Posted in Scripture, Grace, life, thankful, gratitude, wisdom, loving others, fear

Annie

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Her life was pretty hard…pretty dark.  A perky young redhead with an optimistic attitude in a pessimistic world.  Others mocked her and those charged to care for her emotionally abused her.  So, what was Annie’s response?  Well, it goes something like this.

“The sun will come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun! Just thinking about tomorrow clears away the cobwebs, and the sorrow till there’s none!

When I’m stuck in a day that’s gray, and lonely, I just stick out my chin and grin, and say, “Oh the sun will come out tomorrow. So ya gotta hang on till tomorrow…come what may. Tomorrow! Tomorrow! I love ya tomorrow! You’re always a day away.”

So guess what?  The sun does come out.  She is rescued by Daddy Warbucks and her life is changed forever.  Are there still problems?  Yup.  Are there still bad guys lurking to hurt her–steal her away? Yup.  Does the story have a great ending?  Yup and three big lessons emerge.  One, the sun will come out.  Two.  Don’t mess with Daddy Warbucks. Three, don’t underestimate a nine-year-old redhead.

So, doesn’t it seem we are stuck in a day that’s gray, and lonely?  Doesn’t it seem this whole corona virus thing is one perpetual, cloudy day? Doesn’t it seem like this is the new forever normal?  Well, it is not.  The sun is going to come out.

I try and walk every morning–usually on the treadmill.  I climb on and at 4 mph work feverously to go nowhere.  Well, yesterday, the temps were warm and the sun was out and walked at the city park–and it was like a cool drink of water in a hot dry desert.  I mean I just exploded in gratitude for a God who loved me enough to let the sun come out.

I read on the internet that the phrase, “And it came to pass…” appears 396 times in the Bible.  Each time it is saying that the current situation didn’t come to stay…it came to pass. That this isn’t a new normal…it is a temporary circumstance.

In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Paul writes, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Right on Paul.  Right on.

So remember this.  One, the sun will come out–guaranteed.  It may be here or it may be there but the future for a child of God is filled with “Son-shine.”  Second, remember who our Father is.  He isn’t just rich like Daddy Warbucks–He owns it all and is in total control.  And no one…and I mean no one…messes with our Father.  Last, you may not be a perky young redhead like Annie but don’t underestimate yourself.  You dear friend, if you have trusted Christ, are a prince or princess of the King.  Your home is heaven and your Father calls you His. Can someone say, “Son-shine?”  God bless you today.  The forecast says clouds but I’m feeling pretty “Son-ny.”  After all, I can rest in Him.  He’s got this.

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

Gratitude

I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13

I was the leader of the pack.  When I was growing up in the 60’s, things were just a little bit different.  In my school there were a zillion kids and in my church youth group I was one or two years older than most of the other kids.  That became important when I turned sixteen and was eligible to get a driver’s license.  I remember I got my license before I attended driver’s education and I got a car before anyone else at church.  I was the leader of the pack.

Today, whenever I drive by the local school and look in the parking lot I am always saddened.  The lot is filled with fancy cars and trucks the likes that were never seen in my 1970 world.  A few kids did have nice cars, but most were leftovers and hand-me-downs.  Oh, I’m glad for the kids but I just hate they are not going to experience the joy of owning a 1960 Rambler.

Unlike today, it was not an automatic deal to get a car when you turned sixteen.  Get a license and you get a car is the general rule today. When I turned sixteen you got the right to ask dad to borrow the family car…occasionally.  Only the coolest kids got to actually own a car—and I was about to get cool.  My sister and brother-in-law lived in Daytona Beach and he had a car that he drove back and forth to work.  When he upgraded, rather than sell his old one, they told my mom and dad that they were willing to give it to me.

Then, and even more now, I realize just how generous that was.  It wasn’t necessarily the value of the car as it was them thinking how that just might increase my standing in the world.  Dewayne Taylor…car owner.  Oh, yes, things were about to get better…much better.  So one day, they drove the car up to Jacksonville and pulled in the driveway.  There she was.  I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder and to me she was beautiful.

