Posted in fear, forgiveness, friends, Grace, gratitude, life, missions, prayer, Scripture, travel, Trials, wisdom

Big Rivers, Hungry Crocs & Fat Hippos

But if you don’t do this, you will certainly sin against the Lord; be sure your sin will catch up with you.”  Numbers 32:23

How do things like this happen?  If you are older than three, you have probably already bumped into something that got bigger than you intended.  Whether you are a toddler reaching for the cookie jar or a teenager thinking no one will ever know or in a marriage pushing the limits…well, you’ve probably had that emptiness in your stomach when the cookie jar crashes, or dad says, “Son, we need to talk” or you come home to an empty house because word got around.  How does it happen?

Really the answer to that question is older than time and bigger than a short story with a big truth or, for that matter, a thick book full of truths but maybe we can at least cast a little light in the arena.  Judy and I have been to East Africa and the country of Uganda more than a few times.  We launch our trips to the islands of Lake Victoria from the small town of Jinga.  We enter town, with the lake on our right, and cross a small channel that leads to a decent size dam.  On the other side of the dam, and no more than fifty yards wide, is the origin of the mighty Nile River.

Now trust me, if you saw the Mighty Nile at this point you wouldn’t be too impressed.  It wanders through the Ugandan countryside on its way north before eventually emptying into the Mediterranean Sea.  The journey is somewhere over 4,100 miles and slowly the river grows and grows until it is almost two miles wide at some points.  Judy and I had the opportunity to take a ride on the Nile and besides being impressed by its size, I was more than impressed with the very large and very hungry, crocodiles that call the Nile home.  Oh, and did I mention the animal that causes more deaths in Africa than any other animal? It might not be what you think—the hippopotamus and there are lots of them in the Nile. Lots.

So, we begin with something that is relatively small that becomes large and we have something relatively benign that is dangerously filled with things that want to eat you or stomp you to death.  Either way—something little becomes big and dangerous.  And that, dear friend, is how things get out of control in our lives too.  It starts as something we think we can handle, something that almost, almost, seems safe and before long—we have a monster on our hands.  Let’s revisit the Nile.

If you were to start floating down the Nile in your little boat the first chunk of your journey would be easy.  But somewhere upstream (since the Nile flows north) there is something that will kill you—Murchison Falls.  The entire Nile River is funneled down into a rock channel that is only 23 feet wide before the water violently plummets 141 feet.  Go there and you are dead—no exceptions.  It’s the same results when we don’t pay attention to the tension that sometimes occurs in our lives.  When that tension is there…it is there for a reason.  Andy Stanley gives two good pieces of advice.  First, pay attention to the tension; and two, if something bothers you, let it bother you.  That’s good stuff.

So, the big truth today is we sometimes need to hit the pause button.  We also need to understand that we are not the exception to the rule…we can get hurt, we can create a disaster, and yes, someone will find out. Oh, by the way, do you really think it is a secret from God? The Old Testament gives us a sound warning—be sure your sins will find you out and often, when it does, well, its gonna leave a mark—a bruise—or worse.

As you journey today or tomorrow, you might want to listen for the Whisperer whispering His gentle words of warning.  Don’t ignore them…He knows truth and He knows consequences.  Our sin cost His Son His life.  However, if we ask, He will be there to help and to guide. No matter how big the crocs, or how fat the hippos, or how violent the falls—you can trust the fact that, “He’s got this.”    Bro. Dewayne

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

Their Best

Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12

It was our second trip to West Africa.  We were back on the dry sandy desert fringes of Niger doing a food distribution.  It was such a barren land made worse by an ongoing drought.  The people would do just about anything for food.  While we had prepared to feed many of the people, truthfully, we couldn’t feed them all.  So, families with the greatest need were chosen.  We would go to their villages the day before the food distribution and meet with them and do some registration work before the distribution.

It is hard to describe the poverty there.  Simply put, most of the people had nothing.  They had little food and little water but something amazing happened everywhere we went.  We would gather with the leaders and the people in their village.  We would give them a word of greeting and then they would greet us.  All of this, of course, was done with the help of interpreters.  After a while, we would complete the necessary paperwork and finalize details for them to come to main village the next day.  And then, it would be time to say goodbye for the day.

