Posted in Grace, life, love, loving others, missions, Scripture, Trials

Easy Preaching…Hard Living

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.” James 1:2

It sounded so good when I said it.  So I am a pastor/teacher which means I get to tell people about the Bible and how they should do this and do that.  I really enjoy teaching and the truth is life is just better when we follow what the Bible says.  It really is so much more than a rule book.  It tells us all about God but it also gives us His guidelines for living. I have discovered that when I follow what it says, my life has fewer regrets and smaller consequences.  Trust me, it works.

The bottom line is talking is easier than doing. It is one thing to stand up before a bunch of people and teach something and quite another to do it.   We call it “easy preaching and hard living” and that is especially true when it comes to living, working and dealing with people. That is probably why the Bible talks a whole lot about loving people. Its pretty amazing but you can sum up a whole bunch of the Bible with four words…love God…love people. That may be only 17 letters but they are filled to the brim with impact.

I talked about loving your neighbor as yourself a couple of week ago.  Oh, man, did it go well.  I talked about loving people like Jesus loves us and how if we experienced love from Him we should be willing to share that same love.  Yup…it preached really good.  I know I left church ready to love the world. For example, imagine this.

Let’s pretend, you know, hypothetically speaking, there was a family that bought a house in a quiet, historic neighborhood.  Imagine that one of the residents welcomed the new neighbors and told them how glad they were to have them in the neighborhood. Then a day or two later the old neighbors began hearing a very loud, very large dog barking and realized it was coming from the direction of the new neighbors.  Apparently, they had a big dog who wasn’t happy and decided to let his displeasure be known…to the whole world.

Well, now imagine that one neighbor talked to another neighbor and it was decided that someone should talk to the new neighbor about the situation. So one of the neighbors went down and very kindly asked if they could maybe encourage their dog to not bark quite as loud or often.  The new neighbors were very understanding and said they would keep the dog inside more.  Wouldn’t that kind?  All the neighbors decided that these neighbors were gonna be easy to love.

Then, imagine that a cat just shows up in the other neighbor’s yard and it belonged to the new kids on the block. And, horror of horrors, it is looking for breakfast and on the menu is bird…the neighbor’s birds.  So, let’s pretend that old neighbor goes down and asks the new neighbors to please keep their precious kitty at home.  Well, they were nice but said the cat couldn’t stay inside because it wouldn’t use the litter box. Hmmmm…wouldn’t that be…shall we say…more difficult.

Then, and remember this is all hypothetical, the new neighbors decided one dog was not enough so they added two full grown German shepherds and another large “I’m not sure what it is” dog for a total of four.  Then imagine that these dogs are a tight knit group meaning when one barks they all bark…a lot.  So as a result, if all this were real, the nice, quiet historic neighborhood wouldn’t be quite as quiet as it was.  I bet the old neighbors would have to do a lot of learning about patiently, loving neighbors. They would probably realize that Jesus stuff can be quite challenging.

Well, of course, this is all just hypothetical but the truth is when Jesus walked the earth for those three years, it often wasn’t easy for Him either.  But regardless of who and what…He loved people and He told His followers that they were to do the same.  As Jesus followers we are not only to love when it is easy…we are to love period.  We are to love our neighbor…even those hypothetical ones with large dogs who like to bark…a lot.  We are to love our neighbor, even the hypothetical ones, who might have a cat that likes to eat birds…our birds. We are to love our neighbors…period.  No if’s, no and’s and no but’s.

James, the half-brother of Jesus told us that we should count it joy when we have trials. A preacher I know (that would be me) is going to say in an upcoming sermon that the orchard where patience and love grow is often difficult but the fruit is oh so sweet.  And that is the truth.  So, not hypothetically, I’m going to do my best to love my neighbor.  You see, we need to make sure that they know we love Jesus and because we love Jesus…we love them. Is it going to be challenging?  Absolutely but if I understand the Book correctly, we don’t have to go it alone.  He’s got this.

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, love, missions, prayer, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, Trials, wisdom

Laughter in the Rain

Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.”     Psalm 90:12

It was a rainy afternoon in South Georgia.  I had met this girl, this Georgia peach, a few weeks ago and I was stuck fast.  From the moment I laid eyes on her I wanted to get to know her more.  So I made a call, she said yes, we had a first date and well, the rest is history.  From that first date came a marriage of 45 years.  She was young and I was a little too old, but love has a way of overcoming those kind of things—especially with God in the mix.

