Posted in Family, gratitude, life, Scripture, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, wisdom

The Rock

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” James 1:17

The Rock.  If you talk to someone that has done “hard time” they will probably think you are talking about Alcatraz.  If you talk to someone who likes action movies, they will probably think you are talking about Dewayne “The Rock” Johnson.  But if you are talking to me or my wife Judy, then we will know you are talking about “the rock.”  It’s a long story.

Judy and I met and fell in love in short order.  I walked into her church one Wednesday night. I asked her out the next week and ever since then we have been a “we”.  We were together as much as possible—we wanted to be together as much as possible. Since my Daddy had passed away that summer, Mama decided to spend Thanksgiving with my brother Joe up in the mountains, and I was invited to come join them.  It was a deal because I really wanted to be with Judy, but I knew my place was with family and my Mama especially.  So, I went.  I told Judy I would miss her and I would bring her something back from the mountains.

Now I’m known for doing crazy things—it’s just me. While in the mountains I tried to think of something to take to Judy.  It didn’t seem appropriate to take her a typical souvenir, so I got an idea.  I would take her part of the mountains. I went out and found a rock. It was about the size of a pumpkin roll…elongated and was even orange with white stripes. As Thanksgiving rocks go…it was a pretty, good one.  I washed it up and put it in the car.  Game. Set. Match.

I’m sure in the book of love etiquette there is a chapter on what to bring your love when you go to the mountains.  I am also sure if I had read that chapter a rock would not have made the cut.  But hey, I was inexperienced.  So I get back to Valdosta where I was stationed in the Air Force and where Judy lived.  After the appropriate amount of hugs and kisses I presented her with her gift.  She seemed thrilled and seemed to appreciate my thoughtfulness.  Please note the word seemed.

Time goes by.  We were married a while later and the rock made the trip from her parent’s house to our new apartment.  We later received orders to Germany and the rock made the trip with us.  When we came home from Germany and moved to our new duty assignment in Warrensburg, Missouri, the rock came with us. And on and on it went.  To the home we built in Warrensburg, to the little parsonage in LaMonte, where I had my first full-time pastorate, to Cobden, Illinois where we pastored for 14 years.  Finally, it came with us to Harrisburg. It was part of the family. It was more than a pet rock it was “the rock.”

About ten years ago, around 2010, somehow the topic of the rock came up. I was sharing how endeared I was to the rock—how important it was and then it happened.  Judy told me she never liked the rock.  She told me that she wasn’t thrilled all those years ago. She only pretended to be thrilled to make me happy.  The bottom line was the rock was just a rock.  Oh, the agony.  Oh, the pain. Oh the “you’ve got to be kidding me.”  Here I’ve been hauling this rock all over the world for nothing.  I knew I should have gotten her one of those Smoky Mountain snow globes!

Well, like a pet who’s forgotten how to be potty trained, the rock was moved to the yard. It was still special to me, so it now sits on the grave of one of my favorite pets.  Somehow that just seemed appropriate and if I were to move tomorrow—yes, the rock would go.  If nothing else, it is a monument on what not to bring the girl you love from the mountains.  I’m glad that God is better at gifts than I am.  It seems—no, it more than seems, that He always gets it right.

He talks a lot about gifts in His Book.  He loads us up day after day.  Every sunrise and sunset is a gift.  Every breath is a gift.  Every fall leaf that floats to the ground full of color is a gift.  We just have to look and recognize all that He gives us.  James, one of Jesus’ half-brothers, wrote that every good gift, every perfect gift comes down from our Dearest Daddy.  He just loves to shower us with His best and He does it again and again.

Well, it was no accident that I brought a souvenir rock home that year, it was no accident it was orange with white stripes, and it was no accident that it is still with us. In fact, the word souvenir is from the French, meaning “a memento, keepsake, or a token of remembrance  which a person acquires for the memories the owner associates with it.” How about that! Still I guess it wasn’t the right gift for her on that day. Today though, it is the right motivation to remind us this year, above all years, to be grateful for a God, a Heavenly Father, who is oh so generous to His kids.  Why not sit down today and make a list of all the things God has provided?  Take your time…take a rest and when you are done…read the list to Him and say “thank-you, Father.”  And then for all the things that are oh-so much bigger than you—for the things that just look like rocks, give them to Him because 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, fear, life, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel

Incognito

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Psalm 23:5

I could relate to King David. Judy and I decided to make a return visit to North Georgia recently.  We discovered this gem of a place in July on our way to spend a few days with our family in Florida.  We picked this area as a stopover on the way and it was just a tremendous area to explore.  We enjoyed some great hiking, waterfalls, and other beautiful places where God just showed off His creation. It was so good…we decided on a return visit.  We made reservations for November because we knew we would be spending some time with family again—this time in Pigeon Forge.  Toccoa, the town where we stay, was just three hours south of there so it was a great opportunity to return.