She was a 1960 Rambler Deluxe.  Now in case you don’t know, Rambler was a division of American Motors which of course is now a part of car history.  This beautiful hunk of metal was…well…unique.  It was hand-painted (as in with a brush) a deep royal blue color.  The brush marks only added to it’s uniqueness.  Right down the middle of the body was a bold yellow racing stripe.  Having lived most of its life near the ocean it probably had an equal amount of metal and Bondo filler in the body.  It was powered by a straight line 6 cylinder, 195 cubic inch monster producing 127 horsepower with a very pronounced rod knocking.  Anything over 35 miles per hour and the engine sounded like a professional drummer going wild on a trap set. She boasted a three speed manual on the column.  It wasn’t exactly a muscle car but she was mine.

One of the first things my dad and I did was go to Sears and buy a set of seat-covers.  This was 1970 so we bought navy blue covers plastered with bright red and yellow flowers.  To enhance its racing car mystic, I even installed a tachometer on the dash.  I was ready.  My job bagging groceries at Food Fair provided gas money and I was the indeed the leader of the pack. I became the “go to” guy for social events.  “Hey, wanna go horseback riding on Saturday? Great, I’ll pick you up.” “Wanna go to the movies Friday night?  Be at your house at 6:00.” Yup, life was good.

The old Rambler lasted somewhere over a year and the old engine just kept on knocking.  It was the clutch that finally gave out.  Dad decided it wasn’t worth fixing so it eventually found its way to the junk yard.  No, there wasn’t a big, fancy replacement.  It was back to borrowing when I could.  But for those months…I was the leader of the pack and I was grateful.

One of the things we have lost over the years is gratitude.  Somewhere we have almost lost the fine art of being grateful for the little and big things that come our way.  We stopped being thankful and instead become jealous of what others have.  It leads to a vicious cycle of keeping up with the Jones.  In case you don’t know, they are the couple down the street that always seem to have more than you.  We work longer hours, carry way too much debt and still have the gnawing feeling that we need, we deserve, more.  We believe the commercial line, “we deserve a break today” only it isn’t for a burger built our way.

The Book has a lot to say about gratitude and commitment.  Paul, one of the New Testament writers, said he had learned the secret of being content with whatever, whenever. Do you know where he was when he wrote those words? He was sitting in a Roman prison waiting for them to decide when they were going to kill him.  Incredible. The secret?  Faith in Jesus Christ.  He went on to say, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” He was saying his faith in God was enough.  Everything else was gravy. I’m not saying every car in the lot needs to be a Rambler but I am saying one of the best gifts you can give your kids is the gift of gratitude…teaching them to be thankful for simple things…the little things…things like an old Rambler with more Bondo filler than metal.  Teach them to be content.  Of course there’s a catch.  You kinda have to understand that yourself before you can teach them.  Tell you what.  Sometime today why don’t you take time and talk to your Heavenly Father about contentment.  He’ll probably whisper, “I’m enough. Rest in Me. I’ve got this.”  He is, we should, and He does. 

Posted in Family, Grace, life, loving others, Scripture, thankful

Sacred Cows

See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children—and we are!” 1 John 3:1

That can’t be good. The noise came from the church sanctuary and it sounded like trouble—with a capital “T.”  Being a pastor is one of the most challenging and interesting vocations there is.  I have been walking this path for the past 38 years and there is nothing like it.  I’ve experienced the lowest of valleys and the highest mountain peaks and that’s just on Monday morning!  Of course, if you think being a pastor is challenging, you should be a “PK” or pastor’s kid.

PK’s grow up in a fishbowl world.  Many people expect them to be perfect. They are held to standards that are unfair but that can lead to some pretty good stories.  And you know I love a good story.  So one evening, my wife and a couple of the ladies from our church were working in the children’s department.  I believe they were painting and papering.  We had been at the church long enough to build some great relationships but not quite long enough to guarantee survival of “the big one.”

“The big one” is a variety of things that you don’t mess with in a church.  They are also called “sacred cows.”  Now these things don’t moo or eat grass. I think the phrase must refer back to India where cows are worshipped.  Mess with a cow in India and someone is going to mess with you.  One of the jobs of a pastor is to learn what and where the cows are for a church and then avoid them.  It is also the job of the pastor to keep his kids from messing with one.  And that’s where the trouble started.