So, we were about five or six weeks into our journey.  We had been to church, something we would do together virtually every week of every year of our togetherness. It was a cloudy afternoon and rain was in the forecast.  I’m not sure how, but it had to be her knowledge of the area, we decided to drive up and over to Reed Bingham State Park.  It was more something to do than an adventure, but it left a tattoo on our hearts that remains today.

As we drove over to the park, it began to rain…nothing hard just a gentle Southern rain…the kind that waters the grass and makes flowers grow.  Soon, we were at the park, and it was still raining.  We decided that a little rain wasn’t going to stop us, and we struck off on a walk down one of the wet sand packed roads.  It wasn’t long before we came upon some large puddles the size of a small pond.  They weren’t from that day’s shower but a frog strangler sometime before.  So we reached the point where we had to decide to turn back or go a little farther.  We decided to go farther. To keep her dry from the puddles, she climbed on my back as we walked.

A little while later the rain picked up and with her still hanging on, we turned around and headed back to the car. We were getting wet, but we were young and in the midst of young love, so we laughed, we enjoyed.  Too soon we were back in the car and ready to head home.  We had left the radio tuned to one of the popular stations and as I started the car, the radio came to life and one of the new hits began to play.  It was by Neil Sedaka, and was called, “Laughter in the Rain” and in that moment it became our song. And, to this moment, it remains our song.

Part of the words go, “Oh, I hear laughter in the rain, walking hand in hand with the one I love. Oh, how I love the rainy days and the happy way I feel inside.” What started as a song became our mantra—our way of doing life.  We decided we would walk together, sunshine or rain, and we would do so…hand in hand.  We also decided that we would love, not endure, the rain and the rainy days, that came our way. Oh, it isn’t always perfect, and she is better at it than me but slowly over the years we have learned the secret sauce of doing life is to walk hand in hand with each other and the “Rainmaker.”

Judy and I have been blessed with an incredible life. Over our four and a half decade, journey we have seen and experienced big chunks of the world, and have been blessed with three daughters and sons-in-law and eight grandchildren.  We have loved serving God together as a team, watching as He made a difference in the lives of others.  We don’t know how long the journey will go, but we are wanting to walk it together, hand in hand, loving the rainy days.

The Book that matters, the Bible, tells us that we should number our days that we can have a heart of wisdom.  It’s not talking about numerics, but rather to value and see the value in each day.  To know that rain or sunshine, each day is a gift from God…an opportunity to walk hand in hand together and with the “Rainmaker.”  We’ve come to know and believe that He alone is worthy of our faith and trust and that no matter how light or hard the rainy days are, well, He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

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

Perseverance

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.” Proverbs 3:5-6

Perseverance…don’t quit.  In my inventory of weaknesses is something that I wish wasn’t.  I would like to tell you that I have the perseverance of a thoroughbred race horse bolting from the gate with only one goal—to finish and to finish first.  And while I am not a quitter, I do sometimes, “peter out.”  Merriam Webster defines that as “to gradually become smaller, weaker, or less before stopping or ending”.

During 2020 there were too many times when I just wasn’t sure I was going to finish well—or finish at all.  But that wasn’t always a bad thing because it caused me to look inwardly and upward—to my Dearest Daddy.

During those times when I wasn’t sure of much of anything, it was then that I found myself turning to the One who was sure.  When my steps were unsure, I found myself tracking with the One whose steps were rock solid and sure.  I think 2020 taught me something of hanging in there—to persevere—to keep going.  While I was out west this past May I saw it over and over again.  First, it was a wild flower blooming in what can only be called dust.  The roots had somehow dug deep and found the water of life.  I saw it in a small tree as it grew from a crevice in a large rock.  It made no sense but somehow that tree decided there was a way to grow in an impossible place.

I saw it too from another small tree growing from a large rock in the middle of a lake.  There was no soil to be found and yet it grew…it persevered.  It decided that it would survive, it would thrive, even though the odds were totally against success.  You see, the Bible is filled with stories of men and women who trusted God against all odds.  A shepherd boy becomes a king, another “has-been” shepherd leads a million or so people to a new land—the promised land.  A band of eleven men from various walks of life chose to follow a young rabbi (who happened to be the Son of God) and the message they shared changed the world.

All of these folks failed at one time or another, but they didn’t quit.  They chose to persevere.  If you wonder how America has lasted for these 245 years, there are two reasons.  The hand of God and the perseverance of ordinary men and women who gave what they had for a cause they believed in. A.Cause.They.Believed.In.

We have survived one of the greatest challenges we have faced in our lifetime—the pandemic of 2020. However, I am sure the greater enemy wasn’t the pandemic, but rather the division that swept our land like a wildfire. Someone wiser than you or me once said that a house divided against itself cannot stand—Jesus said that before Lincoln did.

William Carey, a great missionary, once said, “The future is as bright as the promises of God” and I believe that is true today.  But we need to learn from the founding fathers, from the men who stormed Normandy or trudged through the jungles of Vietnam or froze on the hills of Korea.  We have to learn again to trust the hand of God.  The Bible says that we should trust God with everything we have and turn away from the tendency to trust ourselves.  If we do that…He will guide us…He will direct us.  We also need to learn the lesson of that small tree growing from that giant rock.  We will not quit, we will persevere—we will find life in the most unlikely of places.  Trust God and don’t quit.  That sounds like a plan.

With the pandemic largely in the rearview mirror, it seems to some degree we have been given a second chance.  I hope we will take advantage of this gift God has given us.  I hope we will learn the power of perseverance and the power of four simple words, “Love God…Love People.”  I may not know what tomorrow holds but I do know the One who holds tomorrow and that is good enough for me.  I am certain no matter what, that as always, “He’s got this.”

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, missions, Scripture, thankful, travel, USA

Monuments or Mountains

Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18

It was on my bucket list.  I confess.  I am a pretty big fan of America. I mean, even with all of its warts, and there are plenty, with all its flaws, surely a bucket full, it is the best place to live.  Over the years I have visited some twenty-five countries—some in Europe, some in Asia and some in Africa.  Some were affluent, some were poor, and some were somewhere in between. All had something to offer but none could match this land I call home.  While some of my visits were brief, my wife Judy and I lived three years in Germany and the final word was…wait for it…home is better…there is and was no place like home.

I think the secret to learning to appreciate where you live is to learn to look for the good and not bad, the whole and not the broken.  The way we look at things can vastly change how we experience things.  A few days ago, I mentioned a quote from a movie that I had watched which, by the way was based on a true story.  The guy said, “There are two ways to live—either nothing is a miracle or everything is a miracle.” He opted for the latter and I think I will too.

Several weeks ago, we were out West on a trip with part of our tribe.  The main, but not only, destination was to see Mount Rushmore.  I’ve seen a chunk of America, but I hadn’t see that…and yes, it was on my bucket list.  So, the day came. As we drove toward the monument, suddenly, around a curve we were face to face, if you will, with Washington, Roosevelt, Jefferson and Lincoln and it was amazing.  We parked the car and frankly, the closer we got, the more amazing it became.

This amazing tribute to America (no, it wasn’t just a tribute to four men) took over fourteen years to build.  As you keep in mind it was about ninety years ago, then you begin to appreciate the vision, work and skill that it took to turn a mountain into a monument.  I was amazed to learn that many of the workers, who often had 12 hour days, were paid about $14 dollars…a week.  Those were hard times, and they were grateful to have a job.  But for many…the job became a passion…a mission…a cause to believe in.

Somewhere along the journey, they stopped seeing a mountain and began to see presidents.  Somewhere along the journey they began to see what Gutzon Borglum saw. While the project wasn’t his idea (that belongs to a guy named Doane Robinson) he was the one that chose that mountain.  The quality of the stone led him there and, honestly, where others saw just a mountain, he saw presidents. He.Saw.Presidents.

So, perhaps, just perhaps, it does matter what we see around us.  Perhaps if we chose to see miracles…or like Borglum to see monuments where others see just a block of stone, perhaps we can help make this world a better place.  Perhaps our lives, regardless of our messy circumstances or what seems to be hot mess, will take on a deeper meaning and a deeper purpose.  Perhaps if we learn that it is not about us but about others…things will change…for the better.

One of the writers in the Old Testament part of the Bible said that when people don’t have a vision, when they choose to see desolation rather than miracles, well, they perish.  It is true individually and it is true corporately.  If we are going to see a better world, two things need to happen.  First, we need to learn not to just see a mountain but what that mountain can become.  Secondly, and this one is for God followers, we need to believe again that with God nothing is impossible.  As we stand on the edge of the new normalcy, with that stinking COVID in the rearview mirror, let’s choose to believe again.  And why stop there?  Why don’t we determine to see presidents where others see mountains and believe that, “He’s got this.”  Bro. Dewayne

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

June 12th

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!” 1 Chronicles 16:34 (ESV)

I wonder if one day is really enough.  It was in 1863 when President Lincoln decided that we needed to have a defined day of Thanksgiving.  So, the final Thursday in November was so designated.  Later, on October 31, 1939, and strictly for business reasons, Franklin Roosevelt redesignated it as the next to last Thursday in November and since then that has been the day we celebrate Thanksgiving.  But wait, it isn’t November, and in fact, it is nowhere near November, so what gives?

Well, what gives is June 12th.  You see, I graduated from high school on June 8, 1972 and the following Monday, June 12th, I left for basic training in the United States Air Force.  It wasn’t a matter of strategic planning but rather a slight misunderstanding.  A friend suggested we join together under what was called, “The Buddy Plan.”  Two guys could join together, go through basic together and then be assigned together for their first assignment.  Well, we agreed, I signed up and he didn’t.  But here’s the deal.  I am absolutely certain that God sovereignly planned that for my good and His glory.

It turned out the Air Force was a good move for me.  It taught me dozens if not hundreds of life disciplines that have served me well all of my life.  God used the Air Force to position me to meet my wife Judy and then to teach us how to pick up and move when an authority said too.  For us, and between the Air Force and God, that included a year in Georgia, three years in Germany, six years in Missouri and finally 35 years in Illinois.  We learned to go when and where we were told, and we learned to trust.  It also helped us forge a strong marriage that has seen us through 45 years of adventures.

It turned out that God was also using the Air Force to prepare me for the real purpose of my life—our lives together—the pastorate.  Strangely, but really not, it was also on another June 12th, this one in 1983, that I was ordained into the gospel ministry.  And because God has a great sense of humor, I found myself pastoring a church with, well to be blunt, no training whatsoever.  I well remember I was filling in at a church when they asked me to be their pastor. I told them I didn’t know how to do that.  They replied, “Don’t worry, we will teach you.” And do you know what?  They did.

The game changer was the fact I was trained as an administrative specialist in the Air Force and when God spoke to my heart with a new set of “orders,” I was prepared.  Twelve years of administration were like twelve years of on-the-job training for the pastorate.  I learned to write, research, organize and manage an office.  When I stepped out of the Air Force and into a church office, I was strangely at home.  Of course, nothing could prepare me for what has sometimes been a wild ride of pastoring a church.  It has been a journey, a glorious, “you’ve got to be kidding me,” ride.

As I glance in the rearview mirror of my life, I am overwhelmed with the incredible goodness of God and that has led me to this conclusion—one day is not enough.  We need Thanksgiving but even more we need to celebrate, “Thanks-living.”  As you can probably guess, Thanks-living is understanding the importance of living a life that celebrates the goodness of God every day.  Someone said that there are two ways to live life—nothing is a miracle or everything is a miracle.  I’ll take the latter.  Also, I think the heart of those brief words speak to being grateful too.  Everywhere, everyday there is something to be grateful for.

So, tomorrow, is a special day for me and Judy.  Even though she wasn’t there for the first June 12th, she was there for the second and every one since.  She has been my best friend, my ministry partner and my cohort in our many adventures. I thank God for her, our family, and the countless folks we have met along the way.  The Bible tells us to, “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!” I think that is a pretty awesome idea.  I don’t know what the years ahead hold, but if it is anything like the past, it’s gonna be a great ride and of course, no matter what, He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

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

Sleepy Lions

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8

We found him sleeping in the grass.  Sound asleep.  A while back I had the privilege of going to Uganda and visiting with Watoto ministries.  The trip allowed me to see the incredible work of Watoto up front and personal.  They work with orphaned babies and children as well as single mothers.  They raise the kids to become Christian leaders and help the mothers provide for their families.

Part of the trip involved us going to Northern Uganda to see the work there. It also gave us the opportunity to take a one-day safari.  A safari gives you the opportunity to see animals in the wild.  You are on their turf and their terms.  We saw a large variety of animals but there was one we all wanted to see.  The lion.  It is like the holy grail of safaris–to see the “king of the jungle.”

Our guide that day just happened to be one of park rangers, so he had access to areas others did not.  So off we went.  Before long there was a report of a lion sleeping in a tree.  We went cross country and before long, bam, there was a lion…sound asleep.  Well, it was pretty incredible–asleep or not. We snapped about a hundred pictures of our sleeping friend and moved on.

We drove for about 30 minutes and another report came of a group of lions about 50 yards off the road.  Our guide, the ranger, told the driver to drive though the ditch and he did.  Sure enough, there were the lions.  There were about five or six of these magnificent beasts–all sound asleep.  What is up with lions and sleeping?

Well, it turns out that lions sleep 20 hours a day.  They hunt, eat and sleep.  That’s about it. Our driver gets to within five or six feet of the sleeping feline.  Our guide shouts, the driver honks the horn and nothing.  And then he does something totally unexpected.  He throws water on the lion.

What? Excuse me? Well, the king of the jungle, who turned out to be a queen, sits up, yawns and looks at us.  Hmmm…this lion thing is not what it is cracked up to be.  You would be tempted to think that every lion was like this lion.  That would be a mistake.

You see, there are some nasty lions out there and they would like to invite you to lunch. Lions are vicious predators and will eat you. I’ve watched enough National Geographic shows to know that not all lions are created equal.  I also know this.  Not all lions live in Africa.  In fact, there is one who lives close–very close.  He doesn’t have a mane or a tail, but he does have an appetite.  His name isn’t Mufasa or Simba. It is Satan.

The Bible, in 1 Peter 5:8, says this, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” On the safari we stayed alert looking for a lion. In this case we need to stay alert because the lion is looking for us.  And guess what?  He’s looking for lunch.

Peter said Satan is like a roaring lion.  If you’ve studied lions a bit, you know that a lion doesn’t roar when its stalking prey.  A lion roars for two different reasons.  One, he is declaring his dominance.  He is claiming his territory. This is mine.  He also roars to invite others to join his pride. The devil does both.

Satan is always roaring saying “this is mine and that is mine” but nothing is truly his. Nothing. It belongs to a much larger, much stronger Lion–the Lion of Judea. Satan is a liar–remember that. He wouldn’t know the truth if it stared him in the face. No pun intended.

He is also looking for others to join his pride.  He is looking for people who are discouraged and disheartened with life and with God and inviting them to join him.  Joining him is a big mistake. He is a loser, and he knows it.  That is why he is roaring so loudly.  His time is limited and he wants to take as many with him as he can.

Now if you are a believer, Satan can’t steal your salvation, but he can steal your peace, your character, your witness, your family, your integrity–well the list goes on and on.  That is why Peter said, “Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith.” Peter knew from experience just how good Satan is at taking what is not rightfully his.

Jesus said in John 10:10 “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy.”  That’s the enemy but Jesus isn’t done speaking. He goes on to say, “I have come to give you life and life more abundantly.”  He is saying, “if you trust Me, the Lion of Judah, you can rest in Me. I’m never asleep and I’m never out-gunned. I’ve got this.” And, He does. Bro. Dewayne

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

It Was Hard

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.”  Romans 8:18

And then I remembered…it was hard.  I was looking for a picture to use in one of my Grit’s stories and that caused me to go back…to reminisce…to remember.  It was 2007 and I was part of a vision trip to Niger, West Africa to check out the possibilities of our church ministering in that West Africa country.  It involved an incredibly long flight which included a 12-hour layover in Casablanca, Morocco.  This was new territory for all four team members and trust me it was an adventure.  Perhaps my favorite, and most eye-opening part, was when I asked a coffee shop owner if he took dollars.  His only response was a shrug of the shoulders that seemed to say, “What is a dollar?”  Apparently, I had found a place that didn’t think America was the center of the universe.

Later that day, we continued our journey to Niger and arrived near midnight and I was sure we had somehow been diverted and landed on the moon.  The landscape, the sounds, the sights, the smells and the culture were so different…and that was just the beginning. Though I had spent three years in Europe and made a journey to the Eastern European country of Bulgaria, nothing prepared me for this.  Even though we were in the capital city of Niamey there was still extreme property and many dirt roads.  Amazing.  But that was nothing compared to “the bush.”

We were more than just on the edge of the vast, almost endless Sahara desert where the scrub bushes and sand seemed to go on forever.  With the exception of our own faces, everyone there bore the signs of desert life.  Faces were weathered and worn by the desert winds and feet were toughened by the grinding of the sand.  And yet, the people were amazingly content.  Things such as family and friendship seemed to matter more than anything western culture provided.  It was eye opening.

We were in the bush for several days and every day was an adventure and every day we learned more and more about this harsh, yet beautiful place at the edge of the Sahara with all its challenges and opportunities.  We slept out in the desert air, we took bucket baths because there was no running water, we lived by flashlights because there was no electricity, and we ate new and strange foods…very strange.  I learned that millet was not on my favorite food list and I also learned that this southern boy could, with difficulty, go without bread.

Well, we more than survived and would return a half dozen times or so to this different part of the world before the political climate closed that door and we had to move on to another part of West Africa. That was another adventure and another story. But as I looked at those pictures and went back…reminisced…remembered, I realized, at least for me, that was a difficult trip.  For one who was used to so many creature comforts, it was hard. I also looked at some pictures from another trip to the bush a couple of years later and looked into the eyes of weary westerners—tired from a long day’s ministry, loving and helping people and remembered…it was hard.

But here’s the deal.  It was worth it…in fact, it was more than worth it.  Those trips, those days, were some of the most memorable days we have spent on the African continent. During those days I made friendships with people and learned from them.  They left their fingerprints on my life and heart and I am different today.  I hope that I too left good fingerprints on their lives—good impressions of Someone much greater than me.  We told Bible stories during those days and for many that was something new—something they had never heard, Someone, they had never known.  I still remember how some were bewildered and some intrigued.  Yes, it was worth all the hard and only eternity will tell the final impact.

Worth.The.Hard.  That is not only true for trips to West Africa or other difficult places, it is true of life.  You see, everyone’s journey is different, and everyone’s journey will include easy and it will include hard—and both are beneficial.  The easy refreshes us like a desert oasis and the hard teaches us like a strenuous workout at the gym.  If and when, we learn we need both, life takes on a different and better meaning.  We stop holding on only to the easy and learn to embrace the hard and we are better.

Paul, a guy in the Bible who knew a lot about easy and hard said, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.”  Paul learned to appreciate both sides of the coin—the refreshment of easier days and the challenge of difficult ones.  How about you?  Can you imagine a better outcome when the harshness of life brings profit instead of loss?  I know it is a challenge and a lesson that I am still learning.  But there is one lesson that is at the top of my to-do list—to remember and believe, “He’s got this.”  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, food, Grace, gratitude, life, love, loving others, missions, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, travel, wisdom

Sweet Tea

Indeed, we have all received grace upon grace from His fullness.” John 1:16

Sweet tea…oh yes, the drink of the south.  I was raised in the deep south and both food and drink were especially important.  To most southerners, including me, food was never just food, it was the great comforter—the billboard along the highway of life that said, “it’s gonna be ok.”  Growing up, whenever I was sad or happy or maybe a little blue—food was my friend.  And what is good food without something good to wash it down? And down south…that has to be “sweet tea.”  For clarity sweet tea is not brownish, tan water with some sugar or sweetener thrown in.  No, sweet tea is brewed, a southern tradition and creation, and when it is done right, well, it’s down right heavenly.  When it is done wrong, you end up with sweet brown water.

Sweet tea is not like wine.  I’ve heard that wine needs time to age to become fine.  That is not true with southern sweet tea.  You see good, sweet tea has a short life span.  Some would say hours, but no true southerner would say days.  If sweet tea is done right it turns to syrup overnight.  Leave a pitcher in the refrigerator till the next day and it becomes a whole different animal.  Good sweet tea is meant to be drank in the moment.  You may well sip it, but don’t take too long.

I discovered another kind of sweet tea from another part of the world.  When the folks in West Africa drink their version of sweet tea, well, it is an event.  First, it is served hot and not cold. Second, it is strong…VERY strong.  They brew their tea in a very small pot, with a little water, a lot of tea and over a small coal fired burner.  When it comes to a strong boil, they add boatloads of sugar…and I am not kidding.  They scoop and scoop and scoop some more.  The end result is one of the strongest and sweetest things you can imagine.  Trust me, if you weren’t diabetic before you started, you will be by the time you finish. They say their tea is sweet like life and bitter like death.

The way they present their tea is also special.  The host will go to great lengths (no pun intended) to pour his or her tea from pot to cup or glass from great heights.  The distance a person can pour their tea and not miss the cup is almost a matter of national pride.  A famous one-liner is, “I can pour my tea from the back of a camel on a very windy day.”  It is a cultural thing…it is a people thing.  You see good sweet tea does that.  It brings people together.  Whether it is a front porch in South Georgia, or a mat spread on the sands of the Sahara, tea…sweet tea, brings people together.

Today, in a time when there seems to be so much to pull us apart, maybe we all just need to sit down and have a good glass of sweet tea. For our friends in West Africa it is just a necessity.  Go see someone and tea will be offered and, tea will be shared.  It builds relationships, it opens the door of communication.  Maybe that is one reason why my Momma and Daddy shared a cup of coffee every day when he came home from work.  Maybe that is the reason we should do the same.  Often when people talk instead of yelling, things change.  It is true in government and it is true in church and it is true in homes.

I’m sure there are lots of reasons why things are so fragmented today and I’m also sure that a glass of sweet tea, no matter how good, won’t solve everything. However, I do know something that might.  That is a couple of teaspoons of grace.  Just like sugar tames the bitterness of the tea, so grace can tame a temper or temper a difficult situation.  Tempered steel is made stronger by the process of applying heat. In the same way, relationships and people are made stronger by applying grace. And we have grace to share because the Bible says that from His fullness, we have all received grace upon grace.

So, when’s the last time you just sat down with a friend, or an adversary for that matter, and had some good, sweet tea mixed with a little grace?  You might be surprised to learn that the gulf between the both of you is not as great as you think.  It is certainly not so wide that grace can’t span the gap and trust me, no, trust Him—there is always grace enough.  As always, He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

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

Rocking on Lake Victoria

Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” Deuteronomy 31:8

It was like something out of National Geographic. I was on a vision trip to Uganda several years ago and it was one adventure after another.  I was working with a missionary who had a ministry to the people living on the islands of Lake Victoria.  This massive lake is the second largest in the world and is more like an inland sea than a lake.  There are places that you can lose sight of the shoreline and you feel very much like you are out on the ocean.

Our vessel was anything but an ocean liner.  It was a handcrafted open vessel that was about twenty-five feet long and powered by a fire breathing dragon of a motor with a whopping ten horsepower.  We would tear across the lake at a heart stopping ten miles an hour. Ok, there really wasn’t a fire breathing dragon effect, nor were we tearing across the lake, but it was a great adventure!  Usually.

One day, after a long day of preaching and teaching, it was time to head back to our home island.  We were a little late leaving and night was coming soon, so it was imperative that we begin heading back.  Our boat was parked in a small, secluded harbor and from there we all loaded up.  There were only about six of us in the boat and the small engine started and off we went.  As soon as we left the harbor we were greeted by some rough water.  The waves were large enough to be “white caps” and I gave the missionary a glance but he assured me that these were not big waves. Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and so is wave size.  These were boat swallowing monsters.  And then, after a few minutes, it happened.

As the pilot guided the boat and tried to determine just how to navigate the large waves…the motor quit.  I mean, it just stopped.  Suddenly, at least in my eyes, things got a bit more interesting.  We could no longer navigate the waves, rather, we were at their mercy and no matter how hard the pilot pulled, the engine wouldn’t start.  About then I began a worship service of sorts, part music, part prayer and part personal eulogy. You know, “Friends we are gathered here to honor the life of…” Meanwhile the pilot is still pulling on the motor and I kept praying.

Finally, one of the guys in the boat named Joseph went to work on the motor.  Joseph is a young man that can do just about anything—from preaching to apparently fixing motors.  The shorter version of a long story is that He proceeded to take the carburetor apart and “blow it out.”  Now keep in mind we are still rocking like crazy…and I still am praying and preparing to die.  But I had planned my funeral just a little too soon.  Before long, Jospeh had the carburetor reassembled and back on the motor.  Three or four quick pulls later and we were back “on the road.”  The waves were still big (at least to me) but we were underway and eventually we arrived back at the other island.  Safe—if not too sound.

It really was one of those times that I wished I had paid more attention at swimming lessons because I wasn’t totally sure of the outcome.  But thankfully I did remember one thing. I remembered that whether I am rocking in a boat on the world’s second largest lake in East Africa or driving down the Interstate at 70 miles-per-hour surrounded by people looking at their cellphones or doing life in a tumultuous point in history, my Father, my Dearest Daddy, is in control.  Fate and circumstances are not calling the shots—He is. And if that isn’t enough, we have the promise that the Lord will personally go ahead of us. He will be with us; He will neither fail us, nor will He abandon us.

