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

“Firsts”

God is not a man, so He does not lie. He is not human, so He does not change His mind. Has He ever spoken and failed to act?  Has He ever promised and not carried it through?”  Numbers 23:19

Saddle up your horses, boys, this is the great adventure.  I was 23 and Judy was 19 when we got on a plane and headed to Germany to live for three years.  Of all our adventures this one was one of the most special because it was the first.  And speaking of firsts, it was a series of many firsts for us.  It was our first trip out of the United States.  As great as our three years in Germany were—it was great to finally come home.  You know they say that there is no place like home—and they are correct.

I am a gadget guy and Germany held a couple of great gadget firsts.  First, if you were in the service (USAF) and went overseas anywhere—you bought a BIG stereo.  I had speakers the size of end tables and a rack of equipment that would make any audiophile jealous.  Receiver, equalizer, cassette recorder/player, reel to reel player/recorder was just the short list of my stereo gadgetry and I was proud of every piece.   I remember coming up with different sale pitches to Judy on why I just had to have whatever was next.  I was pretty good at it too.

It was in Germany that I got my first digital watch.  One of the pilots in my squadron called me over one day and said, “Hey Sergeant Taylor, check this out.”  It was a silver Casio LED digital watch with buttons and a screen.  I was instantly enamored. “Where did you get it, sir?” was the question and the J.C. Penney catalog was the answer.  Three things happened.  First, I checked it out—$69.00 (and trust me that was a chuck of money); two, convince Judy I had to have it.  Last, order it and wait a three weeks for the order to be mailed to America and the watch to make the return trip.  Finally it came. That same watch is $4.99 today.  Imagine that.

It was also in Germany that I learned the wonder of the microwave and got my first one.  There was only one brand in those days—an Amana Radar Range.  This is how it happened.  A senior NCO who attended our church told me one day, “I can boil water in a paper cup.”  I said, “No you can’t” and He said “Yes, I can.”  That resulted in a trip to his house where he promptly  put a paper cup in this magic machine and proceeded to boil water in a paper cup.  Done deal.  Had to have one. Amazingly, I was in the Base Exchange (the store on base) and there it was—an Amana Radar Range on clearance no less—for $370.00 dollars. Three things happened.  I convinced Judy we could not live without this modern marvel.  Two, I put it on layaway (remember that?). Lastly, I waited six weeks for three paydays to scrape up enough money to bring it home.  Finally we did, but you know you can only boil so many cups of water before it loses its pizzazz.

There was one more first thing that we got in Germany and it had to go into layaway too.  Midway through our last year in Germany, we learned that Judy was expecting our first daughter.  This time the layaway was for nine months.  We left Germany in August of 1980 and Rebecca Dawn was born in Missouri on January 24, 1981.  Unlike the microwave, she kept us pretty amazed day in and day out.  We were so amazed that we decided to get another one and just 19 months after we got Rebecca out of layaway, Jennifer Lynne came along.  I have to say we decided to wait awhile to do that again but it wasn’t for lack of pizzazz.

The firsts didn’t stop in Germany either.  I can still remember the day we discovered something called Walmart.  We were fresh home from three years in Germany and were setting up our home in Warrensburg, Missouri.  We needed a trash can or something and went with what we were familiar with—TG&Y. It was a five and dime kind of story that we had in South Georgia.  Judy called it “Tator, Gator, and Yator.” Don’t ask me why, but it stuck.  So anyway, TG&Y didn’t have what we were looking for so I asked a clerk to be sure we weren’t missing it.  She confirmed they didn’t have it and suggested we try the Walmart down the road.  To this day, I remember my reply, “What’s a Walmart?”  Apparently while we were gone to Germany this new store started sweeping the Midwest and then the country. In 1980, Walmart 296 stores and today there are 11,501.  How amazing is that?