This was a repeat of the greeting we had done when we arrived.  They would graciously thank us for coming and we would graciously thank them for allowing us to come.  Then it happened…every time.  These incredibly poor people would present us with gifts.  Often it was some sort of leather craft decorated according to their customs and their people group.  It was such a gracious act of kindness and we always left feeling incredibly blessed.  They who had so little gave to us who had so much.

It was the last appointment of the day.  We drove and drove—it was more than several kilometers.  When we arrived at the site, we realized it wasn’t a village it was just a meeting place.  The people we were to meet were truly nomads.  Someone had set up a large tent made from skins and rugs to offer some shade from the searing Saharan Desert sun.  When we arrived, there was one or two people there but soon many more arrived and the area under the tent was filled with five white guys and a bunch of men whose skin was tough like leather and tanned a deep brown.  Then we really saw it.

In the middle of the tent and now surrounded by people sat a medium sized metal bowl.  In the bowl was what can only be described as dirty, brown water.  As I looked at the bowl you could see something swimming.  It was the larva from some sort of insect native to Niger. I assumed that perhaps this was for us to wash our hands though I was quite certain my hands were cleaner than the water in the bowl.  I would soon find out that the water wasn’t for washing.

Soon the greeting started.  We thanked them for letting us come and they thanked us for coming.  Then someone in their group made the presentation.  It wasn’t a brightly colored trinket…it was the gift of water.  And the brown water in the bowl wasn’t for washing hands soiled by the West African dust.  No, it was a portion of their precious drinking water. That brown water with larva swimming it in was what they drank every day, and they were offering something very precious to them—something they could ill afford to give.

Ordinarily, we would try and eat or drink what they offered, but our missionary knew, and we knew, that one drink of this water would make us very seriously ill.  So, through the interpreter our missionary explained that while we deeply appreciated their kindness and generosity, we could not partake in the water for that reason.  They certainly understood so the water remained throughout our visit. At the end we reversed the greeting process and climbed aboard our four-wheel drive for the long drive back to where we were staying.

The ride was quieter than normal.  Each one of us was clearly aware of what had just happened.  We all were pierced to our hearts over this act of immense generosity and the immense blessings that God had graciously poured on our lives.  Mission trips tend to do this to anyone who travels to a third world country.  There is always some kind of guilt over having so much while those you serve have so little.  But understanding God’s grace and humbly serving others at least helps.  But it always changes you.  It always marks your life.

In my mind’s eye I can clearly see the bowl of water all these years later.  I can still see the people coming through the gate after walking kilometers to get their food.  I can still see them trying to manage the heavy bags of rice and millet.  But something was missing.  Not one person complained about the lack of a vehicle to carry their load.  Each was just grateful to be able to eat that night.  And, yes, we were changed again.  I would like to think that a little of their gratitude rubbed off on us and that it still remains.  I know we will never forget those eleven or twelve days in Niger.

You don’t have to go to Africa, or Haiti, or Nicaragua, or London, or China, or Bulgaria, or the Philippines or wherever to serve.  Each of us are missionaries on a mission field and each of us can serve others…just like Jesus did.  One day He was sitting on a hillside teaching the people and He said, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” It really is that simple. It won’t get you to heaven…God’s grace and faith in what Jesus did on the cross does that. But it is an opportunity to be like Him…to love like Him.  It’s a tall order but don’t worry, you know that He’s got this too.  Bro. Dewayne 

Posted in Christmas, Family, friends, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, missions, prayer, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel, wisdom

Figuring it Out

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” James 1:5

It was a close call, but grace stepped in.  Every year, our church sends a group of missionaries to help process Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes in Atlanta. “Atlanta,” you say?  “I didn’t know they needed missionaries in Atlanta?”  Well, missionaries, at least to some degree, are folks who take a good message or do a good deed to a needy place and trust me that is anywhere and everywhere.  But in this case, it was also an opportunity to be a part of something very big that would impact thousands and thousands of people with the joy of a gift in the shape of a shoebox filled with items of love and the joy of a gift in the shape of a cross and an empty tomb—the message of Jesus.

Well, last year I almost didn’t make it. I almost missed the boat.  The week of the trip, two families in our church lost loved ones and as pastor and friend, I was asked to do the services for their loved ones—two precious mothers.  As it turned out the services would be held almost immediately after my return from Atlanta. Add to that, each service would require more than a few hours of preparation.  I believe each funeral service should be crafted in prayer and made as personal as possible and that requires time.  So, I told Judy I just didn’t think I could make the trip.  It would just be easier if I stayed back and worked.  She wanted very much for me to go but also knew the importance of the task at hand.

