Posted in Family, gratitude, life, loving others, Scripture, Southern born, thankful

Destiny

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.” Proverbs 17:22

Luke, it’s your destiny”.  Oh, I know, to a whole bunch of you that doesn’t make a bit of sense.  It is a line taken from one of the Star Wars movies when Luke Skywalker, the ultimate good guy, learns that Darth Vader, the ultimate bad guy, is his father.  He was saying that Luke was destined to be a bad guy because his dad was.  Well old Darth Vader had a surprise coming.  I’m glad that life is like that. Full of surprises.

All my life I have loved music.  From the time when I was about 10 or 12 and my mother forced my sister to allow me to sing in her wedding, music has been a part of my DNA.  To this day I love every kind of music —with only a few exceptions. One Christmas, Santa Claus bought my sister a chord organ and I would sit and mash the buttons making music. Later, when I joined the Air Force, my mother urged me to buy an organ and I did.  I never learned more than three chords, but you would be amazed at how many songs you can play with those three chords—C, G, F.

Well, years later, after Judy and I were married, we bought a beautiful old piano.  She could play well and I could play my three chords.  For my birthday, she decided to give me piano lessons.  I was genuinely excited.  When music is in your soul, it is always satisfying to find ways to get it out.  There was a wonderful lady (think saint) at the First Baptist Church of Warrensburg named Gerry Muchmore.  Let’s just say she was a legend in her time at First Baptist.  She could play the piano and organ like few could.  She had retired from giving lessons by the time we came along, but somehow Judy talked her into giving me lessons.

I was so excited when I opened the card and read the words, “six months of piano lessons with Gerry Muchmore.” I couldn’t wait to get started.  I just knew as much as I loved music and with one of the best teachers in the state, I would soon be playing the piano like a pro.  Nothing was going to stop me.  I had the will power, I had the passion, and I had fingers—even if they weren’t very long.  Move over Liberace—here I come. But wait. It was about then, if I had been listening, a small voice was probably whispering something about destiny.

I was to meet with Mrs. Muchmore (with a teacher like her and my southern genes we were never on a first name basis) once a week.  Every day I was to practice what I learned in preparation for the next lesson.  Week one went well.  Both our expectations were low since I only knew three chords.  She bought me the beginner book and I played my fair share of “Three Blind Mice” also known as “Hot Cross Buns.”  Soon it was time for lesson two.  I think she was a little surprised at my progress or perhaps I should say my lack of it.  I think something was mentioned about practicing.  I assured her I had been faithfully practicing and she suggested I might want to practice a bit more.

Unfortunately, week three was much like week two.  Try as I may, those stubby little fingers were just not cooperating.  Add to that my total lack of rhythm genes and it wasn’t promising.  I pressed on, practicing, and dreaming of my days of musical bliss.  Then came week four.  At the conclusion of our lesson that day, my piano idol looked at me and said, “Dewayne, there are some people in the world who are destined not to play the piano. You are one of those.”  She spoke the words gently and kindly but firmly.  It was game over—I was not going to be a threat to Liberace after all.

Now in case you’re wondering, it didn’t wound my heart too deeply.  I actually appreciated her candor and frankly, I wasn’t into all that practicing anyway.  I mean I still had my three chords.  So many years later, I still love music, I still love to sing, and I still enjoy it when someone can play an instrument well.  Perhaps it is their destiny—it just wasn’t mine.  It is a lesson I’m still working on today.  I’ve discovered that there are some things that I can do pretty well, and there are some things that are best left undone in my life.  I’m learning that just because I can’t rip up a keyboard doesn’t make me any less a person than one who does.  It simply means that’s not my gift.

If we go through life always envious of what other people have or what they can do, we will only end up jealous and bitter.  If we learn to appreciate what other people have or what they can do, we end up richer in character with a deeper appreciation of life.  I wonder if that is what the writer of Proverbs had in mind when he wrote, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.”  I think it is.  God is pretty keen on us just the way He made us.  He is your biggest fan.  We sang a song in church Sunday that had four profound words in it—He is for you.  And do you know what?  He is.

So, I still have my three chords—C, F, and G.  I still occasionally (though not frequently) sit down and bang out an old song that requires only those three chords.  The rhythm is never quite right, but that’s ok.  It still helps some of that pent-up music to ooze out.  I want to encourage you do the same.  Find something you love, that’s deep in your soul and let it ooze out.  It’s good medicine.  By the way, if you are a Jesus follower, it’s always good to let Him ooze out too.  Why not take a seat, take a rest and strike up a song with the One created it all.  The two of you make a great duet.  And if you hit a wrong key or two…that’s fine because…He’s got this.

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

Turn the Mic Off

If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, his religion is useless, and he deceives himself.” James 1:26

It wasn’t what it seemed.  The life of a pastor is, well, interesting.  In fact, the life of the pastor’s family is interesting.  You could say that we live in a glass house and that would be so true.  I remember when we lived in a parsonage (that’s a house provided by the church) and we had a wood burning stove.  It was difficult to control the heat so often we would leave the front door open to allow some cooler air in.  There was a sweet (and she really was) older lady who attended our church and she was very concerned that we had our door open.  She would call saying, “Judy, do you know that your front door is open?”  Of course we did, but she felt it was her civil and religious duty to make sure we were stewards of our electricity.