What makes life so interesting is that there is always one more first. Things change—the old moves to the rearview mirror as the next new thing appears in the windshield.  And do you know what?  I’m good with that.  But I am also glad that there are things that remain.  Tonight I saw another beautiful sunset personally painted by the God of the galaxies.  It was amazing.  Tonight, Judy once again confirmed that she liked me and loved me.  I thought that was pretty cool.  I told her she had way too much invested to start over.  She told me she didn’t want to anyway. Nice. But it doesn’t stop there.  In fact, that’s just the beginning.

You see,  the Bible says “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” The answer is No and No.  He is faithful…He can be trusted. I’m glad we have a God that doesn’t change nor change His mind.  He loves me and you today and He will love us tomorrow.  A zillion, billion years from today—He will still be loving me.  That’s good to know.  It’s good to know that tonight I will lay my head down on my pillow and rest—rest in knowing that I’m in His care.  I am not subject to circumstance, accident or happenstance.  He holds me, and He holds you—tight.  And tomorrow I’m going to wake up—either here or in an awesome place called heaven—my final first.  Either way, no matter what, He’s got this—and that is enough.

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

Facing Down Mortality

Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in Me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in Me and believes in Me will never ever die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26

I look and see my mortality.  Now don’t think for a moment this is one of those “Debbie Downer” stories.  In fact, in a way, it might be the best news you will hear all day, all week, well, for always.  So, I am sixty-six years old.  I know, I can’t believe it either. And all around me are signs that I am mortal.  Remember that—all of us are mortal. I have been at my present position as a pastor for 20 years.  I came to the church I serve in 2000 when I was 46 years old.  I must have dozed off because just like that 20 years of life have ticked off the calendar.  My children are married, I have eight grandchildren and Judy and I have now been married 44 years.  And the best part?  It has been, and is, a great ride.

But then I did the math.  When, and if, the next 20 years tick off the clock called life, I will be 86 years old.  I find that astounding.  We Taylor boys don’t have a real good track record when it comes to longevity.  Three of my four brothers, all older than me, have already moved to heaven.  Our clock is ticking and we don’t know when the last tick will come.  It is a sobering thought.  But stay with me.

I live my life by the calendar.  I speak to my church every Wednesday and every Sunday. It seems I no more finish one message before it is time to deliver the next.  The weeks fly by.  Every first of the month I speak on the radio on a local program called “The Baptist Hour.”  My tag line is, “Can you believe another month has come and gone?” And the answer each month is, “No, I really can’t.” I remember on the first of February, after a speedy January, I made a joke about it being Christmas before we know it.  Well, next week is the first of October and Christmas is indeed just around the corner. Time flies by.  It is a sobering thought.  But stay with me.

Part of “The Baptist Hour” is the reading of the funeral arrangements of those who recently died.  Invariably there are several, often more than a few.  I’m learning that too often the names being read belong to people my age or younger.  Recently an acquaintance in our small town suddenly died—a massive heart attack.  He was younger than me.  That really caused me to stop and ponder.  It was a sobering thought.  But stay with me.

Here’s what I am learning.  Time is relative.  We are eternal beings made and destined to spend forever somewhere.  That destination doesn’t depend on good or bad, church or no church, religion or not.  Does that surprise you?  You see, heaven isn’t for good people and hell isn’t for bad people. No, where we spend eternity is about forgiveness of sin and that forgiveness is a free gift from God to anyone…anyone…who asks.  I believe faith in Jesus is the only way to heaven. I know that sounds narrow but when you consider that God invites everyone to the party—well, it is really pretty broad. We read in the Bible that the payment for sin is death and radically Jesus came for one purpose—to willingly die and pay that price.

So, if we are eternal beings and if we place our trust, our faith in this one of a kind, God-man named Jesus, that means that when we die we can spend eternity in this place called heaven.  When Jesus said that if anyone would believe in Him they would never die—that’s what He meant. And then He closes with that all important question, “Do you believe this?”

With Jesus in the equation, death isn’t the end, it is a beginning.  That might sound wacky to you.  However, before you chuck it out I challenge you to check it out.  Get a copy of the Bible and read the four different accounts or stories about Jesus—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. You might find yourself intrigued and amazed.

