Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, Military memories, missions, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, travel

Forty-four Years

So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times! Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.” Ephesians 5:16-17

Forty-four years.  16,071 sunrises and sunsets.  That’s the length of the on-going saga of our story.  It seems like yesterday but it also seems like another lifetime.  We both were young… maybe too young. But we were in love, we wanted to walk together so that day, this day forty-four years later, we started walking and just never stopped.

We were chatting last night before we drifted off to sleep and I told her we were blessed.  There have been bumps but not the kind of bumps that come from wanting to quit or wanting something new.  They were the kind of bumps that come from life.  The death of our parents, starting over when the Air Force or God gave new orders, kids being kids and people being people, and yes, me being me and her being her.  But what a journey.

Forty-four years.  I remember the excitement of our wedding day.  I in my snazzy light-blue tux and patent leather high heeled shoes (hey, cut me some slack…it was the seventies) and her standing at the back of the church in her white wedding dress and long brown hair.  Her standing and then walking…walking to me to join me…to start life together.  I was marrying up…and well.

Forty-four years.  I remember embarking on the first of many great adventures as we flew to Europe not for a honeymoon but to live.  The Air Force sent us to live in Germany and while the separation from family was hard…life was enchanting.  I remember looking out our apartment window overlooking an alpine valley with the trees covered with a light dusting of snow. I remember our German landlord knocking on our door and presenting my new bride with a freshly skinned rabbit.  He was beaming and she was wondering, “What do I do with this?”

Forty-four years.  I remember coming back to the USA after three years and seeing our country through new eyes.  Leave for a while and you never see it quite the same.  Leave for a while and the warts and imperfection all fall into perspective.  I remember traveling to the Midwest for the first time and finding out that not everyone liked grits or even knew what they were.  I remember the birth of our first daughter and realizing that we weren’t in Kansas anymore.

Forty-four years.  I remember daughter number two surprising us…and what a good surprise it was.  Our family was complete (or not) and our future secure in the Air Force…until the Whisperer whispered. So long Air Force and hello pastoring and walking by faith. With a young wife and two kids ages three and two, no insurance and a pastorate that paid $12,000..well, faith was a little harder…a little less sure. About then I began to realize just how big, how sure, God is.  I’m still learning that one but He has a perfect track record.

Forty-four years.  I remember the day when we had to pack up and leave a bunch of people we loved a lot and that loved us a lot.  With a station-wagon and a U-Haul stuffed to the gills we moved to a little town called Cobden.  It was new all over again and we fell in love again with another wonderful group of people.  It was at Cobden that God surprised us with daughter number three.  It was at Cobden we raised our family because God let us stay 14 years.  It was at Cobden we learned deep lessons of love and grace.  After fourteen years the Whisperer whispered again and we knew we had to obey.  It was one of the hardest things we ever did.

Forty-four years.  I remember coming to Harrisburg and to Dorrisville Church and wondering how God would write this new part of our story.  I remember wondering how long this chapter would be.  Well, here we are 20 years into this part of our story—almost half of our married lives—and I am still amazed at God’s grace and His people’s patience.  Our kids are grown, we have eight grandkids and Judy and I are experiencing what it is like to grow old together.  I highly recommend it.

Forty-four years.  James, the half-brother of Jesus tells us that life is like a vapor.  In other words it goes by quickly.  Remember how you breathe on a cold morning and your breath appears as if smoke?  As quickly as it appears…it leaves.  That’s life. I am amazed at my age, the length of our marriage and just how awesome life has been been…and is.  Paul, another Bible guy, had it right.  He says, “So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times! Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.” Good advice, Paul, good advice indeed. Forty-Four years.  Yup, life is good.  I’m still in love with Jesus, still in love with Judy, and still in love with my kids and grandkids.  I get up each day just waiting to see what God has in store…waiting for the next whisper…the next great adventure.  Till then I bet you can guess what I’m going to do.  Yup…I’m going to rest in Him.  He’s got this. 