After some discussion, the decision was made…she would go, and I would stay.  I had made this trip several times and I knew it was going to be meaningful but easier just sounded easier. But then she said something that caused me to re-evaluate.  It was something like, “Now, don’t be upset when I come back and tell you what a good time we had.”  It was a moment of clarity.  It caused me to remember the times before and that feeling of making a difference, the times of fellowship with the team, and at that moment, I knew I needed to go.  This time easier just wasn’t the best choice.

I began immediately to prepare the services and asked God to multiply the time that I had.  Then, Tuesday morning, the next day, with almost thirty others, I boarded the bus and headed to Atlanta…and it was an incredible trip. The journey, the destination, the work was all just incredible.  We got back in town Thursday evening, and I went straight back to working to finish the two funeral services. In my heart I knew I had made the right decision. The first service was Friday, and it was my privilege to stand before a group of people and share about a life well lived and a great God who loves us—a bunch.  The other service wasn’t till Sunday and, unknown to me, I would not be there for that one.  I would be at home with the flu.  Fortunately, the work for the service was done and someone else would use that work.  God knew all of this and used all of this.  Amazing.

Each day we are challenged to make decisions.  Sometimes they are obvious and sometimes they are not.  Sometimes the choice is between easy and hard.  Ask God for wisdom to make the right one.  Oh, you will miss it sometimes regardless, but I have learned that He has a way of honoring our hearts and intentions.  I just know that this time the easy thing was not the right thing…it was just easy.  I returned from Atlanta not depleted and tired but filled and refreshed.  Helping others has a way of doing that. And, God, well, He always does all things, well!

James, the half-brother of Jesus, says in the Book of the Bible that bears His name, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” You gotta love that.  Need wisdom? Just ask.  Will He be upset because you “bothered” Him?  Absolutely not.  He is like a dearest daddy just waiting to help and the reason why He is like that is because that’s what He is—our Dearest Daddy.  So, as you journey life today and you come to those crossroads called decisions, no matter how simple or complex, just ask and He will be there for you.  Don’t worry, “He’s got this.” Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, fear, forgiveness, friends, Grace, gratitude, life, love, loving others, missions, prayer, Scripture, thankful, Trials

The Brothers

Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples.” John 13:35

It just bears repeating.  They say that two of the things that were so difficult about the season called COVID-19 was the isolation and the division it caused.  I couldn’t agree more.  One of the things I have read and heard over and again is how pastors in particular struggled through it all.  Church size and denomination mattered little. With so many different opinions, unity was bound to suffer…and it did.

I’ve said it several times, but personally as a leader it was incredibly difficult.  I have served as a pastor for 40 years and twenty-two of those have been with the church family located at 1300 South Feazel Street.  It has been a great ride.  One of the gifts it seems that God has given me is the ability to bring and sometimes hold the family together. But that season made me start to doubt that giftedness.

That year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving we had our family celebration at my daughter’s house outside of Murray, Kentucky.  My wife and I went down Friday, spent the night and enjoyed some good family time.  The rest of the tribe joined us Saturday for a great meal and more family stuff.  About mid-afternoon it was time to head home.  We had church the next day and there was a full night of preparation waiting for us. So, we headed north.  When we got home, I turned up the furnace (I had turned it down to save the planet and a few bucks) and started unloading the car.  After about thirty-minutes or so it occurred to me that the house wasn’t getting any warmer. Hmmmm.

I went downstairs and our furnace was stone, cold dead.  It was strange as the breaker had flipped. I called one of the brothers in our church who knew about boilers…in fact, he had helped me before when I had some trouble.  Our boiler is older than our first born so…well, you know.  Since it was Saturday evening I just called for some advice.  He gave some. Since it sounded electrical, he suggested I start with an electrician. That sounded like good advice, so I thanked him.

I called another brother in the church (we have a lot of brothers in the church) who knew about electrical stuff (which appeared to be the problem) and asked if he could maybe come by Sunday afternoon and take a look.  He refused.  He said it couldn’t wait till then and volunteered to come as soon as he finished supper. I thanked him and also thanked God for brothers to call when there is a need.  In just a few minutes the doorbell rang.  I assumed it was the electrical brother but in fact it was the boiler brother.  Before long, the other brother showed up too.  So, on a Saturday night, two brothers came to try and make sure Judy and I weren’t cold that night. 