When we moved to Cobden, Illinois our girls were very young…five and four.  Back in those days during worship, the pastor had a big chair where he was to sit on the stage.  I don’t know if we did it that way to make the pastor seem important or so everyone could stare at him. It was just the way we did it.  Now here is what was interesting.  While I was sitting on the stage looking at everyone and everyone was looking at me, Judy was playing the piano.  Many pastors are blessed with musically talented wives and I certainly was one of them.  Now don’t miss this.  I am on the stage and Judy was at the piano. Who do you suppose was watching the girls?  Well, that would be no one.  And you know, girls will be girls.

Like so many siblings, the girls loved to pick at one another.  It was always nothing serious…just enough to make mom and dad nervous.  Well, that Sunday was one of those days.  They were being little girls and poking and pinching each other. They were giggling enough to cause a bit of disturbance and to catch their mother’s eye.  Judy gave them “the look”.  Now every married man knows about “the look”.  Personally, I would rather stare down a cobra than face “the look”.  The problem was, while Judy was looking…they were not.  They were busy poking and pinching.  You might wonder what I was doing.  I was sitting on the stage trying to ignore the two little girls on the first or second row.  I was pretty good at it, too.  However, there was no ignoring the lady at the piano.

When they didn’t get the message, Judy made sure I did.  I don’t know if it was “the look” or smoke signals coming from behind the piano, but I got the message loud and clear.  Handle it.  As much as I didn’t like sitting on the stage on the throne, I preferred that to handling the girls in public.  I rose from the throne and walked straight to the girls.  I took them by the hand and as casually as possible led them out the side door of the sanctuary.  Now there is one thing that every pastor has to remember whether he is going to the restroom or taking his kids out to have a come to Jesus meeting.  Turn your microphone off. I didn’t.

As the door closes behind us, Becca, our oldest, and in her sweetest five year old voice says, “Daddy, please don’t hit us.”  Now, pause, because I know in this world the idea of hitting a child conjures up all kind of bad things.  If there was any hitting it was only going to be a gentle swat on the bottom.  Period.  I knew that and the girls knew that.  Thanks to my not turning my microphone off—everyone in the sanctuary knew it too.  You can probably imagine that sweet little voice coming over the speakers.  There were no tears between the three of us but there were plenty of tears in the sanctuary.  No, they weren’t grieving for those precious little girls—they were fine.  They were tears from laughing so hard.  We walked back into the sanctuary and every person was either rolling on the floor or trying to stay in their seat.  It was a Hallmark moment.

Yup…we live in a glass house for sure.  Even worse, I still had to stand up and preach later in the service. Amazingly, somehow, we made it through.  It is things like that which make our relationship with the families we serve so special.  I have deeply appreciated that through the years.   Anyone who knows the Taylor tribe knows that we are unapologetically human.  If you are looking for a perfect, plastic pastor family…well, you won’t find it with us. I’ve often said that people can handle Christians who make mistakes…they get that.  What they can’t handle is when we act like we are perfect and better than they are. Truth is we are neither.

James, the half-brother of Jesus, said if anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, his religion is useless and he deceives himself. Well, spoken, James.  In fact, we could probably put several actions in place of controlling our tongue and come to the same conclusion.  I am always so grateful that God can handle our imperfections. He never regrets inviting us into His family but He does desire for us to be honest and real…and so does everyone else.  Go ahead, take off the mask and just be you.  You can rest assured that His unconditional love will still be there…even when you leave your microphone on.  And, if you do, don’t worry, He’s got this.

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, loving others, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, wisdom

Bait and Hook

A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.” Proverbs 17:17

His name was Bill, and he was an investor.  When Judy and I landed in Warrensburg, Missouri, via God and the Air Force, we began attending First Baptist Church.  For us, being Jesus followers was an all-in deal, so soon we were singing in the choir, attending church, and going to Sunday School small group. Our Bible Study teachers were Bill and Edith Hensley, and they were a class act.  The time we spent in that class was rich in every way imaginable.  We built friendships and did life together.  It seemed that whether you were in the Air Force like I was or a professor at the local university, or a lawyer, it just didn’t matter.  We were pilgrims journeying with each other and with Jesus, and it was good.

Bill was a lawyer by trade and a disciple-maker by faith.  He believed in Jesus, believed the Bible, and believed in people—including me.  I’m not sure how it happened, but he kinda adopted me and began teaching me about fishing, hunting, and growing in my faith.  He loved to fish.  He would often call the house and say, “What time is it?”  Now it might be time to wash the car or time to mow the grass, but I knew what the answer was.  “It’s time to go fishing,” I would reply, and in about 30 minutes I would be in his pickup truck heading to some pond to see if we could reel in a bass or two in.

That was the case one particularly late summer evening.  We had the boat out in a small pond.  Things had been slow, and the sun was just about to call it a day.  Bill suggested that I make a cast or two more toward the shore.  He pointed out a log that just broke the surface about three feet from land.  I gave the rod a swing and, amazingly, that ole hula-popper landed right up next to that log.  A hula-popper is a soft lure that sounds just like a wounded frog when you pull up on the rod.  I pulled up on the rod and heard the familiar gurgling sound.  Nothing happened.