Posted in missions, Scripture, travel

Peg Leg Sally

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Strange things happen in Africa.  For the past 12 or 13 years, our church has made regular trips to Africa.  We began in Niger and later moved down to Mali.  The last six years or so we have been working in Uganda. Regardless of what country, you can count on Africa to give you plenty of unusual  and strange sights.  So in some ways I wasn’t surprised.

We were on an island in Lake Victoria, Uganda.  On any given trip we visit at least three or four different islands offering free medical care, children’s ministries, ladies ministries and visiting the people in their huts to tell them the stories of Jesus.  The point of it all is to let them hear the Good News that there is a God who loves them—a lot. So we were winding down the day.  The medical clinic was finishing and four or five of us men were sitting in the shade under the “front porch” of one of the buildings.

So, we were talking and like I said you see some strange things in Africa so I wasn’t surprised when my friend said, “Look, there goes a woman with a peg leg.” Well, I turned around to look and didn’t see what he was talking about. I did see a lady some distance away but couldn’t see her peg leg.  I mean, the only peg legs I knew about were in Peter Pan, so my curiosity was peaked.

I turned back around but didn’t say anything.  But, it stuck in my mind.  After ten minutes or so, I just had to ask my friend about this strange sight.  I said, “Tim, did you say something about a lady with a peg leg?” His expression told me I must have missed something. He gave me a perplexing look. All he could manage was a “uh?”  I said, “You know, a few minutes ago you said you saw a lady with a peg leg.” He responded with, “No.  I said I saw a man carrying a stringer of fish.”  Silence. Snickers.  Laughter.

Yup.  Somewhere in the process of the conversation what was said and what I heard were two totally, and I mean totally, different things.  There was no lady with a peg leg only a guy with a stringer of fish.  You are probably wondering how I got “peg leg” out of “stringer of fish.”  All I can say is strange things happen in Africa. I’m glad there wasn’t a crippled lady but the idea of a peg leg like Captain Cook’s sure did intrigue me.

And do you know what?  Sometimes I think this happens with God and me. I think He is saying something and I totally miss it.  Does that happen to you? I think it’s more common than we think. We think we hear Him say, “You have the right to be mad” and in fact He’s saying, “Forgive.”  We think we hear Him say, “Take” and really He was saying, “Give.” Oh, and then we thought He said, “Quit” and He was saying, “Serve.” And it just goes on and on.  We hear “Leave” and He is saying, “Stay.” We hear “Go ahead” and He is saying “Stop, wait, don’t.” Seems strange things don’t happen only in Africa.  Smile.

So, I’m not sure what caused the totally humorous miscommunication in Uganda.  It may have been my hearing, could have been the village noise…who knows.  There may not have been a fix for that, however, when it comes to hearing God clearly there is something that will really help.  It is His Word.  In so many situations (though I’m not sure peg legs are one of them) the Bible gives us clear guidance.

Here is one thing you can count on.  The voice of God (what we think we hear God saying) will not, ever, never, contradict the Word of God.  If you think you hear Him saying, “Revenge” when someone has hurt you, you probably have “Peg Leg Syndrome.”   If you think you hear Him saying, “Be afraid” when circumstances are frightful, you probably have “Peg Leg Syndrome.” You get the idea.

Talking about the Word of God, Paul said that it is good for learning, good for insight about what is wrong in our lives, good for correcting us when we are wrong and good for teaching us about how to live right.  The Bible is an amazing Book. It has stood the test of time and, while there are different translations, there is not a version 4.3 because God got it right the first time. So if you are talking with your friends and someone mentions a lady with a peg leg, you might want to ask for some clarification.  And if you think you heard God say something that sounds a little not like Him, check the Book, go to the source.  Peg leg stories can be funny but withholding forgiveness when it is ours to give, hating instead of loving, leaving too soon instead of staying…well, that can cause a lot of pain.  And if find yourself singing and living that 1974 hit “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” it might just be a bad case of Peg Leg Syndrome.  Just pull out the Book, read a little and rest in Him.  He’s got this.