Working together they found a short in the control box and within an hour the furnace was up and running. That night Judy and I slept warm because two brothers were willing to help another brother in a time of need.  I was pretty overwhelmed.  I said to them, “Thank you for loving us.”  The boiler brother said, “How do you know we love you?”  And the answer was simple truth.  I said, “Because of your actions.” I believe God allowed our furnace to fail so He could send to brothers over to say, “I love you.”  Isn’t that just like our Dearest Daddy?  I think it is.

The Bible says people will know we are Christians by our love.  Love is a great noun, but it is an even more powerful verb.  Compassion is love in action.  God demonstrated that by sending His Son to die on a Roman cross.  These two men, on a Saturday night, demonstrated it by coming and doing.  I believe the one quality that must be evident in a church is love.   We need to love God and we need to love each other.  God has made it clear that nothing will come between Him and us.  We must make sure that nothing Satan throws out today comes between brothers and sisters.

We talked Sunday about how amazing it was that God could ask a young virgin girl to be the mother of Jesus.  She couldn’t understand how that could happen.  An angel simply said, “With God nothing is impossible.” We wonder how we can love when we disagree, when we are hurt, when we are being pulled in opposite directions.  The answer is simple…everything is possible with God.  Judy and I rested good that night with a warm house and a heart warmed by love…both His and theirs.  It reminded me fresh and anew that He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, fear, friends, Grace, life, missions, prayer, Scripture, thankful, travel, Trials

Praying Mantis

When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end—because I am God, your personal God, the Holy of Israel, your Savior.” Isaiah 43:2-3a

  • Hi Grits Family! Hey, my wife Judy and I are going to be “out of pocket” aka “not available” to write this week. We decided to send out some of our past stories.  I hope you enjoy the ones we selected and look forward to some “fresh Grits” next week. God bless.  Bro. Dewayne

He was coming after me.  Over the years, my wife Judy and I have made many trips to Africa.  We have spent time in Niger, Mali, and Uganda.  All were unique in their own way, and all were very special.  Our time in Mali was especially so.  We were working with one of our favorite missionaries.  She is the real deal kind—the kind that if you were to stick her finger…she would bleed Jesus.  Those trips were also highlighted because we worked with a group of One-Story girls.  These college age young ladies gave up the comforts of home to spend a couple of years living in the African bush telling people about Jesus.  They were incredible.

So, on one of these trips the team had one of those especially good days.  We were able to minister and share with a lot of folks.  We would start early and go the entire day.  We would do mostly medical missions and storytelling and encouraging.  When we got back to wherever we were staying we would have supper together.  Then, when the African sun had finally called it a day, we would gather under a large open air bamboo….uh, thing.  We would sing, share stories, and have a brief devotion before joining the sun and calling it a day too.

These team times were very special moments.  As the days passed, we as a team became closer and closer together.  There were about twelve or fourteen of us…so not too large.  Of course, that didn’t include other guests.  Sometimes Africans from where we were staying would join us, and of course some or all the interpreters.  And then there were the other guests.  Their names would make you think they were members of the team…but they weren’t.  Praying may have been part of their name but, it wasn’t on their agenda.  They were…praying mantis.

These large insects—about the size of a small eagle—would be drawn to the light as we sang and shared.  Slowly they would start circling, choosing their targets.  Now, I don’t know if they intended to bite someone—I don’t think so, or if they intended to carry someone off to their secret lair.  Regardless, it was just a little spooky.  Finally, and who knows why, I was picked by one of them.  Repeatedly, this fellow would dive and try to land on me—particularly my face. Ok…it was weird.  I was grateful when the prayer time was over. I confess I cheated and kept one eye open looking out for my newfound friend.

Judy and I headed back to our hut and prepared for bed.  We had a mosquito net over our bed to keep out those pesky insects and their friends. Soon it was lights out and off to sleep.  Sometime later, we were awakened by the sound of something larger than a mosquito.  Lion? No. Tiger? No? Elephant? No. It was the…praying mantis.  Apparently, he followed me home and waited for the lights to go out before once again taunting me.  It turns out there was a small hole in the top of our mosquito net, and he found his way in and then…it happened.