I read a true story yesterday about a man’s perception of his mortality. This guy happened to be a minister and he went to the doctor and got some sobering news.  He was terminally ill with no chance of recovery. The doctor told him he had about a year to live.  He left the doctor’s office and went to one of his favorite spots—you know, to kinda take it in. Now, allow me to let the man tell his story. “I looked at the river in which I rejoice, and I looked at the stately trees that are always God’s own poetry to my soul. And I said, ‘I may not see you many more times, but mountain, I shall be alive when you are gone; and river, I shall be alive when you cease running toward the sea.’”

Wow…what wonderfully strong words.  If this whole God story is true, and I honestly believe it is, then people who trust that Jesus is the path to God and heaven, will outlive the mountains and the rivers. We may change addresses but we will live forever.  I know this is probably a different kind of story than we usually share together, but I hope it will make us think about what happens next. For myself and so many others, it makes all the sense in the world—and beyond.  I’m grateful for the eternal part but I also love the part of the story that says He is with me now—COVID mess and all.  I can rest in Him and trust in Him because, He’s got this.

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

Here’s a Tip

For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NLT)

You’ve got to be kidding me.  I started working real jobs when I was fifteen.  Back in those days you had to be at least fifteen to get a work permit and a social security number.  When that happened, I started working at a restaurant as a dishwasher for 75 cents an hour.  Later I moved up in the world working as a “bag boy” at a grocery store.

It’s funny how certain memories stay with you from your early years.  I remember mom and dad driving me to and from work since I wasn’t old enough to drive.  A little later I finally got my license and I remember the thrill and anxiety as I drove myself the six or seven miles to the “Food Fair.”  My responsibilities were to bag the people’s groceries and carry them to their car. I can’t remember how much I made per hour but I believe it was bumped up from the restaurant gig to a whopping $1.25 plus tips. The standard tip, if you got one, was a quarter.  It was a big day, like “ring the bell” big, if you got a dollar.  It was a rare thing—something akin to winning the lottery. Well, one Saturday “it” happened.  No, not that “it.” It was this bag boy’s worse nightmare.

Saturday was the big shopping day at the grocery store so we were busy.  All the lanes were open and we were bagging like crazy—cans on the bottom and bread on top. It wasn’t uncommon to scan the lines to get what appeared to be the best bagging gig.  You wanted a customer who looked generous with an order big enough to get a tip but not too big.  You know, the whole balance of the universe thing.  Then I saw her. A lady was in line and she had four or five carts full of groceries. She must have only shopped for groceries once a year.  This one was a gamble but it could be the golden dollar tip or even more.  I was in.

Off we went.  The cashier was ringing it up and I was bagging it. On and on it went.  Finally, after what seemed hours, the last item was rang up and in the bag.  The order was somewhere over $140.  Keep in mind this was 1970 and that was a lot of money and a lot of groceries. Payday was in sight.  And then she said it, “I think you overcharged me. I want to see the manager.” Well, this was not going to be good.  He came over and the decision was made to re-ring the entire order. Bummer.

I began to take each item out of the dozens of bags and the cashier began to re-ring the order.  After a year or so (ok, it only seemed like a year) the new total was in and it was actually more than the first time. Good grief.  Well, she wasn’t happy but she did pay the bill. Off we went with a “wagon-train” of grocery carts and I filled the back of her “ark” sized car and back seat.  All I could think of was dollars…that was a mistake.  She gave me the grand total, the whopping amount of—nothing.  Zero. Nada. All that was given was a curt thank-you and I was left standing there. No tip. No big payday. Nothing. I was disappointed and devastated.  I had taken the gamble and lost.  Like Kenny Roger’s song, I should have known when to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em, and when to walk away”.