Posted in missions, Uncategorized

I Can’t Hear You

“But Peter said, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I do have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!” Acts 3:6 (CSB)

I can’t hear you.  A friend and I were standing on the shores of an island in Lake Victoria, Uganda, East Africa.  He was telling a Jesus story to a man and trying to determine if he knew Jesus.  While he was sharing another man walked up and began to listen.  At the end of the story, we asked a couple of questions.  The first man indicated that he knew this Jesus.  The other did not.  And he couldn’t hear.

Let me explain.  It wasn’t that he had a hearing problem.  His ears were working quite well.  It wasn’t that he couldn’t understand.  Our friend understood English and when we hit a bump our translator would jump in and help out.  But he couldn’t hear.  Then he explained the problem.  He said something like, “I can’t hear about this Jesus because my stomach is so hungry.”

Now hunger is not usually a big issue in Uganda.  While the food may not be the best nutritionally it is usually sufficient in quantity.  Our friend was one of the exceptions.  For whatever reason he hadn’t eaten that day or maybe the day before.  The growling of his stomach was blocking his heart from hearing the message.  We tried to explain that while we may hunger here, God had a place in heaven where no one would be hungry. I decided to tell him another story from the Bible.

I told him the story of Peter and John entering the temple.  You can read it in Acts 3:1-10. It goes something like this. There was a crippled man there who made a living begging.  When he saw Peter and John he thought they could help.  He looked up expectedly and perhaps even lifted his hand to receive a coin or two.  While his hand remained empty he got something more than a coin.  Peter said, “We don’t have silver or gold but what we do have we will give you.  In the name of Jesus of Nazareth rise up and walk.”

As Peter reached his hand down and the man reached up, his ankles received healing strength and he stood and walked into the temple.  I smugly smiled my preacher smile.  The perfect story.  The perfect truth. Eternal is better than temporary. Surely my friends would see it and everyone would go their way happy.  Only it didn’t happen.

I asked him “So what is better a few coins now or something that can change your life forever?”  I, of course, expected him to agree that the gift of eternal life is certainly more and better than a few coins or a quick meal.  His answer caught me totally off guard. He replied, “A few coins or some food.”  What?  I couldn’t believe what he was saying.  Surely he understood.  Surely I had made the story clear.

Then he said it.  “Heaven is good but I am hungry now. I need food now.”  Well, sadly, he wandered off.  Still hungry.  Still lost. My friend continued to share with the first man but my heart was heavy and my mind on the other man.  Suddenly, I saw him again standing a few yards away. It was then I heard the Whisperer whisper.  It was short and simple.  “Give him food” the Whisperer said.  I had totally forgotten that in my backpack I had some tuna, chips, crackers for my own lunch.  I dug several items from my bag, as did my friend.

I walked over to the man and said, “This isn’t much but I hope it will quieten your stomach so you can hear Jesus.” He quickly took the food and left. There’s no bow on the package, no happily ever after ending, no prayer to receive Jesus.  But I know two things. I know he knew we cared and I know he heard the truth and this time that had to be enough.  Maybe the seed would sprout later…only eternity will tell.

I learned a couple of things that day.  I learned that sometimes before we can share the Good News of the Gospel with a person we need to touch them in a real tangible way.  A casual God bless you and a pat on the back doesn’t do much for an anxious soul or a hungry stomach.  We must talk Jesus, we must share Jesus but we must be Jesus.  Someone said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

In these crazy, troubling times people need more than a sermon—they need to know we care.  How do we do that?  That’s the second thing I learned.  We have to listen for the Whisperer.  We need to be sensitive to His gentle nudges. We have to still our own souls and hearts if we are to hear His gentle voice. These days call for new ways…different ways. So as you walk about life, keep your eyes open, your heart still and watch in wonder at what God can do through you.  You don’t have to be in Africa to be on mission.  That can happen, must happen right here, right now.  And in these days of fear and frustration people are more ready to hear about God than ever before.  What a privilege to be entrusted with God’s work.  Up for the challenge?  God believes so.  Remember, He’s really big on you.  So rest in Him.  He’s got this.