As Judy and I lay in the African night, from out of the darkness (no electricity) the praying mantis landed square on my face.  Now what happened next can’t be written because it goes beyond the 26 letters in the English alphabet. I jumped up and started clawing in the darkness trying to find my stalking insect.  I finally grabbed him (gross), wrestled him to the bed (remember they are the size of eagles…smile), raised the net and chucked him outside somewhere, anywhere but where I was.  And then I did some praying of my own.  “Lord, please don’t let him find the hole again.”  Thankfully, he didn’t, and thankfully that was the last I saw of him.

Well, the next night I had a testimony to share at story time.  We all had a good laugh (and by the way…they really aren’t as big as …eagles but it sure seemed that way.) I remember telling my teammates how grateful I was for answered prayer…and honestly, I was.  Until you’ve had something like that land on your face, in the dark, in Africa—well you just can’t appreciate a God who answers unusual prayers. But you know, that’s the kind of God that He is.  Nothing is too big…and nothing is too small for this Dearest Daddy who calls us His own.

One time God was talking to Israel through the prophet Isaiah, and He said no matter what we face…when we are over our head in trouble, or maybe between a rock and a hard place or even the occasional fiery furnace—He will be with us. Why?  Because He is our Savior, our Lord, our God. Wow…what a great scripture and I can add to that list “face eating praying mantis.”  God is always there with us and for us and no matter what, He’s got this.  Take that, Mr. Mantis.  Bro. Dewayne

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

We Need Rain

Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4

It was drier than two-month-old bread.  We are so dry here in Southern Illinois.  Word on the street is that we are in a severe drought.  But there is another word on the street—it is supposed to rain tonight.  It reminds me of another time and another rain. It’s been several years now, but the story is as fresh as today’s bread.  We were on our second trip to Niger, West Africa.  We would fly forever and finally arrive in the capital city of Niamey.  There were two things that were always the same.  It was always very late at night, and we were always totally exhausted.  After a day getting acclimated, we would load up and drive all day on one of the few paved roads in the entire country.

Niger is a sub-Saharan country in West Africa.  It was on the edge of the Saharan Desert—hot, dry, and dusty.  Our journey would take us to a small city in the middle of nowhere.  We would stay with a family there who were kind and filled with hospitality.  As is customary, we would settle in and then go see the “chief” of the village.  We would meet, greet, and thank him for allowing us to come and stay in the village.  On this particular trip we were distributing food to several dozen families in the area.  Because of the extreme dryness, food was always in short supply and because of a few years of drought—it was life-threatening.

As we met with the chief, we told him we were servants of the Creator God and asked him if there was anything that we could pray for.  Without hesitation, he said, “I want you to pray for rain. It hasn’t rained here in a very long time, and we are desperate.  We have prayed but no rain has come.”  We prayed there and then and told him we would pray more—even asking people in America to pray.  And we did, both.

What happened next is the things of legends—except it is not a legend—it is truth.  After immediately contacting some of our folks back in America and praying ourselves…again…we went to sleep.  Sometime in the middle of the night, the wind began to blow, and the temperature began to fall.  Soon, there was the sound of a distant thunder.  Then, as we stood in our doorway and watched, a heavy rain began to fall.  David, one of our team members, was soon out dancing in the rain.  All of us were dancing in our hearts.

We would later learn that our friends in America, watching the radar online, saw a storm develop from nothing and move across our area.  As we danced in Africa—they were dancing in America.  That very night, right at three inches of rain fell in that village on the edge of the desert.  It was unbelievable.  It rained for several hours and fell so hard that several walls, made of mud, straw, and manure, collapsed.  A couple of storage buildings lost walls too.  When light finally came, literally, small lakes of water were everywhere.  We would be using the four-wheel drive feature on our trucks for several days.

I can’t remember if the chief came to us or summoned us to go to him, but that day we had another conversation.  He thanked us for praying and said that our God did what their god did not do.  He was grateful for us coming to the village and invited us to stay as long we wanted—and to return as often as we wanted.  Such are the wonders and miracles of the one true God.  This would not be the last or only miracle we would witness in West Africa.  It is amazing what God can and will do if the primary focus is to glorify His name.  I sometimes wonder if the people there still speak of the night of the rain.  I know we do.

