive redwoods of California, and they are the tallest and perhaps the largest trees on earth. They can grow up to 380 feet in height and up to 26 feet in diameter. Not only that, they can live up to 2,200 years. The giant redwoods are an evergreen tree only found in a narrow strip of coastal California and just north of the Oregon border.

The redwoods seem larger than life and that’s because they are. They are not the only giants around though.  There are the humankind, but I’m not talking about their height or weight. I am talking about heroes—people with big hearts and brave souls. These amazing people do the most amazing things. They lay their lives on the line for their country, they put on a badge and go into dangerous situations for a few dollars a week.  They charge into burning buildings when everyone else is trying to get out.

That is just a few for the list goes on and on.  There are also other kinds of giants—larger in life in the quest for excellence, to change the world or perhaps, to be like Jesus. These are some of the people I admire the most—true spiritual giants. Over a couple of years ago I met one.  I was amazed by her story.

It all started when we were invited over to a friend’s house for supper. When we arrived, we had the opportunity to meet her mother who lives with her. That is when I realized it probably wouldn’t be a normal evening. When her mom spoke to us you could tell she was struggling with her voice.  Before long, she explained and that was the beginning of an incredible story.

She explained in 1950 when she was 19 years old, she was diagnosed with polio.  If you know a little about those times, there was an epidemic of this terrible, dreaded disease.  It struck without warning and without rhythm and that was the case here. It left this dear saint partially paralyzed and affected her vocal cords.  I was enthralled with her story as she shared, they said she would never walk—but they were wrong.

Then she shared more and more of her story.  When she was born (and remember this is around 1930) there were twins and she weighed less than two pounds.  She was a fighter from the beginning and fight she did.  Later, when she was eleven, she basically was put out to fend for herself and she did.  She had a strong constitution and work ethic.  I was amazed.

She married and had three miscarriages before giving birth to her daughter.  She would end up having 21 surgeries for various reasons and lives with a colostomy.  She has been told that she has cancer though they really can’t pinpoint the source.  I know there are several things that I am leaving out but that is enough for you to get the picture.  Her life has been difficult from the get-go but that is not the main story.

The most amazing story is her faith.  Receiving Christ at a young age, her journey of faith has been strong and steady.  Like Job, her love for God only grew deeper and stronger.  She shared that evening how blessed she was that God had entrusted her with this suffering.  From her lips poured words of praise for her Savior. Then came stories of incredible generosity to those in need—both physically and spiritually.

Judy and I both left that night refreshed as if we had drunk deeply from a cool spring. We were blessed, encouraged, and challenged by a saint who had given more than she took.  She isn’t the only one.  Over my almost four decades of pastoring, I have bumped into so many spiritual heroes.  You had to bump into them because like most heroes, they don’t brag about their lives and stories.

When I left that night, I also left strengthened.  It is instances like this that solidify my own faith.  When I see and hear stories such as this one, it shouts to me, “God is real.”  It also does one more thing.  It causes me to examine the life story I am writing.  When people read my life, what does it say about me…and about the God I serve?

Each one of us are writing a story and during this hot mess called life, we all have special opportunities to write a saga.  The way we live, act, and speak will tell a tale.  Hopefully it will be one of grace and kindness.  Paul wrote in the Bible that we should be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

That is a tall order, but God is in the business of filling tall orders.  Why not take a moment and ask your Heavenly Father for a little, or maybe a lot, of help?  Let Him know you’ve been treading water a lot these days and you could use a little rest.  Don’t worry—He is ready and willing to help.  He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, forgiveness, gratitude, Integrity, life, love, loving others, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful

A Tale of Two Lawn Mowers

Our love should not be just words and talk; it must be true love, which shows itself in action.” 1 John 3:18

It was time to buy a mower.  Recently my son-in-law and daughter moved back into the area.  That meant that once again our family circle was close together again.  He had been in the Army and had been assigned twice eleven hours away (Savanah, Georgia and Lawton, Oklahoma) and once for a couple of years in Korea. Trust me…that was a lot more than eleven hours.  But happily, the tribe can finally get together occasionally.  They rented a house in Paducah, Kentucky…a house with a pretty good-sized yard.  However, since they lived “on post” at his last assignment, they didn’t have a lawnmower.  They thought about buying a goat (smile) but Judy and I offered to give them our mower and I would go and get another one.

My mower was my friend.  We had been together for about ten years, and it was still in great shape.  It was a solid brand; commercial grade mower and we made a great team.  Honestly, I really hated to part with it, but it felt good to be a little generous.  So, I began the search for a replacement. I researched and asked around to try and make a good decision.  A friend of mine used to own a small engine shop and dealership, so he was my go-to person.  His advice was to buy a good one with a dependable engine…like a Briggs and Stratton. So, after a long search I settled on a big name, expensive, brand…a Honda…with the hopes it would take me well into the future.