Well, that story wedged its way into my memory.  I know she wasn’t pleased, but it wasn’t my fault. Yet the kid who’s “take home” was hugely supplemented by quarters was left holding the bag—no pun intended.  That might be the reason that I have learned to be sure and thank the ones who serve me.  Just like me back then, those who serve us today are largely dependent on our generosity.  I remember my daughter worked at a restaurant for a time.  She has one of those really good personalities and I know she did a great job.  But she told me one day how the ones who tipped the least were the Jesus crowd.  I said, “Are you sure?”  And she affirmed what she said. Hmmm.

A friend of mine told a story of a customer who had a $36.00 tab and left a dollar tip.  Too many times there is nothing.  By now you are saying, “Dewayne, have you lost your mind writing about tipping?”  I’m not writing about tipping…I’m writing about generosity.  You see, if anyone should be generous it should be the Jesus people.  We have experienced the generosity of the greatest giver of all—our Dearest Daddy—who gave His Son so that we could become family.  If we have experienced such grace, shouldn’t we extend such grace—such generosity?  I think so.

It has been said that we Jesus people are the only Bible some people will ever read. It just seems to make sense that we should make sure we are turning to the right pages in that Bible as we do life.  And by the way, that mixed up order, that slow order probably rests on someone besides the server.  And by the way, God doesn’t just show His generosity when we get it right—He’s generous regardless.  So, Jesus person, Christian, believer—whatever name you go by, let’s be sure that the example we set for those around us—whether they serve us at a restaurant or pick up our trash—point to Jesus. When that seems hard—just rest in Him.  If it seems impossible—don’t worry, do it anyway, He’s got this.

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

Dog Beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

History and Hope

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35

It was a bright, wonderfully normal September morning and then everything changed.  Nineteen years ago today our country found itself under attack by terrorists on a scale that was beyond almost everyone’s imagination. More amazingly it played out on national television for all of us to witness and mourn.

That morning I walked into the church office like dozens of times before…only this time was different.  As I entered the door the secretary asked if I had heard that a plane had crashed into one of the world trade buildings.  “Really?” I asked almost casually.” “Was it a big one or what?”  She didn’t know and then I went into my office and slowly the news begin to spread.  A large airliner had been hijacked and flown into one of the towers.  Shortly, again on live television, we were shocked beyond belief as a second airliner flew into the other tower.  And then—both towers collapsed.  Even as I write this it doesn’t seem possible—but many of us saw it with our own eyes. Later another airliner crashed into the Pentagon. And there was more. Another hijacked aircraft heading to yet another target was taken back from the terrorists by a bunch of heroes. It crashed into a Pennsylvania field saving hundreds or maybe even thousands of lives.

The days that followed were like something we have never seen before.  All flights in over the United States were grounded.  New York, ground zero, was shutdown.  People huddled over televisions soaking up any and all news and in the process becoming more and more afraid.  To many it seemed like the end of the world as we knew it.  And I suppose in some ways it was. We needed a miracle—we needed an encounter with the living God.

In a matter of a couple of days we witnessed something else.  We saw something that was tremendously encouraging and a short time later something that was tremendously sad.  First, we witnessed a coming together of the two major political parties in America.  We watched as Democrats and Republicans stood on the Capital steps together and sang “God Bless America.”  We were amazed.  We were encouraged.  It was one of our finest hours in the modern era and it was woefully short.  Within a day, the finger pointing started as one party started blaming the other and sadly we found ourselves divided.  In a time when we desperately needed to be together we were apart.

Fast forward 19 years and we find ourselves in yet another extremely difficult time.  It is totally different and yet eerily similar.  We are facing circumstances that have not been seen in modern times.  The death toll is higher and the enemy faceless.  And this time…we skipped the moment of unity and went straight to the finger pointing. We are a nation divided when we desperately need to be a nation united. Just like 19 years ago we are in desperate need of God and His healing power. The only hope lies in the living Hope—Jesus Christ.

God has put in place the army He intends to use.  It is not Democrat, it is not Republican, it is you and I—it is His church-the body of Christ.  If there was ever a time when followers of Jesus need to act like followers of Jesus—it is now.  It is not a time for bigotry or nor is it a time for fussing over things that don’t matter.  It is not a time for circling the wagons and defending the fort.  It is a time to share the love, the kindness, the grace that every Jesus follower has experienced.  It is time to give what we have been given.