Judy and the ladies were working hard that evening and not paying much attention to the girls.  My two girls were there as well as the daughter of one of the ladies. The moms were working hard and the kids were playing.  Life was good.  People were happy…and then.  I’m not sure exactly in what order these two events happened but they were very close together.  The first was the sound of kids playing.  It was the sound of kids playing in a swimming pool.  However, First Baptist didn’t have a swimming pool.  But it did have a baptistry…the kind big enough to swim in.

The second sound was not a happy sound.  The second sound was the sound someone makes when a sacred cow is being touched.  The second sound was the sound that pastor’s really, really, don’t like to hear.  This one sounded something like this, “WHO is PLAYING in the baptistry?” Apparently one of the trustees (who was a good friend) had come into the sanctuary and discovered what the moms had also just discovered.  What they discovered …was that the kids had discovered …that the church had a built-in swimming pool.  It was not a pretty scene.

Friend or not, he was really, really upset.  The pastor’s kids were swimming in the baptistry and that was definitely a no-no.  I could hear the cow mooing loud and clear. The moms were traumatized (only later would they laugh), and me, I was just trying to still be the pastor the next day.  But it turns out we had an ace in the hole.  Now an “ace in the hole” is a bit of information or a resource held back until the proper time.  It was time.  Just about then…the trustee’s five-year old granddaughter stuck her head up from the baptistry and smiled at her grandfather. Now it still wasn’t pretty. The kids were still messing with a cow, however, the relationship one of swimmers had with the trustee changed everything.

The bottom line is the kids had a nice swim but never had another one in the indoor poor.  My friend, the trustee, showed grace but I’m sure only after a lecture about indoor swimming pools in Baptist churches.  And me…I got to keep being the pastor. It really turned out to be a great story and over time it just got more and more humorous.  Several years later it was my privilege to officiate at my friend’s funeral. We had many wonderful memories to share that day but I do believe the story of the baptistry topped them all.  Grace and relationships have a way of doing that. It works when kids touch sacred cows and it works when we sin.

You see, when it comes to us and God, we do far worse than touch the sacred…we violate His law and trample His holiness.  It is an ugly scene but then He does the amazing.  He offers forgiveness, He offers grace, unmerited favor, to any person willing to put their faith not in themselves but in His Son Jesus.  That faith results in this incredible relationship where we can call Him Father and He calls us His kids.  The Bible says it like this, “See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children—and we are!” How about that?  He is willing and able to forgive any sin—even swimming in the baptistry—if we believe.  Amazing. So when you find yourself in a hot mess with God, just remember the big truth about grace and relationships.  The first makes the second possible.  And when you get the second you get everything you need.  A place to crawl up and rest and a dearest Daddy that is big enough to conquer your biggest fear and forgive your biggest sin.  After all, He’s got this.

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

A Little Misunderstanding

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 final 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’ve got some pretty crazy stories and a lot of them revolve around little misunderstandings and lack of communication.  One day 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 make you feel better mode.”  For me there are two great fix-alls—humor and food. But sometimes, many times, a person just needs compassion and kindness.  This was one of those times.

I walked into the 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 very sick.  And then she said, “I just want to go home.”  I softy 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 perhaps 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’s 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.  Mama used to say this, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”.  I wonder if Mama 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 right before we speak and ask ourselves, “Is this gracious or attractive?  Is this nice?” I wonder how things would change?  In these dark 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 that is just a setup for regretful words.  Let’s choose option “B.”  Let’s just rest in Him and choose to think before we speak.  After all, He’s got this.

Posted in Family, life, loving others, Scripture

Snake in the Hole

Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.” Psalm 50:15

The story you are about to read is true and it may scar you forever.  When our girls were young, oh, about six and five, we lived in Cobden, Illinois.  We owned a large 100 year old Victorian home which was located on the edge of town.  We had woods near by and of course lots of flower beds.  The church where I pastored was wanting to hire a guy to lead worship and work with the youth.

His name was David and his wife was Sue.  They came and stayed for the weekend and we had them over for supper on Saturday night.  After we had eaten, we were sitting around and chatting.  It was getting close to bedtime so we told the girls it was time for them to go upstairs and get ready for bed.  So, because they were perfect little girls (not), off they went while we continued to visit and chat.  It was just about then chaos broke out.