During my chase for a new mower, I discovered that in these COVID days, the semi-local big box store (or just about any store for that matter) didn’t carry much stock.  That meant I had to order it and the nice FedEx man would deliver it to my house.  After ordering, I waited several days for it to come and finally the day arrived.  FedEx usually leaves my packages at the front door and because this was going to be a big one, I left a nice big note on the front door that said, “Please leave package at back door.”  He apparently didn’t see the note and deposited the lawn mower on my front porch.

Well, upon examination I discovered that part of the handle had broken through the box and was sticking out.  I knew that couldn’t be good.  I opened the box and discovered that the handle was bent and one of the front wheels was too.  Bummer.  Well, to make a long story short that meant I had to haul the mower to the big box store (and it was not going to fit in my car) and reorder another one.  I told my grass to stop growing because of the delay and it said, “No.” Well, now I was in a pickle. I went to “Plan B.”

“Plan B” went like this. Another big box store had a lesser brand (but with the required good engine) and it was half the price.  Smile.  Then I discovered it was an additional ninety dollars off.  Big smile.  So, the very expensive damaged mower, which by the way was very poorly packaged, went back and the cheaper, lesser brand came to live with me.  Imagine my surprise when I opened the lesser brand and discovered the company (here in the USA, by the way) had built a wooden frame around the mower to protect it.  Not surprisingly…it was in perfect condition.  So, the expensive mower was left to bang around in its cardboard box and the lesser brand (that cost a whole lot less) came in a wood reenforced cardboard box.  Some things just don’t make sense.

Well, only time will tell the end of this story.  I used the new lesser brand the other day and it did very well.  Smile.  Regardless of its “lesser” name, I expect for the foreseeable future my grass will be shorter and that is what matters. In this case the quality of the packaging and the price trumped the better branded mower.  One package said, “We care about you and our product, and one said, “Oops and good luck.”

You see, the packaging, in this case was as important as the product.  It is true in lawn mowers, and it is true in life. It matters how people perceive who we are. If we want people to think a certain way about us…we must live that certain way. A guy named John who was a disciple of Jesus wrote and said, “Our love should not be just words and talk; it must be true love, which shows itself in action.” Yup…actions matter more than words…and never is that truer than in our Jesus walk.

It has been said people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.  In a world that is way short on love and kindness, we need to put it right out there so there is no question that we care.  Our packaging really does matter. So, I’ll let you know how the mower thing plays out.  Regardless, I know this.  The lesser brand sent me, the consumer, a message—we care about you, and we care about our product.  God’s got a message for us too.  It simply says, “I’ve got this.”  Bro. Dewayne

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

Ready…or Not

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season.”
2 Timothy 4:2

“Do you think they would mind?” she asked.  It was very early in the morning on our last day at Key Colony.  I awoke from a good night’s sleep (I mean we were on vacation), made a cup of coffee, and headed down to the beach.  Sunrise was a good hour away, but the water and the air were both calm.  The only sound was the gentle lap of the waves against the sandy shore.  This is my time of the day.  God is in the labor room delivering another day for us to enjoy…and I love it.

After a while, the sky slowly turned gray, and you could see the beginning of the sunrise.  It was going to be a good one.  About that time, my wife Judy wandered out and sat down with me.  Just when you think something couldn’t get better…it does.  Judy seems to make anything better.  We chatted and sipped coffee enjoying the creation process.  After another few minutes, the sun peeked over the horizon and another day was born.  Good job, Father, and thank you.  Now that it was daylight, you could see that the water was not only calm…it was crystal clear.  It was then that Karen walked up.

We had talked with Karen and her boyfriend the night before.  We talked about life, faith, and God.  It was an opportunity for me to share some about how much God loved us.  Gary had a large tattoo on his left arm that said, “Faith.”  That gave an opportunity to talk about not only faith, but where that faith should be directed.  I shared it wasn’t enough just to have faith…you had to direct that faith in the right direction…right toward God.

When Karen walked up that morning, I noticed that she was carrying two small containers. I could tell that something was on her mind and that is when she asked the question.  She asked, “Do you think they would mind if I poured my son’s and husband’s ashes in the water?” I quickly assured her that I am sure they would not.  It turned out that her son had tragically died of an opioid overdose at the age of 22.  I didn’t get the details of her husband’s death but since she was in her early fifties, I assumed he too died young.  Then, it was my turn to ask a question.  I asked, “Would you like me to say a prayer?”  And, without hesitation, she answered yes.

Judy asked if Karen would like to have a picture taken and she agreed to that too. All three of us walked down into the water and slowly Karen opened the containers and poured the ashes into the water.  As they touched the water, it turned to a color very similar to wet cement but then just as quickly the color disappeared.  She said a few words, speaking to the souls she could no longer hold.  And then, I asked God for His peace to be on Karen.  I thanked Him for His love…even in hard times like this.  With an amen we were done. Almost.

Judy and I both gave Karen a hug…that was the only way we knew we could tell her we cared, and that God cared too.  As we left the water, Karen headed to Dunkin’ Donuts for a cup of coffee and Judy and I returned to our chairs by the beach.  We knew that we had kept a divine appointment.  I wish I could write and share how Karen and Gary both placed their faith in Jesus but that wasn’t the case…at least not that day.  But I do know we scattered seed in their lives.  I know we left fingerprints on their lives and heart and who knows what God will do with that.