I don’t know what this world is going to look like over the next few years.  What I do know is that if this army of Jesus people will be Jesus to the world around us—it can, it will be a better place.  Will it be perfect?  Of course not—after all experiencing God’s grace doesn’t make us perfect—it makes us forgiven and forgiven people forgive others. Jesus said “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  Wow—there is so much power—so much purpose—in that one statement.

It has been said that if a people does not learn from history they can only be destined to repeat it.  In some ways I’m afraid that has become a reality.  But it is not too late.  So Jesus people, people who call Creator God, Dearest Father, let’s determine today to give up our fear, our anxiety, our pride and our prejudice and let’s rest in Him.  He is big enough, He is strong enough, He is compassionate enough and believe me, He’s got this.

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

Content–Almost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choose Real

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Matthew 11:28

I couldn’t believe my eyes.  One of the earthquakes from the corona virus was the total disruption of sports.  I’m not a big sports guy, but I do have my favorites.  I really enjoy college football and I can’t believe that several conferences will not be playing ball this fall.  I am a Notre Dame football fan (and yes, I suppose it is a little weird that a Baptist preacher’s favorite team is from a Catholic school but hey, it is what it is.) I remarked to several folks that I’m not sure we can have fall with college football.

I was surely surprised when March Madness when by the wayside. Once again, I like college ball because for the most part, it is sports at it’s purest.  I knew things were pretty serious when they cancelled this spring classic. Now all of the rest, well, there’s always next year.  It seems from where I sit that so many of the professional sports are about money and not about the love of whatever game they are playing.

When professional sports started trying to come back, I was amused at the “creative” measures the leagues used to get things going.  The NBA (National Basketball Association) did the bubble thing in Orlando—and I’m really not sure what that is about, the NHL (National Hockey League) and their attempt to have a kinda, sorta, season and playoffs.  NASCAR (I’m not sure what all that stands for but I do like what they stand for) has done pretty well.  Finally, there is MLB or Major League Baseball.  They are playing a 60 game season and then some kind of playoff system crowned with a sorta, kinda world series.

I was watching a MLB game the other day at my son-in-law’s house. I know one of the teams was the Philadelphia Phillies and the game was being played in their park.  Here’s where it gets interesting.  First, as we watched this game, they had filled the entire lower level of the stadium with cardboard fan look-a-likes. If I understand this correctly people pay to have their picture sitting in these seats.  It gets better.

So here are the lower stands stuffed to the gills with fake people and then to complete the “ruse” they pipe in fake crowd noise to go along with the fake people.  I’m sure I am not the only person going, “what?”  I’m not sure what the purpose of all that is but one thing is certain—it’s not real. I am sure that is perfectly fine in these crazy times.  In fact, now that I think about it, it is probably perfectly normal for these crazy times.  It’s ok…as long as it stays in the park.

Sadly, we live in a world where more and more people are wearing “invisible” masks.  First, no pun intended and second, not the masks that protect you.  Perhaps uncomfortable with who they are or what people might think of them, they feel the need to hide behind something or pretend to be something they are not.  Like an actor on a stage they are simply playing a part.  I get that because people can be harsh and judgmental. But let me share something that just might help.  There is a God who loves you unconditionally and He is waiting for you to come and join His family.  Once He becomes your Father, no amount of failure, no amount of sin can separate you from Him.  It gets better.

Not only will He love you unconditionally, He is comfortable with the way He made you.   You don’t need to pretend, you don’t need to disguise—you can be you.  And when you mess up, ask and He will forgive you. When you are lonely, He will always be there. When you are afraid, He will be your Mighty Warrior and when you need to be real—you can be.  He will be your BFF—your best friend forever—literally.  So, weary one, come to Jesus.  He tells us that if we will come to Him, He will give us rest.  And when we are facing the giants of our past, our todays or our tomorrows—He is big enough.  After all, He’s got this.