We heard what sounded like a herd of water buffalo coming down the stairs combined with the sound of a tornado siren going off.  I looked at Judy, she looked at me as we waited to see what the girls had cooked up.  All parents know that when kids are told to get ready for bed there is always a great conspiracy to not do it.  It has gone on for ages.  Sure enough, here they come, screaming at the top of their lungs, “Daddy, there’s a SNAKE in the bathroom!  There’s a SNAKE in the bathroom!”  Really, I mean give me a break. Is that the best that you have?

I try to believe my children but this was just a little far fetched. I started the usual parent stuff, “There’s no snake in the bathroom. You better get right upstairs and get ready for bed.”  There were probably a couple of mild threats that included something about the wrath of God but all to no avail.  They were sticking to their story.  So, off we went to find the nonexistent snake.  Whoever heard of such a thing?  Snake in the bathroom.  Right. Sure.

So, we all tramp upstairs, with David and Sue in tow, to see this mysterious serpent.  I went first not because I was bravest but because Judy made me.  I looked around and thankfully there was no snake.  Then the girls gave us one more small detail.  “It’s in the toilet, Daddy” they said.  Right. Sure.  I tentatively walked over and took a look.  No snake. Yay and then one of the girls said, “Look under the seat, Daddy.”  Well, by now I was sure this was a grand plan to avoid bedtime.  And then I lifted the seat.

There, neatly conformed to the shape of the bowl was indeed a snake.  Yes, he was only about 15 inches long but to me it looked like a giant anaconda and about that time they weren’t the only ones screaming.  I dropped the seat and we all left the bathroom to formulate a plan of attack.  It involved a clothes hanger and a brave soul.  I was elected.  We got a clothes hanger and straightened it out.  The plan was to lift the lid, push the snake into the water and flush. The snake would be sucked down the drain. Crisis solved.  So, I tip-toed over to the toilet, lifted the lid and poked the snake.  It fell into the water and I flushed.

I learned three things about snakes at that moment.  First, they are very buoyant.  Secondly, they swim really well. In an act of desperation, I even tried to hold the snake under the water with the clothes hanger.  Lesson number three.  They can hold their breath for a really long time.  There was only one thing left to do.  Call Bob, our friend and neighbor.  Bob was a biology teacher so he knew about snakes. Bob liked snakes.  Bob wasn’t afraid of snakes.  So we made the call and in a few minutes Bob came to the rescue.  He assured us that it was harmless and he reached down and picked up the snake.  Bob was a little weird like that.

The girls when to bed and David and Sue went on to take the job at the church. At least they knew we obviously didn’t practice snake handling. For years…Rebecca rarely visited the bathroom without first checking under the seat. Judy and I learned to be a bit less suspicious of our girls’ bedtime antics. And Bob…well although he lives an hour away, I keep his number of speed-dial.  It always pays off to have a friend like Bob. I keep God on speed dial too.  In all the craziness that night there was a lot of praying going on.  And like Bob, actually even better than Bob, God is always there. He doesn’t care if it something crazy like a snake in the toilet or a pandemic in the world…He can handle it. God tells us in the Bible that when we get in trouble, when we don’t know what to do or when we simply don’t know the answer give Him a holler and He will come to the rescue. You know,  I’m glad for friends like Bob. I’m especially glad for a Friend like Jesus. He’s never surprised when I call…never too busy…never annoyed.  He just whispers, “No problem, Dewayne. Take it easy. You can rest in me. I’ve got this.”

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, Scripture

My Name is Sue

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” Proverbs 17:17

Johnny Cash sang it. “My name is Sue…now you’re going to die.” Well, his name wasn’t Sue but it was Francis.  Like Sue…it was a somewhat unusual name for a man and Francis was an unusual guy. I met Francis when I went to pastor at the LaMonte Baptist Church.  The church had three deacons and they were named Leo, Francis, and Floyd.  All three of them were special guys and I grew to love each one of them for who they were.  I was a very young, inexperienced pastor.  I was new at the pastoring thing.  So new, in fact, that when I mowed my grass at the parsonage, across the street from the church, I would wear dress pants.  I wasn’t sure if pastors were allowed to wear jeans so close to the church.  They can.

So, even back in 1984, Judy loved flowers and the parsonage was woefully short in that department.  In fact, I’m not sure there were any flowers in the entire yard.  Well, one day Judy declared that she wanted a flower bed.  She began to actually plan the “where’s and how’s” of the flower bed.  If it would have been me,  I would have grabbed some flowers, dug a hole, stuffed them in, and added dirt.  Good luck.  Not Judy.  She decided that the flower bed should go along the front of the house and that it need to be raised.  That means we needed to find some timbers to build up the height of the bed.  Again, after a little thought, she decided that railroad ties would do the job.

