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

Annie

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Her life was pretty hard…pretty dark.  A perky young redhead with an optimistic attitude in a pessimistic world.  Others mocked her and those charged to care for her emotionally abused her.  So, what was Annie’s response?  Well, it goes something like this.

“The sun will come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun! Just thinking about tomorrow clears away the cobwebs, and the sorrow till there’s none!

When I’m stuck in a day that’s gray, and lonely, I just stick out my chin and grin, and say, “Oh the sun will come out tomorrow. So ya gotta hang on till tomorrow…come what may. Tomorrow! Tomorrow! I love ya tomorrow! You’re always a day away.”

So guess what?  The sun does come out.  She is rescued by Daddy Warbucks and her life is changed forever.  Are there still problems?  Yup.  Are there still bad guys lurking to hurt her–steal her away? Yup.  Does the story have a great ending?  Yup and three big lessons emerge.  One, the sun will come out.  Two.  Don’t mess with Daddy Warbucks. Three, don’t underestimate a nine-year-old redhead.

So, doesn’t it seem we are stuck in a day that’s gray, and lonely?  Doesn’t it seem this whole corona virus thing is one perpetual, cloudy day? Doesn’t it seem like this is the new forever normal?  Well, it is not.  The sun is going to come out.

I try and walk every morning–usually on the treadmill.  I climb on and at 4 mph work feverously to go nowhere.  Well, yesterday, the temps were warm and the sun was out and walked at the city park–and it was like a cool drink of water in a hot dry desert.  I mean I just exploded in gratitude for a God who loved me enough to let the sun come out.

I read on the internet that the phrase, “And it came to pass…” appears 396 times in the Bible.  Each time it is saying that the current situation didn’t come to stay…it came to pass. That this isn’t a new normal…it is a temporary circumstance.

In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Paul writes, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Right on Paul.  Right on.

So remember this.  One, the sun will come out–guaranteed.  It may be here or it may be there but the future for a child of God is filled with “Son-shine.”  Second, remember who our Father is.  He isn’t just rich like Daddy Warbucks–He owns it all and is in total control.  And no one…and I mean no one…messes with our Father.  Last, you may not be a perky young redhead like Annie but don’t underestimate yourself.  You dear friend, if you have trusted Christ, are a prince or princess of the King.  Your home is heaven and your Father calls you His. Can someone say, “Son-shine?”  God bless you today.  The forecast says clouds but I’m feeling pretty “Son-ny.”  After all, I can rest in Him.  He’s got this.

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

Gratitude

I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13

I was the leader of the pack.  When I was growing up in the 60’s, things were just a little bit different.  In my school there were a zillion kids and in my church youth group I was one or two years older than most of the other kids.  That became important when I turned sixteen and was eligible to get a driver’s license.  I remember I got my license before I attended driver’s education and I got a car before anyone else at church.  I was the leader of the pack.

Today, whenever I drive by the local school and look in the parking lot I am always saddened.  The lot is filled with fancy cars and trucks the likes that were never seen in my 1970 world.  A few kids did have nice cars, but most were leftovers and hand-me-downs.  Oh, I’m glad for the kids but I just hate they are not going to experience the joy of owning a 1960 Rambler.

Unlike today, it was not an automatic deal to get a car when you turned sixteen.  Get a license and you get a car is the general rule today. When I turned sixteen you got the right to ask dad to borrow the family car…occasionally.  Only the coolest kids got to actually own a car—and I was about to get cool.  My sister and brother-in-law lived in Daytona Beach and he had a car that he drove back and forth to work.  When he upgraded, rather than sell his old one, they told my mom and dad that they were willing to give it to me.

Then, and even more now, I realize just how generous that was.  It wasn’t necessarily the value of the car as it was them thinking how that just might increase my standing in the world.  Dewayne Taylor…car owner.  Oh, yes, things were about to get better…much better.  So one day, they drove the car up to Jacksonville and pulled in the driveway.  There she was.  I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder and to me she was beautiful.

She was a 1960 Rambler Deluxe.  Now in case you don’t know, Rambler was a division of American Motors which of course is now a part of car history.  This beautiful hunk of metal was…well…unique.  It was hand-painted (as in with a brush) a deep royal blue color.  The brush marks only added to it’s uniqueness.  Right down the middle of the body was a bold yellow racing stripe.  Having lived most of its life near the ocean it probably had an equal amount of metal and Bondo filler in the body.  It was powered by a straight line 6 cylinder, 195 cubic inch monster producing 127 horsepower with a very pronounced rod knocking.  Anything over 35 miles per hour and the engine sounded like a professional drummer going wild on a trap set. She boasted a three speed manual on the column.  It wasn’t exactly a muscle car but she was mine.