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

Settled

For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

Well, the issue is finally settled. It is really a difficult thing to be the baby of the family especially when it is obvious that after seven previous tries mom and dad finally got it right.  Yup…that was me.  Number eight in a litter of eight.  Sometimes, because I was the baby of eight, my other brothers and sisters got a little jealous.

One of the stories that I was raised with was the fact that I really wasn’t a natural born part of the family.  In fact, they told me that mama and daddy had found me in a ditch in the poor part of town and felt sorry for me and brought me home.  Now I understand how that story got started.  I mean I was so much cuter and smarter than my brothers and sisters it seemed pretty apparent that I was an outsider. Yup, they would rag on me big time but it didn’t bother me. I knew I was special.

I grew up and the story about me being “found” kind of faded away. I knew it was all a joke, but every once in a while, it give me pause.  Hmmm, what if, I wonder, could it be?  Naw…I was pretty sure, it was not true.  As time passed and technology grew, someone started a company that would allow you to check your DNA.  The results would tell you where you were from and where your ancestors lived.  One of my older brothers decided to spend the money and have his checked. The results were lack luster.

I always envisioned being related to William Wallace or some other great hero.  But when his results came in it turned out that we only had a 17% chance of being from Ireland or Scotland. That means there was about a one in five chance that I had an Irish brogue hidden somewhere in me and that was not enough for me to go and buy a kilt! A whopping 83% was plain ole English.  Yup…right there in Northern Europe.  I guess my ancestors got mad at the king or queen and took a ship to America.

But then I thought, “Well, those are his results but are they my results?”  I mean if the “we found you in a ditch story” was true then his story couldn’t be mine.  So, guess what?  For Father’s Day, Judy spent the money and I was able to spit in a tube and send my DNA off in the mail.  It took several weeks but guess what?  Yup, you guessed it.  My results were exactly the same as my brother’s.  What that really means is that we had the same father and mother and I was the best looking and smartest because mom and dad finally got it right.  Smile.

I’m really just pulling your leg.  I knew I was part of the family, there is a whole lot of family resemblance in me.  I also knew that old story was just a joke but I always enjoyed playing along.  It made me feel kinda…special.  As you have heard before…my brothers and sisters called me “precious”—mainly because I was.  Smile.  But I want you to know that you are special too.  We all are.  We are all wonderful creations of God.  Like someone said, “God doesn’t make junk.”

I was born into the Taylor clan by an act of God’s grace.  Period.  I could have been born anywhere or at anytime, but by His grace I was born to Alston and Leslie back in 1954. That wasn’t the only time I experienced His grace.  I was born another time too, back on October 26, 1976.  That was the day I was born again and adopted into the family of God.  You see, each person who trusts Christ is in the family by a new birth (that’s where we get our spiritual DNA) but also by the power of adoption. That’s where we get all the rights and privileges of a full grown son. From the moment I believed in Jesus, I had all the rights of a person who has known Jesus for decades.  Amazing.

So, I’m a Taylor down to my core…my DNA proves it.  But I am also a “tailor-made” (I couldn’t resist) child of God.  Born again by His grace and adopted into the family as His son.  There is no higher privilege than that.  And it is an open invitation.  God invites each and every person into the family if they are willing to believe and trust in His Son.  It is all a matter of faith and His grace.  His Book says, “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast.”

I know I use that verse often, but it just never grows old.  I am a child of God and He is my Dearest Daddy. Not because of who I am, but because of His love for me and His amazing grace.  How about that?

If you should ever wonder who you really belong to, can I make a suggestion?  Why not settle the issue and become a child of His?  You will never wander or wonder again.  He’s just waiting for you to come to Him and rest.  He wants you to know He’s got this, for now and for all eternity.

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

Salty Watermelon and Sweet Grits

Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another.” Romans 12:4-5

It just doesn’t make any sense.  I am from the South and we know how to do food.  There are two foods that are mainstays.  They are grits and watermelon.  From my perspective you don’t mess with Texas and you don’t mess with grits and you don’t mess with watermelon.  Yet, there it is as plain as day.  And, for goodness sake, it is in my family.