Somehow, I casually mentioned to Francis that Judy wanted a flower bed. Now Francis was the “go-to guy” when it came to things like the parsonage.  He had already led the charge in installing a brick flue so we could have a wood burner so he was the natural choice for the flower bed.  I said, “Francis, Judy would like to have some railroad ties for her new flower bed”.  Francis didn’t miss a beat.  He said, “I’ll pick you up tomorrow at five.”

Well, sure as shooting, the next day at five, Francis pulled up in his big ole dually, white Dodge pickup truck.  You know there are pickup trucks too pretty to get dirty and then there are real pickup trucks.  Francis had a real pickup truck. I climbed inside and we headed toward Sedalia the largest town nearby.  I figured we were heading to the hardware store there to purchase some ties.  I was wrong.  You see, there was a railroad that ran parallel to the main highway.  We went down the road a ways and then…Francis turned.

Yup, he turned on a small road and then immediately took a right.  We had arrived at the railroad tie store only it wasn’t a store…it was the factory.  I found myself in railroad tie heaven.  You see, the railroad company had recently replaced their ties and the old ones were strewn all down the rails.  As far as you could see there were railroad ties. I was just amazed.  I should have been afraid.

Francis said, “Preacher, how many ties do you think you will need?”  Well, I told him I thought ten or twelve would be enough.”  So we started going along the tracks and selecting the best ones for the flower bed.  Just like a carpenter would choose the best 2×4’s at the lumber yard, we picked the best ties.  This was just awesome.  And then it happened.  I heard the sound of distant train whistle.

Now I didn’t think a thing about it. I always was a bit gullible and way too trusting. I had just assumed that Francis had called the local railroad office, told them the church needed a few of their old ties and got permission to get some.  I was wrong.  I heard the whistle the second time and it was decidedly closer. I noticed that Francis had picked up the pace…he was definitely moving a little faster.  I still didn’t think a thing.  I just assumed he didn’t want to be that close to the tracks when the train went by.  Well, that was kinda true.

The whistle blew again and this time it must have been about a mile down the tracks and Francis said it, “Preacher, we gotta go.”  I did sense a bit of urgency in his voice but I kinda thought it was a safety thing.  It turned out it was a bit more than that.  As we got back in his truck I said, “Francis, what’s the hurry?” I was thinking we could just move the truck further away from the tracks and we could even wave at the crew as they went by.  “Preacher, you don’t think they are giving us these ties, do you?”  Wait.  What?

Yup…I just discovered that we were stealing ties from the railroad.  It wasn’t a matter of safety it was a matter of not going to jail. So, Francis cranked the engine and mashed the gas and off we went just before the train came by. In the back of the truck were a bunch of railroad ties and in the front were two guys.  One was a preacher, one was a deacon and both of them were guilty as sin. One knew all about it and the other was just learning but both were tie stealing criminals. Francis was smiling and I was wondering if I was going to jail.  But somehow it all seemed like a great adventure.

Well, we got back to the parsonage and we built the flower bed. Francis helped with that too.  Years later when I would return to the church to preach, share at a funeral or maybe just drive through town, I would look and see the ties.  I didn’t remember the sin (I’m sure I confessed it. God had forgotten it and I figure I should too.) No, I remembered a crusty old deacon, but more than that, a friend who wanted to help.  His way wasn’t ethical but all these years later, his willingness, his own brand of love is still lodged in my heart.  The Book says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” You know there are fancy friends, and rich friends and maybe even friends in positions of power.  And then there are the Francis kind of friends. Of course if you’re gonna steal railroad ties, you definitely need the Jesus kind of friend.  As a matter of fact, He says, “go steal no more” in Ephesians 4:28, and I didn’t. His specialty is forgiving when you mess up and He’s the best friend of all. He’s the kind of friend that wouldn’t have frowned or pretend He didn’t know you when He saw you in Walmart.  No, He’s the stay by your side friend.  Through thick or thin, jail or not, He would say, “Don’t worry…just rest in Me.  I’ve got this.” Now that’s my kind of friend.