One of the first things my dad and I did was go to Sears and buy a set of seat-covers.  This was 1970 so we bought navy blue covers plastered with bright red and yellow flowers.  To enhance its racing car mystic, I even installed a tachometer on the dash.  I was ready.  My job bagging groceries at Food Fair provided gas money and I was the indeed the leader of the pack. I became the “go to” guy for social events.  “Hey, wanna go horseback riding on Saturday? Great, I’ll pick you up.” “Wanna go to the movies Friday night?  Be at your house at 6:00.” Yup, life was good.

The old Rambler lasted somewhere over a year and the old engine just kept on knocking.  It was the clutch that finally gave out.  Dad decided it wasn’t worth fixing so it eventually found its way to the junk yard.  No, there wasn’t a big, fancy replacement.  It was back to borrowing when I could.  But for those months…I was the leader of the pack and I was grateful.

One of the things we have lost over the years is gratitude.  Somewhere we have almost lost the fine art of being grateful for the little and big things that come our way.  We stopped being thankful and instead become jealous of what others have.  It leads to a vicious cycle of keeping up with the Jones.  In case you don’t know, they are the couple down the street that always seem to have more than you.  We work longer hours, carry way too much debt and still have the gnawing feeling that we need, we deserve, more.  We believe the commercial line, “we deserve a break today” only it isn’t for a burger built our way.

The Book has a lot to say about gratitude and commitment.  Paul, one of the New Testament writers, said he had learned the secret of being content with whatever, whenever. Do you know where he was when he wrote those words? He was sitting in a Roman prison waiting for them to decide when they were going to kill him.  Incredible. The secret?  Faith in Jesus Christ.  He went on to say, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” He was saying his faith in God was enough.  Everything else was gravy. I’m not saying every car in the lot needs to be a Rambler but I am saying one of the best gifts you can give your kids is the gift of gratitude…teaching them to be thankful for simple things…the little things…things like an old Rambler with more Bondo filler than metal.  Teach them to be content.  Of course there’s a catch.  You kinda have to understand that yourself before you can teach them.  Tell you what.  Sometime today why don’t you take time and talk to your Heavenly Father about contentment.  He’ll probably whisper, “I’m enough. Rest in Me. I’ve got this.”  He is, we should, and He does. 

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, Military memories, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

“Foot in Mouth” Disease

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29

I just shouldn’t have said it.  We all have said things that we wish we hadn’t.  I learned a lesson about that the hard way.  I had two bumps in Air Force basic training. One involved singing…you can check that one out on my blog www.gritswithgrace.com (https://gritswithgrace.com/2020/06/01/i-said-sing/). The other one also involved my mouth…I wonder if there is trend there.

In basic guys were assigned to a flight (group) and each flight had a dorm chief.  He was someone, a peer of sorts, the flight chief selected from within or outside the flight.  Ours was selected from outside.  He had a weight issue so was put in a special group that helped men get down to a weight level that was acceptable.  That of course meant they had to stay longer in basic.  Well, our guy, whose name was Guy, was one of those guys.  Because of his longer tenure in basic he was named our dorm chief.

Now it could have been a little jealousy on my side or it could have been that I was a little judgmental or maybe I had a momentary case of the stupids but I said something to one of the guys about this guy.  The words are lost to time but it was probably something like, “Who does this guy think he is? He’s not a leader…he is a loser.”  Well, anyway, something like that. I said it and forgot it assuming it just died away.  It did not.

So, apparently either that guy told another guy who told another guy who told the guy named Guy.  The guy named Guy told the guy named Sergeant Catchings who was the same guy that caught me singing.  Well, things were about to go south.  There was a lesson that needed to be taught and I was the object of that lesson.

Sergeant Catchings gathered the flight outside his office and leaving the door open sat down at his desk.  We all were like, “What’s this about?”  I quickly found out it was about me.  Soon a booming, “you’re in deep weeds son” voice said, “Airman Taylor, get in here.” I got up and went in the office and he instructed me to close the door.  I stood smartly at attention in front of the desk. Sergeant Catchings harshly invited me to take a seat.  There was no chair.

He had me place my hands flat on his desk and then squat by bending my knees till my arms were parallel with the top of his desk. Three things immediately came to my mind.  One, what in the world have I done? Two, this is very uncomfortable.  Three, I’m going to die.  Well in about one minute I found out that Dorm Chief Guy had told him I was mouthing off.  I had broken a cardinal rule…don’t mouth off about those in leadership above you.