There is an intriguing scripture in the Psalms—a collection of Hebrew hymns in the Jewish and Christian Bibles.  It is found in Psalm 37:4. It says that if we are willing to delight ourselves in God, He will give us the desires of our heart.  At first that sounds like a “rub the bottle and a genie pops out” story.  Trust me…it is not.  You see the first part is key—when we delight ourselves in God—then our desires align with His desires and when that happens—miracles do too.

This year, let me encourage you in a couple of areas.  First, if you haven’t thought much about Creator God—Jehovah God—in a while—why not revisit Him?  I believe you will come to the same conclusion I did years ago.  He is amazing.  And then, as we journey through this these challenging days, let’s commit to making His desires, our desires.  Let’s get on the same page with Him and watch, in wonder, what He can and will do.  It may not be exactly what we want but it will be what is exactly right.  He doesn’t make mistakes.  Wrapped up in all of this is that powerful truth we end each story with.  It is good news for this day and every day.  We can have the confident assurance that, “He’s got this” and He does.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Grace, gratitude, life, missions, Scripture, sovereignty of God, travel

Don’t Drink the Water

“For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Psalm 30:5

It was my first real mission trip. In 2003, I was given the opportunity to go on a mission trip to Bulgaria. In case you don’t know what a mission trip is, it is when you go to a different part of the world and do Jesus stuff. It might be medical, it might be teaching, it might be giving food away or most anything else that Jesus might do. Bulgaria is up by the Black Sea and snack dab in the middle of the old Soviet block. It was a different world. Imagine stepping back in time to the late fifties or early sixties and that’s where we landed.

When we arrived, it was instant culture shock. The food was different, the language was different, the people were different…everything was different. And there was one big rule—don’t ever drink the water. I was a little nervous and a whole lot excited. Get ready, boys, this is the great adventure. We were given an assignment and my new friend Mike, and I were sent to work a couple of hours from the rest of the group. We were up by the Blue Danube River and not far from the North Sea. We would be working with the Roma people. These folks, also known as Gypsies, were the outcasts of their society…the poorest of the poor and broken.

When we arrived, we were shown a nice apartment where we would stay. It was very recently remodeled and look almost American. We began working right away and starting going to remote villages. Through an interpreter we would talk to folks, I would sing and then one, or both of us, would teach about Jesus. The people were so kind. I remember I was introduced to Turkish coffee for the first time in my life. As you might know with Turkish coffee, they simply dump the grounds in the pot and boil them. They poured me a cup and I took a slug. First response—I almost choked on the grounds. Second response—I didn’t know what to do with the grounds, so I chewed them. Yup…the best part of waking up is with coffee grounds in your cup.

Later in the week, and near the end of our time with the people, we were given the opportunity to do some preaching down on the city square. It was pretty awesome. I sang a song and then preached…and let me tell you I preached. They might not have understood everything I said, but they knew I was excited about it. After I finished it was hot and I was thirsty. A nice street vendor offered me some red Kool Aid. I was so grateful. He filled up a glass and I drank the whole cup in one swig. Man, it was so good, so fruity, and so made with the water… I was not supposed to drink. I never gave it a second thought…until later that night.

After we got back to the apartment, we had supper and went to bed. About 11:00 pm we heard this awful noise and it came from the bathroom. Well, it turns out, a majority of the new plaster ceiling in the bathroom had fallen—filling the sink, the toilet and the floor with plaster pieces. We quickly decided we could clean it up in the morning. There is a great verse in the Bible that says, “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Well, that verse took on new meaning for me that night.

About 2:00 am I was suddenly awakened by what can only described as the worse cramping and nausea I have ever felt. Remember the red Kool Aid? Well, it was revenge time. I quickly went to the bathroom only to rediscover the sink and toilet totally filled with fallen plaster. It wasn’t a pretty picture. I can only remember trying to clean out the sink and the toilet before the impending disaster hit. I barely made it. Long story short, I was a regular attender to the bathroom all night and into the next day. Sure enough, there was weeping thought the night and joy was scarce. The only “joy” in the morning was when the guys went to the local pharmacy and bought me a Depends. HaHa. Thanks guys.

Well, I was sick for the next day or so, but before we got on the plane for home, I was better. Someone let my wife Judy know that I was really sick and that she should look for the insurance policy. Ok, it wasn’t that bad, but I thought it was. I did learn a couple of really good lessons. One…when you do something that God wants you to do…it doesn’t mean that everything is going to be rosy. In fact, you may end up with a bouquet of weeds. But, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Second…when the rule book says “don’t drink the water, DON’T drink the water. Write it on your hand, write it in your Bible, put duct tape over your mouth, but DON’T drink the water. And by the way, when God says don’t do something, there is also a reason why. He’s not being mean…He is being loving.