My wife Judy, has long been a fan of watermelon.  I mean she isn’t friends with watermelon, she loves it.  And just like me, she loves a sweet watermelon.  When we were growing up, watermelons were just about the size of a small blimp, weighing up to 30 and 40 pounds.  Most of them were as sweet as sugar water.  There was not a question if a melon was going to be sweet, it was just a matter of how sweet it was going to be!  Those were the days.

However, somewhere along the way watermelons changed.  Most of them are now the size of basketballs and weigh-in at a feather weight of 12-15 pounds.  And it seems the only way to get a sweet watermelon is to inject it with sugar water.  Perhaps that might be the reason Judy has gotten confused about how to make a melon taste sweeter.  Someone has cast an evil spell upon her.  For many years now, she has been convinced that putting salt—that’s right salt—on watermelon somehow makes it sweeter.  What?  Listen, I’ve tried this, and the only thing salt does to watermelon is make it salty.

I’ve tried to remove this evil spell but to no avail.  And she even uses it against me.  She will sometimes cut up a watermelon and then sprinkle…or dump…salt all over it.  She knows then that the melon is all hers.  It is a devious plan indeed.  But that is what happens when you mess with melons.

Now the second problem is as bad.  Everyone knows that grits are not cream of wheat and not oatmeal …so you do not…and I repeat DO NOT…put sugar on grits.  It is a travesty of justice and some would say very close to a sin.  If God had wanted grits to be sweet, He would have made them that way.  I have a very good friend who has been mesmerized with a spell and he is convinced that sugar goes on grits.  It is a sad tale indeed.  And the crazy part is, he is wonderful cook.  I think it just goes to show that even the best cooks can be deceived.

You might ask, “Well, what goes on grits?”  That would be salt, pepper, and butter and lots of all three.  A good bowl of grits should slide down your throat like shoes on melting ice, raise your blood pressure by 10 points, and have a nice pepper burn.  But they should not be sweet…ever…never.  Now there are other acceptable variations such as cheese (oh, yes) bacon bits (I can taste it now!) and of course shrimp.  If you have never had cheese grits or shrimp and grits, you need to repent right away and go try it.  You won’t regret it. It is as fine as frog hair…and that is pretty fine.

Now I have learned (actually, I am still learning) that someone can believe that you need to put salt on watermelon and sugar on grits and still be your friend.  That becomes really important if you happen to be married to them.  You see, we need to learn that we don’t need to agree on everything.  If we would practice that, the world would be a better place for sure.  Now, not that I have ever had this problem, but sometimes people tend to get a little stubborn.  We tend to think that there is only one way and that is our way.  You know, kinda like when you think you don’t put salt on watermelon or, gulp, sugar on grits.  Oops, I think I just shot myself in the foot.  I knew if I wrote long enough it would happen.

The Book tell us, “Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another.” In other words, it is ok if Judy likes salt on her watermelon, as long as she keeps the salt on her side of the plate.  And my friend who likes sugar on his grits may need to go to rehab, but he can still be my friend.  Let’s not make mountains out of molehills, especially in these difficult days.

I’m probably gonna have to try this salt and sugar thing at least one more time.  If nothing else it will show that I am trying to understand. That’s what Jesus would want me to do and that’s what He does for me.  When I come up with some strange combinations in life, well, He just smiles and tries to show me the right way.  He keeps me from doing something too crazy…like eating chili and eggs.  It’s good to know that if I do, He’s got that too.

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

I Was Moved, I Was Grateful

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.  The other evening 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 peachy.  I’ve already put in a request for strawberry next.  So 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 the newly rededicated “Little Arlington.”  It was dusk and the lights were on and I was so impressed with the great work the crew had done.  One of those was our own Jacob Palmer.  Great job, Jacob.  But I was also impressed with what it represented.  Sacrifice.  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 with one story.  And for both the story was 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 of 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.