Sergeant Catchings, jumped to his feet and began to lecture me about respect for leadership and how I should never, ever disrespect those put in authority over me.  Now don’t forget.  One, I still “sitting” in the invisible chair with my hands on his desk.  Two, the entire flight is outside the door.  And by now he is screaming at the top of his voice.  For added effect, he would occasionally walk over to the door and kick it or slap it making it sound like I was dying.  I was.

Finally, after about ten or so minutes he opens the door and says two words, “Get out.” Imagine 27 guys looking in the office and seeing me squatting with my hands on the desk.  I can’t move.  I am locked in place.  My muscles leg and arm muscles were frozen.  He said it again, LOUDER, “I said get out.”  So, I fell over and managed to crawl, yes I said crawl, out of his office. I was in agony and the rest of guys were in shock and we all learned a lesson about gossip and respect for authority.

The lesson that day was very valuable. I wish I could tell you that I learned it so well I never had the “stupids” again but that wouldn’t be true.  But I can tell you this.  There is a reason the Bible talks so much about the tongue and the mouth. It isn’t a matter of finding a verse…it is a matter of choosing a verse.  We can start with a little nugget found in Proverbs 21:23, “Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut,

and you will stay out of trouble.” I wish I had remembered that one before I uttered the words that prompted my visit to Sergeant Catchings office.

But the one that probably says it best is this, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Imagine how less complicated our lives, our families, our marriages would be if we mastered that one.  Imagine how our work lives and even our worship lives would change.  A pastor once said that if we knew we would have to personally apologize to every person we slandered or gossiped about, we probably would hit “pause” a lot more often. Oh well, I’m sure glad we have a graceful God.  I have learned over the years to deeply value his patience with me and His mercy for me.  There have been too times I’ve had to go to my dearest Daddy and have a chat about “foot in mouth” disease.  I’m glad He graciously invited me to come sit close beside Him. He has always heard my confession and honored my repentance.  I find rest right there…next to Him. Because He’s got this.

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

Sacred Cows

See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children—and we are!” 1 John 3:1

That can’t be good. The noise came from the church sanctuary and it sounded like trouble—with a capital “T.”  Being a pastor is one of the most challenging and interesting vocations there is.  I have been walking this path for the past 38 years and there is nothing like it.  I’ve experienced the lowest of valleys and the highest mountain peaks and that’s just on Monday morning!  Of course, if you think being a pastor is challenging, you should be a “PK” or pastor’s kid.

PK’s grow up in a fishbowl world.  Many people expect them to be perfect. They are held to standards that are unfair but that can lead to some pretty good stories.  And you know I love a good story.  So one evening, my wife and a couple of the ladies from our church were working in the children’s department.  I believe they were painting and papering.  We had been at the church long enough to build some great relationships but not quite long enough to guarantee survival of “the big one.”

“The big one” is a variety of things that you don’t mess with in a church.  They are also called “sacred cows.”  Now these things don’t moo or eat grass. I think the phrase must refer back to India where cows are worshipped.  Mess with a cow in India and someone is going to mess with you.  One of the jobs of a pastor is to learn what and where the cows are for a church and then avoid them.  It is also the job of the pastor to keep his kids from messing with one.  And that’s where the trouble started.

Judy and the ladies were working hard that evening and not paying much attention to the girls.  My two girls were there as well as the daughter of one of the ladies. The moms were working hard and the kids were playing.  Life was good.  People were happy…and then.  I’m not sure exactly in what order these two events happened but they were very close together.  The first was the sound of kids playing.  It was the sound of kids playing in a swimming pool.  However, First Baptist didn’t have a swimming pool.  But it did have a baptistry…the kind big enough to swim in.

The second sound was not a happy sound.  The second sound was the sound someone makes when a sacred cow is being touched.  The second sound was the sound that pastor’s really, really, don’t like to hear.  This one sounded something like this, “WHO is PLAYING in the baptistry?” Apparently one of the trustees (who was a good friend) had come into the sanctuary and discovered what the moms had also just discovered.  What they discovered …was that the kids had discovered …that the church had a built-in swimming pool.  It was not a pretty scene.

Friend or not, he was really, really upset.  The pastor’s kids were swimming in the baptistry and that was definitely a no-no.  I could hear the cow mooing loud and clear. The moms were traumatized (only later would they laugh), and me, I was just trying to still be the pastor the next day.  But it turns out we had an ace in the hole.  Now an “ace in the hole” is a bit of information or a resource held back until the proper time.  It was time.  Just about then…the trustee’s five-year old granddaughter stuck her head up from the baptistry and smiled at her grandfather. Now it still wasn’t pretty. The kids were still messing with a cow, however, the relationship one of swimmers had with the trustee changed everything.

The bottom line is the kids had a nice swim but never had another one in the indoor poor.  My friend, the trustee, showed grace but I’m sure only after a lecture about indoor swimming pools in Baptist churches.  And me…I got to keep being the pastor. It really turned out to be a great story and over time it just got more and more humorous.  Several years later it was my privilege to officiate at my friend’s funeral. We had many wonderful memories to share that day but I do believe the story of the baptistry topped them all.  Grace and relationships have a way of doing that. It works when kids touch sacred cows and it works when we sin.

You see, when it comes to us and God, we do far worse than touch the sacred…we violate His law and trample His holiness.  It is an ugly scene but then He does the amazing.  He offers forgiveness, He offers grace, unmerited favor, to any person willing to put their faith not in themselves but in His Son Jesus.  That faith results in this incredible relationship where we can call Him Father and He calls us His kids.  The Bible says it like this, “See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children—and we are!” How about that?  He is willing and able to forgive any sin—even swimming in the baptistry—if we believe.  Amazing. So when you find yourself in a hot mess with God, just remember the big truth about grace and relationships.  The first makes the second possible.  And when you get the second you get everything you need.  A place to crawl up and rest and a dearest Daddy that is big enough to conquer your biggest fear and forgive your biggest sin.  After all, He’s got this.

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, July 4, life, Military memories, Scripture, thankful

John Ellis Believed

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He has chosen as His own inheritance.” Psalm 33:12

I couldn’t believe it.  Last night Judy and I decided to go out to eat.  We do that a lot on Thursday nights.  We went to one of our favorite restaurants (dining inside, thank-you) and then visited Sam’s Club to see if we needed to buy something that we didn’t need.  Then we headed for 217 back in Harrisburg.  As we were driving down the highway, Willie started singing in my head again, “On the road again, that’s where I long to be, on the road again.” So it was time for a spur of the moment adventure.

As we approached an intersection we had passed a hundred times before, I asked Judy, “Where does this road go?”  It said Creal Springs so we just turned and decided to take a little side trip.  We were driving along just enjoying the lush greenness of the warm summer evening and I thought I saw one of those “brown signs.”  These signs usually indicate a place of special interest.  As I went by I thought I saw the words cemetery and Revolutionary War. I went down the road just a ways and then told Judy I saw a sign for a cemetery…perhaps an old one.  I turned around.

Back down the road, there was indeed a sign. We pulled off the road and it said, “Ellis Family Cemetery and Revolutionary War gravesite.  What?  Can’t be!  The crazy part was there was no road just a driveway.  Well, after a bit of hesitation, we decided to give it a try.  Sure enough, the driveway went between two houses which led to a pasture.  Way at the back of the pasture we could see a small cemetery.  There wasn’t a road but I could see where a car had gone before.  Off we went.

When we got there, we found the gravesite of John Ellis.  He was born in 1754 and died in 1850.  He lived for 96 years and he fought in the American Revolutionary War.  He had two monuments.  One was much newer, one much older.  The older one simply said, “For Military Merit” and someone had painted his name on it.  I was overwhelmed.  Here in Southern Illinois was the grave of a man, a hero, who fought for the birth of our country. Amazing.

This man was there; this man was on the battlefield when a group of men and women declared our freedom from England.  This.man.was.there.  He put it all on the line for a cause greater than himself.  And for the last 244 years that is what freedom loving American heroes have done.  Through conflicts great and small they have served, they have bled and many have died.  I value the saying, “All gave some, some gave all.” I value the sacrifice of all these freedom fighters through the centuries and decades.  I also love what they fought for.

Right now is a difficult time for our nation but we have seen difficult times before. At his first inauguration on March 4, 1933, Franklin Roosevelt said this. “This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Don’t rush past those words.  They are powerful and they are worth believing.

I believe in this country.  I believe even with all its warts and imperfections it is still the best country in the world.  Having visited well over twenty other countries I’ve seen the competition and America wins hands down.  I spent an Independence Day in basic training for the Air Force in 1972. Lights-out was about 8:00 pm and I was lying in my bunk when the fireworks starting going off.  I crept out of bed and went to the window and watched as the fireworks exploded in the Texas sky.  Two emotions came over me.  One, I missed family.  Somewhere in Florida they were celebrating freedom. The other though was more personal.  I was becoming an American airman serving my country.  I was one of her defenders and I was proud…proud to serve and proud to be an American.

So, please, don’t blow past Independence Day tomorrow and certainly don’t give up on America.  We have weathered many storms and we can weather this one…if we do what we have done in the past and that is trust God.  It is no accident that we have fought and won, it is no accident that we have survived and even thrived for the past 244 years.  It was more than American determination…it was and is the grace of God.

The Book says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He has chosen as His own inheritance.”  That is so true.  As a nation when we choose God, when we choose to make Him ours, we do better.  When we don’t, we don’t.  It is just that simple.  It isn’t politically correct these days but the bottom line is…its true.  The second part of that verse is equally important. God is still inviting, calling people to be His.  Skin color doesn’t matter, economic status doesn’t matter, creed doesn’t matter.  He simply invites every man, woman, and child to be His.  The decision is individual. So, God bless America.  If you are a God follower, a God believer, start the day tomorrow with a whispered prayer of thanks for this great country.  And then, pause, be still and listen for surely the Whisperer will whisper.  He may speak through His Word, He may speak through another person or a beautiful sunrise or sunset.  Regardless, He will whisper, “You can rest in Me.  I’ve got this.” 

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

Forty-four Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, Southern born, thankful

Stonehenge

For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10

Roy Smith Allen was a genuine, authentic, real-deal Southern good ole boy.  I met him on the road to falling in love with his daughter.  I can remember virtually every detail of meeting Judy but Roy, well, its like one minute he wasn’t there and the next he was.  I met Judy at her church on a Wednesday night.  I walked in the side door and she was standing with a group of five or six girls.  It was as if the others weren’t even there.  She stole the show…and my heart.

I found out that when I started dating Judy, I also started dating her family.  They were a crazy bunch of fun-loving people who turned every get together into a ruckus of stories and one-uppers.  Right in the middle of the craziness was Roy.  Well, for some reason, Roy took a shine to me.  Judy will tell you that both of her parents liked me more than her. That probably wasn’t true. But I guess they trusted me because truth be known she was a little too young and I was a little too old. But here we are forty-four years later so we must have met somewhere in the middle.

Roy was a hard core, church going, deacon. He worked for the county as the superintendent of roads and had been the assistant warden at the county work camp.  He had a gun…he carried a gun.  He told Judy and I upfront he didn’t believe in pre-marshall (translated premarital) sex.  We both agreed with that so the gun stayed in the holster which was a good thing.

About nine months after I started dating Judy, I asked her to marry me.  It happened to be on April Fool’s Day which was kinda funny.  But I was dead serious and happily she said yes.  So, by now Roy had become Pops to me.  So I knew I had to ask him if I could marry Judy.  After his first heart attack, his doctor suggested he begin a walking regimen. One evening I joined him walking around the track at the park and I said, “Pops, I would like to marry Judy.”  It wasn’t a question but it was a statement that needed a response and he gave one.  “No you don’t, boy.”  Pops called me “boy” a lot.  It wasn’t derogatory but more akin to him calling me “son.”

I persisted and said, “No really, I want to marry Judy.”  He stoically gave the same answer, “No you don’t, boy.”  Well, I can’t remember how many times we bantered back and forth but eventually I took it as a yes.  We were officially engaged…as soon as I could afford a ring.

Somewhere along the journey, her parents allowed me to stay in the spare bedroom at their house on weekends.  The base was about twenty-five miles away so it seemed to make some sense.  Pops liked to get up early and work hard and I became the “young buck” of his Saturday operations . He was building a shed about 20 miles out in the country and he saw in me some free labor.  So, he would come in the bedroom at about 4:30 am and declare, “Time to get up, boy.”  I would groggily roll out of bed.  We would head to the Gold Plate Restaurant for a hearty breakfast with hot, strong coffee and then head to the building site where I wished I hadn’t eaten quite so much.

Pops had acquired some huge, like 10×10 inch, used bridge timbers from the county.  While he supervised, I began digging holes and setting these monstrous beams.  Then, we (make that me) had the pleasure of trying to hoist them up to form the roof.  Well, it near-bout killed me.  We never finished the building and I am sure forty-four years later those timbers are probably still standing like some sort of South Georgia Stonehenge.

In the fall of 1975, at church one morning, I went from being a church goer to a Jesus follower.  That day I finally figured out that being religious was not the same as having a relationship with Jesus.  It was and is a big deal.  Everyone was really happy that I had made that commitment.  There were plenty of hugs and words of affirmation but none matched Pop’s.  He simply said, “I knew there was something wrong with you, boy.” It was apparent Pops wasn’t gifted in the affirmation department.  But that was Roy…that was Pops.  I was pretty sure he loved me and I know loved him…especially since he didn’t shoot me.