Well, we made it home and that trip led to many more…not to Bulgaria but rather to Africa. And guess what? We definitely couldn’t drink the water there either! Guess what again? I didn’t drink the water, because I remembered a lesson that I had learned a couple of years earlier. It just one way that God can take the worst things and teach us something good. Yay God. So, as we journey through these “Bulgarian” days and should we forget and “drink the water,” you will find a loving Heavenly Father who will walk you through the hardest times. He won’t walk out on you, ever. You will find that you can always rest in Him because He’s got this. Bro. Dewayne

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

But the Seat is Empty

He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5b

Well, that didn’t take long.  I decided to do something that is unusual for me.  I had registered my wife Judy and I for a pastor’s conference.  I was thinking one day and said to myself, “Maybe it would be good for me to just get away by myself.” Well, I talked it over with Judy and she agreed.  Of course, the fact that she was leaving right after the conference for a mission trip to Puerto Rico probably figured in.  So, the decision was made…I would go, she would stay. Where to go and when to stay and where to eat and when to eat would be my call. It was a good plan.

The day came.  We had great services at church, and I had a sandwich for lunch and a quick nap before I hit the road.  With a hug and a kiss, I was off on the great adventure.  I had the satellite radio playing hits from the 60’s, the cruise was set for the speed limit, and I passed the time just enjoying the beautiful day and the slowly changing color of the trees.  And then…it began to happen. It started when I caught myself causally glancing over at the passenger seat. Normally it would have held my favorite person in the whole world.  It sat empty.  No deal…but it was a thought.  I would occasionally put my hand in the seat as if feeling to see if she was there.  She wasn’t.

After several hours, I arrived at my hotel for the night.  I had chosen well.  It was very reasonable and very nice.  I opened the door and marveled at the room.  I wanted to share the moment with her, but she wasn’t there.  I called and let her know I was there safely and then planned supper.  There was no doubt where I was going.  Fazoli’s. They had their pizza baked spaghetti back on the menu and I had been wanting to go…so I did.  This was a place Judy probably wouldn’t have chosen but tonight it was my call and honestly…it was very good. That was followed with a visit to a creamery called, “The Lazy Cow.” I picked the place and the flavor.  “Not bad,” I said to no one as a went back to my room.

The room was still nice, but it was quiet…too quiet.  I called Judy and told her about supper and the ice cream, but it wasn’t the same as experiencing it with her.  After a while we said good night and we both went to bed in different beds, different rooms, and different states.  The next morning, she said she didn’t sleep too well, and I told her the same. I told her some plans I had made, and she shared hers.  After a couple of minutes, we said goodbye.  And that is when it hit me.

It was nice picking what music I wanted to listen to as I drove.  It was nice stopping when I wanted to stop. It was nice choosing to go to Fazoli’s and later getting ice cream. All that was nice, but she wasn’t there and that made it all less nice. Oh, it is still a good plan, and I will enjoy my time away.  I’m sure the teaching is going to be great and all that, but it will be different.  It might, it probably will be less than if she was there.  Think about that.  Think about something else.

Do we ever think or maybe even act on what life would be like without God? We muse how grand it might be without the rules, to make our own choices and decisions and not have to worry about what He might think. I know for some of you that may be everyday but for a chunk of us that is far stretch and yet too often we live that very same way. We include God when it is convenient and leave Him at home when it isn’t. I’ve already discovered that while this week will be good for me…it is not something I want to do all the time.

The bottom line is Judy is just too much a part of my life…and that is how we need to make it with God.  We need to make Him so much a part of our lives, that when we look around and realize we left Him (He will never leave us) that we are wise enough to go back and join Him.  Lord willing this Thursday, I’ll be back home…and home is a good place.  God said He will never leave us or let us go and there is a lot of comfort in that.  There’s also a lot of comfort in knowing that even when we take a trip and fail to invite Him, He’s still there…He’s still got this. Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, friends, gratitude, life, missions, prayer, Scripture, thankful, Trials

Choose to be Content

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 elusive things.  One minute 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 that 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.