I gave it another tug, and two things happened.  First, there was a small splashing sound, and second, the lure stopped dead in the water.  At first I thought I had snagged the log, but I then realized I had hooked a pretty good-sized bass.  Now, since it was late summer, the water was a bit cool, so there wasn’t this epic battle—you know, man against whale.  Instead, it was like reeling in a big piece of wood.  Of course there was a tug here and there, but whatever was on the other end of the rod wasn’t up for much of a fight.

Before long the fish was beside the boat and Bill got the net and brought him on board.  It turned out to be a pretty big fish.  It was a 6.5 pound largemouth bass.  I couldn’t believe it.  Bill couldn’t believe it, and I am pretty sure the bass couldn’t believe it.  Well, we snapped a couple of pictures and headed for shore with the bass safely in the fish well.  I asked Bill if I should have him mounted, but he said no because I was sure to catch a bigger one someday in the future.  Well, I didn’t, and honestly I believe he knew (because I didn’t know) my Air Force salary couldn’t handle the cost.

Bill and I enjoyed many more fishing trips before I finally moved out of the area and over into Southern Illinois.  I slowly lost touch with Bill and Edith, and now they are both in heaven.  I am sure they heard “well done” when they got there.  I can only imagine how many lives they touched.  I do know that night I learned a good lesson, and my relationship with Bill taught me another.

The first lesson came thanks to that old bass.  I wonder how many nights he had lain up by that log.  You don’t get to be a 6.5 pound bass in a few nights or by making bad decisions.  So many a night there he lay, and each of those nights he was wise enough to say no when a fisherman came by with a tempting bait.  For some reason that night was different.  It wasn’t that I was an expert, and it wasn’t that the bait seemed that real.  More than likely he just let his guard down and took the bait.  That night he learned a valuable lesson, although it cost him his life.  As Greg Laurie puts it, it’s “better to shun the bait than to struggle on the hook.”  Now that is good advice. In these days that take way too much energy just to do life, don’t get lax and make a really bad decision.  Resist the bait.

The other lesson was from Bill…the man who invested his time, his wisdom, and even some of his resources in a young Air Force sergeant. Bill was simply a good man who loved Jesus.  He was busy, but he wasn’t too busy to pour his life into mine.  The Bible says, “A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.” Bill was that to me, and I know that I am a better person for knowing him. So, again, in days like these when it seems the top priority is survival, don’t get so self-absorbed that you can’t invest in the folks in your world.  There are plenty of people like me who need someone a little wiser to speak into their lives.  Why not be that voice?  That voice may be whispering, “Don’t take the bait,” or it might be encouraging someone to trust in the One who is worthy…to trust and rest in the God who made it all.  I think Bill was one of the ones who spoke into my life and helped me believe that I could trust God because “He’s got this.”  Thanks, Bill.

Posted in Family, fear, life, loving others, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel, wisdom

Life from Ashes

The Lord Himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” Exodus 14:14

It was a night that will not be forgotten.  For many years, my family has visited the Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, area for vacation. It has not been an every year deal but occasionally.  We love the trails and the mountains and, of course, all the places to eat.  In some ways it is like a county fair because fair food and rides are everywhere.  Several years ago we began joining my daughter and son-in-law with the grandkids in the fall…usually in November.  In a word, it is fun.

In 2016 something happened that changed that area forever.  A fire started by human hands near Chimney Tops on November 28th of that year quickly spread through the dry, tinder forests.  The results were catastrophic and have been cited as the worst natural disaster in Tennessee history.  Before it was all said and done, 14 people lost their lives, 2,460 buildings were destroyed, and 17,900 acres were burned.  We watched on the news as it happened but also saw from a distance some of the devastation years later when we visited.  There was safety in that, on television and from a distance, but what happens when the tragedy gets more personal?

This year we once again returned to the Gatlinburg area.  Rebecca, my daughter, always makes the reservation, and she did again this time.  As we were driving to the cabin, we passed through an area that had obviously been damaged by the wildfire.  Judy made the comment that according to the GPS we were not too far from our cabin.  We could look up on the ridge and see many cabins far above the valley floor.  What we could not see was a lot of trees.  Apparently, the fire had destroyed them.

As we made our turn on the road that would lead to our cabin, it soon became apparent that we would see the power of the fire from the night up close.  The higher we climbed, the more we saw.  There were trees scarred by the flames and only the foundations remaining where cabins worth hundreds of thousands of dollars had once stood.  Some cabins had been rebuilt, some were being rebuilt, and some, well, stood as silent witnesses of destruction.  It was harsh, it was sad, it was awakening.  Suddenly the memories of what I saw on the news four years ago came to life like the dry bones Ezekiel saw in the Bible.

After an almost two mile trip up the mountain, we came to our cabin.  There it stood, looking strangely new in one of Gatlinburg’s esteemed older rental areas.  It was indeed new because it, like almost every house in the area, had been destroyed by the fire that week.  In front of the house was a twenty foot section of tree that, while not alive, still sends a message.  Carved into the massive trunk were the words “Smoky Strong.”  I’m sure the tree was alive and well the night the fire swept the mountain, but even today it sends a message…we are not done.

All around the area were signs of destruction…of what used to be.  But wait…don’t miss this.  Also all around the area were signs of new life, of renewal, of rebirth.  New trees are replacing those lost, new homes are replacing the damaged, and foundations will one day bear a new building.  The pain and suffering of that night is being replaced by the hope of the future.  I think we all can learn a lesson from Gatlinburg.  It was about eight months ago that a fire of sorts began to sweep our nation.  Its name was COVID, and its flames were the flames of fear. The question is what will we do with this hot mess?  That is a question we have been asking for months.

I’m sure many have come to the conclusion that life will never be the same, and that is probably true.  But why do we have to assume that this also means it won’t be better?  Why do we have to assume that our best days are behind us?  I know this.  God is still God, and the last time I checked, He has not given up control to His enemy the Devil, or fear, or COVID.  Moses, speaking for God, said, “The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” You see, He still reigns ,and as long as that is true then the best is yet to come. The.Best.Is.Yet.To.Come.

I’m sure the house that once stood here was beautiful in its own rights.  I never saw it, but I sit in its successor, and it is beautiful.  I stand on the deck and have a clear view of the mountains and the valley below—a view that may have been obscured by the trees of the old normalcy.  Perhaps the ability to see clearer is a gift.  Perhaps the ability to trust God deeper during these days is a gift from our Heavenly Father.  No, as I have said before, COVID is not good, but God can and will bring good from it.  For some of us, that means a deeper trust in Him. For some, it means a clearer view of what really matters in life.  For some, it will be the realization that it is good to have a Dearest Daddy we can rest in—knowing He’s got this. 

*Chimney Tops 2 Fire. Incident Management Team photo

Posted in Family, food, forgiveness, life, loving others, Scripture, Southern born

Spilt Milk

I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:36-37

It gets really hot in North Florida.  When I write these stories I try and remember things that happened in my youth and sometimes they are just funny.  When I was about eight years old, my mom and dad were always looking for ways to save a little money.  I didn’t know if we were rich or poor and most of the time, I didn’t care.  Sometimes it was obvious but most of the time, it was just normal.

I’m not sure how we started, but we began to buy our milk from a family that lived about a mile from us.  It wasn’t really a dairy farm, it was more like they had three or four cows. We would go over twice a week and buy a gallon in big half-gallon glass jugs.  And let me tell you…this wasn’t that pasteurized stuff we drink today.  It was straight from the cow.  And one more thing, it wasn’t 2%, or 1%, or skim milk.  No sir, this stuff came fully loaded with milk fat.  It was good.  We had an old ice cream churn, the kind you had to crank, and this milk made the best ice cream you have ever tasted.  It was always a special day when we went and got milk.  And then one day it wasn’t.

We were still driving that old 1957 Plymouth and it was time to get milk.  I think Mama was driving and one of my sisters was in the front seat and the other in the back with me.  Those were the days before seat belts and rules about kids not sitting up front.  In fact, in those days dashboards were made out of metal.  Anyway, we got to the home where they sold the milk. Mama paid the lady and I was to carry the milk to the car and carefully put it on the floorboard in the backseat.  It was a good plan…almost.

The milk jugs had little handles on the top near the neck of the jug.  I picked up the jugs, one in each hand and headed to the car.  I put the jugs down on the ground and opened the back door.  I turned around and picked up one of the jugs and set it on the floorboard.  Then I turned around to get the second jug and put it next to the other.  You know, next is a nice word.  It means close to.  Well, I swung that ole jug through the door and well, you might say I got it just a little too close to the other one.  There was a sound of glass hitting glass and one of the jugs busted wide open and that nice fresh milk spilled all over the carpeted (remember that) floorboard.  Bummer.

Mama came over and of course was upset about the wasted milk.  I was too, but you know what they say, “There’s no use crying over spilt milk.” That is true, however, things were going to get worse before they got better.  I suppose we bought another half-gallon of milk and headed for the house.  Once there I did my best to clean up the spilt milk. The problem was twofold, there was carpet and then, like they did back then, there was also a thick pad underneath that carpet.  You could do what you wanted to, but there was no way all that milk was coming out of that carpet and pad.

Remember, I told you that it was really hot in North Florida.  Well, by the next morning there was a strange odor in the whole car and it got worse and worse.  By the end of the first day the smell of sour milk made it just about impossible to sit in the car.  We already had the windows down because there was no air conditioning, but even that didn’t stop the odor.  The breeze from the open windows made it better, but when Mama or Daddy hit a stop light, Katie bar the door…it smelled awful. For days and days our 1957 Plymouth smelled horrible. I’m pretty sure I was not winning any family member popularity contests for the next couple of weeks. The smell lasted long after the accident…oh boy did it.

Have you ever broken a jug of milk in your car before?  Well, probably not, but let me ask you this.  Have you ever done something wrong, something that hurt someone, something that broke someone’s heart?  If so, you probably know what this story is about.  You see when we get all fired up and make bad choices with big regrets, it doesn’t just go away…oh no…it lingers and lingers and lingers.  And you know and I know, sometimes the scar just stays forever.  I know we shouldn’t cry over spilt milk, but maybe we should shed a few tears over broken hearts, hearts broken by our hands or voices.

I sure wish I had been more careful that day.  I know I was just a kid, but I was old enough to be careful.  My careless behavior caused a big stink and it was a stink we all had to endure.  Maybe, like me,  we should be more careful with our actions and our words each day.  If we would, it might save a few hearts and a few big stinks.  The Bible says that we will have to give an account for every word and every action that we say or do.  Do you know what?  If I would have asked, my big sister would have helped me that day…Mama would have too.  But, I thought I could handle it.  Sometimes, we think that way in life too.  Why not ask for a little help from your Heavenly Father before the milk gets spilt? Ask and He will help you the rest of the way.  You can count on Him.   He’s got this.

Posted in Family, food, gratitude, life, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, travel

Taters

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.” Matthew 6:33

It was a sight for sore eyes. A while back when my aunt died, I went down to be a part of her memorial service.  It was a special time for me since it was my Daddy’s baby sister.  Though he has been gone since 1974 it was an opportunity to honor him.  The funeral was in Gainesville, Florida and the return trip gave my wife and I an opportunity to travel some Southern back roads.  We chose to travel north through Alabama and it turned out to be a real treasure.

Judy and I are both from the South.  She is from Valdosta, Georgia and I am from Jacksonville, Florida. There are just certain things about living in the South that are special.  You will find things run just a bit slower there.  It’s not uncommon to find an older gentleman in an old pickup truck going nowhere in a hurry.  It is a Southern thing.  It’s not uncommon to see homesteads with old tin roofs often tinted with a rich red rust.  It is a Southern thing. It’s not uncommon to see old groves of giant pecan trees ready for a rich harvest of nuts.  It is a Southern thing.  It’s not uncommon to see old tobacco barns with smoke slowly drifting skyward as the brown leaves dry.  It is a Southern thing.

There are many things like that in the South and each one is a treasure to those who recognize them.  But if there is one thing that marks the South, if there is one treasure above the rest, it is good Southern cooking.  You can find it in most kitchens in those older homes.  Mamas are teaching their daughters (and sometimes their sons) how to season green beans and fry chicken or mash potatoes.  If you’ve never eaten Southern comfort food…well, you’ve never eaten well!

As we were traveling North through rural Alabama we were seeing all these things and reliving our roots.  It was time (actually past time) for breakfast so we began looking for a place to eat.  We found ourselves in Luverne, Alabama.  It is a small town which happens to be one of the treks to the beaches in Florida…so it gets a fair amount of traffic.  We had traveled through before for that very reason.  We were looking for a “mom and pop” place and we found Taters.  It was a small restaurant in Luverne and it looked like just the spot.  “Taters” was in yellow on the front of the barn red building.  It had a “Jesus 2020” sign planted by the entrance.  Things were looking promising.

We went in and immediately noticed the decor.  It was, shall we say, “Southern Jesus.”  Hand lettered Scriptures filled the walls.  The napkin holders had the same.  Back by the restrooms was a big sign about God.  The server came as friendly as a Chick-fil-A employee on steroids. We ordered our food and waited.  Soon, sitting in front of us was one of the most delicious breakfast meals I have tasted in years.  There were three eggs sunny-side up (that means the yokes were sitting there like two small suns), a side of hash browns cooked nice and crispy, three strips of thick cut bacon cooked like it should be—limp. And then there it was.

“It” was a real big spoon full of Southern cooked grits. These weren’t the instant variety—they were the slow cooked kind.  And right in the middle of that pile of grits was a puddle of melted butter.  It was Southern manna—it was heaven.  And trust me—everything was as good as it looked.  Now, no lectures about heart attacks, I don’t eat like that all the time, but that time—I did so with no regrets—not even one.  But here’s the surprise—that wasn’t the most important thing.  The thing that mattered most was the Jesus part.  You see this was a restaurant that served up Jesus first and just happened to also serve good food.  Their mission was Jesus and their food was a side dish.  I was real glad they could cook, but I was blessed by their Jesus boldness.  I walked out with a full tummy, a full heart, and a life lesson.

You see, if we follow Jesus, He has to be the center of our universe.  Our sign at church says, “Jesus First. Before. Anything. Else. Period.”  That is what Taters in Luverne, Alabama is doing.  Food is second to Jesus.  So, what about you?  What about us?  Are you a teacher first and then a Jesus follower? Are you a CEO first and then a Jesus follower?  Are you a coal miner first and then a Jesus follower?  Are you a preacher first and then a Jesus follower? What about this?  What if we starting reversing that?  How about a Jesus follower who happens to be a teacher; a Jesus follower who happens to be a CEO; a Jesus follower who happens to be a coal miner or, yes, a Jesus follower who happens to be a preacher.

Jesus First. Before. Anything. Else. Period. That would be a game changer.  Jesus said if we would “seek His Father first and live for Him, He would give us everything you need.” We need that today.  These chaos infested days we are living in  are golden opportunities to be a light in a dark world.  But we can only do that effectively if Jesus stops being an add on to our lives and becomes our lives.

The next time I am driving through Luverne, you can bet I will stop for some good food and a good helping of “Southern Jesus.”  They might not be there because “Jesus first” can be risky.  In their case it might cost them business.  If you do “Jesus first” it may cost you a friend or two or maybe a promotion, or maybe your popularity. Regardless, it is worth it. One more piece of travel advice. As you travel life’s hectic highway, stop and take a rest with Jesus.  And go ahead and be sure and put Him first.  Risky? Yup.  But, hey, remember, He’s got this.

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, Scripture

Prime the Pump

If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me, and drink. The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.” John 7:37b-38

There she blows.  I was raised in the far out suburbs of Jacksonville, Florida.  We were really country people but somehow we got lumped in with the city.  What happened was the powers to be decided to consolidate the county and the city so when you entered Duval County you also entered Jacksonville.  By the way, that made Jacksonville the largest city in the United States with 840 square miles.  I’m not sure why they did it, but it either had to do with more tax dollars or the Guinness Book of World Records.

So, like I said we were country folks.  That meant a lot of room to run, but few utilities.  We did have electricity but we were not connected to the city water or sewage system because there wasn’t any.  So we had a septic tank (and trust me I could write some stories about that) and a well to get our water.  Since we lived in Florida the water table was pretty high. I’m guessing you only had to drill 20 or 30 feet to hit water.  So, sitting right in the middle of our back yard was this well and pump.  It had (and I’m guessing) a 20 gallon tank and mounted on top of the tank was the pump part.  It consisted of a motor and a “housing thingy” with an impeller on it that would draw the water up.

It really worked well…unless one of two things happened…one, the power went out or two, the pump lost its prime.  If the water in the housing thingy drained out then the impeller couldn’t pull the water up.  The solution was usually pretty simple.  A person would have to go out to the pump, unscrew a plug from the top of the housing thingy, and slowly pour water in.  To this day I can remember taking my hand and forming a small funnel over the hole and pouring the water in.  The ole pump would whine and the impeller would swish the water around and make a kind of groaning noise.  Sometimes one pitcher would do the job and sometimes it was several.  Eventually, though, the sound would begin to change and you knew something was about to happen.

Water was on the way.  As the impeller created suction, it would pull the water up out of the ground and when the air lost and the water won…Katie bar the door!  All of a sudden water would come spewing out of that hole like a Texas oil well.  Water went everywhere.  It made you want to holler, “There she blows.” If it was summer time it was refreshing.  If it was winter it was cold…North Florida cold.  Then you had to fight your way to the pump, find the plug and somehow, someway, get that thing threaded back in the hole.  When you did, if you did, the water would then go into the tank instead of out the hole and you were back in business.

Now, remember I mentioned that “a person” had to go out and do this.  Yeah, well, that was me.  I don’t remember my sister’s getting tagged for this job.  Somehow it never was a girl job although sometimes it was a Mama job.  Of course Mamas have to do all kinds of things.  That’s what makes them special.  To this day I can hear my Mama hollering, “Dewayne, the pump needs priming.”  Sometimes I would pretend I didn’t hear her but that was risky business because you could end up in trouble.

I can also remember the thrill of when the pump caught the prime and water shot up into the air.  Somehow it made me feel just a bit like a man and more than that a man helping take care of the family.  It was a good feeling.  You don’t hear too much about priming the pump and things like that now. Technology has gotten better and not as many people have above ground pumps.  But do you know what?  I think sometimes we lose our prime…not in our pump…but in life.  We make noise, and our impeller spins around in our housing thingy (that would be our hearts) but that’s it.  We just can’t do what we were designed to do when we lose our prime. And, like the pump in my backyard, the only way to get the prime back is to pour some water in.

Jesus talked a lot about being the living water, the water of life.  One time He told the people that if anyone was all dried up because of the hardness of life, they could come to Him and drink.  He even said the kind of water He would give would spew in their lives just like that old pump in the backyard. He called it “streams of living water.” I can still see that water shooting up in the air.  And when it did, it meant that there was water to drink, water to wash, water to water the roses, and water to live.

Maybe today you feel kinda dried up inside.  Maybe this whole COVID mess, election mess and a bunch of other messes just have you feeling a bit like the Sahara Desert.  If so, why don’t you try some of Jesus’ living water?  Don’t drink the water of religion because that’s just sand…so is just doing better…so is keeping rules and starting this and stopping that.  What Jesus offers is the real deal…like a cold drink of well water on a hot day.  Why not sit in the shadow of His grace and love and rest a while? After all, He’s got this.

Posted in fear, Grace, life, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, wisdom

Live Forward, Glance Back

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead…” Philippians 3:13

There’s a reason it is smaller.  I like cars.  I love cars. From my first car, a worn out, rusted out, 1962 Rambler, to what I drive today…cars have held a special place in my life.  That old Rambler may have been akin to the “Ramblin’ wreck from Georgia Tech” but it was mine…a gift from my oldest sister and her husband. I was 16 or 17 and I thought I was on top of the world.  Through the years I have had many different cars.  Some were new (oh, how I love that smell) and more were used, but each one was my baby.  I try and take care of both of our family vehicles, but mine always gets the best care. Don’t even think about eating in it. Grandkids are required to take a bath before getting in it.  Even Judy requires a permission slip to drive it.

As different as these cars have been, there are a few things that they have in common.  They all had an engine.  The Rambler had a straight line six with a rod knocking but hey, it ran…for a while.  My first new car was a 1973 Volkswagen Super Beetle.  It had an engine too…but in the back.  Trust me that was revolutionary in those days.  Then there was the 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser.  It had an engine—a diesel.  I didn’t know a thing about diesels.  Imagine my surprise when I looked for the spark plugs and found out it didn’t have any! Speaking of diesels, Judy and I both drive Volkswagens these days, both diesels and both get about 42 miles per gallon.  So I’m returning to my roots.

Oh, and all those cars had tires, four of them.  They had seats—most had seating for five, but some had more.  Our mini-vans could seat seven and that Cutlass Cruiser could seat eight. All had heating and most had air conditioning. Like I said, they had a lot of things in common.  And they all had a mirror.  They had one or two sideview mirrors and then there was one that hung in the middle of the windshield.  It allowed me to see what was behind, and as you know that is important. But there is one more thing that they had in common. They all had a windshield.

In the real old days, cars didn’t have windshields.  You wore goggles and just picked the bugs out of your teeth.  But somewhere along the way someone figured out that there had to be a better way and the windshield was born.  The windshield allows you to see where you are going and what is coming at you.  It is big because it is important.  Have you ever thought about this—the thing that allows you to see the future is a whole lot bigger than the thing that allows you to see the past.  Hmmm. I bet that is no accident. No one can deny the fact that we need to look behind, it’s just that looking forward is more important and that is why it is so big.

So, here’s the question.  As you are “driving” along life’s road, which is bigger, your windshield or your rearview mirror?  I know many folks spend more time looking back than looking forward and that can lead to a pretty hair-raising ride.  You see the rearview mirror in your car is not designed to be the primary place you look.  It is designed for an occasional glance.  Well, that is true in life.  The rearview mirror in our life is there, it is designed, to glance back.  We savor the good times and smile as we remember them.  We wince at some of the more unwise decisions but remember the lessons we learned.  Yup…it is profitable until it is all that we look at.

Living with our eyes glued to the rearview mirror of life is a dangerous thing.  If we live staring at all the past good days, we will some become discontent with the present.  If we live staring at all the past failures and flops, we will soon become discouraged and depressed. It’s just what happens when we stare at the past and ignore the present and future. Paul, in the Bible, gives us some great advice.  He admitted that while he hadn’t figured it all out, he had learned one thing.  He said we should leave the past in the past and reach out for the future. And trust me…that is really, good advice.

A guy named Brian Simmons says, “The time before us is not one of gloom and doom; it will be instead the best and most adventurous time of our lives. The best for God’s people lies not in the past, buried in Scripture somewhere. It’s yet to come. Let’s not allow fear to defeat us.” Right on Brian, Right on.  Remember, don’t fear the future just because it is unknown.  You see, there is a God who knows the future and in fact, in a way we can’t understand…He’s already there. So, settle back, rest in Him and enjoy the drive. Go ahead…set the cruise…He’s got this.

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, loving others, Military memories, prayer, priorities, Scripture, thankful, travel, USA, Veteran's Day, wisdom

A Penny and a Nickel

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

I had never noticed it before.  A couple of weeks ago my wife Judy and I visited the national battlefield at Dover, Tennessee.  I was so impressed.  Fort Donelson National Battlefield is a Civil War battle site sandwiched between the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers.  The South had built two forts there for the purpose of controlling those two rivers.  It was a major supply line for the South.  Many of the original earthworks are still there.  You can imagine the Union and Southern soldiers huddling down rising only to fire at one another.

One spot on the tour showed where the big Southern guns were mounted.  In fact, many of them were still there.  There were three on one side and seven on the other.  The guns could hurl a 30 pound shell over a mile and were some of the deadliest weapons of the war.  At that spot, an American Bald Eagle was perched in a large oak tree right on the bluff.  It was as if he was watching over the sacredness of this hallowed ground.  Men—both Union and Southern, shed their blood on these grounds.  One side dying to preserve the Union and the other dying to tear it apart.  After more than a few minutes the eagle took his leave and so did we.

The car tour then took us out of the park and down the road a mile or so.  There we found more earthworks, more cannon and more ground stained with blood.  Leaving there we headed down the road to the National Cemetery established after the battle. The Union soldiers won the day but the cost was high on both sides.  Judy and I parked the car and walked around the cemetery.  There were hundreds of graves…all men who had fought for the Union.  Sadly, the Confederate dead where dumped into mass graves and covered over.  They remain that way today.

At the cemetery, there were many graves from the Civil War era but since it is still an active military cemetery, warriors from virtually all the wars are buried there.  Judy and I saw graves from the World War I, World War 2, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf Wars.  We even saw one grave from what was called the Second Seminole War or the Florida War. Row upon row of graves, some older ones with only a last name and their assigned unit, lay silently giving testimony to their last full measure of devotion to their country.  There was one more thing.

We noticed that laying on top of many of the headstones there were coins.  They were mostly pennies with a sprinkling of silver coins also.  I didn’t really know what they meant but I had an idea and I was right.  There is a tradition that honors men and women who served their country.  You mainly see it in national cemeteries but also at others scattered throughout our Land.  When you see a penny on top of the headstone of a veteran, it means that someone stopped and reflected on the soldier’s life and service. It is a form of remembrance.  And, when a family member returns to the grave, they have the assurance that someone remembered and honored their loved one’s sacrifice and service.

If there was a silver coin, and back in the old days a nickel in particular, it meant the person who stopped by had a special relationship with the fallen soldier.  They may have gone through basic training together or were assigned to the same unit.  There has always been a special bond with men and women who fought together…who perhaps died together.  It is a bond that lives on beyond death and those silver coins honored that bond.

The Bible is full of renowned, well known, verses but one that stands out is where Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”  That is what those silver coins were saying.  It was a silent testimony of loyalty one for another.  This band of brothers were willing to die for the other…and many did.  What an amazing story of love and commitment.

Today we honor the men and women of our great country who served or are actively serving in it’s armed forces.  For 244 years brave soldiers have put their lives on the line.  As the saying goes, “All who served gave some but some gave all.”  We should be incredibly grateful for both.  As you journey through life today and you recognize a man or woman who was or is member of the armed forces, take the time to thank them for their service.  The freedoms we enjoy came at great cost whether it was the ultimate sacrifice or the daily sacrifice of hardship or separation from family.  Be sure and let them know you appreciate it.  It is just the right thing to do.  Oh, and don’t forget to thank the One who provides the ultimate freedom…Jesus Christ.  Because of Him, we can rest…because of Him we can have the peace of knowing…He’s got this.

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

Approval-itis

As the Father has loved me, I have also loved you. Remain in my love.” John 15:9

If He can’t, why am I surprised that I can’t? Do you know what still amazes me?  Creation…and not just part of it…all of it.  I’m amazed when I stop and look at a spring flower.  I’m amazed that the sun rises and sets day after day.  I’m amazed that my heart beats about 75 times a minute.  That is, wait for it, 108,000 times a day.  In case you are interested that is 39,420,000 times a year.  And, so far, it’s done it pretty well for 66 years.  Oh, and I’m amazed that out of all the galaxies, solar systems, and planets—zillions of them—only one can support life as we know it.  Earth.  And it is no accident.  It is an intentional act of creation.

God is really good at creating things.  He made us.  The Bible says that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Another place in the Bible He says we are His masterpieces.  Now granted some are Rembrandt’s and some are Picasso’s but we are all masterpieces.  Handcrafted by the Creator of the universe—a “one of a kind” miracle. I know He made me with a few quirks and several warts and that is the point of this story…one of my quirky warts.

You see, from the time I was a little kid I have wanted people to like me.  I have craved approval from the time I can remember.  Whether it was from my mama and daddy, my brothers or sisters or the guy who picked up our garbage…I wanted approval.  Let me tell you if you are going to have a quirk wart…there are a lot better ones than this one.  The problem with “approval-itis—the need for people’s approval” is that it leads to a far worse disease—the passion, the drive to please people.  Now if I lived out in Montana where my nearest neighbor was 20 miles away, this wouldn’t be such a big problem.  But my life revolves around people—I am a pastor for goodness sake.  And, to be honest, I want everyone to be happy and I want every one of them to like me. Sigh.

To be clear…the deal isn’t their deal…oh no, it lands right in my lap. The wart with all it’s bumps is right here.  For years I have been learning, or trying to learn, that I will not ever, never, please everyone.  But like an alcoholic craves the bottle—so we people pleasers crave approval.  And, by the way, I’ve gotten a little better.  Now, if I’m driving down the street and I wave at someone and they don’t wave back, I don’t write down their license plates and put a contract out on them. Smile.

If you can identify in any small way with “approval-itis” I have some good news.  It is sure to help you.  No, it is not seeking counseling and paying someone $125 dollars an hour to tell you that you can’t please everyone.  No, it is not moving to Montana…that wouldn’t work anyway because you would think the horse didn’t like you!  No, it is something that I read in one of my devotions the other morning. It is a simple truth.  Are you ready?  Here it is, “You can’t please everybody.  Even God couldn’t please everybody.”  Now isn’t that just profound…and true.  I mean God is like all powerful, all wise, all knowing and can be everywhere at the same time and a majority of the world is always mad at him.  How about that?

Think about it.  If God couldn’t pull it off, then who am I to think that I can? I guess God could snap His celestial fingers and make everyone like Him but He has this thing about free will.  He doesn’t want to make people love Him—He wants them to love Him because they want too.  Because.They.Want.To. He loved us so much that He gave His only Son to die on a Roman cross and He did it knowing that many…maybe most…would never even respond.  Amazing.

So, here’s the deal.  I understand that I will never please everyone…probably not even a fraction of the people I bump into.  I can’t do that, but I can do this.  I can love like Jesus loved. He said, “As the Father has loved me, I have also loved you. Remain in my love.” He was saying, “Hey, when it comes to loving people…I’m all in. Sit back and enjoy it.”  I can give my best not because a person will respond like I want, but rather because that is what my Dearest Daddy wants me to do.  And guess what?  His approval is the only approval that matters.  We should live, love and long for the audience of One—Jesus.

Well, truth be told, I won’t get this one right in this lifetime because I probably won’t live that long—like a million years.  But with His help I can be more like Him, every day.  Love God, love people.  It’s that simple.  If you are “plum wore out” from “approval-itis,” well, why don’t you just take a rest?  You can, you know—because He’s got this.