Once again we found the area just full of great places to visit.  Incredible trails and waterfalls seemed to be around every curve.  Amazing.  Another novelty of the area is the fact that it is close to a couple of other states.  It is very close to one in particular.  That would be South Carolina. In fact, it wasn’t just close to South Carolina, it just happened to be very close to Clemson…home of, you guessed it, Clemson University.

To most, Clemson is just another fine southern university.  But for me, and for many, it is something else.  Clemson is famous for its football team, famous for winning the national championship (January 2020) and finally, famous for beginning and remaining number one in the national ranks for the 20-21 football season.  That is, until they met Notre Dame.  If you read my stories, you probably know that this is one Baptist preacher who likes, no, loves Notre Dame football.  Some things transcend denominations!

A couple of weeks before our trip to North Georgia, Notre Dame and Clemson collided on the gridiron.  After two overtimes the game ended with the Fighting Irish defeating Clemson. How sweet it was.  So, when I found myself right next door to South Carolina, and despite the fact that it was close to the home of Clemson University, we decided it would be a great place to take a hike. I did however decide it wouldn’t be wise to wear my Notre Dame hoodie. You know, just to be safe. Wisdom. We went hiking in a place called Brasstown Falls and the falls were amazing.  How can something that beautiful be so close to Clemson?

Since it was past lunch time, we decided to go ahead and eat while we were in the area.   We drove a little closer and found ourselves about ten minutes from their campus.  We were literally in their backyard. I was incognito—you know, undercover, but I wanted so bad to tell our server that I was a Notre Dame fan.  I wanted to kinda, sorta, pour some salt in her football wound but I did resist.  I wasn’t being humble, I was just afraid she might sabotage my food.  You see, football is serious business in this neck of the woods. Turns out, she was a great server and we had a delicious meal, which, in spite of the “danger” of being in enemy territory, we greatly enjoyed.  We finished and then we escaped back across the border.

So, that’s why I kinda felt like King David in the Bible.  You see, he was the arch enemy of the guy who was currently king, and who wanted to do him in.  The deal was that God had anointed David to be King while Saul, the other guy, was still in office.  It was pretty dicey. But David knew one thing…God was greater than Saul or anyone else for that matter.  He was so sure of it he would later write something that became pretty famous—the 23rd Psalm.  In that Psalm, David talked about how God had prepared a table for him to eat right in the presence of his enemies.  How could that be? I mean I would have indigestion knowing my enemy was right there.  But not David.  Do you know why? The bottom line is that David was sure that he was safe anywhere because God was in control.  God.Was.In.Control.

Now I know I was in absolutely no danger in Clemson’s backyard, but I am also sure I would have gotten some stares if I had worn my Notre Dame colors. But what about other times?  What about unemployment times? What about COVID times? What about high stress times? What about “I’m sorry to tell you but…” times? Well, let me tell you what I know.  God would be there and God will be there. We don’t have to worry—we don’t have to fret.

I don’t know if God prefers Notre Dame over Clemson or if He even likes football, but I do know that He loves me and He loves you.  He has this incredible plan for His kids and when we are within the will of His plan…well, it is a great, safe place to be. We can sit down in the presence of those who would harm us or things that could destroy us and rest and know that He watches over us.  I like that. I know that whatever tomorrow holds, He is already there.  I can sit down and eat a big old meal right across from the Clemson football team in my blue and gold and rest in Him because I know, “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, life, priorities, sovereignty of God

It Ain’t Over

I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” Job 42:2

Siri gave me the bad news.  I am a pastor. I’m not sure what you do on Saturday nights, but I know what is on my schedule.  Forever, well almost forever, my Saturday nights have been reserved for doing the final studying for the message I am to deliver the next morning.  My wife and I don’t generally accept any kind of engagements on that special night because, well, it is a big priority.  Now, there is one kinda, sorta, exception.  Notre Dame football.

I am not sure how it all started, but a long time ago I became a Notre Dame football fan. It really is the only thing in the sports world that I consistently follow.  I’m not a huge sports fan, however, college football and Notre Dame football in particular, ranks pretty high with me.  If I know there is a Notre Dame game schedule for Saturday night I will try and study earlier in the day to free up some time to watch the game that night.  This past Saturday, despite all my good intentions, that just didn’t happen.  That meant that the Irish would have to play largely without me.  Now what made that particularly difficult was the Irish, ranked number four in the nation, was playing Clemson who was ranked number one.  It was going to be a good game.

So what is a pastor/Notre Dame fan supposed to do?  Well, I watched bits and pieces of the game and occasionally would ask Siri on my Apple watch what the score was.  The Irish started off strong with a touchdown and by halftime had a pretty comfortable lead.  I was ecstatic.  I tuned in and out for most of the evening.  I checked in somewhere and the lead had shrunk to four points.  I figured I best not check in anymore or else the crowd at church was going to get a half-baked sermon.  So I studied, and wrote and wrote and studied.  Finally, about 9:45 pm or so I couldn’t resist the urge any longer.  I asked Siri, “Hey Siri, what’s the score in the Notre Dame football game?”  Her response was discouraging. No, it was devastating.

In her chirpy, Siri voice, totally indifferent to the pain she was about to cause, she said, “Notre Dame is losing to Clemson by a score of 26 to 33 with two minutes remaining.”  What?  I was studying about joy and mine plummeted like a roller coaster on a greased track.  I muttered under my breath (never mind what I muttered) and studied a bit more before calling it quits.  I went to bed.  Notre Dame hadn’t lost a home game in forever and tonight that streak was going to end.  Bummer.

The next morning, after some coffee, I picked up the sermon to give it the final look over.  After a while, I went over to the computer to look something up and my email app was open.  I took a moment to scan the list of emails that had come over night.  Halfway down the list my glaze came to a screeching halt.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  I get a regular email from a company that sells sports stuff.  I especially like their fan gear like Notre Dame hoodies.  If the Irish win, they will send out an email that declares their victory and then offer a special discount to celebrate.  And…there it was.

The brief summary in the email list said it all, “Irish Beat Clemson.” Whoa…what?  As fast as a rabbit running from a bobcat, I opened the email and saw that the Irish had indeed beat Clemson in a double overtime thriller by a score of 47 to 40.  Fortunately, my Hopper thing from Dish records primetime and it had recorded the game.  As fast as I could I turned on the television, went to the DVR and clicked the button and there was the game in all its glory.  I cheated and watched the final two minutes but saved the rest for later. I got to watch the thriller ending after all…and it was incredible.  Go Irish.  Baptist or not—I love Notre Dame football.

Here is the amazing part.  I went to bed Saturday night assuming that my team had lost. Down seven with two minutes to play—no way.  But I should have known better because the Irish are famous for thrilling finishes but most of them don’t involve the number one team who had a 37 game winning streak…the reigning national champs.  Yup, I went to bed a loser and woke up a winner.  You just never know what is going to happen. It is true with Notre Dame football, but better yet it is true in life—especially when God is the head coach.

Life can be pretty difficult…especially these days.  We have never seen so many uncertainties from so many directions and all at the same time.  It is easy to think that we’ve lost the game.  It is easy to go to bed thinking all is lost, game over.  But God has an amazing way of turning it all around.  An old quote says, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.” Well, I don’t know who this lady is and you shouldn’t call people fat anyway, but let me tell—with God in the mix she isn’t even humming her first bar of music.  I’m trying to say, don’t give up…don’t be discouraged. You, or it, may seem like a lost cause but never, never is that true with God on your side.

I’ve heard some people say they like to read the end of a book first to see how things turn out.  Well, I have read the end of His Book—and He wins in the end.  Job, who knew all about hot mess circumstances said, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.”  Wow. You see, as I watched my recorded version of the game—even knowing the outcome—I winced at some missteps and cheered for every score.  And the best part—I rested knowing that nothing I was about to see could change that outcome.  The Irish were going to win.  If you are a Jesus follower, no matter how crazy life gets, no matter how it seems God can’t pull it out—just rest in knowing He can. Nothing can change His planned outcome in this game called life.  With Jesus you can rest assured, He’s got this. 

Posted in gratitude, life, loving others, missions, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel

Don’t Drink the Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith

When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food, and here I am dying of hunger! I’ll get up, go to my father…” Luke 15:17-18a

Houston, we have a problem.  The words rambled around the silent control center. There was trouble in space and men’s lives were hanging in the balance.  It wasn’t as bad as they thought.  It was worse—much worse.  The command module of Apollo 13 was damaged beyond use and their only hope was a frail lifeboat called the lunar module.  They were off course, a long way from home, and running out of oxygen.  Their prospects were beyond bleak. The morale breaker was, as the crew commander said, “We just lost the moon.” Perhaps, just perhaps, you can identify with them.  Our world is laden with things that might cause some of us to doubt our survivability.  But don’t lose hope because help is on the way. More on that later.

The plan was to bring the spacecraft around the moon and slingshot it back on its way to earth.  They passed within twenty-five miles of the moon. Twenty-five miles. The explosion had made the possibility of a moon landing an impossibility.   They could look but not touch.  The thing they had planned for, trained for and risked their lives for, slipped silently between their fingers.  Crises can do that, you know.  As COVID circled the globe, we lost the moon…we lost our purpose…we lost our dreams. Businesses were closed, churches were closed and families were left jobless and isolated.  But don’t lose hope because help is on the way.  More on that later.

As they rounded the moon they were slung by the moon’s gravity toward the earth. Still problem after problem arose and had to be overcome.  They were literally running out of oxygen. Unless they found a way to “scrub” the air and make it more breathable, they would die. Amazingly, the guys on the ground literally created a way to do that, and then shared with the crew how to do it there.  The ground guys had one rule.  They could only use what the guys in space had to use.  So with some scraps, a roll of duct tape and a hose or two they made it happen. Their situation probably seemed a little like your situation.  Pretty hard, pretty difficult, nearly impossible, but don’t lose hope because help is on the way.  More on that later.

As they neared the earth they grew ever closer to the most dangerous obstacle of all—reentry.  If they were just a fraction of a degree off, if the heat shield didn’t hold, if there were any of a thousand things not quite right—they would burn up in the super heated friction of our atmosphere. Their back was against the wall and their chances were slanted in the wrong direction.  So many people feel the same way today.  I know because I see it and sometimes I feel it.  Mine is caused by frustration…frustration that there are too many things that I can’t control.  I want to fix it and I can’t—neither one of us can. We have a choice—we can lose hope and “burn up on reentry” or we can refuse to lose hope and believe because—help is on the way.

Remember the “more on that later”—well later is now.  You see, those astronauts had to believe—they had to have faith.  They had to choose to believe.  They did and miraculously they had a near perfect entry and landing.  It was amazing.  And just like when the guys landed on the moon just a few months earlier—the crowds went wild again.  They needed some good news and they got it.  Their world was racked by division over the Vietnam War, mistrust in the government, crazy economics, racial divide and a thousand other things.  That one miraculous victory helped, at least for the moment, to pull their world back together.

That’s what we need now…that one miraculous victory.  And as much as we need a cure for the virus, or the right political victory or some other “deal,” we need to regain our spiritual equilibrium.  In every major crisis, this nation somehow righted itself and somehow managed to find enough faith to believe—in God.  Some who knew Him rediscovered Him. Some who had walked away—walked straight back home into His arms.  Some who had never believed found the faith to start.  Miracles do happen…everyday.

Maybe, just maybe, the safety, the security, the hope you are looking for is not in a piece of cloth or a vaccine or a political victory.  Maybe, just maybe, it is in a God who wants to be your Father.  Why not take a moment and take a rest—in Him?  And then, ask Him to help you believe that—He’s got this. 

Posted in fear, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, Scripture, sovereignty of God, wisdom

Houston… We Have a Problem

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.”  Romans 8:28

Houston…we have a problem.  Those famous words…or something similar to that effect were first uttered 50 years ago during the Apollo 13 mission.  They are used today whenever there is a problem that needs to be addressed.  As an example, my wife Judy is “glamping” down at the Land Between the Lakes this week.  She pulled out her tennis shoes this morning to realize not only did they not match…they were both for her left foot.  She texted me with a picture and the words, “Houston, we have a problem.”  I laughed, but fifty years ago there was no one laughing.

Apollo 13 was only the third trip to the moon—only the third—but amazingly in that short span of time public interest in the moon missions had dropped to virtually zero.  The launch was a minor story and the news conference from space wasn’t even carried by the networks.  We humans are a fickle bunch.  It is amazing how quickly the extraordinary becomes ordinary…the unbelievable garners a yawn.  That was not only true when we were shooting repeat trips to the moon but also when we worship the God who made the moon.  We yawn our way through everyday miracles because, well, they are everyday.  And then something happens that shakes our world.

In the case of Apollo 13 the crew was asked to do a routine stirring of the oxygen tanks.  Certainly no big deal.  The task fell to the rookie on the team and he flipped the switch to stir the tanks and what happened next was anything but routine.  There was a massive explosion in a couple of the oxygen tanks which placed the crew’s life in grave danger.  The crew commander instantly snapped at the rookie, “What did you do?”  His first assumption was that it was the rookie’s fault.  In reality it was no one person’s fault.  There was some faulty wiring in the tank and whoever flipped the switch was going to have the same result—BOOM.

Our routine was certainly disrupted as this COVID virus rocketed around the world.  At the speed of space it spread from country to country—person to person.  Almost as quick, the finger pointing and jabbing started and hasn’t even began to slow down.  From presidents to pastors to everyday people, everyone is looking for someone to blame. The first performance of blaming began in the garden with a couple of rookie sinners and it has never stopped.  I bet that grieves God—a lot.

Well, things were bleak for Apollo 13 as the explosion damaged the spacecraft to the point where they could possibly die.  This was a good news/bad news deal.  First the bad news—they were blown way off course and only a miracle would get them back on track. That happens in times like these.  Our whole world revolves around one thing—the COVID virus.  Concern is a good thing—obsession is a dangerous thing. The only thing worth obsessing over is the One who can do something about it.

Now, the good news—when word began to spread of their catastrophe in space all of a sudden concern and interest spiked.  In a moment of time, driven by drama and danger, the national interest once again spiked. Spacemen were once again newsworthy. People were once again tuned in and hungry for a miracle—the crew’s survival. I wonder, I hope that there will be good news for us one day too.  I hope that news will be that we once again are focusing on the things that really matter!

There’s a lot more to this story that I would like to share with you tomorrow if you will tune back in.  They say that those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it.  I wonder how we will do with that…only time will tell.  It seems that these times are like quicksand—our vocabulary dominated by iffy words like fearful, uncertainty and bleakness.  That is why I am so glad that there is a God who is watching over and working for and through this.  Somehow, someway He is going to bring good from this.  If we let Him, He will make us stronger through this. If that is going to happen then we have to let Him be God.  Sounds like a plan to me.  Let’s do the old two step—rest in Him—He’s got this.  See you tomorrow for part two. 

Posted in Family, fear, Grace, gratitude, life, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, wisdom

Master of the Winds

For I am the Lord, I do not change…” Micah 3:6

The winds of change are blowing.  If we are totally truthful, they are howling like a category five hurricane. And trust me, that can be devastating.  I was watching the Weather Channel yesterday morning and they were doing a piece on Hurricane Michael that roared ashore two years ago as a “cat five” hurricane.  It struck the Florida panhandle with horrific results.  Mexico Beach was ground zero and to this day that community remains changed. All the preparation in the books could not have prepared them for what happened, but the bottom line is many more lives would have been lost if they hadn’t been ready.

I enjoy…smile…watching the price of gas change in Harrisburg. For some reason we are enjoying some of the lowest gas prices in the area.  But if you don’t like them…just wait…because they are going to change. Whether it be a nickel or a quarter, they go up and down.   By the way, to help you with the price changes, remember this.  In 2008, the gas in Harrisburg was $3.47 a gallon so we can all agree to be grateful that it has changed in a good way since then.

Now all this up and down stuff at the moment doesn’t bother me because it doesn’t affect me.  Why?  Well, I drive two diesel cars and at the moment those prices are nice and steady…just the way I prefer it. That might change tomorrow…but not today.

That’s one of my favorite things about God—He simply doesn’t change. With Him there’s no going up or down—ever… never.  He never had a beginning and will never have an end (despite what our liberal “friends” think) and throughout all that time, He has never changed.  Malachi 3:6 says, “For I am the Lord, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.”  That’s good news for the reason stated in the verse—He won’t change His mind about me or you. Pretty awesome.

Because of the COVID and the zillion opinions about it and the election, and the zillion opinions about that…our whole world is in a flux,  but God’s plan for redemption and how we spread His Word doesn’t change.  Someone said while methods may change, the message never does.  The Gospel, the Good News is still,  good news. He is going to fulfill His purpose regardless.  And in this crazy economy where things change in price all the time—His hasn’t changed.  His gift of eternal life that cost His Son His life, still costs us nothing. Nothing. He loved us that much. He loved you that much.

A million things are going to change today but there is One that will not—Jesus. The Bible says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Period.  Someone said a real friend never changes and that is so true of Jesus Christ.  He is going to love me no matter what.  If I’m having a bad day—He still loves me.  If I fail in something today, He still loves me.  If I gain weight—yup…still loves me.  Like the song says, “His love never runs out on me.” He doesn’t avoid me—He seeks me out.  That is pretty amazing. Well, as you drive by the gas station today be sure and check the prices.  They have probably changed overnight.  But if you check the Book, you will find Him and His promises are the same. Last night before you went to bed it was true that you could rest in Him…and it is true this morning.  And do you know what else was true last night and still holds  this morning?  He’s still got this.  Always has, always will.  How about that?