We once went on a mission trip to the Philippines. We were there to repair some damage caused by an earthquake. Two things amazed me—how beautiful it was and how kind and polite the people were.  On a couple of levels, it did indeed seem like paradise.  You see the island we were on was a vacation destination for many.  It was simply beautiful.  The only problem was we didn’t get 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 let’s say 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 assignment.  Judy and I were assigned a single unit.  I must admit I did have the best roommate.  We went to our room, and it was nice–small–but nice. There 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.  So then we went to check out the other room assignments.

Well, their rooms were also quite nice.  Each person had two twins pushed together to make a double bed and the room 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 wasn’t. 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 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–just be content!  The truth is most of us have it a lot better than 90% of the world! The truth is if we 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 rattled about what you don’t?  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.  So, settle back and take a rest.  After all, He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, forgiveness, friends, Grace, life, loving others, missions, Scripture, travel, Trials

Dropping the Baggage

I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.” Philippians 3:13b

Baggage…it is a fact of travel and a fact of life.  Our team of four checked in at the airport and gladly gave our baggage to the agent at the desk.  One by one, our bags, as varied as the people who packed them, were weighed, and given up.  And honestly, we were glad to do so.  With our baggage handed over, our journey, our travel experience was a lot easier.  When you give your luggage up, you always wonder if you will see it again.  These days, the airline (at least the one we flew) sent us a text letting us know everything was safely onboard the plane.  Nice.

Well, we landed in Atlanta and waited just a while and soon it was time to board the plane for our final leg of our journey…the one that would take us all the way to England.  Sure enough, a message let us know our bags were onboard and would make the journey with us.  That is always a good feeling.  A little over seven hours later, it was time to land and sure enough our bags were there, and we took an Uber to the hotel.  Well, the next leg of our journey was by train, so we had to walk a little and take the tube (the British word for the subway—not the sandwich shop) to the train station.  As we left our hotel, we had our first personal experience with our luggage.

You see, this time there was no one to take our luggage—except us. Some of us had smaller bags, some had baggage so large we nick named it “the beast.”  There was a variety of smaller backpacks and whether all of them had wheels or not, they were a necessary hassle.  If it wasn’t for the fact that it is a common sight in London…I’m sure we would have looked quite comical. But we pushed and pulled, lifted, and dragged, squeezed through tight tube gates and balanced all of this on the narrow steps of several escalators.  Oh yes…it was fun.

Well, the good news is, we made it.  We made it all the way to our destination and when the time came, we made it all the way back home…well almost.  Turns out the beast got left by the airline in London, but it did arrive several days later.  Because I am a person who likes to prepare, I watched several travel videos to learn about England and also how to travel.  The guy in the video made one point very clear. When you pack, remember that everything you decid to take with you, you will have to push, pull, drag, and carry along the way.  And you know what…he was exactly right.  I was very glad that my bag was one of smaller and lighter ones (32 pounds, thank-you) and my backpack was too. I was glad that at the last minute I did indeed determine I didn’t need the kitchen sink after all!

Well, we all know that baggage is part of the travel deal but baggage is also part of this journey called life.  Along the way, we pick up things, some our fault and some no fault of our own at all, and we find ourselves dragging it through life.  A difficult childhood, a broken heart, a bad financial decision, or romance decision and on and on it goes.  Baggage…we all have our fair share.  But here is the good news.  It turns out that even if we can’t totally ditch all this unwanted baggage, we can at least lighten the load.  And often, it begins with two small words—letting go.

You see, we can’t undo what others have done to us and short of some sort of a miracle we can’t forget either but there is something we can do.  We can choose to refuse to allow the baggage to weigh us down.  We can determine to what extent we give the person or the event space in our lives today.  We can let it go…we can largely leave it behind.  It will probably involve some forgiveness—whether it be someone else—or yourself. I really love the place in the Bible where Paul, who had tons of baggage, some he made and some others gave him, simply says he chose to forget.

Just for the record he wasn’t talking about actually forgetting but rather choosing not to allow the baggage of the past to impact his today. That was something he could do and something we can do.  And when we do…we are going to find out that life is a lot easier when we are not weighted down with yesterday’s baggage.  So, what do you say? Why not let today be the day we drop the bags of the past and sprint toward what lies before?  On our journey, we would sometimes help another person with their bags, and I am glad I can tell you that God is just waiting to help us with our baggage too.  Don’t you worry. He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne