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

The “I Want You to Die” Tick

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” Romans 13:14

You know there are one or two things that are good about a really cold winter.  And number one is the fact that it kills all the bugs. As you remember, last winter wasn’t very cold. I’m not sure what you thought about last winter’s weather, but apparently the local tick population thought it was just fine.  Even around my house—and I live on the main drag in Harrisburg—we have had to check every once in a while to make sure we didn’t pick up any unwanted hitchhikers.

Several weeks ago Judy and I went hiking in a wooded area.  The trail we were on was plenty wide but I guess ticks are good jumpers. Later in the week, I was working at my desk at home and I felt just a little itch on my leg.  You know, nothing major—just a “hi—I might need you to scratch me later” itch.  I ignored it.

After a bit, it developed into more.  It went from a “you might need to scratch me” to more of a “hey, now would be a good time to scratch me” itch.  So I did—and when I did, I felt a small bump.  At first I thought it was a small bite and whoever had done it had moved on to greener pastures.  I was wrong.  It was a dirty, rotten, no good, “I want you to die”… tick.  Oh, he wasn’t big—in fact he looked quite innocent. He was only the size of a writing pen head.  Well, I try to be a friendly guy—just not with ticks and especially not with one having dinner—and I’m the meal.  So we departed company and I did my best to make sure he went to the tick afterlife. So long friend…adios. No prayer, no service…just you’re out of here.

So, I thought it was not big deal—but I guess big is relative.  You see, by the next day that little bite site had turned red and was about twice as big as before—and it was still itching—only more.  Now fortunately it was NOT the kind of dirty rotten, no good, “I want you to die” ticks that give us weird diseases. But even so, the spot where he bit me itched for several weeks.  Even a couple of months later while the itch is gone the scar remained.  It hard to imagine that one little tick can cause so much trouble.  Write that one down:  little things can have bigger consequences.

Yep, that’s right.  Some small habit, some little action or inaction, a few seconds of a wandering mind, a few misspoken, unkind words—can have large and lasting consequences. And the worse part is that it doesn’t just affect us—it can and does affect those around us. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because it starts small it stays small. It rarely does.  It really isn’t practical to totally avoid the outdoors so there has to be another way.  A good insect repellent is a good start.

A guy in the Bible named Paul wrote gives us some good advice on how to avoid pesky sins.  He said, “but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to it’s lusts.”  So Paul said the best way to avoid the aggravation and consequences of sin is to give yourself a good smattering of Jesus and then avoid sin wherever and whenever it is likely to jump on.  The truth is the more we read the Bible and apply it and the more we act like Jesus the less likely we will find ourselves infested with pesky, troublesome sin.  Trust me…life is just better.

Well, the site where the friendly little tick decided to visit is finally about gone but it was a journey to get here.  The bottom line is it would just be better to avoid it in the first place. The old saying an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is so true.  That is also true in avoiding ticks and it is true in avoiding sin. One thing is for sure.  It is good to know that God is more than willing to help us know when there’s a pesky sin close by.  All we have to do is ask, and He will help.  Mark it down…we can rest assured with Him close by.  He’s got this.

Posted in Family, fear, gratitude, life, prayer, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, wisdom

He’s Got This

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

I like love notes.  My wife Judy and I have been married for a long, long time.  Sometimes people ask how it is that we have stayed married to each other for forty-four years.  It could be that I am an incredible husband but the truth is Judy is an incredible wife.  She is pretty patient with me when I mess up and well, that’s quite frequently. She also has a great servant’s heart.  She is constantly doing the small things that just say, “I love you.”  In that way she is a lot like God.

It always impresses me when God does something really big in my world.  It causes me to just stop and be amazed.  Our lives are filled with stories that show the handiwork of God.  Each one is a love note and each one bears His signature.  Whether it is getting though a particularly hard time or fulfilling a dream, He is always there.  The trick is learning to see it.

Back in 1981, Judy and I were living in Warrensburg, Missouri.  We were attending the First Baptist Church there and having the time of our lives.  God had blessed us with a wonderful group of friends and we were serving in several ministries there. Two of those involved music.  We were teaching preschool choir (those songs still roll around in my head) and both of us were in the adult choir.  Our worship leader, Dan Tracy, was a great guy and great leader.  Every choir practice and performance was spiritually magical.

One of the things that Dan did was lead a choir tour every Spring.  The church would rent a bus for the weekend and our choir would sing at several churches.  In the Spring of 1981, Judy and I were brand new parents.  Our first daughter Rebecca had been born that January.  She was obviously too young to leave with a sitter so Judy and I agreed she would stay home and I would go with the choir.  So on a Thursday afternoon, she took me to church to leave with the choir.  We were all excited, but I kinda felt bad leaving Judy behind.

Finally, just about everyone was on the bus and it was time to go.  Someone, it may have been Dan, was locking the church door when he happened to hear the phone ringing. For some reason, he stopped and went back inside to answer it.  It really didn’t make a lot of since because it was after hours and it was a larger church so people called all the time.   Regardless, he answered the call.  It was for me.

Now before the story goes any further you need to understand that most of our family had no clue what state we lived in.  Most of them probably didn’t know where Missouri was on the map.  Certainly, no one knew we were attending First Baptist and certainly no one knew I was there late on a Thursday afternoon leaving on a choir tour.  Yet the call was for me.  It was Judy’s brother…her father had died suddenly of a heart attack and we needed to go home to Georgia.

Now pause just a moment and be amazed.  No one knew what church we were attending, it was after hours, I was moments away from leaving for the tour and someone just happened to hear the phone and answer it. Amazing. It was obviously very hard news but to this day Judy and I both marvel at how our Father orchestrated this.  It was as if He said, “Judy, you have a difficult journey ahead of you but I am putting this together so you will know that I love you and I will walk with you.”  And yes, it was as if He signed it, “Love, Dearest Daddy.”

It was a difficult journey that left us both shocked and surprised. Judy’s daddy had just been with us for Rebecca’s birth and suddenly, he moved to heaven. But even in those sad, heartbroken moments, we knew He was not leaving us to walk through this hard time alone. We trusted that He would show us the way as we walked this new, unplanned path. And He never left us to walk alone.

How about you?  First, I hope you have made the decision to ask God to forgive your sins and be your Father.  It is the greatest and best decision ever. Again, it has nothing to do with religion or church.  It has everything to do with a relationship with the Creator of everything.  Second, if you have done that I hope you will make it a habit to look and see the handiwork of your Father in everyday life.  He is constantly at work—in the good times and hard times.  He is at work when it is obvious and when it is not.

It is one of those verses that a lot of people throw around but it is just packed with truth. It says, “we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”  Now, it doesn’t say that everything is good but that God can bring good from all circumstances.  God in fact did get us safely through a twenty-three hour drive to South Georgia with a six week old baby girl in the back seat.  God did show us His love through an amazing phone call. And the best part—He does it for each of His kids.  So, snuggle up and rest in Him.  He loves you and He’s got this. 

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, prayer, Scripture, travel

“Fore” What?

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.” 
1 Corinthians 9:24-25

I don’t play golf.  You might say, “I thought all preachers play golf and eat fried chicken.”  Well, one out of two isn’t too bad.  I am a big fan of fried chicken but golf has never been my thing.  When I was at Cobden a good friend of mine named Andy would occasionally take me to play.  Most times I would wack the ball and I would hook or slice it.  I’m really not sure what that means but I do know the ball didn’t go anywhere near the hole.  It generally went towards Australia.

Sometimes, and I admit it was rarely, I would hit the ball and it would go right down the fairway.  I don’t know who was more surprised; me, my friend Andy or the ball.  At any rate it occasionally happened.  But that was the problem…the fact that I couldn’t seem to consistently make it do the right thing was very frustrating.  So finally I looked at Andy and said, “You know Andy, I don’t understand why I am paying good money to be frustrated.  I can stay home and be frustrated for free.”  And boom…that was my last golf game.  I do still get frustrated, but boy, have I saved money.

Well, with all that said, when we went on vacation with the family a month or so ago our condo overlooked this beautiful, world class golf course.  Some famous guy designed it and the whole purpose of the course was to be challenging.  Of course, for me that translated frustrating.  I was amazed though about how carefully they maintained the course.  Early every morning the crew would go out and prepare the course for that day’s lesson in frustration.  Each person had a job and a piece of equipment to get the job done.  Like I said, it was very impressive.  And then I noticed something.

Every couple of days, a guy would sneak out on the course and play a trick on the guys paying to be frustrated.  First, he would go to where they would tee off.  That is the place where they smack the ball and see if it went towards the hole or towards Australia. He would move the tee backward or forward and change the distance to the green.  Pretty tricky.  But he wasn’t done.  He would then go the green and move the flag and hole around—this side or that side—closer or further.

The whole point was to confuse the guys hitting the ball—to make it more challenging or depending on your perspective, frustrating.  The golfers would tee off from a different place toward a target that had magically moved over night.  What worked the day before wouldn’t work the next.  It was different, it was challenging… it kept them on their toes.  How about that.

As I watching all of this, it occurred to me that God must like golf too.  In fact, I’m pretty sure they got their ideas from Him.  You see God is all about helping us grow to be more like Him. To do that He introduces things in our lives that challenge us.  You might say He occasionally moves the tee and moves the flag.  Now, that might be frustrating but that isn’t why He does it.  He does it to strengthen our lives—our game.

I don’t know if the Bible has an example about golf (though it does tell us to be “holy”)  but it sure has a good one about running.  Paul says that we should realize that in a race everyone runs but only one can win.  We are to run to win.  But the race isn’t about meters and miles—it is about becoming like Jesus. So, what’s the deal about becoming like Him?  Well, the more we become like Him, the more our lives will have less “slices and hooks” and less consequences.  Life is better, much better, with Jesus. When my life finally gets a little slower, I just might take up a hobby but I still think I can find something that will allow me to get frustrated for free.  I’ll leave golf to the other guys.  For now, the next time I get a little frustrated, I’m going to remember that God may have intentionally moved the tees or the flag to help me be like Him.  Oh wait…here He comes now.  He’s inviting me to take a rest and ride in the cart with Him.  I think I will…He’s got this.

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

The Tax Man Cometh

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

It was from the tax guy or gal and it was waiting for me in the mailbox when I got home.  Judy is usually the mail checker but she was out of town.  I went into the house and “it” was a letter from the tax assessor’s office.  They told me they had driven by my house and they really liked it—a lot.  And, since they liked it so much, they decided it was worth more than they had previously thought.  A whole lot more.  They blessed us with a reassessment of value and the grand prize was that we got to pay more property taxes. Yay.  Well, not really but it did give me a great opportunity to learn about how much God loves me.  Here’s what happened.

If you have been here before you probably know, my day job is being a pastor. It is something that I really enjoy.  My favorite thing is sharing THE story but also sharing stories.  I love to take big truths and present them in a way that anyone can grasp them.  I think that is what Jesus did and I figure if He did it, I should too.

This past week I was sharing the story from the Bible about how four guys take this paralyzed guy to see Jesus.  When they got there, the house was stuffed with people.  There was no way they were going to get in.  They decided to take this guy up on the roof, make a hole and then lower him right in front of Jesus.  It was crazy, it was  radical, and it was different, but they believed two things.  They believed that Jesus could heal their friend and that their friend was worth the effort.  We all could use friends like that.

They began to haul this guy up the ladder to the roof.  Can you even imagine how difficult and challenging that was?  I mean how do you keep a paralyzed guy from falling off his mat while climbing a ladder?  Well, somehow they pulled it off.  When they got to the top, they began to remove the thatch first and then break apart the mud and tiles.  After they had made a hole big enough to get this guy through—they lowered him down and he landed right in front of Jesus. I bet there was more than one person who wondered what in the world was going on. I bet too some people were grumbling about tearing up a perfectly good roof to get some poor, paralyzed guy in front of Jesus. I mean if he had been some rich guy… maybe… but a nobody? And that’s what “rung my bell”.

You see to those four guys and to Jesus—this guy wasn’t a nobody—he was a somebody.  He was worth way more than a hole in the roof.  In fact, through the eyes of Jesus, every soul is incredibly valuable—including yours.  And that’s when the reassessment thing came into focus. Remember, when the tax folks drove by my house?  They liked what they saw and they increased my tax assessment.  Their assessment really only meant I get to pay more taxes.  It really doesn’t mean my house is actually worth what they said.

You see, I learned a while back that anything you or I own—our house, our car, is worth only what someone is willing to pay for it. That’s the bottomline.  So, here’s the deal.  God drove by your soul, my soul and assigned a value to it—what it was worth to Him and what He was willing to pay to redeem it.  Do you know what that was?  Well, we find it in the Bible.  It says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  Get that—everlasting (as in eternal) life. God’s assessment of our value to Him was the life of His very own Son.  He allowed His Son to die on a Roman cross because He somehow counted us worth it.  He just loved us that much.

Well, the end of the story for the paralyzed guy was pretty amazing.  Jesus first calls him son—not worthless, not broken, but son. Then He forgives the guy’s sin—not what he wanted… but what he needed—and finally, He tells him to stand up, take his mat and go home.  Three seemingly impossible things. But with Jesus, as you can probably guess, nothing is really impossible. The guy jumps up, takes his mat and leaves as the crowd is standing in disbelief.  They said they have never seen anything like that—and they hadn’t. The key thing is that the guy had to not only believe, but also act on what he believed. Each one of us must do the same.  We have to believe that Jesus is Who He says He is and can do what He says He can do.  When we believe that—we are forgiven and God becomes our Father. Truth be known, I wasn’t too happy about my reassessment. However, I was glad it taught me a new way to look at how much God loves me…and you.  When we are down on ourselves, when all we can see are failures and warts, when we want to give up and quit, we are reminded that our Heavenly Father thinks we are worth a lot. You see, I’m learning that His opinion is the only one that matters. So why not claim that for yourself and take a rest in Him today.  Because you know—He’s got this.  

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

“Just Like Papa”

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Hebrews 10:24

It is one of my favorite pictures.  It was several years ago when Blake and Sarah were stationed in Savanah, Georgia.  He serves in the United States Army and they are one of thousands of families who make the sacrifice to go where they are sent and do what they are called to do.  Now, of all the places the Army can sent a family, Savanah was good duty.  The oldest city in Georgia and located in the Southeastern side of Georgia it is rich in heritage and about 25 miles from the beach.  Not bad.

Well, one day Judy suggested we should go down and see them.  Let’s see…family, grits, history and pralines (in case you don’t know they are a crisp or semi-crisp candy typically consisting of butter, brown sugar, and pecans. You need to try them.) Yup…sounds like a great idea.  So we load up the van and off we go.  Its about an eleven hour drive and we broke it up into two days because we are not as young as we used to be and to us the journey is part of the adventure.

When we arrive in Savanah, there are the usual “big hellos” and “what’s happening?” Soon after come the next two big questions—what are we going to eat and where do we want to go.  We decide to go to the historic downtown.  If you have never been to Savanah it is hard to describe this special part of the city.  It is a series of parks, literally block after block, filled with trees, flowers, monuments, and fountains.  Oh, and there is a Five Guys Burgers and Fries nearby.  It can’t get any better. It’s like the Southern part of heaven.

After three or four blocks of strolling I decide it is time to sit down.  So I wander over to an empty park bench and sit a spell.  As I sometimes do, I lean back, locking my hands behind my head and just relax.  The birds are singing, the squirrels are playing and life is good.  And then, it got better.  While I am sitting there doing my relaxing thing, my grandson Will, who was about four, comes over to the park bench and eyes his Papa. What he does next is recorded in a photograph and in my heart.

Will, with a bit of a struggle, climbs up and sits on the park bench.  He then gives me a look, raises his hands behind his head, locking his fingers.  He is being like his Papa. He is doing what he sees me doing. Judy, with the keen eye of a great photographer and grandmother, snaps the picture.  It was only when we got home did we see the true beauty of the picture.  Today, a copy sits on my desk in my home office and it is indeed one of my treasures.

Will reminded me that day there are always people watching and looking and often imitating us.  Sometimes they are family, sometimes they are fellow church members, sometimes neighbors, sometimes even strangers.  But they are watching and looking to see what we are going to do, how we are going to react and then they do what we do. That might be the reason when one of Jesus’ disciples ran—then they all did. It might be why when one shouted “crucify Him,” they all did.  This picture makes me pause and ask, “What are my kids, my grandkids, my friends, the yet to be friends around me, seeing when they see me?”  What do they see at the park, in Wal-Mart and yes, on Facebook?  Hmmm.

The guy who wrote Hebrews says that we should consider—we should weigh carefully—how we may spur one another on toward love and good works.”  In other words, the things we do and say should cause others to do good—and not to do evil. We are to be beacons of light shining out into a dark, rough, and dangerous sea.  I guess I really love that picture because of the innocence of it all.  But what if, what if, that same picture showed me being hateful or rude.  What brings me joy would, and should, then bring tears. Today is a new day.  I like new days.  New days say I get another chance.  Let’s use this day with the knowledge that people are watching and we get to show them the way to get it right—not wrong.  I know, it is a daunting task…but we have a great, big God pulling for us.  Just like I got to set an innocent example for Will, so Jesus has set a sterling example for us.  Just follow the leader and you can’t go wrong.  So, climb up on the bench, sit a spell and rest.  He’s got this.

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

Chucking Rocks

When they kept on questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:7

I should have listened.  I was a pretty good kid when I was young but let’s be honest.  Pretty good doesn’t mean perfect and pretty good doesn’t mean not mischievous.  I think it means I was somewhere close to normal.  The only thing is, normal can still get you into trouble.

One day I was with the family and I’m pretty sure we were at a laundromat.  Apparently the washing machine had broken down and we had to do the wash at the mat.  My daddy and I were out in the parking lot while mama was washing the clothes.  I was about nine and bored and that is not a good combination.  The parking lot was gravel and all those rocks just seemed to be saying, “Throw me.”  So, I obliged.

At first it was a little toss here and there but the more I threw, the more I wanted to throw.  First it was here and there but then I started taking aim.  Several things were lying along the edge of the parking lot and they made great targets but then I got an idea.  If hitting a can was good, imagine hitting a moving target.  So I started chucking the rocks in the direction of the road and at the cars passing by.  Bad idea.

Now, if you are going to chuck rocks at a car, every nine year old rock chucker knows you don’t just chuck your rock with obvious intention.  You ease into it. Well, I started easing into it and before long my rocks were landing dangerously close to cars passing by.  My Daddy thought it was kinda accidental and it garnered a “Dewayne, be careful to not hit the cars.”  He hadn’t caught onto my real plan to “ping a hub cap.”  Anyway, I kept chucking so he upped the warning.

“Dewayne, listen, don’t throw rocks at the cars.” He had finally caught on and I should have quit while I was ahead.  I finally got close enough so that we entered “Final Jeopardy.” “Question—what happens if you hit a car? Answer—I’m gonna give you a spanking.”  Yeah, well, you can probably guess where this is going.  I chucked a rock and hit a car going by and it was “Final Jeopardy.”  Daddy got mad, the driver got mad and I got in trouble.

Well, Daddy was able to talk to the driver and he promised him the “grapes of wrath” would fall when we got home.  As he drove off, daddy explained about the “grapes of wrath.” Translated, it meant I was gonna get a spanking when we got home and it wasn’t gonna be a little one.  So, as soon as we pulled into our driveway, I ran into the house and hid under the dining room table.  Soon, I heard Daddy’s voice, “Where are you, Dewayne?”  I felt like Adam and Eve in the garden after they had chucked rocks at God and decided to sin.  God was looking for them and they were hiding too.

And that’s where things get fuzzy.  I don’t remember the spanking which means I probably got grace instead.  It probably means that Daddy and I had a long talk about chucking rocks at cars and how that was not a good thing to do.  It must have worked because I don’t think I ever chucked another rock at a car…at least one that was moving. That day I learned about obedience and how it has a lot less consequences than disobedience.  I also learned about grace.  Grace is when you deserve a spanking but instead you get a talking.  But I also learned about rock chucking. I learned that it was ok to chuck rocks at things like stumps and cans, but it is not ok to chuck rocks at things like cars. When you do there are consequences…big ones.

Now, there’s another kind of rock chucking that I’m still learning about and that is chucking rocks at people. I’m not talking about waylaying someone with a stone but rather waylaying them with our judgmental acts and words. It’s what we do when we see someone fail and we decide to make ourselves feel better by knocking them down.

Jesus ran into this when some religious people found a woman sinning big.  They dragged her into the middle of a crowd and wanted to stone her.  They asked Jesus what He would do.  He told them that the person that had never sinned should chuck the first rock.  Well, slowly they all walked away because they had all messed up. “Where are your accusers?” Jesus asked the woman.  She replied that they had left…and indeed they had.

The only two left were her, the sinner and Him, the One who had never sinned.  He could have chucked rocks but instead He loved her and forgave her.  She deserved the rocks but He gave her grace.  I like that.  A lot. He dismissed her a smile and a word of “now don’t go on sinning” and the rocks stayed on the ground…right where they belong. So, I am grateful for grace…and you should be too.  If we have experienced grace we should extend some too. You see, rocks make great parking lots and driveways but are terrible weapons. They need to stay in the quarry or on the ground.  My daddy showed grace then and my Dearest Daddy shows it every day.  We should too.  However, it’s good to know when we are hiding under the dining room table and He calls, we can come out and sit in His lap and learn about the consequences of sin but also the wonders of grace.  So, come on out from your hiding place. We can rest in Him because, “He’s got this.”

Posted in gratitude, life, loving others, prayer, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

Goose-Land, Part 1

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

There is news from goose-land.  Well, for those of you who read regularly you know that I walk for exercise five or six times a week.  You also remember that I have different routes that I take and one of those leads me around the pond in the city park.  That is also known as goose-land. Today I chose to walk in the park.  Let me tell you with the warm temperatures and high humidity a walk in the park is no walk in the park.

I left the house this morning before sunrise trying to catch the coolest part of the day.  When I got to the park the sun was just starting to peek over the horizon.  I was all alone beside the ducks and the geese.  You will be glad to know the mama duck has managed to raise almost all of her ducklings.  You go, girl.  But then I noticed something different with the geese.

A couple of months ago I wrote and told you about an unusual yet beautiful thing with the geese.  A family of brown geese had adopted one of the white geese and one of the white geese, I named him Bubba, had taken up with the brown geese.  He was kinda like an Uncle Vinny…you know a protector and bouncer all rolled up in one.  He was good at it too.  He could let out a hiss that sent a clear message,  “You mess with my family and I will mess with you.”  It was all cool. Color and creed were all laid aside.

But then there was today.  I hadn’t walked in the park for a couple of weeks and while I was gone something happened.  The white goose that had been adopted left his brown family and joined the white geese.  But that’s not all.  Bubba, well Bubba had abandoned his brown family and had too rejoined the other group.  It is eerily familiar and seemingly sad.

I’m not sure what caused the change.  It could have been just time, it could have been peer pressure.  I just don’t know.  But I do know something that was unique and special was lost in the mix or rather unmixing. The baby now adult white goose seemed quite comfortable in his new environment.  But Bubba just wasn’t the same.  As I walked past the gaggle of geese there was one that stood out and I’m pretty sure it was Bubba.

This fellow who used to be so proud, his eyes filled with the fire of purpose, now stared with empty eyes.  There was no hiss, no sound of passion, no hint of protection.  Simply put, Bubba was now just one of the guys.  He was just another goose waddling around. What made him different was gone.  Bubba had lost his identity.

We need to realize that what happened to Bubba can easily happen to us as Jesus followers.  If it was peer pressure, if it was a cultural shift, what happened to him can and will happen to us.  That is why Paul wrote, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  If we are not careful the culture around us will pressure and push us to be just like them.

See, there were and are several white geese down at the park.  There was not a shortage of white geese but there was only one Bubba—only one who was willing to take a stand and protect those even different from himself.  The world needs some people who are willing to stand and be different.  The world needs some Jesus people who will live, act and love just like Him.  It’s not so we can be better than anybody.  It is so we can show them Someone who can help them be better—in fact, be made new.

If that is going to happen, we Jesus people have got to lay aside our differences, our prejudices, our soapboxes and just be like Him.  We have got to resist the pressure to become just another “goose in the gaggle.”  We have got to be light in a dark, damaged world.  Jesus said in Matthew 6:16 “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Someone said, “These days, they are a changing” and the truth is, they are.  But we serve, we follow, the changeless one, Jesus the Christ.  And, if you are going to follow someone, that is the Someone to follow.  He is for you, He loves this world, and He is greater than any and all.  We can rest in Him because…He’s got this. 

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

Faith and the Next Step

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

There’s hard…and there is really hard.  You know, sometimes faith is easy.  The way is clear, the path is obvious and you just do it.  Sometimes, it just isn’t that way.  Sometimes, all the time, faith requires…faith. So back in 2000, my family and I were living in Cobden where I was pastoring at Cobden First Baptist.  We had been there over 14 years and it was one of those pastor/church relationships that don’t happen too often.  We were in love with each other.  It wasn’t a job…it was family. And then the phone rang.

It was a call from Don Billman wanting to know if I would be interested in pastoring in Harrisburg at Dorrisville Baptist.  I had received calls like this before and the answer was always, “No thank you.  We are really happy here.”  This time, though, for some reason I said I would think about it—pray about it.  It was almost frightening but I could hear the Whisperer whispering and I was pretty sure He was calling us to step out on faith. I tried to dismiss it, I tried to ignore it, but He kept whispering until I finally knew that it was a choice to obey or disobey.

After several weeks we arranged a date to go and preach a message, meet the folks at Dorrisville and to see if we should join our lives together.  I had asked God for a pretty big favor.  If this was in fact His will would He give me a 100% vote.  Now in case you don’t know that was a pretty big deal, especially since we were talking about a couple of hundred people.  Well, we met each other and they voted.  It was 100%.  I was taken aback as I realized it was time to step out on faith.

Pastors usually leave churches in one of two ways: readily or reluctantly.  I was a reluctant prophet.  I knew going was the right thing, but it wasn’t the easy thing.  It was probably one of the HARDEST things I have ever done.  We were excited about Dorrisville, but I knew I was leaving family in the process.  Were there doubts? Yes.  Were there assurances?  Yes. And that is the point of this story.

A week or so after the vote and in the middle of the process of saying goodbye to Cobden, I was sitting outside of Target in Marion.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  I was having a talk with God that included two questions.  “God, is this really you?” “God, what have I done?”  There I sat with those two questions rolling around in my head.  And then they showed up.  It wasn’t two angels named Micheal or Gabriel but it was a couple of messengers from my Dearest Daddy.  Their names were Tom and Leanne.

Tom and Leanne were members at Dorrisville—my new family.  They walked up to the bench outside of Target and politely introduced themselves.  “Hi we are Tom and LeAnne. We are members at Dorrisville and when we saw you sitting here we just HAD to stop and tell you how glad we are that you are coming to Dorrisville.  We can’t wait for you to come.”  I can’t tell you the emotion of that moment.  It was a clear and confident assurance from the Whisperer.  From that moment on I knew I was right where God wanted me and that was what mattered.

So we finished saying goodbye to our Cobden family and said hello to our new family at Dorrisville.  On July 16, 2000 we had our first service there.  I wish I could tell you how marvelously I led and how confidently I took the field but the truth is this rookie fumbled the ball a few times.  But gratefully my new family was gracious and patient and suddenly here we are twenty years later.  It has been a wonderful journey for me of learning and growing, serving, and sharing.  Over the past two decades we have had so many times of celebration together.  We have learned grace together. Someday, one day, the Whisperer will whisper again but until that time I am having the time of my life.

So if you find yourself at the edge of a cliff and you are not sure what to do next.  If all the light is gone from your world and you are stuck…go ahead and take the next step.  As Patrick Overton wrote, “When you have come to the edge of all light that you know and are about to drop off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing one of two things will happen: There will be something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly.” Whether it is the uncertainly of the corona virus, the unrest of our Country or the upcoming elections this Fall…we can rest in Him…for He surely has this.

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

I Heard Him Before I Saw Him

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.  You are with me.”  Psalm 23:4

I heard him before I saw him.  Last week I was walking in the city park.  It wasn’t the casual walk but the exercising kind.  I do about 2.5 miles in about 35 minutes.  That day the sun was shining, the birds were singing, the trees were doing their “leafing out” thing and it was a good day.  Then, like I said, I heard him before I saw him.

I was alone in the park till then.  As I crossed the bridge on the north end of the park there was a man in his forties or fifties.  He was dressed normally–whatever that means but that was where normalcy ended.  At first, I thought he had one of those things in his ear that enabled him to talk on his cell phone.  The closer I got the more I could see and hear.

He was angry.  He was shouting. He was cursing. Then he began to pick up rocks and throw them violently in one direction and then another.  I realized he was fighting a battle with someone I could not see but he could.  To him it was real–very real.  He felt threatened and hurt by an enemy only he could see.

I prayed.  I asked God to deliver him from the invisible demon that was haunting him.  I asked God for His peace to come upon this peace-less man.  Later I saw him leaving the park, no longer angry, no longer violent, no longer cursing. It seemed from where I was that a moment of calm had come to his storm wrecked mind.  I was grateful and told God so.

I thought about that day several times and I realized that in these days there are a lot of folks fighting and fearful of enemies–enemies that don’t have or need a face to wreck their lives.  The covid-19 virus, the loss of a job or business, the fear of losing someone they love, the fear that things will never be the same, the fear that this fear will own them–consume them.

My mind goes back to Psalm 23:4. David, chased by a crazed king consumed with jealousy, chased by too many memories of too many failures writes, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.  You are with me.”  He was wise enough to know that as he walked through this valley it wasn’t filled with real monsters–only monster “wanna-be’s.”

You see, the valley became a roadway and not a residence.  Death, because of his faith in a “bigger-than-anything” God, was reduced to a shadow.  Shadows can frighten but can cause no real damage or harm.  How did that happen? Somewhere along the way David chose to believe in his “bigger-than-anything” God and he found peace.  He said, “I don’t need to fear evil, no matter what it looks like, because You are with me.”  You are with me. Today as you journey, remember all around us are people who fight battles with enemies only they can see.  Be sure and swift not to judge but to pray.  That day in the park I got it right but trust me I don’t always do that.  It’s then that I pray a different prayer–one for forgiveness.  And if you are fighting those invisible enemies today–just a word or two.  God loves you.  Rest in Him.  He’s got this. 

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

Ain’t No Sunshine

What do you want Me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” Mark 10:51

Bartimaeus, or Bart as his friends called him, was blind.  Along with the blindness came the usual social stigmas of being an outcast and the usual career choice–begging.  He had landed a good stretch of the highway to beg.  There was a lot of traffic but as always–a lot of darkness.  But all that was about to change.

One day he heard a crowd passing by and asked what was happening.  The fact that anyone even acknowledged him was a miracle.  Someone said, “Jesus was passing by.” Bart had heard of this young Rabbi and he had also heard stories, rumors really, that He could heal people like him.  Three words flashed into his mind–now or never.

He began to shout, to beg, to scream “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Over and over he shouted.  The crowd quickly became annoyed and demanded that he shut it down or they would shut him up.  But desperation and hope wouldn’t allow that.  “Jesus, Son of David, please, have mercy on me.” Right at the point when his ears told him the noise was fading he heard it.  Jesus was saying something, “call him.”  Amazingly the same crowd that tried to shut him down now helped pick him up.

“What do you want me to do for you?” the unseen Rabbi asked.  It might seem like a strange question to ask a blind guy but Jesus wanted to be sure Bart knew his need.  Perhaps a small contribution.  Maybe a walking stick or a seeing eye camel.  Jesus was asking, “Do you want a better life or a new life?” Bart was ready for something new.

Mark 10:51 gives us his reply.  “Rabboni,” the blind man said to him, “I want to see.” His five words are loaded with meaning.  First, the word “Rabboni” was master and it was a term of surrender.  He was saying, “I haven’t experienced what I need but I will trust You for it anyway.”  That’s faith.  Second, “I want to see.”  He wasn’t asking for a band aide he was wanting something new, something life changing.  Faith and the wisdom to ask for the right thing was a game changer for Bart.

Wait, Jesus is speaking again and what He says is amazing.  “Jesus said to him, “Go, your faith has saved you.”  Your faith has saved you.  Amazing. And do you know what?  Mark puts it very plainly in the rest of verse 52. “Immediately he could see and began to follow Jesus on the road.” Immediately his world exploded into light and color.  Instantly the darkness was forced to flee as the Light of world flooded in. Amazing.

Well, Jesus had told him to go and do you know where he went.  Right with Jesus.  He followed him.  I mean, where else would he go but to follow the One who gave him light, who gave him life.  I can imagine the smile on his lips and chatter from his tongue as he shared what Jesus had done.  “I once was blind, but now I see” he would say.  We added the “amazing grace” part later. So how about you?  Does your life seem pretty dark right now?  You’ve seen the list over and over.  Fear. Corona virus. Unemployment. Unknowns. Whatever it is, Jesus is passing by and He has an invitation just for you.  He invites you to come and when you get there don’t ask for a seeing eye camel or walking stick.  He’s got something bigger for you.  He has peace and He has hope. He has a new life of light and color.  You’ll find a friend who will never leave or abandon you.  Go ahead, get up.  He’s waiting.  You can trust him.  Rest in Him.  He’s got this.