Now to be clear that doesn’t mean that everything is going to turn out exactly as I would like.  It doesn’t mean that I get to write the script and He has to follow it.  Quite the contrary, He is writing the script and He invites me to trust Him and to believe that ultimately the end of the story is for my good and His glory.  I’m learning that the story never ends here—it ends there.  For the person who decides to trust Him there is always a surprise ending and that is—the end is not the end.  We may change locations, but the story continues.  How about that?

So, I survived that day on the lake and now have returned many times…each time taking others with me including the one that I love most on this earth—my wife, Judy. I do so knowing, that while there are risks, ultimately the pilot of the boat doesn’t sit at the back but up in heaven and He’s got his eye on us and everything we do.  It’s true in East Africa and its true where you and I live.  We can say with certainty that if we belong to Him, we don’t have to worry because, “He’s got this.”  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, forgiveness, gratitude, life, love, loving others, missions, Scripture, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel, Trials

Lost in the Desert

He counts the stars and calls them all by name.” Psalm 147:4

Don’t follow me. I’m lost.  That may sound like something a preacher should never write but at least one time in my life, that was the message.  It seems like I was probably ten years old and somehow Mama and Daddy bought me a new bike for my birthday.  When I was a little older, they gave me a brand new, bright and shiny ten speed but this one was different.  It was a single speed, traditional bike but it was new, and it was mine. I remember it having the little “streamy” things that kids used to put on their handlebars so they could wave in the breeze. I was so proud of that bike.

There was one other thing that set it apart.  Attached to the back of the seat was a little “tag” (you know, like a license plate but a lot smaller) and it said, “Don’t follow me. I’m lost.”  I don’t know if Mama and Daddy bought it and put it on the bike or if it came on it. However, since I was like most ten-year-old boys—it was probably appropriate.  Of course, at that time I had no idea that one day I would be a pastor and do my best to help people find the right path in their lives. We all know how imperfect preachers are but hopefully there is one thing that we can do and do right—show people how to follow Jesus.  After all, we all get lost, and we all need someone to point us in the right direction.

Several years ago we were in Niger, West Africa and we were in the Sahara Desert.  We were traveling from one small village in the middle of nowhere and going to another slightly larger village in the middle of nowhere.  Keep in mind this is West Africa and more often than not, you are going to end up on a road made of sand and only an occasional road sign.  Our missionary was driving a 4X4 and we were heading in the direction of Abalak—again a medium sized city in the middle of the desert.  We drove and drove and she was pretty sure we were going in the right direction but who knew.  After all…it was West Africa, and it was the desert, and signs, well, they were not.

We drove for several hours till we came to a place where we could see in the distance a couple of tents and a few camels standing around.  I remember there was a young lady sitting on a donkey who looked like she could pass for Mary on her way to Bethlehem but there also was a man. We opened our window and the missionary greeted him and he asked where we were going.  She said we were going to Abalak.  I remember his reply. In his local language he said, “Not this way, you’re not.” He also said that he had a cousin in Abalak.  Of course, in West Africa, in the middle of nowhere, it seemed everyone either knew or was related to everyone.  But he offered to guide us to Abalak if he could ride along.

Well, we readily agreed and off we went with a new friend pointing the way. Remember the song we sing at Thanksgiving about over the river and through the woods?  Well, it was just like that except it wasn’t Thanksgiving, there was no river and there were no woods but after several hours we did find ourselves in Abalak.  It turns out our new friend was just the person we needed.  We were lost and he pointed us in the right direction.

You know, sometimes in life we get lost too, don’t we?  I know more than once I have been lost. Don’t be shocked and don’t make me turn in my “man card,” but I’ve actually stopped and asked directions. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t.  It was always reassuring though when the store the person mentioned or the right color of house on the corner appeared.  It was always about then I knew we had been found and everything was going to be ok.

As we emerge from the pandemic and all of its craziness and if you are feeling a little lost, remember it is ok to ask directions.  It might be a trusted friend or someone you know from church, but it is ok to stop and ask for directions. I’ve found a Friend that always points me right where I need to go.  He never gets lost because He made the place and He is never wrong because, well, He’s just never wrong.

There is a place in the Bible where it says that He knows the total number of stars in the heavens, and He calls them all by name.  And I figure if He knows the stars…He probably knows the way I ought to go.  How about that?  So today, if you’re feeling a little lost, just ask Him.  He knows the way and He loves pointing people in the right direction and, as always, you can rest assured that “He’s got this.” Bro. Dewayne