So, about a year later, Judy and I were married and in spite of a bad heart he was there to walk her down the aisle.  When Judy and I were assigned to Germany, Pops flew there twice to see us.  When we were assigned to Missouri, here came Pops.  He came out to see our new daughter and his new granddaughter, Rebecca.  And then just six weeks later he was apparently working in his backyard there in South Georgia and sat down to rest.  Sometime during the break, Jesus came and took him home.  Pops was gone but the legend, the legacy lives on.

Roy Smith Allen had a lot of rough edges, a lot of warts, if you will.  But buried somewhere beneath the rough exterior was a good hearted man.  I’m sure he required a lot of God’s grace but don’t we all?  None us could make the cut for heaven based on our own merit.  We all are just like Pops…sinners in need of a graceful, loving God.  The Book says that Jesus came to seek and to save lost people.  People like Roy, people like me and people like you.  And if we are willing to be found, He is will to forgive us and invite us into His family.  In his backward way, that is what Pops did.  Every time he called me “boy” he was calling me “son.”  I like that. So if you find yourself bumping along in life, rough around the edges, you might try what Pops tried.  It wasn’t church…it was Jesus.  I know it changed my life. It didn’t make me perfect but it did make me forgiven.  And the best part?  In this crazy, upside-down world, He is always there.  I can always go to Him, rest in Him.  I know, He’s got this. 

Posted in Grace, gratitude, life, Scripture, thankful, travel, wisdom

We Shouldn’t Be Here

If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” Esther 4:14

I looked at Judy and said, “We shouldn’t be here.” I know when you normally hear those words you are at a movie and a couple of teenagers are standing in a cemetery at midnight with a full moon with a wolf howling and a guy with a chainsaw standing a few feet away.  That was not the case.

So, as you know we live in a world of cancellations.  Vacation. Cancelled. Conference number one.  Cancelled.  Conference number two. Cancelled. In an attempt to get some refreshment I went ahead and registered for conference number three.  About ten days before it started they called and said due to state regulations (North Carolina this time) they were having to dramatically reduce the number of attendees—from 400 to 110.  Judy and I didn’t make the cut…by a long shot.  We registered in early April and they were cancelling all the way back to December of 2019.

I had gotten used to the rejection notices by now.  Like a struggling actor or writer it seemed nothing was going my way.  So, after my normal foot stomping, “this is crazy” and the all time favorite, “when will it ever be normal” I settled back into life…desperately needing a fresh drink of water from the well.  Then it happened.

Less than a week before the conference was to start I received a phone call on my Dick Tracy Apple watch.  I checked the caller ID and it was the conference center.  I ran to the kitchen to get my phone, answered, waiting to see what they wanted.  She told me that they had been allowed to open an overflow room and would we be interested in coming?  If I could speak ten languages I would have said yes in all ten.

So we arrived at the conference and this is when it got interesting.  The people in the main auditorium (and there were only 110 of them—normal attendance is 400) had white name tags and the ones in the overflow had tan name tags.  We received our tan tags and waited for supper.  I began to notice that there were not many tan tags.  How interesting.  When it was time for the conference to start, the white taggers headed to the main room and tan taggers headed upstairs to the overflow area.  And that was the turning point.

In this room meant to hold 150 people there were 28 of us.  Blue covers draped over the back of 28 chairs showed where we could sit.  It turns out I was member of a pretty, small select group. Totally attendance was only 138 people and somehow I was one of them.  Keep in mind all those people who made reservations before April were in front of me in line and somehow, some way we were here.  That’s when I said to Judy, “We shouldn’t be here.”

The topic for the conference was about rebuilding the church in a post quarantine world.  One of the first things he said was that perhaps each of you are here for a specific reason.  He then told the story of a young Jewish girl who, against all odds, found herself as queen in a foreign land.  A plan had been hatched to kill all of the Jews in the land and her uncle was asking her to go the king on the Jews behalf.  He said, “Perhaps for such a time as this God has put you here.”  For such a time as this.  Hmmm.

I honestly feel that for some reason God has allowed me this opportunity to help lead my church in the coming days.  The speaker made it clear that any thought that things are going to be same are just not true.  It is going to be different and challenging.  It is also exciting.  All of this has caused me to revisit the sovereignty of God in all of this.  I mean, I just believe that God is in charge.  Not circumstances, not government, not me.  That means that He does have a plan that He is working out.  The only question is are we going to trust Him and be a part of His plan or are we going to write our own.  Spoiler alert.  That never goes well.

So whether it your every day, walk around life, or a business, or a church, if you are a Jesus follower, are you willing to let the Whisperer whisper and share with you His plan?  I hope I will have the wisdom and courage to do so.  It will mean stepping out of my “I’ve done it this way for 38 years” comfort zone and perhaps, just perhaps, do something different…perhaps radically different.  Who knows, maybe we, with Him, can change our world. So, we shouldn’t be here but I sure am going to be listening for the Whisperer to speak to my heart.  I know it will be right.  I know it will be challenging.  I know it will be exciting.  I know somewhere along the way He is going to say, “Rest in Me.  I’ve got this.”  He does. 

Posted in Family, food, life, Scripture, thankful

Miss Pauline’s Sour Cream Raisin Pie

Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!” Psalm 34:7

Try it. You’ll like it.  Over the years I have met so many incredible people.  I have learned that people are not perfect but people add spice and challenge to life.  People make life…life.  I am a pastor by call and by trade and I love it.  There are many reasons that is true but one is the people I get to serve with.  One of those was Bob.  Bob is a friend from my past but at the same time Bob is a friend that I could see tomorrow and we would pick up right where we left off.

Bob is one of those people with a quirky sense of humor.  I love that because I do too.  I remember one time he showed up at the church office and beeped the horn.  I went and opened the door and went out.  He told me to come around to the other side of the truck and hop in. Well, I went and opened the door and what greeted me was a five or six foot rattlesnake coiled up on the from seat.  We almost had a natural disaster there on the spot.  Turned out the snake was headless.  Bob liked snakes so I don’t think he did the honors but why miss the opportunity to scare your pastor to death?

Now Bob and I are Baptists.  One thing you need to know about Baptists is that we believe food is the cure all for all things.  If we are sad—we eat.  If we are happy—we eat.  If someone dies—we eat.  If someone gets married—we eat.  And sometimes, well, we just eat for fun.  Well, Bob and I were at one of our meetin’ eatin’ times and I was eating some raisin pie.  Now this wasn’t your normal raisin pie.  This was Miss Pauline’s sour cream raisin pie and it was incredible.  I was working on my second piece when I invited Bob to have a taste.

“Nope,” he said, “I don’t like raisin pie.”  Well I began to persuade him with all of my preacher passion.  “This,” I explained, “is like no other raisin pie you have ever eaten.”  I went on to explain how this pie would make your tongue slap your face.  So after about five minutes of “you really need to try this,” he did.  The results were as expected and immediate.  Two or three pieces later Bob was an official member of the Miss Pauline’s sour cream raisin pie fan club.

Here is what he and I came to discover.  There is raisin pie and there is Miss Pauline’s sour cream raisin pie and the two are not the same.  And once I tasted Miss Pauline’s pie, I wanted him to experience it too.  I just knew that if he did, he would be a fan for life.  And do you know what?  I think that is true about Jesus too.  I find a lot of people are not too keen on God or Jesus.  The reason is simple.  They have tasted religion and decided pretty quick that wasn’t too tasty.  I agree with that one.  Some have tasted church and depending on their experience it was either a disaster or a delight.  At any rate, church isn’t the fix all that people think that it is.  Religion or church are just plain ole raisin pie.  You need more…you need Jesus.

Yup, Jesus is like Miss Pauline’s raisin pie. He is so much more than religion and so much more than church…He is the One who knew the price for sin was death and then willingly paid the price for that sin.  He died on a Roman cross to pay the price for our sin and then came back to life three days later to prove He was the Son of God. It is a pretty amazing story.  If you have never read about it let me suggest you get a copy of the Bible read about Him.  You will find Him in the first four books of the New Testament.  You will find He is like sour cream raisin pie…delicious and irresistible.  But you can’t know that if you don’t take a taste.

David (he is one of the Kings of Israel from Bible times) was on the run from one of his enemies when he wrote, “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!” David was saying if you will take just one taste of the real deal you will like what you taste.  Its not religion, its not church—it is the Man who died on the cross because He loved me and you.

So, if you ever get the chance to taste sour cream raisin pie, especially if somehow you can find a piece of Miss Pauline’s, well don’t wait and don’t delay.  Even if, especially if, you have tried plain ole raisin pie you are gonna be surprised!  And if you haven’t read the story of Jesus, well don’t wait and and don’t delay.  Even if, especially if, you have been turned off by church and religion, you are gonna be surprised. You are gonna find out that He is the real deal.  You are gonna find out when and if you decide to follow Him, He will be your new BFF (best friend forever) and He will never leave you sitting beside the road.  He is the kind of friend that you can call at 2:00 am and never get a busy signal.  He is the kind of friend who invites you to sit and chat on the front porch and rest a while.  He is the kind of friend that is like a strong, big brother who loves you.  Strong enough to say, “I’ve got this” and pull it off.  Try Him…You’ll love Him.

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, Scripture, thankful

Flag Day

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the expanse proclaims the work of His hands. Psalms 9:1

It was for better or worse.  In a little more than a week my wife and I will celebrate our 44th wedding anniversary.  I know if you have ever seen us you would find that hard to believe because we look so young.  Smile.  The years have flown by so quickly.  I can remember the days we would go to a conference and something and they would introduce the guest speaker saying they had been married for 35 years or so.  The crowd would erupt in applause.  I would think how old they were.  I am now that person.  But they say that age is just a number and that’s true. 

When I married Judy that hot (and I do mean hot) June day in south Georgia we made a commitment to each other.  It went something like this, “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health till death do us part.”  It was a deal we made with each other that no matter what we were stuck on (and not stuck with) each other.  We decided that we were in this for the long haul.  There have been speed bumps, detours and even a few fender benders but love somehow learns to forgive, and sometimes ignore, those. 

I bet you think this story is about marriage, didn’t you?  Got you.  Nope, it is about my love for this country.  Yesterday, June 14th, was Flag Day.  It garnered a place on our church marquee and a mention in the sermon intro. Oh, and I also worn a flag pin.  But it had a much bigger place in my heart.  I love my country, the land where God put me, America…not because it is perfect but because I can stand every week in our church and say what I want…and no one is going to arrest me.  I love America because it is still the land of the free.  I am writing this in Tennessee.  I didn’t need anyone’s permission to leave; I just got in the car and off Judy and I went.  Yup, I love America. Having lived in and visited over twenty-five countries in this world…I have seen and experienced many others and America still tops the list. 

You are probably wondering, “Dewayne, with all its warts and imperfections, with all its injustices and wrongs, with all its junk, how can you love America?”  Well, the answer is two fold.  One, from where I sit, it is still the best place in the world to live.  Its landscape and people-scape are just amazing.  It is filled with people willing to die for what they believe…that is why we are free.  It is a place where you can speak your mind and even protest a wrong.  The second reason is I signed up for the long haul.  Its kinda like the deal that Judy and I made.  “For better, for worse; for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health till death parts us.” I’m an American till the end. 

Judy loves me…a lot.  She somehow manages to love me in spite of my failures and faults.  It kinda reminds me of God.  He just refuses to give up on us.  He extends grace and mercy and works to make us more and more like Him. With that comes a better me.  As we work to make America a better place to live and work, as we extend grace and mercy to each other, we are mirroring Him.  Sounds like a good plan to me. 

Like I said earlier, yesterday was Flag Day.  When I look at Old Glory I see the rich history, imagine the price that countless men and women have paid for this experiment in democracy and fall in love all over again.  And in these stars and stripes I see the hope not only for you and me, not only for America but for the world.  I see the gospel according to Old Glory.  I know each color and each part of the flag has special meaning but allow me some liberty…pun intended. 

When I see the field of stars I am reminded that in Psalm 19:1 “the heavens declare the glory of God.” It reminds me that every star in the sky is a witness to the existence of God. The blue field reminds me that there is a King in heaven.  Blue is the color of royalty and it points to the King of the universe…the creator of all.  His name is Jesus and He loves everybody regardless of skin color, language spoken or place lived.  The red reminds me of the measure of this King’s love..He died on a Roman cross.  He was not murdered and He wasn’t even martyred…He willingly died.  The payment for sin…all sin…was death and He paid the price. Amazing. 

And the white…well that is my favorite color because it stands for forgiveness.  White shouts that my sins are forgiven, that I am free and that I can call the Creator of the universe, “Abba Father or Dearest Daddy.”  I know you might think I’m taking a little too much liberty with that title but that is what He is. 

Anyway, I’m grateful for a wife who loves me regardless of my shortcomings.  I am grateful for a place to call home that gives me the freedom to live, worship and believe as I see fit.  Perfect? Not even by a long shot but I’m gonna stick around and do what I can to make her better.  I’m gonna stick around and make sure the America my grandkids grow up is even better that the one I knew and know.  And I am very grateful for a God that loves me unconditionally, that He is big enough to handle all the fears and warts of life and big enough to give me a place to rest…in Him.  Oh, and I’m glad that He is big enough to conquer sin, death and grave because it just proves…He’s got this.