When I woke up that morning, I didn’t know I was going to preside over a funeral standing in the Florida Straits.  Judy didn’t know she was going to act as a memory maker for Karen…but our Dearest Daddy did.  He knew…just as He always does.  We just need to be ready whenever He opens a door or a window and then simply walk where He leads.

Paul, the one who wrote a chunk of the New Testament, told a young preacher named Timothy one day, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season.”  When he said to preach…trust me, it was more than standing on a stage on any given Sunday…and it wasn’t just for preachers and teachers.  It was for all of us Jesus followers and it is for all places…planned…or not.  I learned a long time ago that the best sermons are often not preached on Sunday…rather, they are lived out over the course of the other six days. So, let’s be ready to be used.  It may be at the store, on the job or at the ballfields.  Just remember this.  When the time comes, He will be there to help and you can rest assured, “He’s got this.” Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, love, loving others, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel

Chosen

Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes.” Ephesians 1:4

I was as surprised as she was.  One on the wonderful things about Key Colony and the Continental Inn happens every day about twelve hours apart. The place where we stay has a small private sand beach.  Now that doesn’t sound too impressive until you realize that sand beaches aren’t that common in the Florida Keys.  Most often when you make it to the shore, you find it covered with large rocks.  In fact, that was our first experience many years ago.  The kids were young, and we drove down from Naples where we were staying.  When we arrived, we rushed to the “beach” only to find it covered with large rocks.  Bummer.

At the Inn there is glorious sand and an abundance of clear water.  Both are amazing.  But here is the special part.  The beach faces the east which means every morning there is a beautiful sunrise.  Every day I would go out with a cup of coffee while the water was like glass, and it was still dark.  The fingernail moon would be there offering little light but plenty of beauty and the stars glimmered in the dark night sky.  And slowly, God gave birth to a new and beautiful day.  Every morning I would say, “This is the day the Lord has made, and I will rejoice and be glad in it.” At that point it was a blank canvas, but I knew the Maker of masterpieces would be painting that day and He works wonders…always.

So, the sun would rise and about twelve hours later it would take it’s bow and night, a time of rest, would come.  Everything is beautiful in it’s time.  Now here is the part you have to love.  Every evening Judy and I would walk out the front parking lot, go about 100 yards and there was Sunset Park.  It was a small peninsula where the community had set up benches and built a small pier, and folks gather there to watch the sunset.  Imagine that.   A place where you can watch the sunrise over the water in the morning then walk a short distance and see the sun set…again over water.  It was amazing.

On our second night, something magical happened.  Again, people gather at Sunset Park every evening to watch the sunset. This particular night I noticed, actually almost bumped into, a group of four young people.  I nodded and smiled, and they did the same.  Judy and I found our favorite bench and the group of four chose to stand about fifteen feet from us. They were smiling…as were we.  It is a moment to enjoy…and then it got better.

About that time, I heard laughter of joy and looked over as one of the young men slipped an engagement ring on the left hand of the “one” he had chosen.  It was a total surprise for her and for us.  I don’t know if I have ever experienced this event as a stranger looking on and in, but it was a beautiful moment.  She was laughing and jumping, and they were hugging and celebrating.  Their friends, who were in on the surprise, were beaming from ear to ear.  And, all this is happening in a beautiful waterfront setting as God puts His seal of approval on another day.  It was glorious.

When it was time to go, Judy and I walked over and congratulated the young couple and told them it was their lucky day since I was a pastor, and we could seal the deal right then.  I shared about five lines from the traditional ceremony I use, and we all laughed together.  What a wonderful moment.  I think the joy of it all might be summed up in one word…chosen.  You see, the young man chose her to be his.  Out of all the girls in his world…he chose this one to spend his life with.  And…she chose him by saying, “Yes.”

It is a wonderful thing to be chosen and never is that more beautiful than when we realize that God chose to love us…He chose us to be His bride. If we are willing to accept His invitation to be His, like her, our lives will never be the same.  To be loved like that is the greatest of all gifts. God didn’t have to love us…He chose to love us.  We were scarred by sin and brokenness and yet He saw in us beauty.  We weren’t worthy of His love and yet He still extended it and to Him each of us are as beautiful as a bride on her wedding day.

Being chosen is a glorious thing and I hope you have accepted God’s invitation to be His beloved.  Remember, no matter how scarred your life may seem you will always be beautiful in His eyes.  And this marriage, well, it can never go south.  Sadly, many marriages don’t end well, but He has promised to never leave us or forsake us.  He will be yours and you will be His…forever.  If you haven’t already, why not accept His proposal today?  He is patiently waiting for you to say, “Yes.”  And, when you do, you will find Someone who will walk by your side no matter what…One who believes in you, One who loves you, and who will whisper security and assurance with six simple words…I’ve got you and no matter what, I’ve got this.  Bro. Dewayne